NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXXV) 05/13/23
5:20 And we know that God’s Son has come and given us understanding. So now we can fellowship with the true One and live in union with that true God. We are in His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. He is the true God, and He is eternal life.
In the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), they ask this question: “What is the meaning of these words – ‘He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary?’” Answer: That God’s eternal Son, who is, and continues as the true and everlasting God, took upon Himself human nature, of the Virgin Mary’s flesh and blood, by the operation of the Holy Spirit; that He might also be the true seed of David, like His brethren in all things except sin. 
As a firm spiritual disciplinarian, John Owen (1616-1683) states that the nature of the Anointed One and the essence of His union with God constitutes the person commonly spoken of and discussed in the writings of both ancient and modern scholars. Therefore, it is of great importance that we have the proper conception concerning Him. Not only in general or in opposition to their malicious heresies by whom His divine character or nature is denied, but also in those instances wherein it is most effective due to divine wisdom and grace.
For the knowledge of Him mentioned in the Gospel is not confined merely to His person in its composition but extends to the whole work of Him as a mediator. With God’s design of love and grace, this knowledge of his person becomes the foundation of all the rest. It means that if we are mistaken or fail in our understanding, the whole building of our knowledge of Him will fall to the ground. And although the saving knowledge of Him is not obtained without special divine revelation or saving illumination, we cannot fully know Him until He brings us to where He is to behold His glory. These are the Scriptures’ instructions to lead us to advanced degrees of knowing Him that are attainable in this life.
Those characteristics of God by which He becomes known and of which there is not the slightest glimpse obtained but by and in the Anointed One. Whoever does not know Him, by these, does not know Him at all. They may be familiar with idols, but not the only true God. Those who do not have the Son do not have the Father. So, not to have God as a Father is not to have Him at all. He is known as a Father only as He is love and full of pardoning mercy in the Anointed One. How are we to have this? So, the Holy Spirit tells us here in verse twenty. It is by Him alone we have our understanding to know Him that is true.
Now, these Godly essences found in the Anointed One and His teachings reveals Him to be the great prophet of the church who makes God’s will, His will. And on this account, their knowledge is exposed to all, with evidence unspeakably surmounting that which is given by the creation to his eternal power and Godhead. But the life of this knowledge lies in an acquaintance with Him personally, wherein the express image and beams of this glory of His Father shine forth. 
Respected Reformation writer Matthew Poole (1624-1679) mentions that the Apostle John signifies how satisfying the knowledge and certainty sincere Christians had now that the Anointed One indeed came. The blessed effect of such belief was like a clear and lively light shining and transmitting faith into their minds. But, by this light, they had a greater realization of the true God, more vivid and powerful than ever before. Thereby they were drawn into union with Him, and to be in Him: or, which in effect is the same thing, (so entire is the oneness between the Father and the Son). Thus, we are in His Son Jesus, the Anointed One, who also is the true God, and eternal life, as He is known. 
In his fiery manner, John Flavel (1627-1691) holds that God’s teachings satisfy the human soul. Understanding, like a sundial, is enlightened with the beams of divine truth shining upon it: this no other person’s teaching can do. People can only teach by promoting truth to one’s understanding; they cannot enlighten the mind itself, as God does here in verse twenty. He gives people insight as well as instruction. Thus we may discern and distinguish the teachings of God from all other dogmas.
In addition, Flavel notes that one of the great miseries under which lapsed nature labors is spiritual blindness. Jesus the Anointed One brings that eye salve that only can cure it. Those to whom the Spirit has applied it can say, “We know that God’s Son is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus the Anointed One: this is the true God and eternal life.” 
To the spiritual illumination of a soul, it is not sufficient that the subject is revealed nor that mankind has the proper use of their reasoning factors; it requires that the grace and special assistance of the Holy Spirit be added to open and calm the heart, to the taste and sweetness of spiritual truth it is due. By opening the Gospel, he reveals the truth to us by unlocking the heart. In addition, having the truth revealed “in us” is much more excellent than “to us.” 
Influenced by his Arminian view of salvation, Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) shares that “He is the true God” was never spoken of by the Anointed One by the Socinians. So, the Apostle John endeavors to prove this by adding “the” to the word “God,” which the heretics say we should never do in reference to Jesus as the Anointed One. This is patently false, declares Whitby. The Apostle Thomas called Jesus “My Lord, and my God,” and the Apostle Paul stated, “The Anointed One, who is God, is over all things. Praise Him forever! Amen.”
From his strategic viewpoint as a biblical expositor and educational pioneer, William Burkitt (1650-1703) contemplates that what the Apostle John says in verse twenty is as if he said, “We Christians are taught by our religion, to acknowledge and worship the only true God by His Son Jesus, our only Mediator, and thereby keep from worshipping idols.” It implies that the venerating of any other besides this only true God, and any other mediator, besides Jesus the Anointed One is idolatry. And farther, we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus the Anointed One; that is, we are by faith implanted into Jesus the Anointed One, who is the author, purchaser, and disposer of eternal life, and therefore is true God.
In this text, which proves the divinity of the Anointed One, the heretic Socinians pervert the true meaning by applying these words, “This is the true God, not to the Anointed One but God the Father.” But this would make the apostle guilty of talking in circles by saying in verse twenty, “He is the only true God, and He is eternal life.” So, in this fifth chapter, eternal life is used three times, attributed to Jesus the Anointed One as its author and dispenser. If then the Anointed One is meant by eternal life, it also means He is the true God, for they are spoken of together.
With scholarly meditation, James Macknight (1721-1800), the Apostle John’s words are straightforward: God gave us the understanding that He is the true God. The Latin Vulgate translates verse twenty as follows: “And we know that God’s Son has arrived and that He has given us understanding, so that we may know the true God, and so that we may remain in His true Son. This God is real, and this is Eternal Life.” Notice the last person mentioned is “His Son,” – Jesus the Anointed One. Many commentators and theologians contend that the Greek pronoun hoytos, “this,” is a demonstrative pronoun and stands here for Jesus the Anointed One and that He is the person who is called the true God.
But as pronouns often denote the remote ancestor, when the circumstances of the case require them to be so understood, others are of the opinion that “this” in this passage does not refer to Jesus the Anointed One the recent relatives but to the true one, or true God, whom God’s Son has given the Christians understanding to know. And they think this opinion is likely because if the apostle by “this” means Jesus the Anointed One, make Him the true God, notwithstanding, in the sentence which immediately precedes, he distinguishes the true one from His Son Jesus the Anointed One. And we are under the true one, His Son Jesus, the Anointed One.
Although our KJV translators have blurred that distinction and made Jesus the Anointed One, the true God, by inserting the word “even” between the two clauses of the sentence in their translation, they have they did so without the authority of any ancient Greek manuscript. The critics who make “this” refer to God and not Jesus the Anointed One think their opinion should have no say in such important matters. They tell us that Athanasius, at the council of Nice, disputing against Arius, called this verse a written declaration: and added that as the Anointed One testified of the Father, “Everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Arius then acquiesced to this written proclamation and confessed God’s Son to be the true God.
After skillfully scrutinizing the Apostle John’s theme, John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) makes note that from all the undisputed proofs the Apostle John insisted on, we certainly know that Jesus the Anointed One, the eternal Son of God, assumed our human nature and came into our world to put away sin by sacrificing Himself. So also, He has not only given us an external revelation in His Word, but a saving knowledge of Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, by an internal operation of His Spirit. So yes, we are united to Him who is the true and faithful Witness as Mediator, and as God’s Son the only living and true God, together with the Father and Spirit, and who, having all life in Himself, is the Purchaser and Giver of spiritual and eternal life to us.
More concerned with church than its sacraments, William Jones of Nyland (1726-1800) comments that there are certain things of which the Apostle John writes without even the faintest tone of hesitation or doubt, with the calmest and firmest assurance, and with the accent of deep conviction. And the things which he writes with so much certainty are of the greatest and most important. So, in the paragraph before us he utters his triple “we know” concerning some of the most vital and weighty questions. Let us notice each of these in the order in which they here stand.
THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD
Their origination from God
Their abstention from sin
Their preservation from the evil one
THE KNOWLEDGE OF PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP TO GOD.
By our consciousness of Christian character
By our consciousness of family disposition toward God
By the contrast between ourselves and the unchristian world
THE KNOWLEDGE OF A HEAVENLY FACT AND OF GREAT PERSONAL BENEFITS DERIVED THROUGH THAT TRUTH
That God’s Son came into our world
That God’s Son has given us spiritual discernment so that we might know God
That we are in vital union with God and with His Son Jesus, the Anointed One
That God’s Son is genuinely and appropriately Divine.
Let us seek to realize the exalted and blessed knowledge which we have been considering. And if it be already ours, let us endeavor to possess it in clearer light and fuller measure. “Then we will comprehend if we follow on to know the Lord.”
Straightforward preacher Charles Simeon (1759-1886) shares that it is thought by many, that the doctrines of the Gospel are uncertain speculations, and that their experience in the soul is nothing more than an enthusiastic conceit. We acknowledge that the mysteries of religion are in many respects beyond the grasp of our reason; and that the inward feelings arising from them can be judged of by those only in whose bosom they are found: yet neither the one nor the other can on this account be considered as uncertain: on the contrary, whenever they are mentioned in the Scriptures, they are spoken of as matters that are plain and unquestionable.
In the text, and the two verses that precede it, the Apostle thrice repeats the assertion, “We know:” ‒ “We know that those born of God do not sin:” “We know that we are of God:” and then, in reference both to the Gospel and to his experience of its truth, he adds a third time, “We know that God’s Son has come.” What benefit do we derive from this? Of course, simple theoretical knowledge of Christianity expands the mind and leads it to higher contemplations. But no tongue can utter the benefits of an experimental acquaintance with the Anointed One.
What view gives us an understanding of worldliness? What peace does it bring into the conscience? How does it disarm death of its sting? And what bright prospects does it open to us in the eternal world? O let a desire after the full blessings of salvation motivate us in our inquiries after truth! Let us seek to have more enlarged views of the Anointed One and our interest in Him, and thus we will be prepared for that complete vision of His glory, in comparison to our present knowledge but as a burning wick before the sun.
Considering everything the Apostle John said so far, Adam Clarke (1774-1849) states that we all should know that God’s Son came in the flesh and offered His life for a godless society’s sin, thus giving us an understanding – a more renowned degree of light than ever enjoyed before. And now, as He sits beside His Father, who declared Him unto us, on heaven’s throne, He has given us a spiritual understanding that we may know Him who is true, even the TRUE GOD, and get eternal life from Him through His Son. It is in Him we are by faith, as the branches in the vine, deriving all our knowledge, light, life, love, and fruitfulness from Him. And through this revelation of Jesus, we know the ever-blessed and glorious Trinity, the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit, in the eternal, undivided unity of the indefinable Godhead.
 John 1:1
 1 John 5:20
 John 1:14
 Matthew 1:18
 Psalm 132:2
 Philippians 2:7
 Heidelberg Catechism, The Lord’s Day 14, Question 35
 See Matthew 16:17
 1 John 5:20
 John 17:24
 Owen, John: Christologia, op. cit., p. 300
 1 John 2:23
 John 17:6
 Hebrews 1:3
 Owen, John: Of Communion with God, op. cit., pp. 106; 136-137
 John 17:3
 Ibid. 1:1
 Ibid. 1:2
 Poole, Matthew. Commentary on the Holy Bible – Book of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John (Annotated), Kindle Edition
 Ephesians 1:18
 Revelation 3:18
 1 John 5:20
 Flavel, John: The Method of Grace: How the Spirit Works, Ch. 23, p. 336
 Hebrews 8:10
 Flavel, John: The Fountain of Life, Sermon 10, p. 122
 John 20:28
 Whitby, Daniel: Critical Commentary and Paraphrase, op. cit., pp. 417-472
 1 John 5:11, 13, 20
 1 John 5:11-13
 Burkitt, William: Expository Notes, op. cit., Vol. II., pp. 739-740
 See Essay IV. 63, p. 222
 Schaff, Philip: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, op. cit., Select Writings and Letters of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria Statement of Faith, p. 372
 John 5:23
 Macknight, James: Apostolic Epistles with Commentary, Vol. VI, pp. 125-126
 John 14:6
 Brown of Haddington, John: Self-Interpreting Bible, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 507
 Jones, William: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 22, pp. 167-168
 1 John 5:18, 19, 20
 1 Corinthians 15:55
 Simeon, Charles, Horae Homileticae, Vol. XX, op. cit., Discourse 2470, pp. 552-556
 Clarke, Adam: Wesleyan Heritage Commentary, op. cit., Hebrews-Revelation, p. 400