NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXXVI) 05/15/23
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 his captivating teaching style, Jewish convert Augustus Neander (1789-1850) remarks that the Apostle John begins to close this truly noble Epistle with the warning: that persevering in union with Him, the only true God, through His Son, and in that fellowship of eternal life received from Him, they keep themselves pure from all contamination questionable religions. It might be a question whether the word “This” refers here to God or to the incarnate Son in whom He revealed Himself. In either case, the practical import of the phrase is the same. The connection, however, leads us to regard the reference to God as the prominent one since He is later contrasted with Idols.
The Apostle has just been contemplating the Anointed One as the Mediator of this fellowship with God. Hence, we must suppose that, in conclusion, he projects this one prominent thought: This God, with whom believers thus stand in fellowship through the Anointed One, is the only true God, and hence is the primal source of eternal life; through him alone, therefore, we can become partakers of eternal life, in which is contained the Sum of all Good, as the highest good for the God-related spirit.
In Him we have all we need for time and eternity. It is true indeed as we have seen that the Anointed One as the only-begotten-Son of God, is called by John the eternal Life which was with the Father, and which has appeared on earth in order to impart itself to man. With these words he commenced this Epistle. But it is also appropriate that in closing he should point to the Primal Source, to Him who is himself that eternal Life, which has poured itself forth into the only-begotten-Son, and through him into humanity. But in order to hold fast this highest possession, Christians must guard themselves from all contamination with the idols worshipped by a world lying in wickedness.
In its present form, this warning was intended for such as living in a world devoted to idol worship. To some today, John’s words about idol worship may seem outdated. But that conclusion is only arrived at because the idols of today are different than there were in 100 AD. Some of those are Individuality, Money, Status, Physical Enhancement, Entertainment, Sex Industry, Abortion, Personal Space, Drug Industry, Fame, and Technology, to name a few.
Without using complicated language, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) says the reality that God’s Son has come is supported by what the Apostle John refers to in this epistle, giving us an understanding. Not “understanding” as a faculty of the mind, for religion gives us no new faculties. Instead, He instructed us to understand the great truths referred to about His Son. All the correct knowledge of God and His government is to be traced directly or indirectly to the great Prophet whom God sent into a godless society. That we may know Him, that is true. That is, the true God. And that we are in Him that is true. That is, we are united to Him; we belong to Him; we are His friends. The Scriptures often express this idea by being “in Him.” It denotes a most intimate union as if we were one with Him or part of Him – as the branch is in the vine.
The Greek “the true God” construction in verse twenty is the same as “the wicked one” in verse nineteen. There has been much difference of opinion concerning this vital passage, whether it refers to the Anointed One, or the Lord Jesus, or a recent ancestor, or a more remote forefather. Nevertheless, the question is essential to the doctrine of the Savior’s divinity. It furnishes an unequivocal declaration that He is Divine if it refers to Him. The question is whether John meant that it should be God’s Son? Without an extended examination of the passage, the following considerations make it morally certain that by the phrase “this is the true God,” the apostle did refer to the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One.
With impressive theological vision, Richard Rothe (1799-1867) examines the two clauses of verses nineteen and twenty, where the Apostle John presents two different elements forming the content of the Christian consciousness, which might exclude one another. To know at once that one is of God and the whole world lies in evil seems impossible. If the entire world lies in wickedness, how is it possible that Christians are of God?
In verse twenty, John answers this question and, by so doing, asserts that in fellowship with the Redeemer, we possess eternal life. Therefore, even though the whole world lies in evil, Christians know themselves as deriving from God and why we do so. For we know that God’s Son has given us, who have received Him, the ability to know God, who is our fellowship with this Son of God, we are in God; for He, the Redeemer, is the true God and eternal life.
Consistent with the Apostle John’s advice, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) says that in his conclusion, the Apostle John indicates that “we are from God” in verse nineteen has come to him and his readers; and he does this by expressing it through “we have seen” in verse twenty as the substance of their Christian consciousness. The conditioning cause of the former is the coming of God’s Son.
According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown’s (1803-1897) insights, the Apostle John wanted everyone to discover and understand that the Anointed One, God’s Son, came to give us eternal life is the summary of Christian privilege. The Anointed One’s office is to provide the inner spiritual understanding to discern the things of God. Some of the oldest Greek Manuscripts read, “(so) that we know” Him who is the authentic God – as opposed to every kind of idol or false god. Jesus, by His oneness with God the Father, is also “He that is true.” Even – “we are in the true” God, by being “in His Son Jesus the Anointed One.”
With his lifework well-illustrating a pastor-theologian’s biblical and reformation ideal, Robert S. Candlish (1807-1873) points out that this is the third and last “we know” in verses eighteen to twenty. John insists that the Gnostics were the heretics of his day but in a better and safer sense. They pretended to be all–knowing in the intellectual sphere of abstract speculation about divine nature.
In contrast, the Apostle John would have us to be knowing, in the humbler yet really higher and holier experience of honest, direct, personal acquaintance and fellowship with the Divine Being, as coming down to us, poor sinners, in His Son, and taking us up, by His Spirit, to be sons and saints in His holy child Jesus. Those born of God do not sin because they keep themselves so that the wicked one cannot touch them.
Consequently, we are of God in contrast with a godless society, which lies wholly in the wicked; these are the two former examples of “we know.” And now the third “we know” has respect, neither to our standing as being of God, nor to a godless society’s position as lying in the wicked one but to Him who causes or occasions the difference, “God’s Son.” It would almost seem as if there was a regular syllogism here; an argument built up in three propositions; two premises and a conclusion. First, there is the major proposition in the general, abstract, and impersonal assertion “we know” that being born of God implies not sinning, since “he that is born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one cannot touch him.”
Then there is the minor implication, in the particular and personal assertion; “we know” that we individually “are of God” and, therefore, separated from “a godless society that lieth wholly in the wicked one.” The strict logical conclusion would be, thus, “we know” that we do not sin. John, however, puts it somewhat differently to place our not sinning on a surer footing, more humbling to us, more glorifying to God – “We know that God’s Son has come.”
And yet, this is a fair enough inference and fits well enough into the argument when viewed in its full spiritual importance. Nor is it inconsistent with the other. For if those born of God do not sin, and if we consequently, being of God, sin not, it is all in virtue of “God’s Son being come;” come, in the first place, to “give us a knowledge of the True One;” come, secondly, to secure in that way our “being in the True One.”
In line with Apostle John’s conclusion, Henry Alford (1810-1871) mentions that in verse twenty, there is yet another “to know.” That generally sums up the certainty that God’s Son had come and given us a better understanding of God. Our being in Him solidifies one crucial fact – knowledge of God now and in the everlasting hereafter. God’s Son, who bestows this knowledge, is prominent here at the end of the Epistle. He is eternal life, and those who have Him have the Father. This understanding is the divinely empowered inner sense by which we judge divine truths. It is not wisdom or judgment but the ability to attain it. The early Church Fathers against the Arian error and most orthodox expositors since then have regarded this passage as a treasured testimony for the Godhead of the Son.
As a faithful and zealous biblical scholar, William Graham (1810-1883) says that verse twenty is the substance of the Anointed One’s deity. We have seen that the “and” after “we know” connects verse nineteen with verse twenty in a conflictive correlated way. Thus, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the wicked one.” However, we also know that to neutralize the power of the wicked one, God’s Son is come and given us understanding.
The first great truth taught in verse twenty, therefore, is the coming of God’s Son, which, more than any other, reveals to us the joined love of the Father and the Son, the Sender and the Sent One, as well as the love of the Holy Spirit, by whom the divine and the human natures were united, and the Mediator of the new covenant qualified for His earthly and heavenly work. John’s epistle begins and ends with this glorious theme throughout the epistle, it occupies a very conspicuous place.
When we consider the weighty consequences to mankind and the creation which depends on the incarnation of God’s Son, we will be inclined to think that John mentions it too often. But it is connected, in the closest way, with the whole plan of redemption and the office and constitution of the Mediator and forms the radiating center from which the operations of Yahweh, in His love and power, in providence and redemption, proceed to the edge of His boundless kingdom.
Indeed, two facts in the Bible can be appropriately called the poles in the mighty purpose of the redeeming God, around which all the various parts, prophecy and history, faith and hope, the workings of providence, and the proclamations of grace, perpetually revolve, they are the coming in the flesh and the coming in glory – the cross and the crown – by which the faith and the life of the Church have been sustained from the beginning, through all ages and dispensations, before, during, and after the fulness of the times united in the glorious person of the Redeemer.
If you consider deeply, there is no fact in the history of humanity which, for the wonderfulness of its nature, for the breathtaking grandeur of the conception which it develops, and for the priceless results which spring from it, may for a moment be compared with the coming of God’s Son. Its author is God; the incarnated person is the eternal Son; the mode of union and manifestation is the Holy Spirit; the natures united are the divine and the human, and the result is God’s glory and the salvation of every human being that wishes to be saved.
With the zeal of a scriptural text examiner, William E. Jelf (1811-1875) states the difference in the moral nature of Christians regarding the sphere in which they live and the Prince to which they belong; there is a difference in their intellect. They have a power of intellectual apprehension given them whereby they know the true God and know Him to be the true God, and as a result, the mission of His Son. On the contrary, the heathens had neither any adequate conception of the true God nor any knowledge whether or not the God they believed in was true God. The Christian, as a consequence of the revelation of the Anointed One, has both these privileges. To know the true God would be imperfect was not to it; the knowledge added that He whom we worship is the true God.
By saying that the Anointed One has come or is now in a godless society, He is accepted as Head of the Church and proclaimed by His apostles and evangelists. By calling Him “the true one,” He is distinct from all others, not regarding His attribute of truth, but His being the true God. Thereby Christians have an indwelling communion with the true God by their abiding fellowship with His Son.
The next question is to whom does “this” refer, whether to the Anointed One or to Him in whom we are? Of course, it is interpreted according to the doctrinal views of the interpreters; and at first sight it seems as if it were scarcely possible to define it more accurately. But, when we analyze it, it would seem enough to weigh the balance in favor of making the Anointed One the substantive to which “this” refers.
If we substitute another word for “this,” that other interpreters make a pronoun, it reads, “the true God is the true God.” He had already spoken of “the true one,” with Whom our communion places us in fellowship with the Anointed One, and therefore, to say again that “This is the true God, and eternal life,” has a sufficient difficulty to make us prefer the Anointed One as “this.” On the other hand, it may be said that “this” refers to the Anointed One implied in “the Son of Him,” or, more properly speaking, to the person signified by “him,” of whom the Anointed One was the Son; but “him” itself only refers to “true,” so that the difficulty is not gotten rid of by this suggestion. Moreover, the Anointed One is called “life,” though the same might be equally predicated of the Trinity, personally or collectively.
Welsh preacher David Thomas (1813-1894), Publisher of The Homilist, a magazine of liturgical thought, says three extraordinary things in verse twenty. (I) The greatest FACT IN HUMAN HISTORY. There are many incredible facts in the history of the human race. But of all the points, the advent of the Anointed One to our world twenty-two centuries ago is the greatest. This fact is the most — 1. Undeniable. 2. Influential. 3. Vital to the interests of everyone. (II) The extraordinary CAPABILITY OF THE HUMAN MIND. What is that? “An understanding that we may know Him that is true.” Humans have many distinguishing faculties – imagination, memory, and intellect. But the capacity to know Him who is true is, for many reasons, more significant than all. 1. It is a rare faculty. The mighty millions do not have this power. 2. It is an Anointed One-imparted faculty – “He has given us.” What is it? It is love. “Those that do not love don’t know God.” The Anointed One generates this love. Love alone can interpret love, “God is love.” (III) The incredible PRIVILEGE IN HUMAN LIFE. “We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus the Anointed One.” This means that Jesus is the one true God.
 Neander, Augustus: The First Epistle of John, Practically Explained, op. cit. pp. 316-319
 1 John 1:1-4; 5:6-8
 Luke 24:45
 John 1:4, 18; 8:12; John 9:5; Hebrews 1:1-3; Matthew 11:27
 John 17:3
 Ibid. 15:4, 6
 Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, pp. 4894-4895
 Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, September 1895, p. 560
 Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, op. cit., Vol. 10, pp. 819-820
 1 John 5:21
 Revelation 3:7
 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., p. 731
 Syllogism is an instance of a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed premises, each of which shares a term with the conclusion and shares a common or middle term not present in conclusion (e.g., all dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore all dogs have four legs).
 Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 281-282
 Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Hebrews 13:20, 22
 1 John 5:13
 Cf. John 1:12, 18; 17:2ff, 6, 25ff; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:18; Eph 1:18 )
 Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 513
 Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 353-355
 1 John 1:2; John 14:6
 Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 81-82
 John 17:25-26
 Thomas, David: Homilist, Baptist Magazine by a Clergyman in England, 1862