NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXL) 05/19/23
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.
Fourth, we come back to this confession of John, for to question it is to make missionary enterprise, if not a laughing stock, at least a much-ado-about-nothing. “We are of God, and the whole world is wicked.” Of course, we may not always confidently say who are God’s children and who belongs to the wicked ones. Nevertheless, these are the certainties of the Christian heart, never to be let go or explained away; these form the basis and inspiration of missionary purpose and work. And indeed, the measure of our assurance is the measure of our obligation. The more we know these things, the greater our burden of responsibility.
With his stately speaking style, William M. Sinclair (1850-1917) focuses on the truth that God has given us an understanding of Himself.  This spiritual faculty of discernment was one of the gifts of that Spirit that the Anointed One was to send. Therefore, we believe in Him that is true, who is the personality of God amidst all the deceptions and fluctuations of a godless society. The Apostle John felt, with the most absolute and penetrating and thankful conviction, that the followers of the Anointed One were rooted and grounded in perfect, unshakable, unassailable truth.
This firmness could not happen unless they rested on the living Son of God and held fast to Him. In addition, a sacred and shining crown to the whole Epistle is that this God, “as seen in His Son,”is the true God. If the Word had not been God, God could not have been seen in Him. And God, seen in His Son, is eternal life. It is only another way of putting what John says in his Gospel. Making “this is the true God” refer only to the Son is equally admissible by grammar but hardly suits the argument well.
One of the most influential Anglican reconcilers, Charles Gore (1853-1932), here, we observe the Apostle John’s insistence on the importance of proper thinking about God. “We are to love the Lord our God with all our understanding, as well as with all our heart and soul and strength.” It is shallowness, or shortness of thought, which causes so many to talk as if “what exactly people believe” is not essential as long as their hearts are right.
The fact is that however much inconsistency there may be between intellectual belief and practice at any particular moment or for any specific individual, in the long run, how people behave – the character of their whole civilization, indeed – depends upon what they believe about God. Thus John has a clear idea of the fellowship of mutual love to establish a Christian society.
Still, he remains convinced that this sort of society can come into being and maintain itself only if people believe that the very being of God is love, which must, therefore, be the law of a godless society. John is convinced that this assurance about God’s nature has come to us and can be maintained in no other way than through the belief that the hidden Father has shown, His mind and being in the historical person, Jesus, the Anointed One and Son of God – so truly one with the Father that in knowing Him we know the Father, and in being joined to Him we are united to the Father. He says this is the real God, in contrast to all the idols of men’s ungoverned imagination.
Beyond any doubt, remarks Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901), that in verse twenty, we come to another of the Apostle John’s “we know.” Even though a godless society lies in sin, we have the sweet knowledge that God’s Son is come and gone as far as to touch our understanding with such heavenly enlightenment that we can “know Him that is true.” Only through the Son comes that knowledge of the true One, for all spiritual knowledge, is grounded in our fellowship with God through the spiritual life He gave us. The Anointed One brings us that life and engrafts us upon the root where all life and power flow. The Son must lead us to the true God and endow us with that keen sense of the spiritual life whereby the true God is known. But this knowledge goes even further: we know the true One; but more, we know that “we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus the Anointed One.” What divine knowledge!
What a holy sphere in which to live, in Him that is true; but how exalted the privilege to know with the most resounding assurance that we are in that home of the soul. John arises on the wings of confidence to the heavenlies themselves. But those disciples were in a world of idol worship. He desires them to keep themselves pure from all contamination with idols. So, first, he reveals the true God. “This,” that is, “Him that is true, even His Son Jesus the Anointed One, is the true God.” He is the God to be worshipped, the eternal and infinite One; yes, He is “eternal life.” “In Him was life,”and hence he is said to be “eternal life.” Life is, by figure, but for the author or procuring cause of life. Thus this beautiful epistle draws to a close, assuring us of the eternal life in its opening verses told us had been “manifested.”
Esteemed ministry veteran James B. Morgan (1859-1942) It is apparent how frequently the Apostle John uses the expression “we know” and how many insights he applies. Confining our attention to the chapter before us, we read: “we know that we love the children of God,” … “we know that we have eternal life,” … “we know that we have the petitions we desired of Him,” … “We know that whosoever is born of God does not sin” … “we know that we are of God …” “we know that God’s Son has come” and “we know Him that is true.” This style is uncomplicated and is no less instructive but provides an example of the Christian religious nature. That is not an opinion but a certainty. Neither is it doubtful speculation but a reality we are conscious of. This remark applies to all essential elements in the Gospel of the Anointed One, the significant objects of faith, and our interest in them.
Everyone who truly apprehends it knows its truth and, with their fellowship, knows the Anointed One and the salvation He has conferred upon them. They know this to be true in the same way that they see the value of the food that nourishes them or the attire that clothes them by experience. Therefore, they can say, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of the Anointed One, for it is the power of God and the wisdom of God to salvation to everyone that believes.” They know it’s true because they have felt its power.
A man who appreciates Jesus’ embodiment of the divine transforming emotion on how we live in this world, Robert Law (1860-1919) states that in verse twenty, we find the certainty of Christian Belief and the facts upon which it rests, and the supernatural power which has quickened it to the perception of those facts. Then with a final reiteration of the real significance of the Epistle, “This is the true God and Eternal Life,” and an abrupt and sternly affectionate call to all believers to beware of yielding the homage of their trust and dependence to the hopeless shadows which slink nearby to usurp the place of the True God.
Most scholars assume that in the Epistle, God is the absolute final source of that life – Eternal Life – the possession of which is the supreme end for which man, and every spiritual nature, exists. So, it is implied in John’s testimony, “This is the witness, that God gave us Eternal Life,” and in all the passages, too numerous to be quoted, that speak of the existence of this Life as the result of a Divine birth. That God is also the inherent source of Life – that it exists and is maintained only through a continuous vitalizing union with Him, as of the branch with the vine – is no less implied in those equally numerous passages that speak of our abiding in God and God abiding in us.
Thinking as a dispensationalist, Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945) notes that the conclusion of the Apostle John’s Epistle consists of three statements that “we know.” We know that whoever is born of God does not sin, but He (he) that is born of God keeps himself, and that wicked one does not touch Him (him).” Sin is the touch of the wicked one. If the believer guards himself by living in fellowship with the Father and the Son, walking in the Light, the wicked one cannot reach him; he lives according to his new nature without sinning.
So, we who are of God in a world that cohabits with the wicked should remain separated. If believers are not, they move around in the wicked one’s territory, and the author of sin finds occasion to touch them and lead them to sin. However, since we know that God’s Son has come and 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 – the true God and eternal life, we should be safe in this world.
In reviewing what the Apostle John says in this verse, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1939) mentions the Apostle John’s use of “understanding” is only here in verse twenty, while it appears in the Apostle Paul’s and the Apostle Peter’s writings. John only uses “knowledge” and “mind” in Revelations. It is essential in understanding these references to note why the Apostles chose the word they did.
With characteristic fundamental thinking, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) highlights the fact that the Anointed One, God’s Son, fulfilled His mission by doing the work characterized by His name (Yeshua – “Savior”), and the effects continue to this day. Thus, the Apostle John uses the word “understanding” not found elsewhere in his writings. The faculty of “knowing” or “discerning” is what it expresses. The faculty of knowing, or discerning, seems to be what it describes. It is worth noting that “knowing” or “knowledge” is also absent from the Johannine writings, and “understanding” occurs only twice elsewhere. Also, “that we may know” is well supported here, as in John’s Gospel.
Furthermore, God, the One who alone completely corresponds to His ‘‘Name,” in whom the idea is completely realized. The attempt to make God the subject of “understanding,” notwithstanding the preceding “has come” and to interpret “the true” of the Anointed One, hardly needs serious refutation. The God who “fulfills the highest conception” of the Godhead can only be known through the faculty of discernment given by His Son, through His historic appearance on earth. John is already mentally contrasting the true with the false conceptions of God against which he warns his readers in the last verse of the Epistle.
The phrase, “and we are in Him that is true,” must have the same reference here as in the preceding clause. Therefore, there is no difficulty supposing that John, who uses the phrase “that we may know Him that is true,” should use the words “we are in Him that is true” concerning God. The following clause supports this interpretation. To interpret the words “in His Son Jesus the Anointed One” as being in apposition to “in Him that is true,” appended to leave no doubt as to the change of reference in “in him that is true,” is far less natural than “the Son of Him” description of the method in which union with God is realized.
With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) states that the assurance and guarantee of it are the facts of the Incarnation, an overwhelming demonstration of God’s interest in us and His concern for our highest good. Not simply a historical fact but an ongoing operation not “came,” but “has come” and “has given us.” Our faith is not a matter of philosophical theory but of personal and growing acquaintance with God through the enlightenment of the Anointed One’s Spirit, “the real” as opposed to “the false” God of the heretics.
As a spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) notes that when the Apostle John says that God’s Son has come, the usual effect of using the present tense would be “He is now here,” but this does not apply in verse twenty. Therefore, His abiding is not physical but spiritual in every believer. That means “a godless society will never be the same again” as before He came. Yes, He came and made atonement for our sins to gain God’s forgiveness, which is still available by grace. And this gift God gave us through His Son – which we now possess – as insight to know Him; we need this gift because before we received it, we were “living in the darkness of ignorance.” Our confidence stands on the fact that we are in Him who is genuine, whose permanent gift of the Spirit and the perpetual offering of understanding includes moral and spiritual discrimination and discernment.
With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) mentions that for the third and final time, John speaks of the grounds of Christian confidence by using the verb “we know” or “we can be sure”). But on this occasion, the reference is to the Anointed One; it is accordingly fundamental in character and triumphant in tone. How, it may be asked, can we “cross the line” from death to life and be rescued from a godless society and the evil one? John answers the question by speaking of God’s Son, whose person and work are the means of eternal life and the basis of all Christian certainty. Nevertheless, we can be sure that God’s Son has come even while the whole world lies in the grip of the evil one.
An insistent believer in Grace, Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008) agrees that the coming of God’s Son granted believers an understanding which made possible a more excellent knowledge of God. John and his circle were in Him who is true (and so were his readers as they continued to “abide” in Him). But to stay in God is to abide in His Son Jesus the Anointed One. For that matter, Jesus the Anointed One is the true God and eternal life. With this grand affirmation of the deity of the Anointed One, John concluded his summary of apostolic truths that stand against the antichrists’ falsehoods.
Inspired by Jesus’ words, “go into all a godless society,” Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) says the Christological reflection of 5:18-20 clarifies while summarizing several points of the Christology of 2:29-3:10, as the following comparison shows:
|3:9 the one born of God does not sin||5:18 the one born of God does not sin|
|3:9 because His seed remains in them||5:18 because the One who birthed them protects them|
|3:8 God’s Son came to destroy the works of the devil||5:18 the evil one does not touch God’s children|
|3:6 everyone who remains in Jesus does not sin||5:20 we are in the truthful One, in His Son, Jesus the Anointed One|
The three certitudes introduced by “we know” are followed by a final proclamation which is the letter’s most developed confession of faith concerning Jesus: “He is the truthful One, God and Life eternal.”
 Greenhough, John G., The Cross in Modern Life, The Expositor’s Library, Published by Hodder and Stoughton, New York, 1914, Ch. XII, The Certainties of our Warfare, pp. 120-121.
 Cf. Acts of the Apostles 26:18; 1 Corinthians 2:12-15; Ephesians 1:18
 Cf. 1 John 2:20, 27; See John 14:26; 16:13
 John 17:3; cf. 1 John 5:11-13
 Sinclair, William M., New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 494
 Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:
 Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 218
 1 John 1:4
 Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., pp. 137-139
 Romans 1:16-17
 Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture LI, pp. 508-509
 Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 273
 1 John 5:11
 Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 54
 Gaebelein, Arno C., The Annotated Bible, op. cit., pp. 160-161
 Ephesians 1:18; 4:18
 1 Peter 1:13
 Revelations 13:18; 17:9
 Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures in the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 1971-1972
 Revelation 13:18; 17:9
 John 17:3
 Brooke, Alan E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 150-153
 Smith, David: The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., p. 199
 Ephesians 4:18; cf. John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 2:14
 1 John 4:13
 Ibid. 5:20
 Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 59-60
 Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 305-306
 Cf. John 1:1, 14
 Cf. 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 5:11-13
 Hodges, Zane C., Bible Knowledge Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.