By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXL) 05/23/23

5:20 And we know that God’s Son has come and given us understanding. So now we can see 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.

A man who loves sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) states that the third “we know” statement in verse twenty is a summation because “but” should be “and.” Despite the evil one’s sway, John issues a concluding threefold reminder. As it turns out, this is the final indicative declaration of the epistle. He and his readers share certainty regarding three matters. First, “God’s Son has come;”[1] Modern translations are unanimous, it seems, in rendering the present tense “He has come” in the perfect tense. Whatever the nuance of the verbal aspect, John’s point is that the incarnation is not at issue in the community he addresses. The epistle affirms that all of the good things flow from God’s Son.

Second, “Son of God.” Moreover, followers can anticipate his return.[2] It will mean vindication for them and judgment for the Gospel’s detractors. As John closes his epistle, he reminds them of the basis for the big picture dominating the landscape of his worldview: the appearance of the invisible God in human form. Third, “has given” us understanding so that we will know Him who is trustworthy. Yet, even at the end of his letter, John never stops insisting on the “correct doctrine.” However, there is more that God gave the Anointed One’s followers:[3]

Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation and Final Covenant writings, Colin G. Kruse (1950) sees the Apostle John’s reassurance continues into verse twenty. Using the third of his “we know” expressions, John reminds his readers: “We also know that God’s Son has come and given us understanding.” Two elements of the work of God’s Son are alluded to here, His coming as the historical Jesus and His giving understanding to people when they become believers. The Greek word dianoia, translated as “understanding,” is found only here in the Johannine writings, but the context makes its meaning clear enough: he has given us understanding “so that we may know Him who is true.” The Son of God’s wisdom is knowledge of God the Father. In John’s Gospel, Jesus addresses His Father as the “only true God.”[4]

The Apostle John refers to the God and Father of Jesus the Anointed One, when he uses the expression “the one who is true,” is made abundantly clear in the following sentence: “And we are in Him who is true” – even in His Son Jesus the Anointed One. The True One is the one whose Son is Jesus, the Anointed One. However, John wants to stress that those who believe are actually “in Him who is true,” that is, in God the Father, because they are “in His Son Jesus the Anointed One.”[5]

Believing that Christians can fall away from the faith, Ben Witherington III (1951) notes that the conjunction “but” begins verse twenty, thus contrasting what has just been said about the Evil One’s control of a godless society: But the Apostle John is not talking about cerebral knowledge, for believers also “know” that they are “in the True One.” Here it seems likely since, throughout this discourse, John often refers to Jesus as “The One” or “Righteous One” and the “True One,”  not God the Father. The closest heavenly relative for the Greek word yhios (“Son”) here clearly is Jesus.

Thus, Jesus is called both God’s Son and Divine here in this verse is not a surprising conclusion for John, who also wrote the Fourth Gospel prologue and recorded Thomas’ response to Jesus as “my Lord and my God.[6] Some have found here an echo of Jesus’ prayer.[7] Jesus is genuinely Divine and has everlasting life, so these remarks serve as a closing doxology. Finally, John wishes to stress that if someone heard the true Gospel, as the false teachers did, then fail to recognize and honor Jesus as the Anointed One, God’s Son, Savior, and indeed as God means that one is guilty of idolatry in verse twenty-one.[8]

With her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) says that the third affirmation, “We know,” here in verse twenty, again alludes to the story that shaped the narrative of chapter four. John does not directly identify God’s Son with those born of God because each of these affirmations independently evoke significant themes. It is as one also born of God that protects those who share that dependency; it is as God’s unique child that he acts on God’s behalf to survive all that opposes God and to bring into the realm of life those who belong to God.

That “He has come” is decisive, for only by that intervention into the situation could victory be won. The verb “has come” tense emphasizes that coming is not a past event but something whose effects can neither be reversed nor surpassed. “We” refers to direct beneficiaries of His coming that are not expressed in light of past events (such as forgiveness) but as the gift of a new understanding and relationship with God.[9]

Contextual interpretation specialist Gary M. Burge (1952), says that in verse twenty, the Apostle John finally clarifies our hope. If a godless society is experiencing disintegration and many are aligned with the forces of evil, what hope is there for us in this world? John answers that Jesus the Anointed One has penetrated a godless society and worked as a saboteur, undermining its worldly system, and reversing its possibilities.

Note that here John describes the work of the Anointed One as bringing knowledge, but this should not be seen as a type of Gnostic enlightenment – the very thing to which John is opposed! Instead, Christian knowledge is focused on genuine reality, which happened in history. Thus, John does not say we merely know the truth; instead, we know “Him who is Truth.” Furthermore, John uses an adjective rather than the usual noun to underscore that Christian certainty is not about abstract reason or inspired enlightenment but about God, the real God, “Him who is true,” the only true God.[10] [11]

Emphasizing the Apostle John’s call to Christian fellowship, Bruce B. Barton (1954) mentions that the Apostle John reminds the believers of what they “know” to be true: they know that God’s Son has come. The false teachers had done their best to set the Anointed One aside, to make Him unimportant, and to have so-called “knowledge of God” without Him. But John has been explaining throughout this letter that this is impossible. Jesus the Anointed One is central to the true Christian faith. Jesus came to earth, returned to heaven, and now is present through His Holy Spirit.

The Son’s purpose in coming to earth was to reveal God the Father and to enable the believers to know Him experientially through Him.[12] The Holy Spirit has given [believers] understanding so that [they] can know the true God. Just as the Holy Spirit teaches believers about the Anointed One and points to Him, the Son teaches about and points to the Father. To be in fellowship with the true God is to be in harmony with His Son, Jesus the Anointed One, for when believers are united to the Son, they are also united to the Father.[13] Thus John is saying that Jesus, the Anointed One is the truly Divine.[14] The Father is the source of eternal life, and Jesus the Anointed One reveals that life,[15] so also, He is eternal life. Only through His death and resurrection was eternal life made available to humanity.[16]

With a classical thinking approach to understanding the scriptures, Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) makes the point that here in verse twenty, the last of three consecutive references to “we know” is made. To “knowing that,” unlike the two in verses eighteen and nineteen, this time begins with the support of the initial conjunction “and” then moves toward a hymn of praise climax. John again emphasizes certainties that can and must, in the end, be known.

And we know that God’s Son has come. The phrase “Son of God” along with the same designation at the passage’s beginning in verse thirteen and with “His Son, Jesus the Anointed One” here in verse twenty frames the message. To know the coming one[17] is to understand what can and must, in the end, be known. To know is to abide. To abide by and not to leave.[18] To benefit from and for the fellowship of the beloved is to gain from and for the confidence that ours is indeed the knowledge of the One True God through the Anointed One whom He sent. [19]

Prophetically speaking, Ken Johnson (1965) supposes that the followers of Carpocratians,[20] much like modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, taught Jesus would not physically return to earth. However, in verse twenty, the Greek verb hēkō (“is come”) says we know that God’s Son “yet is coming.” So true believers know Jesus will physically return to earth. He is the only true Diety and the only giver of eternal life. Because of this, we do not practice sin but obey the Anointed One’s mandates.[21]

As a lover of God’s Word, Peter Pett (1966) notes that the Apostle John concludes by stressing what we can know with assurance. The first thing we can know is that those born of God do not plan to go on sinning. They hate sin. They long to be rid of sin. They mourn over sin. They bring it to God and agree with His condemnation of it.[22] They seek its removal by cleansing in the blood of Jesus the Anointed One.[23] Thus they keep themselves within His love and His Kingly Rule so that the evil one cannot touch them. Alternately the meaning may be that “He Who was born of God keeps him,” that Jesus, uniquely begotten of God who was, acts as Savior and Redeemer.

The second thing that we know is that we are God’s property, while a godless society seems comfortable in the evil one’s embrace. It was the picture portrayed at Jesus’ temptations, where the devil had such unseen power that he could control nations.[24] A godless society thinks that it gets its way. The truth is it is deceived and led along by the evil one. He is the hidden but true ruler of the world’s godless society. It is in his arms. Yet not because of His supreme power but because people choose for it to be so in their foolishness. Worldly behavior, trends, and attitudes come because of the fraudulent activity of the evil one over those who love worldliness. They can only be delivered by responding to Jesus the Anointed One and being born of God.

The third thing that we know is that God’s Son has given us an understanding (through the Spirit) so that we know Him who is true, in contrast with the deceit and lies of the devil. We have been enlightened and entered into Him Who is true, dwelling in Him Who is true, even in His Son Jesus the Anointed One.

Notice the closeness of the relationship between Father and Son. To dwell in one is to stay in the other. Thus, the Father and His Son are the true Godhead and eternal life. So, John finishes with this stark contrast. On the one hand, a godless society, lying under the evil one (not ‘in him’ but as good as), deceived, without understanding, alienated from the spiritual life in God through the ignorance that is in them because of the hardness of their hearts,[25] existing in darkness, dead in trespasses and sins,[26] lulled into a false sleep.

On the other hand, being in the One who is trustworthy, receiving understanding, knowing the truth, dwelling in union with God, and His Son Jesus the Anointed One, walking in the light,[27] enjoying in and through Him eternal life, we rejoice because we have vitality and a spiritual relationship because of living in union with God. Indeed, this last situation is the reason for John’s final appeal.[28]

In his unorthodox Unitarian way, Duncan Heaster (1967) mentions that the coming of God’s Son is through the gift of the Spirit, the Comforter, whereby we feel His presence even more than when He visibly lived here on earth.[29] So John says that we can be confident that we have received His Spirit for greater spiritual understanding. This same Greek noun dianoia (“mind” or “understanding”) elsewhere of how the Lord, through His Spirit, enlightens our mind;[30] the gift of the Spirit envisioned in the Final Covenant is God’s way of being put into and written in our mind,[31] and “the mind” purified by the Spirit.[32] So a mindset is given to us; we do not develop it solely through mental effort. And that mind (disposition) is provided so that we might know we have a genuine relationship with Him. For “the spirit of truth” would teach us all things.[33] [34]

Bright seminarian Karen H. Jobes (1968) agrees that Christian knowledge of the truth must be more than acknowledging Jesus’ birth and death; it must entail trusting Jesus as the source of understanding about God. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has given us “understanding” – that facility and disposition to comprehend the significance of His coming. Jesus used this same Greek noun, dianoia when He summed up the greatest commandment.[35] We also find dianoia in the Septuagint Greek translation of God’s promise, where He will write His laws of the new covenant.[36] [37]

Systematic Theologian Fred Sanders (Current), Professor at Torrey Honors College, states that it is one thing to notice about discipleship’s trinitarian fulfillment grows even more profound and reaches back even further to show that the ultimate reason that the Father and the Spirit are not distractions from the Son or displacements of Jesus from His central place in our lives is that God is One. The unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a deeper, stronger, more intimate union than anything in creation.

Therefore, it’s simply not possible to know one Person of the Trinity without the others. Any experience of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit is firmly, inwardly bound to the fullness of triune deity. In that perfect triune oneness above all worlds, which would have eternally been itself in divine blessedness whether disciples existed or not, the Son is never without His Father and Their Holy Spirit. That is why, when we live as disciples of the Anointed One, we can focus our attention on Jesus and counter the Father and Spirit in that very event. This is why, if you follow Jesus, you follow Him to His Father by the Spirit. [38]

[1] 1 John 5:20; cf. John 8:42

[2] Cf. 2:28; 3:2

[3] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 317-318

[4] John 17:3

[5] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[6] John 20:51

[7] Ibid. 17:3

[8] Witherington, Ben III., Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[9] Lieu, Judith: A New Testament Library, I, II, & III John, op. cit., p. 232

[10] Cf. 1 Samuel 3:7; Jeremiah 24:7; 31:34; John 1:9; 15:1; Revelation 3:7

[11] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., pp. 217-218

[12] See John 17:3

[13] Ibid. 17:21-24

[14] See John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1

[15] John 1:4; 14:6

[16] Barton, Bruce G., 1,2,3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., p. 120

[17] 1 John 4:2; 5:6; 2 John 1:7; see also John 1:9; 11:27; 21:22

[18] See 1 John 2:19; 4:1; 2 John 1:7: contrast 3 John 1:7

[19] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 582-583

[20] Carpocrates was a 2nd-century Christian Gnostic, i.e., a religious dualist who believed that matter was evil and the spirit good and that salvation was gained to a limited number with knowledge. 

[21] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 85

[22] 1 John 1:9

[23] Ibid. 1:7

[24] Matthew 4:8-9

[25] Ephesians 4:18

[26] Ibid. 2:1

[27] 1 John 1:7

[28] Pett, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, 1 John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[29] John 14:18

[30] Ephesians 1:18

[31] Hebrews 8:10; 10:16

[32] 2 Peter 3:1

[33] John 14:26

[34] Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 81

[35] Matthew 22:37; cf. Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27

[36] Jeremiah 31:33

[37] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., p. 241

[38] Sanders, Fred: Discipleship in a Trinitarian Key, Revivalist Magazine, January/February 2023, pp. 18-19

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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