Of the New Testament writers, it may be that the apostle John would have the greatest claim to intimacy with Jesus (John 13:23; 21:20). Pastoral remorse may have filled John’s heart when some in his audience began denying that God had come in the flesh. With both warmth and warning, John wrote to affirm his readers—some of whom, because of the growing popularity of the heretical message, had begun to falter in their confession of faith. John’s message to them reflected his understanding of Scripture as a storyline that anticipated the incarnation and ministry of Jesus.
(1) In 1 John 3:8-10, John described the Devil’s role in human sin, echoing Genesis 3 and Job 1-2. The serpent in the Garden of Eden was more crafty than any other animal the Lord created. The serpent spoke to Eve, tempting her to doubt God’s word and take the fruit and eat of it so that she could be like God. In Gen 3:15, the Lord condemned the serpent and said that one of Eve’s offspring would crush his head. Satan slandered Job when he said that Job only feared God because God protected his property, family, and health. John wrote that Jesus was revealed to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8). Those in the congregation of John’s audience who continued to practice sinful lifestyles while claiming to be believers in Christ were actually of the Devil. John encouraged his audience that those who were truly born of God and believed in Jesus should manifest their spiritual state by practicing righteousness.
(2) In 1 John 4:12, John wrote that no one has ever seen God, recalling the Lord’s statement to Moses in Exod 33:20. Following Israel’s sin with the golden calf in Exodus 32, the Lord told Moses that He would yet lead Israel to the Promised Land. Moses asked the Lord to confirm His word by allowing him to see God’s glory (Exod 33:18). The Lord replied that He would allow Moses to see His goodness and that He would proclaim His name to Moses but told him, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live” (Exod 33:20). John affirmed God’s word to Moses but went on to say, “If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). John’s statement mirrored Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35, when Jesus told the eleven that all would know that they were His disciples if they had love for one another. John’s readers could be assured that since the message of the historical Jesus would not change, a lifestyle of love would always be the mark of true conversion.
(3) In 1 John 5:3-5, John coordinated love for God with obedience to God’s commands, reflecting Moses’ logic in Deut 6:1-9; 30:1-11. After Moses restated the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, he exhorted Israel in Deut 6:1-9 to obey God’s instructions that they might fear and love Him. Then just before Moses established Joshua as the new leader of Israel in Deuteronomy 31, Moses prophesied that the Lord would cast Israel from the land because of their disobedience (Deut 30:1-10). Moses urged Israel to obey what God had commanded them, saying, “This command that I give you today is certainly not too difficult or beyond your reach” (Deut 30:11). John wrote that God’s children are known by their obedience to God’s commands. Because of the new birth John’s audience had received, God’s commands were not a burden to them, not too difficult for them. They had conquered the world through their faith in Jesus (1 John 5:3-5).
(4) In 1 John 5:21, John commanded his readers to avoid idols, echoing the second commandment of the law. Moses commanded Israel not to make any object which they would worship as a god (Exod 20:4; Deut 5:8). Throughout the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament, God’s people were warned against their tendency to bow to the idols of the nations around them—an error that first took place before Moses had even come down with the tablets of the covenant, when Israel bowed to the golden calf in Exodus 32. Israel’s failure to heed the second commandment was ultimately the cause for the exile (Deuteronomy 28-30; 2 Kings 17, 25). In the final sentence of 1 John, John addressed his audience, saying, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). For John, one committed idolatry when they deviated from Christian doctrine and failed to worship Jesus, the One whom John called the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20). In John’s understanding, one committed idolatry when they adopted false views about Jesus.