John’s second and third letters related to specific situations in churches with whom he was familiar. John was concerned for his readers to grasp the significance of Jesus’ coming in the flesh and the necessity of responding to God’s love in Christ by loving the brethren. When many began to abandon these fundamental Christian doctrines, John was inspired to write messages of warning to the faithful—lest more be led astray by falsehood. Though John had particular issues to address in 2-3 John, the logic of his instructions displayed a mindset grounded in God’s redemptive work in the history of Israel and in Christ.
The notion of “truth” dominated even the greeting of 2 John: “To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth—and not only I, but also all who have come to know the truth—because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1-2). John reminded his readers that those who denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh were actually following the teaching of the antichrist (2 John 7; 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3). In 2 John 6 John exhorted the church to walk in love, reflecting the old command of Lev 19:18. In Leviticus 19, Moses set forth instructions for Israel’s community maintenance as they headed toward Canaan and occupancy in the land. He commanded God’s people to love one another as they loved themselves (Lev 19:18). This was an ancient command, one God’s people had from the beginning, and John reminded his readers that it applied to them (2 John 5; 1 John 2:9-11; 3:10-23; 4:7-12).
For John, knowledge of the truth demanded that one walk in love toward other believers and thus walk according to God’s commands (2 John 6). While there was consistency in John’s message, some had gone out from the church with a new teaching saying that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh (2 John 7). John’s portrayal of the stability of the Christian message in 2 John 9, reflected Moses’ understanding of the stable tradition of the law God gave to Israel. Moses commanded Israel not to add to or take away from the words God had given them (Deut 4:2; 12:32). In Deut 18:9-22, Moses warned Israel not to follow false prophets and foretold of a day when the Lord would raise up another prophet like him so that the people could have a stable frame of instruction. John warned his readers, saying, “Anyone who does not remain in the teaching about Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).