Notes on 1 John 5:13-21
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
1 John 5:13. KJV 13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
Note the parallel between John 20:31 and this verse. John wants the readers, his “little children”, to know with certainty they have eternal life. He also seems to give an invitation to any who were not yet believers to believe on the Name of the Son of God.
14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
John had mentioned “confidence” twice before in this letter. In 2:28, he encouraged the readers to abide in Christ to have confidence in Christ’s coming; and in 3:21, he stated that if the believer’s heart didn’t condemn him then he had confidence towards God. Now he says that we have the confidence in knowing that if “we ask anything according to His will, he hears us (paraphrased)”.
Why John made the statement that God “hears” us is not certain. He may have remembered the story of the man born blind who had uttered the phrase “we know God doesn’t hear sinners (John 9:31)” and wanted to encourage new believers that God indeed heard and hears every request in His will.
15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
John may have remembered, here, the words of Jesus when He said, “Ask and ye shall receive . . (Matthew 7:7)”, and the promises of Jesus in the upper room (John 16:24).
16 If any man see his brother sin a sin (which is) not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
Now John writes a difficult verse to begin a new subject. He mentions that there is a sin not unto death and a sin which is unto death. John does not specify the difference between these types of sins. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, wrote about some who were weak and sick, and some believers “slept” or had died, because they had not properly observed the Lord’s Supper ordinance, but John does not mention this here. We simply do not know what sins were sins unto death and which were not, but John emphasized that both kinds of sins were known in his day.
That a believer can and does sin is clear, and John wrote of this in chapters 1 and 2 of this letter. Now he may be taking this a step further, in that he seems to be encouraging a believer who prays for another believer who has sinned “a sin (which was) not unto death”. Did he have the words of Jesus in mind when, in Luke 22, He had prayed for Peter (and the others) that their faith would not die? Peter later denied even knowing the Lord but later repented of that sin and was restored to fellowship.
Judas betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver (about a month’s wage by some estimates) but never genuinely repented, later taking his own life. Had he repented, he would have been forgiven! Sadly, there is no record that he ever did so.
17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
John had written in 1:9 that Jesus was faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. John emphasizes again that there is a sin that did not cause death. Some sins did, such as the sins of Ananias and Sapphira, who, after lying to the Holy Spirit and to Peter, died immediately (Acts 5). This was an unusual case, however, and there is no record that anyone else was struck dead immediately in the rest of the New Testament.
18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
This verse is in the present tense, indicating that anyone who is “born of God” does not continually or habitually sin. John also mentions that those “begotten of God ‘keepeth' himself”. which may mean, in this context, that he or she guards himself/herself against sin.
John might be referring to Job when he writes that the wicked one doesn’t touch him or her. Satan demanded permission to destroy Job but could do nothing without God’s permission (Job 1-2).
19 (And) we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
John had written in 4:4 that “ye are of God”, referring to believers and in 4:6 that “we are of God”, including himself with the believers and other readers. This verse affirms that we (the believers) know “that we are of God”. What a wonderful promise!
But John also adds that the whole world “lieth in wickedness”. Paul had written in Ephesians 6 about the rulers, principalities, powers, and other evil angelic forces who engage in constant warfare against believers. Paul had also written about the “prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2)” who was still working in the children of disobedience. Paul would have known much about this—he had been in Ephesus when repentant believers burned a goodly number of books relating to “curious arts (Acts 19:19)” Before this, Paul had also been in Athens and saw the city completely given to idolatry, except for a synagogue of the Jews and an altar “to the unknown God (Acts 17:17, 23).”
Romans 1 has the sad, sad story of how most of the world walked into idolatry, abandoning the True God in the process, and any number of related sins.
20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath 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 Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
This verse is a summary of this first letter: for one thing, we know the Son of God came; John described how he had seen and touched the risen Lord (chapter 1). He gave us an understanding so that we may know not only that He is true but we are true in Him. John also mentions the True God (idols were still in abundance and were worshiped in many places, even as he wrote this letter) and eternal life. Amen.
21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
This is a strong exhortation to believers. First, most of the readers, the first and perhaps second generation of Christians, were either converts from the Jewish religion (like John and the other Apostles) or from pagan religions. Cornelius (Acts 10), Dionysus and Damaris of Athens (Acts 17) and other Gentiles were just a few of these. Being relatively recent converts to another faith, it would take time for them to mature from baby status to mature adults. John gave a progression of sorts in 2:12-14.
Social and family pressures might be a second reason to keep away from idols. Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. Apparently some had not remembered the story of Daniel and his three friends (were there others?) who vowed they would not defile themselves with anything the king of Babylon had to offer them (Daniel 1:8). The three friends, known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, later refused to worship the king’s giant golden image (Daniel 3).
Thirdly, idols had no power whatsoever! At least twice we can read of how idols or images could be stolen: Rachel stole Laban’s (her father) idols (images or gods, Genesis 31) and the sons of Dan stole the idols made by Micah in Judges 18. Elijah called for a contest between God and Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Even the Philistine god Dagon fell down before the Ark of the True God (1 Samuel 5)!
This last commandment is just as valid today as it was then. O that we would forsake our own idols!
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)