Notes on 2 John
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
2 John 1:1, KJV: The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth;
John calls himself “the elder” here, much like Peter called himself and elder in 1 Peter 5:1. Before this, Paul had ordained elders in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:21-23) and later instructed Titus to ordain elders in Crete (Titus 1:5).
The identity of “the elect lady” and “her children” is uncertain. Some may think this is simply a personal letter from John to one of the ladies in one of the churches where he had ministered. Another possibility is that this is a reference to another church or series of churches. John adds that the letter isn’t just from him but from “. . . all they that have known the truth”.
John’s reference to “the truth” is probably a reference to the available Word of God plus related teachings available at the time. The Old Testament was clearly accepted as Scripture (note the appeals of Jesus Himself to “the Scriptures” in the Gospels; Mark 12:10. John 2:22, 19:28, etc., make three references) and other writings were classes as Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:16). John’s first Epistle makes several references to truth and the truth as well.
2 For the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.
This may be a re-statement of John 14:17, 15:26, and 16:13, where Jesus promised the Spirit of Truth would come to the believer and guide the believer into truth. John may be making a hidden statement, not mentioning the Holy Spirit by name in this verse. At any rate, the truth is available to every believer!
3 Grace be with you, mercy, (and) peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Compare this greeting with those of Paul, Peter, and other writers. John didn’t express much of a greeting or “who I am sending this to you” in his first letter but here he does identify himself. John wishes the elect lady and her children to have God’s grace, mercy, and peace, all in truth and love. Truth and love are themes discussed thoroughly in the first letter.
4 I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
Wherever the elect lady is staying, John rejoiced that some of her children were walking in truth. Even in Corinth, Ephesus, and other places, genuine believers were walking in truth as a pattern of life though some, who named the name of Christ, were not. Paul spoke of some of these in Philippians 3:15-21. John had warned the readers, in his first letter, that liars and “antichrists” were already here and there, making contact with believers, apparently even in his area or sphere of knowledge.
John writes also that we have “received a commandment from the Father”. Although this commandment is not specified here, it clearly was known both to John and the people who would read this letter. The next verse even gives a hint of this commandment, namely, that believers love one another.
5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
It seems strange that believers should be encouraged or asked urgently to love one another. Even so, Jesus Himself gave one commandment: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you (John 15:12, repeated using similar words in John 15:17 and 13:34).” John also says plainly he is not writing a new commandment, simply restating the original one as given by the Lord Himself.
6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.
Love is sometimes expressed in terms of freedom or liberty, and misused when described in terms of “what can I do that will be pleasing to me: or something similar. So-called “unconditional love” is often demanded but seldom rendered in return. So it is unusual when John expresses the idea of love by walking after the Lord’s commandments.
“From the beginning” probably does not refer to the original creation (Genesis 1-2) but more likely the origin of the Christian church, maybe even the first coming of Jesus. John must have remembered the words of Jesus Himself as He taught the disciples in the Upper Room (John 14-16).
7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
Now John reminds the readers of something he had written in his first letter: the deceivers and those who denied Jesus Christ came “in the flesh”, i.e., denying He had a literal human body. The first few verses of John’s first epistle speak of how John had seen and touched the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who deny the humanity of Christ would also deny the crucifixion and ultimately His resurrection from the dead (how could a spirit, not having flesh, actually die, according to their false teachings).
8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
John makes three exhortations in this one verse. First, he encourages the believers, “look to yourselves.” This probably means to be careful to live in the light of the revealed truth. John wrote extensively in his first Epistle about living in love and living in truth.
Secondly, he warns the readers about how it is possible to lose “those things which we have wrought”. Paul had written in 1 Corinthians 3 about how each believer will stand before the Lord to be judged for his or her deeds, never the sins. The works that remain will produce a reward; the others will be burned up.
A “full reward” means exactly that. Every believer can earn a full reward—or something less. What then? Reader, will you receive a full reward? Will I receive a full reward? It’s possible!
9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
As mentioned elsewhere in John’s letters, this verb, “transgresseth”, is in the present tense indicating a repeated, continual, or habitual type of action. Someone is doing this regularly. John says here that someone who makes it a habit of sinning not only does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, but doesn’t have God either.
Then he contrasts this by declaring that those who do abide in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. John had previously expressed a similar thought in 1 John 2:22-24.
10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into (your) house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
Now John writes some very strong, but needed, words for the readers. He’s warning them to not receive any false teachers—those who do “. . .not bring this doctrine (of Christ?)”—into their homes! John had already stated in the first letter that there were many antichrists, and that they “went out from us (departed from the faith?) but they were not of us (not genuine believers)” in order that these false teachers might be plainly seen for who they were (1 John 2:19, paraphrased).
There could be any number of reasons to not invite a false teacher into one’s house. Among these is the concept that once a person is invited in, they are apparently under no obligation to leave! True friends are aware of clues or cues when it is time to leave—but that may not be the case with a false teacher. Secondly, especially for new or weak believers, a false teacher could easily twist or distort Scripture into something so plausible the unknowing or undiscerning believer could fall prey to this “teaching”.
Finally John warns the readers to not even wish them “God speed”, These exact English words only occur here in these two verses so it is not clear if this is a greeting to welcome someone into the house or as they are leaving the house. The meaning seems to be that true believers should not be wishing false teachers to have success, Who wants a false teacher to lead more people (especially believers) astray?
12 Having many things to write unto you, I would not (write) with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
“Paper” in John’s day was most likely based on the papyrus plant. The reader is encouraged to explore works on Bible customs and manners or other reference works for a more detailed explanation of what papyrus is and how it was used to make “paper” in Bible times.
John still expresses a wish that he would be able to see the “elect lady” and, perhaps others, in order that “. . .our joy may be full”.
13 The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.
John sends greetings from the believers with him to the “elect lady” and “her children”, What fellowship!
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).