THE SECOND AND THIRD EPISTLES OF JOHN
Two Letters From An Old Man
False teachers are still active in the world today, and we need to know how to respond to them.
The letters are not long. Both are almost identical in length, and each one was just large enough to fill a standard sheet of papyrus. The two letters are personal correspondence, and each was written to address a particular situation that existed at the time it was written. For this reason some may consider that they have little relevance today – but nothing could be further from the truth.
The apostle John, the writer of these two short letters, known as the Second and Third Epistles of John, is generally believed to have been the longest-surviving apostle. Some members of the original group of apostles had been executed for their faith and their commitment to Christ. John had been exiled to Patmos (Rev. 1:9). According to Church tradition he had left that lonely island and was in Ephesus when he wrote these two letters – but of this we cannot be certain. The letters appear to have been written between 85-95 a.d. when John was a very old man.
A Very Full Life
Many years had passed since that day when the Lord Jesus had walked by the Sea of Galilee. John had been mending fishing nets with his father and his brother James when Jesus came along. As a young man, John heard the call and, with James, left his father and followed Jesus (Mt. 4:21-22).
For three years he had lived in the company of the Son of God. He had seen the sick healed and the dead raised to life. He had heard the most remarkable teaching, including the Lord’s own revelation, “I will build My Church” (Mt. 16:18). He had watched for a while in Gethsemane, and had followed the Lord from there to His trial and then to Golgotha where He was crucified. He had met the risen Lord and had witnessed His ascension to heaven.
He had been empowered by the Holy Spirit along with the other apostles, and had gone forth to preach the gospel. The Church of which the Lord Jesus had spoken had been established, and John had watched it grow as souls were saved. But all was not well. False teachers had arisen, and some of God’s people were being led astray. Danger threatened the Church of God. Aware of this, John wrote the two letters now preserved for us in the Bible.
Similar, Yet Different
It is interesting to compare the similarities and differences of the two letters. One letter is addressed to a woman, the other to a man. One clearly warns of false teachers, the other warmly commends those who are true. The message of the second epistle is “close the door,” forbidding the reception of deceivers. By way of contrast, the third epistle’s message is “open your home” as the apostle rejoices at the welcome given to genuine believers.
Common themes emerge as we place the two letters side by side. Believers must walk in the truth and must love one another. We must be found abiding in Christ and in His teaching (2 Jn. 9), and by our good deeds must prove that we are God’s children (3 Jn. 11). Each letter closes with John stating that he has more that he could write about, and expressing the hope that soon he will be able to see the person he is addressing.
John passed on a long, long time ago, but his epistles remain – and so do the dangers they address. False teachers are still active in the world today, and we need to know how to respond to them. Love among the true people of God is needed as much as it ever was.
We can truly thank God that He has seen fit to preserve these two short but instructive letters in His Word to guide us in the path of truth. Let us heed again the timeless messages of that aged and beloved apostle, John.
By Martin Girard
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.