1 John

Introduction to the Book of 1 John

Peter and John
The Apostles Peter and John race to the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, by Eugene Burnand (1926). Print Collector / Contributor / Getty Images

The early Christian church was afflicted with doubts, persecution, and false teaching, and the Apostle John addressed all three in his encouraging book of 1 John.

He first established his credentials as as an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, mentioning that his hands had touched the risen Savior.  John used the same type of symbolic language as he did in his Gospel, describing God as "light."  To know God is to walk in light; to deny him is to walk in darkness.

 Obedience to God's commands is walking in the light.

John warned against antichrists, false teachers who denied Jesus is the messiah.  At the same time, he reminded believers to remember the true teaching he, John, had given them.

In one of the most profound statements in the Bible, John said: "God is love." (1 John 4:16, NIV)  John urged Christians to love one another unselfishly, as Jesus loved us.  Our love for God is reflected in how we love our neighbor.

The final section of 1 John set down an encouraging truth:

"And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."  (1 John 5:11-12, NIV)

Despite Satan's domination of the world, Christians are children of God, able to rise above temptation.  John's final warning is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago:

"Dear children, keep yourselves from idols."  (1 John 5:21, NIV)

Author of 1 John

The Apostle John.

Date Written

About 85 to 95 A.D.

Written To:

Christians in Asia Minor, all later Bible readers.

Landscape of 1 John

At the time he wrote this epistle, John may have been the only surviving eyewitness to the life of Jesus Christ. He had ministered to the church in Ephesus.

  This short work was written before John was exiled to the island of Patmos, and before he wrote the book of Revelation. 1 John was probably circulated to several of the Gentile churches in Asia Minor.

Themes in 1 John:

John stressed the seriousness of sin, and while he acknowledged that Christians still sin, he presented the love of God, proven through the sacrificial death of his son Jesus, as the solution to sin.  Christians must confess, ask forgiveness, and repent.

In countering the false teachings of Gnosticism, John affirmed the goodness of the human body, calling for trust in Christ for salvation, not works or asceticism.

Eternal life is found in Christ, John told his readers.  He stressed that Jesus is the Son of God.  Those who are in Christ are assured of eternal life. 

Key Characters in the Book of 1 John

John, Jesus.

Key Verses

1 John 1:8-9
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV)

1 John 3:13
Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (NIV)

1 John 4:19-21
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 

(NIV)

Outline of the Book of 1 John

  • God is light, and love is the supreme commandment - 1 John 1:1-2:17.
  • Confess the Son and listen to the apostles - 1 John 2:18-4:6.
  • God's love and faith in his Son assure us - 1 John 4:7-5:12.
  • Faith creates confidence and understanding - 1 John 5:13-21.