The concept of “truth” figures considerably in John’s first epistle. Throughout the five-chapter letter, John urges his community of faith to remember the truth that “was from the beginning” (1 Jn 1:1; 2:7, 13–14; 3:11), by which John intends for his readers to recall the timeless witness of Scripture when confronted with the deceptive testimony of the “false prophets” that “have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1) Evident throughout the trio of epistles from the apostle John is the burden for his “dear friends” to find confidence and confirmation in the truths of the Word. “The letters themselves,” G. M. Burge affirms, “were written in the midst of a severe and desperate theological debate.”1 Whether that rupture was due to an influx of incipient gnosticism or docetism, the gist of 1 John is a clear insistence on the belief that Jesus is God over against the words of the “antichrists” who reject Christ’s deity. (1 Jn 2:18–23)
These “antichrists” and “false prophets” serve as the primary motivator of John’s passionate discourse. Their antiphonal doctrines were to be reckoned as nothing but lies “from the world.” (1 Jn 4:5) Contrary to the self-disclosure of God as seen in Jesus, the false prophets were determining to establish systems of belief and religion through esoteric spiritualism and mystical cognizance. But however “enlightened” these antichrists claimed to be, they were nothing but ministers of darkness so long as the “true light” of God’s love is being suppressed under the false pretenses of ascendant religiosity. Such is why John insists that “there is absolutely no darkness” with God. (1 Jn 1:5) Rather, he is a God of revelation and illumination. Or, in John’s words, “God is light.” And the light is only rightly discerned in the person of Jesus. Thus, a failure to uphold the historicity and identity of Jesus jettisons the only manner in which God himself can be known. Such is what forms the prevailing thrust of John’s epistolary writing, throughout which he strives to maintain “that Christian wisdom and truth, anchored in right christology, are cumulative and binding.”2 Jesus Christ is the beacon of truth by which men come to know their true selves. (1 Jn 1:8–10) And, furthermore, he is the one through whom the divine love of the Godhead is experienced. (1 Jn 2:1–2; 4:9–10) “Historic christology,” Burge continues, “must be the touchstone for all Christian belief.”3
Suffused with the light and love of Jesus, as perceived through the Scripture, John’s audience would then be able to rightly and faithfully exemplify the ultimate upshot of God’s redemptive operation in man, namely, loving one another. (1 Jn 2:9–11; 3:11; 4:7–21) The articulated truths of God are of no effect unless they animate the lover to acts of mercy and deference. (1 Jn 3:16–20) And such is what those who have been imbued with God’s light would be known for: unbidden love that is tendered without thoughts of reciprocity. (1 Jn 4:7–16) Fortified with the light and love of the truths of Scripture, then, John’s readers would be able to discern the artificial gospels proffered to them, guarding themselves from the “sway of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19–21), and faithfully function as the “custodian[s] of the truth”4 as it is seen and known in Jesus Christ.
G. M. Burge, “Letters of John,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, edited by Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 590.