A Closer Look at 2 John and 3 John
Article by Scott Morton
When people are studying the Bible, they will often look at 1 John. Two of the major reasons why believers spend time studying this book is the idea of confession (1 John 1:9) and proving the triune Godhead (1 John 5:7-8). The next book a person typically would study is Revelation.
We are going to spend some time looking at two of the books that are in between the above-mentioned books. It is important for us to have a proper understanding of these books because not a lot of material has been written about them. When looking at these books, we are going to use the pattern Paul gives us on how to study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15). We need to understand some basic things about the books in order to determine if they apply to our lives today.
The time frame of these books
It is important for us to determine the time frame of which the Apostle John is speaking when he wrote his last two letters by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The assumption is often made that both 2 and 3 John (as well as the rest of the New Testament as we know it) were written to us and that, therefore, they teach us how we should live our lives today.
Even a cursory reading of these books will show us they are not dealing with information related to the Body of Christ, the Church. We see this as we read 2 John 6 which makes a statement which directly contradicts the position we have in Christ today, saying we should "walk after his commandments." This clearly is a teaching related to the nation of Israel, not the Body of Christ, "for we are not under the law but under grace."
It is also clear from looking at these two books that the audience is "the Little Flock," those belonging to the nation of Israel to whom the kingdom was given because they believed in Jesus as their Messiah (Luke 12:32). Acts 2:38 is a demonstration of how a person enjoined themselves to the Little Flock. It is to this group that the promises to the nation of Israel are actually going to go, due to the unbelief of the nation as a whole. In 2 John 1 the Apostle John identifies to whom he is writing: "the elect lady (Israel) and her children" (the Little Flock). They are the ones who are going to directly benefit from the doctrines taught in these books.
2 and 3 John deal with future events, the purpose being: to give to those of the nation of Israel who will be living during the 70th week of Daniel doctrines by which they are to live and function in accordance with God's law. At this future time God will resume His program with the nation of Israel which was interrupted because of Israel's rejection of Jesus (Romans 11:25-26). This is why the books of Hebrews through Revelation are given as they deal specifically with this time frame. They pick up from where the Prophetic Age was interrupted and gives relevant doctrine for the believing remnant to follow in the future when the Prophetic Age will be resumed.
We live in the parenthetical age, the time between God's past and future dealings with the nation of Israel. It is at this present time in which we live that God displayed His matchless grace to the Gentiles by ushering in the Dispensation of the Grace of God which was revealed to the Apostle Paul by the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-16).
2 John is a continuation of the doctrine that has been laid out in 1 John. He clarifies some things that have been taught in the previous epistle. It is clear from Paul's teaching about the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) that this is how the entire Bible is to be used. All Scripture is to be used for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness ( 2 Tim.3:16-17). John deals with two specific areas in 2 John:
1. He is going to reteach (reproof) the remnant the doctrine which applies to this time frame.
2. To give Israel a full grasp of the doctrine that is being laid out.
The first doctrine the Apostle John discusses is loving one another. John has already told the little flock that he rejoiced in the fact they have walked in the truth (verse 4). This issue of loving one another is not something new; as John states in verse 5, this is something they had already understood (see for example John 13:34). He had also given this instruction in 1 John 2:7.
It is interesting John brings up the idea that they had this from the beginning, when he seems to be the originator of this idea. If we look at Leviticus 19:18, we can see this is part of the law itself. Moses commands Israel to love their neighbors as they love themselves. As all Israelites should have love for theirselves, they should also have love for their neighbor. It is the further teaching of Jesus Christ, as He amplifies the law, which brings in the concept of loving one another even as Christ loved them. John 15:12-14 shows the love which Christ displayed while He was at Calvary, taking care of the issue of sin for the nation. John gives a demonstration of this love in 1 John 4:20.
John then gets into the issue of false teachers who will be present during this (70th week of Daniel) time. This is something he had covered with them in the first letter where he laid out the idea of people being able to walk in truth, and to help the believing remnant be able to identify the false teachers that are among them. This is an important issue for Israel, since they have to endure to the end in order to be partakers of the earthly kingdom that is going to be established. This is why the issue of transgression comes up, because a true follower of Christ during this time is going to be able to keep the commandments (1 John 5:1-2).
John is able to identify a person who is not following the law as a liar (1 John 2:4) because of the fact that as a believer a person has to follow all of the commandments. This describes a person whom we would call a hypocrite, one who states he'll do one thing and does the complete opposite of what it is he is teaching. Hence, those who do this are liars.
Why is the issue of being around false teachers a bad idea? It is important to note this is something we today have to deal with on a daily basis as well. The problem comes from the fact that if a person starts to hear lies over and over again, they will start to believe it as truth. If you have ever read the book 1984, we see an example of this from the character Winston. He is taken into custody and is brainwashed. He states towards the end of this book 2 + 2 = 5, because they had told this to him so often he began to believe it as fact.
John also identifies in 1 John 4:1-6 the issue of false spirits and prophets. Again this is another area of concern the believing remnant is going to face. This is why John states in 2 John 7 that false spirits and prophets are deceivers and antichrists. All of this is going to pull a person away from the doctrine which has been revealed, and that is applicable to them.
During the 70th week of Daniel this will be a real issue for Israel. We can see, by reading Revelation 13, there will be an image which will be brought to life and which will be involved with the worship of devils (Habbakuk 2:19). It is clear from many different passages in the Bible that God alone is to be worshipped. These spirits and prophets will be leading people away from this proper worship and will instead lead them to actually worship the Antichrist.
This is an issue even we can relate to as being part of the end of the current dispensation. Paul talks in 1 Timothy 4:1 about the fact there are going to be seducing spirits which will be leading people away from sound doctrine. The problem is that people almost always assume that if it is in the Bible it therefore always applies to us today. These passages show this is not the case.
This book is giving some practical outworking of the doctrine contained in the previous two books (1 John and 2 John). John states a person who is going through the 70th week of Daniel is going to have to endeavour having fellowship with believers (example, Verse 11 talks about being around those that are doing good). It is also clear that John is laying out some guidelines for a person on how it is they are to behave (1 John 1:5-7, 2:3-11). There is a separation from the world that is being taught for the believing remnant during this period of time.
They therefore would have to have a method for being able to identify who the people are who are walking correctly. John states several times there are going to be deceivers during this time that are going to have an impact on them (1 John 4:1-6, 2 John 7-11, 1 John 3:7). John therefore uses three people as examples in order to show how this works. They could then use the pattern shown to look at each individual and determine if they are following the correct path God has laid out during that time.
The example of Gaius (Verses 2-8)
John starts his examples with the person to whom he is writing the letter (verse 1). This makes for an easy identification for the believing remnant to follow, as they could look at the person who had received the letter and see firsthand how he was walking the right path. The first thing he addresses is Gaius' walk in truth (verses 3 and 4). Walking in the truth has to do with walking in light (1 John 1:5-7), keeping God's Word (1 John 2:5), and keeping that which was heard from the beginning (1 John 2:24-25). By the context of the last example we can see that this has to do with Jesus Christ and the fact that He is the Messiah. It is by this belief and the keeping of the commandments that they would be able to identify which people were part of the remnant (1 John 3:23-24).
John then brings up the treatment of the strangers that came among them, stating there was a charity which Gaius displayed, a clear demonstration of love for the believers. This is something John states over and over again in the first two letters as being part of the doctrine they had to follow. Some passages which demonstrate this are 1 John 2:7-8, 3:11, 23, 4:7, 11-12, 5:2-3, and 2 John 5-6.
The example of Diotrephes (Verses 9-11)
Diotrephes stands in clear contrast to the things Gaius had demonstrated. There probably could not have been a more direct contrast, as there is nothing good stated about him in the passage.
The major issue which comes up here is how he dealt with the brethren.While Gaius was commended for his actions, Diotrephes is condemned for his actions. It states he would not receive the brethren nor demonstrate charity, the doctrine in which they clearly were supposed to walk.
It gets much worse than this. Diotrephes also is guilty of his conduct towards the brethren on a more personal basis. He states many malicious things against them. It is clear from this he is trying to actually undo the work they had been doing and had set himself in direct opposition to the work of God. This is an accurate demonstration of what John taught in 1 John 2:11.
1Jo 2:11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
It appears that the behaviours he demonstrated almost bordered on hatred. It would be pretty clear to the believers this is someone they were to avoid, no matter what he tried to do to cover it up.
The example of Demetrius (verse 12)
Demetrius is brought up very briefly in verse 12. It is clear from the context he is another example given to show how it is the believing remnant should conduct themselves. He is identified as having a good report of all men. Hence, this shows he was keeping the commandments and following the other aspects of the doctrine as it was laid out to believing Israel.
Hopefully this article has been able to give some insight into two books of the Bible which are not very widely studied by believers. It is especially important to be able to look at these books using the pattern Paul lays out in 2 Timothy 2:15 allowing us to get a greater appreciation for all of God's Word. Even though the doctrine contained in these books does not apply directly to this dispensation, it is part of God's Word and we should try to gain knowledge of all the Word.