Us and them

The Apostle John’s first epistle began with a declaration that made it clear that God had become a part of the physical realm in which we live. John referred to Jesus as “the word of life” (1 John 1:1) and said, “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2). John stated that the life was made manifest to us. John used a plural form of the Greek word ego (eg-o’) to refer to the people that the life was made manifest to. From a psychoanalysis point of view, the ego is “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity” (Oxford Languages). It seems likely that the “us” that John was referring to in 1 John 1:2 were all of the people that believed in Jesus Christ, but he may have been thinking about everyone that Jesus interacted with during his ministry on earth. The Greek word that is translated manifest, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) means to “show oneself openly, to appear” (G5319). John said, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). John’s first epistle was written to a group of people that were all considered to be believers. The fellowship that John wanted these people to have wasn’t just the fellowship of salvation, but a fellowship that had to do with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (1 John 1:2).

One of the key aspects of God’s promise to Abraham was that his descendants would possess the land that he was giving them forever. Genesis 13:14-15 states:

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.”

The Hebrew word that is translated forever in this passage is owlam (o-lawm’), which is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; (generally) time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practical) eternity” (H5769). Before Jacob died, he told his son Joseph about the encounter he had with God Almighty. Genesis 48:3-4 states:

And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’”

Jacob believed that he would live in the Promised Land after he was resurrected from the dead. He commanded his sons to take his body back to the land of Canaan and told them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place” (Genesis 49:29-30).

After they were taken into exile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel was given a vision of the Israelite’s resurrection from the dead. Ezekiel had his vision in a place that was called the Valley of Dry Bones. Ezekiel 37:11-14 states:

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The resurrection from the dead was originally thought to be something that only the descendants of Abraham would participate in. Jesus clarified this misconception in his teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:31-34).

Jesus’ described the people that were gathered before the Son of Man as “all the nations” (Matthew 25:32) and made it clear that all people, not just the Israelites, would be involved in what the book of Revelation refers to as the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) that takes place after Satan’s defeat. Jesus’ distinction between the sheep and the goats indicated that there would be a separation of people into two groups during the final judgment based on their actions toward him and his followers. John emphasized this distinction in his gospel message. John said:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

John indicated that we can either walk in darkness or walk in the light and if we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Walking in darkness is “spoken figuratively of persons in a state of moral darkness, wicked men under the influence of Satan” (G4655). The Greek word that is translated light in 1 John 1:7, phos (foce) is used figuratively of “moral and spiritual light and knowledge which enlightens the mind, soul or conscience; including the idea of moral goodness, purity and holiness, and of consequent reward and happiness” (G5457). John said, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, emphasis mine).

In his first epistle, John went on to say, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:1-2). Even though he distinguished between people that were walking in the light and walking in darkness, John didn’t look at the propitiation of sins from an us and them perspective. John said that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, “and not ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:2). Propitiation is “that which appeases anger and brings reconciliation with someone who has reason to be angry with one” (G2434). Jesus reconciled everyone to God when he died on the cross for the sins of the world, but it has no effect on me personally unless I accept Jesus Christ’s death as payment for my sins and I believe that I have been reconciled to God because my sins have been forgiven by him.

John identified the key to having a relationship with God. He said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “To ‘confess’ (homologeo [3670]) means to agree with God that sin has been committed. Even though Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath toward the believer’s sin (1 John 2:1, 2), the inclination to sin still remains within man (vv. 8, 10). Therefore he must realize the need to continue in a right relationship with God by confession of sin. God grants forgiveness in accordance with his ‘faithful and just’ nature” (note on John 1:9). Like Jesus, John distinguished between believers and unbelievers by the evidence of their actions. John said:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

John said that we ought to walk in the same way that Jesus walked. The Greek word that is translated ought, opheilo (of-i’-lo) is derived from the word ophelos (of’-el-os) which means “to heap up, i.e. accumulate or benefit” (G3786). The idea behind these words is that we have become indebted to Christ because of what he did for us on the cross and therefore, we are obligated to do what he tells us to. Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus provided further clarification about our relationship to him in his illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-11), and went on to say:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

John elaborated on Jesus’ commandment to love one another by including a reference to the true light. John said:

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:7-11, emphasis mine)

John’s distinction between walking in the light and walking in darkness was made even more clear-cut when he said “the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). What John meant by that was that Jesus’ commandment to love one another had already been put into effect and had become the deciding factor of whether or not a spiritual birth had actually taken place. John said, “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light…but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness” (1 John 2:10-11). John also pointed out that someone that is in the darkness doesn’t know where he is going, “because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11). In other words, the unbeliever doesn’t know that he’s not saved. It’s only after we accept Jesus as our Savior that we become aware of the fact that we have been living in sin.

The Levitical Law described being in the darkness as being unclean. The Hebrew word tame (taw-may’) means to be foul, especially in a ceremonial sense. “The main idea of the action was that of contaminating or corrupting, especially in the sight of God. The Levitical Law often spoke in terms of sexual, religious, or ceremonial uncleanness. Any object or individual who was not clean could not be acceptable to the Holy God of Israel” (H2930). The things that caused a person to become unclean were described as depravity, perversion, and abominable customs that were practiced by the people that were living in the land of Canaan before the Israelites took possession of it. Leviticus 18:1-5 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

God clarified his expectations of the Israelites by stating, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and then, he summarized his commandments with two statements that were linked to Jesus’ new commandment. God said:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD…You shall treat the stranger who sojourns among you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:18, 34).

The Hebrew word that was used to describe the way the Israelites were expected to love their neighbors was the same word that God used when he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:2 states, “He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (emphasis mine). This seems to suggest that God wanted the Israelites to love their neighbors with the kind of deep abiding affection that would motivate them to do whatever God asked of them so that their neighbors could be blessed by God.

God indicated that he had separated the Israelites from the rest of the nations because he wanted to have a relationship with them (Leviticus 20:26). The significant distinction God made between the people of Israel and the peoples and nations around them was a reflection of the creation story in which God produced a separation between light and darkness (Genesis 1:4, [H914]). This may have been why John chose the analogy of walking in the light and walking in darkness as a mark of distinction between followers of Christ and followers of Satan. John cautioned believers to “not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15) and said, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17). Then, John warned his readers concerning the antichrists that would try to deceive them about Jesus’ teaching. John said:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)

John made it clear that the deciding factor between us (followers of Christ) and them (followers of Satan) is a belief that Jesus is the Christ. John indicated that we know the truth because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. John said, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true” (1 John 2:27). In other words, the communication and reception of the Holy Spirit is a permanent source of consecration for the believer. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of everything we need to know about God and is a reliable source of information because God specifically sent Him to us to remind us of Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26).

Interpretation

Jesus’ intellectual capability far surpassed everyone else’s and he was able to demonstrate his divine wisdom by answering questions that the most advanced Bible scholars thought were impossible for him to interpret. At the age of twelve, Jesus’ parents “found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46-47). After stumping the Pharisees with his response about paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:21), and exposing the Sadducees ignorance of the power of God (Matthew 22:29), Jesus was approached by a man that was identified as a lawyer (Matthew 22:35). Matthew indicated the lawyer intended to ask Jesus a question in order to tempt him (Matthew 22:35). He said, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). The lawyer didn’t ask Jesus this question because he was uncertain of the answer, he wanted to know whether or not Jesus could interpret the law correctly. Mark’s record of this encounter indicated the lawyer may have had a superiority complex (Mark 32-33).

In spite of the lawyer’s bad attitude, Jesus engaged him in a conversation that was likely meant to open the lawyer’s eyes to the spiritual truths that were underlying his intellectual interpretation of the scriptures. It says in Mark 12:34, “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ statement to the lawyer may have been meant to convey the idea that the lawyer was searching for something that was right under his nose. He acknowledged that God was to be loved “with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength” (Mark 12:33) and yet, as Jesus stood before him, the lawyer didn’t recognize that Jesus was the very person he was supposed to be worshipping. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). “Jesus fulfilled the Law in the sense that He gave it its full meaning. He emphasized its deep, underlying principles and total commitment to it rather than mere external acknowledgment and obedience” (note on Matthew 5:17).

Luke’s gospel contains an encounter similar to the one recorded by Matthew and Mark. In Luke’s account, the lawyer that approached Jesus wanted to know how he could inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25). According to Luke, Jesus asked the lawyer, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer responded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27). When Jesus told the lawyer, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:28), he asked him, “And who is my neighbor?” (Mark 10:29). Jesus demonstrated his superior intellect and understanding of the law by illustrating his interpretation with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). In the story, a man is wounded by thieves and left lying in the middle of the road to die. A priest and Levite passed by the wounded man without helping him, but the Samaritan bound up his wounds and took him to an inn to recover. At the end of his story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).