12 I write unto you, dear children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.1 John 2:12-14
13 I write unto you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning.
I write unto you, young men, because you have overcome the Wicked One.
I write unto you, little ones, because you have known the Father.
14 I have written unto you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning.
I have written unto you, young men, because you are strong and the Word of God dwells in you, and you have overcome the Wicked One.
Having exhorted them to love one another, and not walk in the continual scandal of brother hating brother, he now prepares to address how to engage the enemies which the early church was confronted with. These enemies are both cosmic (called the wicked one here and the devil later on), and earthly (the Antichrist which had begun vexing the early church). But before doing so, he introduces what can only be described as pastoral poetry.
It’s not unlikely that this passage also became a sort of musical catechism for the early Christians. The pattern is: children, fathers, young men. The lines addressed to the children use two Greek words: τεκνία and παιδία. The first (teknia) is more common to be used of one’s own children, whereas the second one (paidia) is the term for children/infants in general. One possibility explanation is that the first line is directed–in the first instance–towards those whom John had ministered to personally, while the latter line was addressed to all saints who would read his letter (even those he hadn’t ministered to personally).
Regardless, the first line is the comfort of the Gospel for all of God’s children: their sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s name. The only assurance of our sins being forgiven is that we have confessed them and Christ has cleansed us of them by being our Advocate and thus, has propitiated God’s wrath (Cf. 1 Jn. 1:9 & 2:1-2). When the pattern repeats and children are once more addressed (and in both lines it belies the Apostle’s endearment of those born of God), it is to assure them that through Christ’s forgiveness they have also known the Father. There is no wall or division between them and the Father’s love. They enjoy the Father’s love fully.
The two lines to fathers are striking in their almost exact similarity, and thus where there is a difference it stands out. The contrast is between “I write” (present active indicative) in verse 13 and “I have written” (aorist active indicative) in verse 14. I take this as a striking reference by John to his Gospel. He is writing now to fathers the same thing he had already written to them. These lines should be read as addressing the elders/fathers of the church; they’re reminded that they have ”known Him that is from the beginning.”
In other words, the fathers of the church were to hold fast to John’s Gospel witness, as found in his written testimony of Christ. The fathers must walk in the knowledge they have of “Him that is from the beginning,” i.e. Christ. What John is writing to them in this epistle is no deviation from what they had received in his Gospel; but the antichrist (1 Jn. 2:18-19, 22) and his followers who were seducing these early saints (1 Jn. 2:26) were deviating from the Gospel once delivered by denying that Jesus was the Christ. The fathers were tasked to defend this, John fortifies them in this task by reminding them that they know Christ, as He was proclaimed through the witness of the Apostles and didn’t need the gnostic’s secret knowledge to ascend high enough to know Christ.
The two lines addressed to young men also have the notable “I write/I have written” pattern. Young men are comforted with this assurance: they have overcome the Wicked One. This is put in the perfect tense, meaning that their overcoming is a point of fact, not a thing to aspire to. The victory is assured. As the poetic exhortation completes it circuit, the young men are brought to note that Christ, the Word of God, abides in them and this is the basis of their strength. By this strength they have overcome the Wicked One. They have battles for the Gospel yet to fight both within and without. They are soon to be exhorted to fight against sin within themselves (1 Jn. 2:15-16) and to fight against error which assaults the church on all sides (1 Jn. 2:18-19).
There’s a wonderful rhyme and reason to this poetic exhortation. All of God’s children (regardless of their office, age, or sex) are brought to bear in mind the forgiveness of sins which they enjoy through bearing Christ’s name, and the fellowship/knowledge they have of the Father through the Son. Elders/fathers are put in mind–given the gravitas of their leadership position–not to deviate from the Apostolic Gospel and doctrine. The young men are exhorted to face their battles with swagger: the Wicked One is overcome.
- 1 John 5:20-21 | We Know
- 1 John 5:16-19 | The Sin Unto Death
- 1 John 5:13-15 | Big Prayers
- 1 John 5:9-12 | God on the Stand
- 1 John 5:6-8 | The Threefold Witness
- 1 John 5:1-5 | Swept Up Into Victory
- 1 John 4:17-21 | Bold Sons & Fearful Slaves
- 1 John 4:11-16 | The Offensive Love of God
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils