The letter known as 1 John was sent to a group of believers who were in a deeply troubled situation. Many within their community had abandoned the original faith in Jesus as the Messiah. This was because they couldnʼt reconcile the teaching that God had come to earth in a human body with the prevailing Greek idea that physical matter is evil and only spirit is good. This prevailing idea also led them to conclude that anything they did in their bodies had no spiritual consequences, so they indulged in activities theyʼd been taught were sinful. They also showed little concern for the needs of others. Despite their denial that Jesus had come in the flesh, their immoral lives and their lack of practical love, they still claimed that they belonged to God. They asserted they had a special source of spiritual insight, and that the rest of the group didnʼt know the truth as they did. They made their rejection of the original teaching about Jesus emphatic by leaving the community of those who still held to it. Those left behind were deeply shaken, uncertain about everything theyʼd been taught.
Someone close to this group of believers, who was an eyewitness of the life and ministry of Jesus, sent them a letter to reassure them that the real truth was what theyʼd heard from the beginning. This writer doesnʼt identify himself by name, but itʼs very likely that he was the apostle John. Some phrases in this letter show close similarities to the book of John, for example, This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
The letter doesnʼt develop systematically and logically; rather, it weaves together several main themes:
: it testifies to the reality of the Son of Godʼs coming in the flesh;
: it warns believers not to let anyone deceive them;
: it refutes the claims of those whoʼve left the group;
: it reassures believers that they have full access to the truth;
: and it emphasizes godly living and practical caring as the signs of those who genuinely know God.