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The writer of this little epistle is John the apostle. I rather facetiously call this epistle “three–eyed John” because a very fine black preacher whom I knew years ago in the South called John’s epistles “one–eyed John,” “two–eyed John,” and “three–eyed John.” I don’t know of a better way of remembering these epistles than this. This epistle, therefore, is “three–eyed John.”
It is now the belief of some expositors that John wrote these epistles last—after he wrote the Book of Revelation. I’m rather inclined to agree with that viewpoint. This means that these epistles were written close to the end of the first century, somewhere between A.D. 90–100, but it would be very difficult to date them exactly. John probably wrote all three epistles very close together. I don’t think there would be much difference in time from one epistle to the other.
In his first epistle, John emphasizes the fact that the family of God is held together by love and that the little children are to love one another. He makes it very clear that if they don’t love one another, they are not God’s children. Children have a love for those who are in their family—that is the normal thing even in natural relationships down here on this earth.
In the second epistle, however, John puts up a tremendous warning that there are apostates, there are many antichrists, and there are many deceivers in the world. He says that a child of God is not to love them. We are not to be concerned with their welfare in the sense of entertaining them in our homes. The child of God is to keep a very close account and to make sure that those he entertains, those he supports, are true to the Word of God; that is, that they believe in the deity of Christ, that they believe that He is God manifest in the flesh. John wrote, “And the Word was made flesh …” (John 1:14). He had already said that the Word was God. Therefore, Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh. He is God dwelling, tabernacling in human flesh. Until a person believes that, he doesn’t have a Savior. If Jesus Christ is just a man and that is all that He is, we do not have a Savior. There is no reason to remember His birth and no reason to remember His death or resurrection if He is just a man. It is all–important to recognize that He is God manifest in the flesh and that His work on the Cross was a work that has power to save us. There is power in the blood because of who He is and because He died and rose again bodily. Those who deny these truths are not to be extended the fellowship or the support of the church. John goes so far in the second epistle as to say that believers are not to even bid such a person Godspeed. John said not to help him on his way or give him support. If you do, you are a partaker of his evil deeds, and you are a partner with him. Therefore, it behooves a child of God to know whom he supports.
As we come now to the third epistle, there is a similarity to John’s second letter in some ways. It is very personal in character, and it carries the same theme of truth. Truth again is presented as all–important. When truth and love come into conflict, truth must survive. This means that you are not to love the false teacher. Walking in truth is all–important.
However, this third letter differs from the second in other ways. As you will note from the Outline which follows, this epistle deals with personalities. Also, in the second epistle, John says that the truth is worth standing for, but in this third epistle, John’s emphasis is that the truth is worth working for. Someone has put it like this: “My life in God—that’s salvation. My life with God—that’s communion and fellowship. But my life for God—that’s service.” This epistle deals with my life for God, and it has to do with walking and working in the truth. Love can become very sloppy; it can become misdirected, and it certainly can be misunderstood if it is not expressed within the boundary of truth.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 57: 2 & 3 John & Jude. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)