Light In The Johannine Epistles -- By: A. D. Macrae

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 10:1 (Apr 1962)
Article: Light In The Johannine Epistles
Author: A. D. Macrae


Light In The Johannine Epistles

A. D. Macrae

THE FIRST PASSAGE to be considered is 1 John 1:5, ‘And this is the message which we have heard from him, and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’. God’s nature is light, not merely in an abstract sense but in the intensely practical sense of illumination. God gives man light in which to walk. In verse 7 John says ‘If we walk in the light, as he is in the light . . .’. This means letting our lives be ordered by what we know of God who is the true light. And as a vertical relationship between God and the Christian it leads to the horizontal relationship of fellowship with other believers.

I John 2:8 tells us that ‘The darkness is past and the true light is now shining’. This is a word of assurance. It is an eschatological word. The final issues have been decided, the last word has been spoken in Christ, and the light he has brought to the world will never be put out by the forces of defeated darkness. Nevertheless some of those who say that they have acknowledged the light have not in reality done so. ‘He that says he is in the light and hateth his brother is in darkness until now’ (verse 9). Here the implied relationship between light and love is made clear, and a vital clue to John’s Christian ethics is supplied. Light and love are almost synonymous at this point. ‘He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him’ (verse 10). Here is the picture of the man whose life is stayed upon God. He is said, not merely to catch glimpses of the light, not only to see it, not simply to walk in it, but to abide in it. It appears that John is deliberately on the defensive against those who were spoiling the work of the gospel by their snobbish intellectualism. They were manifestly not of the light, but were in darkness.

It is important to grasp John’s ethical intention. Canon Brooke has well said, in the Introduction to his Commentary, ‘He is a pastor first, an orthodox theologian only afterwards. He cannot separate doctrine from ethics. But it is the life which he cares about. For him the Christian faith is a life of fellowship “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ”. His first object in writing is to help his fellow- Christians to lead this life of fellowship, that his joy and theirs might be fulfilled. And no interpretation of the Epistle is likely to elucidate his meaning satisfactorily if it fails to realise where the writer’s interes...

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