Cain and Abel being the Key to 1 John
1 John is not really a book to “teach”. It does not match the style of some of the more doctrinal epistles such as Ephesians where there are many different concepts to explore. 1 John is written to be read through in one sitting and is focused on a singular stream of thought.
Last year, I saw more clearly than ever that everything in this epistle centers on Cain and Abel, and the “center of gravity” for this book seems to be 1 John 3:12. Cain is a picture of what it means to walk in darkness, hate your brother (1 John 2:9), be an antichrist (1 John 2:18), not practice righteousness, commit the sin unto death (1 John 5:16) while saying you have no sin (1 John 1:8) and to say you love God but lie (1 John 4:20). All the negative things that John says in this epistle are associated with Cain. On the other hand, Abel is the picture of what it means to practice righteousness , walk in the light, be in the fellowship and love the brethren (1 John 1:7;1 John 3:10). Everything in 1 John comes down to these two figures. Every concept builds up to these two people Cain and Abel as a negative and positive example. The root of Abel’s practice of righteousness is the faith. The root of Cain’s walking in darkness is his unbelief.
This epistle is written in absolute terms to help believers distinguish the difference between believers and unbelievers. This is necessary so that they can be made confident that they really are the sons of God, that God knows them, that they’re in the light, that Jesus is their advocate, that they’re safe in him and they can have confidence in the day of judgment. It is a book written to the last days to help believers discern between the truth and error (1 John 4:6), the children of God and antichrists. This all with the intention of assuring the believer’s conscience before God so that they have boldness when the lord comes (1 John 4:17).
A Singular Focus
Most people read this book a verse at a time and stumble again and again and again at each verse because they do not read it in the flow of the whole. Because it is written in absolute terms, it needs to be handled carefully. Most people after reading this epistle do not come away with joy. They do not come away with peace. They come away thinking, “maybe I don’t love the brethren or maybe I’m walking in darkness. Maybe I committed the sin unto death. Maybe I am not in the fellowship.” Much of this comes from wrong concepts that have been developed from trying to approach pieces of the book rather than the whole. Again, this is why it is so difficult for me to even think about approaching this book because it is all one thought. It should not be taught as separate thoughts. It is a beautiful meditation with a single focus.
The reason I desire to teach through it is to dismantle false concepts that are associated with it. We want to try to put the pieces of the puzzle back together so that we can see it again as a whole. My intention will be to illustrate the pitfalls and bring out the comfort so that you can approach this book without fear and enjoy Christ in it. This book is so deep. It is one of the last things written in the Bible. This was written after the book of revelation and most likely after the gospel of John. I believe it is written even after Jude. This is the last “doctrinal teaching” if you want to even call it that. It is written in a way that only a regenerated believer can understand. Again, this book is not strictly for understanding it is for fellowship. It is a fellowship book. It brings the light of God as fellowship and as food. It is meant for a meditation.
The Eternal Life is the Christian Life
There is doctrine in this book which John calls the “doctrine of Christ” (2 John 1:9) He is talking about a life – the Eternal Life which is Christ himself as the Christian life. The Christian life is the Eternal Life. The Christian life is a manifestation of the Eternal Life. The Christian life is the manifestation of the Son of God in us. Even when John talks about “commandments” he is not speaking in the way of the “letter” where you somebody writes something down and you go obey. When he speaks of commandments, he means in the way Paul refers to the law of the spirit of life (Rom 8:2). This is how it operates. This is what is true of this Life and everybody that has this life is a Son of God. Everybody who has this life is an heir of the fellowship. They have the Father and the Son.
Again, John is speaking about the essence of the Christian life and he is speaking in absolute terms: here is what a believer has and here is what a non-believer does not have. This life does have certain characteristics that all believers have because a believer is synonymous with someone who has the life. Who has this life? Those that believe that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2), by “water and by blood”, that He is the Christ, that He is the Son of God, that He is the propitiation for our sins. Those who believe this have received God’s testimony concerning His Son and have God’s testimony in themselves, showing that they are born of God and have the Eternal Life (1 John 5:10-12). Those that deny are falling to the category of an “antichrist” in this book (1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3).
When John speaks about Jesus coming in the flesh, he is talking about His person and His work. He is Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God. He is divine but He is also Jesus the Christ. He is the Son of man and as the Christ he accomplished the work. He is the one that came by “water” which means he was born in the flesh and by “blood” which means he is the propitiation for the sins of the world (1 John 5:6; 1 John 2:2). Walking in fellowship and having fellowship and being of the light and having the evidence of this life and knowing that you are a Son of God all has to do with believing the testimony of God concerning his Son (1 John 5:9-10). This is the Eternal Life. The Eternal Life was manifested as this testimony which is the word. All of these concepts hang together you cannot really separate them out and treat them as separate doctrines without running into issues.
The Manifestation of the Life
1Jn 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (2) (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (3) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (4) And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
This begins very similarly to the Gospel of John.
Joh 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) The same was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (4) In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (5) And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
John deals with light and darkness which is the same as saying life and death. The light is the life. The life comes forth as light and shines on us. When that illumination comes, the life comes. We talk about that quite a bit. When Christ shines on you He’s imparting life to you. The way we grow is in the knowledge of the Son of God which is the Eternal Life. It is the fellowship. He is the Eternal Life. John says He was from the beginning. We have heard Him, seen Him, looked upon Him and handled Him. This is not just a man this is the very word of life and this is the Life that was with God in the beginning and was God. He has been manifested and seen and we as the apostles have born witness.
What the apostles present is not just religious concepts or doctrine but the Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifest to us. That is John’s kind of language. In John 1:14 He said the word became flesh and tabernacled among us. John points at the most intrinsic things, answering the question, “What is the essence of what we’re dealing with here when we talk about Jesus Christ?” We use the Word but what is the word? The Word is the Eternal Life that was manifested to us in the flesh.
John says, “that which we’ve seen and heard, we declare to you that you may have fellowship with us”. This is the thirst of the apostles and Jesus. It is all about the fellowship. There is an eternal fellowship that exists between the Father and the Son. That fellowship is the Eternal Life. When the word comes forth to express that life and we believe and receive it we are brought into the fellowship. That is why God sent it that’s why God sent forth the life. That is why the life was manifested in the flesh. That is why he died on the cross and rose from the dead. His coming was for the purpose of bringing us into the Eternal Life which is the fellowship of the Father and the Son.
I have said that we have a vicarious relationship with the Father and Son it is not our own relationship it is their relationship enlarged to include us. It is the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father. It is the knowledge of the Father of the Son and the knowledge of the Son of the Father. This knowledge is shared with us and that is the fellowship and that is the Eternal Life. That is why John says, “this is Eternal Life that they may know you the only true God in Jesus Christ who you sent” (John 17:3).
John is saying, “I write this to you that you may have fellowship with us.” John is not writing this to exclude you he is writing this to include you! That is one of the first things about 1 John is you have got to see. If you are a believer this was written to you to include you in whatever good things are true of the sons of God which is based on this Eternal Life. Sons of God are by nature possessors of this eternal life and have the right to everything it (He) represents to them, including the fellowship of the Father and the Son.
John also says that he writes these things that our joy may be full. The fellowship produces the joy. We’ve not understood it if we’ve come away from it not having a sense of the fellowship, not having a sense that life is being manifested to us, not having a sense that we’ve laid hold of life and not having a sense of joy because of that life. If you come away from this book not having that then either you did not understand it or are not one of the ones it was intended for. I believe John wrote this in a way that only regenerated believers could understand. The reason for that is because these people were being seduced and courted and abused and ostracized by people who were not really believers. I suspect he wanted to be able to speak to the believers without the others even understanding it and for the believers to be able to identify those who were not of the faith and did not have this life.
Making a Clear Distinction between Believers and Antichrists
There is a definite distinction between the joy on the countenance of someone who is in the fellowship and someone who is not. There is a “marked” difference between a child of God and a Cain who hates the brethren. Remember Cain’s countenance fell once he got angry because he saw that Abel’s gift was accepted and his rejected (Gen 4:5). Abel was justified by faith and he offered the firstling of the flock with the fat portion (Gen 4:4). He understood that blood had to be shed for sin (Heb 9:22). He understood he was a sinner and that there needed to be a blood offering a propitiation or atonement for his sins for him to have fellowship with God. Because of that faith he was accepted. Cain tried to offer from the fruit of the ground (gen 4:3). This is the ground God cursed because of the fall (Gen 3:17). Cain was angry when his works were rejected, and the product of his flesh was rejected. He wanted to be accepted based on his own righteousness. When he became angry it says his “countenance fell”.
There is such a difference between the countenance of a “Cain” or an “Antichrist” who hates the brethren (while thinking they know God and love God) and those who are the sons of God who enjoy the fellowship. John is wanting to make this distinction clear. He is wanting the saints, the sons of God, to enjoy the fellowship to enjoy the life that their joy may be full. On the one hand this is their portion to enjoy. On the other hand, their enjoyment of the fellowship will make it much easier to determine who is an antichrist and who is not. There is confusion and ambiguity while the wheat and tares grow together. They look alike and it is hard to tell them apart. So, if we can bring the life and the fellowship and the joy to the children of God, their light will shine. It will be that much clearer who is of God and who is not.
1 John is about who is of God and who is not. It is written to those who are “of God” (1 John 4:4). To receive this letter and understand it and benefit from it you must take your stand as a Son of God. He tells you how to do that He tells you how to know you have Eternal Life (1 John 5:13). In this letter He tells you that it’s because you believe that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 4:15) and the Christ (1 John 5:1), that came by water and by blood (1 John 5:6). You believe in His person His work. You believe He came by water and by blood. You believe He is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). You believe He came in the flesh and accomplished the work. He is Jesus Christ. You believe He’s God’s only Son who the Father sent forth who became a man came in the flesh came by water then went to the cross and came by blood back to the Father with His blood for you. Now He’s your advocate (1 John 2:1) He’s your propitiation (1 John 2:2) He’s your offering and He is the Eternal Life. He has been manifested to you and because of that you have been born of God. How do you know He was manifested to you? Because you believed and received the word which testifies concerning Him. You believed who He is and what He’s accomplished. That is in 1 John 5 and that is how He tells you to have assurance that you have Eternal Life. Whoever believes the testimony has the record in himself (1 John 5:10).
John makes it clear that those who are the sons of God are those who have believed this testimony. If you believe God’s testimony concerning His Son, then you are a Son of God and are born of God. You are the one to whom this letter is written. He wrote it to you so that your joy may be full that you may have assurance that you have Eternal Life. He wrote it to include you in the fellowship with the Father with the Son and with the apostles and the rest of the church and to distinguish you by that fellowship and joy from the Cain antichrists who hate the brethren but say they know God. They reject the propitiation but say they have no sin (1 John 1:8), They’re walking in darkness. They do not have any clue where they are going. The darkness has blinded their eyes (1 John 2:11).
This epistle deals with the absolute bedrock of what is true of a believer and what is true of a non-believer. It lays out who are the sons of God and who are not. As a believer, you are not walking in darkness. You have not committed the sin unto death you are in the fellowship you are in the light you’ve received the truth you have the commandment which is to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and to love the brethren (1 John 3:23). We will see that this love is manifested in the recognition of the sons of God because they have the testimony. It all hangs together it is almost impossible not to talk about the whole letter even though you are talking about just a couple verses. Again, this is written to you that “you may have fellowship with us and that your joy may be full.” This is written to believers who are the sons of God because the life has been manifested and they have received the testimony concerning that life which is Jesus Christ. They can have the fellowship with the Father and the Son, and they show that they are born of God by their profession of faith.