Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1031 MP3 Audio File Video File

The True God

(1 John 5:19-21)

Delivered 09/27/20

Good morning Bereans. This is our last message in 1 John. I hate to see it end because I have really enjoyed this study. I believe that understanding John’s concept on "Abiding in Christ" has helped me in my quest to live a holy life.

As chapter 5 and verse 13 tells us, 1 John is written for believers. John is addressing people who have come to faith in Christ, and he is trying to lead them all into a deeper understanding and a further maturity in their lives.

There are several terms in this epistle that John used as synonyms: "fellowship with God," "knowing God," "abiding in God," and "seeing God." These terms all describe the experience of Christians. They all describe our relationship with God in varying degrees of intimacy. Fellowship with God is a matter of greater or lesser intimacy. When we speak of being "in fellowship" or "out of fellowship," we are oversimplifying our relationship to God. Our fellowship with God is rarely either perfect or non-existent; it is usually somewhere between these extremes, and it may vary from day to day. All Christians possess eternal life, but not all experience that life as God intended us to enjoy it (John 10:10). John’s subject concerns true and false versions of fellowship with God. It is not an invitation to introspective doubts concerning salvation.

In verses 18-21 of chapter 5 John brings this epistle to a close. These verses are an epilogue to the epistle.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin, but the one who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 1 John 5:18 CSB

In this final section, three times he uses this word, at the beginning of verses 18, 19, 20: "We know… we know… we know…." John wants us to be certain about these important truths. He is still countering the false teachers and their destructive claims of secret knowledge.

The opening words, "We know", remind us of the "we" statement found in the prologue (1:1-4). 

"We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin"—the translations that add "keep on" or "go on" sinning are incorrectly using the present tense. No other text can be cited where the Greek present tense, unaided by qualifying words, can carry this kind of significance. Our text here is correct: "Everyone who has been born of God does not sin." It’s absolute.

John is speaking here of a specific sin, the sin of denying Christ or rejecting the Christ of the Bible. He is referring to the "sin that leads to death" committed by the secessionist. The "sin" which the person who has been born of God cannot commit is the sin of the secessionist with their false Christology. Believers cannot commit that sin.

"But the one who is born of God keeps him"—this could be translated as "him" or "himself." Referring to Christ or the believer. There are many times in Scripture when believers are told to "keep themselves," but I don’t think that this is one of them. I see this as talking about Christ keeping believers eternally safe. That this is an appropriate interpretation is supported by the fact that in the Fourth Gospel, Yeshua is portrayed as the one who keeps his disciples safe. And the last phrase in the verse lends to this: "And the evil one does not touch him."  The evil one cannot touch believers because Christ is guarding them. The words "evil one" are from the Greek word poneros which is a word that can be neuter or masculine in gender. In the neuter, it conveys "that which is evil"; In the masculine, it depicts "the evil one." In almost every case in which this expression occurs, however, it is a reference to a personal, masculine, evil one. That is the most likely meaning here. John uses the term "the evil one" interchangeably with the term "the devil" (cf. 3:8, 10).

We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. 1 John 5:19 CSB

"We know that we are of God"—in the Greek here (ek Theou), the preposition ek indicates both source and possession.  Christians are "from" God in the sense that they are fathered by him (source), and they belong to him (possession).

"And the whole world is under the sway of the evil one"—here John affirms that the whole world is under the controlling influence of the evil one. However, believers do not belong to the world any longer, we are "from God." This is because of the work of Christ.

who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, Galatians 1:4 ESV
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

Christ gave us new life, so that in every sense, we are "from God." Therefore, our lives should be God-centered and God-focused.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Yeshua Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 ESV

"And we know"—John adds a third certainty: We know that the Son of God has come.

"And" is literally a mild adversative particle, contrasting the blind indifference of the world (5:19) with the new understanding of the believer.

"And we know that the Son of God has come"—"come" here is hēkō which is in the present tense. The Son of God has come and to be present; He is here. This is referring to the incarnation of the divine Son. John put it this way in the Gospel:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV

The eternal Word who was with God and was God, the Word who created all things became a human being. This verse teaches the staggering truth that Yeshua of Nazareth was Yahweh become man. The "Word became flesh" has been expressed by the theological term "Incarnation" which comes from two Latin words "in" plus "cargo." The meaning is "infleshment, the act of assuming flesh." Yahweh chose to become united to true humanity.

Deity with a human body was a major problem for the Gnostic false teachers who asserted the evilness of matter. They were probably the forerunners to the Gnostics, but  some feel that they were Docetists (the embryo of this heretical doctrine). This belief that they had a special revelation from God that was superior to these believers in the early church and their revelation was that Yeshua was not the Son of God. The Christ-Spirit came upon Him at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion. The Man born in Bethlehem was not God's Son, but the Man Yeshua who became the Christ. They taught that the Christ-Spirit left Him before He died, so Yeshua the Christ did not die for our sins nor did He rise again. But John comes in with an explosive statement that lays flat the entirety of this heresy and strikes at the root and heart of Gnosticism: "We know that the Son of God is come".

"And has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true"—the word translated "understanding" is from the Greek word dianoia which is found only here in the Johannine writings. Nonetheless, the context makes its meaning clear enough. The understanding which the Son of God gives is knowledge of God the Father himself. In John 17, Yeshua addresses his Father as ‘the only true God’.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Yeshua the Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3 ESV

It is Yeshua, not the Gnostic false teachers, who has provided the needed insight into Deity. Yeshua has fully revealed the Father by means of His life, His teachings, His actions, His death, and His resurrection!

Yeshua said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9 ESV

Yeshua is rebuking Philip here in His question to him:  "You still don't know me, Philip?" As highly as they thought of Yeshua, they did not yet grasp that in Yeshua, Yahweh has made Himself known.

"Whoever has seen me has seen the Father"—anyone who has seen Yeshua, has seen the Father. Paul put it this way in Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Colossians 1:15 ESV

Yeshua is the "image of the invisible God."  The word for "image" is the Greek word eikon" (like the English "icon"). Eikon means "that which resembles an object, which represents it." This word "image" cannot be pressed to mean "a perfect representation" as is seen in its use in 1 Corinthians 11:7 which says that man is the image of God.

This word "eikon" in and of itself does not mean "a perfect manifestation." But let me ask you this question: Is Yeshua a perfect manifestation of Yahweh? Yes, He is! But we do not learn that from the word "image" in Colossians. It is taught in other passages in the New Testament. What our text in Colossians is teaching is that Yeshua manifests the invisible Yahweh to us. As we look at other texts in the New Testament, we see that this is a perfect manifestation.

Luke puts it this way,

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Luke 10:21-22 ESV

Yeshua here claims a unique relationship with the Father that all others lack. Only He can reveal the Father to us, according to the Father’s sovereign will. If Yeshua doesn’t reveal the Father, we cannot know Him.

But Yeshua answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:17-18 ESV

Yeshua justified His Sabbath healing by reminding the Jews that they themselves admitted that Yahweh worked on the Sabbath. They knew the sun came up, they knew the wind blew, they knew the rain fell, they knew the grass grew, they knew Yahweh continued to do His work of judgment and His work of redemption. They knew Yahweh was working on the Sabbath. This explains the violence of their reaction in verse 18. The Sabbath privilege was peculiar to Yahweh, and no one was equal to Yahweh.

In claiming the right to work even as His Father worked, Yeshua was claiming to be Yahweh, the I Am! Now the Jews knew exactly what He was saying. He is saying that as the eternal God does His work all the time, so He is claiming to do the same thing, to work the same pattern that Yahweh works. This shocked and angered the Jewish leaders, but it shouldn't surprise us if we are familiar with the New Testament.

Yeshua goes on in this chapter to say some of the strongest affirmations of His deity in all of Scripture. He claimed to have the power to give life to whom He wishes, to judge everyone, and to receive the same honor as the Father.

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. John 5:21-23 ESV

The Father has guaranteed that the Son will receive equal honor with Himself by committing the role of judging entirely to the Son. Therefore, failure to honor the Son reflects failure to honor the Father and honoring the Son honors the Father.

How can Yeshua say this in light of the following:

I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8 ESV

Yahweh will not share His honor with another. Therefore, the fact that He shares His honor with the Son proves that the Son and the Father are one in essence. What man or what created being could say that we should honor him just as we honor the Father? Clearly, Yeshua is claiming to be Yahweh!

When you find a liberal theologian teaching that Jesus never claimed to be God, you can conclude that he does not know the Bible. Over and over Yeshua claims to be Yahweh. He does it all through this text. He insists that He is to be worshiped in the same way Yahweh is. He is to be honored, praised, adored, respected, trusted, obeyed in the same way as God the Father.

When someone says that Yeshua is not God of very God, he is not only not honoring the Son. He is dishonoring the Father. Now that's a serious thing. When a man claims that God is God, but Yeshua is ONLY the Son of God, he denies Him the honor of the Father

Earlier in 1 John he writes,

Who is the liar but he who denies that Yeshua is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 ESV

John and the apostolic fellowship recognized Yeshua as the Son of God because He had opened their eyes. Without this supernatural gift of understanding, we cannot know God. As Paul writes,

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV

Notice carefully what this verse says: "Natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…" That would definitely include His Word. Paul says "He is not able to understand them." Who is the natural man? The word "natural" comes from the Greek word psuchikos. Jude uses this same Greek word:

It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. Jude 1:19 ESV

Jude says, "worldly people, minded, devoid of the Spirit." So, the natural man is the man without the Spirit of God. How does man get the Spirit of God? By God's sovereign effectual calling or regeneration. Apart from God’s sovereign intervention man cannot accept the things of God. This divine gift of understanding brings us into a personal relationship with the only true God so that we come to know Him.

"So that we may know him who is true"—in the New Testament there are two words in the original language, two adjectives that mean true. One that means, true, as over or against that of which is false. And one means true in the sense of genuine. One is alethes and the other is alethinos. You can see how close they are together. This means true in the sense of genuine. It is that meaning that is used three times in this paragraph. So that we may know him that is genuine.

Yeshua used this adjective when he said,

Yeshua then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." John 6:32-33 ESV

The crowd had said, "He gave them bread out of heaven to eat." Yeshua responded, "Do not interpret the 'he' as Moses, but as the Father. Do not read 'gave' but 'gives.'" Suddenly the Scripture citation by the crowd has been turned to a witness to Yeshua. This radically revised interpretation of Scripture is characteristic of the conflict between Judaism and Christianity in the first century. Both appealed to the same Scriptures (what Christians now call the Old Testament), but radically different interpretations arose from the same passages.

There is a play on "manna" which came from heaven as did Yeshua the true Bread, the Bread of life.

"And we are in him who is true, in his Son Yeshua the Christ"—the first phrase "we are in him" recalls the same expression in:

but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 1 John 2:5 ESV

John immediately links "we are in him" to abiding in him:

whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV

This phrase, "abides in Him" is John’s description of the experience of living as a disciple. It means exactly the same thing as "knowing Him" in verse 4. It is the same as saying we have "fellowship with Him" in 1:6. They are all one and the same experience. Having fellowship with Him, knowing Him, and abiding in Him are all the same; they are all synonyms for discipleship, for having a close, intimate relationship with Him.

"And we are in him who is true, in his Son Yeshua the Christ"—John’s expression "in Him" (en auto) is not equivalent to Paul's concept of being "in Christ" (en Christo). Paul used this phrase to describe every believer's relationship to Christ because of his or her justification. The unsaved are not "in Christ." However, John used "in Him" as Yeshua did—in the Upper Room Discourse—to describe, not all believers, but the group of believers who are in fellowship with Christ. John is not saying that this is how we know we are saved but rather that this is how we know we are in fellowship with Him.

To be "in him" is not only to abide in "him who is true" (John’s description of God) but it is also to be in "his Son Yeshua the Christ."

The full title "his Son Yeshua the Christ"— appears only here and in the prologue in this epistle,

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Yeshua the Christ. 1 John 1:3 ESV

This provides bookends to this epistle, another inclusio. In literature, inclusio is a literary device based on a concentric principle, also known as bracketing or an envelope structure which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section.

"He is the true God and eternal life."  Who is the true God? Conservative scholars are divided over whether the phrase, "He is the true God," refers to the Father or to Yeshua. It is difficult to know whether "he" refers to God or to "his Son Yeshua Christ." In the first case, the author would be emphasizing that the Father of our Lord Yeshua is the true God and the source of eternal life. Biblically there is no problem with that.  

In the second case, the author would be saying that Yeshua himself is "the true God and eternal life." I believe that the "true God" here is referring to the Lord Yeshua. Let me give you several reasons why I believe this. Supporting the interpretation that "He is the true God" refers to Yeshua is the fact that "Yeshua the Christ" is the closest antecedent for "he" in the context. The immediately preceding words are "Yeshua the Christ," so proximity alone would suggest that as the preferred antecedent.  But on some occasions, when "Yeshua the Christ" is the closer antecedent, the pronoun still refers to God. Many early church fathers, as well as the Reformers, argued that the phrase refers to the closest antecedent, namely, to Yeshua the Christ.

Another reason is that Yeshua is spoken of as "eternal life" in chapter 1 of this epistle,

the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—1 John 1:2 ESV

The Father is never described as "eternal life."  This reference to "eternal life" (5:20) is the final inclusio of the epistle, tying the prologue and the epilogue together.

Another reason why I see "true God" as referring to Yeshua is that it does not make sense to say that this is speaking of God the Father. To say that the true God is the true God is stating the obvious. But if this is saying that Yeshua is the true God, it comes as an amazing natural conclusion to the whole of this epistle. This Christ Yeshua is the very Son of God incarnate who has been sent in human flesh to be our Savior! God has revealed Himself in human flesh in the incarnation of His Son, Yeshua the Christ.

Schnackenburg wrote the following:

"For here the full identity of Jesus with God is recognized without reserve (note the article with theos, God). This seems to occur intentionally at the end of the letter, at the climax of the triumphant expression of faith. It is hardly an accident that it is precisely at the beginning (1:1, 18) and the end (20:28) of the Gospel of John that the light of Jesus’ divinity shines forth most fully. The climactic christological confession becomes visible here in all its clarity."

Brown also understands the statement ‘He is the true God and eternal life’ to refer to Jesus Christ, and so constitutes a very strong affirmation of his divinity.

"He is the true God and eternal life."  This is one of the strongest direct statements of the deity of Christ in the New Testament. In light of John’s polemic against the false teachers, who denied Yeshua’s deity, it would seem fitting at the end of the book to refer to Yeshua as "the only true God and eternal life."

Do you remember what Thomas said to Yeshua after his resurrection?

Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 ESV

What was Yeshua's response to Thomas’ calling Him God?

Yeshua said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29 ESV

Yeshua doesn't correct him because John’s words are true. He is God. One more verse:

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." John 8:24 ESV

What Yeshua says is that "Unless you believe that I am" the translators add "He" but it is not in the Greek text. This is unfortunate because what Yeshua is claiming is that He is "I Am."  By doing so, He was asserting equality with God Himself who was revealed as the "I Am That I Am" (the self-existent, eternal God).

Yeshua said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." John 8:58 ESV

Yeshua is saying that He eternally existed as Yahweh:

I and the Father are one." John 10:30 ESV

The Jews had asked Yeshua for a "plain" statement about His messiahship. Yeshua gave them far more. He proclaimed that He and the Father were one. The Jews understood this as a claim to deity and said, "You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." Yeshua is eternal God, and, as part of the trinity, He always existed; He is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Let me just add here that to abide in God and to abide in Christ are the same thing; you cannot have one without the other. God is known to us only through His Son Yeshua the Christ.

No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:23 ESV

John is repeating an idea here that Yeshua expressed often, as recorded in the Gospel of John. Yeshua said,

And Yeshua cried out and said, "Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. John 12:44-45 ESV

There is no separating the Father and the Son.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21 ESV

When we think of an idol or idol worship what do you think of?  You may think of somebody in a mud hut with a little god on his table that he bows down to. Or you may think of a pagan temple, very elaborate and ornate with a lot of people burning incense. But idolatry is much broader than that. Idolatry is simply thinking something about God that is untrue of Him. It is postulating anything about God that is not right. In its fullest stage, it is creating a god. In its secondary stage, it is making the God who is into something that He is not. And maybe in its third level (something even Christians are guilty of), it is thinking thoughts about God that are untrue of Him.

These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Psalms 50:21 ESV

God says, "You thought I was like you." And that's precisely what men have done.  They have made God into their own likeness and into imaginations that belong to their own minds. The essence of idolatry is entertaining thoughts about God that are unworthy of God. And it can come in a lot of forms.

Verse 21 may seem out of context at first, but in verse 20 John has just mentioned that Yeshua is the true God. This undoubtedly brought to his mind the false god of the heretics. They denied the God of the Bible. They said that "the Christ" came upon the man Yeshua at His baptism and left just prior to His crucifixion. But they did not believe that He is eternal God in human flesh.

I think that John is telling his readers that if they have a substandard view and understanding of Yeshua the Christ, the Son of God, it is idolatry! Anything that is short of Yeshua the Christ revealed as God is idolatry. 

S. Smalley and R. Brown both saw the reference to idols here as a slightly veiled reference to the secession of the opponents with their false christology – abandoning the author’s position, joining the secessionists and accepting their theology would amount to "going after idols."

Since John has spent almost the entire letter discussing in one form or another the opponents with their false teaching who are troubling the Christian community he is writing to, it’s not surprising to find him referring to them here. He is using a metonymy: the secessionist opponents themselves are put for the course of idolatry they pursue. There is significant background in the Qumran literature for such usage; CD 20:8-10 speaks of "those who reject [the precepts] and set up idols in their hearts and walk in the stubbornness of their hearts; they shall have no share in the house of the Law."

1QS 2:11-17 states, "Cursed be the man who enters this covenant while walking among the idols of his heart, who sets up before himself his stumbling-block of sin so that he may backslide!"

So I think that when John gives his readers a final warning to avoid idolatry, he is warning them once more to avoid the secessionist opponents with their heretical and dangerous false teaching, just as he has done in 2:15, 2:27, and 4:1. This is also consistent with the author’s admonition in 2 John 10 not to greet the opponents nor offer them any hospitality.

Having spelled out in the letter the various false confessions, John caps off the epistle with the highest statement: Yeshua is the true God. But if Yeshua mediates true knowledge of God and is so intimately related to God that he himself can be called true God, then any doctrine or worship that dilutes those affirmations is tantamount to idolatry. The warning, "little children keep yourselves from idols" points to the danger of worshiping any God other than the one revealed through Yeshua the Christ. The idols here are not pagan deities or images of stone or wood. An idol is a false picture of God that causes one to stumble and fall away from a relationship with the true God.

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