All who deny Jesus are called the world (4:3-5). They belong to that sphere of existence opposed to or ignorant of God's spirit and ways (2:15-17). By way of reassurance, the Elder contrasts his readers with the secessionists: they are of the world, but you, dear children, are from God. They can be sure of their relation ship with God because they have overcome them, the false prophets (4:1). The word overcome (nikao) implies a conflict in which one party emerges victorious (compare 1 Jn 2:13-14; 5:4-5; Jn 16:33). The victo rious party is the Johannine Christians, and their victory is their faithful ness to Jesus Christ. Victory in this instance is virtually equivalent to resisting false teaching and to holding to the truth.
Even though the Elder writes that you . . . have overcome, it is clear that the victory won by believers is neither the product of their own effort nor the result of their own merits. Victory comes from God, who is greater than the one who is in the world, the "prince of this world" (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), also known in Johannine thought as the evil one (2:13-14). The assertions about victory in verse 4 have several implica tions: First, the conflict between the Johannine community and the dis sidents is but a reflection of a greater struggle between truth and error, between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of antichrist. But John does not see this struggle played out in a world far above and beyond human beings. Hence this is also a human struggle, a conflict between the commitments of one group of people with those of another group. Our faith is itself our victory (5:4). Moreover, those who have overcome have done so by remaining faithful to the God who overcomes all evil. The Johannine Christians can test their allegiance and reassure themselves of their status as children of God by their steadfastness. Above all, these words are designed to bring assurance to believers.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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