I. Salutation (1-3)
II. Practicing the Truth in Love (4-6)
III. Caution: Deceivers and Apostacy (7-9)
IV. Instruction to Reject False Teachers (10-11)
V. Closing (12-13)
John refers to himself as the elder. The word elder can refer more generally to either an older person or a person of authority such as when Jesus says, “Now his elder son was in the field” (Lk 15:25) and when Jesus must "suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes" (Mat 16:21). It is also used for Christian leadership such as when Paul told Titus to “appoint elders” (Titus 1:5-9) or when Peter says, “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder” (1 Pet 5:1). John’s use of the term, like Peter's, affirms his pastoral role and in no way denies his apostleship.
The chosen lady and her children to whom this letter is addressed may refer to a local congregation and its members,1 or it may refer to a particular lady and her children.2 No evidence finally decides the matter one way or another, however one's interpretation of the letter as a whole may persuade them towards one of these views.3
John writes to this community of believers with a sincere and genuine love that accords with the gospel of Jesus Christ because Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6). This Christian love is directed towards them from all those who know the truth, believers, which demonstrates the importance of being part of a community that is grounded in the love and truth of Jesus Christ.
John speaks of the truth in the same way he speaks of the Spirit because "the Spirit is the truth" (1 Jn 5:7), who "lives with you and will be in you" (Jn 14:17), and was given "that he may be with you forever" (Jn 14:16). The Holy Spirit convicts "the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment" (Jn 16:8) and "when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit" (Eph 1:13). Real unity is not an ethnicity, or a building, or anything else external and does not compromise on truth, but is by the truth and for the truth's sake. It is the truth of Jesus, the Gospel, which unites John, his readers, and believers everywhere that share the conviction of sin, faith in Jesus, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit.
John concludes the salutation with a statement comparable to the salutations in many of the other New Testament letters: "Grace to you and peace" (Rom 1:7), "Grace, mercy, and peace" (Titus 1:4), "Grace be with you all" (Heb 13:25), "Grace to you and peace be multiplied" (1 Pet 1:2), and "May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you" (Jude 2).
Grace, mercy, and peace: "But you, Lord, are a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth" (Ps 86:15), "It is because of Yahweh's loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his mercies don't fail" (Lam 3:22), "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Col 1:19-20 ESV). Notice the close relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ who together are the source of grace, mercy, and peace. We know that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation nor turning shadow" (James 1:17). That Jesus bestows grace, mercy, and peace along with the Father can mean nothing else but that Jesus is one with the Father. Jesus explicity cofirms this: "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30).
Truth and love: John writes, "let's not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth" (1 Jn 3:18), and Paul writes that "grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift... until we attain to the unity of faith... mature... no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine... but speaking truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, that is, Christ" (Eph 4:7-15 NASB). This demonstrates the full meaning of the agape love4 which John ascribes to both the Father and the Son and exhorts his readers to walk in.
John references what has been commanded by the Father: “This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded” (1 Jn 3:23). The Bible is "breathed out by God" (2 Tim 3:16). Therefore it contains the words and commands of the Father. Just as a father tells his son, "be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart" (Prov 40:20-21), so the word of our Heavenly Father "shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it" (Josh 1:8). We should accept it "not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God" (1 Thes 2:13). We are commanded to be hearers and doers of the word: "Therefore we ought to pay greater attention to the things that were heard, lest perhaps we drift away" (Heb 2:1), "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:22).
We see John’s pastoral heart and great joy at seeing members of the congregation walking in truth. Similarly, Paul prays for the saints at Colossae that they "may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:9-10 NASB). This shows how gospel-centered walking in the truth is and that we must lean on the Lord who “is my strength and my shield” (Ps 28:7) and who's word "is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps 119:105).
John urges them to walk according to his commandments which they heard from the beginning. Walking refers to every aspect of our lives, so that "whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). It is an immensely practical command in that it entails that everything we do should be done in truth and love unto the glory of God.
This repeated appeal from John may suggest that there was some dissent, discord, or disunity among the members of the church that needed to be addressed, or else John, like Peter, thought it necessary "to stir up your sincere understanding by way of reminder, so that you recall the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles" (2 Pet 3:1-2 CSB) because of the risk of compromising both "in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3:18).
John warns of the deceiver and the Antichrist because "many false prophets have gone out" (1 Jn 4:1) and many deceivers. He also says that "these are the end times, and... many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour" (1 Jn 2:18).5 Therefore we should heed the warning of Paul who says, "I marvel that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different 'good news,' but there isn't another 'good news.' Only there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Good News of Christ" (Gal 1:6-7). The Gospel, the good news that Jesus "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age" (Gal 1:4), is the only hope in a world "passing away with its lusts" (1 Jn 2:17). The Gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom 1:16). Therefore, since we are "saved through faith" (Eph 2:8) and "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," we ought to study the scriptures and "proclaim on the housetops" (Mat 10:27) to the world all that Jesus has done, "teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you" (Mat 28:20).
John writes in the beginning of his Gospel as a matter of utmost importance that "the Word was God" (Jn 1:1) and that "the Word became flesh and lived among us" (Jn 1:14). Again he says, "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit who doesn't confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist" (1 Jn 4:2-3). So then, there is a stark contrast between those who believe and teach that Jesus is fully God, "our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13), and fully man, who came in the flesh, and those who teach anything else. Those who teach contrary to the incarnation (literally meaning "in flesh" or "taking on flesh") of Jesus are here called the deceiver and the Antichrist. Those who teach against the deity of "our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:1) can equally be called the deceiver and the Antichrist because they reject the clear and basic teaching of scripture and the God revealed therein.
John encourages his readers to be watchful. Those who remain in the teaching of Christ have both the Father and the Son, but whoever transgresses and doesn't remain in teaching of Christ doesn't have God. We all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ one day, so nothing is more important than the teaching of Christ. Jesus says, "Don't marvel at this, for the hour comes in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." (Jn 5:28-29). Therefore "don't work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has sealed him" (Jn 6:27).
Note that Christ is not a last name, but a title meaning "anointed one" or "chosen one" which is the equivalent of "Messiah." This title signifies the fulfillment of OT prophecies, with Jesus being the Savior who came into the world to save sinners (See 1 Tim 1:15; Isa 61:1; Micah 5:2; Zec 9:9; Deut 18:15).
Rejecting the message of the Gospel that "whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16) or placing faith in anything or anyone else for salvation is rejecting the teaching of Christ. It is "by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast" (Eph 2:8-9). The hope we should have is to "be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phil 3:9) because Jesus is the Messiah who saves "to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him" (Heb 7:25). He is altogether sufficient and perfect, and "all our righteousness is like a polluted garment" (Is 64:6). Therefore we must rely soley on Christ to have God because "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among men, by which we must be saved!" (Acts 4:12).
The context of, if anyone comes to you, is referring specifically to traveling teachers, but its application extends to all teachers. He makes it clear that anyone who brings other teachings is a deceiver working against Christ and against sound doctrine, and should not be welcomed. Anyone who welcomes such a person participates in his evil deeds. All teaching should be God-centered and subject to the scriptures: "Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Jesus was known for his hospitality towards sinners; however, he was much stricter with the leaders and teachers. All those aspiring to become teachers, or those who already are, should consider James' words soberly when he says, "Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment" (James 3:1). A pastor or teacher in the church must be someone who is "holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict those who contradict him" (Titus 1:9).
John explains that he has many things to write to them and that this letter is preparation for a visit he hopes to make. This again expresses John's pastoral, heartfelt love towards them. He gives one more reason for his desire to visit them in person: that our joy may be made full. The teaching of Christ brings true unity and joy, and living a faithful life allows us to joyfully say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness is stored up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing" (2 Tim 4:7-8).
John, in closing, leaves his readers with the hope of him visiting them soon, and he gives a greeting to his readers from the children of your chosen sister, the believers in the congregation from which he writes.
1 Clement of Alexandria says it “indicates the election of the holy church” (Clement of Alexandria on 2 John), the Glossa Ordinaria says, “He writes therefore to the universal Church that there is no perfection of faith outside charity, and he execrates the heretics who divide Jesus Christ” (Glossa Ordinaria on 2 John), J. Vernon McGee says, "I have come to the opinion that a local church was in view" (Outline for 2 John), ESV Study Bible says, "This more likely refers to a congregation" (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008, p. 2439), and G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd say, "The audience of 2 John is metaphorically portrayed as 'the lady chosen by God' " in The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament (Downders Grove: IVP, 2020, p. 460).
2 John MacArthur says, "The reference to the 'elect lady and her children' (v. 1) should be understood in a normal, plain sense referring to a particular woman and her children" (Second John), Charles Spurgeon says, "to the 'elect lady' who, as I think, was John's friend, and not a church or some nation as has sometimes been argued" (Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible), and Matthew Henry says, "The elect lady; not only a choice one, but one chosen of God. It is lovely and beautiful to see ladies, by holy walking, demonstrate their election of God" (Matthew Henry Bible Commentary).
3 Arguments for the metaphorical interpretation include: it seems unlikely that John would have addressed a woman in the church directly in this way, the letter lacks the personal statements that would be expected if it was addressed to a literal lady and her children (cf. 3 John), the use of the modifier chosen along with the fact that she is loved by all those who know the truth suggests a congregation, the instructions seem directed to a larger group, most of the letter is written in the second-person plural, similar comparisons or personifications of God's people as a female include "like a woman faithless to her lover" (Jer 3:20; See also Jer 6:2, 23; 14:17; Isa 1:8), Christ "gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25; See also Gal 4:26-27; 1 Pet 5:13), and "the bride, the Lamb's wife" (Rev 21:9; See also Rev 21:2; 22:17; 12), and finally the reason why John would use such a device may be explained easily by the precedent in earlier biblical writings, John's frequent use of metaphor, even for the church specifically, and the need for a general reference if the letter was to go to multiple churches.
However, it may simply refer to a particular lady and her children. Arguments for the literal interpretation include: it is the plain meaning of the text, he might have not identified names due to persecution, if she was a widow, it would explain why no husband was mentioned, John not only could have written this letter to a lady in the church, but the message of the letter would harmonize well with Paul who says, "Adam wasn't deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience" (1 Tim 2:13-14) and "For some of these are people who creep into houses and take captive gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 3:6-7; See also 2 Cor 11:3).
4 GotQuestionsMinistry, What is agape love?.
5 Keith Mathison, Resurrection Now and Not Yet.