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1 John – Cycle 3

In the third cycle of John’s first epistle, the apostle employs the themes of ascension – the firstfruits of the land and the womb, lawgiving at Sinai, and “Levitical” purity – in his exhortation to the New Covenant Israel. But these saints had assembled at a better mountain.

Although John’s meaning is clear at every point, his method of delivery in this section of the letter has confounded the best analysts and commentators for two millennia. Perhaps reading it in the light of the Bible Matrix might shed some light on the method behind this literary enigma.

The strange, almost-but-not-quite word-for-word repetition in the first part of this cycle, as well as the sudden shift which follows, might be explained by the demands of the Covenant-literary structure. But the triune sacred architecture of the primeval world, the Tabernacle and Temples appears to be the framework for John’s demarcation of various roles within the churches.

TRANSCENDENCE (Genesis)

GARDEN: Most Holy Place (Father)
I am writing (Transcendence)
to you, (Hierarchy)
little children, (Ethics)
that have been forgiven you your sins, (Oath/Sanctions)
through his name. (Succession)

  • The first question to ask here is why John addresses “children,” “fathers” and “young men” in that particular order. This does not fit the common Priest/King/Prophet order of the triune office. And it is worth noting that “children,” “fathers” and “young men” have each been placed as a holy “office” in the Ethics steps.
  • The clue is in who is not mentioned in each of these fivefold “Mosaic” stanzas. The Father is a father only because He has a son. The Son is only the Son because He has a father.
  • So, in this initial TRANSCENDENCE stanza, John writes as the initiator, as a true Adam, a tree of righteousness, providing food and shelter as the spiritual father over all those in his care.
  • Instead of using the word “because” at the beginning of the Oath/Sanctions lines in all six occurrences, I have used the word “that,” since under the Covenant-literary structure it makes far more sense that John’s words are not causal (the reason why John is writing) but substantival of content. In this stanza, John is not writing to the saints as children because they have been forgiven, but instead telling them, reminding them, that their sins have been forgiven in the High Priesthood of Christ.
LAND: Holy Place (Son)
I am writing (Transcendence)
to you, (Hierarchy)
fathers, (Ethics)
that you have known him (Oath/Sanctions)
who is from the beginning. (Succession)

  • For the second stanza, HIERARCHY, John moves from the Garden to the Land, writing as a fellow “son of God,” the brother of the elders of the churches who administer “priest-king” worship as did Cain and Abel.
WORLD: Court (Spirit)
I am writing (Transcendence)
to you, (Hierarchy)
young men, (Ethics)
that you have overcome (Oath/Sanctions)
the evil [one]. (Succession)

  • The third domain is the court of the nations, the realm where prophets roam in the power of the Spirit. The temptation in this domain is intermarriage with unbelievers and assimilation with pagan ways. Joseph is the prime example of one who did not capitulate.

HIERARCHY (Exodus)

GARDEN: Most Holy Place (Father)
I have written (Transcendence)
to you, (Hierarchy)
children, (Ethics)
that you have known (Oath/Sanctions)
the Father. (Succession)
LAND: Holy Place (Son)
I have written (Transcendence)
to you, (Hierarchy)
fathers, (Ethics)
that you have known him (Oath/Sanctions)
who is from the beginning. (Succession)
WORLD: Court (Spirit)
I have written (Transcendence)
to you, (Hierarchy)
young men, (Ethics: Priesthood)
that strong you are, (Ethics: Kingdom)
and the word of God in you abides, (Ethics: Prophecy)
and you have overcome (Oath/Sanctions)
the evil [one]. (Succession)

  • For the HIERARCHY section of this cycle, John repeats himself almost word-for-word, and of course, as in all good literature, we are expected to spot the differences and ask why the changes have been made.
  • In the first section, as initiator, John began each stanza with “I am writing…” In this second section, he begins with “I have written,” and since HIERARCHY corresponds with the delegation of authority and sacrificial cutting, it seems that he sees them as now being set apart by his words, their hearts “circumcised” as a royal priesthood. This reinforces the use of “that” rather than “because.” Since the verbs grapho/egrapsa have no objects, it is the fleshy hearts of those at Ethics in each stanza which are being engraved by the finger of God. Of course, these words are not “do not” but “done.” It is finished, and these saints are to be living epistles, sealed by the Spirit with seals to be broken in martyrdom.
  • The word for “children” has changed from teknia (little children) to paidia, meaning children-in-training. This reflects the move from God’s initiating work in the salvation of the saints (being/begetting: Genesis 1) to their equipping as holy warriors (knowing/cutting: Genesis 2). Of course, this then reveals how natural it is for John (if not to us) to move next to “doing” in the ETHICS stanza of the cycle (doing/loving: Genesis 3).
  • While there is no change to the statement to the elders in the churches, those who serve as mediators between Garden (God) and World (the nations), the faithfulness of the saints who have resisted compromise and assimilation is reflected in the sevenfold expansion of their stanza. Their priestly submission has made them “mighty” men like David, those in whom the “fire” of the word abides, like Jeremiah and the prophets. They are now qualified legal representatives of Christ to the world.
  • The evil one is placed at Succession for the same reason that satan is bound in Revelation 20. As they take dominion by faith, purity and martyrdom, advancing from the Land into the World with the flaming sword of the testimony of Jesus (Oath/Sanctions), satan will be crushed under their feet.

ETHICS (Leviticus)

Do not love the world, (Transcendence)
nor the things in the world. (Hierarchy)
If anyone should love the world, (Ethics)
not is the love (Oath/Sanctions)
of the Father in him. (Succession)

  • After John’s “Levitical” call and sanctification of the saints, he turns to the stipulations of this priestly cycle of his letter.
  • Since his audience is comprised of Christian Jews, this exhortation is highly ironic. What John refers to as the world is the ungodly union of Jew and Gentile under the Herods and Rome, exactly the sort of intermarriage which the “mighty men” of the churches had wisely avoided.1For more discussion, see Peter J. Leithart, From Behind the Veil: The Epistles of John Through New Eyes, 78-90. John is calling for the abhorrence of the entire Temple system as something which was now unclean, vessels for destruction. Since the Jewish leaders had rejected the Spirit of Christ, everything once considered holy was now possessed by the devil. And the corollary to this was that all the common pots and pans throughout the empire were now to be considered holy (Zechariah 14:20-21). For despising circumcision of heart, Jerusalem was now “sin city,” about to be “circumcised” corporately in the flesh, cut around with a Roman trench, cut off from both heaven and earth, to atone for all the innocent blood shed throughout history, beginning with the blood of Abel.

OATH/SANCTIONS (Numbers)

TRANSCENDENCE
Because (Ark of the Testimony)
HIERARCHY
all that is in the world, (Veil)
ETHICS (Triune Office)
the desire of the flesh, (Bronze Altar & Table: Priesthood)
and the desire of the eyes, (Lampstand: Kingdom)
and the boasting of life (Incense Altar: Prophecy)
OATH/SANCTIONS
is not from the Father, (Laver and Mediators)
SUCCESSION
but is from the world. (Shekinah)

  • In the book of Numbers, Israel’s “Garden” sin of idolatry at Sinai, and “Land” sin of unbelief at the border of Canaan culminated in the “World” sin of adultery with Midianite women. This is the reason that the old “Egyptian” Israel was cut off, and that cutting off is in John’s mind as he now describes the Temple as desolate, vacated by the Spirit of God. The glory which had departed now dwelt in the saints as spiritual temples, and the deposed satan had taken up residence in its place (Revelation 8:10-11)2The first trumpet describes the day of Pentecost; the second the end of the law of Sinai; the third the bitter wormwood of the Covenant curse upon the Jews who rejected the Spirit.. So John describes the love which the Jewish rulers and their followers had for their self-styled kingdom in architectural terms. But it is a synagogue of satan.
  • The Ark contained the laws by which these rulers should have been able to discern their crimes against God.
  • The Veil which covered their faces was their unwillingness to allow the word to circumcise their hearts.
  • The Ethics are described as flesh, fire and smoke, a false Pentecost (Acts 2:19), demon possession multiplied through their rejection of the blood of Christ and the continuance of animal sacrifices.
  • The Laver of baptism is the New Covenant investiture, the ability to discern between light and darkness in spiritual things, since the Veil has been torn.
  • Finally, Israel’s lust for the power of the nations is placed as the indwelling of false glory at Succession/Booths.

SUCCESSION (Deuteronomy)

And the world (Creation – Genesis – Sabbath)
is passing away, (Division – Exodus – Passover)
and its desire, (Ascension – Leviticus – Firstfruits)
but the one (Testing – Numbers – Pentecost)
doing the will of God (Maturity – Deuteronomy – Trumpets)
abides (Conquest – Joshua – Atonement)
for the age. (Glorification – Judges – Booths)

  • In the final stanza, as “Deuteronomy,” those who rejoiced in the letter of the “external” law of Moses are cursed by Moses himself. Those who believed and whose eyes were opened to the Spirit of the law – love — are blessed by Moses and given the future.
  • The Herodian Pharaohs are cut off, the bodies of Israel according to the flesh are left behind in the wilderness, and the inheritance is given to the believers, the true “children” whose circumcision is one made without hands.

If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. For more discussion, see Peter J. Leithart, From Behind the Veil: The Epistles of John Through New Eyes, 78-90.
2. The first trumpet describes the day of Pentecost; the second the end of the law of Sinai; the third the bitter wormwood of the Covenant curse upon the Jews who rejected the Spirit.

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