In the fifth cycle of John’s first epistle, he has reached the final step of the fivefold Covenant pattern: Succession. His subject matter is historical continuity via offspring, however the New Covenant “sons” are not natural but spiritual seed.
Like the Creation week, each “matrix” pattern forms and fills, and ends with a promise for the future. In many cases, this concerns fruitfulness. For Adam and Eve, God’s promise of dominion included not only rest and rule, but continuity through food and children. In the Ten Words, this is the second tier of paired commandments, which concern the Sabbath and honouring of one’s parents that one might live long in the land.
But although the New Testament adheres to identical literary patterns, there is a radical change. Instead of the final step concerning those under Covenant being blessed with offspring, or being cursed and seeing their genealogical lines cut off by God, the apostles always refer to professing believers, that is, the sons of God. In most epistles, this is comprised of greetings to various saints.
So, in this final step of what appears to be the first of two major sequences in John’s first letter, the identification of the “offspring” relates to baptism rather than circumcision. Since Christ had ascended, John’s concern is the seed of the Gospel, not the seed of the Woman. The demarcation is thus ethical rather than social. In Christ, the focus has shifted from outward observance of the Mosaic Law to purity of heart, from external to internal law, via a better Pentecost. Yet it is worth noting that John never once mentions baptism as a criterion. In context, this is because there were Judaizing wolves within the Churches, false professors like Judas, whose motives were impure.
TRANSCENDENCE (Creation – Initiation – Genesis)
See what love (Initiation/Sabbath)
has given to us the Father, (Delegation/Passover)
that children of God (Presentation/Firstfruits)
Because of this the world knows us not, (Vindication/Atonement)
because it knew him not. (Representation/Booths)
- The first cycle seems to highlight both the sacrificial order (transformation by fire) and the festal cycle. If you know what each of the feasts entails, you will appreciate the beauty of the apostle’s construction here.
- Adherence to the word order in Greek is crucial in this sort of analysis. John differentiates between our calling (a Pentecostal or kingly anointing) with our subsequent prophetic identity.
- The first five steps are positive, but our acceptance as a fragrant offering by God (blessing) in line 6 means our rejection by the world (cursing) in line 7. In this sense, there is no rest for the righteous.
HIERARCHY (Division – Delegation – Exodus)
- Whereas, in Tabernacle terms, the first stanza relates to light and the Ark of the Testimony, the second relates to the firmament and the veil. Just as the tearing of the veil corresponded to the flesh of Christ, so too is our own glory veiled from the world. By faith we see what we are, and when the heavens open as they did for Christ, our own glory will be apparent.
- Take a moment to appreciate the symmetry of the stanza.
ETHICS: Priesthood (Ascension – Presentation – Leviticus)
- The Priesthood stanza, as is common, is divided into Land/Altar and Fruits/Table. The fruit bearers on Day 3 concerned only food, but the sin of Adam made all flesh, including humanity, a “consumable.” So the Table concerns both the fruit of the land and the womb, those things cursed in Genesis 3.
- This Altar stanza gathers everyone around it, but its second half condemns those who bring their offering yet remain hard hearted. This should remind us of Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:23-24.
- The particular “matrix” thread in this stanza is the pattern of Covenant renewal. In historical terms, Israel according to the flesh, when enlightened by the Gospel and the Spirit of Christ, either received Him or turned to the man of lawlessness. This puts a particularly Cainite spin on post-Pentecostal Judaism. The Jews became murderers, like their true father, the devil.
- The focus now moves from the Altar and those gathered around it to the actual offering upon it, the blameless one.
- Once again, the first half of the stanza concerns the pure — in this case, Christ — and the second concerns all those who would follow the anti-Christ, the Herodian worship of Jerusalem and its temple, which could not permanently take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). To abide in Christ includes identifying with Him in baptism, service and suffering. This fulfils the identifying of the offerer with the sacrifice via the hand of the priest under Levitical law.
- The second half of the stanza is a kind of reductio. Remaining in Christ — perseverance in faith — is the proof of salvation. Perhaps the placement of the sinners in line 6 — at the open Veil of Atonement — is a condemnation of the Aaronic High Priest.
- Once again, take note of the symmetry, especially between the incarnation of Christ in line 2 and its rejection in line 6.
ETHICS: Kingdom (Testing – Purification – Numbers)
- One reason I know I am on the right track with this method of analysis is that the familiar sign posts appear in the right places. At the center of the Ethics section, John includes a warning about the deception of hypocrites.
- Moreoever, he limits the pattern to the fivefold Mosaic order, a law given but not fulfilled as sevenfold history.
ETHICS: Prophecy (Maturity – Transformation – Deuteronomy)
- In this “prophetic” stanza, Jesus is the last and best word in a long history of legal testimony against sin (Hebrews 1:1-4).
- John now flips things around and puts the positives in the second half of the stanza.
- Here, John uses the Tabernacle order once again, but this time it is not merely the Veil which is torn: the entire Temple system, with its animal sacrifices and purity laws, now possessed by Satan, is wiped out.
- The “destruction” corresponds to the sword of the avenger, the conquest of Jericho, and the waters of the flood, as they appear in previous instances of the pattern.
OATH/SANCTIONS (Conquest – Vindication – Joshua)
- Once again, notice the wondrous symmetry. Also notice the deliberate break in the symmetry between the seed at Ascension (Land/promise) and the crop of spiritual fruits at Maturity (plunder vs. plagues).
- Placed at this point in the Covenant-literary cycle, the seed of the Word is the obedience of Christ (Oath) which means God only has blessing — and holiness — for those who are truly born of Him (Sanctions).
SUCCESSION (Glorification – Representation – Judges)
Through this, (Light and darkness)
manifest are (Firmament)
the children of God, (Firstfruits)
and the children of the devil. (Governing Lights)
Anyone not practicing righteousness, (Hosts)
is not of God; (Mediators)
and also the one not loving his brother. (Rest and Rule)
- The final stanza seems to highlight the Creation Week matrix. As mentioned above, the Succession here is primarily Ethical rather than genealogical. The Messianic line no longer concerns forming but filling, and that is where the future lies. The Spirit-filled are God’s Shekinah. That is true Succession.
- The placement of the children of the devil in the centre reveals them to be false kings like their father, who are not humble (priestly) before God.
- I am not certain about the division of the last two lines, but “not of God” does imply discernment with the sword of the Spirit, and is perhaps another swipe at the corrupted priesthood in Jerusalem, in which John once served.
Since we have reached the end of the first major sequence, it might be worth summarising as a single unit the five cycles we have covered so far.
If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.