1 John is ostensibly written by a disciple (who may or may not have written the 4th canonical gospel). This is by tradition and internal evidence identified as the disciple John. His audience includes:
- fathers: those like himself that accompanied Jesus during his earthly service;
1Jn 2:13a I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that
is from the beginning...
- young men: those who have believed through the fathers and are strong in the faith "once for all delivered to the saints":
1Jn 2:13b ...I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the
- children: those who believed through the fathers but never met Jesus in the flesh, have believed but are dependent on the fathers and young men for all their information about Jesus and his message and are being confused by conflicting messages. He particularly addresses them to warn them that not all of the teaching they receive is faithful to the true Jesus and they must critically compare each message to the original;
1Jn 2:13c ...I write unto you, little children, because ye have known
"him that is from the beginning" here is "Jesus as he was" as opposed to "the Jesus invented by those who were never there with him" aka "the antichrists":
1Jn 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard
that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists;
whereby we know that it is the last time. 1Jn 2:19 They went out
from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they
would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they
might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1Jn 2:20 But ye
have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know [recognize] all things.
1Jn 2:21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth,
but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 1Jn 2:22
Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is
antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 1Jn 2:23 Whosoever
denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that
acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 1Jn 2:24 Let that
therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If
that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye
also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
Because of the structure of the letter involving these groups it is important to pay attention to the various pronouns used to "know where you are" in the letter. For example:
1Jn 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we [fathers] have
heard, which we [fathers] have seen with our eyes, which we [fathers]
have looked upon, and our [fathers'] hands have handled, of the Word
of life; 1Jn 1:2 (For the life was manifested, and we [fathers] have
seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which
was with the Father, and was manifested unto us [fathers];) 1Jn 1:3
That which we [fathers] have seen and heard declare we unto you [young
men, children], that ye also may have fellowship with us [fathers]:
and truly our [fathers] fellowship is with the Father, and with his
Son Jesus Christ. 1Jn 1:4 And these things write we [fathers] unto
you, that your [young men, children] joy may be full. 1Jn 1:5 This
then is the message which we [fathers] have heard of him, and declare
unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
He expounds the message that the fathers heard about God not having any darkness in himself at all:
1Jn 1:6 If [in the light of what we fathers heard from Jesus] we [any
of us] say that we [any of us] have fellowship with him, and walk in
darkness, we [any of us] lie, and do not the truth: 1Jn 1:7 But if
we [any of us] walk in the light, as he is in the light, we [any of
us] have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ
his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1Jn 1:8 If we [any of us] say
that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1Jn 1:9 If we [any of us] confess our sins, he is faithful and just
to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1Jn 1:10 If we [any of us] say that we have not sinned, we make him a
liar, and his word is not in us.
In this next section John speaks in the first person singular ("I write to you") and then immediately by a first person plural ("we have an advocate"). In a departure from most expositors I am convinced that the "we" in "we have an advocate" refers not to the children to whom he writes but rather to the fathers. He's saying "Jesus will back us up on this". That is, the fathers have a strong case against those who pretend to know God as declared by Jesus but do not keep his commands:
1Jn 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments,
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
So John, the fathers, Jesus and the father all stand on one side of the controversy about whether or not the gospel allows for one who is a christian and yet disobedient.
The people involved in the letter gives the polemic structure and makes it an easy read.