1 John is not a lengthy Book, only four or five pages in many Bibles, but it is packed with "important themes." We would like to explore some of the themes that form the basis, or "heart," of the 1888 message.
Forgiveness: Our favorite text for forgiveness is 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." That text is often misunderstood as a virtual license to go on sinning. Just keep on sinning, confessing your sins, and you'll keep on being forgiven. But what is Bible forgiveness? Is it merely pardon that justifies sin? No, the Greek word in this verse for "forgive" means to take away sin, here and now, to do the "washing" with the "blood of Christ" (Rev. 1:5). Is anything more precious than such cleansing?
John introduced Christ by saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Not "maybe," "perhaps," or "He would like to be," or "He takes away the sin of a few." Why this universal sacrifice of atonement? "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
God's love (agape): We read in 1 John 4:8 that "God is agape." And what is agape? Verse 9 tells us it is the motivation that led the Father to give His only begotten Son to die for us "that we might live through Him." It is a special kind of love that is willing to die the second death so that we might live eternal life. It is a love that is willing to go to hell so that we might go to heaven. It is a love that chooses to die on a cross rather than indulge self. If "God is agape," and if Jesus is the Son of God, then in His incarnation Jesus is agape in human flesh. When He came to earth He laid aside all the prerogatives of divinity, but He could not empty Himself of agape. And that's why He chose not to sin--He chose a cross instead.
But there are counterfeits! How can we tell the difference? Why are so many preaching "love, love, love," yet the listeners sense no need to overcome sin itself? There's nothing wrong with love itself if they knew the right idea of it when the Bible says "God is love." They assume our natural egocentric human idea. It's impossible for an honest heart to hear, to understand, to contemplate, to "survey" that agape displayed in the "wondrous cross," and then go on in captivity to sin.
Perfect love (agape) casts out fear: 1 John 4:18 says that "perfect love casts out fear," but how does "perfect agape" cast out its root? We fear that the economy may collapse, but that's not the root of fear. We fear cancer or other possible fatal diseases (or the H1N1 flu), but again, that's not it. The bottom-line root is the fear of eternal hell, separation forever from light, love, and God. One may not know how to articulate it, but all other fears derive from that one. The Bible calls its horror the "second death." Unspeakable, unmatched by earthly terrorism, if one could go through it just once and come out the other side, he could be done with that root of fear forever. He could tell the devil, "I've been through it already; nothing can faze me now. I'm immune to fear because I've already suffered the quintessential fear and survived. No lesser fear can touch that one!" But the problem is, you can't do that and survive. Don't fear! Keep close to Jesus in His closing hours; let self be "crucified with Him," and then "perfect love [agape will] cast out [your] fear." The Bible is clear, Christ died the equivalent of that "second death," endured 100 percent the torture and horror of hell itself, and drained the cup dry.
Righteousness by Faith: Many church-goers say they have gone to church for decades and heard legalism preached; now they rejoice that the gospel of "righteousness by faith" is proclaimed. But are there different kinds of "righteousness by faith"? Revelation 14 presents an "everlasting gospel" that validates itself by raising up people who truly "keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." They prepare for the literal second coming of Christ (6-15). John also writes a series of warnings against false claims of "righteousness by faith" in which "we lie, and do not the truth;" "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;" "we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." "He that saith, I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, etc.). Apparently the apostle John wants us to discern any "gospel" that does not produce obedience to all the commandments of God (all ten!). The "everlasting gospel" of Revelation 14 is no legalism; it is a clearer understanding of the cross of Christ than has ever "lightened the earth with glory." The final crisis will be two opposite views of "righteousness by faith." One will spin the Emperor's New Clothes, multitudes rejoicing in "imputed righteousness" but not noticing it's not imparted. "Covered" by what they assume is a spiritual insurance policy, they will go for "the mark of the beast," which will be the most sophisticated counterfeit of "the everlasting gospel" the world has ever seen.
Good News for the Seventh-day Adventist Church: More than a century and a half has gone by since the "great disappointment" of 1844, and still Jesus has not returned as He promised in John 14:1-3, "I will come again." But the faith that motivated those people in the 1840s now motivates millions around the world who still believe He will keep His promise and return a second time. They set no date; they seek only that the love of Christ may in them be "made perfect" (1 John 4:16-18). But their motivation is becoming purified: it is no longer based merely on a fear of hell or hope of reward in heaven. A new motivation is emerging--a concern for Christ Himself that He receive the reward of His great sacrifice, as Isaiah says, "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" (53:11). That produces the miracle of love for others. The last Book of the Bible sees Him as a Bridegroom at last receiving His Bride, who has at last "made herself ready" (Rev. 19:6-8). Nothing in the world is better News than that.
--Robert J. Wieland