The author describes himself as 'the elder'. We see no reason for this not to apply to the apostle John, though some believe that a mythical character called the 'presbyter John', which they link with Papias bishop of Hierapolis in Phryggia, was the writer. But this has never been proved, and Dom Chapman in 'John the Presbyter and the Fourth Gospel' has shown that it is very unlikely.
The first verses of this Second Epistle read:
The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth -- and not I only, but also all who know the truth -- because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us for ever (verses 1,2 N.I.V.).
The problem here is, who is the 'elect lady'? Is it a woman or a church, for both these views have supporters? There is no way of deciding infallibly which is true. The obvious way is to take it as referring to a woman of distinction in one of the churches, with her family. It is quite true that some of the children of God have a bridal relationship to Him. Israel is the 'wife of Jehovah', and the faithful remnant the 'bride of the Lamb', but we do not find any book or letter addressed to them as such and it would seem to be much safer to take the former view. Some take the word for 'lady', kuria, as a name, 'Cyria', and so Dr. R.O. Yeager translates:
The elder to choice Cyria and to her children whom I love in truth, and not I alone, but also those who know the truth.
He says, 'there is no reason to suppose that eklekte kuria is symbolic language for a church congregation, instead of a woman of John's acquaintance. That the love expressed is platonic is clear from the locative of sphere and from the last clause'.
The Twentieth Century New Testament commences:
From the Officer of the Church, to a Christian lady and her children...
The apostle Paul sends greetings in a similar phrase to Prisca and Aquila, and Prisca, of course, was a lady, so we are inclined to treat the 'elect lady and her children' as well-known members of a church, not the church itself. Dean Alford, after consideration, believed it was written to an individual, not a church (Proleg. vi: 187), and we take this view.
John's remarks about the truth are in line with what he has said before. The truth is indissolubly connected with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, and it is He Who imparts it, making possible the indwelling of Him Who also is the truth, the Lord Jesus Christ. Both dwell permanently in and with His people. This ensures that 'grace, mercy and peace' of verse 3 are the constant experience and possession of all such.
Verse 4 contains news concerning some of Cyria's sons which rejoiced the heart of the apostle, and would certainly gladden their mother. He found them 'walking in truth'. This caused him probably to sit down to write to her and give her the good news, for nothing can gladden the heart of Christian parents more than a faithful Christian walk coming from their children, and the reverse of course is true as well. For those children who do not do this can only bring sorrow and anxiety to their parents who love the Lord and the truth entrusted to them.
It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love (verses 4-6).
These commands are in accord with the First Epistle which they have had 'from the beginning' (1 John 2:7; 5:3). Those who exhibit this love are pleasing the Lord and receive His blessing. The verb 'walk' is in the present subjunctive and means 'keep on walking' in obedience to the Lord. The response is continual.
Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and antichrist (verse 7).
The apostle, in 1 John 2:18 and 4:1-6, warns against many antichrists who were travelling about giving false teaching concerning the person and work of Christ. He repeats his warning here. The Gnostics denied the Incarnation and refused to believe that the Lord had a literal human body, thus making His atoning work on the cross impossible and so nullifying the foundation truth of redemption. Such were doing Satan's work for him and were therefore antichrists.
Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully (verse 8).
Some authorities read 'what we have worked for', which would mean that John does not wish his faithful labour to be lost. In either case it would mean loss of reward on the part of those who were not remaining faithful to the truth. It would be as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 3:8-15. The Lord Jesus cannot reward unfaithfulness in the day when all Christian service is tested by Him. It will be a terrible loss for the believer who experiences this. God's rewards are eternal and certainly worth having!
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (verse 9).
Proago means to 'go before', to progress, but to do this and not maintain the truth is not real progression; rather it is backsliding. The Gnostics claimed to be the progressive, the advanced thinkers, but their so-called advanced teaching was actually leading them away from Christ and destroying the faith of others. Such should not be welcomed into the home as teachers, for if this was done it would propagate error and lead to division among believers. No one who denies the Son has the Father, but he who confesses the Son 'has the Father also' (1 John 2:23).
Travelling prophets and teachers were well-known figures at this period, and so believers needed the warning that the apostle gives:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work (verses 10,11).
John does not refer to entertaining strangers (Heb. 13:2; 1 Tim. 5:10), but receiving these deceiving propagandists who were carrying evil doctrines with them. These men, for the most part, would be well-known, and as believers met in private homes, there being no church buildings, it was all the more important to guard zealously in their homes the truth of God entrusted to them.
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your chosen sister send their greetings (verses 12,13).
Dr. R.O. Yeager makes this comment:
...John is referring of course to Gnostics, Ebionites, and Docetists, who by the end of the first century, were in the process of becoming well established in the Roman world and who were challenging the Christian Christology. In the late twentieth century, gnosticism presents itself in terms of Unitarianism on the one hand and Pentecostalism on the other. Each in its own way exalts human reason as an explanation of experience at the expense of faith in the revelation of the Logos. And, as in the first century, these deceivers travel under "Christian" colours. Jesus spoke of the Gnostic wolves dressed as sheep (Matt. 7:15; Luke 10:3). So did Paul (Acts 20:29). Paul also spoke of "deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ, and of ministers of righteousness", who shine like Satan who is transformed into "an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:13-15). (The Renaissance New Testament, p. 430).
We live indeed in dangerous and challenging days, and of course do not know what else John wanted to say to these friends in the truth. He had evidently written this letter himself. It was a short one and could have been written on one papyrus sheet of normal size. These sheets were made of specially treated leaves. The apostle looked forward to a personal visit when he could deal with any Christian subject that needed exposition. They would then have the joy of sharing the truth.
He ends with greetings from the children of the 'elect sister' of the lady he was addressing. We cannot say why the sister is not included, but she may have been deceased, and her children may have been members of John's own church at Ephesus. These however are not vital points.