The Truth Blesses Believers
Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (3)
Although they appear together only here and in Paul’s letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2), grace, mercy, and peace are familiar New Testament terms. They are often used in the salutations of the epistles. Grace combines with peace in Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3, 1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2, and Revelation 1:4; mercy with peace in Jude 2. The three terms summarize the progression of the plan of salvation: God’s grace caused Him to grant mercy, which results in peace. Grace views sinners as guilty and undeserving (Rom. 5:20; Eph. 1:7); mercy views them as needy and helpless (Matt. 5:3; Rom. 11:30–32; Eph. 2:4–5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3); peace is the result of God’s outpouring of both (Acts 10:36; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14; Col. 1:20). These divine blessings, like everything in the Christian life, come only from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. From God, “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” comes down “every good thing given and every perfect gift” (James 1:17). And through the Son, all “the promises of God … are yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). They are present when divine truth dominates the mind and heart, resulting in genuine love. The twofold repetition of para (from) stresses Jesus’ equality with the Father. John emphasized Christ’s identity as God’s Son because the false teachers were denying that truth (cf. the discussion of the false teachers and their heretical teaching in the Introduction to 1 John).
3 John’s prayer for the reader combines Jewish and Greco-Roman customs. Greek letters typically include a “grace” greeting (charis, GK 5921), while “mercy” and “peace” (eleos, GK 1799, and eirēnē, GK 1645) are customary Jewish salutations. In most ancient letters, the prayer formula implies a subjunctive verb (“should be …”), indicating that the author hopes his wish will be granted for the reader. John, however, uses the future indicative of eimi, which represents, as the NIV indicates, a promise that these things “will be” with those who have faith. In light of the experience of the Johannine Christians (see Introduction), it may seem odd that John would promise “peace” as well as “grace” and “mercy.” He is probably thinking of “peace” as a positive relationship with God, irrespective of the difficulties presented by the world and the Antichrists. Throughout the Johannine literature, peace with God is the flipside of the world’s hatred (Jn 15:18–16:4; 17:14).
The function of the last phrase in v. 3, en alētheia kai agapē (“in truth and love”), is uncertain. Marshall, 64, suggests that these qualities go along with “grace, mercy and peace” as specifically Johannine benefits of faithfulness. Similarly, Dodd, 147, believes that all five terms describe facets of the same experience, “because the grace of God is shown in that revelation of Himself which is the Truth, and in the divine charity expressed in the work of Christ … and takes effect in the true belief and mutual charity of Christians.” The NIV, on the other hand, suggests that the phrase “modifies the way in which grace, mercy, and peace indwell” (Brown, 659), i.e., these blessings “will be with us in truth and love” (NIV). Brown, 682, believes that the phrase conditions the entire preceding greeting, so that the believer’s receipt of grace is contingent on her commitment to the “truth” of John’s message and subsequent good fellowship (“love”) with the community. Another possibility is suggested by the fact that John has positioned the phrase immediately after the words “the Father’s Son.” “In truth and love” may refer to the relationship that exists between Jesus and God, for God is referred to as ho patros (“the father”), and Jesus is then redundantly called “the Father’s Son.” The Johannine Jesus uses cognates of agapē (GK 27) to describe his relationship with God on several occasions (Jn 3:35; 10:17; 14:31), and John consistently advocates the “truth” of Jesus’ claims to this relationship. If this is the case, Jesus is the Son “in love,” in the sense that he and God love one another, and “in truth,” in the sense that this doctrine is true. In any case, “ ‘truth and love’ provide the transition to the next section, where they become the chief topic[s]” (Barker, 362).
The truth—accompanying us for ever (2 John 3)
The truth is the Christian’s companion both now and for ever. Once again, John’s definitions of the truth help us to see what he means by this.
The Spirit Of Truth Will Be With Us For Ever
The parallel passage in John 14:16–17 again underlines this fact: ‘I will pray the Father, and he will give you another helper, that he may abide with you for ever—the Spirit of truth … He dwells with you.’ He dwells with us now and will do so for ever.
The Word Of Truth Will Be With Us For Ever
John himself does not say this elsewhere, but others do. Matthew 24:35 records the words of Jesus: ‘My words will by no means pass away.’ Peter, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, says, ‘the word of the Lord endures for ever’ and defines this as ‘the word which by the gospel was preached to you’ (1 Peter 1:25). If God’s word and the gospel remain for ever, the Christian is assured that all the promises and blessings of the gospel will outlive time itself and last for ever. Even in eternity they will never be obsolete or out of date.
Jesus The Truth Will Be With Us For Ever
The Lord Jesus Christ has promised to stay with his people now—‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ (Matt. 28:20). He is with the believer after death; Paul said he had ‘a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better’ (Phil. 1:23). And Jesus is going to be with all his people throughout all eternity. After he comes again and all believers dead and alive ‘meet the Lord in the air’, ‘thus we shall always be with the Lord’ (1 Thes. 4:17).
Back in 2 John, in the middle of his references to the truth, John inserts a further note on this last point; those with whom the truth will be for ever are also accompanied by other great kindnesses from God the Father and God the Son (2 John 3):
GRACE—the gift of blessings which we do not deserve.
MERCY—the removal of the punishment for sin which we do deserve.
PEACE—peace with God (replacing enmity) and the peace of God in our hearts.
All of these come to the Christian in a rich combination of God’s truth and love.
3 / Grace, mercy and peace are common in salutations of nt letters. First Timothy 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:2 have precisely this trio. But the form of this blessing is unique. Literally, it begins, “There will be with us grace, mercy, peace.…” Only 2 John (a) uses the phrase will be with us, (b) calls Jesus the Father’s Son, and (c) delimits the sphere of the blessing as in truth and love.
Grace is God’s free, unmerited favor to the world and especially to those who belong to Christ (John 1:14, 16–17). Mercy, unique here in the Johannine literature, is God’s forgiving goodness, and peace (John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19, 21, 26) is the condition of believers, who have received God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, who himself has overcome the world.
These blessings come to God’s people from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son. The family/relational terminology and the linking of Father and Son with the Elder’s community subtly underscore the unity of the loyal Johannine Christians with God, a point that is elsewhere made explicit (1 John 4:6).
But how does one come to enjoy these divine blessings? The Elder says that they will be with us in truth and love. The use of the future tense may imply that not all of the house churches in the Elder’s orbit are actively enjoying God’s blessing: some have joined the schismatics; others are in conflict, perhaps divided about whether to remain with the Elder or to side with the “new wave” (2 John 9) secessionists. The threefold blessing will belong to those who remain in truth and love.
In truth, as we have already seen, means “doctrinally correct when it comes to the basic truth about Jesus Christ,” i.e., in agreement with the Elder that Jesus Christ is fully human (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). In love means “not part of the secession.” Those who left the community (1 John 2:19) broke the love command, and thereby demonstrated that they were not really Jesus’ disciples, since the latter are to be characterized by love for one another (John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:11, 16–18, 23; 4:7, 11, 21). The Elder’s community is a fellowship of both truth and love. Neither can be minimized; both are at the core of what it means to be Christian. These two concepts are explored further in vv. 4–11.
3. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.
Here is an apostolic greeting that compares with the salutations of Peter and Paul, who write the words grace and peace at the beginning of their epistles. In two of the pastoral Epistles, Paul expands his greetings: “Grace, mercy and peace” (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2).
- “Grace, mercy and peace.” The expression grace is not common to the literature of John (John 1:14, 16, 17; 3 John 4 [translated “joy”]; Rev. 1:4; 22:21). What is the meaning of this salutation? In his inimitable manner, John Albert Bengel summarizes the meaning of the phrase grace, mercy and peace in these words: “Grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery; peace expresses a continuance in grace and mercy.” And B. F. Westcott makes the following distinction: “ ‘Grace’ points to the absolute freedom of God’s love in relation to man’s helplessness to win it; and ‘mercy’ to His tenderness towards man’s misery.”7 Peace stands for harmony, trust, rest, safety, and freedom; it is God’s gift to man.
- “From God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son.” Paul uses similar greetings (with only slight variations) in his letters to Timothy. However, John is more articulate when he places Jesus Christ on the same level as God the Father. John repeats the word from and notes that Jesus is the Son of God the Father. As in his first epistle, John opposes false doctrines concerning Jesus Christ and explicitly teaches Jesus’ divinity (compare 1 John 2:22; 4:2; 5:1, 5; 2 John 7). Jesus is the Son of God.
- “Will be with us in truth and love.” John’s greeting deviates considerably from that of the rest of the writers of New Testament epistles. Paul, Peter, and Jude convey their greeting in the form of a prayer or a wish: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2). But John is definite, because he does not express a wish but declares that “grace, mercy and peace … will be with us.” He adds the words in truth and love. The three virtues (grace, mercy, and peace) flourish in an environment where truth and love prevail. Truth unites the Christian community when it faces the common foe of falsehood; it is evident among Christians when they demonstrate their unity in showing love toward one another. Then the Christian church prays the prayer John Greenleaf Whittier composed,
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.