The purpose of this communication is to impact the readers with the very basic truth in Christian faith, which is as clear as the light in darkness. When the false teachers slipped in and arose to deceive God’s people with some mystical knowledge and to temp them with sin disregarding God’s Law, the author outcries to the church: “Go back to Christ! Go back to what you heard about your faith in the beginning!”
Rhetorically, the author’s argument with stark contrasts serves as unquestionable definition and clarification of the true faith in Christ and shows the touchable danger of losing one’s eternal life if one follows the false teaching. The readers would feel a renewal, restoration, and rest in Christ if they “get” what he’s saying.
The author would have expected his readers to respond to his message with an immediate returning to Christ and being renewed and strengthened in complete joy. Since the author had a personal experience with Jesus’ teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection, he knew vividly the powerful impact of all these to his life and the lives of all the other apostles. He knew what a trembling surprise and joy one could have in hearing Mary Magdalene’s words “I have seen the Lord” after she saw Jesus’ resurrection (Jn. 20:18). He also knew Thomas’ response “My Lord and my God” when he touched the body of resurrected Jesus with his figures (Jn. 20:28)! Finally, he knew how this basic fact changed the life of God’s children in the beginning of the Church. He would expect the readers to respond in a similar way!
What a definite and clear truth! Who cares about the mystical knowledge! Being touched by such an amazing truth, any believing sinners would be totally overwhelmed and born again in Christ. They would repent immediately and do whatever is pleasing to such a loving God.
In conclusion, John’s arguments always hold firmly to the basic truth of Christian faith, and the passage can be summarized with Jesus’ words: “I (the Word in flesh) did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17). In order to define or clarify the basic truth with absolute certainty and clear boundary, the author uses sharply contrasted paradigms to describe both the basic truth and its opposite. The rhetorical strategy is similar to that of Genesis 1, in which God’s nature (light/brightness, clearness/order, life, truth/richness) is revealed dialectically in stark contrast to the opposites (darkness, formless/disorder, death/deep, vain/empty). With the message designed in this way, God’s people can clearly recognize the false teaching and firmly hold the basic truth in their faith, and their life will be strengthened. The strategy used here is highly harmonized with the author’s passion as a faithful servant of God and a great pastor of Christ’s Church: he is a loving father to God’s people, but a powerful battler to the deceiving false teachers inspired by the evil spirit.