In John’s first epistle, He begins with establishing himself as an eye-witness to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He emphatically states that he had seen, heard, touched the Lord and now from that experience He proclaims Christ. For this purpose, we would expect the entirety of the book to be focused on Christ, and this is true, however there is a remarkable pattern that emerges when one examines how it is that John brings his emphasis to the Son, particularly through His use of the terms Father and Son.
In the opening chapter, God the Father is mentioned in 1:2 and 1:3, while the Son is mentioned in 1:3 and 1:7. However, at the beginning of chapter 2, it is the Father who is mentioned again, not the Son, as we might expect his pattern of proclaiming Christ to proceed. The use of Father appears in the discussion from 1 John 2:1, and again in 2:13, 2:15, and 2:16. Meanwhile, though Jesus Christ is mentioned in 2:1, the actual use of Son does not occur again until 1 John 2:22. This is rather shocking given that we would expect the bulk of references to be about Christ, the Son of God, given John’s own emphasis on his experience with Christ’s earthy ministry. But then something remarkable happens.
In 1 John 2:22-24, there is a transition that takes place from emphasis on the Father to the Son. Note the passage below
22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
Here we see the use of both Father and Son in verse 22 and again, twice, in verse 23, followed by the fourth pairing in verse 24. These pairings single a massive shift in emphasis from the Father to the Son. From this point forward, God the Father is only referenced 3 times in the remainder of the letter, whereas God the Son 14 times, after only being mentioned twice up to this passage.
The question we need to ask at this point is why? Is there a purpose for John to withhold and then subsequently emphasize the Son?
Interestingly, on the heels of this shift from Father to Son, we find a passage describing believers as children of God, those marked with consistent obedience and desire holiness. For instance, 1 John 2:29
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
then again in 3:1
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
The development of the teaching that believers are children of God extends from 1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:10 and includes specific mention in 3:2; 3:8 (negatively stated); 3:9 (2x); and 3:10 where it is stated both positively and negatively.
This pattern is simple enough, if one slows down long enough to see it, but it brings up another question. What is John’s purpose in connecting the emphasis on God the Son with believers as children of God?
Quite frankly, it is to show the relationship that exists between God the Father and God the Son is parallel with God the Father’s relationship with those who have been born again,
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13
Similarly, as we read in Ephesians, we are co-heirs with Christ. Not only that, but as the emphasis on the Son continues, we also see impeccability, i.e. sinlessness, righteousness, and purity attributed to Him, but not in isolation from us. He died to remove sin from us; as He is righteous, so too ought we be righteous; as He is pure, so too will we be pure. The relationship is familial, but also one of shared identity – holiness – through our union with Christ.
Oh the wisdom of God, who by way of simply shifting the emphasis from Father to Son, draws attention to the person and work of Christ and His holiness, but subsequently uses it to transition into our relationship as His children, that we too ought to look like His only begotten Son and walk in purity.