Some Postcards from John: 2 and 3 John for Today, Timothy J Cross

SOME POSTCARDS FROM JOHN: 2 and 3 John for Today

Published by: Twoedged Sword Publications





Author’s Preface

2 John

  1. John Writes to them with Fatherly Tenderness (opening remarks)
  2. John Welcomes their Following the Truth
  3. John Wills them to Further the Testimony
  4. John Warns them of False Teachers
  5. John Witnesses to them the Fullness of Teaching
  6. John Warns them of Fraudulent Tricksters
  7. John Wishes their Fellowship Together (closing remarks)





The second letter of John, the beloved disciple, is the shortest book in the New Testament, consisting of just thirteen verses. My title concerning ‘A Postcard from John’ is, of course, somewhat anachronistic. They did not send picture postcards through the Royal Mail in the first century! Poetic licence apart though, the whole of 2 John is short enough to have fitted onto just one standard sized sheet of papyrus, measuring about 25 by 20 cm. Hence it is more of a ‘postcard’ than a letter.

I have always loved postcards. When I was a boy, I had quite a collection of them. I have also sent quite a few in my time too. An Uncle once complimented me on my ability to cram a lot of news into a very short space when I had sent him a holiday postcard. John’s ‘postcard’ is like that too. He packs a great deal of truth into his thirteen verses, truth which, though written in first century Asia Minor, is nevertheless exceedingly relevant to us today. This is what we should expect, as the truth of God is timeless. 2 John is part of the inspired Word of God, and the Word of our God will stand forever (Isaiah 40:8). It is thus eternally relevant.

As we study this small portion of the Word of God, it is my hope and prayer that we will come under its relevance, submit to its authority, embrace its promises, heed its warnings and hide it in our hearts, for the well being of our souls.


Timothy Cross, Barry, South Wales.





The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever:

            Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

            I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children following the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. And now I beg you, lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we follow His commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward. Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work.

            Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink, but I hope to come to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

            The children of your elect sister greet you.



(Opening remarks).


The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever (vv.1,2).


On such a tender tone, John opens his little letter. Four points seem to call for our attention here – points which are important if we are to understand the letter as a whole. The points are:- The Writer, The Recipients, The Rejoiner and The Regards.


  1. The Writer


The Elder


Elder here refers to John’s official position as well as his age. When we are first introduced to John in the Gospel records, he was probably still in his ‘teens. John originally helped out in his father’s fishing business – before he left it to become a full-time disciple of Jesus and fisher of men. We read (Jesus) saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him (Matthew 4:22).

John was especially close to the Lord Jesus. Of the twelve disciples, he was one of the ‘inner three’, privileged to be with Jesus on special, intimate occasions, such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35 ff.) and the stupendous Transfiguration (Mark 9:1 ff. et al).

John was a physically fit young man. When the Lord Jesus arose from the dead on the third day, John outran Peter to the empty tomb. John then became an early witness to the most attested fact of history and bedrock of the Christian Faith: Christ’s resurrection. The other disciple (John) outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there (John 20:4,5). The other disciple (John), who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed (John 20:8).

Now, however, John had lost the spring in his step, as his youth had given way to old age. The elder.

            In the New Testament church, the offices of an elder and an overseer (sometimes termed a ‘bishop’) amounted to the same thing (see Titus 1:5,7). We can see the wisdom of having one such as John being given pastoral charge of the church of God. Today’s cult of youth is foreign to the Bible. In Biblical times it was ‘chic’ to be old, as age suggested maturity and wisdom. Job 12:12 reads Wisdom is with the aged and understanding in length of days. Proverbs 16:31 tells us A hoary head is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. This being so, we can understand the injunction of Leviticus 19:32 when it says You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of an old man … The aged John certainly possessed a pool of experience and wisdom, fitting him to be a wise and compassionate pastor of God’s people.

Over-riding the above however, John’s main qualification and authorisation was the simple fact that he knew the Lord and knew Him intimately. John was so close to the Lord Jesus on earth that, at the Last Supper, it is recorded of him that one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus (John 13:23). Interestingly, we read of Jesus Himself: No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom of God the Father, He has made Him known (John 1:18). Putting this together, we may say that, as Jesus lay in the bosom of God the Father in eternity past, but came to reveal the Father to us, likewise John, having lain in Jesus’ bosom, can reveal Jesus to us as no one else can. Divine inspiration apart, herein lies John’s authority. He was an intimate of the Saviour. How we should hang on his words.


  1. The Recipients


            The elect lady and her children


            Scholars are divided as to whether this refers to a literal lady and her children or a particular church and its members. I incline towards the latter, as I will explain shortly. Meanwhile, let us explore:-


  1. The elect


The Bible employs many words to describe a Christian. For example, a Christian is a believer; a follower of the Way; a child of God by adoptive grace. Collectively, Christians are brothers and sisters; the redeemed and even ‘Saints’ – that is, set apart by God for God. Here, however, Christians are designated as the elect.

            Election is arguably one of the most vilified doctrines of Scripture after its teaching on eternal punishment. Yet we cannot run away from election, as it is part of the Bible’s very warp and woof. If you are a Christian, you are one of God’s elect! Let us have some definitions:-

‘Election’ says Louis Berkhof, ‘may be defined as that eternal act of God whereby He, in His sovereign good pleasure, and on account of no foreseen merit in them, chooses a certain number of men to be the recipients of special grace and of eternal salvation. More briefly, it may be said to be God’s eternal purpose to save some of the human race in and by Jesus Christ’ (Systematic Theology, p. 114). Herman Hoeksema is similarly helpful when he states:-

‘The Scriptural doctrine of election means that God has from all eternity sovereignly determined who shall be saved in Christ Jesus, ordained all the ways and means unto their salvation, and that too, in distinction from others He purposed not to save’ (Wonder of God, p. 19).

According to the Bible, we are saved not so much because we chose God, but because He chose us …even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God’s election is a great source of solace to us if we are Christ’s. It shows that salvation is ultimately God’s work, and God cannot and will not be hindered or thwarted in this, as He accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

The question is: Can I ever know that I am one of God’s elect? Yes I can, for the Bible always connects election with calling, that is, those whom God has chosen in Christ in eternity past will, in time, be called to Christ, and enabled to trust in Him for full salvation. Paul explains these golden links in the salvation chain like this in Romans 8:30:- Those whom He predestined He also called; and those Whom He called He also justified; and those Whom He justified He also glorified.

            God makes no mistakes! He chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world. He sent His Son to die for my sins. He sent His Holy Spirit to wake me out of spiritual death and trust in Christ to save my soul. He will preserve me securely for all eternity. It is the same with every Christian who has ever or will ever live: God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our Gospel (2 Thessalonians 3:13,14). Or as Peter put it, we have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood (1 Peter 1:2).

Christians then are the elect.  The truth of divine election is a comfort to which only Christians are privy:-


My name from the palms of His hands

Eternity will not erase

Imprest on His heart, it remains

In marks of indelible grace

Yea! I to the end shall endure

As sure as the earnest is given

More happy, but not more secure

The souls of the blessed in heaven

(A.M. Toplady, 1740-78).


  1. The lady


I opt for thinking that the lady here refers to the church, as does your elect sister in this same letter (v.13) – the latter being the church of which John was Pastor. I am led to think this, because in the New Testament, the Church is described as ‘the bride of Christ.’ – the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9). Paul’s slandering by feminists as being something of a ‘woman hater’ is totally unjust. Paul loved the image of the Church as being the Bride of Christ, and exhorted husbands: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:25,26).

In Biblical times, marriage was somewhat different from marriage today. Weddings then had three stages:-

  1. A suitable wife was chosen for the groom by his parents. Marriages then (and still today in certain parts of the Middle East) were arranged.
  2. A sum of money was given to the betrothed’s father – a wife was bought!
  3. With great ceremony, the marriage was solemnised and consummated. The groom came and took his bride, and they set up home together.

All this gives us a wonderful illustration of the bride of Christ – both individual Christians and the Church (the elect) corporately:-

  1. As we have seen, we have been chosen by God. You are a chosen race (1 Peter 2:9). You did not chose Me, but I chose you (John 15:11).
  2. We have been bought! Christ bought us with His Own blood. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your father, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18,19).
  3. Our marriage is to be consummated! Jesus is returning for His bride! We will be with Him for all eternity! John was later privileged to be given a glimpse of this, our greatest day. Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready (Revelation 19:7). To understate it, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).





The Third Letter of John

Introduction: i. The Composition ii. The Comparison

  1. The Companions
  2. The Consideration
  3. The Condition
  4. The Consolation
  5. The Continuation
  6. The Congratulation : Gaius
  7. The Commendation (I)
  8. The Cooperation
  9. The Consternation : Diotrephes
  10. The Competition
  11. The Confrontation
  12. The Conviction
  13. The Commission
  14. The Commendation (II) : Demetrius
  15. The Confession
  16. The Conclusion





The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.

            Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul. For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.

            Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God’s service. For they have set out for His sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth.

            I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, prating against me with evil words. And not content with that, he refuses himself to welcome the brethren, and also stops those who want to welcome them and puts them out of the church.

            Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has testimony from every one, and from the truth itself; I testify to him too, and you know my testimony is true.

            I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.

            Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.





  1. The Composition


John’s third letter is certainly a ‘postcard with punch.’ When read at pulpit pace, it can be completed comfortably in under two minutes. When read, understood and ‘digested’ however, its effects are much more long-lasting.

John’s little third letter – just like his second one – seems to be largely unknown territory in the church today. Such is a great pity, and hence this book, for 3 John is certainly a mine of wealth, relevance and blessing. 3 John is also full of much human interest, for it centres around three contrasting personalities, namely Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius.

Whilst originally written some two thousand years ago, 3 John is uncannily relevant to our times. We meet ourselves in 3 John, not to mention ‘types’ of people whom we know. This should not really surprise us, as basic human nature has not essentially changed over two thousand years, even if our technological scenery has. 3 John as part of the inspired Word of God to humankind is eternally contemporary. 3 John is especially contemporary as it deals with problems in the church – relationship problems stemming from problems in individual’s lives. ‘Where there’s people there’s problems.’ We shall shortly see how the problem personalities behind 3 John in the first century will ring many present day bells with us today, as we move rapidly through the twenty first century.


  1. The Comparison


When we read 2 and 3 John simultaneously, we are struck by the interesting way they compare, contrast and complement each other. For ease, we tabulate some of these as follows:-


  1. 2 John was addressed to a woman – The elder to the elect lady …(2 John 1) whereas 3 John was written to a man – The elder to the beloved Gaius (3 John 1).


ii.2 John was most probably written to a church community, whereas 3 John was definitely written to an individual.


iii. The problem in the church of 2 John concerned deceiving deviants from outside the church – men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh (2 John 7), whilst the problem addressed in 3 John was concerned mainly with a dreadful dictator from within the church – Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority …(3 John 9).


  1. The exhortation of 2 John is never to show hospitality to those who reject the truth of the Gospel – If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house (2 John 10). Whilst the exhortation of 3 John is to receive and show hospitality to those who proclaim the truth of the Gospel, for we ought to support such men that we may be fellow workers in the truth (3 John 8).


2 and 3 John thus dove-tail beautifully. The Word of God is exceedingly balanced, and we are in need of its sustenance in order to maintain balance and spiritual equilibrium in our lives. 3 John helps us to keep our spiritual balance. In this short, but well-rounded epistle, we will encounter both doctrine and duty, an affirmation of truth and a warning against error. We will meet both love and discipline along with affection and sternness. In short, teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Over-riding everything, as everywhere in the Bible, we will glimpse something of the supernatural glory of God in contrast with the sinful humanity He sent His Own Son to save.