The World in Darkness: 1st John 2:16a

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

The “κόσμος” (kosmos) can reflect five principle meanings in the New Testament (Baker’s Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 2163):

  1. The universe created by God with design and order (e.g., Mt 13:35; Jn 17:24; Acts 17:24).
  2. The planet earth (e.g., Jn 11:9) as the dwelling place of human beings (16:21) and as contrasted with heaven (6:14; 12:46).
  3. All humanity (Mt 5:14; Jn 3:16; 1 Cor 4:13).
  4. The total of human existence in this present life with all of its experience, possessions, and emotions (Mt 16:26; 1 Cor 7:33).
  5. The world order which is alienated from God, in rebellion against him, and condemned by nature and by godless deeds (Jn 8:23; 12:25; 1 Cor 3:19).

John’s usage in his first epistle focuses almost exclusively on the last principle of κόσμος.  His referent does not include the universe of God’s creation, our planet or dwelling place therein, humanity itself, or the total experience of human existence, possessions, and emotions; conflating the meaning of “the world” with any of these would be a critical error that would both corrupt the entire concept of John’s first epistle and force dire consequences upon the reader that are completely alien to the message of the Gospel.

John’s first epistle draws out the principle concept of “the world” as the godless spirit of rebellion that is alienated from God and condemned by its very nature of wickedness.

“The world”:  John parallels his metaphors of “light” (being expressed by love) and “darkness” (being expressed by hate) with his personifications of “the children of God” and “the world”:

1st John 3:13-15 (CSB) Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

1st John 2:9-14 (CSB) The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

John’s parallel has a strikingly clear message: the world abides in death because it is full of darkness and consumed by hate, especially for the children of God.

Where John’s message penetrates our heart the deepest is in the realization that he is stating in plainest possible terms that whoever hates their Christian brother or sister is in the darkness of the world and has not part with the light of Christ’s Kingdom.

“The world” is not about possessions or location, but about darkness and alienation from God that expresses itself in hate.

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