The Elect Lady in II John

1.      John opens his second epistle by referring to the elect lady and her children.  In verse 13 John closes his letter with a very similar phrase; “The children of your elect sister greet you.” It is usually thought that these two references are to a literal woman and her children. For example, my Reformation Study Bible says these two verses cannot refer to churches, but refer to real women for whom John had pastoral care. It is possible that John is referring to two blood sisters that he knew. However, it is more likely that this is a reference to two churches, especially when we examine his use of the term “children.”  John’s uses the term “children” frequently in I John (See I John 2:1, 12, 13, 18, 28, 3:1, 2, 7, 10, 18, 4:4, 5:2, 21).  The only place where it is possible he is referring to real children is 2:12-13, but even here it is not likely.  So here in II John, where children is used three times (vs. 1, 4, 13), it is likely John is referring to disciples, not to literal children. This means the phrases “elect lady” at the beginning and “elect sister” at the end are probably referring to two churches.  Paul frequently sends greetings from one church to another (See Romans 16:23, I Corinthians 16:19, II Corinthians 13:13, and Philippians 4:21-22). John is doing the same thing here though using different language. 

2.      This also has some bearing on John’s command in verse 10 about avoiding false teachers.  He tells the church that if someone does not teach that Jesus came in the flesh (vs. 7) they are to not “receive him into your house or greet him.”  We usually interpret this as meaning we should not allow a person teaching this doctrine into our home. However, if the letter is to a church, it is more likely that “house” here means the church. John is exhorting them to make sure they do not give these false teachers any welcome or any opportunity to teach in the church. It might have application in our homes. But the more direct application is that churches and denominations should not give any forum to false teachers. 

3.      The term for “lady” in verses 1 and 5 is, kuria, the feminine form of lord, kurios. It is only used in II John.  This is not just any woman. She is a queen who sits beside her Lord. 

Haggai : Part I, Background

I finished preaching through the first nine minor prophets (Hosea-Zephaniah) in November. I did not preach the final three prophets (Haggai-Malachi) who prophesied to Israel after their return to the land following the exile. However, I did want to give my people a short introduction to these three post-exilic prophets. Here is the first part of that introduction. It has two parts; a general introduction to Israel’s history following the conquering of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria in 722 B.C. and then a short introduction to Haggai.

General Background to the Minor Prophets
You may have noticed that there are twelve Minor Prophets. You may also have noticed that I only preached through the first nine. These first nine are referred to as pre-exilic prophets. All of them were written prior to Israel going into exile in 587/586 B.C. The last of these nine written was probably Habakkuk. The last three of the twelve Minor Prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, are called the post-exilic prophets. These three prophesied following Israel’s return to the land. Here is the first of three short outlines on these final three Minor Prophets. The timeline below visualizes the chronology of Israel’s exile into Babylon, return to the Promise land, the rebuilding of the Temple and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

722 B.C. The Northern Kingdom is conquered by Assyria
715 B.C. Hezekiah’s reformation
622 B.C. Josiah’s reformation (Zephaniah’s Prophecy)
612 B.C. Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, falls to Babylon
609-605 B.C. Habakkuk’s prophecy
605 B.C. Final assault by Egypt/Assyria against Babylon fails. Babylon gains total supremacy. The first deportation of Israelites to Babylon takes place. Daniel and his friends were probably in this first deportation.
597 B.C. First major invasion of Israel by Babylon
586 B.C. Final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians occurs.
539 B.C. Persians conquer Babylon
538 B.C. Cyrus, King of Persia, issues a decree allowing Israel to return to the land. (II Chron. 36:22-23, Ezra 1)
538 B.C. First return to Israel takes place under Zerubbabel. (Ezra 1-6)
536 B.C. Restoration of the Temple begins, but stalls
520 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah are sent by God to encourage Israel to finish building the Temple. (Ezra 5:1-2)
515 B.C. The Temple is finished.
460 B.C. God sends Malachi to prepare the people for the ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah.
458 B.C. Ezra returns to the land. (Ezra 7-10)
445 B.C. Nehemiah returns to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

The chronology here, as it is throughout the Scriptures, is important. The prophets are almost always placed in a very specific situation in history. They did not usually prophesy to the air. They prophesied to specific people in specific places who are concerned about specific things in their lives. We cannot understand or apply what is written if we do not first understand when and to whom it was written. Knowing the history of Israel is invaluable in understanding God’s Word.

Background to Haggai
Haggai consists of four sermon summaries that Haggai preached on three days in 520 B.C. These sermons were designed to push Israel to finish rebuilding the temple and to grow in holiness. Haggai is one of the most precisely dated books in the entire Bible. We cannot just date it to a general time period or even to a specific year. We can date Haggai to probably the day the sermons were preached. Here are the probable dates for the sermons that Haggai preached.

1st Sermon: Haggai 1:1-15, preached on August 29th, 520 B.C.
2nd Sermon: Haggai 2:1-9, preached on October 17th, 520 B.C.
3rd Sermon: Haggai 2:10-19 preached on December 18th, 520 B.C.
4th Sermon: Haggai 2:20-23 preached on December 18th, 520 B.C.

There is one other important date, September 17th. On this day, a short time after the first sermon, the people began to work on the temple again. Thus the last three sermons were preached while the temple was being worked on. The temple was not finished until March, 515 B.C.

Where to Begin

I have read several longer books on John Calvin’s life over the last few years. Every time I am convicted of gaps in my pastoral ministry, not my theology. In fact, Calvin the pastor has had a greater influence on me than Calvin the theologian. Of course, the theology and the ministry go together, but the more I read about him the more convinced I am that it was his theology applied in the church at Geneva, not his theology written, where he left his greatest fingerprint. I recently read David W. Hall’s short work on Calvin, The Legacy of John Calvin. This quote struck me because it confirmed what I had been feeling as I read about Calvin.

“While Calvin’s accomplishments have had lasting influence in many sectors, it is important to recognize an oft-ignored truism about his work: his reforms began in the church and only then radiated outward…He was prudent enought to realize that the best way to reform the culture was indirectly, that is, to first reform the church.

Leithart: All Theology is Political

Peter Leithart is a man I greatly respect, even when I disagree with him, which is not often. Here is a wonderful interview where he lays out how he thinks the Church should intersect the world, particularly politics. What I liked about this interview is the practical suggestions Leithart gives. He can be long on theory, short on practice. But here he gives many excellent ideas as to how a local pastor can see the church as a political body. The interview is well worth your time. Note especially the strong stance he takes against abortion and sodomy and the fact that he believes all men, including rulers, should be called upon to submit to Jesus as Lord.