“I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.” I John 2:13b
In our study of I John, the apostle John is preparing his readers for spiritual battle (2:12-14) against the world (2:15-17) and the devil (2:18-25) after having addressed their battle with sin (1:5-2:2). To prepare them for warfare, He is reviewing fundamental truth about their position in Christ. Like “little children,” they had experienced complete and permanent forgiveness from their heavenly Father the moment they believed in “the name of the Son of God” (2:12; cf. 5:13a). As “fathers” they now know the Eternal One intimately (2:13a; cf. John 17:3a).
Today John will address the third foundational truth based on their position in Christ. “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.” (I John 2:13b). Their experience as “little children” (forgiveness of sins) and as “fathers” (intimate knowledge of God) renders them as vigorous “young men” who are prepared to do battle with Satan. 1
Once again John uses the Greek perfect tense to describe their position in Christ. The perfect tense describes a completed action in the past that has continuing results to the present. Hence, as “little children” they have been “forgiven” (apheōntai) of all their sins when they believed in Christ for salvation and they remain forgiven at the time of John’s writing (2:12). As “fathers” they “have known”(egnōkeite) God as the Eternal One from the moment of their salvation and they continue know Him in this way (2:13a; cf. John 17:3).
And now John uses the Greek perfect tense when he writes that as “young men” they “have overcome” (nenikēkate) Satan or “the wicked one” (2:13b). The Greek perfect tense conveys a past victory over the evil one which continues to produce fruit in the present. 2 In what sense have all believers “overcome the wicked one”?
John writes, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Every time a person believes in Jesus as the Christ for new birth, a definite victory is made over the world: “4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4-5). John informs us that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (I John 5:19b).
Satan is actively engaged in blinding people’s minds to prevent them from believing in the gospel of God’s Son (2 Cor. 4:3-6). He uses the world system to teach many false views which desensitize people to their need for a Savior including such things as:
- Humanity is basically good so people do not need to be saved from sin.
- Since God is love, all people will go to heaven.
- Jesus was just a good moral teacher or prophet who provided a good example to follow.
- God and the Bible cannot be trusted.
- Sin has no consequences.
- God does not exist.
But when God breaks through these (and other) lies and a lost sinner “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” to be “born of God” (I John 5:4-5), then Satan is directly defeated (2 Cor. 4:3-6). And since the effects of new birth can never be reversed by Satan, this defeat is decisive and permanent (Luke 8:12). At the very least, John’s readers are viewed as “young men” who had experienced victory over the wicked one when they put their faith in Christ for eternal life, and the results of this victory are still there. They still have a perfect standing before God in heaven (cf. Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 10:10, 14). This positional truth is intended by John to encourage his readers to move out into battle against this world and its ruler, knowing that their victory in Christ is secure. 3
The author of the gospel of John is the same author of I John. John uses the Greek perfect tense for the same word translated “have overcome” (nenikēka) when he records Christ’s encouraging words to His disciples the night before His crucifixion: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). There are three contrasts in the first half of this verse which have incredible significance:
1. “in Me” versus “in the world”: Jesus depicts the disciples as living in two spheres. The first is spiritual and eternal (“in Me”) and the second is physical and temporal (“in the world”).The phrase “in Me” points back to the intimacy Christ spoke of in the vine and branches imagery (John 15:1-8). Disciples of Jesus can “have peace” in Christ who never changes, not “in the world” which is ever-changing. We are not going to find peace in the world. Only Christ can give us the peace we yearn for. If our focus is on Christ, then peace can be our experience. If our focus is on the world, then we can expect “tribulation.” This word (thlipsin) refers to “trouble that inflicts … distress brought about by outward circumstances.” 4
2. “you may have” versus “you will have”: In the spiritual realm the disciples “may have” peace. The verb translated “may have” (echēte) is in the subjunctive mood which means it is possible or desirable 5 they may have peace, but Christ did not guarantee their peace in this life. If they abide in Christ (“in Me”), then they can have peace. But it is not certain they will abide in Him. But Jesus does guarantee they “will have” tribulation in the world. The verb translated “will have” (echete) is in the indicative mood which conveys certainty 6 that the disciples will experience tribulation in the world. The disciples will not be able to escape the tribulation that is in the world. Perhaps the disciples still did not believe persecution was imminent (cf. John 15:18-16:4). They expected to rule with Jesus soon in His coming Kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:21-28; Luke 22:24-30). Their expectations kept them from receiving more truth from Christ that they found to be contrary to what they wanted – this is something all of us must guard against. 7
3. “peace” vs. “tribulation”: If the disciples (and we) abide in Christ and stay focused on Him, they can experience internal “peace” (eirēnēn) or a deep-seeded calmness that is given to obedient believers (cf. John 14:21, 23, 27a) even though they will definitely have “tribulation” in the world. This peace of Christ arises from a life of faith in God. It refers to a calmness “that would come to their hearts from trusting God and from knowing that He was in control of all events that touched their lives.” 8
The world cannot give this kind of peace to believers. The world gives Christians “tribulation” because the world opposes Christ and His followers (15:18-16:4). The word “tribulation” “is used in a general sense to speak of the ‘pressing affliction’ that the disciples must endure as they identify with Christ in an unbelieving world (cf. 15:18-25). This is the pressure believers experience when they take a stand for Christ or speak out on a sensitive moral issue. Yet although believers face intense pressure from the world, they can enjoy internal peace in Christ.” 9
Some teach that if you are doing God’s will everything will go smoothly. This is contrary to what Jesus promises. Even if you are living for Christ “you will have tribulation” because the world hates Jesus and those who follow Him (15:18-21). If the world does not hate a believer, it may be because that believer is being conformed to the world instead of being transformed by the Word.
After the disciples forsook the Lord at the time of His arrest (cf. Matt. 26:56; Mark 14:50), they may have felt ashamed and uneasy whenever they thought of Jesus. But Jesus predicted their desertion in the very saying where He also assured them of the peace He would give them (John 16:32-33). Christ loved them despite their shortcomings. In the future when they looked back on their desertion, they would reflect that Jesus predicted it. And even though He knew full well they would abandon Him, He had promised them peace. That is grace. Christ would give them peace even though they did not deserve it.
The world would definitely bring the disciples distress, but they could “be of good cheer.” The word translated “be of good cheer” (tharsaeite) means “to be firm or resolute in the face of danger or adverse circumstances, be enheartened, be courageous.” 10
Why could the disciples face these upcoming challenges with courage? Christ explains, “I have overcome the world.” As mentioned previously, this is the same Greek perfect tense verb John used in I John 2:13b. The word “overcome” (nikaō) means “to win in the face of obstacles, be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.” 11 So, Jesus speaks of His victory over the world as though it is an accomplished fact with continuing results to the present!
It was no accident that Jesus spoke these triumphant words, “I have overcome the world” even as the Roman soldiers were buckling on the weapons for His arrest. That is confidence, isn’t it!?! But this is a confidence that would be lacking in the disciples that night. At first, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter, the ring leader of the disciples, pulled out a sword in Jesus’ defense (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). But by the next day, all Eleven disciples had lost faith. Those triumphant words from the previous night must have haunted the disciples as they watched from a distance as Jesus agonized on the cross. It appeared to them that the world had overcome Jesus. But on Sunday morning, their faith would be reignited and strengthened by the resurrection of their Lord.
To an unbeliever, the cross of Christ seems like total defeat for Him. But Jesus sees it as a complete victory over all that the world is and can do to Him. Christ goes to the cross, not in fear or in gloom, but as a Conqueror! Because Jesus won the victory over the hostile world and Satan through His death and resurrection (cf. John 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5), we can also win against this hostile world and its ruler as we face difficulties with His courage! Because Jesus has already won the battle, we can claim the victory as we face trials triumphantly.
In John 16:33, John wants us to see that victory begins when, through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we find peace in living life for Him. In I John 2:13b, the apostle wants us to realize that the moment we believe in Christ for our new birth (5:1), it was our faith that permanently defeated Satan’s and the world’s opposition towards saving faith (5:4-5). Knowing this can give us much courage as we face intimidating challenges.
When we were serving the Lord in the Philippines, I sometimes liked to watch NBA basketball. One of my favorite teams at that time was the Dallas Mavericks. Since we were fourteen hours ahead of CST in Dallas, Texas, I was not available to watch their games in the mornings in the Philippines when they were televised live. So, I watched the replay of their games in the evenings. Before I would do that, I liked to check the final score on ESPN, so I would know if the Mavericks had won before I sat down to watch them. Knowing my team had already won the game, gave me confidence even though I may watch my team make several mistakes and fall behind in the score. I did not give up on them though because I already knew they would win the game.
The same is true in our Christian lives. We already know the outcome of this battle between Jesus and the world and the ruler of the world. Knowing Christ has already won the victory over the world and the devil can enable us to have courage when we face intimidating challenges (John 16:33). Knowing that our faith in Christ at the time of our conversion permanently overcame the world and Satan, gives us confidence going into spiritual battle (I John 2:13b). At times it may seem that the world and Satan are winning the battle when we fail, or other believers fail, but the truth is Christ has already won the war through His death and resurrection! The truth is we can move out into battle against this hate-filled world based on our complete victory in our position through Christ. We can fight “from” the victory Jesus and our faith have already won, not “for” the victory as though it was completely dependent upon us alone.
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You so much for preparing us for spiritual battle by reminding us of our position in Christ. As Your little children, we have permanent forgiveness of all our sins so the enemy cannot successfully accuse us or condemn us. As fathers, we know You as the Eternal One and it is this intimate knowledge of You that delivers us from the enemy’s lies. As young men, we have permanently defeated the world and its ruler with our faith when we believed in the Son of God for our new birth. This permanent victory over their hostility toward saving faith encourages us to move out into battle knowing the war has already been won. Thank You for this confidence You have given to us, Lord, based on our position in Christ. In the matchless name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 592.
3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 102.
4. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 457.
7. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane C. Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 224.
8. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 440.
9. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 297.
10. Bauer, pg. 444.
11. Ibid., pg. 673.