We have briefly considered two wonderful unions in the previous readings – there is the union of the three persons in the Godhead and there is the union of the two natures in the person of Jesus. Now we come to a third union that is mentioned in this verse, and that is the union that exists between Jesus and his people. So I hope we can see why we should regard verse 20 as one of the most amazing in the Bible.
John now reminds his readers that there is a permanent link between them and Jesus – they are in him who is true. To be in Christ provides us with many blessings and the obvious comment we can make about them is that they are shared by all who are in Christ. Some find the following method helpful in understanding this massive doctrine.
First, there is positional union with Jesus and it describes aspects of the union that we were not aware of when they occurred, such as chosen in Christ in a past eternity, or died with Christ, buried with Christ and raised with Christ when he was here on earth. The positional aspects of the union are real for Christians as far as God’s plan of salvation is concerned, but none of them can say that they were conscious of them when they occurred.
Second, there is personal union that commences when we are converted. In a way that we cannot understand, the Holy Spirit brings this union into existence and we have ongoing spiritual life from Jesus conveyed to us throughout our lives on earth. This is connected to a third aspect, that of practical union, in which we receive from him the many blessings that are found in him, such as peace, joy and a sense of his love.
The fourth aspect is prospective. There are blessings connected to union with Christ that belong to the world of glory, and which is people will not experience until they are there. Yet although they have not experienced them they are assured of them. Indeed, those future blessings are as much theirs now as the practical aspects they experience day by day.
So it is a wonderful reality to be united to Jesus now and always. Yet, in verse 21, a challenge comes to us as his people. It is obvious that in John’s day there were many idols and Ephesus, the place to which the letter was probably sent, was a centre of idol worship. No doubt, there was the possibility of them participating in such activities, but how could they after realising the greatness of God, of his Son, and of the amazing union that exists between Jesus and his people. It is likely that people were impressed by the activities connected to the idolatry taking place in pagan temples, but the only ones who should have been were the spiritually blind. John is telling the believers not to go near those locations.
Today, in the main, we don’t face temptations connected to pagan temples. But we can see that the application of this commandment is not limited to a literal fulfilment. Its application would be to anything that contradicts the glory and wonder of God and his salvation. It is possible to sense that a particular action or interest has the potential of doing that in our lives and when that happens we should remind ourselves of John’s closing challenge to those first-century Christians, ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols.’