It is possible that when John refers to an ‘elect lady and her children’ he means a congregation of believers. Having said that, it is also possible that he is writing to a mother and her children – perhaps she was a sister of the lady that is mentioned in verse 13. The reason why some think he is writing to a church and describing it as a mother and children is because he was writing in a form of secret code to warn the church about false teachers (the ones he referred to in 1 John). It is not easy to argue against either view, but it looks to me as if he is writing to a family where the father is no longer there.
What would an apostle say to someone living in uncertain times? He would remind that person of certainties and we can see several of them in this letter. The first is that God has chosen his people – we see this in John’s description of her as ‘elect’ (v. 1). It is true that the doctrine of election is hard to understand, but we do know for certain that it is certain. In uncertain times, it is good to know that God has eternally loved his people.
A second certainty that John mentions is the presence of truth in the hearts of God’s people (v. 2). Truth here seems to be the opposite of what is false, whether as in the wrong message of the heretics or in the claims of other religions. The possession of this truth is eternal, so John may have in mind the reality of salvation through which believers become united to Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
The third certainty that he mentions is that believers living in uncertain times will receive great blessings from the Father and the Son. These blessings are described as grace, mercy and peace (v. 3). John writes in a manner that tells his readers that he expects to receive those blessings himself, a reminder that in the church those who lead and those who are led are all blessed from heaven. In uncertain times, believers will be deprived of many things, but they need not fear that they will go without those heavenly blessings.
The fourth certainty that we can think about today is the guarantee of genuine converts even in uncertain times (v. 4). As far as this lady was concerned, some of her children were believers. The evidence that they were genuine was the fact that they obeyed the Father’s commandments. There will be genuine believers even when times are at their worst.
Of course, the reality is that these four certainties are what Christians want to have whether they live in uncertain times or not. Yet since we are living in uncertain days this description of a Christian family from the close of the first century is a reminder of what we can expect from God in the twenty-first century.