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1. Believers?

It is certain that the recipients were believers.

  • The Lord Jesus Christ is their Advocate (Paraklhtoj) when they sin (2:1). In John 14:16-18 the Holy Spirit is another Helper (Paraklhtoj). The first Helper apparently is the Lord. The Lord teaches that He will leave the earth to reside in heaven. While He is gone, the Holy Spirit takes His place as Advocate on earth. Then the Lord performs the role of Advocate for believers in a heavenly court in which Satan is the prosecutor and the Lord is the Advocate for the believer (Revelation 12:10). Apparently whenever the believer sins on earth, Satan complains to the Father but the Advocate provides a successful defense based on the blood He shed on the cross.5
  • Their sins have been forgiven (2:12).
  • The Holy Spirit anointed them (2:20, 27). The anointing in the New Testament apparently takes place at the time of salvation . . . at the time of sealing (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). The "Holy One" Who gives the anointing is often believed to be the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20). The purpose of the anointing is to give believers the ability to understand spiritual things (1 John 2:27). Old Testament passages associated an anointing performed on leaders by another human (Exodus 28:41; 1 Samuel 9:16). If the Old Testament understanding also prevails with respect to New Testament believers, the anointing may be for the purpose of giving leaders a special ability to understand Scripture.6 But the purpose and the one who anoints are different between the two Testaments.
  • They are children of God (3:1-2). The passage indicates that children of God will be pure at the Second Coming of the Lord.
  • They are called brethren (3:13).
  • They are believers in the name of the Son of God (5:13).
  • They have eternal life (5:13, 20).
"John's insistence that his readers genuinely know God and know His truth (2:12-13, 21) was part of his strategy for fortifying them against the antichrists."7
2. Church Leaders?
Were the recipients also local church leaders? See the discussion of "anointing," above.
3. Location

The location of the recipients is not revealed by the text. However, John is known to have written to local churches in Asia (Revelation 2-3). Perhaps the recipients of 1 John also lived in Asia.