John begins his second epistle with these words: “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth” (2 John 1:1, ESV). The apostle identifies himself as “the elder,” a title that reflects both his age at the time of the writing and his authority in the early church. The letter is written in sincere love—the words truth and love are found five times each in the first six verses. And the recipient of the epistle is a lady and her children—the “elect” lady, to be precise.
The word elect means “chosen.” In fact, the NIV translates 2 John 1:1 with the phrase “chosen by God.”
There are two categories of those who are elect, or chosen, in Scripture: those who are part of the nation of Israel and those who are in the universal Church. Paul says about the nation of Israel, “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 9:4–5). The Jews are the chosen people of God to bring about His purposes in the world (see Deuteronomy 7:6; John 4:22; and Romans 11:28).
But the lady of 2 John is called “the elect” not because she was Jewish (we don’t know her ethnic background) but because she was part of the church. The universal Church is comprised of all people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior who died on the cross to bear the guilt and pay the penalty of their sin and who conquered death at His resurrection. The universal Church came into existence on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and will be taken from the earth at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). The Bible clearly teaches that the church is elect—i.e., they are chosen by God “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; cf. Revelation 13:8).
John calls the lady in 2 John “the elect” because she believed in Jesus Christ and was therefore saved; she was a member of the universal Church. Some interpreters see the lady not as an individual but as a symbol of the church as a whole or of a local body of believers. But that interpretation makes it difficult to explain who her “children” are. It is better to view this lady as an unnamed friend of John who had actual children who were serving the Lord.
There are actually two elect ladies mentioned in 2 John. The apostle concludes his letter by relaying a message: “The children of your elect sister greet you” (2 John 1:13, ESV). So, we have an “elect lady” who receives the letter, and she has an “elect sister” whose children (her nieces and nephews) also know John. The mention of this other elect lady and her children further supports the view that John is writing to actual individuals. The lady and her family were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and made part of the family of God (John 1:12).