Letters From an Old Man

A World Passing Away, 1 John 2:18—28

So far in John’s first letter, he had given his readers a number of “tests” to ensure that they themselves were truly “walking in the light.” He was also confronting his opponents—false teachers—by showing how they failed each of these “tests” of discipleship. In this section, gentle John puts the screws to the false teachers and pulls out all the stops and labels these false teachers for what they are: antichrists. These are despicable men who lie and deny the deity of Jesus Christ. But their treacherous teachings were threatening the church, so John gives some advice to his readers about how to hold tight to the faith.

1. A proper perspective, 2:18—19

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

John has already dealt with the transitoriness of the world in verse 17—

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

This is emphasized with the phrase “this is the last hour,” in verse 18. This is the only time we see this phrase in the New Testament, although similar phrases are seen many times throughout Biblical writings, where “last days” or “day of the Lord” may be considered counterparts. John is not meaning to say that he thought the world was coming to an end soon, but he has in mind this present dispensation in which we are living; the time between the first and second comings of our Lord. In fact, John Stott thinks John is indicating that we are in the “last hours of the last days.”

As proof that his readers—including we—are living in the “last hours of the last days,” John points to the appearance of the false teachers that he has been referring to, only this time he calls them “antichrists.” In the context of his letter, John is giving us a hint as to exactly who these false teachers were: they were not members of some other religious cult but former church members who had come to deny the deity of Christ! Notice how John describes their arrival—

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.

In John’s view, the fact that they left the fellowship of believers was an indication that their devotion to Christ was only external. In these verses, John is not describing the personal Antichrist of the Revelation. Early Christians believed that at some time in the future, the Antichrist would appear as a single person, described by Paul like this—

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3—4)

The Thessalonians, like the readers of this letter, knew that this vile man would come. But here, John is making sure his readers knew that there are, in fact, many antichrists in the world, even now. The men who were causing so many problems for them once belonged to the Church, but had left. Those who he refers to as “antichrists” left the church—us— because they never really belonged to it in the first place. True believers, in other words, remain in the Church, but phony believers leave. Apparently these men were known to the readers of this letter; John simply says they “went out from us,” but offers no details. He uses the word “us” five times in this verse; so many times it seems awkward, but its frequency stresses John’s point: antichrists leave the Church, we stay. Could this be another “test?” Perhaps, for anybody can claim to be a Christian. The proof is in their obedience to God’s righteous commands, one of which is regular corporate worship.

For those of us who love the Lord, it seems impossible to conceive of people who would claim to be genuine Christians, then up and leave the Church, proving they never really belonged to the family of God. The writer to the Hebrews describes a similar situation—

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4—6)

Theologians, who love to use labels in describing simple Biblical doctrines, call this particular doctrine perseverance. These unbelievers, who denied Christ’s nature, were never part of the “universal” or “invisible” Church because they did not really belong to Christ. The fact that they were temporarily part of the visible church was meaningless, for they failed in their perseverance. They left.

2. Anointing and discernment, 2:20—21

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

Kistemaker, in introducing these verses, notes a contrast. These antichrists denied that Jesus was the Christ, whose name means “Anointed One.” Christians believe in Christ, because they have received an anointing from Him!

Christians not only bear the name of Jesus Christ; they also share in his anointing. (Kistemaker)

Under the Mosaic law, anointing with oil symbolically showed the consecration and dedication to God of only three types of men: prophets, priests, and kings. Under Christ, though, the anointing of the Holy Spirit is the privilege of all believers. One result of this anointing is knowledge of the truth. This was important for John to say because his opponents the false teachers claimed a “superior” spiritual knowledge unavailable to normal men. John has already wrote about this anointing before, in his Gospel—

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)

This must have been a tremendous encouragement to the Christians of John’s day, as it should be to us today. There is a tendency for modern believers almost “idolize” cultural icons, likes athletes and entertainers. In the Church, we do the same thing with preachers and teachers and especially authors. John makes it clear that no matter how impressive these Christian icons may be, their knowledge of God is not beyond the reach of other believers. While some may be gifted teachers or expositors, knowledge of the Holy One comes from the anointing, available to all. Darby comments—

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit as an unction and spiritual intelligence in them, and the truth which they had received at the beginning—the prefect revelation of Christ—these were the safeguards against seducers and seductions. Now this unction is the portion of even the youngest babes in Christ.

With this anointing comes not only knowledge of the truth, but also discernment. True believers know the truth, John writes, and true believers know that lies cannot come from God. The false teachers and their disciples were liars, and so there was no possibility they could have come from God. There was never a more timely message that that one. Whenever someone comes along with new teachings that add to the Scripture or take the place of Scripture, we need to beware! We should have nothing to do with doctrines that do not originate in the Word of God.

3. Denials and discipleship, 2:22—25

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

John asks a rhetorical question and then answers it by pointing to the antichrists who are determined to perpetuate the pernicious lie that Jesus is not the Christ. John is not looking his Jewish friends who denied that Jesus was the Messiah, but rather the Gnostics who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. These false teachers taught that Christ, the divine spirit, descended upon Jesus the man and then Jesus the man became divine at his baptism. When Jesus the man was on the cross dying, that divine Christ-spirit left him, and Jesus the man died. That kind of teaching sounds so good, and some who don’t know the Word would be tempted to believe it. But it was a lie, spread by antichrists. It strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith that says Jesus is perfect God and perfect man. Denying the Sonship of Christ denied the Fatherhood of God as well.

Of course such teaching originates in man’s imagination, not in the Word of God. John’s statement in verse 23, No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also, shows the dependence true believers have, or should have, on orthodox theology found in the Bible. The linchpin theological statement upon which all Christian theology hangs is simply this: Jesus is the Son of God. There can be no deviation, no leeway on this. Jesus did not become the Son of God. The Son of God did not come into existence when Jesus was born. The Son of God did not cease to exist on the Cross. The Son of God; the Second Person of the Trinity always was and always will be. And anybody who teachers otherwise, is an antichrist.

John’s admonitions to his readers would be well-directed towards the Church of today, filled with believers who all-too-often are a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of their knowledge of proper doctrine. John says to hold fast to the teachings you heard first; hold fast to the eternal truths found in the Bible. The Trinity is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not some other combination of words. God is the Father; He is not an elderly black woman. Antichrist’s come in all shapes and sizes and their words always sound better to our carnal ears than does God’s Word. But we must hold fast to what the Bible teaches, not to what any man teaches. That is true discipleship; following the Lord, not some teacher or preacher.

4. A warning and a promise, 2:26—29

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

Lest any of his readers think he is being mean-spirited, John makes it very clear that all he is doing is warning his readers. There is nothing more important than the state of a person’s soul, not even their feelings. Nobody likes to be told that what they believe is wrong, but John, like any good pastor, lays it on the line. In fact, John goes on to say something really stunning—

…you do not need anyone to teach you…

What does he mean by this? Does he mean that believers shouldn’t listen to their pastors? Or buy good Christian book? Of course not! Even Jesus Christ told His disciples as part of ‘the Great Commission” to “go and teach.” And He gave pastors/teachers to the Church to teach the saints. Kistemaker comments—

Effective preaching of the Word, faithful teaching in Sunday school or catechism class, and daily reading of the Scriptures—all this is necessary for the spiritual growth of Christians.

What believers do NOT need are false teachers and false teaching; believers have the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads them into all truth. John adds this about the indwelling anointing—

…his anointing teaches you about all things…

When I read this, I ask two questions: (1) How does He teach us? And (2) What are “all things?” The answer to both of these questions is found in Hebrews 10—

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:15—17)

The Holy Spirit, as evidenced in Hebrews 10:15—17, testifies to believers (speaks to our spirits) the Words of Scripture. The anointing kicks in—God communes to our spirits—when we study the Word of God. The Word of God is our best weapon against false teaching because in it are teachings about “all things” necessary for our faith. We do NOT need Christian self-help books, nor do we need to attend seminars on how to have a good Christian life. What we DO need is the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit to illumine the Word of God to our spirits.

Not only does that anointing keep us safe from false teaching and false teachers, but according to John, that anointing enables a true Christian to determine if another is a true Christian. This is discerned by watching how they act, by observing whether their actions are righteous or not. The true Christian will be like Jesus; they will keep His commandments and walk as Jesus walked.

Through the ascended and glorified Christ, God has given to all Christians the Holy Spirit, but it is the believer’s responsibility to remain in Christ. God’s will has its counterpart in our responsibility. God provides His Spirit to lead and to teach believers everything necessary for salvation, but God expects the believer to remain in Christ.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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