Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 1 John 2:18–27
Don’t Deny the Son; Remain in Him
In last week's discussion (see week 6's summary), we evaluated the risks of yielding to worldly flesh or our sinful nature. We realized, as believers in Christ Jesus, that we're obliged to make up our mind to follow the Lord so wholeheartedly that we'll reap the benefits of living fully devotedly to Christ. Today's follow-up study and discussion show how Christian believers are to recognize and deal with false doctrine.
Today it will be wise for us to remember, as John reminded his Christian brothers then, who belonged to a church in crisis, that there are three distinct battles before us: (1) the social battle, which in our world is more than conflict between love and hatred; (2) the moral battle, which is more than choosing between holiness and sin; (3) the doctrine battle, which engages truth against error. In chapter 2's remaining verses that we'll cover today, John introduces us to the person and characteristics of a false-teaching antichrist. Christians then (as well as today) were warned not to be deceived by one or more antichrists. Instead they were to utilize and practice the anointing they'd received, thereby remaining in the truth that they'd heard so that they wouldn't lose the same way the antichrist would on judgment day. Starting with v. 18, we'll learn even more of what John needs to tell and warn us about regarding this third "doctrine" battle.
The Abandonment of False Teachers and Antichrists (1 John 2:18–19)
The warnings against antichrists in 2:18-27 direct our attention to counterfeit teachers and the unfounded beliefs they present to unwary church members. Their "doctrine," as John warned his readers, turned out to be nothing more than worthless, cheap imitations of that sound doctrine, which had been presented to them in New Testament Scriptures and confirmed by numerous eyewitnesses, including John himself. Having classified these false teachers as antichrists, he emphasized the seriousness of their offense.
In today's passage, John contrasts false teachers with true believers. He again addresses all of his readers as “children” (see 2:12), suggesting their vulnerability and need to be on guard against deceivers who were trying to dupe them (v. 26). We'll do well to follow his wise spiritual counsel so we won't be deceived by antichrists in our day.
Warnings Against Denying the Son
18Dear 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. 19They 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 (2:18–19).
The Elder tells us in v. 18a, "this is the last hour," the time when many "antichrists have come." The term "last hour" brings to mind the judgment of God, which Jewish religious leaders saw as the end time. Judgment necessitates separation: good from evil, right from wrong, truth from error. False teachers had already begun such separation in John's house churches. He goes on to say in v. 19, "They went out from us," alluding to the secessionists' actual departure from the church. Perhaps John's faithful were being persuaded to team up with the secessionists and desert him (see v. 26). Nevertheless, John understood this split as a confirmation of the coming "last hour" resulting in subsequent judgment.
For John, the entire period between Jesus’ ascension and return to earth is “the last hour.” No one knows how long this period will last, but “the last hour” implies a sense of urgency, in that Jesus might come at any moment. John tells us in the opening verse that "the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come," meaning that the evil spirit that will characterize the final Antichrist was already working in those false teachers who'd left the house churches in Ephesus.
In this first epistle, Apostle John refutes the lies, heresies, and lives of false teachers who'd created a crisis in the churches in Asia Minor (Turkey today). For the apostle with the most intimate of relationships with Lord Jesus, anyone who'd deny Jesus as being God would receive the harshest of labels — antichrists: children of the devil. Incidentally, John is the only New testament author to use the word "antichrist," using it five times in his first two epistles.
Antichrists arose in these churches. They might have been pastors, elders, or teachers who'd previously taught the truth but now promoted and taught their own doctrine, albeit Docetism and Gnosticism. Paul warned the true Ephesian elders, “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Now these men were leaving the churches to form new groups, professing, We've come into a deeper knowledge of the truth. Follow us and we’ll let you in on our secret knowledge.
As John saw it, one's conduct truly and conclusively reveals one's paternity. The paternity of the false teachers and antichrists was evidenced by their heretical views of Christ. Regardless of their apparent claim to having had a genuine relationship with God, John contrasted those unbelievers who'd departed the church community to believers who remained. William MacDonald wrote this about a "Christian's paternity."
John indicates, in addition to the heretical views that false teachers and antichrists had of Christ, what they did and didn't do appropriately. False teachers invariably adopted Christian terminology and postured themselves as being Christians but weren't. They usually began within the church (v. 19); at first, their teaching was orthodox, but they eventually began to veer from the truth. He wanted to assure his house-church believers that they certainly were God's children, faithfully living in true fellowship with the Father, Son, and fellow believers of apostolic testimonies (such as 1 John 4:6; 5:10–12; 2 John 9–11).
Their Denial that Jesus Is the Christ (2:20–23)
20But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21I 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. 22Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist — denying the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (2:20–23).
After making it clear to his readers that those who'd left the community had revealed that they'd never really belonged, John next wanted to assure his readers of their unshakable position in God's safekeeping and the community. The "anointing" that comes from the Spirit of Jesus, confirms that "all of you know the truth." Such anointing is available to all who are faithful.
John isn't suggesting that true believers know truth in its entirety, instead, that his church population knew truth, which their opponents denied. They had knowledge of the truth about the disputed issues, needing nothing further about the person of Jesus, which the false teachers apparently alleged they had. In reality, the false teachers adopted and promoted a serious deception.
False teachers often claim to know the truth and see things while others don't. They attempt to recruit people within the church to accept and adopt their doctrine. John’s words here should keep us from being surprised or discouraged when false teachers make their presence in churches. When one or more appear, respond appropriately with biblical backing by realizing these three nuggets of spiritual wisdom: (1) false teachers aren't born again; consequently they can't live the new life in Christ that's found in the church; (2) you'll persevere within your church when you relate personally with Jesus, and his family of believers; he's picked them and you’ve got to learn to get along with them; and (3) purity of doctrine has a higher priority than church growth or numbers; if church members don't believe in and abide by God's word, let them leave!
John asks and answers who "the liar" is (v. 22): The liar denies that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. The truth that the church community professed, which the deceiving, lying antichrist denied, was that "Jesus is the Christ."
True Christians must know and follow sound doctrine! John the Elder writes convincingly in v. 23: “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” That's especially important if you realize that, in those words about denying and acknowledging Jesus as Father God's Son, John's referring to eternal life, as highlighted in v. 25. Anyone who denies the biblical truth about God’s Son doesn't have the Father or his gift of eternal life. Sound doctrine is vital to true believers! And it goes hand in hand with one's fellowship with God.
The false teachers of John's day denied the full deity of Jesus, his incarnation, and God's having taken on human flesh in Jesus' birth. They taught that “the Christ” came upon the human Jesus at his baptism and departed at his crucifixion. Outrightly, they denied that Jesus was the Christ (v. 22), which was probably more a denial that Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied in Old Testament Scriptures. According to John, a huge consequence of denying Jesus is one's inability thereafter to relate righteously with Father God. Eugene Peterson paraphrases vv. 24–25 appropriately when he writes "Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father. This is exactly what Christ promised: eternal life, real life!" The essence of the repeated phrase "lives deeply in" speaks to a fellowship or a close relationship with God. Here, John makes this point: If you deny the fundamental truth about Jesus Christ, yet claim to know God, you're deceiving yourself.
Warning: If someone knowingly makes unorthodox, heretical statements about Jesus and isn't willing to consider and agree to the revealed truth, their redemption of sin is doubtful. When God sends somebody to correct you, whether it's your buddy or a stranger, it’s because God wants the best for you. His willingness to correct you documents how much he cares for you and his eternal relationship with you. The writer of Hebrews confirms this: "If you are not disciplined . . . you are illegitimate, not true sons and daughters at all" (Heb. 2:8). So, check your spiritual birth certificate; see if it's authentic and up to date.
Our Anointing by the Spirit (2:24–27)
Given the risk and peril that antichrists bring to churches, we Christians today, instead of itching for something "new and exciting," need to protect ourselves by upholding the original, Jesus-specific gospel message that we've "heard from the beginning." By adhering to the simplicity, power, and truth of his message, we'll remain in him through eternity.
24As for you, 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. 25And this is what he promised us — eternal life.
26I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27As 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 (2:24–27).
In his four closing verses, John reminds his readers that what he'd told them was definitely the same truthful news that the church had "heard from the beginning." In vv. 24–25, he exhorts them to remain loyal to what they've already learned, the teaching that they'd heard from the beginning (2:7; 3:11). He urges them to allow that teaching to remain in them so they'll stay faithful to the gospel. In v. 26, he warns them about the heretics who were intent upon leading others astray. He then cautions them about lying deceivers who were trying to hoodwink them away from that well-founded teaching that "remains in you" (v. 27). Their faith commitment depended on how well they realized and appreciated all that they'd heard and been taught "from the beginning" about the gospel and person of Jesus.
David Guzik writes in his commentary on this passage: "John did not say, 'If you know God’s Word, you know God,' because someone can have a bare, intellectual knowledge of God’s Word. But he did say, 'If God’s Word lives in you, God lives in you.' We can come to a living, growing, relationship with God through His Word."
Apostle John herein appealed to his readers' ability to discern, through the Spirit's enlightenment and guidance, whether or not the message of the day conformed to the "Word of life" that they'd "heard from the beginning." Critical to John's house churches, and ours today, are a rightly taught Christian community having a well-thought-out understanding of the gospel message.
- Q. 1 What and/or who is the “antichrist"?
- Q. 2 What did the antichrists in John's day teach? What did they deny?
- Q. 3 What exactly did believers receive through their “anointing” (v. 27)?
1 John 2:18–27