First John 2:18-27
I. Introduction: The Apostolic Message - 1:1-4
II. The First Series of Tests - 1:5-2:27
A. The Moral Test (1) - 1:5-10
B. A Digression: God's provision and assurance of salvation - 2:1-2
C. The Moral Test (2) - 2:3-6
D. The Social Test (1) - 2:7-11
E. A Digression: assurance about John's readers - 2:12-14
F. A Digression: warning not to love the world - 2:15-17
G. The Doctrinal Test (1) - 2:18-27
1. Antichrists and Christians - 2:18-21
a. the existence of many false teachers is evidence that this is the last hour - 2:18
John emphatically states that we may know this is (the) last hour because of the existence and activity of many antichrists.
Antichrist - occurs only in the Johannine epistles (2:18(2),22; 4:3; 2 John 7). This word is never used to describe the Beast of Rev. 13. The term is a combination of anti (against or instead of) and christos (Messiah, Christ). The Antichrist thus opposes Christ as his adversary or enemy with a view to taking his place. He is a lying pretender who portrays himself as Christ; he is a counterfeit or diabolical parody of Christ himself. See 2 Thess. 2:3-12. Westcott writes: "It seems to be most consonant to the context to hold that antichristos here describes one who, assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ" (70). Again, "the Antichrist assails Christ by proposing to do or to preserve what He did while he denies Him" (70).
Although they had heard that this person's appearance is yet future, "even now" (kai nun) says John, many antichrists have already come. Paul wrote in 2 Thess. 2:7 that "the mystery of lawlessness was already at work." In 1 John 4:3 he points out that the spirit of antichrist is now at work in the world. What John means in 2:18 is that the "many antichrists" are forerunners of the one they heard was still to come. Because they proclaim the same heresies he will proclaim and oppose Christ now as he will then, they are rightly called antichrists (esp. in view of their denial of Christ in vv. 22-23).
In 2:22, he writes: 'Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. The spirit of the antichrist, says John, is found in anyone who denies that Jesus is God come in the flesh (1 John 4:3). Again, in 2 John 7, he writes: 'For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Thus, for John, 'antichrist is
* Anyone 'who denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22)
* Anyone 'who denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:23)
* 'Every spirit that does not confess Jesus (1 John 4:3)
* 'Those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh (2 John 7)
Some have argued that John's point is that there is no other 'antichrist than the 'one even then operative in his day or the 'one who takes up and perpetuates this heresy in subsequent history. In other words, anyone in general can be 'antichrist, if he or she espouses this heresy, but no one in particular, whether in the first or the twentieth centuries, is the antichrist as if there were only one to whom the others look forward. In other words, the 'antichrist who his readers were told was yet to come is 'now with them in the form of anyone who espouses the heretical denial of the incarnation of the Son of God. According to DeMar, for example, 'it is possible that the early church 'heard' that one man was to come on the scene who was to be the Antichrist. John seems to be correcting this mistaken notion (Last Days Madness, 227). Says B. B. Warfield:
'John is adducing not an item of Christian teaching, but only a current legend Christian or other in which he recognizes an element of truth and isolates it for the benefit of his readers. In that case we may understand him less as expounding than as openly correcting it somewhat as, in the closing page of his Gospel, he corrects another saying of similar bearing which was in circulation among the brethren, to the effect that he himself should not die but should tarry till the Lord comes [John 21:18-23] ('Antichrist, in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, 1:356).
What do you think?
The proliferation of these false teachers indicates to John that it is (the) last hour (no definite article). Note: the entire period between the first and second comings of Jesus = the "last days". See Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pt. 1:20 (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11).
b. the departure of the false teachers from the church is evidence that their profession of faith was spurious - 2:19
The antichrists of v. 18 = the false teachers against whom the epistle is directed. They are the ones whom John wishes to expose by means of the application of his "tests of life". Here in v. 19 he indicates that at one time they were "members" of the community which professed faith in Christ. they were actively involved in the ministry of the church and until the moment of separation were hardly distinguishable from the rest of the Christian society.
"they went out from us" - either by excommunication or voluntary separation (probably the latter); note the sharp distinction between "they" and "us"
"but they were not of us" - in spite of their external membership, they did not share the inner life: "of us" = the spiritual bond of the body of Christ
"for if they had been of us they would have remained with us" - Westcott writes: "If they had in the truest sense shared our life, the life would have gone forward to its fruitful consummation" (71). Again, we see that the test of life and salvation is abiding, persevering.
"but (they went out) in order that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us" - there is a divine purpose in their secession, namely, exposure of those who are but professors; their departure was their unmasking (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18-19)
Two things should be noted here:
(1) The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints - Abiding or continuance or endurance is the sign of the saved, just as apostasy is the evidence of initial unbelief. Note the emphasis of the phrase: "for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us . . ." (cf. Heb. 3:6,14). The presence of genuine faith ("of us") implies (necessitates) perseverance.
(2) The doctrine of the church in the present age - Stott writes: "Granted that God intends His church to be visibly manifest in local worshiping, witnessing fellowships, this does not mean that all the professing baptized, communicant members of the Church are necessarily members of Christ. Only the Lord knows 'them that are His' (2 Tim. 2:19). Perhaps most visible church members are also members of the invisible Church, the mystical body of Christ, but some are not. They are with us yet not of us. They share our earthly company but not our heavenly birth. Only on the final day of separation will the wheat and tares be completely revealed. Meanwhile, some are made manifest in their true colors by their defection" (106).
c. genuine believers, on the other hand, having received an anointing from Christ (or God), know the truth - 2:20-21
What is this "anointing" from the Holy One? Surely this is a reference to the Holy Spirit whom all Christians have received (cf. Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2 Cor. 1:21). Note: protection from the antichrist is in the chrisma we have received. Says Stott: "If the false teachers were antichrists, there is a sense in which every Christian is a true 'Christ', having received the same spiritual 'chrism' as He received" (106).
Note John's emphasis on the fact that "you all know." It was the claim of the gnostics that only a special group of individuals had the true knowledge of God. John insists that all his readers have the same "knowledge" because they have all received the same anointing, namely, the Holy Spirit of truth. Furthermore, John has not written to communicate fresh knowledge (v. 21) as if they were ignorant, but to bring to active and decisive use the knowledge they already had. Their knowledge of the truth enables them to detect at once the nature of such lies as the antichrists proclaim.
Kruse, following the suggestion of David Black, opts for an alternative reading, 'you know all things and argues that the latter 'needs to be understood in the context, in which the subject under discussion is the denial that Jesus is the Christ, God's Son come in the flesh. Nothing they need to know about these matters has to be learned from the secessionists. Everything they need to know is taught them by the anointing they have received (104). This is an interesting suggestion, but not persuasive, in my opinion.
2. Antichrists: the nature (v. 22) and effect (v. 23) of their heresy - 2:22-23
a. the height of heresy and the lie 'par excellence' is the denial that Jesus is the Christ - 2:22
"The liar" - The use of the definite article ("the") points to such a person as the one in whom falsehood finds its most complete expression. To deny that Jesus is the Christ is more clearly explained in 4:2-3. It is more than simply denying that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the OT. If these men were gnostics they probably argued that "Jesus" was a mere man upon whom the "Christ" (a divine emanation) descended at his baptism and from whom he departed before the cross. Jesus was a man invested for a brief time with divine powers (perhaps "adopted" by the Father). They denied that the man Jesus and the Eternal Son were and are one and the same person.
b. the denial of the Son means the loss of the Father - 2:23
This heresy is first stated in negative terms and then its opposite is stated positively:
the one who denies the Son does not have the Father - "If the heretics thought that they could 'have' God without believing in Jesus, they were completely mistaken. It is only through the Son that we know that God is Father, and it is only through the Son and his propitiatory death that we can have access to God as Father" (Marshall, 159). See John 14:6. To "have" the Father = to know Him (2:3-4) and to abide in Him (2:6); i.e., to be saved. Why must one know and confess Jesus as God the Son incarnate in order to know God the Father? See Mt. 11:27; John 1:18; 14:9-11. All knowledge of God the Father must come only through the Son.
conversely, to have, know, and confess the Son is to have, know, and confess the Father - see John 14:9-11; 5:44ff.
3. the abiding presence in the believer of "that which was heard from the beginning" and "the anointing which was received" serves as a protective safeguard against heresy - 2:24-27
a. believers are to let the gospel or apostolic teaching abide in them as a safeguard against heresy - 2:24-25
That "which you heard from the beginning" = the gospel, the apostolic teaching concerning the person and work of Christ which every believer embraced at conversion. Don't depart from that message! "Let it abide" (present tense imperative) means: adhere to it, guard and protect it, believe it, live in it and it in you, cherish it, proclaim it, let it shape your thoughts and deeds. Note: be careful of speculation and novelty when it comes to the person of Christ and the gospel.
b. believers are adequately equipped against false teaching by the anointing that abides in them - 2:26-27
The apostolic teaching was not enough to combat the deceptive influence of these false teachers. Against such men Christians have a second line of defense: the "anointing" which they received from God and which abides, again a reference to the Holy Spirit. The result is that we have "no need for anyone to teach us." What does this mean?
This cannot mean that there is to be no official teaching in the church but only individual or private study, for John is, in this very statement, teaching them! Also, the NT speaks often of "teaching" in the church (Acts 4:18; 5:28,42; 2 Tim. 2:24) and of "teachers" (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:29). John's statement must be interpreted contextually. His point is that the original gospel truths which they received (v. 24) were not to be supplemented by the "new" teaching of these antichrists. Any "new knowledge" or "revelation" must be tested or measured by the standard of the original proclamation. Says Brooke:
"The earliest teaching had not been superseded by a higher and altogether different message, as the Gnostics would have it. They needed no further teaching. What they had received covered the necessary ground. It was true. It had not been superseded by deeper truths" (63).
The competence of the HS is indicated by the words "is true and is not a lie." In fact, the Spirit of Truth, sent in Christ's name, has come "to make the meaning of the Incarnation fully known, [and] is ever bringing out something more of the infinite meaning of His Person and Work, in connection with the new results of thought and observation" (Westcott, 80).
Here, then, are the two safeguards against error: the apostolic message and the Holy Spirit, both received at conversion ("you heard" and "you received"). One is objective (the word, the message) and the other subjective (the Spirit). Both are essential.