Wednesday, August 19, 2009

1 John 2:18-23

V18-23 - 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. 20But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth [or, and you know all things]. 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 the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

In this passage, John returns to the relational test of authentic Christianity that he has already discussed and moves into the doctrinal test of authentic Christianity as well. He says that we can know “it is the last hour,” or the end is near, due to the fact that “many antichrists have come,” just as Jesus said they would. The end times were ushered in with Jesus’ coming and subsequent Ascension. John’s audience had heard about the antichrist, and so they were well prepared. We need to be mindful of that, understanding that, though Christians generally look for the prophesied Antichrist, the principle of antichrist is all around, even in our local congregations. Therefore, we need to live with urgency and expectation, even as the first century faithful did.

As far as the relational test goes, John notes in v19 that some of the church’s members had left the fellowship over doctrinal disagreement. Calvin supposes that the Church was accused of producing “these pests,” but by their departure from the fellowship of believers, they prove that they were never true Christians. That’s what John is saying. He doesn’t claim that they were true believers and fell away; he says that their going showed that they didn’t belong. None of those who left the fellowship of believers ever belonged to the fellowship of believers. They may have held a membership card and made a profession, but apart from perseverance, John says we can be sure they were never part of the Body of Christ. Their inward apathy or hostility to the gospel could only be masked by outward conformity for a time. And that relational test also moves into the doctrinal test. For “what fellowship can light have with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

One commentator says, “The fellowship of God’s people is built upon the reality of Jesus Christ and union with Him. And when we reject the reality of Jesus Christ, we are not capable of sharing fellowship with those who are in fellowship with Jesus Christ.” Those who remain, however, do so because they have the Holy Spirit (v20). Believers are bound to one another in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one Body, and one Lord. And the anointing John speaks of is the same anointing Jesus experienced; it’s a calling to fulfill duties like those of prophet, priest, and king, for the benefit of the Kingdom of God (John 14:12). John has not written to these believers, because they didn’t know the truth (v21). Instead, he writes to them precisely because they do know the truth. And thus, his encouraging words help them to persevere and confidently take hold of the assurance of their salvation in light of the false teachers and division in their midst. Remember John’s purpose in writing (1 John 5:13), “so that you may know you have eternal life.”

John has discussed how these antichrists come and go. And their going reveals that they fail the relational test of authentic Christian, among other things. But furthermore, these antichrists deny that Jesus is the Christ (v22). And that hits the heart of the doctrinal test of authentic Christianity. Whoever denies the Son denies the Father as well. And that makes him, one who professes to know God but denies Him by denying Christ, a liar, and an antichrist. Now John is specifically targeting the false teachers who claim any Jesus other than the Biblical Jesus. They may claim Jesus as Savior but deny his humanity. They may claim Jesus as Messiah but deny His divinity. They may claim Jesus as Christ but deny that He really died and rose from the dead. They are all false teachers. Note Calvin’s words here:

“I readily agree with the ancients, who thought that Cerinthus and Carpocrates are here referred to. But the denial of Christ extends much wider; for it is not enough in words to confess that Jesus is the Christ, except He is acknowledged to be such as the Father offers Him to us in the gospel. The two I have named gave the title of Christ to the Son of God, but imagined Him to be man only. Others followed them, such as Arius, who, adorning Him with the name of God, robbed Him of His eternal divinity. Marcion dreamt that He was a mere phantom. Sabellius imagined that He differed nothing from the Father. All these denied the Son of God; for not one of them really acknowledged the true Christ; but, adulterating, as far as they could, the truth respecting Him, they devised for themselves an idol instead of Christ. Then broke out Pelagius, who, indeed, raised no dispute respecting Christ’s essence, but allowed Him to be true man and God; yet He transferred to us almost all the honor that belongs to Him. It is, indeed, to reduce Christ to nothing, when His grace and power are set aside. So the Papists, at this day, setting up freewill in opposition to the grace of the Holy Spirit, ascribing a part of their righteousness and salvation to the merits of works, feigning for themselves innumerable advocates, by whom they render God propitious to them, have a sort of fictitious Christ, I know not what; but the lively and genuine image of God, which shines forth in Christ, they deform by their wicked inventions; they lessen His power, subvert and pervert His office.”
John is set on affirming the truth; the Jesus of Scripture is the only Jesus who saves. If you don’t get that, you can’t have fellowship with God the Father. And that’s huge. I always wonder here about genuine misunderstandings. I mean, say I’m a student of the Bible, and you’re a student of the Bible, and we disagree about something to do with Jesus that I deem crucial (like, as Calvin noted above, His sovereignty in salvation) but you deem relatively insignificant. If either of us is wrong, does that bring eternal condemnation? I don’t know. I hope not. But based on John’s teaching, I might conclude that it does. Getting Jesus right, according to the Scriptures, is the difference between heaven and hell. Thankfully, by grace, I remain certain that all who belong to God will be kept safe, as v23 declares. “Whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” I acknowledge, if even imperfectly, the Jesus of the Bible.

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