Good evening everyone! Tonight, we continue our journey through the book on 1 John and we come the second half of chapter 2, which contains what at first glance looks like some curious teaching on the antichrist! At first, I did wonder if I'd been given this passage by my colleagues as a reward for all the extra work I left them while I was away on my recent three-month sabbatical!
But you know what? It may not be an easy read, but it's really powerful stuff. It wasn't easy being a Christian when John wrote this letter and it's still not easy. Which leaves us with questions like these: Will I be able to keep believing in Jesus till the end? And am I even running on the right path? Is what I believe really the truth?
John wants us to know that we are right to keep trusting in Jesus, who we came to know through the Bible. He wants us to expect and be on our guard against those who will try and distract us from the truth about him. And he wants us to run the race of faith with confidence until the end.
So, let's dive straight into the text. I have three headings which are:
- Signs of the Times (vv18-19)
- Signs of the Liars (vv20-23)
- Signs of the Believers (vv24-28)
The first thing John wants us is to understand is the Signs of the Times.
Have a look at verse 18:
"Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour."
John calls them children. He's not patronising them. He's writing to those who are, spiritually speaking, his children. The taught them the truth about Jesus. He reminds them he loves and cares for them because something has happened to them that has unsettled them.
And what he wants to do is to zoom out of the situation, to take a wide view of what's going on and help us understand where we come in the history of God's plan.
It's all in the phrase "it is the last hour". This isn't a literal hour. It's a period of time – specifically the period between Jesus' first and second comings. Elsewhere in the Bible it's also called the last days. And that is where we are too.
Behind us the creation of the world. Behind us also are the events in history that divide all of time into two – as our calendar shows. Jesus was born, crucified on a cross, rose from the dead and ascended to the father. And he will come again. That is certain.
But for now, we live in the last hour – between Jesus's first and second comings. And calling this period an hour focuses our mind on the fact that very soon, relatively speaking, we will be at the time when Jesus comes not to end the world, but to bring to a close this chapter and recreate the world as he has promised to do. This is the last hour.
How can we be sure of that? What marks out the last hour? That's where the antichrist comes in!
"Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour."
Who is the Antichrist? That's a reference to a specific individual who is to come and who will be opposed and set against Jesus. This is where the wacky popular imagination goes wild and tries to work out who this is. Depending on your politics, it may be Corbyn or Boris Johnston! Or Russia. Or the pope. Or whatever. We don't know who it is, but what John tells us is that right throughout this time period before Jesus returns will be 'many antichrists' – those who oppose Jesus and deny the truth about him.
What do we know about those John calls antichrists? We don't need to speculate. Look at verse 19:
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."
So this is what has unsettled those John us writing to. What is in view here is not the outright non-Christian opponents – other religions that don't recognise who Jesus is or those whose faith tells them there is no God.
No – the antichrists are those who – for a time at least – were within the church family. These are not confused believers who are struggling with doubts but those who have deliberately chosen a different, false teaching and as it says in verse 26 are deliberately trying to lead them astray:
"I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you."
It's not surprising this has unsettled them. These are men and women – not necessarily leaders or teachers – who had once been in the church but who were now teaching a different truth.
"They went out from us". Perhaps as John wrote these words he had flashbacks to Judas Iscariot – the disciple who for three years had been one of them but who then went out from them and for the price of 30 pieces of silver betrayed Jesus and sided with his enemies. Likewise, those hearing these words from John they knew who he was talking about. Friends who were once a part of them but who now stand opposed to Jesus. They have broken away from the group of believers who held onto the apostle's teachings and have formed an alternate group.
It's painful and it's unsettling but this is a sign of the times, this is what we are to expect in the last hour.
Why is this important? John wants us to expect that there will be antichrists. To be forewarned is to be forearmed as the saying goes Antichrist is not a term to use lightly about someone, it's not for us to use it against one another whenever we disagree about trivial matters such as whether or not we should have pews in church or about anyone who questions the way you like to do things as a leader. As we'll see this is a term for those who deny the very heart of the gospel message. That is what we need to be on our guard against. We need to be ready when the evil one uses this ploy to destroy God's church so that when it happens it does not unsettle us. We need to understand the signs of the times.
Second, he wants us to understand the Signs of the Liars.
So what exactly did these antichrists believe? And given verse 26 tells us they were "deceiving others" they must also have been teaching others in some way or other – whether that was from a pulpit or the ancient equivalent of an Instagram post. John calls them liars. They belong to what the Bible calls false teachers. They are not 'anointed' by the Spirit or have the word of truth. But that did they teach?
Look at verse 22:
"Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son."
There it is. They deny that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the man who was born to Mary in Bethlehem. He was 100% human. But he was also the Christ. The promised one, the anointed one who would sit forever on the throne of David. No mere human can do that. But Jesus wasn't just a human. He was God the Son who took on a truly human nature. He was 100% human and 100% Son of God.
Why does this matter? Because that is the basis of the gospel. Jesus Christ, who was himself sinless became our substitute and died on a cross in our place so we can be forgiven and receive eternal life.
Jesus had to be God to be sinless, and he had to be man to be our substitute. And unless he was both, he can do absolutely nothing for us. But these antichrists were denying that Jesus was the Christ.
And the believers were beginning to worry. Am I even running on the right path? Is what I believe really the truth?
John wants them to know that denying that Jesus is the Christ is a lie. It is not the truth. They are on the right path. And if they are led astray it really matters. Look at verse 23:
"No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also."
To deny that Jesus is the Christ means denying the truth about Jesus.
The Bible is clear. Jesus is God made flesh.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." (John 1:1–3)
As God came to redeem his people, he took on a truly human nature.
"Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (Hebrews 2:17)
The divine Son of God took on a human nature without giving up being God:
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
Colossians 2:9, in just a few words, makes the boldest claim, "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." We meet God himself in Jesus.
There are a few implications of this.
The first is how serious denying this truth is. Look at verse 23, "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also". That means if you get this wrong about Jesus you will also get it wrong about God the Father. You can't have one without the other. Thus, there is no possibility of being right with God for an antichrist. Rejection of the truth about Christ puts a person completely outside the family of God. To deny Jesus means losing out on eternal life. This is why there is such a strong warning about being led astray.
The second implication is that Jesus is the only way. No one who denies the Son has the Father.
Where today do we see people denying that Jesus is the Christ?
Those why don't treat Jesus and his words as the words of God and seek to 'modernise' the church. We see that for example in the way treat what Jesus says about relationships and marriage or the reality of hell to take just two examples. If Jesus is the Christ then what he says about those things are not up for negotiation. If what he says can be cast aside, then that at the very least implies that he is not God.
Perhaps some obvious examples would be Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons who deny different aspects of who Jesus is.
But most often this will be very subtle and look nothing like you'd expect the antichrist to look like! Here, for example, is some advice written for an evangelical mission agency trying to work out what churches they would be willing to work with. Listen to how reasonable this sounds, how generous.
"Since the launch of Christendom, in the 4th century, Christians generally and more recently Evangelicals in particular, have established walls and barriers of acceptable belief and behaviour. They have had a 'Stockade Approach'. … Everyone who conformed was on the inside and OK and anyone on the outside was banished, criticised and not 'in fellowship'. The idea of a stockade is to keep out those on the outside and keep in and protected those on the inside. Christians originally did this by creeds and treatise of the church. It has very often been done by unwritten and generally accepted ways of behaving and over the last 100 years evangelical churches and organisations have done it by formalised doctrinal statements in their constitutions.
The alternative to a 'Stockade Approach' is a 'Well Approach'… In the 'Well Approach' it is what is at the centre that is important and the relationship of people to the centre. The 'Well' is the focus and all important. The 'Well' concentrates our attention and gives us a reason for living. How far people are away from the centre doesn't matter nor does how long they have had a relationship with the centre.
The 'Stockade Approach' tends to be judgmental because you have to decide whether a person is inside or outside. The 'Well Approach' is generally more welcoming and accepting. If you are convinced that the 'Stockade Approach' is right, then you will have to decide where the fence is going to be or what the benchmark for acceptability is.
If you are going to take a 'Well Approach', then you are not going to be so concerned about what a person believes in detail, how long they have been a Christian, what church they go to or whether they can sign your doctrinal statement. You are going to be more concerned about whether their friendliness, their servant spirit, their testimony, their cheerfulness and their whole lifestyle speaks of Christ and attracts people to Jesus."
Now let me say that of course we would all want to be welcoming and accepting. But we need the right approach for the right situation. Where there are differences or disagreement over secondary issues we are called to treat one another with a generous and flexible spirit, conscious of our unity in the gospel and the urgent task of getting the gospel message to as many as possible.
But, where there is error or heresy over primary issues, the Bible is clear in requiring not lengthy negotiations but immediate and decisive action. The example of Paul in Galatians 2:11-21 who opposed Peter to his face "because he was clearly in the wrong" is consistent with Jesus who called the Pharisees "hypocrites", "blind guides", "blind fools", "like whitewashed tombs", "You snakes! You brood of vipers" (check out Matthew 23) because of their false teaching. Clearly, the first is an example of a godly leader behaving in a way inconsistent with the true gospel that he preached because he was afraid of people, and the other is of a religious group whose teaching and actions "shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces". However, both are treated as serious gospel issues in the Bible.
Therefore the correct approach in the situation of individuals and churches who do not agree with such foundation truths as 'Jesus is the Christ' is not to partner with them. We are to seek to "hold out the word of life" (Philippians 2:16) which is the glorious, life-giving gospel and we cannot be united with those who deny it or teach an alternative gospel – however 'welcoming' that may appear.
Following Paul's example in Galatians 2 (see also 2 Timothy 2:25-26), we may seek to "gently instruct" them "in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth".
Now that we've seen what the lie is and its impact we need to consider, third and finally…
Signs of the Believers
John sets up a strong contrast. The antichrists deny Christ and are liars. However, to those who hold firm to the truth of the gospel he says, in verse 20, "you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all the knowledge."
In other words, they know the truth that Jesus IS the Christ. They are running on the right path. What they believe really is the truth. So do not give up.
"I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth."
These believers that John loves so much are unsettled by what's going on. And that's not surprising. When someone is part of the church and at one point professed faith in Jesus and then turn against him, it cannot help but raise the question: Will that happen to me? Will I too fall away? How can I be sure that I will continue until the end still trusting in Jesus. Will I be those who say 'Lord, Lord' but on the final day will heard him say, away from me, I did not know you?
These verses show us two signs of a believer that bring reassurance to those feeling unsettled.
The first sign is God's word. Look at verse 24. This contains the only command given to us in these verses. The only imperative:
"Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father."
What they have heard from the beginning is the apostles' teachings that we now have contained in the Bible. It contains the truth about Jesus. And the only way to relate to God and receive eternal life is to know and believe the truth about Jesus Christ. They have that already and don't need anything new. Which is why he teaches them that they don't need anyone to teach them. They have the word of God. That's the first sign.
The second sign is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Verse 20, "But you have been anointed by the Holy One". Every believer has the Holy Spirit when they receive new life. And the Spirit at work in us together with the word of God is what keeps us persevering to the end.
So do not lose grip on the truth found in God's word and confirmed to you by the witness of the holy spirit.
What does it mean to for the word to abide in us?
It means we don't look inward for signs or assurance that we belong to God. Instead we will trust in the work of Jesus the Christ on the cross. If we look in, we'll end up in despair. Instead look back to the Christ who died for you and up to the Christ who now reigns at the Father's right hand. Never forget that the only reason he accepts you in not on what you have done or can do, but what Jesus has done for us, once and for all.
It also means trusting the words of God the Father that rather than on your own feelings. The Bible contains God's promise that he will accept all those who receive his Son. We are to trust his promises and not our feelings. So memorise and saturate your mind with God's word and turn to it when we need assurance.
As we prepare to share the bread and wine together listen to John Stott who reminds us that Holy Communion helps us trust the sure word of God the father:
"He has 'clothed' his promises. He has made them visible and tangible […] One of God's chief purposes in giving us the sacraments was to draw out and bolster up our poor, weak faith. He has given us promises enough in his word; but it is easier for us to lay hold of them when we see them dramatized before our eyes in the sacraments" [Your Confirmation, John Stott]
And finally, don't forget that we have the powerful witness of God's Spirit in us. It is a work of the Holy Spirit to pour God's love into our hearts and bear witness together with our spirit that we are God's children. He works in us and steadily increases in us a confidant that we remain in the truth and that we belong to him.