1 John 2:18-21
1 John 2:18-21
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
Last week, we talked about our affections. The source of our being is not to be grounded in this world, but in God. All the things of this world are perishing, and if our hopes and desires were built on them, then our hopes would be perishing as well. Yet so many spend all of their time with worldly concerns and hardly take even a scarce thought for the eternal things and where they will spend eternity. The world often accuses the Christian of being to “heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” However, far more are “too earthly minded to be any heavenly good”.
The world is increasingly calling the Church and her Lord “irrelevant”. They tell the church that it needs to change or else become anonymous and die. And with scarcely a thought, the church has opened her Sanctuary to the world and let the world dictate all of the terms. God’s Holy Place has become a stage for worldly entertainment. Her pulpits have forsaken the preaching of God’s truth and been replaced by pop psychology and stand up comics. The whole Christian world has become a stage and taken on the spirit of Shakespeare rather than the Spirit of Christ.
We all too easily forget that the final judgment concerning relevance is God Himself. We shall all stand before God. To some He will say “Enter into the joy of the Lord” and to others “Depart from me, I never knew you”. Now if the “Depart from me” isn’t a judgment of eternal irrelevance, what is? They shot back concerning all the good works they did. Yet they are doomed to eternal irrelevance. And many of those whom they despised will be in the eternal presence of the Lord.
It’s not that Christians are too heavenly minded to be any earthy good. If they are Christ’s, they will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, exhort the weak, challenge the world to faith in Jesus, and visit the sick and the prisoners even as Christ did. But they will do these things with heaven in view and not their own egos or profit in this life. They lay their own lives down and put on Christ.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 18: It is the last hour, little children; and as you have heard, the Antichrist is coming. Even now many antichrists have already come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
We are introduced to the term “Antichrist” (Greek: ἀíôß÷ñéóôïò, an-tee-chris-tos). For all the talk about the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, this term occurs only in this book and 2 John and nowhere else in the New Testament. Because of our thoughts about the Beast in the book of Revelation and our understanding of the English preposition “anti” as meaning “against”, we fail to grasp fully who this Antichrist is. The Greek Preposition ἀíôß actually has a meaning closer to “in the place of” substitute” or “alternate”. The Greek Preposition êáôá, kah-tah, actually is closer to the idea of against. The difference is that instead of looking for a devil in a red suit and pitchfork, we need instead to look for someone who pretends to be a Messiah, an alternate savior or way of salvation. The Antichrist will pretend to be an angel of light and by it will try to deceive many. This is what Jesus Himself warned His disciples of.
Even in John’s day, there were numerous cults and religions which offered an alternate way of salvation. This led John to believe that the end was very near. Those who had left the fellowship were searching out one of these alternatives called “Gnosticism”. And today, the world is full of them too. The one thing in common they have is that they offer an alternative to God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. Some of them would even call themselves “Christian.”
Verse 19: Out from us they went, BUT they really were not of us, for if they were from us, they would have remained with us. BUT (they left) that it might be manifested that all (of them) are not from us.
The Greek here is kind of broken, which makes a smooth translation possible without translating what the sentence means in English. The prepositional phrase ἐî ἡìῶí (ex ee-mohn) appears four times in this verse. The Greek preposition ἐê indicates the idea of origin. It also indicates a sense of belonging. An American traveling in China is still an American. But if someone came to this country but never could adjust to it and went back to his/her own country, then we could say that this person was never an American at all. They participated to some degree or other in this nation while they were here, but the fact they left indicates that they never were Americans.
No one is born a citizen of the church. One must enter the fellowship of the body of Christ through faith in Jesus who shed His blood for our sins. So we all are aliens seeking citizenship in the new Israel. We must leave behind our old country and take up the character of our new country. There are all too many who are “with us” who really aren’t “of us”. And when the novelty wears off, they will leave the church because of this. This will show that they never really belonged.
I suppose the question arises as to what has gone wrong. For one, I think the church has become the dispenser of “cheap grace”. We are so interested in “saving souls” and keeping members on the rolls and keeping the church financially healthy that we have shortcut the whole process.” Just come on in” we say. “You can add Jesus to all you already have.” There is no discipleship; there is no call to holiness. Because of this, we are giving false hope to far too many people for which God will call us to account. Jesus told us to make a rational decision based upon the true facts by fully counting the cost before deciding to follow. He wasn’t interested in the casual seeker who said he would follow Him wherever He went and dismissed that man coolly with the words: “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of God has nowhere to lay His head. There is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus.
There is a rare Greek Pluperfect verb ìåìåíÞêåéóáí (meh-meh-nee-kee-san, had remained) in this verse. The pluperfect differs from the Perfect in one significant way. The Greek Perfect talks about a past tense event which has significance even to the present time. For example: “I have been saved” in Greek means I was saved in the past and am still saved.” The pluperfect indicates that an event happened in the past which had some effect for a period of time, but that benefit has now ended. The pluperfect idea of “I had gone on vacation” in Greek gives the idea that I started out on vacation in the past and was enjoying it for two weeks, but now the vacation is over, and so are the benefits. The use of the verb “to remain” only intensifies this idea. They joined in the fellowship of the church, and for a time participated in it, but now are gone. Whatever benefit might have accrued there is lost.
John seems to indicate here that these visitors were never really saved at all. Their leaving the fellowship is proof of that. If they had been truly converted, they would have stayed in the fellowship. This verse has been used to support the idea of “once saved, always saved”. This doctrine has been thoroughly abused though. The clear warning here is that “if “you have been truly converted, you will remain within the fellowship of the church which is Christ’s body. And this is more than just going to church, it is taking on family responsibilities to care for the brethren. Any idea that a Christian can go it alone is red flagged, and that person needs to consider if he/she is or ever was a Christian at all. The words of Paul in Acts when the ship he was in was in duress by a storm fit here as well. The sailors who were responsible for the safety of the passengers and fellow crew were about to go out on a lifeboat and go it alone with the idea of saving themselves and leaving the others to their fate. But Paul told all of them “Unless these stay in the ship, you all cannot be saved”(Acts 27:31). In this Paul was saying that the skilled leadership had a duty to perform for the benefit of all. The ship and those on it would perish. The difference is that Jesus would never abandon the ship. The ship is safe because of the Lord, even when it looks in danger of sinking. Jesus could peacefully sleep in the boat on the Sea of Galilee while His frightened disciples feared for their lives. It is those who go out with idea of saving themselves who are in the greatest of dangers.
In fact, John does not hesitate to call those who left the Good Old Gospel Ship “antichrists”. They were only pretend Christians. This is proved by the fact they left.
Verse 20: But YOU ALL have an anointing from the Holy One and know all these things already.
The pronoun “YOU ALL”( ὑìåῖò, ee-meese) is not grammatically necessary here in Greek as the second person plural is already expressed in the verb ἔ÷åôå (eh-keh-te). This gives added emphasis. The fact that it is plural indicates the Gift of the Holy Spirit is a corporate gift and not a personal possession. The gifts of the Holy Spirit might be given to an individual for the ministry to the entire body, but the Holy Spirit only works within the scope of the body of Christ which is His church. To try to use the “Holy Ghost” for one’s own profit is first of all impossible, and second of all utterly evil. These people may claim to have the Holy Spirit, but that is simply not possible. Their fruits will bear this out. They are deceived and may deceive many. They might be rich and popular in this world and seem to have all the answers. But the Holy Spirit will not be used.
Because the Holy Spirit works within the body of Christ, then the true work of the Spirit will be demonstrated within the church by the building of the body, in encouraging, praying, and interceding for the weak. There is a certain humility and love which is demonstrated by the Spirit, as the Holy Spirit who is fully God promotes Jesus and not Himself, just as Jesus came not to do His own will but that of the Father. There is no selfishness in the Holy Trinity, and there should be none in the church either.
The Holy Spirit is also the revealer of the true knowledge. But this true knowledge is only given to the true body of Christ. So those who left the church and boasted of their special revelations and their perfect status forfeited all pretense of having any true knowledge when they left the church. It is the church who has been anointed with the truth. The Holy Scripture as well is only properly understood by this anointing of the Holy Spirit. And this interpretation is not a private possession but belongs to all of the people of God. If one claims this only for himself/herself, then truly he/she has never tasted of the Holy Spirit.
The word “anointing” in Greek is ÷ñῖóìá,(Chris-mah). This refers to the anointing oil used to anoint both kings and priests to their holy task. It is in the same groups of words as” Christ” (Anointed One) and ”Charisma”. This makes for an interesting comparison/contrast. The Chrism is intended to be used in the same way Christ used it. It is to be used in obedience to God’s will and for the profit of the body. Jesus did not turn the stones into bread to feed Himself, although He certainly could have and was tempted to do so. He did not seek the popularity of the world or its riches either. His entire life was an act of humble service. We need to follow this example.
The other word is the one we get “Charismatic” from. There are lots of leaders who have charisma. In fact, the church is full of personality cults in which I wonder if we are worshipping God or some human being. One needs to look carefully at these Charismatic leaders (I am saying here more than just the movement but anyone who has gifts that can influence people). Who are they promoting? Who are they profiting? How do they live—like Jesus did on earth or as though they had already gotten their heavenly mansion? Do they care about the entire sheep or just their fleece? Are they more like Hollywood or is their life lived in the “Holy Word”? The church should know better than to let these charlatans and snake oil peddlers go on with their deceptions. The church needs to call all of its members including the leaders to strict Biblical accountability. But the true church cannot be deceived. And God will hold every idle word accountable in the end.
Verse 21: I did not write you because you don’t know the truth because you already know it, but rather to remind you that not a single lie has its source in the truth.
The literal translation from Greek for the latter part of this verse is “Every lie, out of the truth, not is”. This is a little awkward in English, so I have translated the intent. As we studied before, the preposition ἐê (ek) indicates the idea of source. This means that God is not the source of even a little lie. So if something does not ring true, then it must come from the spirit of Antichrist. God was revealed earlier in this epistle as being pure light in whom is not even a speck of darkness (1 John 1:5). Everything then must be discerned by this great truth of God. God is not the source of heresy, evil, lies, unfaithfulness, temptation of anything else which is contrary to His nature. And God has graciously given the gift of the Spirit to the church to be able to distinguish truth from error. John reminds the church of this. Don’t judge by appearance, apparent success, numbers, reason or any other human invention, but rather let your judgments be tempered by the Spirit. If it is of God what is done will be done out of pure love and grace. It will be for the edification of Christ’s body. It will give glory and boast only to the Lord. It will be in agreement with Scripture rightly divided by the Holy Spirit. It will agree with the testimony of the Spirit. If it does not, it must be error.
Those who had left had left, even if they were not mature Gnostics, probably treated the Scripture as a secret codebook in which the true meaning was “hidden” from all but the “perfect”. But they fact that they were in error is indicated by their leaving the church. The source of their teaching may have been claimed to have been from Scripture, but their life was a lie. And if we take the Hebrew idea of “truth” and” lie” into account as being “faithfulness” and “unfaithfulness” the nature of their error becomes crystal clear. These were not being “true” to God. They had left God’s people to their own fate. They had despised them as being ignorant. They cared only for their own gain. And today, we have a “church” full of this type. They claim special revelations of the Spirit and use them to twist the Holy Scriptures to their own advantage. We see them on TBN all of the time, if we even watch TBN. They may be physically in the church, but they have already left it in their hearts because they do not properly discern the body of Christ. And this infection can affect even entire denominations who have as a whole ceased to be faithful to the truth.
The true church has always had to deal with error. And when I say “true church” I am not talking about some denomination, cult, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Catholicism. To many abuses have occurred within them because they think they possess and control the Holy Spirit. And human sects all have missed the mark at points, even the best of them. But when I talk about the true church, I talk in the sense of Calvin or Luther of a “church within the church”, the ones whom God has marked as His. These are they who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, are filled and led by the Spirit (as compared to leading the Spirit). These are the ones who look after the flock and exhort one another, They are the ones whose life comes into conformity with their new citizenship. Their sanctification is within the body of Christ and not themselves. They do not separate from the church but instead are separated to God within the church. When they sin, they seek reconciliation by confessing their sin to Jesus.
The whole idea of perfection lies within this corporate identity of the body of Christ and not in some self-guided effort. We are only righteous and remain righteous as long as we are “in Christ”. When we get away from the body and think that in any way we can do it on our own, then we forfeit Christ’s righteousness as well. Acts of sin, the root of which is selfishness, are soon to follow. None of us can boast of perfection as though we possessed it. Instead the Perfect One possesses us and keeps us.