1 John 2:18-27

Jimmy Jo1 John, SermonsLeave a Comment

Our passage today is 1 John 2:18-27.  It reads: 

18 Dear 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. 19 They 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.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I 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. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

24 As 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. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As 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.

1 John 2:18-27

We’re going to first look at our passage in basically three sections.  The first section I want to look at is verses 18-19.  Again, this reads: 

18 Dear 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. 19 They 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.

1 John 2:18-19

Now when I first read this, the whole thing feels kind of confusing.  I’m not entirely sure why it feels confusing – is it the grammar, the syntax, the logical flow?  I sometimes feel like I want John to be a lot more specific, a lot more concrete when he’s writing. 

However, when I look at what John is doing, I realize that it’s not actually that confusing at all.  One of the things we know about John’s letter (and we actually see this in his other letters as well, and arguably elements of this in his gospel, also) is that he is dealing with an issue of false teachers – opponents of some sort in the midst of this community.  He doesn’t really spell out the nature of the opposition, probably because it is well known within the community.  But at any rate, what we’re seeing is that he’s addressing these false teachers here. 

We can see verse 18 as basically a chiastic structure: 

  • 18 Dear 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.

So John is saying that the appearance of these “antichrists” indicate that it is the last hour.  Either he’s saying that the appearance of these antichrists is evidence of, gives proof of the fact, that it is the last hour, or he’s saying that the last hour is the time when antichrists such as these will appear.  But John is saying “antichrists” and “it is the last hour.”  The way he says it – the structure of this verse – likely indicates the force of John’s statement.  That is, “This is important.  Pay attention.” 

Now a couple of thoughts.  Firstly, John’s statement, especially the “you have heard that the antichrist is coming,” is likely related to Jesus’ warnings about false teachers that we see in the gospels.  In short, Jesus warns the disciples that in the last days, false teachers will arise.  So in Matthew 24, we read: 

Matt. 24:24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

Matthew 24:24

So this naturally raises some questions about the last days in regards to this verse (it also raises some questions about what Jesus was talking about in Matthew, but we won’t explore that here).  So, for example, did John think that the immediate historical circumstance of this particular historical community was that they were in the last days, the last hour?  (in which case, was John wrong?  Because here we are two thousand years later).  Or did John consider everything after Jesus’ ascension to be the last days?  (in which case, is the force of the phrase, “the last hour” diluted somehow). 

Well, my short response to this is that it seems probable that John had a much broader understanding of “last hour” – that is, it seems likely that he had in mind something like, “the last age.”  However, more importantly, I think questions like these seem to bypass what John’s actual concern is – that is, what about these false teachers? 

So, in verse 19, we read: 

19 They 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.

1 John 2:19

And again, I think we can simplify what is going on here if we see: 

  • 19 They 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.

So we can see that, similarly to verse 18, John is sort of just repeating himself.  He says the same thing in three different ways to make the point.  And the point that he’s making is that there’s an essential difference between those who have left the community (i.e. because of the false teachers) and those who have remained.  The distinction is essentially between those who belong and those who do not. 

Now that was just the first couple of verses.  Let’s carry on.  In verses 20-23, John builds on, or explains, this distinction.  What is the difference between those who have left and those who have remained in the community? 

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. v 21 I 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. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

Now in these verses, I want to call attention to the dichotomy that John is highlighting (once again, John is particularly fond of dichotomies or dualisms).  What’s the dichotomy that John is highlighting here? 

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. v 21 I 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. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

It’s the distinction between truth and lies.  For John, those who have departed from the community, those who have shown that they don’t belong, or those who have chosen not to belong to the community of God are those who have rejected the truth and succumbed to lies. 

And John describes the nature of the lie – whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ also denies the Father (here I’m both making interpretive decisions and paraphrasing).  Whoever rejects Jesus also rejects the Father. 

Now I’m going to return to this, and what I think is the significance of this, but for now let’s carry on. 

Verses 24-27 then constitute an encouragement to remain in the truth as opposed to succumbing to the lies of the false teachers: 

24 As 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. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As 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.

1 John 2:24-27

Now remembering what we have read before (2:Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning.), “…what you have heard in the beginning,” likely refers to the gospel message of Jesus that the community heard from the beginning of their “conversion.”  So it’s in this gospel message of Jesus, the Messiah, that they (we) are called to remain (as opposed to the lies).  And it’s in the gospel message of Jesus that they (we) will find the promise of eternal life. 

Now the verses about “the anointing you received from him,” are a little unclear.  Presumably, the anointing is the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  So, we read Jesus’ words in John’s gospel: 

  • Jn.14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
  • Jn. 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

Now this is personal opinion (and my personal take on the theology), but I think we need to avoid the temptation to read this through a particularly charismatic lens (not that there aren’t aspects of charismatic theology here).  It’s tempting to read into this an anointing of a special or “supernatural” knowledge (which may actually be the kind of thing that John is precisely speaking against).  John’s premise, remember, is that the community needs to hold onto the teaching of the apostles (those who have seen, heard, touched Jesus).  Rather, I tend to read this as the notion that the work of the Holy Spirit, the grace of God, works in each person so that they are able to hear or receive the truth of God.  Once again, I may be reading this from a particularly Reformed theology lens, but I understand this (putting it simply) as an element of, it is the work of God in us that enables us to receive the word of God to us. 

However, not wanting to carry on about that (nor be dogmatic about that), the basic and overarching thrust of this passage is the distinction between those who have departed and those who have remained; and this because of the distinction between those who have succumbed (or even preached!) lies versus those who have remained in the truth.  John’s exhortation is to remain in, and throw ourselves upon, the truth. 

Now I said I wanted to return to this distinction between truth and lies.  And this relates to the specific nature of the false teaching, the lies, that John so frequently refers to but is never really specific or explicit about.  And for this, I want to return to the first verses of the epistle. 

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

Now compare that with what John says in our passage today about the nature of the lies: 

22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:22-23

Now at this point, I want to make what I think is another important distinction.  John is not talking about apostasy per se.  When we read in verse 19,

19 They 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.

1 John 2:19

John is not talking about people who have “left the faith.”  He is talking about people who have distorted the faith. 

We all know people who, at some point, claimed to have faith in God, declared themselves Christians, or even appeared to be passionate followers of Christ, and then left the faith.  For whatever reason, whether they were discouraged, disappointed, or simply got bored with belonging to the body of Christ, the Church.  This does not seem to be what John is talking about.  What John is talking about here is those who have succumbed to, or even chosen to follow, false teaching.  These are people who have replaced the gospel of Christ with a gospel of their own making, a gospel of their own choosing. 

Now in looking at John’s letters and his gospel, there is a lot of discussion about the precise nature of the opposition, the false teaching, that John seems to be addressing.  Simplifying, there definitely seem to be elements of proto-Gnosticism in John’s writings (we’ve talked about Gnosticism before).  Here in 1 John, this might more accurately be described as Docetism (Docetism is the heretical belief that Jesus wasn’t really human – he appeared human, he appeared to have a physical body and appeared to inhabit the physical world, but he didn’t, he couldn’t have because the physical is tainted and impure – He was actually pure spirit.  In other words, the Docetists denied the incarnation).  But the general thrust of the opposition seems to be a rejection of Jesus as He was actually revealed – Jesus as He actually was.  It’s a re-definition of Jesus, the revelation of God, because of human assumptions and preferences.  For the proto-Gnostics or Docetists, they could not accept a Jesus as fully human, and therefore, they re-shaped Jesus, re-shaped the Gospel, re-shaped the work and purposes of God according to their own inclinations.  Therefore, they were truly anti-Christs. 

Now in wrapping up, we could spend a whole hour (actually, many hours) talking about all the ways human beings re-shape Jesus, re-imagine Jesus in our own image.  We could spend hours talking about how Christians do this.  But we’re not going to do talk about that.  But it’s worth asking ourselves whether it’s really Jesus that we want?  Many of us are happy with going to church, we’re happy with the fellowship, we’re happy with the rules and order, we’re happy with the spiritual pampering.  But is it really Jesus that we want?  And is the Jesus that we want the Jesus that we are given? 

Some folks would prefer a Jesus who is a conqueror; some would prefer a Jesus who is a cheerleader; some prefer a Jesus who is a wish-granting genie.  We all have some picture of Jesus that is formed or shaped by a wide variety of influences.  And many folks go out of their way, fix and finagle, ignore and alter, twist and transform, in order to worship the Jesus that we prefer. 

But the Jesus that we get, the Jesus that we need, is the Jesus of the gospels.  The Jesus who came to earth as a baby, the Jesus who spent thirty years in obscurity, the Jesus who talked with lepers and ate with sinners, the Jesus who died on the cross. 

It’s this Jesus that rose again.  It’s this Jesus that calls us into the same eternal life, the fullness of life, the life that He created us for.  So we throw ourselves upon Jesus.  There is no other name under heaven or on earth by which we are saved.

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