The passage which we studied last time contained encouragement and an exhortation. John encouraged his readers by reminding them of some of the privileges they had received because of Christ. Their sins were forgiven; they had come to know the Father and the Son; and they had God’s word to make them strong and to keep them from being led astray by the evil one. And after encouraging them, he exhorted them not to love the world or anything in the world. And I explained that the problem was not so much with the world, but with our sinful desires and our sinful boasting. We want something which is not rightfully ours. And we boast about what we own without giving thanks to God who gave it to us.
So the previous passage contained encouragement and an exhortation. Today’s passage contains a warning. And it’s a warning about the many antichrists who have already come. And as we’ll see in a moment, when John refers to the many antichrists who have already come, he’s referring to false teachers who were trying to lead the people away from the true apostolic teaching about Christ the Saviour. There were false teachers in John’s day. And there are still false teachers in our day. And so, this is a message which we all need to hear. But as well as warning us, John tells us about the two safeguards God has given the church for our protection.
In verse 18 John addresses his readers once again as his dear children. As I explained the last time, this is his way of addressing all of his readers. He regards all of them — no matter what their age — as his dear children. It speaks to us of the affection he had for them. And it perhaps implies that John was now an elderly man. And so, this elderly man, this aged apostle, regarded the Christians he was writing to as his dear children.
And he tells his dear children that this is now the last hour. How do we know it’s the last hour? We know it’s the last hour because although the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. And so, John packs a lot into verse 18 which we need to unpack. He refers to the last hour. What does he mean by that? And he refers to the antichrist who is coming. Who or what is that? And he also refers to many antichrists who have already come. Who are they and how do they relate to the antichrist? So, there’s a lot here for us to think about.
The phrase ‘the last hour’ is similar to another phrase which we’ve come across from time to time as we’ve gone through the Bible together. It’s the phrase ‘the last days’ or ‘the last times’ which crops up in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. And I’ve explained before that the phrase ‘the last days’ or ‘the last times’ does not refer to some far-off time way off in the future. On the contrary, we’re all living in the last days right now. We’re living in the last days, because the last days began when the Lord Jesus died and was raised; and they will continue until he comes again with glory and in power to judge the living and the dead. And so, at the beginning of the book of Hebrews, the writer refers to the way God revealed himself in the days before the coming of Christ, when he spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. But then ‘in these last days’, he said, God has spoken to us by his Son. So, there was the time before the coming of Christ. And there was the time after the coming of Christ. And the time after the coming of Christ is known as the last days. And they’re the last days because the next big event on God’s calendar after the death and resurrection of Christ is Christ’s second coming.
And what we learn about the last days from the rest of the New Testament is that during the last days, the church on earth will face persecution and it will face false teaching. The Devil will try to destroy the church through persecution or by leading believers astray. But the New Testament also makes clear that the church is under God’s protection, because God shields us by his mighty power and he promises to keep us and to help us to stand firm against the Devil’s wicked schemes.
So, we’re living in the last days. And the phrase ‘the last hour’ means the same thing. It’s the present time in which we’re living as we wait for Christ to come again.
And John also mentions the antichrist. The prefix ‘anti’ means ‘opposed’ to or ‘against’. And so, John is referring to someone who is opposed to Christ; someone who is against him; someone who is a rival to Christ.
Now, John is the only New Testament writer who uses the word ‘antichrist’. However, the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2 about a mysterious figure known as ‘the man of lawlessness’ who will one day appear. And Paul says about ‘the man of lawlessness’ that he will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped; and he will set himself up in God’s temple; and he will proclaim himself to be God. So, he will proclaim to the world that he alone is god and people should worship him. And Paul tells us that ‘the man of lawlessness’ will not appear until right before the coming of Christ. So, he’s coming, but he hasn’t yet appeared.
Lest we worry too much about him, we should also remember that he’s also known as ‘the man doomed to destruction’. Though he is mighty and powerful and will set himself up as god, he is destined to perish. He will not last. He will not be victorious. He will be destroyed.
So, Paul warned about ‘the man of lawlessness’ who will appear. And it’s likely that John is referring to the same person when he refers to the antichrist. Just as ‘the man of lawlessness’ will oppose and exalt himself over God, so the antichrist will oppose the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as ‘the man of lawlessness’ has not yet appeared, so the antichrist has not yet appeared. He will appear one day, but not yet.
However, John also says that while the antichrist has not yet come, nevertheless many antichrists have come. This too matches what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2, because Paul also said that while ‘the man of lawlessness’ has not yet come, nevertheless there’s a ‘secret power of lawlessness’ or there’s a ‘mystery of lawlessness’ which is already at work in the world to persecute the church and to deceive the people. So, while ‘the man of lawlessness’ has not yet come, the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. And while the antichrist has not yet come, many antichrists have already come. Paul and John are referring to the same thing. And since God warned his people to expect persecution and deception in the last days, then the coming of these many antichrists is one of the signs that we’re living in the last days.
So, who are the antichrists who have already come? John says in verse 19 that they went out from us. He means that they were once members of the church. They were once members of the Christian community. However, they have now left the church. And he explains that by leaving the church, they made clear that they never really belonged in the first place. John says: ‘if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.’ So, they were members for a while. But the fact that they have now left the church indicates that they never really belonged to the church. They didn’t really believe. If they were true believers, they would have stayed. But their decision to leave reveals they never really believed.
Now, I need to say that he’s not talking about people who leave one church to go to another. People can transfer their membership from one church to another church for various reasons. He’s not referring to that. He’s referring to people who left the church completely. They left one church and they didn’t join another church. They abandoned the true apostolic faith. They gave up the faith completely. So, he’s not referring to believers who move from one church to another church. He’s referring to those who once claimed to believe, but who have now abandoned the faith.
And even then we have to be careful. I’m sure we all know people who have given up the faith. They once went to church and joined with us to worship God. But they lost their way and they no longer believe. John isn’t talking about that kind of person either. As we’ll see in a moment, he’s talking about people who not only gave up believing, but who undermine the true apostolic teaching about Christ and who try to lead true believers astray.
Verses 20 and 21
But before we get to that, he says about his readers that they have an anointing from the Holy One; and that all of them know the truth. Do you see that in verse 20? When he says that they have an anointing from the Holy One, he means that the Lord Jesus, who is the Holy One, has anointed them with the Holy Spirit. You see, when we believe in Christ, we’re not only pardoned and accepted by God, but we receive the Holy Spirit. And one of the things the Holy Spirit does is he helps us to know and to understand the truth about Jesus Christ. So, before we gather for worship here on Sundays, we pray for God the Holy Spirit to help us to understand and believe everything we hear about Christ. And before we read the Bible at home, we pray for the Spirit to help us to understand and believe everything we read about Christ. We rely on the Holy Spirit to help us to know and to undertand the truth about Christ our Saviour.
So, his readers have been anointed with the Spirit. And they therefore know the truth. And that’s why he’s writing to them. Do you see that in verse 21? He says that he’s not writing to them because they don’t know the truth. On the contrary, he’s writing to them because they do know the truth! They already know it and believe it. They are true believers. And it’s because they’re true believers that he’s writing to them now. And he wants to write to them to warn them about the antichrists, those false teachers, who do not know the truth and who are liars. And they’re liars because what they say about the Lord Jesus is not true. And John wants to write to believers who know the truth to warn them about those who don’t know the truth and who want to lead them astray.
Verses 22 and 23
And in verse 22 John focusses a little more closely on the many antichrists who have already come. What lies have they been saying about the Lord Jesus? What false things have they been teaching? John says that they deny that Jesus is the Christ. Now, that’s only part of what they were denying. We’ve already encountered some of their false teaching earlier in this letter, because they were the ones who were saying that sin doesn’t matter. And if you glance forward to chapter 4 and verse 2 and 3 you’ll see that John refers to those who acknowledge the truth that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. But then there are others — these antichrists, these false teachers — who do not acknowledge the truth that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.
The true message about Christ which the apostles believed and taught is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and he came to earth in the flesh. He is both true God and true man. He is God the Son incarnate. He is God and man. That’s what we must believe about him. And that’s precisely what the antichrists were denying. They were denying the incarnation.
I’ve said before that in every generation there are people who think that whatever is physical is evil and whatever is spiritual is good. God is a spirit and therefore he’s good; and the world is physical and therefore it’s evil. And it’s possible these false teachers, these antichrists, had absorbed that kind of thinking. In that case, they would have said that there’s no way God would have taken human flesh to himself, because human flesh, being physical, is evil. So, God wouldn’t become human. He only appeared to be human. He only seemed to be human. He wasn’t really human.
And perhaps you’re wondering why it matters. Why does it matter whether the Son of God came in the flesh or whether he only seemed to come in the flesh? Why does it matter? It matters because the reason he came in the flesh, the reason he became one of us, was in order to take our place on the cross; and take the blame for what we have done wrong; and to suffer the punishment we deserve in our place. If he did not really become one of us, then he did not really suffer and give up his life to save us from our sin and misery. If he did not really become one of us, then he could not save any of us. But if he really became one of us, then he really did suffer for us and give up his life for us in order to save us from our sin and misery. Do you see? The whole of the gospel is at stake in whether or not the Son of God became flesh.
And John adds at the end of verse 22 that those who deny the incarnation deny the Father and the Son. And he says much the same thing in verse 23 where he says that whoever acknowledges the Son — that is, whoever acknowledges the incarnation of the Son — has the Father. But no one who denies the Son — that is, no one who denies the incarnation of the Son — has the Father. What he means is this. The Father and the Son — and we might add the Spirit — are one God. They are not three separate gods, but they are one God. And so, you can’t deny one without denying the others. You can’t have a relationship with God the Father if you don’t believe in God the Son. But whoever believes in God the Son, and trusts in his death on the cross for sinners, knows the Father, because the reason God the Son came into the world as one of us and gave up his life as the ransom to pay for our sins was to bring us to God. By nature we are God’s enemies. But through faith in Christ, we have peace with God and we’re brought into his family and can call him ‘Father’.
Verses 24 to 27
So, John warns his readers about these antichrists, these false teachers, who were once in the church, but who have now left the church. And here’s the thing: this is not ancient history, because there are still many antichrists in the world, because there are still many people who set themselves up as teachers, but they oppose the truth about Christ and they try to lead true believers astray.
This has always been the case. If you pick up any book on christology, it will probably contain chapters about the early Christian heresies about the person of Christ which troubled the church. People were saying that the Lord Jesus wasn’t really the Son of God. Or he didn’t really become one of us; and he only seemed to be human. Or he wasn’t fully human, but only partially so. Or he was only an ordinary man and God entered him for a time; and then left him before he died on the cross. And on and on they go. And the thing about those early Christian heresies is that they re-appear throughout church history. They are not just ancient heresies, because they are around today as well. And not only are there heresies about the person of Christ, but there are also heresies about his work and what he accomplished when he came to earth.
But John now teaches us about two safeguards which God has given the church for its protection. Two safeguards for our protection. The first is in verses 24 and 25. It’s ‘what you have heard from the beginning’. Do you see that? He’s referring to the apostolic message about Jesus Christ. This is what they had heard from the beginning. From the beginning of their Christian lives, they have been taught the true message about Jesus Christ and how he’s the Only Begotten Son of God who came into the world as one of us to save his people from our sin and misery by his life and death and resurrection. That’s the true message about Christ. And it’s the message that whoever trusts in him receives forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life. And that message, which the apostles preached, has been preserved in written form in the Bible so that we too might know it and believe it.
And so, make sure that message — which the apostles preached and which has been written down — remains in you. Don’t move away from it. Stick to it. Keep it. Study it. Believe it. Don’t move from it. The message is simple enough for little children to understand. But there’s also enough depth to it that we could never get to the bottom of it though we study it for the rest of our lives. And so, hold on to that message.
That’s the first safe-guard: it’s the message about Christ which you have heard from the beginning and which has now been written down for us and which must remain in us. The second safeguard is in verses 26 and 27. And it’s ‘the anointing you received’. John is referring once again to the Holy Spirit. Every believer has received the Holy Spirit. And because we have the Holy Spirit, we have no need for anyone to teach us.
Now, when John says we have no need for anyone to teach us, he’s not saying that there’s no need for preachers and teachers in the church. We know he’s not saying that because the New Testament makes clear elsewhere that Christ has given us preachers and teachers for our good. And so, what he means is that we don’t need to rely on anyone outside the church to teach us about the Son of God. Some of the Bible commentators believe that the false teachers claimed to have had a special revelation from God which is not in the Bible. God had revealed secret knowledge to them which no one else knew. And isn’t that what false teachers often claim? They say we should listen to them because God has revealed some secret knowledge to them which is not found in the Bible. And so, they tell us that we need to listen to them if we’re to learn it. Or they claim that they have come to understand a secret message in the Bible which no one else has ever known. Listen to me, they say. Follow me, and I can impart this special knowledge to you. But John is telling his readers that we don’t need people outside the church to teach us about the Son of God, because God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us to understand the message of the apostles about Jesus Christ, which has now been written down for us in the Bible.
And John goes on in verse 27 to say that the Holy Spirit teaches us ‘about all things’. John doesn’t mean we become masterminds and that we receive supernatural knowledge about everything. He means that the Holy Spirit uses the message of the apostles about Jesus Christ to teach us everything we need to know and to believe about the Lord Jesus for our salvation.
And so, we’re living in the last days. We’re living in the last hour even. Antichrists have come, just as God said they would. And therefore the world is full of false teachers who are trying to lead believers away from the truth.
But God has given us these two safeguards. He’s given us the true message about Jesus Christ and how he’s the Son of God who came to earth as one of us to save us from our sin and misery. That’s the message. That’s the truth. So, remain in it. Stick to it. Don’t move from it. Don’t move from it, because whatever step you take away from it is a step towards error.
And then, God has given you the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit helps you to understand the truth and to believe it. And with his help, you’ll stand firm against error and you won’t be led astray by the many antichrists who come along and who try to lead God’s people astray in these, the last days in which we’re living.
At the service last Sunday night we were thinking about how we are totally and utterly dependent on God for all things. And this passage also reminds us of our dependence on God. Unless God had made known to you the truth about Jesus Christ, you would be in the dark about Christ and salvation. And unless God had anointed you with his Spirit, you wouldn’t have been able to understand or to believe the truth. And so, you would be easy prey for every false teacher who comes along with their lies and deceit. But thanks be to God who has made known to us the truth about his Son. And thanks be to God who has given us his Spirit to understand and believe the truth. And thanks be to God who has given us these two safeguards to keep us safe in these, the last days in which we’re living.