Antichrists, the Anointing, and Those Who Abide, Lesson 9

Originally posted at Women of Purpose.

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. 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. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 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. 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. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 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. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:18-27)

Welcome back to our study of 1 John after our very long holiday break from class! It is such a joy to return to our study of God’s word. This week’s lesson covers a longer passage, and in it we will encounter the third test of assurance of faith: the Doctrinal test: what do you believe about Jesus? We also encounter a figure who looms rather large in the evangelical imagination: the antichrist. Not only is John the only author of sacred scripture to mention the antichrist, he only mentions him four times: twice in our passage above, then in 4:2-3, and again in 2 John 7. We will look into just who and what antichrist means and bring him down to his rightful stature next to our Savior King. Finally, John adds a third contrast to the two he has already introduced—light and darkness, love and hate—and now, truth and lies. The test of faith being doctrinal, we must examine our faith: is what we believe about Jesus true, or a lie?

Before we begin this lesson, take a moment to consider: what has been your impression whenever you heard of “the antichrist”? According to John, the identifying marks of “the antichrist(s)” are that they left the body of true believers—the church; they deny that Jesus is the Christ; they are trying to deceive the elect; and they do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (2:19, 22, 26; 4:2-3; 2 John 7). Also note that he speaks of antichrists in the plural, so according to him, there are more than only one!

Throughout the history of the church, believers have been on the lookout for the antichrist. In ancient times he was believed to be a man of political and/or military power, and several Roman leaders made the list. Nero fit the profile rather closely. In the 1500’s the Roman Catholic church, and particularly the popes, were labeled antichrist by the Reformers. In today’s popular evangelical culture, the idea of an antichrist is wrapped up in end times imagery, along with ideas found in Old Testament prophecy and the book of Revelation, and looked for at The End Of All Time. The Antichrist, imagined as one powerful man politically or militarily, figures in end-times fiction, and is the subject of conspiracy theories during nearly every election cycle in our nation. Let’s pull our attention back to scripture and find out what John has to say about the antichrist.

John draws several contrasts in our passage between antichrists and true believers. Those who are antichrist have left the church while true believers have continued in the church (19). The antichrist denies that Jesus is the Christ, denying the Father and the Son, and therefore forfeiting the Father (22-23), while true believers confess the Son (implying that their confession is that Jesus is the Christ) and therefore gain the Father also (23). And finally, the antichrists are those who are trying to deceive the church (26) while true believers know the truth because they are recipients of the abiding anointing which teaches them only the truth and never lies (21 & 27).

As mentioned above, we find the 3rd test of belief in our passage this week. The foundational doctrine of the faith the antichrists were denying is that “Jesus is the Christ,” which leads John to declare what one must believe to be a Christian: that Jesus is indeed the Christ, and not only that, but that he is the Son of the Father (22-23).

The gospel demands more than belief that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah; John is calling for recognition of the truth that the Jewish Messiah is none other than God incarnate.[1]

John links this confession of the Son indivisibly with true and right belief about the Father. “John has in mind more than a private belief and disbelief… a public confession and denial of Jesus “before men” are implied (Matt. 10:32-33; John 12:42; Rom. 10:9-10). On such a confession depends not just our conception of, but our possession of the Father.”[2] By denying the Son and therefore the Father, the antichrists were effectively inventing their own religion.

And yet, John writes that these antichrists came from within the church (19). As we have already seen in past lessons, the false teachings, unholy lives, unloving treatment of others in the church, and then their exit from the fellowship of the covenant community left the true believers confused, wounded, and grieving, and has turned their assurance of faith upside down. The purpose of John’s epistle is to remind the remnant of believers what they knew to be true all along.

It was actually beneficial that the false teachers left the church, rather than remaining and continuing to undermine the true doctrines of the faith. “We should not grieve for the church when wolves come in and steal wolves. True sheep abide in the Good Shepherd; true sheep stay safely within the gates of the apostolic testimony… the anointed abide in the Anointed.”[3]

Karen Jobes notes: “As one ancient writer comments, not every false teacher is called an antichrist, ‘but only of those who join a false sect after they have heard the truth. It is because they were once Christians that they are now called antichrists.’”[4] I would emphasize, as we have already learned from John, that these only had the appearance of being Christians, until their anti-Christian beliefs became apparent by their words and deeds. As further proof that John was setting the antichrists apart from true believers in his epistle, note the pronouns by which John refers to those who left the church: “they,” and “those who” (19, 26). In contrast, he continues to refer to his readers not only as “you,” but he includes himself among them when he writes “we,” and “us” (18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27).

Leaving the church, as these antichrists did, provided ample evidence that they “were not of us” for the very same reasons which John has already given to assure genuine believers that we are “of us.” John opened this epistle with his glorious purpose statement:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1:1-3)

Right from the beginning of his letter—indeed, his entire ministry—John has proclaimed the gospel for the purpose of bringing lost and dying sinners into the believing fellowship of the church. But this is no mere association of like-minded people. As the author of Hebrews so gloriously describes it, when we come into the fellowship of the church, we join “the assemblyof the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 12:23-24). When the antichrists excommunicated themselves from this holy community they proved that they never belonged to it in the first place. Instead of staying among the blood-cleansed saints, they abandoned their friends to remain in the darkness, all while professing that they were in the light, and therefore caused their former “brothers” to stumble in their faith (1:7; 2:9-10).

Tucked into verse 19 is a rock-solid assurance of faith that falls under the Doctrine of Grace known at the Perseverance of the Saints, the “P” in TULIP(aka: preservation of the saints). If leaving the church made it “plain” that the antichrists were not true believers, by “continuing with us” those who stayed in the church prove that they belong. As Kistemaker writes: “Believers belong; deniers depart.”[5]

“Light is shed by this verse on two important doctrines: the perseverance of the saints and the nature of the church. ‘He who stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Mark 13:13), not because salvation is the reward of endurance, but because endurance is the hallmark of the saved. . . . Future and final perseverance is the ultimate test of a past participation in Christ (Heb. 3:14). ‘Those who fall away,’ on the other hand, ‘have never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ but only had a slight and passing taste of it’ (Calvin).[6]

John gives us a reason for this perseverance which is infinitely more secure than any personal strength or determination which we may possess. He tells us that, in contrast to those who departed the church, we have been anointed by the Holy One; that we are to let what we heard in the beginning abide in us because we will then abide in the Son and in the Father; and then, again contrasted with the deceivers, we have received an abiding anointing from Jesus which teaches us to abide in him (2:20, 24, 27). The anointing, according to John, is the secret to our abiding in Christ. But what does that mean?

In the Old Testament there were three types of people who were anointed, signifying the office they were to hold in Israel: prophets, priests, and kings. The anointing with oil of these men indicated that they were set apart by and to God to fulfill the role for which he had chosen them. The prophets proclaimed God’s word to the people, the priests represented the people before God, and the kings governed God’s people by his righteous standards. John is telling his readers that they have been anointed, and Peter declared the same New Covenant truth that in Christ believers are set apart unto God as prophets, priests, and kings (1 Peter 2:9).

These offices also foreshadowed the Anointed One who was to come, who would embody all three, One chosen by God to finally and perfectly fulfill the roles of prophet, priest, and king in a way that no fallible human man could. The Israelites were looking for the Prophet greater than Moses, the High Priest greater than Aaron, and the King of kings greater than David: the Messiah (“anointed”) who was to be the embodiment of God’s promise.

The prophet Isaiah (among others) foretold the coming Messiah and Jesus declared that he was the fulfillment of that prophecy (Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 4:17-21). Those who followed Jesus Christ  believed that he was the promised Messiah (“anointed” translated into Greek with the word christos, hence his identification in the Gospels as the Christos), but what they largely missed was the fact that, in order to really and perfectly fulfill the roles of Prophet, Priest, and King, the Messiah must also be more than human—he must be divine. “Jesus’ resurrection and ascension funded his title with new, unprecedented meaning never anticipated by the concept of the Messiah… Jesus proved to be the Messiah, yes, but the Messiah turned out to be God himself!”[7]

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit by God the Father (Luke 4:18; Acts 4:24-27; 10:38). In turn, we who are given faith to believe in Christ are anointed with the Holy Spirit by God—the very same Spirit given to the apostles and every other Christian—(Acts 10:44-48) giving us “his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” of our salvation (2 Cor. 1:21-22).

In the context of John’s epistle, according to our passage, the result of the anointing is that believers have the knowledge that they need for salvation; they make a true, believing confession of the Son; they abide in Christ and they understand the gospel in distinction from the lies peddled by the antichrists (20, 23, 27).

Remember, the false teaching that these particular readers were troubled by was the Gnostic heresy that there were a select elite body from among Christian believers who possessed a superior knowledge of God which exempted them from the restrictions of righteousness and love by which the rest of the church was bound. John is telling us that all believers have received the same knowledge—there is no “higher” select knowledge—because we have all received the same anointing by the same Holy Spirit. “[John’s] readers’ loyalty to the truth… is traced to the fact that they possess an anointing from the Holy One.”[8]

In contrast to the false teachers who were antichrists, the true Christian has received the same spiritual ‘chrism’ as Christ … It is through the illumination of the Spirit of truth that we know the truth… As Tyndale put it, ‘Ye are not anointed with oil in your bodies, but with the Spirit of Christ in your souls: which Spirit teaches you all truth in Christ, and maketh you to judge what is a lie, and what truth, and to know Christ from antichrist,’[9]

This does not mean we never need to be taught in the faith. The Bible makes it very clear that we need to be taught, and God has provided in the Scriptures the writings of the apostles and the prophets, and has given us evangelists, preachers, and teachers for that very purpose (Eph. 4:11-13). We must learn in order to grow and mature in our faith, otherwise we will remain infantile in our beliefs (Heb. 5:11-14). Naïve Christians may become gullible Christians, and gullible Christians are vulnerable to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, human cunning, and craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14).

John exhorts us to let what we heard in the beginning to abide in us (24). What we heard was none other than God calling us to himself, to repent and be baptized in the name of his Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins; which is the promise of the gospel (Acts 2:36-39). As we meditate on this good news by which we were saved, we understand how vitally important it is that “Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

The only safeguard against lies is to have remaining within us both the Word that we have heard from the beginning and the anointing that we received from him. It is by these old possessions, not by new teachings or teachers, that we shall remain in the truth.[10]

Just because this is what we “heard in the beginning” doesn’t make it kindergarten-level stuff which we ought to leave behind for higher and deeper subjects. John says that as a result of our abiding in this foundational gospel we will abide in the Son and in the Father(24), that we will obtain the promise of eternal life (25), and that God will abide in us and we will abide in God (4:15). This is the old, old story which we so desperately need now, every single day of our lives.

It is not enough to believe the gospel at one point and then to develop one’s own theology beyond it. Only those who remain within the teaching of the apostles about Jesus Christ can have an assurance of eternal life, because only those who continue to embrace that message will remain in the Son and in the Father.[11]

What we heard in the beginning, the gospel, was not just the first step of the way of faith, but it was the foundation upon which our entire life of faith rests. If we abandon the gospel we are abandoning the faith by which we were saved.

The Covenant Thread

John’s readers were troubled and confused by the antichrists who excommunicated themselves from the fellowship of the church after spreading false teachings about Jesus Christ and living lives of disobedience to God which displayed their rejection of the true gospel. John is assuring his people that these ‘know-it-alls’ did not, in fact, know the truth of the gospel because they rejected the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah who was God come in the flesh to save his people from their sins.

Looking back to Jeremiah we can see the promises of the covenant fulfilled in what John has written in the passage we have been studying.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:33-34)

By his own sovereign will, God initiated this covenant, and it is from him that we receive its promised fulfillment. He is the one who puts his law within us, writing it on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, causing it to “abide in us,” so that we “all have knowledge.” This knowledge comes from him alone, “and is true, and is no lie.” There is no caste-system, no enlightened elite among the people God makes to be his own, for we all know him, “from the least to the greatest.” And he makes us his own people by forgiving our iniquity and remembering our sin no more because of his Son, Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and rose on the third day so that he might deliver on “the promise that he made to us—eternal life.”

Our Lord assured us on the basis of this very covenant promise that we are not saved because we are any smarter than others who don’t believe, but because we are irresistibly drawn by the Father.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:44-47)

Sisters, this is assurance of salvation at its deepest. This is vastly different from the idea of eternal security taught by those who hold that a one-time experience or profession of belief is enough to guarantee entrance to heaven. Our assurance is secured by the abiding anointing of the Holy Spirit, given to us by Jesus himself. The abiding Spirit is the reason we continue to embrace the truth of the gospel—because God, by the Spirit, continues to embrace us.

It is my sincere prayer that this Covenant truth, fulfilled in Christ and declared by John, encourages you to persevere in your faith.

Abide in him.

[1] Karen H. Jobes, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1, 2, & 3 John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 130.

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, first pub. 1964, reprinted 2009), 115.

[3] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1-3 John, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2015), 82.

[4] Didymus the Blind, Commentary on 1 John (ACCS NT 11; ed. Gerald Bray; Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 186-87, quoted by Karen H. Jobes, 123-124.

[5] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of The Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986), 277.

[6] Stott, 109.

[7] Jobes, 129.

[8] Stott, 110.

[9] Stott, 110.

[10] Stott, 118.

[11] Jobes, 131. i

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