1 John 2.18-29
One of the most powerful moments while watching a movie or television show is the time when we discover that there is a traitor in the midst of the “good team.” Up to this point we are baffled how the enemy can always elude the captors and even trump their every move. Suddenly, the pieces come together and we conclude that someone is tipping the enemy off and perhaps even assisting them. However, until that person is identified there is a sense of confusion and scepticism until the time when the traitor is exposed. But when the truth is revealed, there is a restored sense of confidence and unity in the task at hand.
This is where we begin this morning. In the letter of 1 John, we are already aware of John’s purposes to refute false teaching from those who had departed from their midst. And to this point, he continues to provide evidences of things that determine whether one is a genuine Christian or not.
I like John’s writings for a couple of reasons. First, though I like Paul’s linear writing style, John repeats things and says them a couple of different ways. Second, he brings clarity to the table. There is no middle ground in his writing. He often contrasts things like light and darkness, love and hate, truth and lies. I am not a fan of ambiguity. And John helps us out.
In this next section, John will again help us to understand what genuine Christianity looks like, what false teachers and imposters look like. He will help us understand the importance of knowing who Jesus is – correctly. And John will show us how our actions demonstrate our “born identity.”
Please turn in your Bibles to 1 John 2.18-29 if you have not yet done so. READ.
John opens this section once again by referring to his readers as his little children. He repeatedly communicates his concern and affection for those who are being influenced by outside sources. He loves them like a father his children. The first point that we will look at is Two Teams. We will find this in verses 18-20.
John begins the thought by writing that it is the last hour. And then he proceeds to speak of the Antichrist that is coming. What is he getting at here? Is he suggesting that the world is coming to an end? And did he get it quite wrong? How does this instil confidence in his readers? The sky is falling and the antichrist is coming!
No, the thoughts that follow should provide comfort and confidence to the Christian. With his introduction of the last hour, he speaks of the time between the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the time when he will return to set things right at his second coming. When Scripture speaks of last hour, last days, last times, the writers declare that the Messiah has come and at any time he can return.
Hebrews 1:1–2 says, “1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” 1 Peter 1:20–21 “20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Jesus has come, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven. These are the last times. It is the last hour. Even in this we can find assurance that everything is in the sovereign control of our God who has told us these things in advance.
John adds that you have heard that antichrist is coming. Now many of you who have studied the Bible and your eschatology (or understanding of the end times) will know that this refers to a specific person at the end of time. And John’s readers would have known this as well. They would have been familiar with the prophecies out of the Book of Daniel that speak of this one. They would have also known the words from the prophet Zechariah where he writes (11:16–17), 16 For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs. 17 “Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!”
And even if these prophecies did not register with them, they would have known that even Paul referred to this antichrist and identified him as the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2. Paul’s letter was written and likely distributed several decades before John penned this letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12
1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” This is a description of the Antichrist.
Now watch what John does here. After referring to “that” antichrist that is yet to come, he says “so now”. So now many antichrists have come. The word antichrist is a combination of two Greek words, “anti” and “Christos”. “Christos” is obviously the word for “Christ”. And “anti” can either mean “against” or “instead of, in the place of”. In the case of the Antichrist, we know that he will deceive and declare himself to be God – “instead of God”. And, of course, this would place him “against” God. The same is true of the many antichrists to which John refers here.
In verses 19 and 22, he describes who these “antichrists” are. Let me just say that with the preaching of this sermon, I eliminate the possibility of winning any popularity contests in the near future. You’ll see why.
There is a doctrinal aspect and practical aspect that determines them to be antichrist. Let’s start with the doctrinal issue. In verse 22, John lays it out clearly when he says “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.” Jesus is the Son of God who was sent by him as the promised Messiah to save the world. How many philosophies, religions, and cults does this rule out?
The Bible is God’s Word that is written through his choice of human authors. And he has stated clearly and repeatedly that Jesus would come (in the Old Testament), that he has come and is the only provision for the punishment of our sins (in the New Testament). To deny Jesus as the Christ is to deny the Father. So, here’s the headline: There is NOT one God and many paths to Her as a recent article in our local paper states! I told you… my popularity declines the more I speak. Despite the cultural pressures of tolerance and unity, we cannot join forces with cults and false religions. Jesus said that he is the Christ and the ONLY way to the Father. That rules everything and everyone else out. You have to get Jesus right!
In addition, John provides a practical aspect that determines antichrists. And this one can be a bit tricky because it involves those who are temporarily inside the church. In verse 19, John says that “they went out from us.” This means that for a time they were “of us.” They probably sat alongside of the others as they participated in worship and learning and observing communion and baptisms.
We know that those who are truly Christians will persevere to the end. Jude 24 “24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.” The letter to the Ephesians tells us that the Holy Spirit seals the believer and guarantees the inheritance of eternal life to come. However, time often reveals those who never really knew Jesus. They fall away and “go out from us.” Some may express a temporal joy in Jesus and his teachings, but then fall away. The parable of the sower and the soils is a great understanding of this reality. Hebrews 3:6 says, “6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” And if we don’t we show ourselves to not belong to Him.
According to John, anyone who does not repent and trust in Jesus is an antichrist. This is a tough pill to swallow. I know. But recall also Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:30 “30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” We don’t like to think this way. We like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But consider these strong words from both Jesus and John.
Our perseverance is a serious issue. That’s why I continue to promote our spiritual development as a community project. It is harder to fall away if you are active in community. The false teachers and false converts left their community. Consider what it says in Hebrews 3:12–14 “12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
Let’s not be people who “went out from us.” But let us be what John says next. He says that if they were genuine, they would have continued with us. Just like in Hebrews 3. Persevere in community. The Greek word here for “continue” is also translated “abide” further in our passage. This is a prominent theme in this text for sure.
Let’s take a look at the next sentence in verse 19. This is quite intriguing. John says “but they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” The “that” in this sentence denotes purpose. People’s departure from the faith brings clarity to the issue. I’m a fan of clarity at times. I don’t like confusion and speculation. Yet it seems as though God always works these things out. He wants purity in the church. So he weeds out those who are not genuine.
Often times we see this play out in contemporary Christianity as well. We hear people on television, see the books in the Christian bookstores, podcasts on the internet. The genre on itunes says “Christian”. It must be so. Then we hear some things or read a book or two by a particular author and think that this person is dangerously close to being outside sound doctrine. Some may not come out an explicitly say something, but it seems as though that is where he or she is headed. And then it is a matter of time when we hear that they no longer believe that Jesus is the only way to God or that there is no such thing as heaven. I believe that this is God’s mercy bringing clarity to the church. If you are listening to any current conversations in Christianity in North America, you know that this is playing out even now.
And it’s not just the leaders. It includes the followers of false teachers. In our context, it is likely that these false teachers were joined with those that they had influenced. This is the plan of our Enemy. Satan likes to infiltrate the church with wolves in sheep’s clothing so that he can divide the church and remove some. So, too, the followers of the contemporary false teachers. In the words of John, “it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Let’s pray that those who are close to falling away might be rescued and that the lips of the false teachers be silenced. And that God, in his mercy, might continue to make issues plain. There are two teams. We are either for Jesus or antichrist. Consistent in John’s message is the idea that there is no middle ground. Consider whose team you are on and persevere with Christ.
The second point is All About Jesus. We need to know who he is and what his message is. We already considered briefly the first point. Verses 22-23 make it clear that we need to have a biblical understanding that Jesus is the promised Messiah sent from God the Father. The Old Testament prophesied of him. The New Testament describes his fulfillment of prophecy, his provision of salvation, and his future return to restore all things to their created purpose.
Look now at verse 23. John says that no one who denies the Son has the Father. 1 Timothy 2:5 “5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” You cannot have a relationship with God apart from Jesus. Our ultimate reality is dependent on our relationship to the Father. From the opening pages of the Bible, we are confronted with our ultimate problem. Our sin has separated us from him. And apart from any provision for this, we remain alienated from him. Everything hinges on Jesus. To deny the Son of God is to put ourselves in opposition to the Father.
But… “whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” The Greek word for confess here (ὁμολογέω) means “to express openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person.” The first act of confession is our initial faith expressed in him. We recognize our separation from God and the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. We repent of our sin and trust in Jesus for our salvation. Romans 10:9 “9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” John 1:12 “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Consider the words of Jesus as he uses the same Greek word for confess and deny. Matthew 10:32–33 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Not only do we accept the Person of Jesus Christ, we must accept his message as found in God’s Word. In verse 21, John says that he believes that his readers know the truth of Jesus. In verse 24, he says that it is to be what they had heard from the beginning that is to abide in them. Remember, this would be the Gospel of Jesus that they had had on their conversion. When they learned the good news of Jesus and his sacrifice for their sins, they repented and trusted in him. They were told that He was the Messiah, the Christ, sent from God.
Consider what John says next. After the command to “let what you heard abide”, he inserts a condition to the command. “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” I was raised thinking that the gospel was exclusively for unbelievers to hear and embrace for salvation. I am learning that the gospel is for the believer as well. I believe that the gospel is the message of the Bible – condensed. God saves sinful mankind by his own provision and for his glory. Straying from these foundational truth is what derails a person. Plunging the depths of the gospel is not merely for salvation, it is for our sanctification (our maturing in our faith), and our perseverance (which we just spoke of).
The Gospel saves us when we repent and trust in Jesus for salvation. It is because he died in our place as a substitute that provides the solution. It is our embracing this great truth by trusting completely in him that we are made right with God.
Our repeated focus on the gospel overwhelms us because we gain a greater understanding of the greatness and holiness of our God, his mercy and grace bestowed on us, our insignificance apart from him, and our altered destiny because of him. Our response to these great truths deepens our relationship to him. And John states that as this remains our foundation, as “what we heard from the beginning abides in us” then we will abide in the Son and the Father.
I’ll admit. By the time I got to verse 25, I had to pause and meditate and praise him. Let’s look at this verse. Go back over this passage this week and focus on the gospel that has saved you. When you have given this sufficient attention, look at verse 25. And this… is the promise… that he made to us… eternal life. Literally, this is the promise that he promised. When you trust Jesus, God promises (the only One who is truly faithful to promises) promises eternal life to us. Wow!
How did we come to embrace such a glorious message? Verses 20, 26-27 help us out. It is the Holy Spirit of God who causes us to believe in Jesus. He opens our eyes so that we can see, our minds so that we can comprehend, and provides us the faith to believe in Jesus. John says in verse 20 that believers have been anointed by the Holy One who is Jesus. In Jesus’ lengthy prayer for his disciples he assured them that it was in their best interest that he leave them. John 15:26 “26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me… John 16:12–15 “12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
It is on this basis that John can say that “they all have knowledge” and in verse 27 that they don’t need anyone to teach them. This doesn’t mean that teachers are no longer required. John is presently teaching them! He refers to the false teachers that had left and were teaching them a different Jesus. John says that the Spirit testifies to the truth in God’s Word. He gives us understanding and assurance of its truth.
Last point is Family Resemblance. Look at verses 28-29. “28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”
Here is the culmination of abiding in the truth of God’s Word and abiding in the Son. Verse 29 reminds us of Ephesians 5.1 “be imitators of God as beloved children.” If you know that he is righteous, everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. Like father, like son. Assess your life. Does your lifestyle reflect a relationship to a God who is righteous? What is your born identity? Jesus said that you know a tree by its fruit. John says “you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of God.
Deal with any uncertainty about your relationship to God today. John reminds us in verse 28 that Jesus is coming back. The one who abides in him at his return will have confidence and will not shrink from him in shame at his coming. The one who does not abide… by contrast will have no confidence before him… and will be ashamed and terrified.
Consider the words of Jesus in John 15 as we close.
John 15:1–11 (ESV)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Whose team are you on? Are you abiding in Christ?