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Not Everybody Who Talks About Jesus Really Knows Him (1 John 2:18-27)

Not Everybody Who Talks About Jesus Really Knows Him
1 John 2:18-27

Minister’s Summary:
The antichrists seek to bring the world’s darkness into the Christian community! Those who know the truth about Christ and have embraced the light of his presence must stand fast against their deceptions and falsehoods.

Exegetical Notes

While 2:12-17 constituted a general warning, John is more specific in this text (2:18-27). He warns his community about the Antichrists.

This section has an urgency that is apocalyptic in character: antichrists are present in this last hour who are leading some astray. These antichrists have left the church already, but they still have influence within the Johannine community. John here seeks to bolster his community's opposition to these secessionists and to stabilize the community.

[In terms of structure, I break 2:18-27 from 2:28-3:10 because there is a shift in topic and he uses two different words for "children" in 2:18 (paidia) and 2:28 (teknia). The latter is perhaps a stylistic signal for a transition.]

In terms of the internal flow of this section, it is significant to note that John begins a sentence with the second person plural pronoun three times ("you"in 20,24,27). While verses 18-19 announce the danger of secessionist deceivers, verses 20, 24, 27 exhort and remind the readers about their grounding in the truth (20-23), what they have heard (24-25), and the anointing (26-27).

The Secessionists (2:18-23).

John exhibits an “eschatological” understanding of the Christian life. It is the “last hour.” This is not a chronological note, but a theological one. It is an awareness that the manifestation of the Light of God (incarnation of Jesus) signaled a shift in the ages when a new age dawned that is the last age. History is at its end as it anticipates the fuller revelation of the Light of God (second coming). History is always on the brink of ending by the second coming of Jesus. We must live, as Christians, with eschatological awareness.

There are two signals of the last hour. Burge writes (p. 127): "John sees in the personal catastrophe of his congregation echoes of the eschatological evil that waits on the world's horizon. The work of antichrist has been successful in his own church." The first signal is the arrival of the Antichrists. While once part of the community itself, these denied the essential meaning of the coming of Jesus in the flesh. Their rejection of the community's faith in Jesus is antichristian. The hostility of the world has invaded the community through the presence of the antichrists.

Another signal of the last hour is the dissolution or breakdown of community. Presumably one reason the secessionists left the community is that they could no longer share a common theological conviction about Jesus Christ, if they ever did. In some sense, they never really belonged to the community. They were only apparent members, or superficial members, or nominal members. Those who truly belong to the community will remain with the community. These antichrists never believed the truth of Jesus Christ and so they left. They functioned as part of the world even as they were members of the community. These individuals probably never were members of the eschatological community (invisible church) though they were members of the visible church, as Brown (p. 339) comments: "their visible enrollment did not correspond to their real being." This does not mean that this is the case for everyone who leaves the community, but that this particular group was never really part of the community.

The situation illuminates the reality that Truth is at stake (2:20-21). Everyone knows the truth [I opt for "all of you know" instead of "you know everything" in the textual tradition] and everyone has an anointing (chrisma; only occurs 3 times in the NT and all in this section of 1 John). He does not explain the anointing at this point, but he probably introduces it here in contrast with the antichrist (antichristos) and anointing (chrisma which both come from the same verbal root ("to anoint," chrio). Whatever the anointing is (discussed below), it is clearly related to a knowledge of the truth. This truth is central the community and defines it as an orthodox and orthopraxitic community. The truth is contrasted with a lie here.

And the truth is the identity of the Son (2:22-23). There are liars and these are those who "deny the Son." The antichrist is identified as one who "denies that Jesus is the Christ" (Christos). This denial is a denial of the Son which is at the same time a denial of the Father. What is the denial.

First, He denies that Jesus is the Christ. This separates the Jesus of history from
the Christ of faith. It denies the continuity between the two. We will learn more about the nature of this continuity later in the epistle as it applies to this problem, but clearly the point at stake here is identity. Is the Jesus who walked upon the earth in the flesh the Christ who brings eschatological life? The revelation of God is objectively rooted in the historic, fleshly Jesus. God is revealed in Jesus who is the Christ. Some kind of Cerinthian distinction between the Jesus of Nazareth and the heavenly Christ that descended upon him may be operative here. That makes sense, but it is not certain. At bottom, I think, is the need to affirm that God truly revealed himself in the historic Jesus; that the fleshly Jesus is the Son of God (heavenly Christ). God truly became a human being in order to reveal himself and inaugurate the new age.

John does not tells us what they actually believed, but only what they denied. Did they believe Jesus was a prophet we should follow, but denied that he was the heavenly Messiah? Or did they follow the heavenly Messiah and rejected Jesus as incidental to the faith? Did they claim some kind of charismatic, spiritual anointing that they had received directly from Christ and thus followed their own spiritual revelations rather than the message about Jesus (cf. Brown)? I think this last position makes good sense.

Second, the Antichrist denies the relationship between the Father and the Son. How does
this deny the Father? Because the Father locates himself in the incarnate Son, in Jesus. The Father reveals himself through the incarnate Son. Consequently, to deny the Son is to deny the Father. As Marshall notes, probably "Christ" and "Son" are near synonymous terms for John here.

It is a rejection of the revelation of eternal life through the incarnation of the Son (cf. v. 25). The object of revelation was the Life of God, both in terms of God's Light and God's Love. This life is eternal life

Here we see that sometimes unity is broken for the sake of truth. Here is a truth which, if denied, destroys fellowship. Unity is not the ultimate value. Community must exist, at least partly and necessarily, through shared understanding of the truth that grounds the community's fellowship with the Father and the Son.

The Corrective (2:24-27).

Deception (v. 26) is countered by two things, according to John: (1) "what you have heard" and (2) "the anointing".

"What you have heard" is clearly the proclamation of the message summarized in the prologue (2:24-25; cf. 1:1-4). This refers to the objective preaching of the Word of God. It is the message that was from the beginning about the incarnational ministry of Jesus Christ that reveals God as Light and Love. John reminds them of the original message, and if this original message remains (as you continue to believe it), then you remain in fellowship with the Father and the Son (in contrast with those in 2:22-23). This is the essence of the promise: fellowship with the Father and Son is the possession of eternal life which is the same eternal life that was revealed in the incarnation of the Son.

What is this anointing (2:26-27)? I think the point is that the deceivers do not have a "leg up" on the members of the Johannine community. They do not have some anointing that others do not have. In other words, their charisma is not more divine or spiritual than others within the community.

First, note several characteristics of the “anointing.” (a) Everyone has it. No one can claim their anointing is superior. This is something all believers share so that the truth it teaches is confessed by all. The deceivers do not have access to something that the whole community does not. (b) It is sufficient in such a way that there is no further need for teaching [that is, they know all things in the sense of meeting needs, not in the sense of omniscience]. This does not deny the need for further teaching in the church, but it does deny the claim of the false teachers that something in addition to their original understanding of Jesus is needed. The secessionists probably claimed additional revelation or knowledge beyond what the anointing signifies here. The anointing taught the truth and there is no further need of revision by the deceivers. (c) It abides within us and teaches us. The presence of the anointing is an assurance for life in God (abiding in God).

Second, is the anointing the historic proclamation of the Word or the Holy Spirit? It seems that the historic proclamation of the Word was the point in verse 24. The point in verse 27 seems related but distinct. Verse 27 appears to amplify or extend the point in verse 24 rather than repeating it.

The language is pneumatic (Spirit) in character. John's understanding of the church is pneumatic, that is, everyone has received the Spirit and this is the means by which one is assured that one abides in God (1 John 4:13). The language is reminiscent of John 14:14, 26; 15:26 and 16:13 and the "Spirit of truth" in 1 John 4:6. In conversion God anoints his saints with the Spirit, just as Jesus himself was anointed.

I think there is a balance between the objective Word ("what you have heard") and the subjective presence of the Spirit ("anointing"). Marshall (p. 155) quotes I. de la Potterie as saying: "The anointing is indeed God's word, not as it is preached externally in the community, but as it is received by faith into men's hearts and remains active, thanks to the work of the Spirit." Thus, the objective and subjective dimensions are linked so that the anointing is consistent with and rooted in the objective work of God but that the work of God is not reduced or limited to the objective dimensions of human experience.

Theological Perspectives

We are already living in the new age. The darkness is passing, and the light of God has been revealed in Jesus. The last hour has arrived, and in this last hour there are some who deny that the light has dawned or deny the Jesus is the one through God has illuminated the world. The Antichrists are not simply future, but they are always present just as the darkness is still present and will be present until the fullness of the kingdom of God is revealed. Christians live with eschatological expectation, fervor and vitality. We recognize that the last days are upon us and we are living in them. We are on the edge of the fullness of the kingdom, and we wait for it, expect and yearn for it.

But the enemy (darkness) is still present in this new age because the old age has not fully disappeared as yet. The darkness exhibited itself in John’s community through the secessionists who denied Jesus and did not trust the fullness of the revelation of God in Jesus. Ultimately, they could not accept the uniqueness and finality of the revelation of God in Jesus. They denied the Son.

But John’s community knows better. They know the Son, and thus know the Father. And their knowledge is rooted in the “anointing.” The anointing has both an objective and a subjective character. They know the truth because they have heard it from the beginning. The message has been proclaimed by those who first touched, saw and heard the Word of Life. Those messengers proclaimed the message to the community and shaped the community with that message. The basic message is that the Son is Eternal Life, and those who fellowship the Son fellowship the Father. The proclaimed Word, then, maintains an objective connection with the community, its history and the story it proclaims. It is public truth; communal truth.

However, this is not sufficient. The anointing also involves a subjective dimension. It is the presence of God by his Spirit. Faith embraces the objective message, but it internalizes that message through the presence of the Spirit who perfects the love of God in us. It is our experience of the message lived out in the transformation of our lives that assures us of the truth. God is not only present in the historic flesh of Jesus as the Son of God, but he is present in the subjectivity of the human soul by the presence of the Spirit who pours the love of God into our hearts and we experience that love in our lives and relationships.

Consequently, the community does not need to listen to the secessionists. They cannot teach them anything. The community does not need anyone to teach them the truth since they have believed it from the beginning and have experienced its reality in their lives. The anointing teaches what is important—Jesus and the experience of his love. Nothing else is ultimately needed.

Teaching Particulars

Function of Text: The antichrists are the presence of the world's darkness in the Christian community and the community must reject them.

Theology: The Christian community is formed by the central conviction that Jesus is the Christ, and this truth is the foundation of communion between God and believers.

Application: You know the truth both intellectually and experientially that Jesus is the Christ so do not be deceived by those who deny the reality of God's eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Teaching Outline: The Times are Perilous

1. Y2K caused quite a stir. The Iraq war raised questions about Armageddon. LaHay’s books have formented eschatological discussions about the rapture, coming of Jesus and the “last days.” Millennial fever is high. This is the last hour, but it has been the last hour since the days of John.

2. John saw the last hour in the presence of the Antichrists and in the dissolution of community. These are perilous times--the reality of God in Jesus is under attack and the church is in the throes of turbulent waves. The Jesus Seminar divorces the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith, and churches split when they should remain united in Jesus Christ--these are perilous times.

3. But the truth has been revealed. God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and there we have fellowship with the Father and Son.

4. We know the truth: (1) we have heard the testimony from the beginning; and (2) we have the anointing. Jesus is the Christ is the testimony and we know anything contrary to that truth is false. We have heard and we have experienced this truth in the community of God.

5. Consequently, we will rest in the assurance that God's Word and Spirit offer us. We will not be disturbed by perilous times, but we will be vigilant.

Questions for Discussion:

1. What is the mark of authentic Christianity here? How does this relate to community, truth, what is believed and what is lived?

2. What are some characteristics of the “anointing”? How do you understand this enigmatic phrase (a phrase unique to John’s letter)?

3. Why do believers not need teachers? What does John mean by that when he himself is a teacher of the faith through this letter?

4. How does one tell the difference between new insights into the Christian faith and teachings that undermine it? What is John’s criterion here?

5. In what ways have you experienced the subjective dimensions of authentic faith? How is this experienced in our walk with God? What is the nature of this experience? How does community relate to the experience?


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