1 John 2:22-23
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. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
The Story: Readers of this letter may, at this point, have been asking themselves who this antichrist or these antichrists are. Their key characteristic, John wrote, is their denial of the truth about Jesus. For the Gnostic mind, Jesus could not be both the Christ of God and the Word made flesh. This world, they believed, was evil. The physical body was a prison. If Jesus was the One “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1:1), /he could not possibly be the Christ. If He was the Christ, He would not have had a physical body or would only have appeared to have one. John, perhaps recalling Jesus’ words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), insisted that anyone seeking God outside of faith in Jesus Christ incarnate was (and is) headed for a dead end. It is only through Jesus that we come to the Father. Without Jesus, we have nothing. With Jesus, we have the Father and the Holy Spirit (verse 20) as well.
The Structure: During the first few centuries A.D., the big question that faced the Church was this: Who is Jesus? Is He one of three faces God wears in dealing with humans (Modalism)? Is He the first and greatest created being, a kind of super angel (Arianism)? Is He a mere human who then became God (Adoptionism)? Is He God only pretending to have a physical body (Docetism)? The list of early Christological heresies goes on and, what’s more important, the same errors keep reappearing through history. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are simply modern-day Arians. It took almost 300 years and a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears before the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity gave shape to the Nicene Creed, still the standard definition of what it means to believe in the One True God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). A sword divides, and Jesus bring a sword because the truth about His identity continues to divide those who know the truth from those who believe one version or another of the big lie.
Who is Jesus? How do you know? Take time this week to read and meditate on the Nicene Creed.
1 John 2:20-21
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 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.
The Story: Again we see John the pastor. He was wading into troubled waters with his readers, that is, his flock. While he wanted to warn them, he took great care not to alarm them. There were antichrists, there were those who denied the core doctrines of the faith, and there were those who simply left the faith. You, John assured his readers, are not among them. He assumed that those who read his letter were anointed with the Holy Spirit just as Jesus was (Acts 10:38). And because they had the Spirit, He gave them knowledge of the truth (John 14:26; 16:13-14). Thus, he told them, he was not writing to correct their ignorance or confusion, but to confirm the truths they already knew, having heard them in the apostolic preaching that won their hearts by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. In this, he made clear, there is no room for debate about bits and pieces that may not be true. The truth about the Word of Life, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands,” (1:1) is a living whole.
The Structure: In her book “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity,” Nancy Pearcey defined a Christian worldview as “the imprint of God’s objective truth on our inner life.” Note the modifiers. Truth is God’s and it is objective. Rather than talk in those terms and risk offending someone, our culture hedges. We hear or even use phrases like “somewhat true,” “true in part,” “truthy,” or “true for me (but not necessarily for everyone).” Even Christians, when stating biblical reality, are tempted to add, “At least that’s how I see it.” But truth—what worldview author Francis Schaeffer called “true truth”—is not a matter of “how I see it.” It is a matter of how it actually is. God’s truth is true because Jesus, Who said, “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6) is true. The truth Christians believe, we believe because God revealed it in His written Word, revealed it preeminently in Christ Who is the Living Word, and grants us grace to acknowledge truth by the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the light of reason. When we are dealing with the Christian faith we, like John’s readers, have real knowledge and know true, objective truth.
What difference does it make whether we believe the Christian faith is “God’s objective truth” or my subjective truth? How is your life consistent with God’s objective truth?
1 John 2:19
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.
The Story: Apparently the antichrists—those who opposed John, the Church, the Gospel, and, in the final analysis, Jesus—arose from within the body of believers. The churches to which John wrote were in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and included the church in Ephesus (see Revelation 2:1-7). Paul had already warned the elders of the Ephesian church, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). He also warned his disciple Timothy who was ministering in Ephesus, “Some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). John concluded that the apostasy of such people was an indication that they had not been converted to Christ in the first place. They were in the Church, may even have had a conversion testimony, may even have been leaders, but “they were not of us” from the start.
The Structure: Rather than a pure community of the absolutely positively saved, Jesus pictured the Church as a field full of wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). The master in the parable wouldn’t let the servants tear up the weeds “lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” And so the two grew together until the harvest when sorting the wheat from the weeds is easy and will happen. The Church from John’s day to ours (to change the image) remains a mixture of sheep (often angry, ornery, dysfunctional, and dreadfully confused sheep) and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Unless the wolves up and leave, it’s hard to tell them apart. This is not new, should not come as a surprise, and is no excuse for despising the Church for lacking purity in all its parts. At the same time, the need to be clear about and insistent upon sound doctrine as critical to the health and growth of Christ’s body. John did not shrink from such sound doctrine, and we should not shrink back either.
How do you feel about the impurity of the Church? How are you striving to maintain a balance between truth and grace in your relationship with other believers?
1 John 2:18
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.
The Story: “The world is passing away along with its desires,” John wrote in verse 17. And it is passing away sooner rather than later. We are living in “the last hour,” he told his first-century audience. Christ’s death and resurrection was the decisive victory over sin, death, and the devil. The battles continue, but He has already won the war. Thus Christians live in “the final hour,” and the appearance of antichrists, John told his readers, is one indication that it is so. The antichrist who will come, and the many antichrists who opposed Christ in the first century, sought to lead people away from Christ. This is not a new thought. John heard it directly from Jesus (Matthew 24:23-24), and as a good steward of the words of Jesus, he passed it along the warning to his readers. Many impostors had already come; the great impostor (the antichrist) will come (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13). Yet it’s important in this context that John began this verse by calling his readers “children.” They were his spiritual children and, more important, they were children of the Heavenly Father. Since He cares for His children, there was nothing to fear.
The Structure: We, like John and his readers, live in the last hour. Someone suggested the image of heading straight toward a line and then walking along the line without crossing it—yet. History—from Eden to the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—moved toward the end. After Jesus, history runs not toward the end, but parallel to it, until the moment appointed by the Father, the moment He alone knows (Matthew 24:36), when the line will be crossed and the end will come. The violent and vicious antichristian forces in the Middle East are invading Europe and the United States. More subtle, but no less antichristian forces are found in academia, government, media, and elsewhere in our culture. And the formerly Christian but now apostate West is a much more difficult mission field than the pagan West evangelized by the early Church. Will Jesus return in our lifetime? We don’t know, but the days are dark, the times are violent, “it is the last hour,” and we should be prepared (Matthew 25:1-13).
Is the end of time and the Second Coming of Christ something you think about or ignore? Look forward to or dread? How are you preparing for what could happen any day?
1 John 2:13b-14
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
The Story: Depending on how you count, somewhere between one third and one half of the Bible is poetry. John grew up a good Jew, knew the Scriptures, and used the forms of Hebrew poetry in verses 12-14 to emphasize the pastoral message he brought to his readers. Even in Hebrew, the words do not rhyme the way they do in much English verse. Instead the poet rhymed ideas by using parallelism and repetition. “I write to you, children. . . . I write to you, fathers. . . . I write to you, young men . . .” is a striking example of parallelism, as is the repetition of the same parallel thoughts between verses 12-13a and verses 13b and 14. Like the Old Testament psalms and prophecies, John’s poem was meant to go beyond our thoughts to influence our imaginations—that is, the way we see the world. You are, John wrote, the ones to know the Eternal God and call him by the family name “Father.” In that knowledge, you are strong, there is in you a place for God’s word to live, and evil cannot stand before you.
The Structure: Did John’s readers already know that in Jesus sins are forgiven, the Eternal Father becomes known, and evil is vanquished? Of course they did. These are basic tenets of the Christian faith and essential parts the earliest apostolic preaching (Acts 2:29-39). John was, in a sense, repeating himself, but now with words set to music, with poetry. The English poet John Keats wrote, “Poetry . . . should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.” I believe that is just what John had in mind, and it’s what I mean by poetry going beyond thoughts to influence the imagination, a critical part of a well-formed Christian worldview. Today, most of us have little to no appreciation for poetry. We mine the poetry in the Bible for theological information and have forgotten (if we ever knew) that Dante Alighieri, George Herbert, Francis Thompson, Christina Rossetti, T. S. Eliot, and others set a Christian worldview to beautifully chosen words.
When is the last time you sat down and read poetry? Which Christian poets could you begin to explore? How might a greater appreciation for poetry in general boost your appreciation for the poetry of the Bible?
1 John 2:12-13a
I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
The Story: If the criteria for walking in the light of Christ is love for fellow Christians, John knew that his readers fell short. How could it be otherwise? Sin makes people selfish and unloving. So, as a wise pastor, after “afflicting the comfortable,” John went on to “comfort the afflicted.” John’s primary purpose in writing was to assure his readers that they were no longer orphans and had life in and with God their Father. “Children,” “fathers,” and “young men” probably refer to stages in the spiritual pilgrimage. New Christians need to be reminded that in Christ sins are forgiven, not because they’ve worked off their sins, but in the name of Christ and because of His death. More mature believers need to be reminded that their lives are connected to the One Who is from all eternity. These reminders are necessary to keep Christians from rushing off trying to be strong, ingesting great quantities of doctrine to fight the evil within ourselves and out in the world without fully understanding these two basics: forgiveness on account of Christ and an unshakable connection with the Eternal.
The Structure: Readers of this devotional are, I trust, earnest believers who want to fight evil in their lives and in the culture. Yet so often as we battle, we get beat up or evil conquers us or we just run out of gas, and conquering the world, the flesh, and the devil takes a back seat to more agreeable pursuits. Our problem is trying to be youthful warriors without a child’s wonder and an elder’s peace. We go off to war without appreciating the forgiving grace we have in Jesus and the home we have in God’s eternal life. John, by setting these truths out in the form of a poem and by repeating himself in the next lines of that poem (13b-14), took the time to massage forgiveness, eternal life in God, and the resulting strength in battle into his readers’ imaginations. He reminded them and reminds us that what we do as Christians is always a function of who we are in Christ. That’s why prayer and contemplation have to precede action.
Have you become discouraged in your battle against evil? How can you prepare more effectively for the fight through prayer and contemplation?