Other texts that explain the false teaching context of 1John2,18-27:
Hebrews:6,4-6: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 And have tasted the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame."
1John5,16: "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin that does not lead to death, he will ask , and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that."
1Timothy1,19-20: "Having faith and a clean conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 20 of whom are Hymenaus and Alexander , whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."
2Timothy2,16-18: "But shun profane and idle babble, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaus and Alexander are of this sort. 20 Who have strayed concerning the truth , saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some."
The crisis here in 1John and 1John2,18-27, our passage today, is that false teachers have been corrected and probably ousted by the Apostle John, and the prophets in Asia Minor. Tradition tells us that John served in Ephesus and likely died on the Roman empire controlled prison island of Patmos 40 miles off the coast of Ephesus.
The unnamed false teachers may have been teaching or wanting to teach in Ephesus which was the Roman Provincial capital, the cultural and religious hub of the six other Asia Minor churches. Revelation 2,2: "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false." "False" as in false teachers.
The city itself, with 300,000 population, may also have had several satellite churches even within the city environs. We know Ephesus was the leading church because Paul wrote 1-2 Timothy and Ephesians and there's John's first word to the first church in Asia Minor at Revelation2.
Wherever they were teaching 1John4,6 puts the Apostolic and Prophetic decision to supress all the false teachers in Asia Minor this way:
"We [the governing Apostles and Prophets in Asia Minor] are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood."
This tells us in a diplomatic way that John and the other prophets tried to correct the false teachers. The contention point down through the ages in our faith is always who can God's people listen to? Who actually edifies? Who can preach? The specific doctrinal issue was whether Jesus was God in the flesh, or something less, say just a devout man, or a man adopted as son of God and the Christ at baptism, or say an angel.
We know this "someting less" is the issue because 1John4,2 and 1John2,23 and 2John1,7 tell us this plainly. 2John1,7 is vehement: "Many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist."
This is strong language, separtist language, but hey there are souls in the balance, being won and lost over this very issue, right up to our present day. Why should we take that just-a-man, that-just-another- prophet Jesus so seriously? Why not stick with the Mosaic law? People were being deceived by this, led astray, following false teachers. If nobody was under their teaching influence back in 90-100 AD, or if they had just left quietly, if they had not divided the flock, if there wasn't an ongoing threat to the true church, then 1-3 John need not have been written.
But 1-3John, is John's pastoral challenge to the faithful of Asia Minor, and us too, "Are you going to leave too?" Or, "Do love him enough to stay and stay true?" "Are you in it for the long haul?"
I thank God that my choice for Jesus came at an adult age when I knew there was no turning back, as the song goes. It was nothing about joining a church, but about finding salvation in Him. But we don't all come to the faith and Jesus in one fell swoop. Perhaps we grew up in the church, and we knew our role and we clung to it, more than to our Jesus who is the object of all our worship and service. We love church. And truth be told I love church too, but 1-3 John challenges us to first know and stay with our our glorified Jesus, and to love him with all our heart and mind and soul.
And then stay with the church!
What happened to turn these teachers to false teaching?
Perhaps, they may have gotten all too familiar and cozy, in their faith, and with holy things, with church, less so with Jesus and His gospel. This can happen to anyone. Too familiar with the word and the Spirit, too puffed up with the status and prestige of serving God, too fond of the power that teaching sometimes afford.
Then they started to cut corners morally and make Jesus into their own image and likeness, making up teachings as they go along, to stay popular, to atrract a following, to make the gospel easy-pleasy.
Some may have rejected Jesus' supernatural birth and thus went back the law as thier salvation. (cf http://latter-rain.com/church/cerin.htm)
These false teachers would not listen to the correct gospel teaching that Jesus was God in the flesh. They end up in rebellion and "rebellion is as witchcraft." They are apostates, "antichrists" (v.18) and "liars" (v.22) because they are denying the truth about the Jesus, the truth that they already knew.
The last verse of this letter suggests that they are worshipping the idol of their own made up ideas. They represent what 2Thesalonians 2,7 calls the "mystery of iniquity that is already at work", at work in the church! It has a life of its own, just watch it rise up and strike the just man or woman who does not bow to the protocols and customs of lukewarm and iniquitous religion.
Our first line here today 1John2,18 suggests these false teachers are fronting for the Antichrist to come, who like them will proclaim to know better, more than the word, who will put himself ahead of Jesus, ahead of the unfinished promises of salvation to God's people and land, Israel. These teachers may have "Lord Lord" on their lips, but they are against the real Christ, and thus are antianointed ones, hostile to biblical law and morality, to holiness, and salvation in the one Name of Jesus.
Daniel 7,24 says the final antichrist ruler will "speak against the most high" and "try to wear out God's people", by "changing times and seasons." By changing the word, by "knowing better," by teaching falsehood. The "antichrists" in Asia Minor have done this, trying to wear folks down folks, steal their joy and subject them to their control.
False teachers 'wearing down the saints." That's worth another sermon in itself.
These false teachers have forgetten John1,14 "and the word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory."
They know better than the first gospel preached by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. So 1John2,24 says that this first gospel is key to all correct teaching: "let what you heard from the begining remain in you." What they all heard in the begining was Acts 2,36: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus [man], whom you crucified, both Lord [Yahweh, that is Lord God of Israel] and messiah [the promised prophet and savior of Israel and all the world]."
Both God and man.
They all knew this. They became believers believing this.
The false teachers also likely knew the salvation story of the Apostle Paul, Acts 9,5, knocked off his horse. Paul was renown in Ephesus and Jerusalem. Paul looks up from the ground, blinded by the light, blinded by God, who 1John1,5 says is light, and asks "Who are You Lord [God]?" Lord is the way the Jews addressed God. Paul knew this light was God!
He knew he was talking to God, he just didn't know this light was Jesus yet. So Jesus, the light, answers "I am Jesus who you are persecuting." This fulfills Isaiah60,19 where it is prophesied that "The sun will no longer be your light, by day, nor the moon shine on you by night, the Lord will be your everlasting light, your God will be your splendor." See Revelation21,23 and 22,5.
Again and again, the threshold claim of the initial gospel was that Jesus was and is both God and man, God in the flesh, who shed his blood for our salvation.
The false teachers heard this and knew this. But now it was their cross, their lot, and they had to choose to remain in it, according to what they heard in the begining.Time has passed, the honeymoon is over, and now they know better. They are off track and have broken the fellowship with Jesus and God's people that is defined and sealed by Holy Ghost baptism.
They know better than repentant faith, better than the precious blood that washes away our sins. And mayby are even teaching us "to progess" and "evolve", to know 'the [seductive, ie Jezebellian, which is a spirit that controls both men and women] dark secrets of Satan' as they do in the Asia Minor church of Thyratira (Revelation2,24).
Their "knowing better" is an antichrist spirit that wants to take us away from the basic truths of the gospel. It is a spirit that leaves an invisible mark of whatever works, of whatever is expedient and efficient, inside and outside the church, whatever enslaves God's people to other men, to sin and to evil, whatever threatens the future salvation of Israel, and the kingdom of God, the mark of lawlessness of the coming Antichrist and His wordlwide retinue of false teachers, a retinue that was embryonic in Asia Minor, but still grows in our own day.
So at verse 18 here John calls it the "last hour", the last generation, the last 40 years (Matthew24,34 "before this generation passes away..."), same as today in that our faith is ever apocalyptic, ever seeking the stunning re-appearance of Jesus, not knowing the day or the hour, only the Father knows (Mark13,32).
Are you impatient for this? The word answers "one day is as a 1000 years" 2Peter3,8. After 60-70 years the initial church was just as impatient. They wanted the dawn from on high to break upon them (Luke1,78) again when Jesus comes again to judge the world, and institute the millenial reign from Jerusalem.
In every age some get tired of waiting, and go back to the world. Or weary of well doing, of preaching the gospel and right doctrine. So did these false teachers in 1John who apparently flamed out in immorality too. They not only left the zeal of their first love, Revelation2,4, they have left Jesus, and wasted his saving and precious blood. They personally betrayed their savior, in whose name they taught and now teach falsely.
But we're going to stick with the true Jesus! We love him enough to remain in Him. Some or even many of us have experienced His loving and persistent learning curve of how close He wants us to stay. Our God is a jealous God. He doesn't abide us straying. He wants us all to stay within earshot, close enough to the Holy Ghost Fire, to the burning bush, so at all times we can hear him calling us like he did "Moses, Moses." (Exodus3,4)
How close? Psalm 63,8 tells us: "My soul clings to you [follows close behind You]; Your right hand upholds me."
Remember when the fearful and cowardly Peter kept his distance when Jesus was under arrest just prior to his crucifiction, Luke22,54. From this distance he denied Him three times. After Jesus rose the Lord's love healed this distance and rendered Peter capable of feeding the sheep.
Do you love him enough to stay close, to stay true, eyes, ears and spirits open, hanging on to our "way, our life and our truth."
These false teachers distanced themselves and severely tested the Apostle John's patience just as the Hymenaus and Alexander tested Paul's patience in Ephesus some years before. They were not feeding anybody, not spreading light and life but darkness. John now wants them distant from the congregations in Asia Minor, wants them out. But from reading 1John it's likely they didn't go.
So John, perhaps while in jail on Patmos, writes: "I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray." In other words, they are still hanging around. 27 "As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as the anointing teaches you all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit- just as it has taught you, remain in him." 1John1,26-27
This 'you don't need anyone to teach you' is curious. This sounds like some congregations may have lost these "special" teacher or teachers. Sounds like some folks may even miss them, perhaps want them back.
This situation also sounds like 1Timothy3, about a vacancy in the lead pastor post in Ephesus, after the Apostle Paul cleaned house. It's clear the Apostle Paul removed Hymenaus and Alexander in Ephesus, from some teaching position. Then Timothy has the task of building up the church by finding a lead or teaching pastor, after Paul burned his bridges, and barely escaped with his life, and beat back the false teaching of savage wolves who he said would be right back after he departed (Acts20,17ff especially v.29).
2Timothy2,16-18 tells us that Hymenaus and Alexander were supressed because they are spreading the cancerous message that the general resurrection, the last day resurrection of the just and unjust, has already happened. If that was the case, then our new birth, our status as temples of the Holy Ghost, can be seperated from morality, because now we can do whatever we want, without any consequences.
So the crisis of 1John is likely a version of what the Apostle Paul wrote about in 1 and 2Timothy, about false teachers and sexually libertine leaders in Ephesus, doing whatever they want, and then conjuring up gnostic "special" knowledge as justification. Such as all human flesh, all the physical is bad, and the spirit is good. This is a false dualism, a Greek concept, not a biblical concept. The bible teaches at Romans2,15 and Hebrews 8,10 and Hebrews 10,16 that once the new law of the Spirit is written on our hearts, that our hearts are not fated to dualism, not fated to sin, not slaves to sin. No, with saving faith and the Spirit in them they are the source and integrating principle of what it means to be human, and faithful. And with a faithful and human heart, we can live ordered and integrated lives, repenting if we slip.
If we just think on this dualistic gnosticism of 1-3 John- it fits perfectly the false doctrine that the resurrection has already happened of 2Timothy2,16-18. These teachings are just two sides of the same deception that the false apostles are teaching. They both say what we do with our bodies doesn't matter, and therefore what happened to Christ's body and his precious shed blood doesn't matter.
This gnosticism was not a kosher spirit. Paul and John and the prophets tested this spirit and soon found out there was no zeal, no joy, no hope just the same old sinful and dying world, passing away as it is, run by those who claim to be in the know.
This gnosticism also said no to His supernatural birth, and instead that God adopted him as son and Christ at baptism. But then at Calvary when his humanity died, his physical body didn't resurrect, only his spiritual self, his Christ or Spiritual self rose, not his bodily, or whole human self. (latter-rain.com/church/cerin.htm)
Christian tradition tells us that the chief gnostic of the day was an Egyptian Jewish teacher named Cerinthus, who taught that the world was created by an aeon, a lesser god. He also denied the grace of the gospel and taught that only the Mosaic law was sacred, and it, not Jesus, was our salvation.
A second century church leader (140?-200) named Irenaeus tells the hearsay story in his "Against Heresies", passed down by Polycarp (a lead pastor or "bishop" of the church at Smyrna, lived 80-155) that the Apostle John fled from a public bath when he heard that Cerinthus was there too: "Let us flee, lest the bath fall; for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth is within." You get the idea.
(Paragraph 6 and ccel's n. 841, "Eusebius Pamphilius: Chruch History, Life of Constatine, Oration in Praise of Constantine, www.ccel.org/schaff/npnf201.iii.viii.xxviii.html; Ibid latter-rain.com/church/cerin.htm) "ccel" = Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Jude22 comes close to the situation here in 1John: "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy mixed with fear- hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."
The Latter Rain page sums up Cerinthus well in relation to these false teachers:
"Cerinthus claimed for himself inner mystic experiences and exalted knowledge of God apart from the true apostles and prophets of Jesus. John insisted that Jesus was the actual, material, authentic manifestation of God in the flesh, and the genuine knowledge of God must result in moral transformation. These things may not seem to be important for us today but it is vital that we believe in the true nature of Jesus Christ for our salvation. We are to believe in order to be saved, but it cannot be a false Christ, it must be the One and only...who truly took on our human nature in order to die for our sins and rise again for our justification." latter-rain.com/church/cerin.htm
So, the message of 1John2,18-27 is "Stay with the true teaching of the Apostles and prophets. Stay with the true church. Let the false teachers go back into the world, the devil and the flesh. Let them go. Don't get near them. They are committing the sin that leads to death. Let them alone. Don't even pray for them! They are trying to corrupt you." cf 1John5,16.
Wow this seems really harsh, but the Lord has had me wrestling with Eve's sin before"eating the apple." Eve's sin began in listening to the teaching of Satan, probably again and again. It was letting herself be deceived into leaving the word.
Likewise, Jesus rebuked Peter, in refusing to entertain Peter wanting him to avoid death and change the word. So he said to Peter "Get behind me Satan." Matthew16,23 So, likewise Christians in Asia Minor are not required to dialog with folks trying to corrupt them and change the word, Habakkuk2,15.
Remember we are talking about denying that Jesus as God in the flesh, the one doctrine that could have ruined the message of salvation.
This apparent unmercifullness of God's word is not without precedent, in extreme circumstances. God told the prophet Jeremiah at Jeremiah 7,16 the same thing when God was handing the Temple leaders over to their idols, over the exile in Babylon in 586 BC. Then they would taste their belly full of where their idols led them, in chains, weeping and longing for one of Zion's songs.
Same at Exodus 23,21 when God told Israel to obey the angel leading the conquest of the promised land. No forgiveness by the angel, just obey His guidance, backed by my word.
So John is issuing a challenge to his hearers as he lambastes the false teachers: "Do you love Him, Jesus, God in the flesh, who bled and died so that you might live, do you love him enough to stay and to stay true?"
Or "are you too going to crucify him again because you think his blood wasn't good enough?" Hebrews 6,6.
Wow. We can say with the apostle Paul, "Woe to all of us if we don't preach the gospel." 1Corinthians9,16.
Having come this far I'll very quickly run down the highlights from each verse, so we cover the whole passage:
verse 18, John says it's the "last hour." We covered that. It has always been the last hour, God always wants us on the edge of our seats, watchmen at the gates as to what's coming next.
Verse 19: the false teachers went out from the the living Spirit filled and driven community. The KJ says they left that their false teaching might be made manifest, that they would be revelealed as not having the same living and life giving Spirit as the body, the church.
We should keep in mind that today it isn't always the ones who leave that are unorthodox and unfaithful and lacking the true Holy Spirit that informs the church. Today, sometimes it's those who trust the word and the Spirit who are shown the door. Think of the Reformers run to stake for supposedly bad doctrine and wrong spirit.
Verse 20: But we in the true church have the anointing and we have knowledge of who Jesus truly was and is.
Verse 21: The true church knows the truth about Jesus. John wisely takes pains not to patronize his audience, as if they were ignorant of this truth. Instead, he merely reminds them of what they already know;
Verse 22: The integrity of the Asia Minor church leadership has been questioned by the false teachers and John states that the "liars" are those who deny that Jesus was God in the flesh. These are fighting words!
This issue is so crucial, their deceit so manifest, that Revelation 21,8 refers to these vary same "liars" as the worst of the worst sinners. I never understood why this verse ended with "liars" until I was assigned to preach this passge: "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolators, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
These "liars" are none other than those who deny that Jesus was God in the flesh!
Verse 23: Whoever denies that the son came in the flesh as God denies the Father, doesn't have the Father.
Oh my- John is saying that the false teachers are Godless! Please do not be scandalized by the word, it's for our edification. We remember too that this is a highly heated argument amongst Jewish Christians about who Jesus is. There's a real division. There is a break in fellowship.
This is sort of like the "Synagogue of Satan" rhetoric of Revelation 3,9, the rival synagogue in Philadelphia. It's sort of like 100 really hyper and driven guys and gals trying to qualify for 50 spots at the Daytona 500. Things are really heated. It's also like John 6 where Jesus talks about the Lord's Supper in such physicalistic terms that some or many of his followers, all of whom were Jewish, leave him because of this misundesrtanding.
This discussion got so "intolerable" that Jesus asked the twelve at John 6,67 "Do you also wish to go?"
Verse 24: Let the gospel word from the begining abide in you. As we said this refers to the initial gospel of the Book of Acts dismissed by the false teachers, as crude and primitive some "moderns" assess this book. Oh far from it! No, the first gospel on the day of Pentecost, including Jesus as man and God, is the basis and starting point of proper doctrine and church practice found throughout the New Testament.
If this supernatural gospel abides in us, we abide in the Son and the Father.
The word says we are to obey not just Jesus, but also the gospel itself, 1Thessalonians2,8. There are times when Jesus seems far off and His Spirit too, but they and we know what we heard in the begining, so we live it, not just when we feel Jesus close and with Spiritual goose bumps, but because we choose to obey. Letting the gospel abide in us like this is an ongoing act of our personal will. Mark8,35: "For whover desires to save his life will loses it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."
Verse 25: This is important stuff, this gospel, we're talking about the promise of eternal life, not philosophies and wordly quibbling.
Verse 26: These folks are trying to deceive you. Don't fall for it!
Verse 27: You don't need any such false teachers- you have the anointing of the Holy Ghost from which all good teaching is revealed. Better to be without a teaching pastor, than with false teachers!
You, can get through a time without a teaching pastor, if you follow the anointing of truth that is in you.
The message of this passage is "don't run from Jesus, don't quit the gospel, don't give up when the false teachers comes, don't pine for the folks who left the truth, stay confident, stay in the ever true church filled with the one and only Spirit of God."
Even When We Feel Far Away And Confused We Stay Close To Him
I'll end with an example from John 6 about staying close to Jesus.
It's easy to stick by our friends and family and Jesus when we know exactly what their words mean.
But think back again of John 6,60. "Many" of his followers complain and misunderstand his teaching on the Lord's Supper: They thought it was too materialistic. "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?"
John6,66 tells us "from that day on," because they were offended and confused by his teaching, "many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him."
They couldn't abide with Him because they were offended by and didn't understand His teaching.
And then he turns to his 12 Apostles. I'm thinking they are just as stung and confused. I don't think the Apostles understood much more about this post death, post resurrectional, post ascension, 'it is the Spirit that gives life' (v.63) teaching about His supper than their departing co-religionists. We know in part and we prophesy in part. 1Corinthians13,9
So Jesus asks them at 6,67 "Do you also want to go away?"
Peter answers rightly, 6,68: "No. You have the words of eternal life."
You don't fully understand your kids, and your kids don't fully understand you, but you're sticking with each other!
Why did 11 of the apostles stick with Jesus? Yes- as Peter answered for them- they knew he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, with words of eternal life.
But Jesus proceeds to remind them there's an additional reason, John 6,70: "Did I not choose you, the twelve, but one of you is a devil."
We stick with him not because at given time we fully understand everything He or His word says, or only because we know He is and was God in the flesh, the Christ and the Son of the living God, and has the words of eternal life.
We stick with him because He chose us.
He chose to love us first.
And we have experienced His choice and His love! And His grace and mercy.
And because of His choice of us, we love him enough to stay.
Because of this love, we not only won't deny teaching and knowing who He is. We won't betray the love and loyalty that His choice demmands from each of us in return!
Like Judas and the false teachers.
At a certain point in time they refused to make the ongoing choice for Jesus, choosing instead their own ideas, their own idols, 1John5,21.
But we stay. Joyfully, gratefully, close, and loyal, even when we know in part and prohesy in part. Praise Jesus.
"...He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself according to the god pleasure of his will, To the praise and glory of His grace, by which he made us accepted in the beloved." (Ephesians1,4-6)
This is not just love worth finding. It's love worth giving back, love worth sticking around for, right to the end.
No quit in him, no quit in us. Praise Jesus.
Don't you hunger to stay with him, in His love today? Don't you want a forever love?
You may have been let down in love, seen folks turn tail and run. May have done so yourself. But my God, our Jesus, has never let you or me down, never run, never turned tail on anyone who calls out to him. So we fix in our mind today to remain in him, staying not leaving, in Jesus name I pray.
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...