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First John

The Antichrist

1 John 2:18-29

Tolerance. It is a word which is "politically correct" in our time. One aspect of tolerance - which is considered to be a very high virtue indeed by our modern thinkers - is that we will put up with (in fact embrace) practically any form of perversion. This is so as long as we can find an organized collection of sinners who practice it. One wonders how long it will be before the bank robbers form a union - as the prostitutes already have.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone in the church, but often it does. The Apostle John tells us of the most deadly of those who desire "tolerance" - the antichrists.

(1 John 2:18-29 NIV) Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. {19} They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. {20} But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. {21} I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. {22} Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist--he denies the Father and the Son. {23} No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. {24} See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. {25} And this is what he promised us--even eternal life. {26} I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. {27} As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him. {28} And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. {29} If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

Belief and Action

Does what you believe really count? Or is it really a case of, "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere?" In some senses it doesn't matter what you believe as long as your actions are right. I'd rather play cards with an atheist who believes that gentlemen do not cheat at cards than a sleight of hand artist Christian. But in most of the circumstances of life, we act as if belief is important - and say that it is not. Why?

Sometimes we use the word "belief" in two different senses. We can believe something in the sense that we think it's factually correct (the earth goes around the sun, not vice versa) but having no impact on us. Then we can also believe in the sense that we trust the result (my wife is faithful, for example). If you believe that the sun goes around the earth, so what? But as to your wife, …

Suppose you could separate belief from action. What would that make you? Suppose you really believe in being charitable - but not to the extent of actually doing anything. Isn't there a word for such people? In fact, isn't action matching belief the core of integrity? Oneness of soul and action?

Honest differences of opinion will always exist, of course. So it is important for the Christian to separate our what is a matter of opinion and what might be called "core belief." But how?

First, it's much easier to know the core beliefs than it is the others. So we should focus on what the Scripture tells us is the dividing line.

That, however, is no excuse for not doing the best job I can in interpreting other matters.

In all this, we need to remember Thomas à Kempis' test: suppose you knew the answer - would it make a difference in your actions?

The nature of heresy and antichrists

John, in this brief passage, outlines for us the general nature of heresy and the antichrists who conjure it up:

First, they come from within the church itself. This is not some rose petal strewing Hindu telling you to take a dip in the sacred (and badly polluted) Ganges. You'd laugh at that, and Satan knows it.

Next, these people will look good. They will use the same terminology (with different, "enlightened" meanings, of course) that Christians use.

Then, there will be the tendency to schism. These people will "go out from us." They will form their own denomination, or whatever.

The warning is to us - because we know

This is a letter to those who are mature in the faith. John is not writing this letter to beginners, but to those who are experienced. The beginners can easily be led astray (all the more reason for the teacher to work hard). But the mature have their problems too:

Because we are "in the know," more is expected of us. We judge the ignorant very lightly; the knowledgeable more heavily - and so does God. The peril is much greater for us.

Heresy is the specific trap for those in the know. It is directed at the knowledgeable, not the ignorant. (The ignorant Satan likes to get with new age crystal powered pyramids). So we need to be more aware of it.

What is our defense? We have two things we need to do. The first is to diligently study the Scriptures, so that we will know the truth from the falsehoods. The next is obedience, so that our sins do not provide a handle for Satan (how quick we are to justify ourselves!)

Core Beliefs

OK, just what are the core beliefs of Christianity? John outlines some here; others are given in other passages - but in all cases we are told that these are necessary to salvation. So there's the test: if it's necessary to salvation, it's a core belief.

Jesus is the Christ

His last name is not "Christ." People usually didn't have last names in those days; if anything, his would be "of Nazareth." "Christ" (or its Hebrew equivalent, "Messiah") means "the anointed one." From this we can see three of our core beliefs:

First, that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, specifically those prophecies which promise the "Holy One of Israel." We may disagree as to which ones have been fulfilled at his first coming and which will be fulfilled at the second - but the prophecies apply to him, and to no other. He is the Holy One of Israel, foretold of old.

In particular, that makes him the atoning sacrifice for our sins, as laid out in the Old Testament. The man of sorrows came to suffer and die for our sins, becoming sin that it might be taken from us.

If that is so, then we must accept that he came in the flesh, that he died and was buried - and rose again, in bodily form, the third day. The Resurrection is clearly a core belief.

God the Father, Jesus the Son

In this relationship we learn about Jesus - do you notice how everything seems to revolve around the person and mission of Jesus? - and in particular:

We learn the humanity of Jesus - the Son of God. We know that he is human like us, yet without sin. As a son, he is obedient to the Father, showing us what God is like.

We learn of the divinity of Jesus - that he is "of the same essence" as God. Therefore his teaching is divine and his church the only path of salvation - because he said so.

We also learn of unity in the trinity. We do not worship three gods, but the one Living God - in three persons.

Is this important? Nothing less than eternal life is at stake here. No wonder, then, that Satan will do whatever he can to lead us away from this.

Antichrists and the Antichrist

We now come to a most difficult passage, concerning the antichrist and the antichrists. In reading such passages it is most important to distinguish between the singular and the plural - but remember the singular may be just an example of the plural. So there are many "antichrists" and one coming "Antichrist." What, then, do we know about the plural ones?

We know that there are going to be a lot of them. Our Lord explicitly warns us that false prophets and false Christs will appear.

In reading this, we must remember that "last hours" or "last days" means now. The final revelation of God to man is Jesus, the Son. After his departure in the flesh, we began the last days, however long those might last.

The antichrists are simply forerunners, minor examples of, the one Antichrist to come - the "Man of Sin" as Paul describes him. So we can see what these little ones are like by looking at the main one - and be prepared for the coming of the main one at the same time.

The Antichrist

(2 Th 2:3-12 NIV) Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. {4} He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. {5} Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? {6} And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. {7} For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. {8} And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. {9} The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, {10} and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. {11} For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie {12} and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

In this passage we see the main characteristics of the Antichrist:

He will exalt himself over God, or anything else that is worshiped. Isn't that characteristic of those who establish a sect? God's word is complete, but they must add to it; they are above God.

He will set himself up in God's Temple. This has a variety of interpretations, but one thing is certain: heresy comes from within the church. This man will come from within the church too.

He will proclaim himself to be God.

He will back up this claim with counterfeit miracles - miracles which will be believed by many.

But right now, he is held back by the power of the Holy Spirit - for a while.

Depending upon your theories on Revelation, you may see this person in many different ways. But this set of clues should be sufficient to identify the real thing when he comes along.

Results

This would sound rather gloomy except for two things:

First, though such deception seems completely "without redeeming social significance," it has a purpose for which God allows it. This deception separates the wicked from the righteous. The wicked, by their willing acceptance of the lie, show themselves to be who they are.

Ultimately, however, the Antichrist is defeated. Such will not happen until the return of our Lord, but note how this defeat is arranged. For our part, we see this Antichrist being overcome by the breath of Christ (the word can also be translated "spirit") - which I take to mean the living word implanted in us, defending us against the evil one. Even more gloriously we see this: he is defeated by the sheer splendor of Christ's return.

Even so, Lord Jesus, come!

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