This post is not an end-time novel about the eschatological struggle and how everything will play out in history; how the end-time of this earth looks like. But I seek in this post to elaborate and answer questions like: What is an “antichrist”? How is the term used today? What is John talking about when he says in verse 20 “you have been anointed”? In light of 1 John 2:7 (the “old” commandment) what is John doing here in verse 21? What are the secessionists denying in verse 22 and what does that mean? And many more of that kind.
In 2:18 we find an eschatological reference (“the last hour”) which is only found here in the NT. Other eschatological expressions can “refer to the whole period begun by the first coming of Jesus and running through to his final parousia (cf. Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20). In other cases they refer to the last part of that period, just prior to the final parousia (cf. 2 Tim 3:1; Jas 5:3; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 18)” (Kruse, PNTC, 98). It could also be used rhetorically to indicate that they are living in the culmination of the ages.
The term “antichrist” only appears in 1 John 2:18 (2x), 22; 4:3 and 2 John 7. It is interesting to observe that “only in 1 John are antichrist figures identified as erstwhile members of a Christian community” (Kruse, 101). The apostle John does not merely talk about the antichrist, but about antichrists (plural). This should not lead us to the conclusion that the apostle does not believe in an eschatological final antichrist, but that anyone opposed to Jesus Christ is already to be considered as antichrist.
Here (2:19) we can see that the antichrists talked about in v. 18 must have been part of the community of faith at a certain point. They were “members” of the church! The fact that they have left the community shows however, that they never really belonged to the faith community.
What does the term “anointing” in 2:20 point to? Some say the Holy Spirit others say the Gospel/Word of God…or even both. Kruse observes that “[a]part from the one metaphorical use of the verb ‘to anoint’ in Heb 1:9, its consistent use in the NT is in relation to an anointing whose agent is God and whose medium is the Holy Spirit” (103).
In John 6:69 we read” and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” It might very well be that the “Holy One” here refers to Christ. But that the Father is the subject of sending should not be ruled out (cf. John14:26 where the Father is the one who sends and 15:26 both Christ and the Father are sending the Holy Spirit).
There is a textual variant in which it is read that the reader “know all things”. The external evidence is well established for both readings. “The statement, ‘you know all things’ (because you have an anointing from the Holy One), in 2:20 is balanced by the statement ‘the anointing teaches you about all things’in 2:27” (Kruse 103-04). But we need to be careful not to think that teachers in general are not needed anymore. What the author is doing here is to affirm the believers that they do not need anyone to instruct them in the matters of who Christ actually is (see also Jeremiah 31:34 as an echo: “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me”).
Verse 21 reads that John is writing because they know the truth. The author then is not writing for correction but affirmation (see also the purpose statement in 1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life”). The last clause (“and that every lie is not of the truth”) means that “no lie takes its origin from the truth” and further “that no lie belongs to the truth” (Brown, 351). The readership/audience knows the truth, has been established in it, and should therefore continue to walk in it.
In previous statements made by the author we could identify some of the claims made by the secessionist “(they have fellowship with God [1:5]; they have not committed sins [1:8, 10]; they live in God [2:6]; they are in the light [2:9]), but in this verse [i.e., 2:22], for the first time, we encounter a reference to their teaching: they deny that Jesus is the Christ” (Kruse, 104).
How should we understand the claim if they are Christians? Kruse shows three possible interpretations: 1) that the secessionists have once been Christians but are no longer to be considered as such, 2) the secessionists have actually never been true Christians, and 3) “the secessionists are Christians and the denial here is not what it first seems” (Kruse, 105).
They are antichrists and deny the Father and the Son. It is interesting to see that it is not only a denial of the Son, but of the Father as well. Somehow the denial of the Son is a denial of the Father. “The author does not spell out here why this is so, but from statements he makes later in the letter we can infer that the denial of the Son also involves a denial of the Father because: (i) it was the Father who sent his Son (4:10), and (ii) it is the Father who bears testimony to the Son (5:9–10)” (Kruse, 106).
Hence, he who confesses (Louw and Nida defines this word as “to express openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person—‘to profess, to confess, confession’” [33.274]) the Son has the Father also (2:23).
Concerning verse 24 Kruse insightfully comments that “[o]ne of the strategies that the author urges his readers to employ against the influence of the false teachers is to hold on to the very message of the gospel which they heard at the beginning” (107) see also 1 Cor 15:1-11 for the same methodology. We need to hold on to the apostolic tradition and not be swayed by empty philosophies (see also the Colossian correspondence for a similar issue).
2:25 can be understood in light of 1 John 5:11 “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” And verse 20 goes on “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” Here then Jesus Christ himself is identified as eternal life.
In John 5:24-29 the present and future significance of “eternal life becomes clear: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is comingwhen all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
In verse 26 it becomes clear that the secessionist have not only left the church but that they actually do have some kind of influence in or on the faith community. Kruse again, “for the first time in the letter, the author makes quite clear that the readers are being targeted by the secessionists with a view to attracting them to the secessionist teaching, and away from the message which they heard from the beginning” (107-08).
Since the readers however do have the Holy Spirit (2:27) there is no need to listen to those outside the faith community. “[T]he thrust of this verse is that as the Holy Spirit has taught them the truth about Jesus Christ, so the readers are to remain in him (Christ)” (Kruse, 109). They need to cling to the gospel and find their security in him who is able to save them to the uttermost (cf. Hebr 7:25).
Application/Questions for the Church Today:
The love of the world is not in unity with the love for the Father; we need to make sure were our alliance is. John is not an ascetic but he makes clear that where your love is defined by the object. We live in the “last hour” and there are many deceivers! We need leaders in the church who know the Lord and the teaching of God’s Word to guard the sheep. Yet we all have no need to be taught by another who Jesus is, yet it is always good to be reminded by faithful preachers and teachers of what he has done and is doing in our lives via the Holy Spirit.