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. 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. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 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. 22 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. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. 28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
There are few things worse or main painful than a church split. Maybe you have been through a church split. If you have not, be grateful. I thank the Lord that I personally never have. We might define a church split as a serious, major schism in a body of believers resulting in a large number of members leaving the fellowship. It is a grueling thing to go through.
I once had a friend go through a brutal church split. All parties involved were Christians who held to orthodox beliefs. This church was fairly large, but eventually the controversy spilled over into the greater congregation. When it did, all manner of ugliness ensued. There was a business meeting that involved screaming from the floor, accusations of dishonesty and wrongdoing, and the breaking of relationships. In the end, a large number of people left. The church is still there but is now a shell of what it used to be. Only now are some of the wounds beginning to heal.
After the split, it was reported by a member still there that the pastor continued to preach about it long after it happened and to condemn the members who had left. Finally, some of the members still there went and demanded that he let it go and stop addressing it publicly. He had to stop so that healing might begin.
It is a tricky thing talking about church splits. It is tricky because, if you were present for the split, it is hard to remove your own biases and agendas and egos and opinions from the discussion. Furthermore, in the vast majority of cases in our country it would seem that splits rarely occur over things that matter. Sometimes they do. Oftentimes they do not. One sometimes wishes he heard of actually significant splits over the gospel instead of petty splits over silly things.
In our text, John is going to talk about the church split. He does so carefully. What is more, the split that John is going to talk about was anything but petty. The church split over Jesus: who He is, what He has done, and who we are in Him. In fact, in John’s case, he can speak of the split in terms of the party of Christ and the party of antichrist who left, who went out from them. This is very different from our church splits in which we speak of the party of “green carpet” and the party of “red carpet” who went out from them. How absurd!
But, no, in John’s case, the split was a split over the nature of Christ and antichrist. John begins his discussion like this:
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.
Here is the basic divide: “believers” vs. “antichrist.” Put another way, the split John is addressing was between the children of God and the children of the devil.
Our text says, “it is the last hour.” That is a common translation, but it is not a woodenly literal translation. For instance, Edward McDowell points out that John did not actually say, “it is the last hour,” since “there is no definite article with eschate hora.” Therefore, this should literally be read as “a last hour.” “It appears,” he writes,” that John deliberately cloaked his statement with ambiguity by omitting the article in order that he might not be interpreted as predicting the imminent return of Christ.” Furthermore, we can understand “last” as “critical” and read this as John saying, “it was an hour that indeed could be the last hour.”
That is helpful. The events John is describing are events that portend the coming of the end even if they do not speak of the immediacy of the end. We are in the last days, but this may not literally be the last day.
But what of John’s references to “antichrists” in the plural. Only John uses the word and normally he uses it in the singular, “antichrist.” It normally refers to a single figure (or, some argue, a world system) of evil that will mark the coming of the end and the last things. In another church I pastored I had a church member get angry with me for mentioning “antichrists” plural. Fortunately, another member pointed out that this is, in fact, the word John uses. It is important to note that the acknowledgment that “antichrists” existing is not a denial that there will be an antichrist. There will be. So what is John talking about? In short, I agree with John Calvin who wrote that “John simply meant that some particular sects had already arisen that were forerunners of a future Antichrist.” Anything that seeks to undo the work of Christ and pervert a true understand of Christ is antichrist in nature.
What we see in our text is essentially a litmus test to determine who is in the true church, who is really a child of God, and who is not. Many see in 1 John 2 a specifically two-fold test. “To the ethical test (2:1-11),” writes Craig Keener, “John now adds a theological test: they must hold the proper view of Christ.” This is true, but for our approach, we will consider in more general terms the dividing lines that separate the people of God from those in the party of the antichrist.
Dividing Line #1: Unity in the gospel
One of the primary dividing lines between the people of God and the spirit of antichrist is unity in the gospel.
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. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 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.
John speaks first of the departure of the schismatics, those with the deficient view of Christ who troubled the church and departed from the fellowship of the faithful. It is important to note, however, that John is not speaking of unity for unity’s sake. He is not speaking of mere association. On the contrary, he is speaking of unity in the gospel. This is why John speaks of the unity of the remaining faithful as being a unity of the anointed, a unity in the truth.
This is critically important. “All unity,” wrote Jim Belcher in his book Deep Church, “has a doctrinal aspect.” That is true. And all true unity is grounded in the gospel.
Let us be clear: the only legitimate reason for a “church split” (to use our language) is if the purity of the gospel has been violated, as it had been in the case being addressed by John. There are lesser issues that Christians might have differences of opinion on, and in healthy churches there will be patience and understanding on nonessential, non-gospel-related issues. Charles Perrot, a professor of theology in Geneva under Thedore Beza in the 16th century, wrote about this in these terms:
Never assist in condemning any for not agreeing in every point of religion with the established church, so long as they adhere to the fundamentals of Christianity, and are disposed to maintain the peace of the Church, and bear with others their brethren who do not reject the fundamentals of religion, though a little differing from them. For this is the way to avoid schisms, and to arrive at the pious union and tranquility of the Christian Church.
Unity in the gospel is a non-negotiable. We may show patience with differences of opinion on many issues, but never on the truth of the gospel of Christ. If the Church loses the gospel, it loses its most precious possession. Those who abandon the gospel truly abandon the truth of Jesus Christ and His bride. Those who are in Christ are together in Him in the gospel.
Dividing Line #2: The person of Jesus
The second dividing line is the person of Jesus.
22 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. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
The person of Christ is the fundamental dividing line between those who are in Christ and those who are not. To deny that “Jesus is the Christ,” the Messiah sent from God, is to align oneself with the spirit of antichrist. To deny the deity of Christ is to do the very same. Paul defines “antichrist” as “he who denies the Father and the Son.”
The nature of Jesus Christ is no small thing, no mere theological quibble. It is at the heart of the gospel that Christ is God with us. Those who left the early Church did so because they denied the deity of Christ. Many of the proto-gnostics who harassed the Church argued that the Christ-spirit was different from the merely human Jesus and that the Christ-spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism but departed before the cross. Gnosticism was never uniform on these details, but they were uniform in having a deficient view of Jesus. It is all the more alarming, then, to see the same mistaken views present in the Church today. For instance, consider the following from First Things journal:
“Do you believe Jesus is God?” “No,” says Bishop John Spong (Episcopalian) of Newark, but “I do believe something of him was perfectly transparent to God.” (He did not specify which part of Jesus might be transparent.) The statement prompted a reader of the Christian Challenge, which styles itself “The Only Worldwide Voice of Traditional Anglicanism,” to come up with some revised titles for favorite hymns: “Clearer My God Through Thee,” “Glass of Ages, Cleaned for Me,” and “Joyful Joyful, We See Through Thee.” Oh, those Anglicans.
While these responses to Spong’s heresy are humorous, his heresy surely is not. The statement, “I do believe something of [Jesus] was perfectly transparent to God” is not Christianity. That is not the gospel. First Things mentioned yet another troubling example:
The folks up in Albany, New York, have quite a little dispute going. It started with an article in the Evangelist, the diocesan paper, on “Jesus’ Understanding of Himself,” in the course of which Scripture scholar and Evangelist columnist Father Roger Karban opined that in Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus doesn’t become God until his baptism.” Now it’s true that the Mark passage, along with others, was invoked to support the heresy of adoptionism, but one really must wonder what it means that one could “become” God. When it comes to God, it would seem, one either is or isn’t. In response to protesting letters, the editor of the Evangelist issued a pronunciamento in magisterial tones, “Far from being ‘false doctrine,’ Father Karban’s remark was a statement of fact.” So that’s that.
This really is disturbing, for it reveals that the errors condemned by John two millennia ago are still alive and well in the Church today. This also serves as a powerful reminder: each age of the Church must be diligent and faithful in teaching the biblical and orthodox view of Jesus Christ as the divine second person of the Trinity. He was no mere man and, to say so, according to the New Testament, is to align oneself with the spirit of antichrist.
Dividing Line #3: Abiding in Christ
Another dividing line is the line of abiding in Christ. In short, those who persist and abide in Christ are truly His people. Those who are not in the truth and who are not in Christ will not remain in fellowship with the gospel of Christ or with the people of Christ.
24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
“The Greek word for ‘abide’ in 2:24,” writes Robert Lightner, “meno, has in it the idea of allowing the truth embraced to mature them and thus make them stable.” Maturity, stability, endurance: these are the marks of an individual or a church that is abiding in Christ. Jesus used the same image in His famous vine discourse from John 15.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
We must abide in Christ! Our relationship should be one of abiding and fruit bearing. Those who simply claim the name of Christ but do not abide in Him are not truly of Christ.
The imagery that John uses in our text is telling: (a) the truth abides in us and (b) we abide in the Son and the Father. “Abiding” establishes a dividing line. The conditional “if” establishes it. Some abide in the truth and, through it, in Christ. Others reject the truth, either initially or after presumably embracing it. Their inability to abide reveals their lack of true union with Christ and His people. The people of God do not walk away from Jesus or the truth of the gospel.
Dividing Line #4: The Holy Spirit
Another dividing line is the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The people of God have the Holy Spirit. Those aligned with antichrist do not.
26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
Some have questioned whether or not the anointing mentioned by John is the Spirit, is Christ Himself, or is the truth of the gospel. This would appear to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. Recall that Jesus’ synagogue sermon in Nazareth in Luke 4 joins together the ideas of anointing and the Holy Spirit.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Paul’s depiction of the Holy Spirit as a “seal” in Ephesians 1 further enforces this idea.
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Paul’s linking of the Holy Spirit with the Church’s acceptance of “the word of truth” sounds very similar to John’s idea that we are taught the truth through the anointing of God. This points clearly to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26, Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Simply put: those who are truly in Christ have been anointed by and sealed in the Spirit of God. Those who are not in Christ have not been so anointed and sealed.
Dividing Line #5: Confident expectation
Finally, another dividing line is the confident expectation the children of God have for the return of Jesus.
28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
Jesus’ Church anticipates Jesus’ return with confidence and without fear. Paul argued that the second coming of Christ was an encouragement to the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4.
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Yes, “encourage one another with these words.” The return of Christ is not an encouraging thought to those who have rejected Him or to those who have twisted His teachings or taught falsely about who Christ is. To the Church, however, it is the ultimate encouragement! Christ is coming again! This confident expectation can also be seen in the closing words of the Bible in Revelation 22.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul uses the Aramaic word maranatha, which means, “Oh Lord, come!”
22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!
This cry for the Lord’s return speaks of the love we have for Christ as well as the confident expectation that when He comes He will receive us as His people and not judge us as His enemies. This is why the Church looks forward to the return of Christ and those who reject Christ do not. Michael Card captured this confident expectation of the return of Christ beautifully in his song, “Marantha.”
Maranatha is a cry of the heart
That’s hopeful yet weary of waiting
While it may be joyful with the burdens it bears
It’s sick with anticipating
To long for the Promised One day after day
And the promise that soon He’d return
It’s certain that waiting’s the most bitter lesson
A believing heart has to learn
How many more moments must this waiting last
Maranatha, we long for the time when all time is past
A commotion, a call then that will be all
Though it’s not yet the hour
The minutes are ticking away
Maranatha is the shout of the few
Who for so long in history’ve been hiding
Who truly believe that the sound of that call
Might actually hasten His coming
For no eye has seen and no ear has yet heard
And no mind has ever conceived
The joy of the moment when He will appear
To the wonder of all who believe
Maranatha, how hungry we are just to see Your face
Parousia, to finally fall in one long embrace
A commotion, a call and that will be all
Though it’s not yet the hour
The minutes are ticking away
Here are the dividing lines between the people of God and those aligned with antichrist. We must search our own hearts and minds and ask ourselves whether or not we are truly in Christ. If we are, we must love and guard the truth, proclaiming it faithfully and passionately and watching with eager anticipation for the return of our Savior and King.
 Edward A. McDowell, 1-2-3 John. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clifton J. Allen. Vol. 12 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), p.203-204.
 John Calvin, 1,2,3 John. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Eds., Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), p.42.
 Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.739.
 Jim Belcher, Deep Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books), p.53.
 Richard John Neuhaus. “While We’re At It.” First Things. December 1994.
 Robert Lightner, The Epistles of First, Second, Third John & Jude. Twenty-First Century Biblical Commentary Series. Gen. Eds. Mal Couch and Ed Hinson. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), p.38.