Discipleship Bible Study on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John

3. Antichrists, Anointing, and Abiding (1 John 2:18-27)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (20:00)

St. John, Lindisfarne Gospels, folio 209
Lindisfarne Gospels, Folio 209 (late 7th century), Northumbria, British Library, London.
The church at Ephesus and elsewhere in Asia Minor had been wounded by a group of people who turned out to be enemies of Christ. For a while they blended in with the Christian community in an attempt to subvert it. But apparently their true colors had been exposed and together they left the church.

In the previous verse, John observed that the world is passing away. Here, he notes that this is "the last hour." Jesus had taught about the perils of this time period, when

"False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect -- if that were possible." (Mark 13:22)

These end times are upon us, says John, as evidenced by the false teachers you've seen in your own assembly. John frames his teaching in almost cosmic language -- antichrists, anointing, and abiding. In this lesson we'll explore each of these terms and consider their implications for our own time.

Antichrists in the Church (2:18)

"18 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. (2:18)

The term "antichrist" is widely used by teachers of prophecy in our time, though the actual word occurs only in John's letters -- 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7. "Antichrist" (a transliteration from the Greek word antichristos, means literally "adversary of the Messiah."1

In the apocalyptic literature of the Bible we see various mentions of a figure who will appear in the end times as an opponent of God and his Messiah.

  • Daniel seems to refer to this antichrist figure as "the ruler who will come" (Daniel 9:26a) and who will set up in the temple "an abomination that causes desolation" (Daniel 9:27).
  • Jesus warns, "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,'spoken of through the prophet Daniel," you are to flee (Matthew 24:15).
  • Paul seems to be referring to this same antichrist figure as "the man of lawlessness" who will set himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Paul insisted that this figure has not yet appeared on the world scene (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
  • Revelation refers to the antichrist figure as the "beast coming out of the sea" (Revelation 13:1), who acts as a puppet of Satan (13: 4), makes war against Christian believers (13:7), and causes the unbelievers to worship him (13:8).

This figure may also be represented by other prophecies in Daniel and Revelation -- we're not trying to be exhaustive here.

John affirms that "the antichrist is coming" -- that is, not yet revealed. However, "even now many antichrists have come" (1 John 2:18). These enemies of Christ that have been in the church are not the antichrist who is to come, but they have been influenced by "the spirit of the antichrist" (4:3), in the same way that Paul had taught that "the secret power of lawlessness is already at work" (2 Thessalonians 2:7), even though the man of lawlessness had not been revealed.

This antichrist activity in the church seems to have been two-fold, as we mentioned in the Introduction -- false doctrine that denied that Jesus was God in the flesh and immoral behavior unbecoming of Christians.

Q1. (1 John 2:18) What is this antichrist that John expects to come? What is the difference between the antichrist and antichrists in the church John is writing to? In what ways do we see the spirit of antichrist at work in our day?
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The Enemies Leave the Church (2:19)

Fortunately, this threat from the false teachers is now an external one, no longer internal, since they had left the church in a schism.

"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." (2:19)

John is writing to reassure a wounded church that the departure of these members was a healthy thing for the Christian community, not a tragedy at all.

There are churches in our day that are torn by strife between two factions. One of these is often led by power-brokers whose families have controlled the congregation for decades. When one of these powerful leaders leaves and takes his followers with him, the congregation is shocked, dismayed, shattered. But what can occur is what preachers sometimes call a "backdoor revival." Now that the opponents have gone, the church can unite and move together in the direction the Holy Spirit is leading them.

That doesn't mean that we should be labeling opposing church factions as followers of the antichrist -- though, in the case in John's letters, they were. It does mean, however, that we can sometimes see the blessing in opposing factions leaving.

This verse is sometimes used to support a teaching that all those fall away from Christ weren't true Christians in the first place. As you can see, John is referring to a specific, historical incident of a heretical group leaving the congregation. It isn't good Bible interpretation to try to push the teaching of this verse beyond its intended meaning.

An Anointing from the Holy One (2:20-21)

So John reassures the congregation that this exodus of the heretics is a good thing. His second reassurance concerns the presence of the Holy Spirit to lead and to guide them.

"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." (2:20-21)

"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." (1 John 2:26-27)

"Anointing" (NIV, NRSV), "unction" (KJV) is chrisma, "oil for anointing, unguent," thus "anointing."2

In Old Testament times, pouring oil over the head symbolized God's empowering of an individual.3 In the Bible, kings, high priests, priests, and occasionally prophets were anointed. Sacred objects in the temple were anointed to dedicate them to God.

Anointing and the Holy Spirit

Anointing is closely related to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The first time we see this is at the anointing of David to be King. Jesse brings his youngest son before the Prophet Samuel:

"Then the LORD said, 'Rise and anoint him; he is the one.'So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power." (1 Samuel 16:12-13)

At Jesus'baptism, "the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form" (Luke 3:22). Later, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert...." (Luke 4:1). At the conclusion of his tempting in the wilderness, he went to Nazareth. In the synagogue he was handed the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah and he selected this passage to read:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18, quoting Isaiah 61:1)

This Holy Spirit anointing is St. Peter's understanding of Jesus'power. At the house of Cornelius, Peter explained:

"... How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:38)

Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He is also the One who pours out the Holy Spirit on his people (John 15:26; 16:7).

So when John speaks of the "anointing" in 1 John, he is obviously speaking about the Holy Spirit that each member of the congregation had received.

Q2. (1 John 2:20-21) What is the "anointing" that John is talking about? In what way is anointing connected to the Holy Spirit in the Bible? Do you think that each Christian has received this anointing?
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The Holy Spirit Teaches and Leads into Truth

In our passage, John explains that the "anointing" guides the believers into truth. Functionally, we call this "teaching":

"But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth." (2:20)

"His anointing teaches you about all things." (2:27)

This is strongly reminiscent of Jesus'own teaching in the Paraclete passages in John 14-16, where the Holy Spirit is referred to as the "Comforter," "Counselor," or "Helper" (Greek paraklētos) and as "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16; 15:26), that is, the Spirit who brings truth. Jesus gives these promises of the Spirit's work in us:

"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)

"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me." (John 15:26)

John is saying that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believers'lives, "the anointing," has alerted them to the false doctrine of the antichrist faction. The Holy Spirit has exposed the falsehood of their opponents'position and pointed to the truth of the true faith.

Q3. (1 John 2:20, 27) In what ways is the Holy Spirit an internal Guide for us? In what ways does he teach us? In what ways does he point us to Jesus'teaching?
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Denying the Father and the Son (2:22-23)

Now John reveals a bit of the heresy that the antichrist group had been propagating:

"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 has4 the Father also." (2:22-23)

This group seems to have denied that the human Jesus was the divine messiah. In chapter 4 (where we'll discuss this further), John clarifies this:

"Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist" (4:2-3)

This appears to be a form of Docetism that we explained in the Introduction. Influenced by a strong Greek dualism -- flesh is bad, spirit is good -- they held that someone in the flesh couldn't be divine. Since Christ was divine, then he only "seemed" or "appeared" to be in a human body.

John asserts that "No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also" (2:23). The antichrist group may claim that they believe in the Father, but since they deny the Son -- and the Father and Son are one -- then they aren't true believers in the Father. We'll consider this in greater detail in Lesson 6 on 4:2-3.

Remaining in the Father and Son (2:24-25)

"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." (2:24-25)

John exhorts his readers to adhere to the teaching they had originally received and not desert it for a "progressive" gospel. John has said this before (2:7; 2 John 5). Paul, too, had to urge his followers to reject any "different gospel" than the one they had originally been taught (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-9). Jesus exhorted his disciples: "hold to my teaching" (John 8:31).

Notice the word "remain/remains" (NIV), "abide/abides" (NRSV, KJV) in verse 25. The word is menō, "remain, stay, continue, abide."5 The word is reminiscent of Jesus'teaching as recorded in John's Gospel. Jesus spoke of "remaining" or "abiding" in him, the true Vine:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7, NRSV)

At the end of chapter 2, John gives this exhortation:

"... Just as [the anointing] has taught you, remain in him. And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming." (2:27b-28)

The Apostle warns us against drifting, against taking our faith for granted in such a way that we no longer seek daily to stay in touch with Jesus, to faithfully abide in him.

Q4. (1 John 2:24-28) What does it mean to abide/remain/continue in Jesus? Give an example of what a Christian might be doing who is "abiding" in Jesus. What are symptoms in a Christian who is not "abiding" in Jesus?
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His Anointing Teaches You (2:26-27)

John concludes this lesson by encouraging his readers to trust the Holy Spirit who is leading and teaching them:

"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 counterfeit6 -- just as it has taught you, remain in him." (2:26-27)

If the Holy Spirit teaches us, do we need human teachers? Is John telling us to reject teachers altogether and rely solely on the Spirit. No.

Discipleship Lessons from John's Letters, e-book or paperback book
The study is available as a free e-mail Bible study, or as an e-book or paperback book at a modest cost.

His readers are to reject the antichrist group that is attempting to spread their heresy and oppose the group's teaching of "deeper truths" of God. John is saying: You have the Holy Spirit who will remind you of what Jesus taught and who will lead you. You don't need the false teachers.

However, we must not be arrogant in our ignorance. Among other gifts, God has placed in the church "teachers," whose job it is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). We receive from godly teachers and their essential ministry. But we must not rely on them to feed us or we starve. Rather, as we mature, we turn to the Holy Spirit to nurture and sustain us in Christ.

Q5. (1 John 2:26-27) If we have the Holy Spirit, why do we need teachers in the church? How does the role of the anointing differ from the Holy Spirit's spiritual gift of teaching?
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In this lesson John teaches us to discern false teachers, to trust actively in the Holy Spirit to teach us and to guide us, and to remain or abide in Jesus our Savior. Our safety and security are bound up in Christ. Hang in there, my brother, my sister!

Prayer

Thank you, Father, for the gift of the Holy Spirit that you have given me. Help me to understand how this "anointing" works in me. Help me to abide in you -- always. In Jesus'name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"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." (1 John 2:18)

"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." (1 John 2:27)

Notes

Abbreviations

1. Antichristos, BDAG 91; The Greek word "antichristos" is made up of two words: the prefix anti-, "acting in the place of" and "opposed to" + christos, "Christ." See also Duane F. Watson, "Antichrist," DLNT 50-53.

2. Chrisma, BDAG 109.  Distinguish between the Greek chrisma, "anointing" and charisma, "gift." They are not related words in Greek.

3. F. Hesse, chriō, ktl., TDNT 9:496-509. The Hittites anointed their kings. In Egypt the king anointed high officials. The vassal princes of Syria and Canaan were anointed and priesthood was at times associated with anointing.

4. On the concept of "having" the Father and the Son, see Lesson 7 on 5:12.

5. Menō, BDAG 631, 1aβ.

6. Alēthēs means "truthful, righteous, honest," then, by extension, "pertaining to being real, genuine, not imaginary" (BDAG 43, 3).

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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