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TEXT: I John 2:18-27
SUBJECT: I John #7: The Coming of Antichrist
Because I don't want to encourage lying, I won't ask for a show of hands, but.How many of you know that the word, 'Antichrist' does not appear in the books of Daniel or Revelation, and that, where it is does appear, it does not mean a political figure of any kind and cannot mean what we would call an 'End Time Figure'?
These are not my opinions, colored by my theological commitments, but mere statements of fact. The word appears five times in John's first two Epistles, and refers to people already alive and working mischief in the churches near the end of the First Century.
Is Antichrist an End Time Figure? Yes, he is, but the End times are not still future to us, or even future to John, but began with the First Coming of Christ and end with His Second Advent, which could be this afternoon or in a million years. We don't know when the Last Days will end, but we know that-until they do-the Antichrist will be working overtime to see they go his way. They won't go his way-but not for any lack of effort on his part.
The Rule of God came with Christ, and from the beginning, it was a City under siege. The King was tempted and hated, despised, and finally crucified. And He assures us that-
If the world hates me, it will also hate you.
Not because we're all obnoxious jerks (though some of us are), but because the world hates Christ. This is what Antichrist is, literally, Anti-Christ. The opposition takes a variety of forms, but the one John dubs 'Antichrist' is a particular one, a special and demonic way, of opposing Christ and overthrowing the faith of His people. We'll get to this shortly, but let's start where John does, with an address.
He calls his readers, v.18-
A few verses before, he had 'separated the men from the boys', you might say, but now he lumps them all together, but not because he thinks the fathers among them were going through a second childhood spiritually. He knows better than that!
He calls them his Little Children, for the same reason I call my grown-up son, My Baby Boy. It's a term of endearment, a way of reminding them that he's a father to them, that his love is sincere and tender. John is a powerful theologian and an apologist you wouldn't want to meet in debate, but he is also a sweet and loving man. He is keenly interested in doctrine, but not only doctrine. He has kept the personal touch; the human touch.
Before he gets into any 'new material', he reminds them of something they already know, what he and other true preachers have taught them, v.18-
It is the last hour.
This doesn't mean the world is going to end in the next sixty minutes, of course, or even the next ten thousand years. Like the fools who have set dates for the Second Coming, John did not know when Jesus was coming again, but unlike them, he knew he didn't know, and honestly, he didn't care to know. If this knowledge was hidden even from Jesus (when He lived here), John is just fine with not knowing.
Still, he knows it is the last hour because he saw the Kingdom Come with the arrival of our Savior, and, now, because he sees Antichrist working against the Lord's cause.
This should not surprise us. Demon possession is (nearly) unknown in the Old Testament, even when Israel is inviting them it with the worship of Baal and other foreign gods. But with the beginning of our Lord's ministry, the devils come out of the woodwork! All sorts of people are possessed, from the Gadarene man to the Syro-Phonecian's daughter, even our Lord's good friend, Mary Magdalene-
Out of whom He cast seven demons.
If the coming of Christ brings out the best in people, it also brings out the worst-and not just 'in people'. This may be what the angel means in Revelation 12:12-
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth.for the devil has come down, having great wrath, because he knows he has but a short time.
As the Gospel moves out of Israel, into a world once totally controlled by Satan, his servants start working around the clock to keep him in power--and the Gospel in check.
John knows it is the Last Hour, therefore, because both Christ and Antichrist are feverishly at work in the world.
Who is this Antichrist? In the first place, John tells us that there's not just one of them, v.18-
Even now many antichrists have come.
Might there be a leading Antichrist, at that time or some other? I suppose there may be; this could be what he means earlier in v.18 where he might be distinguishing between The Antichrist and many antichrists. Personally, I do not think this is what he means, but it's possible and people much sharper than I do think so. But that's a detail.
John's Big Idea is what the antichrists are doing in the world. He spells that out in vv.19, 22-
They went out from among us because 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 be manifest that they were not of us.
Like so many other verses in the Bible, this one has often been put to a bad use, to vilify people who leave the church, or to be more precise, people who leave our church for some other. This is not what John is saying at all!
What he's saying is made clear down in v.22, where the reason they quit the church is given-
Who is a liar, but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.
The people John has in mind are leaving the churches that confess the Divinity and the Humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ in favor of the Gnostic 'churches', which, as a rule, were denying His full humanity, who said He had not, 4:2-3-
Come in the flesh.
The dear brethren who were so sure that they saw the Antichrist in Napoleon or Hitler or some other political figure, had not read not read their Bibles with enough care. Neither had my beloved Reformers, who sometimes called the Pope Antichrist because-for all we might fault them for-not Pope has ever denied the Orthodox doctrine of Christ!
The Antichrist therefore, is one who denies Christ! The Gnostics typically denied His humanity; today, more people deny His Deity, but whatever the particular error, the spirit of antichrist is heresy, serious error about the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John is so horrified by this teaching, he will not cut the false teachers any slack. He does not think of them as good men who are a bit off here and there (as we all are). He says several unflattering things about them, such as:
They are antichrists, v.17;
Not of us, v.18;
Not of the truth, v.21;
Do not have the Father, v.23;
Do not have eternal life, v.25
If John is no longer the hothead he was when he was young, there must be something terribly wrong with heresy, something so wrong with it that he tears into the heretics with the same rage that he once felt for personal enemies, for the Samaritans, whom he despised as a Jew, hated for their rudeness, and wanted God to destroy with the fire from Heaven!
John is no longer that man. This onetime 'son of thunder' has become the Apostle of Love, a grandfatherly figure in the Church. But he feels no affection for heresy--or the people who spread it. He sees it for what it is: a cancer on the Body of Christ-and not one to 'keep an eye on', (as the doctors sometimes say) but one to cut out--with extreme prejudice.
BACK TO THE PURPOSE
This is what John thinks of heresy, and I can't help wondering if we feel the same way? In today's value system, nothing is more prized that 'tolerance', by which it means, 'approval'. This is a wonderfully democratic idea. If all men are created equal, then everything they believe or say or do or identify with is also equal. Of course, no one really thinks this way! We all know that some beliefs are better than others; and even that some ways of making love should be preferred to others! But, of course, the moment we say this we become the modern version of witches! Or heretics or Communists. Or whatever the times fear and hate.
Being a member of the New Covenant, John does not believe the heretics should be stoned to death, as they would have been in Israel under the Old Covenant, but he also knows that Jesus has given His Church The Keys of the Kingdom, and with these keys, we sometimes need to lock some people out of it. Especially heretics-not people who differ with us on some fine point of ethics-but people who deny the Lord who bought them! John is happy they've left the Church; now he wants the Church to leave them-to quit listening to them, respecting them, thinking over what they say. As Paul said in a slightly different context, Titus 3:10--
The man who is a heretic, after the first and second admonitions, reject.
Now comes the strange part of my sermon. As much time as we've spent 'against the heretics', this passage is not chiefly about them (or even, with what to do with them). What it's mostly about is us, the people who are not heretics, brothers and sisters who sincerely believe in Christ-not every Christ, but the Christ whom John knew and preached. In other words, the Real Christ, the Christ who is, in one Mysterious Person-
The fullness of the Godhead bodily.
Why do we believe in this Christ and not some other? John assures us that it is not because we are smarter than the heretics, or better-educated, or even, by nature better people. We believe in the Jesus of the Bible because, vv.20, 27, we-
Have an anointing from the Holy One.
The Holy One is certainly God (presumably God the Father). He has anointed us-not with oil-but with His Holy Spirit who has-Himself-revealed the True Christ to us. When John says we know all things, of course he doesn't mean, 'We know algebra' (I don't!). He means we have a saving knowledge of Christ. Whether we're as well-versed or articulate as we should be is another question. Not every Christian can explain Christ as well as every other, but whether our words are Shakespearean or stupid(!), we know that the Son of God has become a Man to save us from our sin!
Every Christian knows this! As mixed up as we all are, and as badly taught as some are, we have the Holy Spirit, and, while He lets a lot of things go, He has made sure about this one-
For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
In knowing this-not the verse, but the Son of God who's in the middle of it-we also know God and know that, however dim the resemblance, we belong to His Family.
CLOSE AND APPEAL
Am I a Christian? Of course I am: I'm baptized! I'm a pastor! My parents were saints! These are all good things, but John says they provide no answer to the question. All Christians ought to be baptized, a few ought to be pastors, and-thank God! Some of us have godly parents. But these are not the proofs of belonging to God. For John lays down three others in this chapter. Everyone who belongs to God, he says:
Keeps His commands,
Loves the brethren, and
Believes in Christ.
None of us do any of these things perfectly, and some do better on one than he does the others, but.however imperfect our obedience, love, and faith, we have them.
Because we have the Holy Spirit! Who was given to us as God's way of honoring Christ! The exaltation of Christ did not end with His Resurrection, or even with His Ascension to God's Right Hand. It will, in fact, never end.
And one of the rewards God gave Christ for His victory on the Cross, was to give Him the full use of the Holy Spirit, to do with the Spirit what He wants to do. And what He wants to do with the Spirit, He did on the Day of Pentecost, in pouring Him out on all flesh-men, women, children, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, masters, whomever. His gift of the Spirit includes a New Life for us, lives, far from what they should be (for now), but also lives marked by obedience, brotherly love, and real faith in the Real Christ!
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