1 John 2:18-28, “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.[a] 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[b]—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.”
John has already laid out the “moral” (vv.3-6) and “love” (vv.1-11) tests of genuine belief; he now presents the third, the “doctrinal test.” If the truth about Christ “Abides” in us (v.24a), we will “abide in God” (v.24b) and thus have full “confidence” that we are in a right relationship with him when Christ returns (v.28). The specific truth we are called to “Abide” in is “that Jesus is the Christ” (v.22); John 15:4-7). There are, John warns, “antichrists” who deny this.
The word “antichrist” evokes John’s language in the book of Revelation of the end times and the great enemies of God’s redemptive plan who appear there; and yet John says that there are “antichrists” among us now. In one sense we are already in the “last hour” because the Christ, to whom the Old Testament prophets pointed as Israel’s final hope has already come (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20). In this context the false teachers against whom John cautions believers are “antichrists.” They’re against Christ because they deny that Jesus is the Christ. These false teachers, by denying “the Son,” also deny “the Father” (1 John 2:22), because of the full identity of life and purpose shared by the Father and Son (v.23; 1:2). This “life” shared by the Father and the Son, is the very life “manifested” to us in Christ (1:2), “proclaimed” to us in the gospel (1:3), and “promised” to all who believe (2:25). It is precisely because Jesus is the Christ that our belief in him assures us of eternal life (John 3:36; 5:24). As John will say later I this letter in 1 John 5:11-12, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.”
John’s antichrist is a Christological rebel. In 2nd John 7 we read, “for many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 1 John 4:2-3 states, “2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” Then in our passage in 1 John 2:22 we read, “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” and in verse 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.”
There are only four times in the Bible that the word antichrist is used and you just read them all. The small number of references does not mean that the antichrists in the world are not a force to be reckoned with, or that the coming antichrist is not perhaps the same powerful and diabolical figure as the beast in Revelation 13:1-10 and the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. In “the last hour” that period between Pentecost and the Second Coming the church is under siege.
From Cerinthus in the second century to Joseph Smith in the nineteenth, from the earliest Arians to Jehovah’s Witnesses today, Muslims deny Jesus as the Son, and Christians should not be offended to see those major religions under the antichrist categories or to say that we must “fight” a real spiritual battle with them. The enemy is obvious but not easily overcome.
As John relays in 1 John 2:19, some have been captured and lead away, “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.”
Here we are told about the false teacher’s departure. John speaks of a schism within the church. Any division within Christ’s visible body is sad but in this case John reassures those who remain it is necessary and beneficial to the overall health of the body. As Simon Kistemaker calls it, “Believers belong; denies depart”. The believers (us) belong (remain in apostolic community); deniers (they) depart (leave the communion of the saints). The apostate antichrists who were once members of the visible church, seceded from it, “They went out from us.” Their secession only revealed their true nature. They departed because they had never been united to Christ through a Spirit-wrought living and enduring faith.
We should be discouraged if people leave our fellowship after being with us for years because the church is not meeting their needs, because their favorite hymns are not sung often enough, or sermons are too long, or because of some other superficial reason. And we should weep over gullible but genuine Christians who temporarily leave the apostolic fellowship because they are deceived. But we should not grieve for the church when wolves come in and steal wolves. True sheep abide in the Good Shepherd; true sheep stay safely within the gates of the apostolic testimony. Put different, the anointed abide in the Anointed.
Set against those who deceive, deny, and departure- we the anointed abide in the Anointed. The word anoint us is used three times and the word abide is used six times. But it is not the word count that matters so much as the message, namely that Christians abide in the Anointed One by means of their anointing.
The Greek word Christos means “anointed,” also translated “Christ,” as in “Jesus the Christ” or “Christians” In 1 John 2:20 when John is transitioning from those who are antichrists in verse 18-19, he uses this play on words. He writes, “but you have been anointed.” Later in verse 27, he speaks of “the anointing that you have received.” Our God given anointing enables our true confession of Jesus as the Christ. To be a Christian is to be christened into Christ.
In the Bible to anoint someone has to do with setting someone apart for a special purpose. Such anointing was the privilege of the chosen few—priests, prophets, and kings. These offices were fulfilled by Christ and now this priestly, prophetic, and kingly anointing (1 John 4:2).
John here is speaking of Spirit baptism. We have been “Anointed by the Holy One” (1 John 2:20). God is called “the Holy One” in the Old Testament (Psalm 71:22) and Jesus receives this same time in the New Testament (Rev. 3:7). It is most likely that “the Holy One he references the Holy Spirit. What John says here is similar of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, “ And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
This anointing has little to do with whether the presence or power of God exudes from us. Rather, it has to do with the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth. The anointing in this context is more cognitive than expressive. As 1 John 2:20 begins, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One,” so it ends “and you have all knowledge.” Verse 27 similarly ties the anointing to truth-thinking and teaching, “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.” This verse does not mean that Christians automatically understand astrophysics. It also does not imply that we should fire the pastor and cancel all Sunday school classes, for after all, John as a God-appointed teacher (Eph. 4:12) is instructing the church in this very verse. Rather, it means that Christians who are indwelt by the Jesus-sent Spirit do not need anyone to teach them anything new or beyond what they learned about the basics of Christianity from the apostles “from the beginning” (1 John 2:24).
When we recite the Apostles’ Creed in church, we should see it as an external defense mechanism against heresies. For example if for years, you have recited, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” who on “the third day… rose against from the dead,” and then some antichrist comes on the History Channel and denies that claim, the heresy alarm goes off. That’s wrong! The anointing, by contrast, is our internal defense mechanism! It is a personal God-given knowledge that helps us discern truth from error.
Christian “you have been anointed by the Holy One” (1 John 2:20). It is by means of that divine anointing that we are called to “Abide in him” (vs.27). Every book of the New Testament is filled with this idea of abiding, commonly called perseverance or in Reformed circles the perseverance of the saints. For example in His earthly ministry Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). In His heavenly ministry, the exalted Christ issues the same call. In Revelation 3:11, he says to the church then and now, “I am coming. Hold fast to what you have.” The apostle John teaches much the same here. Five times he calls us to “abide” or “remain” or to put it thematically “to endure”.
“Endurance is the hall-mark of the saved” is how John Stott correctly summarizes this section.[i] It is not enough to say that we once believed it is necessary that we continue to believe. It is not enough merely to have heard and assented to the message in times past. The message must continue to be present and active in our lives. Future and final perseverance is the ultimate test of genuine participation in the life of Christ. If one does not abide, it is a sure sign that one has not been anointed. For those anointed by the Spirit abide in Christ and in the truth.
As important as it is to emphasize and celebrate how people get into the kingdom, we ought to be just as emphatic and celebratory when people remain under Christ’s Lordship for life. Who rejoices in the runner who starts the marathon but does not finish the marathon? We must “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). With a “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on, we are to start and finish well. We are to swerve from those on one side who hold out the false poison of false religion and those on the other side who offer an easy alternative route through the worldly neighborhoods of idolatry and immorality (1 Cor. 10:1-13; 1 John 2:15-17). Instead, we are to keep the middle way as we hold fast to the confession (Hebrews 4:14) of Jesus as the Christ and Son of God.
We all know someone who has left the church. We all know someone who has shipwrecked their faith. Do you fear doing the same? Most of us don’t. In the closing line of his poem “A Hymn to God the Father, John Donne wrote, “I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore.”[i]
It is difficult to know whether Donne’s “sin” that he fears that he will fail Christ or that Christ will fail him. If the latter, it is indeed a sinful anxiety for Christ will never fail us (John 6:3-40; John 10:28). But if the former, then Donne’s “sin of fear” might at times be a virtue, for as Hebrews 4:1 says, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” Do you have a healthy fear of being stranded on the shore of this fallen world and passing away world? I hope we all do. But I also hope- a hope that is more in line with the apostle’s John thinking here—that we are of good cheer because we know that perseverance is possible because God is with us. We remain in the race because the Spirit abides in us. God is the author and perfecter of our salvation. The Holy One who saved us is also the One who is saving us and will save us.
Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” God’s sovereign and inseparable love in Christ (Romans 8:38-39) will guard us until the end (2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 1:3-5). Because of God’s unchanging character, unwavering promises, and enduring power, we can be assured that God will bring his saving to completion (Phil 1:6). The Lord who as effectually called us into saving faith will preserve his preserving saints. Those anointed abide in the Anointed. Know it. Believe it. Live it. Rest assured of it.
1 John 2:18 begins, “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.” Verse 25 reads, “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” We live, as John lived, “in the last hour.” Again, that phrase does not literally mean the final sixty minutes of world history, or John wouldn’t have penned the phrase in the first place. The phrase means the time between Jesus’ giving of the Spirit at Pentecost and his return at the end of the world (Acts 2:17; 1 Peter 1:20).
Between those two points in time, we live in a fallen world and frightening world. It is crawling with the lusts of the flesh and eyes and heart. It is filled with those who oppose or try to take the place of King Jesus. One way to survive such a world is to have an otherworldly vision.
The word last in 1 John 2:18 is eschate, from which we get words such as eschatological. We live in the last hour or last days. And because “the time has been shortened” (1 Corinthians 7:29 NASB) to borrow a phrase from Paul, we should not dream of our earthly continuance—as though we will live here forever. Rather, we should abide in the Lord until we go to be with him, or he comes down to be with us in final judgment and salvation. The time is at hand. We live every hour in the last hour. What would you do if you knew that Jesus was returning today? Would you think differently? Would you live differently? Live that way now!
Related to that eschatological vision is “the promise that he made to us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25). The shadow of death hangs over us all, but some of us are blind to it. Death has been dressed up and buried from our sight. In the ancient world, everyone knew the reality of death and feared it. For example, writing to his friend Lucilus near the time that John penned his first epistle, the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life.”[ii]
Like all other New Testament authors, the Gospel writers were also aware of the fears that occupied the general populace. For example, in mark’s Gospel, think of the hurting people who came to Jesus:
A man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-28); a woman with a fever (1:29-31); a leper in his uncleanness (1:40-45; a paralytic (2:1-10); a man with a withered hand (3:1-6); a man with a legion of demons who lives among the tombs (5:1-10); a synagogue official, Jairus, whose twelve-year-old daughter is dying (5:21-23) and then dead (5:35-43); a woman who had been bleeding for as long as the girl had been alive (5:24-34); a Greek woman whose daughter was troubled with a demon (7:24-30); a death man with stumbling speech (7:31-37); a blind man who lived in Bethsaida (8:22-26); a father and son, severely afflicted by a spirit that had troubled the boy since childhood and had often tried to kill him (9:14-29); another blind man, by the name Bartimaeus (10:46-52).[iii]
Those thirteen people do not symbolized a few unlucky souls but everyone who lives under the curse of death. In Mark’s Gospel as well as Matthew’s Luke’s, and John’s, the message is one of ultimate hope: that the fear of death can be cast aside only by “faith in the one who can raise the dead” because he has conquered death. One window into the gospel—the good news!—is the story of the raising of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived too late to save Lazarus, John 11:21-26 tells us, “21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
How long “is never”? Jesus offers “Eternal life” in him. “Do you believe this?” is the question he posed to Martha in John 11:26. I pose it now to you. Do you believe and live like you believe in the promise of eternal life in Jesus. Can you answer, as she did (and as John 1 John 2:18-27 wants us to): “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27). That confession in that person pulls out the sting and rolls away the stone of death. In a world were anti-Christian teachers who have departed from the church seek to deceive us by denying the truth, our only (and eternal!) hope is to abide in the Anointed One by means of our anointing.
[i] John R.W. Stott, The Epistles of John An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976), 105
[ii] Seneca (Epistle, 4:6) quoted in peter G. Bolt, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 41.
[iii] Bold, The Cross from a Distance, 38
[i] John Donne, A hymn to God the Father,” in the Complete English Poems, Penguin Classics London: Penguin, 1996), 349