In the epistle of John, the apostle is writing to counter the false teachings of the Gnostics, but also to encourage the brothers and sisters left behind when the Gnostics had left the ecclesia. The table below shows the structure of the epistle. This article will finish the last few verses of the “Love and Hate” theme highlighted orange and will also cover the verses on “Truth and Error” that are highlighted.

God is Light (1:5) Born of God (2:29)
(God is Life)
God is Love (4:8)
Righteousness and Sin 1:5-2:2 2:29-3:10 5:16-17
Love and Hate 2:3-17 3:10-24 4:7-5:3
Truth and Error 2:18-28 4:1-6 5:4-13

 

I write unto you…I have written unto you

Chapter 2 verses 12-14 are transitional verses. They recap on the previous parts of the epistle and introduce the subsequent verses about loving not the world (2:15-17). The familiar pattern of contrasts and ‘threes’ is evident in the structure as shown in the table below.

v12 – I write unto you, little children, v13c – I have written (Gk) unto you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.

(Referring to 1:6–2:2)

because ye have known the Father.
v13a – I write unto you, fathers, v14a – I have written unto you, fathers,
because ye have known him that is from the beginning.

(Referring to 2:3-11)

because ye have known him that is from the beginning.
v13b – I write unto you, young men, v14b – I have written unto you, young men,
because ye have overcome the evil one.

(“one” is not in the text)

(Introducing 2:15-17)

because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.

(“one” is not in the text)

Three groups in the ecclesia are addressed: little children (a term of endearment referring to the ecclesia as a whole, Gal 4:19); fathers (the elders), and young men. Three times there is “I write unto you” and three times “I have written unto you” (in v13c, the KJV “I write unto you” should read, “I have written unto you”.).

The “I have written” statements appear to refer to some prior writing of John, perhaps the gospel of John.

The three “I write unto you” statements are three of the reasons for John writing this epistle. (But they’re not all the reasons—for example, 1:4 “that your joy may be full”, and 2:1 “that ye sin not”.) So, what is the purpose of these “I write unto you” statements? They give the essence of what John has been saying up to this point, and what he is about to say.

The first “I write unto you” statement is “because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake”. This is the essence of the section on sin and righteousness (1:6–2:2), which concludes with the “he is the propitiation for our sins”. The key implication in that section is that those who had left the ecclesia could not experience that gift of forgiveness.

The second “I write unto you” statement addressed to fathers is “because ye have known (ginosko) him that is from the beginning”. They had really known (ginosko) the Father—as distinct from the false claims of the Gnostics who boasted in their special knowledge (gnosis) of God. This phrase takes us back to the essence of 2:3-11, which starts with “hereby we do know that we know him”—that is, we really know him.

The third “I write unto you statement” is “because ye have overcome the evil one”. (The word “one” should be deleted, it is not in the Greek text.) The “evil” is a reference to the three evil lusts of human nature, which is about to be covered in verses 15-17. Whilst they were no doubt aware that the victory over the flesh is a life-time struggle, to some extent they had triumphed over the baser evils of their nature through the power of the Word of Truth (v14).

Love not the world v15-17

Verses 15-17 conclude the “Love and Hate” theme (see the structure table on the previous page). Whereas verses 3-11 were about knowing God and loving the brothers and sisters, verses 15-17 are about what they should not love—that is, what they should hate.

Verse 15 – Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Our flesh is naturally inclined to love the world, because the world is based on the satisfaction of fleshly desires. In 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul writes that “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world”. If Demas, who worked so closely with the Apostle Paul can forsake the Truth for the world, there is a danger that we too can be drawn away by its influences.

John not only says do not love the world, but adds, “neither the things that are in the world”. What a danger that is for us in our materialistic age. We might have nothing to do with the lewd entertainments of the world, or its sordid vices, but we can get caught up in the pursuit of “the things of the world”—the wealth and possessions of the world, the toxic philosophies of the world and the attendant permissiveness of the age. As James cautioned us: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

The three lusts

Verse 16 – For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Here John lists the three main illicit lusts that spring from our fallen nature, which in turn become the source of temptation. The table below shows that these three lusts match the temptations of Eve and the temptations of Christ. Eve succumbed to these temptations. Christ overcame them. Eve failed to believe God’s Word, whilst Christ brought the Word of God to bear so that each temptation was rebutted and dismissed. How important it is for our minds and hearts to be full of the Word so that we too can resist temptation.

1 John 2:16 Temptation of Eve

(Gen 3:6)

Temptation of Christ
(Luke 4:1-13)
Lust of the flesh Good for food Turn stones into bread to satisfy hunger
Lust of the eyes Pleasant to the eyes Offered the power and glory of the kingdoms of world
Pride of Life Desired to make one wise To impress the people by safely landing after jumping off the pinnacle of the temple

Truth and Error

Chapter 2 verses 18-28 is a continuation of the “God is Light” section of the epistle. However, the theme changes from “Love and Hate” to “Truth and Error” (see the table at the beginning of this article). John is going to show that resistance to errors of doctrine is as necessary as resistance to unrighteousness in living. In verses 18-23 John makes it plain that the teaching and way of life of the Gnostics involve serious errors and cannot be accepted. In verses 24-28 John encourages those that have remained after the Gnostics have departed to abide in the Truth, and thereby they will abide in the love of the Father and the Son.

Rejecting Error

John does not mince his words in relation to the error of the Gnostics. They are Antichrist! The seriousness of which we will come to shortly.

Verse 18 – Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

John’s reference to “the last time” has caused some to think John believed Christ would return any moment, but that is not the case. The diagram below identifies the three “ages” referred to in Scripture1—the Antediluvian, the Jewish and the Millennial. The period from the destruction of the temple in AD70 to the return of Christ is referred to as the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24 – Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled).

John is writing around AD90, and because this is after AD70 he is writing during the Times of the Gentiles. He refers to this as the “last time” because it is the final period before Christ’s return. There was a sense, too, that the phrase referred to the final days in which the spirit gifts were made available.

Antichrist

The four references to antichrist in the Bible are in the epistles of John: 1 John 2:18 (this verse); 2:22; 4:3, and 2 John 7. These references identify the teaching of the Gnostics (that Jesus Christ “did not come in the flesh”) as the teaching of antichrist (see the first article on the Gnostic teaching). By the 4th century the teaching that Christ had not come in the flesh had morphed into the doctrine of the Trinity, and the antichrist movement in turn had transformed itself into the Papacy and the Catholic Church.

Not surprisingly the Papacy has tried to dodge being identified as antichrist. This is why they came up with an interpretation of antichrist as being a powerful latter-day Jew, who will appear on the world stage just prior to Christ’s return. The Protestant churches originally rejected this doctrine, but in recent decades have changed and now accept this teaching on antichrist. Tragically they will identify the returned Jesus Christ as antichrist.

John’s strident opposition to the antichrist movement was certainly justified given its later development into the Catholic Church and its deception of billions of people down through time. We do well to emulate John’s passionate opposition to wrong doctrine in our day. If Brother Roberts had not dealt with the wrong doctrines of partial inspiration, clean flesh atonement and atonement for nature, Christadelphians may well have lost the Truth completely.

The Gnostics have left

Verse 19 – They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

As discussed in the first article, this verse refers to the Gnostics withdrawing from the ecclesia. Those left behind may be suffering regrets that things hadn’t been handled better and regrets that division had occurred. John, however, sees the departure of the Gnostics as a positive indication that “they all are not of us” (NASB); just as Judas leaving from the last supper showed that he was not of Christ’s true disciples.

Anointing and knowledge

Verses 20-21 – But ye have an unction (Gk: chrisma = anointing) from the Holy One, and ye know (Gk: oida) all things. I have not written unto you because ye know (Gk: oida) not the truth, but because ye know (Gk: oida) it, and that no lie is of the truth.

To be inducted into the Gnostic sect required being anointed (Gk: chrisma) with oil. Gnostics made much of the connection between the word chrisma (anointing) and the word Christos or Christ (meaning anointed) to justify the importance they placed on being anointed with Christ. Further, the Gnostics taught that this induction by anointing bestowed upon themselves a special mystical knowledge, or gnosis, and this anointed enlightenment was more important than baptism.

But John states in verse 20 that those that hold the Truth have an anointing (KJV “unction”) too. He repeats this thought in verse 27:

But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

John is indicating that those who held the Truth in his day had an anointing, but not from the leaders of the Gnostic sect. Their anointing was derived from the work of Christ and consisted of a much superior anointing involving the Holy Spirit (cp 2 Cor 1:21). He describes this anointing as coming from “the Holy One”; a term used to describe Christ (see Acts 3:14). It is a term emphasising Christ’s holiness—in contrast to the unholiness and immorality of the Gnostic leaders who performed anointings.

John is making another important point in verses 20-21. He uses a different word for “know”. He doesn’t use the word gnosis (meaning experiential knowledge) which was the catchcry of the Gnostics, but uses the word oida, which means to understand or perceive. John’s point is that those that hold the Truth have the correct and perceptive understanding of the Truth, in contrast to those false teachers who claimed a superior, experiential and mystical knowledge based on error.

There seems to be another class of false brethren mentioned in verses 22-23: Who is a (Gk: the) liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. This group of people refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah despite the evidence presented in the gospel of John (John 20:31).

Abiding in Christ v24-28

John concludes this section on Truth and Error with an appeal to his readers to abide in the Truth and not be drawn away by the falsehoods of the Gnostics.

Verse 24 (NASB) – As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.

The “beginning”, is the beginning of the preaching of the gospel. The word “abide” means to remain or dwell permanently and carries the idea of a settled existence. John is exhorting his readers to remain in the Truth of the gospel they had received at the beginning and not to be swayed by the Gnostics. The repetition of the word “abide” is an allusion to the Lord’s discourse on the true vine in John 15, where he uses the word “abide” 11 times in seven verses. Here are three verses from that discourse: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (v4-6)

The Lord gave this discourse after Judas had left and John is drawing his readers to these words of the Lord after the Gnostics have left. The message that Christ taught here, and which John wants his readers to heed, is the need to abide in the Christ vine and to bring forth fruit (the fruit of the spirit). The Gnostics did not abide in Christ and therefore could not bring forth fruit. They were branches that had been cast off and were ready to be burned.

These words are full of comfort and assurance to those that remain in the Truth. As our Lord said in John 15:10, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” If we abide in Christ’s love, there is nothing to fear in this life or at the judgment seat. We can be assured that if we abide with Christ now, we will continue with him through the ages of eternity. As John states in verse 28 of his epistle: “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”

References:

  1. Bro Thomas gives more detail in Eureka, Vol 1, page 131