A resolve to believe the truth about Jesus provides assurance of eternal life is a major theme in this letter. John begins by insisting there is a clear distinction between truth and error (2:18-21). Next, he outlines the nature and effect of the error about Jesus (2:22-23) providing two safeguards against falling prey to believing the error (2:24-27), and concludes with two promises from abiding in the truth (2:28-29).
Distinguish Truth from Error (2:18-21)
“The last hour” indicates the final countdown has begun. Christ’s first coming inaugurated the last stage in redemptive history and, like John and other biblical authors, we must have a sense of urgency about living in this last hour (Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Pt. 1:20). Every hour is the hour of redemption (2 Cor. 6:2).
The “last hour” is characterized by those who hold wrong beliefs about the identity of Jesus and openly admit it. These people are called “antichrists.” Characteristics of “antichrists” include: Denial of the complete humanity and deity of Jesus (1 Jn. 2:22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 7); lying and deceiving (2 Jn. 7; Mt. 24:24); there are many of them, not just one (1 Jn. 2:18); and they eventually leave the faith (1 Jn. 2:19).
Note: The “antichrists” are in the Church and moving among God’s people (Acts 20:29-31; 2 Pt. 2:1).
Voluntarily leaving the fold while denying the truth about the essential identity of Jesus indicates there never was a relationship with Christ (Mt. 7:21-23). According to John the Apostle, perseverance in orthodox belief about Jesus necessarily leads to an enduring relationship with God and his people. “Future and final perseverance is the ultimate test of a past participation in Christ; those who fall away have never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but only had a slight and passing taste of it” (John Calvin).
To Consider: We should not be so credulous and naïve to think that all who are in our midst are genuine believers. Nor should we be so critical and accusatory to insist that an erring brother or sister has no relationship with the Lord. However, all professions of faith in Christ must be accompanied by a biblically informed, historically orthodox interpretation of that profession (Rom. 10:9-10).
Keeping the faith is not merely a matter of information, but illumination. Essentially, John is saying that knowing the truth about Jesus is necessary, but not sufficient. God’s Spirit takes the facts about Jesus and burns them into our hearts such that we possess the truth that Jesus is fully divine, fully human (Mt. 16:15-17; 1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Jn. 4:2). The antichrists do not have the truth because they have a counterfeit anointing; theirs is diabolical, ours divine.
To Consider: In our age of religious pluralism and intellectual relativism, it is the privilege of every believer to know, possess, and communicate the truth about Jesus. And, God’s Spirit validates that truth in us and all who will believe. While there are many Spirit-filled believers who disagree on some doctrine, none would disagree on the fundamental identity of the Lord.
The Nature and Effect of False Belief about Jesus (2:22-23)
The denial states that Jesus “is” the Christ. A contemporary of John’s (Cerinthus) taught that the “Christ” came upon Jesus at his baptism, but left him before his crucifixion. The error here is that Jesus was not always divine, whereas the error in 1 Jn. 4:2 is that Jesus was not fully human. This is not a matter of a mistaken identity; it is sinister attempt at replacing the truth with a lie.
The effect of this error is clear: No one can bypass Jesus and have a relationship with God (Mt. 11:27; Jn. 1:18; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).
Guard Against False Beliefs (2:24-27)
Our Objective Safeguard: Verse 24 echoes the beginning of John’s epistle. John commands every believer to stay committed to the essentials of the gospel message, which are incarnated in Jesus.
Authentic believers will deliberately adhere to the gospel message. “It is not enough merely to have heard and assented to the message in time past. The message must continue to be present and active in the lives of us who have heard it.” (I. H. Marshall).
In 1 Jn. 1:8 we are in danger of deceiving ourselves. Here we are in danger of being deceived by others. It is not enough to know that error exists in the Church; we must recognize it is a genuine danger to us.
Our Subjective Safeguard: The second safeguard is God’s anointing, nurturing Holy Spirit. Previously, John tells us to see to it that what we have heard remains in us, whereas in 2:27 he says the “anointing” does remain in us. The pledge of divine grace never relieves us of our human responsibility.
John does not say we have no need for teaching whatsoever. The context indicates that it is the Holy Spirit Who protects us against false teachings about the identity of Jesus.
To Consider: We must not over-emphasize the objective truths of the Gospel while neglecting the Spirit of God. Nor should we over-emphasize the subjective experience of God’s Spirit at the expense of objective truth. Neither alone are sufficient. Both are necessary for regeneration and continuation in the faith.
Be Assured of God’s Promises (2:28-29)
Our First Promise: Jesus will return. For New Testament writers, when Jesus returns pales in comparison to the fact of His returning, which is characterized by confidence and delight by those who persevere in the truth about Jesus. Motivation to continue in the faith comes from our confidence that He is returning.
In 1 John, “remain/abide/live” appears 18 times, and 7 times in this passage alone (1 Jn. 2:18-29). Nowhere is it more clear than here that a relationship with God is not only based upon what we believe about Jesus, but also in persevering in that belief.
Our Second Promise: Continuation in right beliefs and right conduct (v. 29). This is a great promise to know that our present, righteous lives reflect the reality of our relationship with God. C. S. Lewis once said “Like begets like.” John says if we are truly God’s children, we’ll look like it. However, righteous conduct is neither the cause of nor condition for being born of God. Rather, it is the consequence of being His child.
Whereas abiding in the truth about Jesus is our responsibility, the anointing from God is His spiritual activity as He impresses His truth in our hearts and lives. The result: Righteous living as we anxiously await Jesus’ return from heaven.