Knowing the Times
1 John 2:18 – 27
Recognising the Anti-Christ
St Mary’s Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur
What do they have in common?
I wonder if you know that these names have in common?
George W Bush,
As far as I’m aware, there’s only one common link between all of those, and that is that at one time or another, every single one of them has been identified as the anti-Christ!
Some perhaps more obvious than others! Not quite sure how Facebook made it into there!
But, somebody thinks a social networking website might be, the antichrist!
But what do people mean when they say that?, When they call, normally some-one the antichrist?
Perhaps it calls to mind images of huge beasts and warring armies, sort of, the end of the world as we know it.
And yet, the Apostle John is very matter of fact about the anti-Christ, isn’t he?
And for him the coming of the anti-Christ isn’t something far off into the future, but something he wants his readers to be aware of, now, because he’s convinced they will encounter the anti-Christ, now,
That we will encounter the anti-Christ.
And if it is all as bad as it sounds, or as we imagine,
Then how can we make sure that we would recognise the antichrist?,
And what on earth can we do to guard against it?
Well, let me read the opening part of this section again, from verse 18.
We Need to Know the Time (v 18 – 19)
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.
Friends, we need to know the time.
Every now and then I walk out the door in the morning without putting my watch on, and, I’m lost. For the whole day I don’t know where I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to be doing!
I’ve got to keep getting out my phone, and opening it up, to find out what the time is.
Actually last time I was here in Malaysia I somehow managed to smash my watch, and so when I got home I sent it in to be repaired, and then I didn’t have it for a week! In Australia when you take your car in to get repaired, they have a loan car they let you borrow.
I felt like asking the watch people if they had a loan watch just so I could face the day!
And maybe you’ve had the same sort of experience;, not knowing the time means I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,
When I’m supposed to be doing it,
How I ought to be filling my day.
That is to say, knowing the time is important!
Even more important, though, is knowing the times.
Knowing the times in which we live.
John begins this section by reminding his readers of the times in which they live, which are also the times in which, we live.
Although we’re separated from the original recipients of this letter by half the globe and the better part of 2000 years, the time is still the same. This is the last hour, as John says.
Christ has come,
Christ has died,
Christ has risen and ascended, and now we wait for his return.
Right throughout the New Testament we hear that we are in the last days, or in John’s words, the last hour.
You might recall, in Acts chapter 2, on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter stood up among the crowds in Jerusalem, and quoted those words we heard from the Old Testament prophet, Joel,
“ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
And that’s exactly what’s happened, since that day in Jerusalem, in 30-something AD.
The last days, the last hour, is the time between the coming of the Christ, and his second coming.
it is the last hour, John says, and because it’s the last hour, as you have heard, antichrist is coming, and in fact, many antichrists have come.
We know it’s the last hour because antichrists have come
We know what the time is, not because of our watch, but because of who’s here.
Imagine that, right this second, you’d just woken up! It’s been a long week, you’d dozed off, but somebody sticks their elbow in your ribs and you’ve just woken up,
And if it was a regular Sunday and Tim or Andrew or someone as standing here preaching,
You’d look up and see them,
You’d turn and see your friends around you,
And even though you’re still half asleep, you’d know immediately what the time is, wouldn’t you?
Because of who you see around you, you’d know, it’s a bit after 11 AM on a Sunday morning / 6 PM on a Sunday evening,
John can say, it is the last hour because of who he sees around him.
But did you notice, who’s around, is no surprise to John’s readers. They’ve heard that the antichrist is coming. Jesus himself taught that false Christs would come, Matthew 24:24 for example, false Christs and false prophets will arise, he said.
So when John says to his friends, you have heard that antichrist is coming, he’s probably referring the fact that they were taught Jesus’ words, when they first heard the good news.
And in English, the prefix “anti”, usually means “against” or “opposed to” doesn’t it?
The “anti-corruption commission’s been in the news here, hasn’t it?
In the Greek of the New Testament, though, “anti” can mean “against”, “opposed to”, but when it’s put in front of a person’s name or a person’s title, it can mean that someone’s claiming to be that person.
So if someone was described as “anti-Clayton”, it doesn’t just mean that they don’t like me, it could also mean that they’re claiming to be, me.
So when John warns his readers you have heard that antichrist is coming, there will be both people who claim to be the Christ, and people who are opposed to Christ.
Antichrist therefore is really a very ordinary term.
It’s not particularly dramatic.
Antichrists are dangerous, yes, but not in an out of control, we should be afraid, locking our doors kind of way.
Actually, very ordinary people could be on that list of “antichrists” that I read at the beginning. And while we don’t encounter too many people who claim to be Christ, although I have met a few, we can’t walk down the street without meeting people, who are opposed to Christ,
Who deny the unique role of Jesus Christ in God’s saving purposes,
People who are anti-Christ.
Friends we need to know the time.
it is the last hour, and so we know that there will be people around us claiming to be the key person in Gods’ plans,
And there will be people who are opposed to the true centre of God’s plans;, Christ Jesus.
So if we know the time, we’ll know to expect these antichrists, and we won’t be caught unprepared when we encounter them.
If you were walking down the street this afternoon and you met a dragon, you would perhaps be surprised.
But if you were walking down the street at Chinese New Year, and you see a dragon coming towards you, you don’t think twice, do you?
A man wearing red tries to give your child lollies,
Except if it’s Christmas, and the man in a red suit gives your child lollies, you’d probably smile and say thank you.
So we know the time because of who we meet., but also knowing the time means we’re not surprised or unsettled, by who we meet.
How do we recognise the antichrist? Their false message about Jesus (v 22 – 23)
So what makes someone an antichrist?
Or put it a different way, how do we recognise an antichrist when we see one?
Well, as we’ve suggested, it’s actually very ordinary.
The first and second letters of John are the only places in the Bible where the term “antichrist” is actually used.
So how does John define it?
Look at verse 22, if you will, 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
The way we recognise the antichrist, is by their false message.
In all likelihood, that message is probably very similar to the authentic Christian message, what John says to his readers in verse 24, you heard from the beginning.
There could well be lots of truth woven into their message, but at it’s heart, it’s false.
The defining mark of an antichrist is their false message about Jesus, and their goal, verse 26, is to deceive you.
According to John, the antichrist is someone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s chosen king, the one who stands at the centre of God’s plans and promises.
John give a bit more detail in his second letter, in verse 7, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.
Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
A man named Polycarp was a bishop in the 2nd century AD. We think he might have been a student of John. Polycarp wrote to some Christians in the city of Philippi, and says every one who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist
See, we’re not just talking about a small handful of people who John met one day.
Any person who denies the identity and mission, the uniqueness of Jesus, is anti-Christ.
Do you see that Jesus is the defining point for our thinking?
Someone’s “Christology”, that is, their theology of Jesus, their understanding of who Jesus is, could not be more important.
Occasionally I hear people say, “I’m just a Christian, I don’t worry about theology”,
Or, “I like Jesus, but I’m not interested in theology.”
Well God is interested in your theology!
What do you think of Jesus?,
How do you understand who Jesus is and what he’s done?
Those are theological questions, and they are incredibly important. They have enormous practical implication.
So much so that John can say, if your understanding of Jesus is not up to scratch, you don’t know God.
See verse 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also
Get Jesus wrong, and you’ve got God wrong.
Jesus is unique in revealing God as our Father.
As Jim Packer says in Knowing God, “father is the Christian name, for God.”
Now, where I come from, just over half the population say they believe in God.
Here the numbers are a lot higher, and of course belief in God is written into the Malaysian National Principles! But just like in Australia, it’s when we come to Jesus that a line gets drawn in the sand.
It’s in our understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission that we differ from those around us
It’s claims about Jesus that are offensive to people
It’s Jesus himself who makes claims of exclusivity.
Now, I’m sure that the people John is warning us about believed something about Jesus. It’s not that they denied that he ever lived.
But they’ve cast aside the eye-witness testimony about Jesus,
And come up with their own ideas about who Jesus is,
How he reveals God,
How the promises of God find their fulfilment in him,
How he bridges the chasm between humanity and God,
And in doing so, they rip the heart out of the Christian message.
The difficulty for us is that these people who John describes as antichrists, generally don’t identify themselves with that label. “Hi, I’m So and so, I deny that Jesus is the Christ!” No no, they’ll say that they believe the same things as us, it’s only if we listen carefully and scratch the surface that we find out something is different.
People we meet who say, “Jesus is not God, come in the flesh,
Jesus is not the final revelation of the Father,
Jesus is not the only way to God,
Jesus doesn’t rule over us, as God’s king, the Christ.”
They’re still talking about Jesus, but an unrecognisable Jesus, a Jesus who is nothing like the one John and the other eye-witnesses encountered, and saw, and heard.
Friends, we need to work hard.
We need to listen carefully,
We need to know our Scriptures,
We need to take care with theology, so that we are not deceived by the false message of the anti-Christs.
So how can we guard against the false message?
Answer 1: Anointing by the Spirit (v 20)
None of us like to be tricked, I’m sure,
And certainly, when we’re talking about things as important as this, Eternal life, having relationship with the Father, these are things you want to get right!
People with a false message about Jesus are trying to deceive you, but notice that the first step in John’s battle plan to deal with falsehood, is not to go out and correct the error head on.
That’s not to say that correcting error or challenging false teaching is not important. It’s very important.
But John’s primary concern here is what, it’s people, isn’t it?
He’s determined first and foremost, to protect his flock.
That his original readers, and that we, will not be deceived.
So how do we do it?
How do we avoid deception?
How do we guard against it?
How do we make sure we’re not taken in by a false message about Jesus that cuts to the very heart of the Christian faith?
Well look back up at verse 20 if you will. And there’s a little word there, but an important little word; But.
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge
Despite the deception of those who teach a false message about Jesus,
Despite the fact that they were originally in the church, but proved their true identity by leaving,
Despite the lies they spread,
Despite the anti-Christ messages that we hear, either in our own country or from Christian leaders in other parts of the world,
Despite people getting Jesus wrong, and therefore getting God wrong,
That’s all happening, but, you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge
“Anointed” is a religious sounding word, isn’t it?
It’s not one we use in conversation much, except perhaps to speak of someone’s “anointed successor”, the person who’s been chosen, to take over from someone else. But other than that, it’s not a word we use very often.
And as it happens this chapter is the only time in the New Testament where this noun, it’s literally “you have an anointing”, this is the only place it’s used.
Some other, similar words are used, mostly referring to Jesus, actually, speaking of him being anointed with the Holy Spirit, or being anointed by God.
So at its most basic, to anoint is to pour something out on someone. It’s a way of setting somebody apart, or marking them as distinct. So kings in Old Testament Israel were anointed with oil, that is, oil was poured on their heads.
The same thing happened with our Queen Elizabeth, at her coronation.
For John to say to Christian men and women, you have an anointing, or you have been anointed, especially an anointing that is by the Holy One, he’s probably talking about receiving the Holy Spirit.
When someone repents,
Trusts in Jesus,
Has their sins forgiven, they receive the Holy Spirit of God.
Remember that promise from Joel that we heard read earlier;,
One of the characteristics of these last days that marks them out as so different to the former days of God’s relationship with his people, is that all God’s people receive this anointing, this indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
For John, usually it’s Jesus who he calls the Holy One, that’s language he uses elsewhere, and we know that Jesus promised his disciples that he would send them the Holy Spirit. And one of the key roles of the Spirit, would be to teach his disciples, the truth!
John 15:26, John 16:12 – 15, places like that.
And so if you look down to verse 27, we see that this anointing teaches John’s readers the truth also; his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie
So when John speaks of the anointing, he’s talking about the gift of the Spirit that his readers have., That we have, if we’re Christians.
So back to our question, How does this anointing, the indwelling of the 3rd person of the Trinity,
How does this help us avoid deception?
Well think about the context. There’s a group of people who are coming up with all kinds of new and different teaching about Jesus,
They’re saying things like, “No, no, Jesus isn’t God.
Jesus isn’t the Christ,
He doesn’t rule over God’s world,
He’s not special, he’s not unique,
But listen to us, and we’ll tell you who Jesus really is and what he wants from you.
And of course, this is our context too, isn’t it?
We’re surrounded by different teachings about who Jesus is,
Get on the internet, and we see people who maybe we once thought were key Christian leaders on a global level, now teaching new and different things about Jesus.
We know people I’m sure, who once seemed like strong Christians, perhaps once even sat in this room,
But now when they talk, it’s a different message. What they say Jesus requires of them is, very different,
Much of what they say denies who Jesus is,
Denies his central place in God’s plans,
Denies his right to rule over us as the Christ.
“Jesus wasn’t really God”, we’re told,
“He wasn’t unique,
He’s not the only way to get to the Father,
He didn’t stand in your place, for the forgiveness of your sins,
“He didn’t exchange his righteousness for your un-righteousness”, that’s what we hear, verse 26, from those who are trying to deceive you.
There’s always some new message!
Turn on the National Geographic channel at Easter or Christmas, and you’ll discover some long-lost “truth” about Jesus.
John says there’s nothing you need to know about who Jesus is and what he came to do, that can be learned from these people with these new messages,
Do we understand that?
On the contrary, everything you need to know about Jesus, you’ve already got at your disposal, through the anointing you’ve received, through the Spirit of God who teaches the truth,
And when John says, in verse 27, because of this anointing, you have no need that anyone should teach you, he’s not saying you can’t learn anything from anyone else,
Clearly he is trying to teach them some things.
What he means is, if you’re already a Christian, that is if you’ve believed that Jesus is God’s Son,
God come in the flesh,
To take away your sin and reconcile you to God,
Then you don’t need anyone else to teach you, because you’ve already got the full picture.
Don’t go chasing off after the person who tells you they’ve got the latest greatest message.
No, you’ve got the truth! Back there in verse 21 John’s said, I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it
The moment we blow the dust off our Bibles and open them up,
We have the truth about Jesus,
We have the truth about God,
We have the truth about what it means to know God, to experience God,
As the Spirit of God takes God’s Word and speaks the truth into our hearts, just as Jesus promised he would.
You have the full picture.
Everything God wants you to know about who Jesus is and what he’s done, he’s made known to you, and he’s given you this anointing, that you might continue in that truth.
Answer 2: Abiding in the Son and the Father (v 24)
And that’s verse 24 isn’t it.
Verse 24 is the middle of this section,
It’s the key to this section,
And it summarises both what John’s already said, and what he’s about to say.
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
Let the message you’ve heard all along abide in you,
And you will abide in the Son, and in the Father.
7 times in this section that abide word is used. Our English translations don’t always translate the same Greek word with the same English word, so it can be hard for us to see the repetition. But basically any time we see the words “remain” or “continue”, it’s the same word, just over and over and over.
Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you, That is, the apostolic testimony about Jesus,
Don’t ever let that be absent!
And because the gospel message that you first heard when you came to faith, or perhaps that you’re hearing now if you’re not yet a Christian, since that is a message that centres on Jesus, then remaining in that, means remaining in Jesus.
It’s why John can say If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father
For John, a key, a vital ministry of the Holy Spirit, is to help us, abide. To help us continue in the teaching we received when we first heard the good news of the gospel message.
It’s the Spirit who enables us to remain in the truth, and not seek after new and different teaching.
In his next letter, John says in verse 9, Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
Where he says “goes on ahead”, that’s just the word that means “progressive.”
Now progressive is a popular word!
Progressive sounds like what you want to be,
Progressive sounds like that where the action is!
And so there are lots of people today who like to call themselves “Progressive”. “Progressive Christian” is a label, it’s a way that lots of people describe themselves. There’s even an organisation called the Centre for Progressive Christianity
The only problem is, John says, when it comes to the Christian faith, what you don’t want to be, is progressive! Everyone who is progressive, who goes on ahead, and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.
And so if we go to the website of the Centre for Progressive Christianity, we’ll find these words:, By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.
“Other peoples’ ways to God’s realm, are true for them, as our ways are true for us”, the progressive Christians say.
John says, unless you abide in the message of gospel of Jesus, you don’t have the Son, or the Father.
Well, at least they’re calling themselves the right thing.
They’re acknowledging that they are progressive.
They’re acknowledging that they are, running ahead,
They’re acknowledging that they haven’t abided, in the message that was preached at the beginning.
And down in verses 26 and 27, John makes the point again.
If you come up with a different message about Jesus, that contradicts the eye-witnesses, you can dress it up in whatever pleasant-sounding “progressive” language you like, but it’s deception.
Someone comes after you, trying to convince you that Jesus as we find him in the Scriptures doesn’t really fit in the 21st Century,
One of your friends tries to argue that Jesus isn’t really, the Christ, the centre of God’s plans for his creation,
Some church leader, here in Malaysia, or who you come across on the internet, paints a new picture of Jesus, not as the unique Son of God, but just one way to God among many,
Make no mistake, they are trying to deceive you.
And the point of that is not to scare us, but remind us just how important it is, to abide in him, to stick with what we’ve been taught,
A friend of mine used to be a senior pilot with KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. And in between flying all around the world, when he was back home in Australia he would pilot the replica of the Southern Cross, the plane that Charles Kingsford Smith flew on the first ever flight from the US to Australia in 1928.
One day in 2002, just after takeoff, my friend and the other pilot realized the landing gear had failed, and they weren’t going to be able to land the plane, they were going to have to crash land.
My friend said, “in that instant when we realized something was wrong, all my training with KLM, everything I’d ever learned for emergencies and crash landings, automatically kicked in. What I’d been taught all those years before,” he said, “was everything I needed for the present situation.”
John’s saying that’s the way the gospel message works in our lives.
To make it “successfully”, to the end of our lives,
To handle whatever life throws at us,
To make an end of sin,
To know how to please God,
To be welcomed into eternal life,
To live according to God’s will,
We don’t need to discover some new message,
We need to let what we heard from the beginning, abide in us.
How do we make sure we actually receive what’s been promised to us?
How do we know we’re equipped for whatever we face in life?
How to we make sure that we’re not thrown, or caused to stumble by the unexpected hurdles of a world out of step with its creator?
24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you
How were John’s readers to know how to press on when it looked, perhaps at times, that other gods were more powerful?
How were they to keep living the Christian faith when life got difficult?,
When their message became unpopular, with their friends, and neighbours, and the government?
24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you
How do we make sure, brothers and sisters, that we persevere to the end, when life doesn’t seem to make sense,
Or when someone offers us a worldview,
Or some alternative to the Christian message,
Or a different picture of Jesus, that in that moment of trial and hardship or temptation, it sounds appealing, it sounds like what we want to hear,
How do we know, to reject that because it’s not the truth, in those moments of life when we can barely even think straight?
24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you
The day after, Andrew asked if I would preach here today, that pilot friend of mine, was killed in a plane crash not far from our home town in Australia.
I was reminded instantly of these words from 1 John chapter 2.
When I heard that news that my friend had died a tragic, violent death, I didn’t need some new message from God, in order to help get me through,
As people around me struggled to make sense of the disaster and concluded that such apparently innocent suffering is evidence that God is neither good nor powerful,
When those mourning the loss of the other people killed in that accident, said things like, “Well at least they’re all at peace,
They’re all in a better place”, it’s tempting to believe that kind of message isn’t it?
But what I need to deal with the disaster, and my sense of loss,
Is not some well-meaning message that “it doesn’t matter what people believe, they’re now in a better place”,
What I need is not the false comfort that people can approach God any way they like, that they don’t need Jesus.
What I need, in that moment of tragedy and crisis, and, you’ve had similar, I’m sure,
What will enable us to make sense of our experience,
The message that enables us to continue in life and look forward to the fulfilment of the promise of eternal life verse 25, is not something new,
It’s what we heard from the beginning.
What a good witness my friend had, that even in his death, he reminded me of these words. Everything we need, for whatever we face, is encapsulated in that message we heard in the beginning;,
The eye-witness record and testimony of Jesus.
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—eternal life