Knowing the Times
1 John 2:18 – 27
Knowing the Times
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 if you get on the net, or read some of the right kinds of books, you’ll find that each of those people, or websites! has at some time in history, been thought to be the antichrist!
But what on earth do people mean when they call someone the antichrist?
And if it’s as bad as it sounds, and if visions of huge beasts and warring armies come to mind, as they perhaps might for some of us, when think about this word, what on earth can we do to guard against them?
And that’s really our big question for today. You’ll see on the outline that’s our 3rd point, that’s what we’re working towards.
So let’s start at the beginning with verse 18,
We Need to Know the Time
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
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!
And it was even worse when my watch went in for repairs, because then I was without it for a week! You know they have loan cars when your car’s getting repaired? I like asking if they had a loan watch just so I could face the day!
Not knowing the time made me feel as if I had no grip on what was required of me when, what I ought to be doing in my days.
Knowing the time is important!
Even more important, is knowing the times.
Knowing the times in which we live.
The Apostle John begins this section by reminding his readers of the times in which they live, and it’s 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’re in the last days, or in John’s words, the last hour.
If you were with us just after this church was started you might remember looking at Acts chapter 2, when the Apostle Peter stood up, and quoting from the prophet Joel said, In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, and that’s exactly what happened, on that day back around 30-something AD.
Or Hebrews 1, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son,
The last days, the last hour, is the time between the coming of the Christ, and his second coming.
This is the last hour John says, and because it’s the last hour as you have heard, the antichrist is coming, and in fact, many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
We know what time we’re in, because of who’s here.
It’s like if you, woke up, and you found yourself sitting in the Littlehampton Primary School gym, with me standing out the front, and all your friends here around you, you’d know immediately what the time is wouldn’t you,
Because of who you see around you, you’d know it’s Sunday morning, some time between 10 and quarter past 11.
And did you notice that 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. So Matthew 24:24 for example, For false Christs and false prophets will appear, and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.
And the “anti” prefix, which in English usually means “against” or “opposed to”,
That kind of thing,
In the Greek of the New Testament, “anti” can carry the same kind of meaning, but also when it’s attached to a person’s name or a person’s title, it can mean a claim to be that person.
So if someone was described as “anti-Clayton”, it’s not just saying they don’t like Clayton, that they’re opposed to Clayton, it can also mean that they’re claiming to be Clayton.
So when John says to his dear children, as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, he’s probably referring to Jesus’ own teaching, like that in Matthew 24, which they had heard
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 sense.
Actually, very ordinary people could be on that list of “antichrists” 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, religious people and non-religious people, who are opposed to Christ.
Friends we need to know the time.
This is the last hour, and so we know that there will be people around us claiming to be God’s special messenger, the Christ, and that there will be people who are opposed to God’s special messenger, the Christ.
So if we know the time, we’ll know to expect these antichrists, and so we won’t be shaken off balance when we encounter them.
When it’s Grand Final time you’re not disconcerted by people walking down the streets in funny-coloured outfits and striped face-paint.
When it’s Christmas Time we’re not upset by fat men in red suits giving lollies to our kids.
And yet it’s easy to have our equilibrium wobbled, by people who are opposed to Christ isn’t it, especially if they come from within the church.
And while it’s, heartbreaking, really, to hear of people who have abandoned or rejected the truth about Jesus as these antichrists have done, we shouldn’t be surprised. In fact we should be prepared for these encounters.
How to Recognise the Antichrist
So what makes someone an antichrist?
How do we recognise an antichrist when we see them?
If you’ve watched, sort of bad Christian movies, you can probably imagine some huge monster with blood dripping from it’s jaws or something like that, but that doesn’t seem to be what John’s describing here, does it?
The way we recognise the antichrist, is by their deception.
By their message which is, in all probability, very much like the Christian message, but is in fact falsehood.
And the goal of the antichrist, is to deceive as many people into that falsehood as possible.
Verse 22, Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.
The first and second letters of john are the only places in the Bible where the term “antichrist” is used. So what does John give us by means of definition?
What is the defining characteristic of an antichrist?
Well in verse 22 the antichrist is someone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s chosen messenger and leader. The one who was the fulfilment of all the hopes of God’s people in the Old Testament.
John fills that out a little bit in his second letter, in verses 7 and 8, Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Polycarp, the bishop of the Greek city of Smyrna in the first part of the 2nd century AD echoes this verse in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, every one who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist
Do you see that Jesus becomes the defining point,
Someone’s “Christology”, that is, their theology of Jesus, their understanding of who Jesus is, could never be more important.
Occasionally I hear people say, I’m just a Christian, 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.
So much so that John can say, if your understanding of Jesus is not up to scratch, you don’t know God.
No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also
See, lots of people say they believe in God, or have some kind of concept of a God out there somewhere,
Lots of people say they’re “spiritual”.
Lots of people are happy to talk about God.
But it’s Jesus where the line in the sand gets drawn.
It’s Jesus who is offensive to people
It’s from Jesus’ mouth that claims of exclusivity are made.
As the pastor of a church I get invited to pray at public events every now and then, when some community group has an event, and they think there should be some spiritual input,
And sometimes I’m invited to take part in ecumenical or inter-faith events, where I might get asked to pray.
Think ANZAC Day Dawn services, the opening of buildings, memorial services, those kinds of things.
It can be hard sometimes to work out, is this an event that I should be part of,
Is my Christian witness going to enhance this event,
Or will my standing on the platform with people who believe different, even contradictory things, just confuse people.
“I thought Clayton was a Christian, but he’s praying with people who aren’t Christian, how does that work?”, and all those kinds of questions.
But early on in my ministry life I received some good advice. An older, wiser, more experienced pastor said to me, one good, test of the waters if you like, is at this public event, or with this gathering of other people, will you be permitted to pray in the name of Jesus?
When the name of Jesus, as we saw last week, represents his person and his work, specifically his work on the cross, that can be a helpful barometer for, Am I on the same page as these people?
Or is for me to pray in the name of Jesus actually to demonstrate that we don’t share a common God.
The difficulty for us is that these people who John describes as antichrists, generally don’t identify themselves in those terms. “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, but when we scratch the surface we’ll find out something different.
So for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who I’m sure most of us have encountered at some time or other in our lives, some of us may have JWs in our families or in our circles of friends. Our Jehovah’s Witness friends will tell us that they believe Jesus was the Christ. So we think “OK, they’re obviously not the people that John is warning us about here!”
Yet the official publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Watchtower says this, “Jesus could not bear the title ‘Christ’ until he was anointed by Jehovah’s Spirit at the time of his baptism in 29 CE”
That is, they’re saying, Luke is wrong when he records the angels speaking at Jesus’ birth, 30 years before his baptism, Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;, he is Christ the Lord.
Either Jesus could rightfully be called “the Christ” from his birth, or he was only the Christ from his baptism. Those things both can’t be true, they’re contradictory, mutually exclusive.
But just because someone says, I don’t deny Jesus,
I don’t deny he is the Christ,
I don’t deny that he’s the Son of God,
That doesn’t mean they believe what the Bible teaches about those things.
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 don’t be deceived.
How to Avoid Deception
Part 1 - anointing
None of us like to be tricked, I’m sure,
None of us like to have the wool pulled over our eyes,
And none of us like to be deceived when we’re talking about things as serious as this! – Eternal life, knowing God, these are things you want to get right!
So how do we avoid deception? How do we guard against it?
Well cast your eyes back up to verse 20 if you will. And there’s a word there that’s little, but enormously significant: But.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth
Despite this deception,
Despite the lies of those who have gone out from these churches John is writing to,
Despite the, anti, Christ messages that we might hear from different quarters, you have an anointing from the Holy One John says, and all of you know the truth.
What’s he talking about and how does it help us avoid deception?
Well anointing is one of those interesting religious sounding words isn’t it? Other than when we might talk about someone’s “anointed successor”, I couldn’t think any situation where the term “anointing” is used other than in religious or spiritual terms. And this chapter is the only time in the whole of the New Testament where the term “anointing” is used.
Some other similar words are used, mostly of Jesus actually, speaking of him being anointed with the Holy Spirit, or being anointed by God.
At its most basic, to anoint is to pour something out on someone, usually a sort of ceremonial way of setting aside or marking as distinct. So kings in Israel were anointed with oil, that is, oil was poured on their heads.
For John to say to Christians, you have an anointing, particularly an anointing from the Holy One, is to speak of the Holy Spirit, whom every single one of God’s people received, when they first repented, trusted in Jesus, and had their sins forgiven.
For John, Jesus himself is the Holy One, that’s language he uses elsewhere, and we know that Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit who would, teach the disciples, the truth. John 15:26, John 16:12 – 15, places like that.
And so when we look at verse 27 also, we see this anointing, teaches John’s readers the truth also.
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, no no, Jesus isn’t God.
Jesus isn’t the Christ,
He’s not God’s chosen ruler,
He’s not special, he’s not unique,
Come over to us, because we’re the ones who really have the low-down on who Jesus is, and what he wants from you.
And of course, this is our context too, a variety of new and different teachings about Jesus springing up, all denying the truths of the historic Christian message.
“Jesus wasn’t really God.
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.”
There’s always some new message!
Turn on the TV at Easter or Christmas, and you’ll discover the 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, but 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 do not need anyone to teach you, he’s not saying you can’t learn anything from anyone else, clearly he is trying to teach them some things. But when we’re talking about Jesus, God’s Son, come in the flesh, you don’t need anyone to teach you.
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 do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do 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.
Part 2 - abiding
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’s the summary of what comes before and after.
See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.
This is where the old Bible translations would use the word “abide”,
Abide in this message.
Abide in the truth,
Abide in the Son.
7 times in this section that word is used. Our modern 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 repeated, one after the other.
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 a work of the Spirit that we remain in the truth and not seek after new and different teaching.
In his next letter, John says in verse 9, Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue, the “abide” word, Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever, continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son
Where it says “runs ahead” there, 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 what we 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.
The only problem is, John says, when it comes to the Christian faith, what you don’t want to be, is progressive! Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue 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.
But they’re not just talking about different names for the way to God’s realm, like someone from a Muslim country calling Jesus “Iesa” or something like that, they’re actually talking about different ways to God.
Other peoples’ ways to God’s realm, are true for them, as our ways are true for us, the progressive Christians say.
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.
I was talking to someone here this week about a friend of mine who was a pilot for KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines, and who in between flying all around the world, when he was back home in Adelaide would pilot the Southern Cross replica, The replica of the plane Charles Kingsford Smith flew from the US to Australia.
One day in 2002, just after takeoff from Parafield airport, my friend and the other pilot realized the landing gear was damaged, and they knew 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 about what to do in this situation, just automatically kicked in. What I’d been taught all those years before, was everything I needed for the present situation.
I didn’t have to ask anyone what to do.
I couldn’t help but think of those words this week as I read 1 John chapter 2.
Everything I need for my present situation is what I was taught at the beginning, is the message I heard at the start.
See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.
Way back in 1868 the English pastor John Bode wrote a line in a hymn reflecting on the temptation to run to the new, to the latest, to the exciting, I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
When it comes to what we want in our Christian life, we’ve probably all been there, haven’t we?
But he concludes, But Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.
As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.