We are continuing our study of 1 John this morning. Keep in mind that this is a circular letter going out to many churches. This morning we are going to look at verses 18 through 19 of chapter 2.
Many interpreters see a new section beginning at 2:18. The passage has two sections:
(1) 2:18–19. The author speaks of the coming of antichrists and identifies them as the secessionists.
(2) 2:20–21. He warns his readers about the secessionists’ attempt to deceive them, and he seeks to arm them against it.
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. 1 John 2:18 ESV
“Children, it is the last hour.” “Children” here is from the Greek noun, paidia. Paidia is a word that means a little child—someone still under parental instruction. Paidia refers to a child who needs to be trained and instructed. By using this term, John may be implying that his readers are vulnerable and need to be on guard against the unprincipled men who were trying to deceive them (2:26). Paidia is used earlier in verse 13 where John says, “I've written to you, children, because you know the Father.” So, we can assume then that he is talking to those who know the Father. In other words, they are believers.
“It is the last hour.” We spent our whole study on this phrase last time, and we said that the “last hour” closes a succession of hours. It is the end of the “last day” which was an end of the “last days” of the Old Covenant and the “last days” of the nation Israel. The “last days” ran from Pentecost to AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem.
This period of time is called “the transition period.” In order to correctly understand the New Testament, we must understand "The Transition Period.” The Transition Period began on Pentecost in A.D. 30, and it ended at the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. During the Transition Period, the church was growing from infancy to maturity. A spiritual house was being built for God to dwell in. This was a time of change and growth; it was a time of transformation from the Old to the New.
The Old Covenant was fading away and the New Covenant was being consummated. At the end of the transition period, the judgment, the resurrection and the second coming all took place. The “last hour” ended in AD 70. The misunderstanding of these important time statements causes people to misapply many verses in the Bible—by nearly 2,000 years! When the time statements are properly recognized, the interpreter easily sees that the "last hour" spoken of by John was the "last hour" of the Jewish old covenant age that became obsolete and passed away in the A.D. 70 judgment and destruction of Jerusalem.
As we saw in our last study, almost all scholars interpret John’s “the last hour” as a reference to the entire period between Yeshua’s ascension and a still future-to-us return of Christ. So, for them, this “last hour” has lasted nearly two thousand years. Last time, I read to you a number of quotes to show you how people deal with this last hour. I want to give you one more quote this morning to show the extremes people go to in order to ignore the time statements.
In his commentary on “The Epistles of John,” Zane Hodges tries to erase the force of the timing of the “last hour” by appealing to 2 Peter 3:8 which states that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” He claims that:
Peter's statement takes on a fresh appearance in the light of contemporary physics. The transformation of modern physics through Einstein's theory of special relativity (supplemented later by general relativity) has produced a new perspective on time. Time, we now understand, is a fourth dimension which, along with the three dimensions of space, constitutes our space-time universe. Under special relativity we have learned that the speed at which time “passes” is relative to the speed at which an object moves through space. The faster the movement through space, the slower the passage of time, and vice versa. But since nothing can pass though space-time faster than the speed of light (670 million miles per hour), a photon (or, particle) of light experiences no time, i.e. it does not age. Thus, for a photon of light, one day and one thousand years are both timeless and thus identical to the photon.
Inasmuch as God is light (certainly at the spiritual level, cf. 1:5!) it is not a stretch to say that His experience of time is like that of physical light. Hence, there is no difference to God between one day and a thousand years, as Peter states. Moreover, even we would find the passage of a thousand years to be very brief if we could sufficiently accelerate our motion through space (as no doubt the angels can). Thus critics of the Bible who find fault with the statement, “I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:12), are arguing from the now outdated notion that time passes at a fixed rate of speed in our universe. We now know this assumption is false. The ‘speed’ of time is relative to the observer and depends on the speed of his motion through space. Second Peter 3:8 amazingly foreshadows the insights of modern physics, and his subsequent remark that ‘the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness’ (3:9) can now be seen to imply ‘relativity’ in one’s estimate of time! For “slow moving” earth people, time seems to go slowly!
Zane was a personal friend of mine, but that is the craziest explanation I have ever heard. What does contemporary physics have to do with it? This was written to first century believers, not to us!
“And as you have heard that antichrist is coming” Notice that John directly addresses his readers with the use of the emphatic pronoun “you” (plural): 2:20, 2:24, and 2:27.
Antichrist is a term that has become very familiar to Christians. It is a somewhat ominous word that carries with it certain apocalyptic visions. In this verse, it is both singular and plural. Both usages lack the article. Moulton and Milligan cite examples to show that the Greek prefix, anti- when added to some person’s name or title can mean either (i) the claim to be that person, or (ii) opposition to, equivalence to, or substitution for that person. “Antichrists” are those who oppose Yeshua and His teachings. John is the only New Testament writer to use this word, and it only occurs five times in four verses. Let’s look at them:
Who is the liar but he who denies that Yeshua is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 1 John 2:22 ESV
Clearly antichrist is one who openly and overtly denies that Yeshua is the Christ. That is to say, he speaks lies concerning Christ. He denies that Yeshua is the Christ which is fundamentally a denial of the nature, identity, and work of Yeshua.
and every spirit that does not confess Yeshua is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 1 John 4:3 ESV
“Confess” here is homologeo which means; “to say the same thing.” Confessing Yeshua, therefore, means saying about Him what God says about Him—he is equal to the Father in every way.
I and the Father are one.” John 10:30 ESV
Yeshua said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9 ESV
So, anyone who doesn’t say the same thing about Yeshua as God does possesses the antichrist spirit.
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Yeshua the Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 2 John 1:7 ESV
Anyone who has an aberrant view of the nature of Christ, of the deity of Christ, and of the humanity of Christ is an antichrist. He is anyone who attacks Christ. Any person who is against Christ, any person who attacks the deity of Yeshua, and any person who is hostile to the true work of Christ and the true nature of Christ (i.e. His deity and His humanity) possesses the spirit of antichrist.
It is in this category that the author of 1 John sees the opponents with their innovative but false Christology. This is clear in 2 John 7 where the author explicitly labels the opponents as “the deceiver and the antichrist” and in 1 John 2:26 where the author says, “these things I have written to you about those who are trying to deceive you.”
“And as you have heard that antichrist is coming” Dr. Bob
Utley, former Professor of Hermeneutics, East Texas Baptist University, writes the following concerning “is coming.”
This is a present middle (deponent) indicative. In Koine Greek some forms of the Greek verb fell out of use and other forms took over their function. Deponent verbs are middle or passive voice in form, but are translated as Active voice in meaning. Here the present is used to express the certainty of a future event. The Antichrist, singular, is coming and many false teachers or false messiahs similar to him have already appeared (antichrists). –Free Bible Commentaries, 1 John
The general concept of a powerful end-time figure opposed to God is found in Jewish apocalyptic writings, so many see “antichrist” here as the end-time figure spoken of in Daniel 7 (the horn). He is also the beast of Revelation 13. Also added to this list is the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
Now the Bible does not specifically say that antichrist is any of these figures, but we can say that all these figures were anti Christ. They are not said to be “the antichrist,” but they are anti Christ. It is also possible that the author merely has in mind the secessionist as “opposing” Christ. John does refer to the “spirit of the Antichrist” in 4:3 as the controlling force behind the secessionist opponents.
Dr. Stephen S. Smalley (Ph.D., Cambridge) thinks that the lack of the Greek article with the term here in 1 John 2:18 indicates that it had by this time not only become personalized but had passed into current use as a proper name. Against this, however, is the fact that the two later uses in 1 John (2:22; 4:3) and the use in 2 John 7 are accompanied by the article.
“You have heard that antichrist is coming.” This indicates that the teaching concerning the coming of the antichrist(s) was well known to his readers. How have they heard that? How did they know there was going to be an antichrist if in fact the word doesn't appear anywhere except in John's epistle? This is the first New Testament mention of the term antichrist. But John says you already know about him. This is probably a reference to our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 24:23-24):
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. ESV
Yeshua had cautioned his disciples against false christs and false prophets before, but here he gives a more specific caution against them concerning the time leading up to and including the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. We learn from Josephus that many such impostors did arise about that time and promised God’s deliverance, being persuaded by the tyrants or governors to prevent the people and soldiers from deserting to the Romans; and the worse the Jews situation, the more open they would be to listen to these deceptions, and the more ready to follow the deceivers. Hegesippus, too, in Eusebius mentions the coming of false Christs and false prophets about the same time.
These false christs and prophets were so convincing that if it were possible, they would have even deceived the elect. Dositheus was reputed to work wonders, according to Origen and Barchoebebas too, who Jerome saith pretended to vomit flames.
See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. Matthew 24:25-26 ESV
Christ had warned them about the coming of these false christs and false prophets. Several of the false christs and false prophets led their followers "into the desert." Josephus, in his Antiquities, says, "Many impostors and cheats persuaded the people to follow them into the desert, where they promised to show manifest wonders and signs done by the providence of God; and many being persuaded suffered the punishment of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and chastised them."
Again in his history of the Jewish war, speaking of the same people, he says, "These impostors, under a pretense of divine inspiration, affecting innovations and changes, persuaded the multitude to grow mad, and led them forth 'into the desert,' as if God would there show them the signs of liberty. Against these Felix, for it seemed to be the foundation of a revolt, sent horse and foot soldiers, and slew a great number of them."
Josephus mentions another impostor, "Who promised salvation to the people, and a cessation of all evils, if they would follow him 'into the desert;' but Festus sent horse and foot soldiers against him, and destroyed the deceiver himself, and those who followed him." Several of these impostors led their followers into "the secret chambers" or places of security. Josephus mentioned a false prophet who, "Declared to the people in the city, that God commanded them to go up into the temple, and there they should receive the signs of deliverance. A multitude of men, women, and children, went up accordingly; but instead of deliverance, the place was set on fire by the Romans, and six thousand perished miserably in the flames, or by throwing themselves down to escape them."
I'm sure you can understand that during a time of such distress, the people would be open to hear and follow anyone who promised them deliverance from their miseries.
“So now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour." “Have come" is a perfect active indicative. The "anti"-Christ spirit is already present and active in the secessionist. Some commentators understand this to refer to the Roman Empire of John's day, while others see it as a yet future world empire of the last day.
Notice that the arrival of the last hour is signaled by the appearance of the many antichrists. There couldn’t be antichrists until there was Christ. And in the first century after Christ, there arose many antichrists signifying that is was the last hour. That hour ended in AD 70, but there have been antichrists ever since that time. John saw his adversaries as the Antichrist. A century later, Tertullian would see his adversaries as the Antichrist, and many centuries later the Reformers would see their enemy (the Pope) as the Antichrist. Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Unity Church members, and others all began in the 19th century and are all anti Christ. Charles Manson, in his bizarre demonic attempt to identify himself as Christ, manifests the spirit of antichrist. Anyone who attacks the deity or the humanity or the work of Yeshua Christ is antichrist. Often such identifications of the Antichrist with contemporary adversaries were made with the supposition that the biblical writer had seen the future and had predicted the appearance of the adversaries now being encountered.
John was telling his readers that the antichrists that they were seeing were an indication that it was the “last hour.” That hour ended in AD 70, but there will always be antichrists. There will always be those who oppose Christ.
Referring to the antichrists mentioned in the previous verse, the writer says,
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. 1 John 2:19 ESV
This verse has often been lifted out of its context and twisted and distorted. Commenting on this verse, Pastor Stephen J. Cole (Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary, former pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship), writes, “Beware of anyone who breaks from the true church to form a new group with new theology. They deviate from orthodox Christian doctrine on major issues. They claim that they have the truth and that others do not, or that they now see things that others do not see.” What strikes me about what he says here is that this describes how Berean started.
Cole goes on to say, “The test of orthodoxy is submission and adherence to the apostolic teaching contained in the New Testament. If someone comes up with some new ‘truth’ that no one else has discovered since the days of the apostles, beware!” We were accused of being proud to think that we came up with something new. But we did not find anything new; we were just taking the time statements seriously. We were applying audience relevance and saying that “soon” meant soon to those in the first century.
Using this verse, many come up with a faulty theology that is depicted in the following scenario that too often plays out in churches:
There is some controversy among people at a church, and someone responds by saying, “I’m so sick of all this. This church and all churches, they’re just a bunch of hypocrites. I don’t need any of this. I can follow God my own way!” The person leaves not just a church, but any kind of church. The conclusion is drawn that this person does not appear to be a Christian, and his appearance demonstrates that he never really was a Christian.
So, if people leave the church, they are not Christians? Leave what church? The Lutheran church? Presbyterian church? Baptist church? Nazarene church? If you don’t go to church, you’re not Christian? This is a gross distortion of 1 John 2:19.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us.” Most see this as the opponents, the antichrists going out from the congregation or Christian community he is now writing to. But if that were the case, it would be good news. The antichrists have left the church. Yeah! That is not what he is saying.
Who is the “us” in this verse? The “us” is repeated four times in this verse. It is in contrast to the “you” in the preceding and following verses. What we have here is a “we”—“you”—“us” contrast. It completely distorts the text to treat the “us” of verse 19 as though it meant simply “us Christians.” If he was referring to the antichrists going out from the churches, he would have said, “They went out from you.” The antichrists had not left the church or churches to whom John writes. If they had left, they would not have been a problem. But John is clearly concerned about his readers' exposure to these false teachers.
So, who is the “us” here? I see it as a reference to the apostolic circle, the church at Jerusalem. I know that John was not an apostle, but he was part of the church at Jerusalem and would have been considered part of the apostolic circle. This would mean that these false teachers had gone out from among the apostles, not that they were apostles themselves necessarily, claiming that their message was what the apostles endorsed. Having come from this church and from among the apostles these antichrists would have had an aura of authority.
What we see here is similar to Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:28-30 ESV
Paul warns the elders that, “from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things.” From among the elders and pastors arose false teachers, antichrists. These men went out from them, but they were not of them.
What John is saying in our text here sounds very similar to the situation that we see in Acts 15:
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. Acts 15:1-2 ESV
The context of this chapter is that the Church at Antioch, which was primarily Gentile, and the Church at Jerusalem, which was Jewish, had come together to debate the doctrine of soteriology. How is a person saved? There were men from Jerusalem that were teaching that a person had to believe in the Lord Yeshua the Christ and be circumcised in order to be saved. These false teachers seemingly had authority because they came from the Jerusalem church. Drop down to verse 24:
Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, Acts 15:24 ESV
The words “gone out from us” here involve exactly the same Greek expression as our text in 1 John 2:19. They came from the Jerusalem church, (“have gone out from us”), but they were not of them.
To show you the status of those from Jerusalem look with me at Galatians 2:11-13:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. ESV
Here is what is going on: In Antioch's fully integrated congregation of Christian Jews and Gentiles, Peter had regularly followed the custom of eating with Gentile Christians. Undoubtedly, his presence at table fellowship with Gentile Christians was taken as an official stamp of approval on the union and equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church. We can imagine that the Gentile believers in the church were especially encouraged by Peter's wholehearted acceptance of them.
Our text in Galatians says: “he was eating with the Gentiles.” The imperfect tense of the Greek verb indicates that Peter's eating with the Gentiles was continuous, that is, it was habitual and regular over some period of time. Then something happened that changed Peter's eating habits. Our text says: “For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles.” Who were these men, and what did they do to influence Peter? We don't know! But everybody wants to speculate that they were Judiazers, and they put a bunch of pressure on Peter. All we know from the text is that they were "from James," and they were of "the party of the circumcision." All this really tells us is that they were Jewish Christians from Jerusalem.
So, Peter is in Antioch having a good time eating Lobster and ham until some Jewish believers from James show up. Then, because of fear of these men, Peter quits eating with the Gentiles and begins to eat only what those permitted by Jewish law.
James was a leader in the Jewish church in Jerusalem. He was a notably godly man who was meticulous in his following after righteousness. Because he ministered among Jews, his following after righteousness meant his giving no offense to the Jews. That, in turn, meant that he was a close adherent to the customs of the Jews. If he had not been a minister to the Jews, he would not have been so meticulous about Jewish customs. So, these men from James would no doubt have also followed the Jewish dietary laws.
Probably the party "from James" ate at first by themselves, while the rest, both Jews and Gentiles, ate together. Then, because Peter feared these Jewish guests, he joined them and eventually all the other Jewish Christians did as well (except Paul). Finally, there were two groups at meal time—the Jewish party and the Gentile party.
It is clear in verse 12 that Peter feared this group. Why? We don't exactly know, but we can speculate he was concerned about what these men would tell James when they got back to Jerusalem. Would he be ruined back at the office? All of these thoughts may have run through Peter's mind, and he slowly pushed his plate away from in front of him. Peter lost his smile. Peter lost his joy. Peter lost his liberty. He turned his back on his new friends. Out of fear of these men from Jerusalem, he compromised his convictions, even though he knew it was wrong. The Jerusalem church had some clout.
Let’s return to our text in 1 John. It seems as though these antichrists had once been in the Jerusalem church. This gave them a prestigious point of origin. Their departure from the apostolic fellowship was an indication that they did not really belong to it in the first place. It seems as if there was some kind of schism between the apostolic circle and the antichrists over the doctrine of Christ.
It is probably not a coincidence that the same verb used to describe the departure of the antichrists here (exerchomai) was also used in John 13:30 of the departure of Judas Iscariot from the upper room. The implication is clear that just as Judas had betrayed Yeshua, the secessionists have betrayed their fellow members of the community and have gone out into the darkness (as Judas went out into the night).
“For if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” This is a second class conditional sentence which is called contrary to fact. It should be translated, "If they had belonged to us, which they did not, then they would have stayed with us, which they did not."
Many take this statement by John to mean that these opponents were never really Christians. But the word “continued” here is the characteristically Johannine verb menō which is used to express the close, ongoing personal relationship among genuine members of the Christian community. John is saying that if they had been of us, they would have remained in fellowship with us, but their going out demonstrated that they were not in fellowship with us.
John MacArthur writes, “If they had been of us, they would have remained with us. That is the principle. Now what that's saying is that salvation is proven by perseverance. Have you heard that word? You remember one of the great tenets of Reformed Theology is the perseverance of the saints. True Christians stay true to the faith.” MacArthur goes on to ask, “How do you tell when somebody really belongs to God? How do you tell when somebody really belongs to Christ? If they continue.” Jonathan Edwards once said, “The sure proof of election is that one perseveres until the end.” Others have taught that continuance is the test of reality.
What John and Jonathan are saying is that you can’t really be sure you’re a Christian until you die in faith. If you don’t continue you are not saved. Listen carefully, believer, we are saved by the act of faith, not the continuity of our faith. If you're saved by the continuity of faith, then you don't really have everlasting life until you die in faith, and certainly you have no assurance.
MacArthur mentioned the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This is one of the five points of Calvinism. The acronym—Tulip—is used for the five points of Calvinism. It stands for "Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints."
When someone says that they believe in the perseverance of the saints, you have to find out what they mean by that because this doctrine is interpreted in two different ways.
View 1. A true Christian will never fall away but will live a life of holiness and obedience. He will always persevere in holiness; he will always live a holy life.
View 2. The other interpretation, to which I hold, is basically that no one whom God has brought to a saving knowledge of Yeshua will ever be lost. When I use the term "Perseverance of the saints," I'm speaking about what most would call "eternal security."
Spurgeon used to say, "It's not so much the perseverance of the saints that is prominent as it is the preservation of the saints by God."
We must understand that our salvation is based upon the act of One person—Yeshua the Christ. Please get that! The security of our salvation is not based upon our continuance or perseverance. Just as we were all condemned by Adam's act, so also we are made righteous by Christ's act.
For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 ESV
As a believer, I am righteous, and I will always be righteous because I am in Christ, and Christ never changes, so neither will I. Your salvation and mine depend only and entirely and exclusively upon the obedience of Christ.
“But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” This last clause in the sentence is actually a subordinate purpose clause (introduced by hina plus the subjunctive). Translated literally, it would read: “but (their going was) in order that they be revealed that they all are not of us”. They were not in fellowship with the apostolic circle at Jerusalem and their leaving proved this.
So in these first two verses of this section, John speaks of the coming of antichrists thus indicating that it was the “last hour.” He identifies them as secessionists of the apostolic circle in Jerusalem. They were not in fellowship with the apostolic circle because they were walking in the darkness of false doctrine.