We are continuing our study of 2 John this morning. This brief letter was written, first of all, to remind the readers of the command to love one another. We saw last week that we love Yahweh and love our neighbor by keeping His commands. As believers we are not under the Old Covenant with its 613 laws, but we are under the Law of Christ.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 ESV
What is the "law of Christ"? The law of Christ is the law of love. These laws that tell us how to love are laid out for us in the New Testament. The Old Covenant has passed away and believers are under the New and everlasting Covenant.
John's other purpose for writing this letter was to warn the church about itinerant teachers that were teaching false doctrine. These teachers claimed to have the secret to knowing Christ, but in reality, they denied His bodily incarnation and His deity. So, this letter is a warning against being loving and hospitable toward those who say they belong to Christ but teach false doctrine.
As we move into verse 7, we find that John's attention moves from the existence of belief inside the Johannine community, which gives him great joy (v 4), to the dangers presented to it through the espousal of false doctrine by deceivers.
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
The words, "many deceivers," refers to the secessionist opponents described at length in 1 John.
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world"—"for" is the conjunction, hoti, which can be translated "for or because." It links the previous verse with this one. This shows us why John regarded it so important for his readers to walk in the truth that they had heard from the beginning. It was because many deceivers have gone out into the world that were teaching new doctrines. The way to avoid being taken in by deceivers is to continue walking in the truth.
The word "deceivers" comes from the Greek word planē from which we get the English term "planet." In the ancient world, the movement of the heavenly bodies was mapped and studied (zodiak). The stars fit into stable patterns, but some stars (planets) moved irregularly. The ancients called them "wanderers." This developed metaphorically into those who wander from the truth.
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world"—John especially had in mind the false teachers who had left the church and were drawing others after them. The false prophets are described as having "gone out into the world." This appears to be a direct reference to the secession of the opponents mentioned in 1 John 2:19 since the same verb exerchomai, "to go out, to depart," is used in both places.
Warnings about false prophets operating within the Christian community are found in several places in the New Testament. Yeshua warned of false prophets in His sermon on the Mount.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Matthew 7:15 ESV
In this text, "sheep's clothing" is not talking about a wolf with a sheepskin over him so that he looks like a sheep. That picture comes from Aesop's Fable where a hungry wolf came upon a sheep's fleece lying on the ground in a field. The wolf realized that if it wore the fleece, it would look like a sheep from a distance.
When the shepherd watched the flocks on the hillside, his garment was a sheepskin which he wore with the skin outside and the fleece inside. This sheepskin mantle became the uniform of the prophets, just as the Greek philosophers had worn the philosopher's robe. It was by that mantle that the prophet could be distinguished from other men. But sometimes that clothing was worn by those who had no right to wear it. There were those who were not prophets of God, but they wore the prophet's clothing. They were false prophets.
Like Yeshua and John, Paul warned the Ephesian elders about false teachers.
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. Acts 20:17 ESV
Paul tells these elders to
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. Therefore, be alert… Acts 20:28-31 ESV
The shocking news was that some of those who would prove to be "fierce wolves" were among them. Some of these elders would actually cease to be shepherds who fed the sheep and protected them from danger. They became wolves, preying upon the flock and speaking perverse things to achieve their destructive ends. We must guard against those who pose as Christian teachers but teach contrary to the Bible.
Peter also warned of false prophets.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1 ESV
We need to view all these warnings against false teachers in the context of first-century church life. People met in houses for worship and fellowship. A false teacher could make a very comfortable living as an itinerant prophet. Even the pagan satirists saw this. Lucian, the Greek writer, in his work called the Peregrinus, draws the picture of a man who had found the easiest possible way of making a living without working. He was an itinerant charlatan who lived on the fat of the land by travelling round the various communities of the Christians, settling down wherever he liked, and living luxuriously at their expense.
This is why John told his reader to "test the spirits."
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 ESV
"Test the spirits"—the word "test" here is dokimazō. According to the third edition of the Bauer lexicon, the verb means "to make a critical examination of something, to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine." This word was used in metallurgy where metal was assayed as to its value. Silver and gold or metal were tested and evaluated as to their strength by being put through fire. Dokimazō was also used in a metaphoric sense for testing people before they were assigned to very prominent tasks or put into positions of rulership and responsible leadership.
How were they to test the spirits? They were to test everything by the teaching of the Apostolic circle. We are to test them by the Word of God.
John tells us that these false teachers are, "Those who do not confess the coming of Yeshua the Christ in the flesh"—"confess" is a compound Greek term homologeo which is from "to speak" and "the same. This literally means "to say the same thing. "Confessing," therefore, means saying the same thing about Christ coming in the flesh that God says about it. These false teachers are disagreeing with God on Christ's coming.
"The coming of Yeshua the Christ in the flesh"—this is the same confession mentioned in 1 John 4:2.
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Yeshua the Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 1 John 4:2 ESV
We need to get technical here for a minute. I think this is important, so stay with me. There is a slight difference between 2 John 1:7 and 1 John 4:2. 1 John 4:2 says, "Yeshua the Christ has come in the flesh" and 2 John 1:7 says, "The coming of Yeshua the Christ in the flesh." 1 John 4:2 has the perfect participle erchomai and 2 John 1:7 has a present participle erchomai.
Commenting on the perfect and present participle Hall Harris writes,
There are two possible ways of understanding the significance of the present participle erchomai in v. 7. (a) If the participle is understood in a futuristic sense ("Jesus as Christ who will come in the flesh"), this could be a reference to the parousia (the second advent). Such a sense is grammatically possible for the present tense according to Blass-Debrunner. If this represents a proper understanding of the present participle, then the confession in 2 John 7 involves acknowledgement of Jesus' second coming, and the opponents would be denying this (or, as an alternative possibility, the opponents may acknowledge the second coming, but deny that it will be "in the flesh").
As you can see this would be a problem for preterists. But I have never heard anyone make this argument against the preterist view.
Hall Harris goes on to say,
(b) The second possibility is to understand the participle as a reference to the first coming, that is, the incarnation. In this case what is being affirmed in the confession is that Jesus is really the Christ come in the flesh. This sense is strongly favored by the parallel confession in 1 John 4:2 where a perfect participle is used, thus pointing to a past event.
Blass-Debrunner's standard reference grammar, states that present participles can sometimes be used to describe actions which had occurred in the past. So, this doesn't have to point to the future.
Some have suggested that John's use of the present form of the verb here points to Yeshua's future coming, his parousia. Such an interpretation would have the secessionists denying the "in the flesh" nature of both the first and second comings of Yeshua. The problem with this interpretation is that there are no hints elsewhere in the Johannine letters that the secessionists denied the "in the flesh" nature of Yeshua's coming parousia.
Another problem with this is that nowhere in the New Testament is it stated that the Parousia of Christ was "in the flesh." The Bible doesn't talk about a physical bodily return of Christ. Let's look at a few second coming texts.
And then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. Mark 13:21-23 ESV
In these verses, Yeshua seems to stress that His coming will not be a physical, bodily coming. If someone says, "Here is Christ, or there," they were not to believe it. Why? If His coming was to be physical and bodily, why would someone not be able to say, "He is over there"? They were not to believe that because His coming would not be physical and bodily, and yet it would be plainly seen. How would they see His coming? They would see it in the judgment that was to fall upon Jerusalem.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. Revelation 1:7 ESV
John said that Yeshua was coming "soon" and "quickly" and that the "Jews," those who pierced him, would wail at his coming.
We must see that this is not a physical, bodily coming of Christ but a coming in judgment. The idea of "seeing" here is not physically seeing but was rather "to recognize, to be aware, to perceive." The destruction of Jerusalem would cause the tribes of Israel to recognize that Yeshua was indeed the Son of man and the Messiah.
Thomas Newton (1754) said:
Our Saviour proceedeth in the same figurative style, ver. 30 - "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.' The plain meaning of it is, that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ's power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn, and many will be led from thence to acknowledge Christ and the Christian religion. In the ancient prophets, God is frequently described as coming in the 'clouds' upon any remarkable interposition and manifestation of his power; and the same description is here applied to Christ. The destruction of Jerusalem will be as ample a manifestation of Christ's power and glory as if he was himself to come visibly in the clouds of heaven."
John Gill (1809) a premillennialist said, "He shall appear, not in person, but in the power of his wrath and vengeance, on the Jewish nation which will be a full sign and proof of his being come."
The prophetic language of the Tanakh clearly shows that the Lord's coming on a cloud speaks of His coming in judgment. And that is exactly what it means in the New Testament when it portrays Christ's coming on clouds. People saw Him come in judgment, but it was not a visible appearance of Christ in person. Yeshua predicted both the destruction of Jerusalem and His parousia in the same context.
Since Jerusalem was destroyed, just as He said it would be, why would it be hard to believe that He came just as He said he would? The destruction of Jerusalem was as substantial a manifestation of Christ's power and glory as if He was himself to come visibly in the clouds of heaven.
And Yeshua said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." Mark 14:62 ESV
This "coming with the clouds" is clearly Second Coming language. We just saw in Revelation 1:7 that "he is coming with the clouds."
Notice that in Mark 14:62 Yeshua uses the personal pronoun "you." ["and you will see the Son of Man"]. Whom is He talking to? Caiaphas. Caiaphas asked Yeshua if He was the Son of God, the Messiah. Yeshua answered Caiaphas by saying that he would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the "clouds of heaven." Yeshua said specifically that the high priest would see both the "sitting" and the "coming." It must be referring to something that was to take place for Caiaphas to witness (and probably those present with him).
Our text says that Caiaphas would see Him "coming with the clouds of heaven" while He was "sitting at the right hand of the Power." Obviously, that can't be referring to a literal, bodily coming because how could He do both at the same time? This is clearly apocalyptic language. His coming with the clouds is proof of His sitting on the right hand of power.
In light of this, why does John use the present tense of erchomai? Some suggest that the present tense is being used to speak of the abiding reality of the incarnation, namely that Yeshua didn't just come in the flesh and then put off the flesh. He remained in the flesh. It would seem that the writer had docetism in his sights (the forerunner of the later teaching of Gnosticism). Docetism was influenced by neoplatonic dualism and taught that flesh is evil and spirit is good. From that perspective, the "Christ-Spirit" could only have taken on flesh for a short period of time (if at all). In using the present tense, the writer contradicts that idea.
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
The doctrinal error of these deceivers was that they did not "confess the coming of Yeshua the Christ in the flesh." But what were these false teachers denying? They were denying the doctrine of the Incarnation.
As we talked about in 1 John, this was most likely some form of the Cerinthian heresy known as Docetism. It comes from the Greek verb dokeō. Dokeō means "to seem to appear." There was also a philosophical idea that the Logos Spirit, the divine Spirit, did not really become a man; He just seemed to appear as a man. It was sort of a phantom Christ, a vision of Christ. In effect, it was really an illusion. This was borne out of ancient philosophical dualism.
In philosophical dualism, the viewpoint was that matter is evil and spirit is good. And the good spirit, the good Logos Spirit, the divine Spirit could never become one with human flesh without becoming evil through connection with matter. Christ could not take upon Himself flesh; He could simply appear to be in the flesh.
It is important that we understand that they probably used the Bible to back up everything they said. Their explanation of things would seem to make sense of doctrines that were difficult to understand. They would probably say things like, "Doesn't the Bible say that the flesh is bad? Then how could Yeshua have come in the flesh? That would make Him evil!" They concluded that He didn't actually come in the flesh. It just seemed that way. In other words, He was just a man who was especially close to God. At His baptism, "the Christ" came upon Him. It departed from Him just prior to His crucifixion. Doesn't that make more sense than this teaching that God became a man?
Teaching like this may sound good to someone who does not know the Bible very well. What exactly is the incarnation, "the coming of Yeshua the Christ in the flesh"? It is this: God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, Who was eternal in the Godhead, at a point in time not only took unto Himself human nature and identified Himself with our nature, but He experienced the conditions in which we live on the earth. The person of Christ always has been, but at a point in time, He began to be what He eternally was not, a man. Yet he did not cease to be God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV
"The Word was God"—this statement could not be much clearer! In fact, these four Greek words may be the clearest declaration of the deity of Yeshua in all the Scripture. The Greek verb eimi, (was) means "to be" or "to exist." It suggests continued existence. The Word always existed as Yahweh. The "Word" here is referring to the deity of Yeshua. Now drop down to verse 14:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV
The "Word became flesh…" has been expressed by the theological term "Incarnation," which comes from the two Latin words "in" plus "cargo. It means "infleshment, the act of assuming flesh." God chose to become united to true humanity.
There was one significant difference between Yeshua and all other humanity. He was sinless.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, Romans 8:3 ESV
The word "likeness" is homoioma which suggests similarity but difference. Though His humanity was genuine, He was different from all other humans in that He was sinless. Yeshua had real human flesh—He felt pain and sorrow, He wept, and ultimately, He died. But He remained sinless.
Men could not be reconciled to God by a Divine fiat in which sin was spoken away. Such a procedure would not have allowed God to remain just! When the Son came "in the likeness of sinful flesh," He cleared the way for the Father to be both "Just and Justifier of him that believeth in Yeshua" (Rom 3:26).
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
Yeshua was a man, sharing all the aspects of our humanity, except for sin.
At the incarnation, God the Son, the Second person of the one triune God, was forever joined to true humanity. This joining together has been designated as the hypostatic union.
The doctrine of the hypostatic union is the doctrine of the personal union of the two natures, the divine and the human, of the Lord Yeshua. This union was effected when the Logos, the Second person of the Trinity, assumed human nature into his Divine person so that God and man became forever one undivided and indivisible person. He was one person with two natures. This is the "mystery of godliness."
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16 ESV
The Second person of the trinity took on a human nature forever. Yeshua the Christ is 100% God and 100% man. This is where we get the theological term "theanthropic," a word that comes from theos (God) and Anthropos (man). Yeshua, then, is the God-Man. He is One person with two natures.
Martin Luther was forced to admit that the union could not be explained. "Reason cannot comprehend this, but we believe it: and this is also the testimony of Scripture: that Christ is true God and that He also became man."
Is the incarnation a big deal? John thinks so. He says that those who deny it are antichrist: "Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist."
Antichrist is a term that has become very familiar to Christians. It is a somewhat ominous word that carries with it certain apocalyptic visions. 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.
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.
To deny the incarnation is to be anti-Christ. It is to deny what the Scripture clearly teaches. I think we understand what the Incarnation was, but what was its purpose? Why did God become a man? The writer of Hebrews answers that question for us.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, Hebrews 2:14 ESV
"Through death"—in his divine nature, Christ's life was indestructible (Hebrews 7:16). He could not die. But a death was necessary to deal with guilt and the punishment of sin. So, Christ became human precisely so that he could die. This is what love does, it embraces suffering and death for the life of others.
"He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil"—the ultimate end and purpose was that by that death as a man, a sinless man, He may redeem man and thus break the devil's hold on man.
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. Acts 20:28 ESV
Christ purchased the church, His elect, with his blood—his sacrificial death.
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 1 Peter 1:18-20 ESV
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 ESV
God became a man to die and free man from Satan's hold of death. Now the question: How does the death of Christ defeat the power of the devil in death? And to see that, let's compare the flow of thought in Hebrew 2:14-15 with verse 17:
Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17 ESV
Now what stands out immediately when you compare this verse with the flow of thought in verses 14 and 15 is that both of them speak of Christ having to become like us. Verse 17 says, "he had to be made like his brothers in every respect." Verse 14 says, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things."
Therefore, we know that we are dealing here in verse 17 with the same basic flow of thought: in order to accomplish something, Christ had to become one of us.
But the rest of verse 17 is different from verses 14 and 15, and the differences show us how it is that Christ defeated the devil by dying for us. Verse 14 says that Christ became like us so that he could die and render powerless the one who has the power of death, the devil. Verse 17 says that Christ became like us so that he might become a high priest to make propitiation for our sins. My conclusion, then, is that Christ rendered the devil powerless in death by his high priestly work of making a propitiation for our sins.
Christ strips the Devil of his power in death by making propitiation for our sins. How does this work? That word "propitiation" simply means: "Christ takes away God's anger at us for our sins."
When Christ dies, he is perfectly innocent (Hebrews 4:15). His death is to bear the guilt and punishment of our sins, not his own. And when our punishment falls on him, it is taken away from us. That's what propitiation means. God's justice is satisfied. He loved us enough to put his own Son forward to absorb the punishment we deserved so that he could demonstrate that he is just and faithful in dealing with sin and merciful in dealing with sinners. This is the great Gospel. This is our great salvation. Christ dying in our place, and propitiating God—removing his righteous anger from us. So, in him there is now no condemnation.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Yeshua. Romans 8:1 ESV
Let me give you another reason as to why the incarnation is so important. If there is no incarnation of our Lord Yeshua, the second person of the divine and eternal Trinity, then we have no reliable, truthful, revelation of the Father.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. John 1:18 ESV
So, if we do not have an incarnation, we do not have a revelation of the Father. We would not even know what God is like had Yeshua not come.
If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." John 14:7 ESV
To which Philip responds, "Show us the Father."
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
If there is no incarnation, there is no revelation of the Father.
Believers, doctrine is important. The doctrine of the Incarnation is fundamental to our faith. To deny it is to deny the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. The best way that we can guard against false doctrine is to know and walk in the truth.