Shepherds, Wolves, and the Internet

wolf

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. II John 1:10-11

What the ESV translates as “take part in” is the Greek work koineneo. It means to be in communion with someone. We are not to allow a heretical false teacher into our churches or into homes. We are not to greet them. We are not show them hospitality.  We are not to support them in any way financially or otherwise. They are to be rejected. If we do support them we participate in their wicked deeds by helping them to spread their deceit.

As I studied this passage, I reflected on how to apply these verses in our internet age. Should I link to a book by a Christian saying homosexuality is fine? Should I link to Rachel Held Evans, who lies almost every time she hits the keyboard? Should a Christian university allow a Mormon to speak when he uses the term “Jesus” but means something heretical by it? Should a  Oneness Pentecostal be invited to a Christian conference? Are these things violations of John’s commands? 

I have not sorted this all out, but I did come to a couple of conclusions based on reading John’s command in II John 1:10-11.  Continue reading

Applications from II John

St. John Getting the Visions in Revelation

1. Each church is a bride of Christ, an elect lady. This does not mean everyone is elect in her, nor that she is infallible. (vs. 1, 13)

2. Truth, that is Jesus, is what binds Christians together in love (vs. 1)

3. Truth is something that each Christian knows and has living in them (vs. 2).  Though John does not specifically mention the Holy Spirit in II John, that is clearly who brings the truth to us, teaches us the truth, and causes the truth to live in us.

4. One of the great joys a pastor should have is that members of his flock are walking in the truth (vs. 4).

5. One of the central commandments from God, a command that has been since the beginning, is that we love one another (vs. 4-5).

6. The way we love God and our fellow Christians is by obeying God’s commandments (vs. 6). There is no war between love and obedience.

7. We must obey and love one another because there are deceivers who do not confess Jesus has come in the flesh (vs. 7). These men are antichrists.  One way we love one another is by driving away wolves.

8.  If we do not fight against these antichrists we will fall away from the faith (vs. 8)

9. Anyone who teaches that Jesus did not come in the flesh does not have God. God does not abide in them (vs. 9). They are not Christians.

10. A church is to give absolutely no forum to heretics (vs. 10). They are not to treat them like brothers. They are not to let them speak at a roundtable discussion. They are to receive no welcome.

11. Writing letters and emails is good. But face to face is best (vs. 12).

12. We should maintain positive relationships with those churches that agree with us in essential doctrines (vs. 13). 

The Antichrist in John’s Epistles: Part III

Another line of argument for a future Antichrist is the phrase “is coming” in 2:18. The verb is in the present tense. Normally it would be translated as “you have heard that antichrist comes.” However, most translations take this as “futuristic present.” This is described by Daniel Wallace as when “the present tense may describe an event that is wholly subsequent to the time of speaking, although as if it were present.”[1]Wallace adds this use of the present tense is commonly found with the verb “erchomai,” which is the word “is coming” in our text. Whether or not this is futuristic is difficult to determine. Even if it is, the question still remains as to whether it is future to the time of John writing or was future when he told them about it in the past (you have heard).  Notice the parallel between 2:18 and 4:3:
 
2:18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come.
4:3 This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
It is possible to read 2:18 as, “you have heard that Antichrist is coming in the future, but even now there are many antichrists who prefigure that coming antichrist.”  This is how Pastor MacArthur reads the passage.   
Or it could be read, “You heard in the past that antichrist would come and now he/they have arrived.” The second reading fits better with the rest of John’s references to the antichrist, while the first reading does not.
Either way, this is not a slam-dunk argument for making the Antichrist an end times world leader.
One final argument is used to say antichrist refers to end times world leader.  John says in 2:18 and in 4:3 that the people “have heard” that the antichrist is coming.  Some pastors take this as a reference to II Thessalonians 2. They will say that Paul speaks of the Antichrist in II Thessalonians and that is where John’s readers heard about it. While this is possible, it is sheer speculation. There is nothing in I John that indicates he was writing to the same group that Paul wrote to or that his readers had access to Paul’s letters.  There is no direct connection in words or concepts between I John 2 and II Thessalonians 2.  It is just as likely that John has previously told them about the antichrist when he planted or visited the church he was writing to.
Everything in I and II John points to antichrists and the spirit of the antichrist being present during the time John was writing.  There are no verbal or conceptual parallels with other passages which speak of an end times leader, even in John’s book of Revelation. John’s epistles are pastoral in nature, discussing particular problems that were facing his readers. There is nothing in the text that demands we read antichrist as The Antichrist.
So what is the antichrist? The simple answer is that antichrist was a set of doctrines or beliefs that denied that Jesus was the Christ. This set of beliefs denied especially the Incarnation.  Any man who holds to these beliefs is a deceiver and the antichrist. So antichrist is both the set of beliefs and the men who hold those beliefs. By the way, Pastor MacArthur implies that all Christians are antichrists. This is overstating the case.  I think this was in his second sermon on this passage.  
            Readers may ask, “Why does this matter?”  First and foremost, all Christians should desire to be faithful to the biblical text. Before we move on to “practical” considerations, there must be a foundational desire to know exactly what the text says.  So our love for Christ demands that we properly understand what I and II John are teaching. Second, by showing that I and II John do not teach us about an end times leader called the Antichrist we are able to focus more clearly on what the text does say. Someone who believes that John is talking about a world leader who shows up during the Tribulation ends up spending a lot of time on passages that have nothing to do with I John. I think this can confuse the flock. Third, John is talking about religious leaders, false teachers who went out from the Apostles. The modern depiction of the Antichrist is that he is a political leader. Again this muddies the waters and causes a focus on nations and world leaders instead of teachers and pastors. Finally, too often when I and II John are preached they are couched in speculation. The flock does not get practical exhortations on how to fight the antichrist who shows up at their door, like the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons, Unitarians, or the liberal Presbyterian. (In fairness to Pastor MacArthur he only spends half of one sermon on the world leader. Most of his three sermons are devoted to how to combat present day antichrists.)


[1]  Wallace, Daniel B., Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996),  p. 536.

The Antichrist in John’s Epistles: Part II

One of the other arguments used to show that John is referring to some future world leader is the use “anti” on the front of Antichrist. “Anti” is a preposition, which can mean in the place or against. Usually what happens is that someone takes “anti” to mean someone who seeks to replace Christ. Then they are able to find the Antichrist in all sorts of places he is not mentioned, such as II Thessalonians 2:3-4 and the beast in Revelation 13. Here is long quote from Pastor MacArthur where he does this exact thing:
“Now without needing to go into all of the rest of what’s in this wonderful section, we can sort of focus, to begin with, on this matter of Antichrist, a term that has become very familiar to Christians in this generation, as I’m sure in many other generations. The word Antichrist is well known to us. It occurs in the New Testament only in John’s letters. It occurs in 1 John several times, and then it occurs in the seventh verse of 2 John. And though it is limited as a term to John’s epistles, it expresses a widely known reality that is dealt with in other portions of the Bible, not only in the New Testament but even in the Old Testament as well. The term “Antichrist” which John uses is antichristos in the Greek. Christos obviously means Christ, anti can have two possible meanings. It is a Greek preposition that can mean either against or in the place of…against or in the place of. Antichrist can then mean either someone who is against Christ, or someone who seeks to replace Christ. Someone who is an adversary of Christ, or someone who is a false representation of Christ. We can take it then to mean the one who opposes Christ. In that case, the opposition is clear, it is plain. Or we can take it to mean one who seeks to be put in the place of Christ and then the opposition becomes more subtle and more disguised. And antichrist can mean either of those, or both. We don’t need to choose between them. Clearly antichrist is one on some fronts who is openly and overtly against Christ. That is to say they speak lies concerning Christ, such as in verse 22 that I just read. They deny that Jesus is the Christ, a denial of the nature and identity and work of Jesus Christ. This is clearly an antichrist perspective.”

By focusing on the anti at the beginning of the word, Pastor MacArthur finds the Antichrist in places where the word is not used and where John’s picture of the antichrist is absent. For example, II Thessalonians 2 describes a man of lawlessness who exalts himself and tries to take the place of God. This fits with Matthew 24:17 and Daniel 9:27. However, this idea is absent from I and II John. The same thing is done with the beast of Revelation (see Revelation 13). The beast is someone who is worshipped, who makes war on the saints, etc. But none of these ideas are found in John’s teaching on the antichrist, which is all the more odd since John wrote Revelation. In other words, the man of lawlessness and the beast are not the Antichrist. 


D.A. Carson warns against what he calls the “root word” fallacy.[1]This is where the root of a word is used to determine its meaning instead of the context. This is what has happened here. Because “anti” can mean “seeks to replace,” and the person in II Thessalonians seeks to replace God then it must be the Antichrist. However, just because a word can mean something does not mean that it does. The context of I and II John must determine the meaning of antichrist, not the various uses of “anti.”  I and II John are clear on the character traits of antichrists. They are false teachers, who have left the Apostles, gone out into the world, so that they might deceive churches by teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh and that he is not the Christ. Of course, Pastor MacArthur will agree with these points, but by using “anti” he can drag in another point, that Antichrist is the beast and man of lawlessness, which is foreign to I and II John. 


[1]Carson, D.A. Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p.26-32.

The Antichrist in John’s Epistles: Part I

Perhaps no vision has shaped contemporary eschatology like that of the Antichrist. He is the epitome of evil and will reign over all the earth supplanting Christ and bringing in  the rule of Satan. However, “antichrist” is only mentioned in I and II John. He is not mentioned in Revelation, where one would expect to find him, especially since John wrote both books.  As I read I and II John I tried to determine if John actually teaches what so many people think he teaches. The exegesis of the antichrist passages in John’s Epistles is usually informed, not by careful examination of the text, but rather by a prior commitment to a certain eschatological viewpoint.   A good example of using prior commitment to examine the text is Pastor John MacArthur’s sermons on I John 2:18-26.[1] He preaches three sermons on these verses. The second half of his first sermon covers passages like II Thessalonians 2, Daniel 8-10, and Revelation 13, not I John 2:18-26. It is interesting that the first part of his sermon, (and in his remaining two sermons on this passage) when he focuses on I John is all about contemporary antichrists. He does a great job exegeting the text. He lays open exactly what the text says. He tells us who these antichrists are and how they behave. But this is not enough. He believes in a final, all powerful Antichrist. But to find the one he must go to other passages. (By the way, I really enjoy Pastor MacArthur, but I disagree with him on this point.)
Before we begin exegesis of the Apostle John’s passages on the antichrist we need to ask, what is the commonly held view of the antichrist?   Pastor MacArthur sums it up well:
“The Bible is clear that one man will be the final, most complete and powerful Antichrist. He will appear in the future history of the world in a time which is called the time of the Tribulation. This is a time that will end man’s day. It is a time, a seven-year period of time divided into two three-and-half year sections in which Satan releases his power in the world, at the same time God releases judgment in the world. And there will be in that day a world ruler who is identified as the Antichrist. He is the culminating and final one, that’s why we have here the singular “Antichrist is coming.”
So the Antichrist is the final culmination of all evil and will come at the end of the world to set up a kingdom that is opposed to Christ. But does John actually teach this?

Let’s look carefully at the text in John’s Epistles which mention the antichrist and then determine if the commonly held view of the antichrist is correct. I will begin with what is agreed upon and then move to the areas of disagreement.  The following passages will be in discussed: I John 2:18-27, I John 4:1-3, and II John 1:7.  I would recommend having your Bible open has you read.

There are several areas of agreement between those who see the Antichrist as a culmination of all evil at the end of history and those who do not. Let me list those briefly. First, all parties agree that antichrists live in the world. This is clear from I John 2:18. John says explicitly that there are many antichrists who have gone out into the world. Second, all parties agree that these antichrists prove that it is the last hour. Of course, there is much disagreement about what exactly that means. Third, all parties agree that the antichrist is someone who denies Jesus came in the flesh (II John 1:7) and denies the Father and the Son, especially the Son as Christ (I John 2:22).  Fourth, all parties agree that anyone who is an antichrist is not a Christian. They do not know have the Son or the Father (I John 2:23).  On all of these major points and several minor ones most commentators agree.

However, does I and II John teach that we are to look for a future all powerful Antichrist?  There are numerous arguments used to back up the claim that John is talking about an end times leader: the use of a singular antichrist in 2:18, the use of anti in the term antichrist, the phrase “is coming” in I John 2:18, and the phrase “have heard.”  I will address these items in order. By the way, I am not arguing against an end times, all powerful figure.  I am simply asking whether John teaches us about this end times figure.

Let ‘s begin by looking at the singular use of the term “antichrist” in John’s letters. You can see that Pastor MacArthur in the quote above uses the singular as one of the ways he establishes that there will be an end time Antichrist. Here are the four verses in I and II John, which use the singular term antichrist. All quotes are from English Standard Version:
(1Jn 2:18)  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.
(1Jn 2:22)  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.
(1Jn 4:3) And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
(2Jn 1:7)  For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Let’s put the final three verses in a paraphrased form:
2:22 The one who denies Jesus is the Christ is the antichrist.
4:3 The one who does not confess Jesus is the spirit of the antichrist.
II John 1:7 The one who does not confess that Jesus came in the flesh is the antichrist.
In these verses is John pointing us to a future Antichrist or to antichrists which were present when he was writing?  Examining these three passages in more depth will give us an answer.
2:20-27 begins and ends with an anointing (vs. 20, 27) John exhorts his readers that they know the truth and that no lie is of the truth. He is encouraging them to hold fast to the truth. Then he tells them to watch out for liars; that is those who deny that Jesus is the Christ. These men are the antichrist. These men are trying to deceive them (vs. 26). This word deceive is verb form of the noun used in II John 1:7.  In other words, John expected his readers to be on the lookout for these antichrists who were trying to deceive them and keep the truth from abiding in them (vs. 24).  In these verses, there is no expectation of a future Antichrist. John is talking about men who were present when he wrote.
3:24-4:6 is a section on testing the spirits. It begins by saying that we have the Spirit (3:24). This is why we can test the spirits.  John then encourages his readers to test the various spirits. These spirits are not floating about in the air, but come through the false prophets who preach lies (4:1).  John gives his readers a key test: every spirit which confesses that Jesus came in the flesh is from God. The one who does not confess this is not from God. The one who does not confess this is the spirit of the antichrist.  John reminds them that this spirit of the antichrist was promised and is now here. John goes on tell his readers that they have overcome them (false prophets) because his readers are of God, but these false prophets are of the world (4:4-6). In these verses there is no expectation of a future Antichrist who will rule the world. John expects his readers to confront the antichrist by testing the spirits behind the false prophets.
II John 1:7 comes in the middle of short letter where John is exhorting his readers to keep the truth (1:4).  There are many deceivers who have gone out into the world. These deceivers do not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh. These men are the antichrist.  The ESV says, “Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”[2]John then exhorts this flock to look out for these men who do not bring this doctrine with them and to not receive them (vss. 9-11).  Again there is nothing in the passage about a future Antichrist even though John does use the singular “antichrist” in verse 7.
The point of examining these three passages is to show that the singular use of antichrist in 2:18 does not demand that this refer to a single powerful man in the future. None of the other uses of the singular in I John or II John are referring to a future antichrist.  All of the singular uses refer to something that existed at the time John wrote. He was exhorting his readers to make sure these antichrists did not deceive them.  It is not impossible, but it is unlikely, based on John’s use of antichrist, that antichrist in I John 2:18 refers to an end times world leader.

Over the next couple of days I will address various other arguments used to argue that John is teaching about an end times world leader. 


[1]These sermons can be accessed at gty.org under I John or the title “Christians and Antichrists.” 
[2]See also Wallace, Daniel B., Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 332.

False Teaching is Immoral

         In II John 1:7-11 John brings us to the primary reason for his letter.  The verse begins with Greek word “hoti.” This word often shows a connection between the verses that follow and the verses that come before.  The connection here is that a failure to guard against false teachers will lead this “elect lady” and her children to leave the Christian faith. The truth and love are of the utmost importance. But there are many deceivers, men who will lead you away from the truth. These verses are important because they show how doctrine and the Christian life interlock. 
a.       The issue here is not a moral false teaching, but rather a theological one. The problem is not that false teachers are sexually immoral. But rather they are teaching that Christ did not come in the flesh. This is important because we often put theology and action in two separate spheres. A pedophile is wicked.  A moral man who denies Christ came in the flesh is not usually put in the same category.  But for John, a theological failure, especially one so closely connected to Christ and his work, is a moral failure. 
b.      To attack Christ’s person and work is a sin of the first order.  It puts someone in the category of “antichrist.” So many of the moral failings we see in society today, pornography, abortion, sodomy, etc., began with theological heresy, especially heresy about Christ.  The person and work of Christ ought to be our highest possession. Those who tamper with Him and his work are to be cursed.
c.       Like I John, II John gives us a clue as to who the real Christians are. Anyone who does not abide in the doctrine of Christ is not regenerate. They do not have God.
d.      John is telling the church that he is writing to avoid false teachers.  Unlike Adam, John is protecting his bride from the serpent.  He tells them to not give any official recognition to these false teachers. If they do they are sharers in their evil. This is an important truth.  It is not okay to give a public forum to those who deny Jesus or teach some heresy about his person or work.  You do not dialogue with heretics. You kick them out.

The Truth in II John

1.      Truth dominates I John 1:1-4. It is used five times.  John says he loves the elect lady and her children “in truth.”  He then says all who have known the truth love her also. This truth abides in them and will be with them forever. Jesus is the Son of the Father “in truth.” Finally, John rejoices that some of her children are walking in the truth. These verses show the various ways John uses the word “truth.”  Truth is a path, a way of living (See I John 1:6, 2:4). Those who claim Christ, but do not obey Him are not walking in the truth. Truth also abides within us.  In particular this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth who lives in us (John 14:17, 15:26, I John 4:6, 5:6).  The truth also binds us together in love. John loves this elect lady because they are both in the truth. Truth is something we know (John 8:32).  But ultimately truth is Jesus Christ himself (John 14:6).  He is who we know, the foundation for all our doctrine and theology. He is the one who showed us the Father’s love that we might love one another. He is the one who binds together various people and churches in truth.  He is the one that sent the Spirit of truth to dwell among us. Finally, he is the path of truth we are to walk. If we want to know if we are walking in truth, we need only look as far as Christ himself.

2.      Verses 4-6 undoes many of our ideas about truth, love, and obedience. We like to separate these things.  For example, truth and love are often put at odds with one another. Love is a feeling for someone. It is usually seen as warm and affectionate.  Truth is doctrine. It is usually seen as cold and harsh.  But for John he easily transitions from truth to obedience to love.  They are not enemies, but companions. Note the flow of thought:
a.       John rejoices that some are walking in the truth, just as they received a commandment from the Father. (For some reason, the ESV turns the noun “commandment” into a verb “commanded.” It makes it easier to miss the connection between verse 4 and the following verses.)
b.      This commandment is an old one.
c.       This commandment is to love one another.
d.      We love one another by obeying his commandments.
e.       We should walk in this commandment.
John does not see any conflict between love, truth, and obedience. For him they are all threads in the same tapestry.  If you pull one string out the whole thing begins to unravel.