The apostle John continues to write to give his Christian readers hope and confidence in their relationship with God. John gave us three tests by which we can examine ourselves to know that we have eternal life: Keep his commands, love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and do not love the world.
Dealing With Antichrists (2:18-19)
John wants Christians to understand that they must not be surprised that there are false teachers. You will notice that he calls these false teachers, “antichrists.” The term “antichrist” has gained a lot of fanfare in the religious world, but it is a simple term. An antichrist is a person who opposes Christ. John is the only author to use this term which we must keep in mind because the reason may be because of certain teachings and events that were happening in the apostle’s day. In fact, John says that you know it is the last hour because there are many antichrists. John is not the only writer to sound a warning to the people of God that there was going to be an insurgence of false teachers and a flood of false teachings.
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (2 Peter 3:1–3 ESV)
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:17–19 ESV)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1–3 ESV)
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2 Timothy 3:1–9 ESV)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:12–13 ESV)
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4 ESV)
We can see why the apostle John could say, “You have heard that antichrist is coming.” The inspired writers of the holy word gave repeated warnings about false teachers bring false doctrine leading people astray. Opposition to the truth was going to come and would continue against Christ.
John seems to have a theological timeline in mind by declaring that the arrival of these antichrists signifies that it is the last hour. John spends time speaking about various hours in his gospel and in his letters. As we read about the life of Jesus in John’s gospel, you will notice that Jesus repeatedly states that it was not his hour and his hour had not come yet (John 2:4; 4:21; 7:30; 8:20. Then we come to the part of the timeline when Jesus declares that his hour had come (John 12:23). Now in John’s letters we read that it is the last hour. This fits a timeframe that John and the New Testament writers have established as a time when there would be a concentration of evil and opposition against Christ and his teachings. The last hour does not seem to be an era of a time past that no longer exists. There are still false teachers. There are still false doctrines being conjured up to cause people to turn away from the faith. Do not read these words and think that we do not have the last issues today. The deception continues. False teaching continues. Efforts to turn the people of God away from the truth will not stop. We are in the last hour as we await the return of our Lord.
Now John has a particular false teaching in mind when he speaks of these antichrists that have already appeared. John defines the antichrist in three places in his letters.
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. (1 John 2:22 ESV)
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 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. (1 John 4:2–3 ESV)
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. (2 John 1:7 ESV)
John has these Gnostic teachers in view who deny that Jesus is the Savior and Messiah, deny that Jesus is not from God, and deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. There will be opposition to Christ and his teaching.
Verse 19 gives us an important reminder. False teachers do not come from the outside. Sure, there are those who are not Christians who attack the scriptures. John is noting that these false teachers were part of the brotherhood. They claimed to be faithful Christians and were part of the faithful in appearances. But they have shown themselves to not be of the truth and not faithful to the Lord because they did not remain with the apostles and their teachings. Defection is the evidence of their hypocrisy. We will see the same thing. People will claim to be of us. They will claim to know us or claim to be sent from us. Sometimes they will join themselves to us. There are people here who are claiming to be Christians and claiming to be part of the fellowship but are not. In time their actions will reveal this truth. They look like Christians but they are not. We have an illustration for this truth: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. John is going to explain to his readers how to deal with the intrusion of false teachers.
The Anointing (2:20-23)
John tells his readers that they have the anointing from the Holy One and therefore they have all knowledge. John is combatting the Gnostic teaching by using the words “anointing” and “knowledge.” The Gnostics are claiming that they received an exclusive ritual anointing that gave them special knowledge. John rejects this false doctrine by reminding the disciples that they have an anointing that gives them all knowledge and they know all things. There are a few questions that must be addressed from this text: What is this anointing that these Christians had that gave them all knowledge? Is this anointing still present today? To answer these questions, I want to examine three possible solutions to these questions and which solution fits best.
The most common answer is to say that every Christian receives the outpouring of the Holy Spirit when they become believers and are baptized. Therefore, the Holy Spirit gave them and gives us today all the knowledge and guides us to the truth. While this is a popular answer, it is an answer that the rest of the scriptures do not support. The promise of being guided into all truth was directed only to the apostles (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and Paul strongly defended that doctrine in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22. The apostles received direct revelation from the Holy Spirit that guided them into all truth. The apostles never taught any Christian or church that they had the same direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. When Paul taught how a church was equipped for the unity of the faith and maturity in Christ, he did not tell them that they had a special anointing. He taught that Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers for the equipping of the body (Ephesians 4:12-16). To validate our conclusion, consider that if God has given every Christians to the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth, they why do we have differing opinions, teachings, and interpretations? Why are there so many different denominations? Why are their disagreements and splits over the scriptures if the Holy Spirit is guiding all of us? Why are there disagreements over the book of Revelation, the book of Romans, and book of Daniel and more? The scriptures as well as our observation teach that the anointing does not refer direct knowledge given to the Christian through the Holy Spirit.
Another solution to the question is to say that at that time those Christians had miraculous spiritual gifts given to them by the apostles laying hands on them. But there are problems with this solution. First, the scriptures are just as clear that every Christians did not have the same miraculous gift. Paul explicitly states that not everyone had the miraculous gift of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). John teaches that all of the Christians have this anointing that brings this knowledge. But every Christian did not have miraculous spiritual gifts because only the apostles could give those gifts by them physically laying hands on them. Those who did receive gifts did not all receive knowledge. Some received the gifts of prophecy, speaking languages, interpreting languages, and the like. Also, if John is speaking about miraculous spiritual gifts as the anointing they all have, then something must have been broken in their anointing. Why are they confused and doubting and listening to these false teachers if the anointing is the miraculous spiritual gift of knowledge that they all possess? Why doesn’t their miraculous knowledge tell them that these teachings were false?
This causes me to believe the third solution is the right solution for what John is speaking about. John is telling the Christians that they have the anointing. He uses that terminology because that is what the Gnostics are using as the way to receive special knowledge. John uses the anointing as metaphorical language. Metaphorically speaking, anointing does have reference to the work of the Holy Spirit. But as we have noticed, the direct operation of the Holy Spirit does not make sense here because not all of the readers had that miraculous spiritual gift of knowledge or any gift at all. Therefore, the anointing must be a reference to what the Holy Spirit did: reveal God’s message through the holy apostles and prophets (1 Peter 1:19-21). These Christians had all knowledge because the Holy Spirit had revealed God’s truth through the apostles and they could read these things for themselves. Consider that when John writes this letter, the writings of Peter and Paul have been in existence for 30 years and would easily have been copies and circulated in that amount of time. Most scholars think that the gospels were completed in around the 70s and 80s AD, meaning that the gospels would have been copied and circulated for a decade or two. John is writing and telling the Christians that you all have knowledge. It was given through the Holy Spirit to the apostles who wrote those things down and they possessed. We can prove this by noticing the rest of what John says. Notice how the anointing parallels the truth they possess.
In verse 21 John says that they know the truth. Notice in verse 24 John tells the readers, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.” He does not tell them that they had a miraculous outpouring. Rather, they are to hold fast to what they have been taught. What they have heard is to be in them. What they have heard is the apostles’ teaching. Verse 27 continues this same description. They have the anointing and it abides in them. They do not need any new teaching because the anointing is in them. Notice the anointing “teaches you about everything.” The word of God teaches us everything we need. John says such in 2 John 2, “…the truth abides in us and will be with us forever.” They have the word of God, the truth, also called the anointing, and therefore they all have knowledge.
The Promise (2:24-27)
Notice the promise that is given to us. When the word of God abides in us then we have the promise made to us: eternal life. Live in the Word and you will always live with Jesus. The Word of the gospel must not only be heard, but take a vital place in one’s life. The word of God is continually present and active in the life of the disciple. It is the means by which we have fellowship and maintain fellowship with God. Do not forget what John taught at the beginning of this letter. We must have fellowship with the apostles to have fellowship with God (1:1-4). This is how we know we have eternal life: the word is in us. The word guides us. The word is our active in our hearts and in our lives.
Does the word of God live in you? All you need to receive the promised eternal life is to let the word of God live in you and control your life.