18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.1 John 2:18-23
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
It’s always sad when friends leave our church and head off to live or work in new areas. Of course, we wish them well and pray for them in their future endeavours, but it is sad to lose people who might have been close friends prior to their departure. This is particularly the case when these friends have not just been members of the same church, but members of the same home group. There’s a bond that develops between members of a home group that is always close. Studying the word together, sharing prayer together, will always develop that bond. It’s a closeness that we might not really experience anywhere else. Of course, usually in these circumstances our friends leave for positive reasons, and will quickly establish themselves in a new Church family.
Sometimes, though, people leave the Church because they have lost their faith. For whatever reason, they no longer believe that Jesus Christ was born on earth, the Son of God, who ultimately died on the cross, taking the sin of the world on his shoulders, and rising three days later.
In this passage, John is writing about the “last hour,” the time between Jesus ascending to heaven and returning to the world. He warns that this time is marked out by the coming of the antichrist. Even now, though, he says, many antichrists have come. Who are these antichrists? They are people who were previously members of the Church but have now left. These people are not like people who leave to move on to new Christian adventures; they have left because they have lost their faith. They are denying that Jesus is the Christ. Since Jesus is the only link we have to God the Father, they are denying not only Jesus, but God himself.
The departure of these former friends reveals the sad truth; they were never really Christian believers at all. They might, for a time, have professed their faith with their mouths, but in their hearts, they had not been transformed by a genuine relationship with Jesus. They might have said all the right things to those around them. They might have signed up to the church rotas, and played their part in the life of the Christian community, but the sad truth is that they never really, fully believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. If they did, they wouldn’t have left. By going, they showed the truth; they were never really members of the body of believers at all.
These former friends haven’t walked away quietly. For John to refer to them as antichrists suggest that they actively taught a message that was counter to that of Christ, a message that was indeed anti Christ. They tried to convince people that Jesus was not the Son of God. They may have been overt in their anti-Christian teaching, or they may have been more subtle, leading people astray by seeming to teach the Christian gospel message, but with tweaks and changes. Perhaps they were trying to make the gospel more palatable to those around them. Maybe they taught that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was the offspring of Mary and Joseph, or Mary and a Roman centurion. Perhaps they taught that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, but that his body was stolen from the tomb. Maybe they taught that Jesus was not the Son of God at all, but simply a good teacher, or just one more prophet. Does it really make a difference, they might have said, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Does it really change your faith?
I sense in John’s writing that the people he was writing to were greatly concerned by this situation. It looks like they have been called liars by the ‘antichrists’ for holding firmly to the message that they had been taught. Maybe those who remained faithful were worried that perhaps it was they who had the message wrong after all. Maybe their former friends were right, they might have pondered. I’m sure that this was a worrying time for them.
John wants to reassure his readers, however. It is they, he says, who are right, not the leavers. They have been anointed by the ‘Holy One,’ unlike those who had abandoned them. In contrast to those who had left the Church, they acknowledged the son, and consequently, had a firm connection with God the Father. No lie comes from the truth, John tells them. It is not they who are the liars, but the leavers, who are denying Christ, and spreading false teaching about him.
This passage addresses two big issues confronting the Church at the moment. The first is one of declining membership of the Church. Scarcely a day goes by without the media reporting falling attendance at churches. Those of us who remain, reading this news so regularly, might find ourselves wondering if the Church has a future in our country. Yet John suggests that those who stop attending churches didn’t ever really belong to the Church. If they did, they would have stayed. They may have known the Gospel, they might have played their part in the organisation, they may even have had positions of leadership. Yet the harsh truth is that it is almost certain that their hearts and minds had never really known Jesus. If they had, they would not have denied him. If they had been anointed by ‘the Holy One’, they would have known the truth. In all likelihood, therefore, they had never known this anointing.
I remember, years ago, listening to Dick Lucas preaching, and hearing him say that he was pleased that church attendance was declining, because it meant that those who did not truly believe, for whom church was just a social club, had removed themselves. Those who remained were those who truly believed, who knew Christ, accepted his death and resurrection, and who strive to follow him in their daily lives. Lucas was suggesting that departures from the Church make it stronger, not weaker.
The second issue addressed by this passage is deceptive teaching by antichrists, deniers of Christ. The media regularly has stories of bishops outlining beliefs that run contrary to mainstream, Biblical teaching. It might be denying the virgin birth, or teaching that the resurrection did not happen. It might be bending of Christian teaching to fit the contemporary world, perhaps by attempting to redefine marriage or relationships. They might still claim to have a Christian faith, they may still identify themselves as Christians, but the reality that John sets out here is that these people are liars, who, in denying Jesus, are denying the Father. These are people who never really belonged to the Church, who have never truly experienced anointing by the ‘Holy One’.
We need to recognise antichrists when we see them. It is important, though, that those of us who remain in the Church hold firm to the truth, and don’t have our heads turned by the lies emanating from these antichrists, whether they speak from within or outside the Church. If we have been anointed, if we acknowledge Jesus as saviour, and if we consequently acknowledge God as Lord, master and creator, then we know the truth and will not be swayed by lies and half truths,
How do we know if we’ve been anointed by the Holy One? I would suggest that if we make following Jesus the centre of our lives, study his word and listen to all he says to us through it, and speak to him in prayer; if we put him first in all we do; if we humbly accept his will for our lives, then we can be confident of our anointing. If we’re worried that we haven’t, simply having that worry might suggest that in fact we have been. It nevertheless does no harm to pray that the Holy One will anoint us, and that God will equip us to stand firm against lies and deception.
It is clearly sad when we see people leave our fellowship. It is enormously sad when people we have looked up to start teaching ideas in direct contradiction of mainstream Biblical teaching. We should not dwell too much on the departed, though, or listen to teachings and philosophies which contradict the teaching of Jesus. Instead, we should hold firm to the traditional teachings of the Church, knowing that by doing so we are acknowledging Jesus, and through him, his Father.