posted on Aug, 11 2017 @ 05:01 PM
When John writes his first epistle, he is not, like Paul, addressing himself to a specific church under particular circumstances.
He writes, on behalf of himself and his fellow teachers, to anyone in the Christian body who will take his advice. Though his first readers were
probably in Ephesus and that region of Asia Minor.
His purpose is to teach these Christians, or remind them, that they are dwelling in God, through Christ, and to show them how this knowledge should be
affecting their conduct.
In the first two chapters, John was establishing the importance of this relationship, warning his readers about the factors which might disrupt our
fellowship with God.
This then raised the question; how can we know that we are abiding in God?
So the third chapter talks about doing righteousness and loving the brethren, and adds this final observation;
“By this we may know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us” (ch3 v24)
This leads him, at the beginning of the fourth chapter, into a discussion of the two different kinds of spirit claiming our attention. For only the
true Spirit will give us the right answer.
He tells them not to believe every spirit, but to test them to identify those that truly come from God (v1). This is necessary because of the many
“false prophets” who have gone out into the world, presumably overlapping with the “many antichrists” described in ch2.
Paul speaks of the gift of “discernment of spirits”, which would have the same purpose (1 Corinthians ch12 v10). He also offers the criterion that
only the true Spirit accepts Jesus as Lord;
“I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord except by
the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians ch12 v3).
John makes the distinction in a similar way.
Once again he brings out his regular formula; You may know “by this…”.
That is, the true spirit will be “confessing” Jesus in the sense of “confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”.
This confession will be denied by the spirit which is “not of God”.
In principle, there are two different ways of making this denial.
One may deny “has come”, or one may deny “in the flesh”.
In the first case, the spirit acknowledges that Jesus was really in the world, but denies that he “came from” anywhere else.
This is the most natural and obvious way of demurring to the teaching about Christ. It appears, by implication, in John’s gospel, when Jesus tells
his opponents “You do not know whence I come” (John ch8 v14) and on other occasions.
In the second case, the spirit acknowledges the heavenly origin of Christ, but denies in some sense the reality of his fleshly presence in the world.
This denial, now known as “Docetism” is found in some forms of later Gnostic belief. However, it may be premature to find it in this letter.
We should not neglect the obvious possibility that they were only talking down the status of the “merely” human Jesus.
The confession that Jesus Christ was not only “in the flesh” but “come in the flesh” amounts to the Christian teaching about the Incarnation,
that Christ is both God and man. That is what John is affirming in the first chapter of his gospel.
So either version of the denial of this confession, whichever form was predominant, is a denial of the doctrine of the Incarnation.
In other words, it is the doctrine of the Incarnation that is being offered as the test to distinguish between those spirits which do and do not come
Most translations say about this denial “This is the spirit of antichrist”.
But a more exact translation of the Greek text would say “This is the of antichrist”. The word “spirit” is not there. (At least the Authorised
Version is honest enough to signal the insertion by its usual practice of italicising the extra word).
So the statement is not quite so specific as it is being made to appear. It might almost be translated as “This is antichrist’s thing”.
At any rate, there are no grounds for identifying one specific “spirit of antichrist” as the opponent of the Holy Spirit. There is a plurality of
spirits which are not of God.
It is, rather, the general work of antichrist that is “in the world already”.
Now John picks up on this word “world”.
Antichrist may be in the world, but God is greater. Therefore those “little children” who are “of God” have already overcome the
spirits which follow it.
These spirits, and the teachers they inspire, belong to the world.
Therefore their teaching belongs to the world, and the reception of their teaching is among those who belong to the world.
In contrast “we” (that is, “we teachers of Christ”) belong to God, and are heard by those who know God.
This leads into one more “by this”. “By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (v6)
John seems to be saying that one can tell the difference between these teachers and their spirits merely by looking at the kind of people who listen
There we will find the warning signs to protect us from the forms of teaching which undermine our knowledge of Christ.