January 17, 2021
Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives with His disciples, forty days after the resurrection. He was about to ascend, that is, return to heaven. He had warned them in the Farewell Discourse, the night of His betrayal by Judas, the day before the crucifixion, that He would be leaving soon. But not forever. No, He would go to prepare a place for them and if He did, He would return to take us to be with Him. He also told them, I will not leave you as orphans, I will send another counselor to be with you. Of course, we know He was talking about the Holy Spirit, who did descend and fill, anoint, the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, ten days later.
Well, on the Mount of Olives that day, the disciples got a little ahead of themselves and asked, “Is it now, Lord? Is this the time for you to set up the kingdom?” I suppose that was a reasonable question. It sure seemed like all His work was done – a perfect life filled with lots of miracles, death, burial, resurrection. Certainly it was time, right? But…they missed the point that their work was not done – it was just beginning. So, He answered, “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” Don’t miss that – it is not for you to know. Rather, He goes on, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
You see, that’s your job. You’re right – I’ve done mine. Now, you do yours. Be My witnesses – take My Gospel to the ends of the earth. It’s not for you to know the time of My return to set up the kingdom. So, don’t worry about it. I’ll come when the Father says it time – the time He has fixed by His own authority.
That’s interesting, because that has certainly not kept people from trying to know the time, making guesses down through the centuries – and never more so than the last fifty years or so. But actually, those guesses began way back while the NT was still being written. In Thessalonica, where Paul had planted a church, there was apparently some false news spreading that Jesus had already come, or already gathered the church to Himself. So Paul wrote these words in II Thessalonians 2:
1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,
2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
No, Jesus hasn’t come back yet – the church is still here – you’re ok. But guess and set dates people have continued to do. The end of the first millennium AD set speculations afire – with many suggesting the end of the world as we know it. The end of the second millennium did the same – Y2K and all that. Books have been written, prognosticators have set dates or periods of time – both of which have come and gone. What does this do to the credibility of the gospel?
Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines. Tribulation and many falling away. False Christs, false prophets will arise and deceive many. Lawlessness and the love many will grow cold. Life was filled with guns and war, and everyone got trampled on the floor, I wish we’d all been ready. Children died, the days grew cold, a piece of bread would buy a bag of gold, I wish we’d all been ready. And certainly all the events unfolding in our world and our country today will no doubt feed the end times prognosticators.
And in the midst of all that speculation comes identifying the Antichrist. Que ominous music. Google antichrist and you’ll get over 17 million hits Most have heard of him. He is clearly an end times figure who will arise, promising world peace. We’ve heard he will make a treaty with Israel at the beginning of the Tribulation – a seven-year period prophesied by Daniel and others, talked about by Jesus at the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13. The apostle John seems to refer to him in Revelation 13, calling him the beast. The mark of the beast, 666, and all that. Why, even Paul talks about him in II Thessalonians – the passage we just read. You see, after telling them this wasn’t the time – Jesus had not yet returned, the church was still here, he goes on to write:
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.
7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.
8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;
Please note, this end times figure Paul calls the man of lawlessness. Again, John seems to call him the beast in Revelation. We popularly call him the Antichrist. But who is he? Lots of guesses through the years. In the early days, he was one of the Roman Emperors like Caligula or Nero. During the Protestant Reformation, most reformers suggested the Pope is the Antichrist. For example, Martin Luther wrote, “We here are of the conviction that the Papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist.” Calvin suggested the same, and went to II Thessalonians 2 to suggest those words could only refer to the Pope.
Then we get to the 20th and 21st centuries and the guesses have run amuck. It’s almost always the present President or some other leading governmental figure – Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Prince William, Saddam Hussein, Usama Bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin, Mohammed – I’ve heard all those. By the way, the only female candidate I’m aware of mentioned for the position is Hilary Rodham Clinton.
But it is not for you to know. Oh, he will be revealed, and there are some things we can know about him, as Jesus and Paul and John tell us. But did you know this – there is only one author of Scripture that refers to this person as the Antichrist? Jesus nor Paul ever used that term. It’s not found in the Book of Revelation, either. The only author of Scripture to use the term is the Apostle John – and he only uses it five times in three places – I John 2, I John 4, and II John 7. That’s all. Further, did you know John mentions more than one antichrist? Well that just messed up all my prophecy charts. Oh sure, he seems to acknowledge the big one to come, but there have been others, John says, going all the way back to his day. And he actually names them – oh, not by name, but by words and action. And following his teaching, we can say, there are antichrists by words and action running around today. It’s in our text – read it with me,
I John 2:18-23.
I want to be clear – I do believe eschatologically, in the future, there will a Tribulation period, there will be a man of lawlessness revealed, the Antichrist who will oppose everything we believe about Jesus. It’s beyond the scope of the Scripture to speculate about who and when, and it is beyond the scope of this text to describe him in detail. I do, however, believe that he is coming, and will be empowered by evil – Satan himself – to stand against all that is good and right, to gather about himself a following – and seek to destroy the church – the people of God. Which, by the way, describes the spirit of antichrist. It is those who deny Jesus, His person and work, and seek to get you to do the same. But again, I think here, John tips his hat to that future person. But also here, in these two letters, he suggests that spirit of antichrist is already here – that there are many antichrists already in the world.
Why does he do that? Because, as an aged apostle, he quite concerned for those under his care. He is writing to his little children – followers of Jesus who have rightly confessed Jesus as the Christ, and all that means. And he doesn’t want this group of successionists, those who had left the church and its teaching, false teachers, to succeed in drawing away people into their error. I don’t want that, either. And as we read these very few texts about the spirit of antichrist, the many antichrists and what they were saying, I am deeply concerned we have antichrists who used to be part of us, who have left, now speaking against our faith. And as those numbers seemingly swell, I don’t want you to be deceived.
Well, let me give you the outline of the text:
- The Appearance of Antichrists (18)
- The Actions of Antichrists (19)
- The Anointing of Believers (20-21)
- The Teaching of Antichrists (22-23)
John starts with the word, children – one of his favorite addresses, which indicate he’s switching gears. We know well by now he’s writing to churches who were faced with some who had left the church – and those remaining were struggling. Wondering – are they right? Do they have a corner on the truth? They say they have a special knowledge of and relationship with God. Are they right? Am I saved – a child of God?
So, John writes for a number of reasons, but most clearly spelled out in chapter 5 – These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. We’ve seen the things he wrote largely surrounded three tests – the theological, the relational and the moral tests. As to the last two, he said, you can’t say you’re a Christian, that you are in the light as He is in the light if you don’t follow Him. If you don’t seek to obey His commands, you’re not a Christian.
Further, if you say you know God, that you’re in fellowship with Him, but you don’t love other Christians, you don’t love the Christian family, brothers and sisters in Christ, then you’re a liar. He’s used that word a lot – lie or liar. You can’t say one thing and do another is the idea.
But he has dropped in some encouragements along the way. He reminded us that when we sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins. He wanted to assure us of our salvation – I write to you children because your sins have been forgiven. I write to you young men because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you fathers because you do know Him who has been from the beginning.
That brought us to the first imperative, the first command last week. And everything he’s written is all interrelated. Remember, he’s says three times in chapter one, if we say – implying this is what the false teachers were saying. He says three times in chapter 2, the one says, implying this is what the false teachers were saying. Then, in this first command, he says do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. If you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you. The implication is these false teachers loved this fallen world and its sinfulness – and therefore, they did not love God. And they demonstrated it by leaving the church, and we will find today, denying that Jesus is the Christ, which is clearly the third test – the theological test.
He’s already tipped his hat to that since the beginning – that which we have seen with our eyes, heard with our ears, and touched with our hands – that is Jesus, the One the false teachers were denying. Him, we declare to you so that you can have fellowship with God and His Son. Passing the moral and social tests are necessary to be in relationship with God and with one another. But foundationally, you must also pass the theological test, which these false teachers clearly did not. In other words, they got a big fat zero on the test.
And so now, not only does he call them liars in verse 22, but incredibly, he calls them antichrists in verse 18. Now, as I indicated in my introduction, he does seem to acknowledge that a future figure called the Antichrist or the man of lawlessness is coming. But, the spirit of that antichrist is already in the world, such that he can say, even now many antichrists have already appeared. What was this spirit of antichrist, or what were they saying that caused John to call them antichrists? We’ll see that in a moment. But notice first how what they were doing, demonstrating they were not true believers – verse 19.
These went out from us – stop right there. This clearly shows these false teachers whom he calls antichrists were at one point part of the church in some way. Several thoughts about that. First, not everyone in the visible church is truly part of the invisible church. You see, Christ knows those who are truly His. Further, just being in the church doesn’t make you a Christian.
Jesus said it this way one day in a parable – the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But, while he was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed tares – weeds – among the wheat. For awhile, they grew together – you couldn’t tell. When they were discovered, the servants asked him, should we dig them up? The landowner said, no, you might accidently uproot the wheat. Just wait till the harvest – then we will harvest everything, but the tares will be thrown into the fire.
When the disciples asked Jesus about the parable, He said the field is the world, the good seed are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed the tares is the devil. The reapers are the angels. At the end of the age, the field will be harvested, and the sons of the evil one will be thrown into the fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, speaking of hell. But the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Don’t miss it – they will walk in the light as He is in the Light.
How do you know if you’re a wheat or a tare? These things have I written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. Pass the tests.
So first, just because people are in the church does not make them of the church. Second, they went out from us, because they were not really of us. These were not Christians who lost their salvation and are now no longer Christians. Their going showed they were not really of us. If they had been of us, they would have remained. But notice third, but they went out – and there was a purpose for their going – so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. I don’t know among us who are the tares, who are unbelievers who are not of us. Some will leave, some will stay, only to be sorted out at the end of the age. God knows those who are His.
Because you see, John tells us point 3, he reassures us in verses 20-21, that those who truly know Him have received an anointing from the Holy One. The Holy One likely the Father or the Son. The anointing likely speaks of the presence and filling – the anointing of the Holy Spirit, such that we know. John doesn’t want us to wonder, am I truly a believer? We believe the right things, we do the right things – remember, we do truth seeking to obey His commands and love one another – and we know, by the Spirit who lives in us, that we know Him. We know truth.
So, don’t be deceived by those who leave, who suggest that what we believe is wrong. That they are smarter, they know more, they are enlightened, we are in the dark and backwards and ignorant. No. We know truth by the One who lives in us, who guides into all truth. In fact, verse 21 says, I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do. And no lie, that being espoused by those who leave and deny, is of the truth.
And what was it that these false teachers, these successionists were saying? Very simply, they were failing the theological test – they were saying Jesus was not the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh. I told you there were three other times John uses the word antichrist. First, it was that many antichrists have appeared. But the other three times are these – I want us to look at them because they tell us what an antichrist is:
Verse 22 – Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist.
Chapter 4:2-3 – 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 antichrist.
II John 7 – For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
From these verses, it’s clear these people denied the person of Jesus in some way, and likely therefore His work. Lots of discussion about this – were these pre-Gnostics who were denying the humanity of Jesus – that is, they were denying the incarnation; or were these pre-Gnostics who were denying the deity of Jesus – that is, he was merely human upon whom the spirit of Christ came at His baptism, but left before the crucifixion? Either one is a diabolical problem. You cannot deny the full humanity and full deity of Jesus. Jesus was fully God, and fully man. You see, Hebrews 2 says it this way:
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
John will also tell us that Jesus, the Son of God, appeared to destroy the works of the devil. It took God the Son, as the Son of Man in the flesh, the Second Adam, to do what the first Adam failed to do. It took God to represent God to man, and man to represent man to God. To deny the person of Jesus – two natures in one person, is to be antichrist. So, I want to say this gently, but it doesn’t matter if it’s your mom or your dad, your son or your daughter, your brother or your sister. Having been exposed to the Gospel, if they deny Jesus and seek to convince you of the same, they are antichrist.
Further, they are liars, John says, and by denying that Jesus is the Christ, they deny the Father and the Son. That is a monumental statement. You cannot know God apart from the Son. If you deny Jesus, you have no access to the Father.
You see, verse 23 says, whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. Jesus alone is the way to the Father.
I know, it’s been two thousand years since Jesus left from the Mount of Olives that day, promising to return. And Peter told us in II Peter 3:3-4 that in the last days, mockers, scoffers would come, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” Are the scoffers in these last days, this last hour, in the church? Have they left the church, disinterested is serving Christ, obeying His commands, and loving one another.
I’m not suggesting that we start creating charts that are more complicated to understand than the book of Revelation itself. I’m not suggesting we start setting dates. I’m suggesting we start living like New Testament believers who expect and long for the return of our Savior. And if we did, I believe it would change the way we live. We wouldn’t put off talking to our neighbor about the claims of Christ – after all, there’s no time to waste, we must redeem the time. We wouldn’t put off serving in His church, because we want to be found faithful stewards when He comes. And we wouldn’t put off a deeper, more abiding relationship with Him – because we might just see Him soon.