FIRST LETTER OF JOHN 2
18 Children, this is the final hour; you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and now many Antichrists have already come; from this we know that it is the final hour.
19 They have gone from among us, but they never really belonged to us; if they had belonged to us, they would have stayed with us. But this was to prove that not one of them belonged to us.
20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and have all received knowledge.
21 I have written to you not because you are ignorant of the truth, but because you are well aware of it, and because no lie can come from the truth.
22 Who is the liar, if not one who claims that Jesus is not the Christ? This is the Antichrist, who denies both the Father and the Son.
23 Whoever denies the Son cannot have the Father either; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father too.
24 Let what you heard in the beginning dwell in you; as long as what you heard in the beginning dwells in you, you will dwell in the Son and in the Father.
25 And the promise he made you himself is eternal life.
26 So much have I written to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.
27 But as for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you; since the anointing he gave you teaches you everything, and since it is true, not false, dwell in him just as he has taught you.
28 Therefore dwell in him now, children, so that when he appears we may be fearless, and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
It is impossible to know the precise meaning of The Antichrist for these authors. Clearly he is associated with opposition to Jesus Messiah (Christ) in the end time which had been prophesied. The ease with which the term is applied to people who have left the Christian Assembly due a difference in doctrine, suggests that it refers to a spiritual power which can be manifested by flesh and blood human beings. We may feel that its use in this letter also shows a degree of intolerance which qualifies the ethic of love of brother and sister commended in it. If brothers and sisters can so swiftly become enemies, maybe the love is a a mere sectarian preference for those who are loyal to the group. I do not think that sectarian enmity has in this instance gone so far as to disqualify their teachings about love altogether, but readers should note the ominous signs of dogmatic judgmentalism that uses the name of Christ.
Defenders of doctrine will not necessarily agree with my opinion here, for it becomes clear that “those who have left” denied that Jesus was the Messiah. That belief may have been a crucial conviction that separated this community from the members of orthodox Jewish synagogues. The letter gives no detail of exactly why the leavers denied the Messiahship of Jesus. It may have been because they denied the flesh and blood humanity of Jesus, which would have constituted a serious challenge to the shared life of the group. Could you share your life openly and deeply with someone who denied the reality of Jesus? I think the answer to that question should be yes, although I agree that a Christian Assembly would have to make it clear that the denial is contrary to Christian teaching.
The authors affirm that the teachings about God the father and God’s son are mutually dependent, so that people who deny the reality of Jesus the son no longer have God as their father. One can see the truth of this judgment if a specifically Christian relationship with God is in question, while noting that the image of a fatherly God is at least as old as the prophet Hosea in the 8th century BCE, who makes God say, “When Israel was a child I loved him…”
False teaching is not seen as error, or lack of knowledge but as a lie. Indeed the term “liar” seems to specifically associated with the antichrist, in such a way that enmity to Jesus Messiah consists of deceptive doctrine rather than rejection of his teaching and example. Again we should note the way in which doctrinal matters are given great importance in the life of the Assembly. The truth, Greek aletheia or un-concealment of God is a central element in theology of this letter as it is of John’s Gospel.
The departure of the group who hold wrong doctrines signifies that they were never really part of the shared life of the believers, for that sharing is holy and irrevocable, and is linked to the believers’ grasp of truth, which has been given to them in their “anointing” which may be their baptism into Jesus the anointed son of God; or may be the gift of the Holy Spirit. In either case it is viewed as conferring knowledge, which indicates intimacy with God rather than doctrine, but also expresses itself in truthful doctrine.
Another expression for the truth is “what you heard in the beginning.” Doubtless this is the founding gospel of the Assembly, and is equivalent to the phrase in chapter 1 the “word of life” so that the word “beginning” refers not only to the start of the Assembly but to the creative beginning of all things. The living word dwells in the believers so that they in turn can dwell in Jesus. Again we should notice the language of indwelling which imagines Jesus as the house of God. I have written at greater length about the theology of the house, Greek oikos, in a blog which can be found as emmock.com oikos.
The word of life, heard in the beginning, is said to be the source of an experiential truth, which means that the individual believer does not need taught by anyone else, although of course, this letter itself is a form of teaching.
This section of the letter with its insistence on the close links between shared life and truthful theology may not be congenial to modern church communities which do not set as much store by theological truth as by communal spirit. For that very reason, it may be helpful.