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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

1 John 2



Verses 1-29

Chapter 2

A PASTOR'S CONCERN (1 John 2:1-2)

2:1-2 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. But, if anyone does sin, we have one who will plead our cause to the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. For he is the propitiating sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

The first thing to note in this passage is the sheer affection in it. John begins with the address, "My little children." Both in Latin and in Greek diminutives carry a special affection. They are words which are used, as it were, with a caress. John is a very old man; he must be, in fact, the last survivor of his generation, maybe the last man alive who had walked and talked with Jesus in the days of his flesh. So often age gets out of sympathy with youth and acquires even an impatient irritableness with the new and laxer ways of the younger generation. But not John, in his old age he has nothing but tenderness for those who are his little children in the faith. He is writing to tell them that they must not sin but he does not scold. There is no cutting edge in his voice; he seeks to love them into goodness. In this opening address there is the yearning, affectionate tenderness of a pastor for people whom he has known for long in all their wayward foolishness and still loves.

His object in writing is that they may not sin. There is a two-fold connection of thought here--with what has gone before and with what comes afterwards. There is a two-fold danger that they may indeed think lightly of sin.

John says two things about sin. First, he has just said that sin is universal; anyone who says that he has not sinned is a liar. Second, there is forgiveness of sins through what Jesus Christ has done, and still does, for men. Now it would be possible to use both these statements as an excuse to think lightly of sin. If all have sinned, why make a fuss about it and what is the use of struggling against something which is in any event an inevitable part of the human situation? Again, if there is forgiveness of sins, why worry about it?

In face of that, John, as Westcott points out, has two things to say.

First, the Christian is one who has come to know God; and the inevitable accompaniment of knowledge must be obedience. We shall return to this more fully; but at the moment we note that to know God and to obey God must, as John sees it, be twin parts of the same experience.

Second, the man who claims that he abides in God (1 John 2:6) and in Jesus Christ must live the same kind of life as Jesus lived. That is to say, union with Christ necessarily involves imitation of Christ.

So John lays down his two great ethical principles; knowledge involves obedience, and union involves imitation. Therefore, in the Christian life there can never be any inducement to think lightly of sin.

JESUS CHRIST, THE PARACLETE (1 John 2:1-2 continued)

It will take us some considerable time to deal with these two verses for there are hardly any other two in the New Testament which so succinctly set out the work of Christ.

Let us first set out the problem. It is clear that Christianity is an ethical religion; that is what John is concerned to stress. But it is also clear that man is so often an ethical failure. Confronted with the demands of God, he admits them and accepts them--and then fails to keep them. Here, then, there is a barrier erected between man and God. How can man, the sinner, ever enter into the presence of God, the all-holy? That problem is solved in Jesus Christ. And in this passage John uses two great words about Jesus Christ which we must study, not simply to acquire intellectual knowledge but to understand and so to enter into the benefits of Christ.

He calls Jesus Christ our Advocate with the Father. The word is parakletos (Greek #3875) which in the Fourth Gospel the King James Version translates Comforter. It is so great a word and has behind it so great a thought that we must examine it in detail. Parakletos (Greek #3875) comes from the verb parakalein (Greek #3870). There are occasions when parakalein (Greek #3870) means to comfort. It is, for instance, used with that meaning in Genesis 37:35, where it is said that all Jacob's sons and daughters rose up to comfort him at the loss of Joseph; in Isaiah 61:2, where it is said that the function of the prophet is to comfort all that mourn; and in Matthew 5:4, where it is said that those who mourn will be comforted.

But that is neither the commonest nor the most literal sense of parakalein (Greek #3870); its commonest sense is to call someone to one's side in order to use him in some way as a helper and a counsellor. In ordinary Greek that is a very common usage. Xenophon (Anabasis 1.6.5) tells how Cyrus summoned (parakalein, Greek #3870) Clearchos into his tent to be his counsellor, for Clearchos was a man held in the highest honour by Cyrus and by the Greeks. Aeschines, the Greek orator, protests against his opponents calling in Demosthenes, his great rival, and says: "Why need you call Demosthenes to your support? To do so is to call in a rascally rhetorician to cheat the ears of the jury" (Against Ctesiphon 200).

Parakletos (Greek #3875) itself is a word which is passive in form and literally means someone who is called to one's side; but since it is always the reason for the calling in that is uppermost in the mind, the word, although passive in form, has an active sense, and comes to mean a helper, a supporter and. above all, a witness in someone's favour, an advocate in someone's defence. It too is a common word in ordinary secular Greek. Demosthenes (De Fals. Leg. 1) speaks of the importunities and the party spirit of advocates (parakletoi, Greek #3875) serving the ends of private ambition instead of public good. Diogenes Laertius (4: 50) tells of a caustic saying of the philosopher Bion. A very talkative person sought his help in some matter. Bion said, "I will do what you want, if you will only send someone to me to plead your case (i.e., send a parakletos, Greek #3875), and stay away yourself." When Philo is telling the story of Joseph and his brethren, he says that, when Joseph forgave them for the wrong that they had done him, he said, "I offer you an amnesty for all that you did to me; you need no other parakletos (Greek #3875)" (Life of Joseph 40). Philo tells how the Jews of Alexandria were being oppressed by a certain governor and determined to take their case to the emperor. "We must find," they said, "a more powerful parakletos (Greek #3875) by whom the Emperor Gaius will be brought to a favourable disposition towards us" (Leg. in Flacc. 968 B).

So common was this word that it came into other languages just as it stood. In the New Testament itself the Syriac, Egyptian, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions all keep the word parakletos (Greek #3875) just as it stands. The Jews especially adopted the word and used it in this sense of advocate, someone to plead one's cause. They used it as the opposite of the word accuser and the Rabbis had this saying about what would happen in the day of God's judgment. "The man who keeps one commandment of the Law has gotten to himself one parakletos (Greek #3875); the man who breaks one commandment of the Law has gotten to himself one accuser." They said, "If a man is summoned to court on a capital charge, he needs powerful parakletoi (Greek #3875) (the plural of the word) to save him; repentance and good works are his parakletoi (Greek #3975) in the judgment of God." "All the righteousness and mercy which an Israelite does in this world are great peace and great parakletoi (Greek #3875) between him and his father in heaven." They said that the sin-offering is a man's parakletos (Greek #3875) before God.

So the word came into the Christian vocabulary. In the days of the persecutions and the martyrs, a Christian pleader called Vettius Epagathos ably pled the case of those who were accused of being Christians. "He was an advocate (parakletos, Greek #3875) for the Christians, for he had the Advocate within himself, even the Spirit" (Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History,, 5: 1). The Letter of Barnabas (20) speaks of evil men who are the advocates of the wealthy and the unjust judges of the poor. The writer of Second Clement asks: "Who shall be your parakletos (Greek #3875) if it be not clear that your works are righteous and holy?" (2 Clement 6: 9).

A parakletos (Greek #3875) has been defined as "one who lends his presence to his friends." More than once in the New Testament there is this great conception of Jesus as the friend and the defender of man. In a military court-martial the officer who defends the soldier under accusation is called the prisoner's friend. Jesus is our friend. Paul writes of that Christ who is at the right hand of God and "who intercedes for us" (Romans 8:34). The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus Christ as the one who "ever lives to make intercession" for men (Hebrews 7:25); and he also speaks of him as "appearing in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24).

The tremendous thing about Jesus is that he has never lost his interest in, or his love for, men. We are not to think of him as having gone through his life upon the earth and his death upon the Cross, and then being finished with men. He still bears his concern for us upon his heart; he still pleads for us; Jesus Christ is the prisoner's friend for all.

JESUS CHRIST, THE PROPITIATION (1 John 2:1-2 continued)

John goes on to say that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. The word is hilasmos (Greek #2434). This is a more difficult picture for us fully to grasp. The picture of the advocate is universal for all men have experience of a friend coming to their aid; but the picture in propitiation is from sacrifice and is more natural to the Jewish mind than to ours. To understand it we must get at the basic ideas behind it.

The great aim of all religion is fellowship with God, to know him as friend and to enter with joy, and not fear, into his presence. It therefore follows that the supreme problem of religion is sin, for it is sin that interrupts fellowship with God. It is to meet that problem that all sacrifice arises. By sacrifice fellowship with God is restored. So the Jews offered, night and morning, the sin-offering in the Temple. That was the offering, not for any particular sin but for man as a sinner; and so long as the Temple lasted it was made to God in the morning and in the evening. The Jews also offered their trespass-offerings to God; these were the offerings for particular sins. The Jews had their Day, of Atonement, whose ritual was designed to atone for all sins, known and unknown. It is with that background that we must come at this picture of propitiation.

As we have said, the Greek word for propitiation is hilasmos (Greek #2434), and the corresponding verb is hilaskesthai (Greek #2433). This verb has three meanings. (i) When it is used with a man as the subject, it means to placate or to pacify, someone who has been injured or offended, and especially to placate a god. It is to bring a sacrifice or to perform a ritual whereby a god, offended by sin, is placated. (ii) If the subject is God, the verb means to forgive, for then the meaning is that God himself provides the means whereby the lost relationship between him and men is restored. (iii) The third meaning is allied with the first. The verb often means to perform some deed, by which the taint of guilt is removed. A man sins; at once he acquires the taint of sin; he needs something, which, to use C. H. Dodd's metaphor, will disinfect him from that taint and enable him once again to enter into the presence of God. In that sense hilaskesthai (Greek #2433) means, not to propitiate but to expiate, not so much to pacify God as to disinfect man from the taint of sin and thereby fit him again to enter into fellowship with God.

When John says that Jesus is the hilasmos (Greek #2434) for our sins, he is, we think, bringing all these different senses into one. Jesus is the person through whom guilt for past sin and defilement from present sin are removed. The great basic truth behind this word is that it is through Jesus Christ that man's fellowship with God is first restored and then maintained.

We note one other thing. As John sees it, this work of Jesus was carried out not only for us but for the whole world. There is in the New Testament a strong line of thought in which the universality of the salvation of God is stressed. God so loved the world that he sent his son (John 3:16). Jesus is confident that, if he is lifted up, he will draw all men to him (John 12:32). God will have all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). He would be a bold man who would set limits to the grace and love of God or to the effectiveness of the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Truly the love of God is broader than the measures of man's mind; and in the New Testament itself there are hints of a salvation whose arms are as wide as the world.


2:3-6 And it is by this that we know that we have come to know him--if we keep his commandments. He who says, "I have come to know him" and who does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a man. The love of God is truly perfected in any man who keeps his word. This is the way in which we know that we are in him. He who claims that he abides in him ought himself to live the same kind of life as he lived.

This passage deals in phrases and thoughts which were very familiar to the ancient world. It talked much about knowing God and about being in God. It is important that we should see wherein the difference lay between the pagan world in all its greatness and Judaism and Christianity. To know God, to abide in God, to have fellowship with God has always been the quest of the human spirit, for Augustine was right when he said that God had made men for himself and that they were restless until they found their rest in him. We may say that in the ancient world there were three lines of thought in regard to knowing God.

(i) In the great classical age of their thought and literature, in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ, the Greeks were convinced that they could arrive at God by the sheer process of intellectual reasoning and argument. In The World of the New Testament, T. R. Glover has a chapter on The Greek in which he brilliantly and vividly sketches the character of the Greek mind in its greatest days when the Greek glorified the intellect. "A harder and more precise thinker than Plato it will be difficult to discover," said Marshall Macgregor. Xenophon tells how Socrates had a conversation with a young man. "How do you know that?" asked Socrates. "Do you know it or are you guessing?" The young man had to say, "I am guessing." "Very well," answered Socrates, "when we are done with guessing and when we know, shall we talk about it then?" Guesses were not good enough for the Greek thinker.

To the classical Greek curiosity was not a fault but was the greatest of the virtues, for it was the mother of philosophy. Glover writes of this outlook: "Everything must be examined; all the world is the proper study of man; there is no question which it is wrong for man to ask; nature in the long run must stand and deliver; God too must explain himself, for did he not make man so?" For the Greeks of the great classical age the way to God was by the intellect.

It has to be noted that an intellectual approach to religion is not necessarily ethical at all. If religion is a series of mental problems, if God is the goal at the end of intense mental activity, religion becomes something not very unlike the higher mathematics. It becomes intellectual satisfaction and not moral action; and the plain fact is that many of the great Greek thinkers were not specially good men. Even men so great as Plato and Socrates saw no sin in homosexuality. A man could know God in the intellectual sense but that need not make him a good man.

(ii) The later Greeks, in the immediate background time of the New Testament, sought to find God in emotional experience. The characteristic religious phenomenon of these days was the Mystery Religions. In any view of the history of religion they are an amazing feature. Their aim was union with the divine and they were all in the form of passion plays. They were all founded on the story of some god who lived, and suffered terribly, and died a cruel death, and rose again. The initiate was given a long course of instruction; he was made to practise ascetic discipline. He was worked up to an intense pitch of expectation and emotional sensitivity. He was then allowed to come to a passion play in which the story of the suffering, dying, and rising god was played out on the stage. Everything was designed to heighten the emotional atmosphere. There was cunning lighting; sensuous music; perfumed incense; a marvellous liturgy. In this atmosphere the story was played out and the worshipper identified himself with the experiences of the god until he could cry out: "I am thou, and thou art I"; until he shared the god's suffering and also shared his victory and immortality.

This was not so much knowing God as feeling God. But it was a highly emotional experience and, as such, it was necessarily transient. It was a kind of religious drug. It quite definitely found God in an abnormal experience and its aim was to escape from ordinary life.

(iii) Lastly, there was the Jewish way of knowing God which is closely allied with the Christian way. To the Jew knowledge of God came, not by man's speculation or by an exotic experience of emotion, but by God's own revelation. The God who revealed himself was a holy God and his holiness brought the obligation to his worshipper to be holy, too. A. E. Brooke says, "John can conceive of no real knowledge of God which does not issue in obedience." Knowledge of God can be proved only by obedience to God; and knowledge of God can be gained only by obedience to God. C. H. Dodd says, "To know God is to experience his love in Christ, and to return that love in obedience."

Here was John's problem. In the Greek world he was faced with people who saw God as an intellectual exercise and who could say, "I know God" without being conscious of any ethical obligation whatever. In the Greek world he was faced with people who had had an emotional experience and who could say, "I am in God and God is in me," and who yet did not see God in terms of commandments at all.

John is determined to lay it down quite unmistakably and without compromise that the only way in which we can show that we know God is by obedience to him, and the only way we can show that we have union with Christ is by imitation of him. Christianity is the religion which offers the greatest privilege and brings with it the greatest obligation. Intellectual effort and emotional experience are not neglected--far from it but they must combine to issue in moral action.


2:7-8 Beloved, it is not a new commandment which I am writing to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning, the old commandment is the word which you heard. Again, it is a new commandment which I am writing to you, a thing which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the light is now shining.

Beloved is John's favourite address to his people (compare 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:21; 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:7; 3 John 1:1-2; 3 John 1:5; 3 John 1:11). The whole accent of his writing is love. As Westcott puts it: "St. John, while enforcing the commandment of love, gives expression to it." There is something very lovely here. So much of this letter is a warning; and parts of it are rebuke. When we are warning people or rebuking them, it is so easy to become coldly critical; it is so easy to scold; it is even possible to take a cruel pleasure in seeing people wince under our verbal lash. But, even when he has to say hard things, the accent of John's voice is love. He had learned the lesson which every parent, every preacher, every teacher, every leader must learn; he had learned to speak the truth in love.

John speaks about a commandment which is at one and the same time old and new. Some would take this as referring to the implied commandment in 1 John 2:6 that he who abides in Jesus Christ must live the same kind of life as his Master lived. But almost certainly John is thinking of the words of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: "A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). In what sense was that commandment both old and new?

(i) It was old in the sense that it was already there in the Old Testament. Did not the Law say, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'? (Leviticus 19:18). It was old in the sense that this was not the first time that John's hearers had heard it. From the very first day of their entry into the Christian life they had been taught that the law of love must be the law of their lives. This commandment went a long way back in history and a long way back in the lives of those to whom John was speaking.

(ii) It was new in that it had been raised to a completely new standard in the life of Jesus--and it was as Jesus had loved men that men were now to love each other. It could well be said that men did not really know what love was until they saw it in him. In every sphere of life it is possible for a thing to be old in the sense that it has for long existed and yet to reach a completely new standard in someone's performance of it. A game may become a new game to a man when he has seen some master play it. A piece of music may become a new thing to a man when he has heard some great orchestra play it under the baton of some master conductor. Even a dish of food can become a new thing to a man when he tastes it after it has been prepared by someone with a genius for cooking. An old thing can become a new experience in the hands of a master. In Jesus love became new in two directions.

(a) It became new in the extent to which it reached. In Jesus love reached out to the sinner. To the orthodox Jewish Rabbi the sinner was a person whom God wished to destroy. "There is joy in heaven," they said, "when one sinner is obliterated from the earth." But Jesus was the friend of outcast men and women and of sinners, and he was sure that there was joy in heaven when one sinner came home. In Jesus love reached out to the Gentile. As the Rabbis saw it: "The Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of Hell." But in Jesus God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Love became new in Jesus because he widened its boundaries until there were none outside its embrace.

(b) It became new in the lengths to which it would go. No lack of response, nothing that men could ever do to him, could turn Jesus' love to hate. He could even pray for God's mercy on those who were nailing him to his Cross.

The commandment to love was old in the sense that men had known of it for long; but it was new because in Jesus Christ love had reached a standard which it had never reached before and it was by that standard that men were bidden to love.

THE DEFEAT OF THE DARK (1 John 2:7-8 continued)

John goes on to say that this commandment of love is true in Jesus Christ and true in the people to whom he is writing. To John, as we have seen, truth was not only something to be grasped with the mind; it was something to be done. What he means is that the commandment to love one another is the highest truth; in Jesus Christ we can see that commandment in all the glory of its fullness; in him that commandment is true; and in the Christian we can see it, not in the fullness of its truth but coming true. For John, Christianity is progress in love.

He goes on to say that the light is shining and the darkness is passing away. This must be read in context. By the time John wrote, at the end of the first century, men's ideas were changing. In the very early days they had looked for the Second Coming of Jesus as a sudden and shattering event within their own life time. When that did not happen, they did not abandon the hope but allowed experience to change it. To John the Second Coming of Christ is not one sudden, dramatic event but a process in which the darkness is steadily being defeated by the light; and the end of the process will be a world in which the darkness is totally defeated and the light triumphant.

In this passage and in 1 John 2:10-11, the light is identified with love and the dark with hate. That is to say, the end of this process is a world where love reigns supreme and hate is banished for ever. Christ has come in the individual heart when a man's whole being is ruled by love; and he will have come in the world of men when all men obey his commandment of love. The coming and reign of Jesus is identical with the coming and reign of love.


2:9-11 He who says that he is in the light, and who at the same time hates his brother, is still in the darkness. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is nothing in him which makes him stumble. He who hates his brother is in the darkness and he is walking in darkness, and he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

The first thing which strikes us about this passage is the way in which John sees personal relationships in terms of black and white. In regard to our brother man, it is a case of either love or hate; as John sees it, there is no such thing as neutrality in personal relationships. As Westcott put it: "Indifference is impossible; there is no twilight in the spiritual world."

It is further to be noted that what John is speaking about is a man's attitude to his brother, that is, to the man next door, the man beside whom he lives and works, the man with whom he comes into contact every day. There is a kind of Christian attitude which enthusiastically preaches love to people in other lands, but has never sought any kind of fellowship with its next door neighbour or even managed to live at peace within its own family circle. John insists on love for the man with whom we are in daily contact. As A. E. Brooke puts it, this is not "vapid philosophy, or a pretentious cosmopolitanism"; it is immediate and practical.

John was perfectly right when he drew his sharp distinction between light and dark, love and hate, without shades and halfway stages. Our brother cannot be disregarded; he is part of the landscape. The question is how, do we regard him?

(i) We may regard our brother man as negligible. We can make all our plans without taking him into our calculations at all. We can live on the assumption that his need and his sorrow and his welfare and his salvation have nothing to do with us. A man may be so self-centred often quite unconsciously that in his world no one matters except himself.

(ii) We may regard our brother man with contempt. We may treat him as a fool in comparison with our intellectual attainment and as one whose opinions are to be brushed aside. We may regard him much as the Greeks regarded slaves, a necessary lesser breed, useful enough for the menial duties of life, but not to be compared with themselves.

(iii) We may regard our brother man as a nuisance. We may feel that law and convention have given him a certain claim upon us, but that claim is nothing more than an unfortunate necessity. Thus a man may regard any gift he has to make to charity and any tax he has to pay for social welfare as regrettable. Some in their heart of hearts regard those who are in poverty or in sickness and those who are under-privileged as mere nuisances.

(iv) We may regard our brother man as an enemy. If we regard competition as the principle of life, that is bound to be so. Every other man in the same profession or trade is a potential competitor and, therefore, a potential enemy.

(v) We may regard our brother man as a brother. We may regard his needs as our needs, his interests as our interests, and to be in fellowship with him as the true joy of life.

THE EFFECT OF LOVE AND HATE (1 John 2:9-11 continued)

John has something further to say. As he sees it, our attitude to our brother man has an effect not only on him but also on ourselves.

(i) If we love our brother, we are walking in the light and there is nothing in us which causes us to stumble. The Greek could mean that, if we love our brother, there is nothing in us which causes others to stumble and, of course, that would be perfectly true. But it is much more likely that John is saying that, if we love our brother, there is nothing in us which causes ourselves to stumble. That is to say, love enables us to make progress in the spiritual life and hatred makes progress impossible. When we think of it, that is perfectly obvious. If God is love and if the new commandment of Christ is love, then love brings us nearer to men and to God and hatred separates us from men and from God. We ought always to remember that he who has in his heart hatred, resentment and the unforgiving spirit, can never grow up in the spiritual life.

(ii) John goes on to say that he who hates his brother walks in darkness and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. That is to say, hatred makes a man blind and this, too, is perfectly obvious. When a man has hatred in his heart, his powers of judgment are obscured; he cannot see an issue clearly. It is no uncommon sight to see a man opposing a good proposal simply because he dislikes, or has quarrelled with, the man who made it. Again and again progress in some scheme of a church or an association is held up because of personal animosities. No man is fit to give a verdict on anything while he has hatred in his heart; and no man can rightly direct his own life when hatred dominates him.

Love enables a man to walk in the light; hatred leaves him in the dark--even if he does not realise that it is so.


2:12-14 I am writing to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you through his name. I am writing to you, fathers, Because you have come to know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, Because you have overcome the Evil One. I have written to you, little ones, Because you have come to know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, Because you have come to know him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, And the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the Evil One.

This is a very lovely passage and yet for all its beauty it has its problems of interpretation. We may begin by noting two things which are certain.

First, as to its form, this passage is not exactly poetry but it is certainly poetical and strongly rhythmical. Therefore, it is to be interpreted as poetry ought to be.

Second, as to its contents, John has been warning his people of the perils of the dark and the necessity of walking in the light and now he says that in every case their best defence is to remember what they are and what has been done for them. No matter who they are, their sins have been forgiven; no matter who they are, they know him who is from the beginning; no matter who they are, they have the strength which can face and overcome the Evil One. When Nehemiah was urged to seek a cowardly safety, his answer was: "Should such a man as I flee?" (Nehemiah 6:11). And when the Christian is tempted, his answer may well be: "Should such a man as I stoop to this folly or stain my hands with this evil?" The man who is forgiven, who knows God and who is aware that he can draw on a strength beyond his own, has a great defence against temptation in simply remembering these things.

But in this passage there are problems. The first is quite simple. Why does John say three times I am writing and three times I have written? The Vulgate translates both by the present tense scribo); and it has been argued that John varies the tense simply to avoid the monotony that six successive present tenses would bring. It has also been argued that the past tenses are what Greek calls the epistolary aorist. Greek letter-writers had a habit of using the past instead of the present tense because they put themselves in the position of the reader. To the writer of a letter a thing may be present because at the moment he is doing it; but to the reader of the letter it will be past because by that time it has been done. To take a simple instance, a Greek letter-writer might equally well say, "I am going to town today," or "I went to town today." That is the Greek epistolary or letter-writer's aorist. if that be the case here, there is no real difference between John's I am writing and I have written.

More likely the explanation is this. When John says I am writing he is thinking of what he is at the moment writing and of what he still has to say; when he says I have written he is thinking of what has already been written and his readers have already read. The sense would then be that the whole letter, the part already written, the part being written and the part still to come, is all designed to remind Christians of who and whose they are and of what has been done for them.

For John it was of supreme importance that the Christian should remember the status and the benefits he has in Jesus Christ, for these would be his defence against error and against sin.

AT EVERY STAGE (1 John 2:12-14 continued)

The second problem which confronts us is more difficult, and also more important. John uses three titles of the people to whom he is writing. He calls them little children; in 1 John 2:12 the Greek is teknia (Greek #5040) and in 1 John 2:13 paidia (Greek #3816); teknia (Greek #5040) indicates a child young in age and paidia (Greek #3816) a child young in experience, and, therefore, in need of training and discipline. He calls them fathers. He calls them young men. The question then is: to whom is John writing and three answers have been given.

(i) It is suggested that we are to take these words as representing three age groups in the church--children, fathers, and young men. The children have the sweet innocence of childhood and of forgiveness. The fathers have the mature wisdom which Christian experience can bring. The young men have the strength which enables them to win their personal battle with the Evil One. That is most attractive; but there are three reasons which make us hesitate to adopt it as the only meaning of the passage.

(a) Little children is one of John's favourite expressions. He also uses it in 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21; and it is clear in the other cases that he is not thinking of little children in terms of age but of Christians whose spiritual father he is. By this time he must have been very nearly a hundred years old; all the members of his churches were of a far younger generation and to him they were all little children in the same way as a teacher or professor may still think of his boys after the boys have long since become men.

(b) The fact that the passage is kin to poetry makes us think twice before insisting that so literal a meaning must be given to the words and so cut and dried a classification be taken as intended. Literalism and poetry do not go comfortably hand in hand.

(c) Perhaps the greatest difficulty is that the blessings of which John speaks are not the exclusive possession of any one age group. Forgiveness does not belong to the child alone; a Christian may be young in the faith, and yet have a wonderful maturity; strength to overcome the tempter does not--thank God--belong to youth alone. These blessings are the blessings not of any one age but of the Christian life.

We do not say that there is no thought of age groups in this. There almost certainly is; but John has a way of saying things which can be taken in two ways, a narrower and a wider; and, while the narrower meaning is here, we must go beyond it to find the full meaning.

(ii) It is suggested that we are to find two groups here. The argument is that little children describes Christians in general and that Christians in general are then divided into two groups, the fathers and the young men, that is, the young and the old, the mature and the as yet immature. That is perfectly possible, because John's people must have become so used to hearing him call them my little children that they would not connect the words with age at all but would always include themselves in that address.

(iii) It is suggested that in every case the words include all Christians and that no classification is intended. All Christians are like little children, for all can regain their innocence by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. All Christians are like fathers, like full-grown, responsible men, who can think and learn their way deeper and deeper into the knowledge of Jesus Christ. All Christians are like young men, with a vigorous strength to fight and win their battles against the tempter and his power. It seems to us that indeed this is John's wider meaning. We may begin by taking his words as a classification of Christians into three age groups;, but we come to see that the blessings of each group are the blessings of all the groups and that each one of us finds himself included in all of them.

GOD'S GIFTS IN CHRIST (1 John 2:12-14 continued)

This passage finely sets out God's gifts to all men in Jesus Christ.

(i) There is the gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. This was the essential message of the gospel and of the early preachers. They were sent out to preach repentance and remission of sins (Luke 24:47). It was Paul's message at Antioch in Pisidia that to men there was proclaimed through Jesus Christ forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38). To be forgiven is to be at peace with God and that is precisely the gift that Jesus brought to men.

John uses the curious phrase through his name (1 John 2:12). Forgiveness comes through the name of Jesus Christ. The Jews used the name in a very special way. The name is not simply that by which a person is called; it stands for the whole character of a person in so far as it has been made known to men. This use is very common in the Book of Psalms. "Those who know thy name put their trust in thee" (Psalms 9:10). This clearly does not mean that those who know that God is called Yahweh (Hebrew #3068 and Hebrew #3069) will put their trust in him; it means that those who know God's nature in so far as it has been revealed to men will be ready to put their trust in him, because they know what he is like. The Psalmist prays: "For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt" (Psalms 25:11), which to all intents and purposes means for thy love and mercy's sake. The grounds of the Psalmist's prayer are the character of God as he knows it to be. "For thy name's sake," prays the Psalmist, "lead me, and guide me" (Psalms 31:3). He can bring his request only because he knows the name--the character of God. "Some boast of chariots," says the Psalmist, "and some of horses; but we boast of the name of the Lord our God" (Psalms 20:7). Some people put their trust in earthly helps but we will trust God because we know his nature.

So, then, John means that we are assured of forgiveness because we know the character of Jesus Christ. We know that in him we see God. We see in him sacrificial love and patient mercy; therefore we know that God is like that; and, therefore. we can be sure that there is forgiveness for us.

(ii) There is the gift of increasing knowledge o God. John no doubt was thinking of his own experience. He was an old man now; he was writing about A.D. 100. For seventy years he had lived with Christ and he had thought about him and come to know him better every day. For the Jew knowledge was not merely an intellectual thing. To know God was not merely to know him as the philosopher knows him, it was to know him as a friend knows him. In Hebrew to know is used of the relationship between husband and wife and especially of the sexual act, the most intimate of all relationships (compare Genesis 4:1). When John spoke of the increasing knowledge of God, he did not mean that the Christian would become an ever more learned theologian; he meant that throughout the years he would become more and more intimately friendly with God.

(iii) There is the gift of victorious strength. John looks on the struggle with temptation as a personal struggle. He does not speak in the abstract of conquering evil; he speaks of conquering the Evil One. He sees evil as a personal power which seeks to seduce us from God. Once Robert Louis Stevenson, speaking of an experience which he never told in detail, said, "You know the Caledonian Railway Station in Edinburgh? Once I met Satan there." There can be none of us who has not experienced the attack of the tempter, the personal assault on our virtue and on our loyalty. It is in Christ we receive the power to meet and to defeat this attack. To take a very simple human analogy we all know that there are some people in whose presence it is easy to be bad and some in whose presence it is necessary to be good. When we walk with Jesus, we are walking with him whose company can enable us to defeat the assaults of the Evil One.


2:15-17 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything that is in the world--the flesh's desire, the eye's desire, life's empty pride--does not come from the Father but comes from the world. And the world is passing away, and so is its desire; but he who does God's will abides for ever.

It was characteristic of ancient thought to see the world in terms of two conflicting principles. We see this very vividly in Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Persians. That was a religion with which the Jews had been brought into contact and which had left a mark upon their thinking. Zoroastrianism saw the world as the battle-ground between the opposing forces of the light and the dark. The god of the light was Ahura-Mazda, the god of the dark was Ahura-Mainyu; and the great decision in life was which side to serve. Every man had to decide to ally himself either with the light or with the dark; that was a conception which the Jews knew well.

But for the Christian the cleavage between the world and the Church had another background. The Jews had for many centuries a basic belief which divided time into two ages, this present age, which was wholly evil, and the age to come, which was the age of God and, therefore, wholly good. It was a basic belief of the Christian that in Christ the age to come had arrived; the Kingdom of God was here. But the Kingdom of God had not arrived in and for the world; it had arrived only in and for the Church. Hence the Christian was bound to draw a contrast. The life of the Christian within the Church was the life of the age to come, which was wholly good; on the other hand the world was still living in this present age, which was wholly evil. It followed inevitably that there was a complete cleavage between the Church and the world, and that there could be no fellowship, and even no compromise, between them.

But we must be careful to understand what John meant by the world, the kosmos (Greek #2889). The Christian did not hate the world as such. It was God's creation; and God made all things well. Jesus had loved the beauty of the world; not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of the scarlet anemones which bloomed for a day and died. Jesus again and again took his illustrations from the world. In that sense the Christian did not hate the world. The earth was not the devil's; the earth was the Lord's and the fullness thereof. But kosmos (Greek #2889) acquired a moral sense. It began to mean the world apart from God. C. H. Dodd defines this meaning of kosmos (Greek #2889): "Our author means human society in so far as it is organized on wrong principles, and characterized by base desires, false values, and egoism." In other words, to John the world was nothing other than pagan society with its false values and its false gods.

The world in this passage does not mean the world in general, for God loved the world which he had made; it means the world which, in fact, had forsaken the God who made it.

It so happened that there was a factor in the situation of John's people which made the circumstances even more perilous. It is clear that, although they might be unpopular, they were not undergoing persecution. They were, therefore, under the great and dangerous temptation to compromise with the world. It is always difficult to be different, and it was specially difficult for them.

To this day the Christian cannot escape the obligation to be different from the world. In this passage John sees things as he always sees them--in terms of black and white. As Westcott has it: "There cannot be a vacuum in the soul." This is a matter in which there is no neutrality; a man either loves the world or he loves God, Jesus himself said, "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). The ultimate choice remains the same. Are we to accept the world's standards or the standards of God?

THE LIFE IN WHICH THERE IS NO FUTURE (1 John 2:15-17 continued)

John has two things to say about the man who loves the world and compromises with it.

First, he sets out three sins which are typical of the world.

(i) There is the flesh's desire. This means far more than what we mean by sins o the flesh. To us that expression has to do exclusively with sexual sin. But in the New Testament the flesh is that part of our nature which. when it is without the grace of Jesus Christ, offers a bridgehead to sin. It includes the sins of the flesh but also all worldly ambitions and selfish aims. To be subject to the flesh's desire is to judge everything in this world by purely material standards. It is to live a life dominated by the senses. It is to be gluttonous in food; effeminate in luxury; slavish in pleasure; lustful and lax in morals; selfish in the use of possessions; regardless of all the spiritual values; extravagant in the gratification of material desires. The flesh's desire is regardless of the commandments of God, the judgment of God, the standards of God and the very existence of God. We need not think of this as the sin of the gross sinner. Anyone who demands a pleasure which may be the ruin of someone else, anyone who has no respect for the personalities of other people in the gratification of his own desires, anyone who lives in luxury while others live in want, anyone who has made a god of his own comfort and of his own ambition in any part of life, is the servant of the flesh's desire.

(ii) There is the eye's desire. This, as C. H. Dodd puts it is "the tendency to be captivated by outward show." It is the spirit which identifies lavish ostentation with real prosperity. It is the spirit which can see nothing without wishing to acquire it and which, having acquired it, flaunts it. It is the spirit which believes that happiness is to be found in the things which money can buy and the eve can see; it has no values other than the material.

(iii) There is life's empty pride. Here John uses a most vivid Greek word, alazoneia (Greek #212). To the ancient moralists the alazon (Greek #213) was the man who laid claims to possessions and to achievements which did not belong to him in order to exalt himself. The alazon (Greek #213) is the braggart; and C. H. Dodd calls alazoneia (Greek #212), pretentious egoism. Theophrastus, the great Greek master of the character study, has a study of the Alazon (Greek #213), he stands in the harbour and boasts of the ships that he has at sea; he ostentatiously sends a messenger to the bank when he has a shilling to his credit; he talks of his friends among the mighty and of the letters he receives from the famous. He details at length his charitable benefactions and his services to the state. All that he occupies is a hired lodging, but he talks of buying a bigger house to match his lavish entertaining. His conversation is a continual boasting about things which he does not possess and all his life is spent in an attempt to impress everyone he meets with his own non-existent importance.

As John sees him, the man of the world is the man who judges everything by his appetites, the man who is the slave of lavish ostentation, the boastful braggart who tries to make himself out a far bigger man than he is.

Then comes John's second warning. The man who attaches himself to the world's aims and the world's ways is giving his life to things which literally have no future. All these things are passing away and none has any permanency. But the man who has taken God as the centre of his life has given himself to the things which last for ever. The man of the world is doomed to disappointment; the man of God is certain of lasting joy.


2:18 Little children, it is the time of the last hour; and now many antichrists have risen, just as you heard that Antichrist was to come. That is how we know that it is the time of the last hour.

It is important that we should understand what John means when he speaks of the time of the last hour. The idea of the last days and of the last hour runs all through the Bible; but there is a most interesting development in its meaning.

(i) The phrase occurs frequently in the very early books of the Old Testament. Jacob, for instance, before his death assembles his sons to tell them what will befall them in the last days (Genesis 49:1; compare Numbers 24:14). At that time the last days were when the people of Israel would enter into the Promised Land, and would at last enter into full enjoyment of the promised blessings of God.

(ii) The phrase frequently occurs in the prophets. In the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). In the last days God's Holy City will be supreme; and Israel will render to God the perfect obedience which is his due (compare Jeremiah 23:20; Jeremiah 30:24; Jeremiah 48:47). In the last days there will be the supremacy of God and the obedience of his people.

(iii) In the Old Testament itself, and in the times between the Old and the New Testaments, the last days become associated with the Day of the Lord. No conception is more deeply interwoven into Scripture than this. The Jews had come to believe that all time was divided into two ages. In between this present age, which was wholly evil, and the age to come, which was the golden time of God's supremacy there was the Day of the Lord, the last days, which would be a time of terror, of cosmic dissolution and of judgment, the birthpangs of the new age.

The last hour does not mean a time of annihilation whose end will be a great nothingness as there was at the beginning. In biblical thought the last time is the end of one age and the beginning of another. It is last in the sense that things as they are pass away; but it leads not to world obliteration but to world re-creation.

Here is the centre of the matter. The question then becomes: "Will a man be wiped out in the judgment of the old or will he enter into the glory of the new?" That is the alternative with which John--like all the biblical writers--is confronting men. Men have the choice of allying themselves with the old world, which is doomed to dissolution, or of allying themselves with Christ and entering into the new world, the very world of God. Here lies the urgency. If it was a simple matter of utter obliteration, no one could do anything about it. But it is a matter of re-creation, and whether a man will enter the new world or not depends on whether or not he gives his life to Jesus Christ.

In fact John was wrong. It was not the last hour for his people. Eighteen hundred years have gone by and the world still exists. Does the whole conception, then, belong to a sphere of thought which must be discarded? The answer is that in this conception there is an eternal relevance. Every hour is the last hour. In the world there is a continual conflict between good and evil, between God and that which is anti-God. And in every moment and in every decision a man is confronted with the choice of allying himself either with God or with the evil forces which are against God; and of thereby ensuring, or failing to ensure, his own share in eternal life. The conflict between good and evil never stops; therefore, the choice never stops; therefore, in a very real sense every hour is the last hour.

THE ANTICHRIST (1 John 2:18 continued)

In this verse we meet the conception of Antichrist. Antichrist is a word which occurs only in John's letters in the New Testament (1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7 ); but it is the expression of an idea which is as old as religion itself.

From its derivation Antichrist can have two meanings. Anti (Greek #473) is a Greek preposition which can mean either against or in place of. Strategos (Greek #4755) is the Greek word for a commander, and antistrategos can mean either the hostile commander or the deputy commander. Antichrist can mean either the opponent of Christ or the one who seeks to put himself in the place of Christ. In this case the meaning will come to the same thing, but with this difference. If we take the meaning to be the one who is opposed to Christ, the opposition is plain. If we take the meaning to be the one who seeks to put himself in the place of Christ, Antichrist can be one who subtly tries to take the place of Christ from within the church and the Christian community. The one will be an open opposition; the other a subtle infiltration. We need not choose between these meanings, for Antichrist can act in either way.

The simplest way to think of it is that Christ is the incarnation of God and goodness, and Antichrist is the incarnation of the devil and evil.

We began by saying that this is an idea which is as old as religion itself; men have always felt that in the universe there is a power which is in opposition to God. One of its earliest forms occurs in the Babylonian legend of creation. According to it there was in the very beginning a primeval sea monster called Tiamat; this sea monster was subdued by Marduk but not killed; it was only asleep and the final battle was still to come. That mythical idea of the primeval monster occurs in the Old Testament again and again. There the monster is often called Rahab or the crooked serpent or leviathan. "Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass," says the Psalmist (Psalms 89:10). "His hand pierced the fleeing serpent," says Job (Job 26:13). Isaiah speaking of the arm of the Lord, says, "Was it not thou that didst cut Rahab in pieces, that didst pierce the dragon?" (Isaiah 51:9). Isaiah writes: "In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the fleeing serpent, leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea" (Isaiah 27:1). All these are references to the primeval dragon. This idea is obviously one which belongs to the childhood of mankind and its basis is that in the universe there is a power hostile to God.

Originally this power was conceived of as the dragon. Inevitably as time went on it became personalized. Every time there arose a very evil man who seemed to be setting himself against God and bent on the obliteration of his people, the tendency was to identify him with this anti-God force. For instance, about 168 B.C. there emerged the figure of Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria. He resolved on a deliberate attempt to eliminate Judaism from this earth. He invaded Jerusalem, killed thousands of Jews, and sold tens of thousands into slavery. To circumcise a child or to own a copy of the Law was made a crime punishable by instant death. In the Temple courts was erected a great altar to Zeus. Swine's flesh was offered on it. The Temple chambers were made into public brothels. Here was a cold-blooded effort to wipe out the Jewish religion. It was Antiochus whom Daniel called "The abomination that makes desolate" (Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11). Here men thought was the anti-God force become flesh.

It was this same phrase that men took in the days of Mark's gospel when they talked of "The Abomination of Desolation"--"The Appalling Horror," as Moffatt translates it--being set up in the Temple (Mark 13:14; Matthew 24:15). Here the reference was to Caligula, the more than half-mad Roman Emperor, who wished to set up his own image in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. It was felt that this was the act of anti-God incarnate.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, Paul speaks of "the man of sin," the one who exalts himself above all that is called God and all that is worshipped and who sets himself up in the very Temple of God. We do not know whom Paul was expecting, but again there is this thought of one who was the incarnation of everything which was opposed to God.

In Revelation there is the beast (Revelation 13:1; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10). Here is very probably another figure. Nero was regarded by all as a human monster. His excesses disgusted the Romans and his savage persecution tortured the Christians. In due time he died; but he had been so wicked that men could not believe that he was really dead. And so there arose the Nero Redivivus, Nero resurrected, legend, which said that Nero was not dead but had gone to Parthia and would come with the Parthian hordes to descend upon men. He is the beast, the Antichrist, the incarnation of evil.

All down history there have been these identifications of human figures with Antichrist. The Pope, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, have all in their day received this identification.

But the fact is that Antichrist is not so much a person as a principle, the principle which is actively opposed to God and which may well be thought of as incarnating itself in those men in every generation who have seemed to be the blatant opponents of God.

THE BATTLE OF THE MIND (1 John 2:18 continued)

John has a view of Antichrist which is characteristically his own. To him the sign that Antichrist is in the world is the false belief and the dangerous teaching of the heretics. The Church had been well forewarned that in the last days false teachers would come. Jesus had said, "Many will come in my name, saying, I am he; and they will lead many astray" (Mark 13:6; compare Matthew 24:5). Before he left them, Paul had warned his Ephesian friends: "After my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves will arise men, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). The situation which had been foretold had now arisen.

But John had a special view of this situation. He did not think of Antichrist as one single individual figure but rather as a power of falsehood speaking in and through the false teachers. Just as the Holy Spirit was inspiring the true teachers and the true prophets, so there was an evil spirit inspiring the false teachers and the false prophets.

The great interest and relevance of this is that for John the battleground was in the mind. The spirit of Antichrist was struggling with the Spirit of God for the possession of men's minds. What makes this so significant is that we can see exactly this process at work today. Men have brought the indoctrination of the human mind to a science. We see men take an idea and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it until it settles into the minds of others and they begin to accept it as true simply because they have heard it so often. This is easier today than ever it was with so many means of mass communication--books, newspapers, wireless, television, and the vast resources of modern advertising. A skilled propagandist can take an idea and infiltrate it into men's minds until, all unaware, they are indoctrinated with it. We do not say that John foresaw all this but he did see the mind as the field of operations for Antichrist. He no longer thought in terms of a single demonic figure but in terms of a force of evil deliberately seeking to pervade men's minds; and there is nothing more potent for evil than that.

If there is one special task which confronts the Church today, it is to learn how to use the power of the media of mass communication to counteract the evil ideas with which the minds of men are being deliberately indoctrinated.


2:19-21 They have gone out from among us but they are not of our number. If they had been of our number, they would have remained with us. But things have happened as they have happened, that it may be clearly demonstrated that all of them are not of us. But you have received anointing from the Holy One and you all possess knowledge. I have not written this letter to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

As things have turned out, John sees in the Church a time of sifting. The false teachers had voluntarily left the Christian fellowship; and that fact had shown that they did not really belong there. They were aliens and their own conduct had shown it to be so.

The last phrase of 1 John 2:19 can have two meanings.

(i) It may mean, as in our translation: "All of them are not of us," or, as we might better put it, "None of them are from us." That is to say, however attractive some of them may be and however fine their teaching sounds, they are all alike alien to the Church.

(ii) It is just possible that what the phrase means is that these men have gone out from the Church to make it clear that "all who are in the Church do not really belong to it." As C. H. Dodd puts it: "Membership of the Church is no guarantee that a man belongs to Christ and not to Antichrist." As A. E. Brooke puts it although he does not agree that it is the meaning of the Greek "External membership is no proof of inward union." As Paul had it: "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (Romans 9:6). A time such as had come upon John's people had its value, for it sifted the false from the true.

In 1 John 2:20 John goes on to remind his people that all of them possess knowledge. The people who had gone out were Gnostics who claimed that there had been given to them a secret, special and advanced knowledge which was not open to the ordinary Christian. John reminds his people that in matters of faith the humblest Christian need have no feeling of inferiority to the most learned scholar. There are, of course, matters of technical scholarship, of language, of history, which must be the preserve of the expert; but the essentials of the faith are the possession of every man.

This leads John to his last point in this section. He writes to them, not because they did not know the truth, but because they did. Westcott puts it in this way: "The object of the apostle in writing was not to communicate fresh knowledge, but to bring into active and decisive use the knowledge which his readers already possessed." The greatest Christian defence is simply to remember what we know. What we need is not new truth, but that the truth which we already know become active and effective in our lives.

This is an approach which Paul continually uses. He writes to the Thessalonians: "But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another" (1 Thessalonians 4:9). What they need is not new truth but to put into practice the truth they already know. He writes to the Romans: "I myself, am satisfied about you, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God" (Romans 15:14-15). What they need is not so much to be taught as to be reminded.

It is the simple fact of the Christian life that things would be different at once if we would only put into practice what we already know. That is not to say that we never need to learn anything new; but it is to say that, even as we are, we have light enough to walk by if we would only use it.

THE MASTER LIE (1 John 2:22-23)

2:22-23 Who is the liar but the man who denies that Jesus is the Anointed One of God? Antichrist is he who denies the Father and the Son. Anyone who denies the Son does not even have the Father; and everyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

As someone has put it, to deny that Jesus is the Christ is the master lie, the lie par excellence; the lie of all lies.

John says that he who denies the Son has not the Father either. What lies behind that saying is this. The false teachers pleaded, "It may be that we have different ideas from yours about Jesus; but you and we do believe the same things about God." John's answer is that that is an impossible position; no man can deny the Son and still have the Father. How does he arrive at this view?

He arrives at it because no one who accepts New Testament teaching can arrive at any other. It is the consistent teaching of the New Testament and it is the claim of Jesus himself that apart from him no man can know God. Jesus said quite clearly that no man knows the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son reveals that knowledge (Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22). Jesus said, "He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees him who sent me" (John 12:44-45). When, toward the end, Philip said that they would be content if Jesus would only show them the Father, Jesus' answer was: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:6-9). It is through Jesus that men know God; it is in Jesus that men can approach God. If we deny Jesus' right to speak, if we deny his special knowledge and his special relationship to God, we can have no more confidence in what he says. His words become no more than the guesses which any good and great man could make. Apart from Jesus we have no secure knowledge of God; to deny him is at the same time to lose all grip of God.

Further, it is Jesus' claim that a man's reaction to him is, in fact, a reaction to God and that that reaction settles his destiny in time and in eternity. He said, "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33). To deny Jesus is to be separated from God, for on our reaction to Jesus our relationship to God depends.

To deny Jesus is indeed the master lie, for it is to lose entirely the faith and the knowledge which he alone makes possible.

We may say that there are three New Testament confessions of Jesus. There is the confession that he is the Son of God (Matthew 16:16; John 9:35-38); there is the confession that he is Lord (Philippians 2:11); and there is the confession that he is Messiah (1 John 2:22). The essence of every one of them is the affirmation that Jesus stands in a unique relationship to God; and to deny that relationship is to deny the certainty that everything Jesus said about God is true. The Christian faith depends on the unique relationship of Jesus to God. John is, therefore, right; the man who denies the Son has lost the Father, too.


2:24-29 If that which you have heard from the beginning remains within you, you too will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which he made to you eternal life. I am writing these things to you to warn you about those who are seeking to lead you astray. As for you, if that anointing which you have received from him remains in you, you have no need for anyone to teach you. But, as his anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is no lie, and as he has taught you, remain in him. And now, little children, remain in him, so that, if he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink in shame away from him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you must be aware that everyone who does righteousness is born of him.

John is pleading with his people to abide in the things which they have learned, for, if they do, they will abide in Christ. The great interest of this passage lies in an expression which John has already used. In 1 John 2:20 he has already spoken of the anointing which his people had had from the Holy One and through which all of them were equipped with knowledge. Here he speaks of the anointing which they have received and the anointing which teaches them all things. What is the thought behind this word anointing? We shall have to go back some distance in Hebrew thought to get at it.

In Hebrew thought and practice anointing was connected with three kinds of people. (i) Priests were anointed. The ritual regulation runs: "You shall take the anointing oil, and pour it on his (the priest's) head and anoint him" (Exodus 29:7; compare Exodus 40:13; Leviticus 16:32). (ii) Kings were anointed. Samuel anointed Saul as king of the nation (1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 10:1). Later, Samuel anointed David as king (1 Samuel 16:3; 1 Samuel 16:12). Elijah was bidden to anoint Hazael and Jehu (1 Kings 19:15-16). Anointing was the symbol of coronation, as it still is. (iii) Prophets were anointed. Elijah was bidden to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16). The Lord had anointed the prophet Isaiah to bring good tidings to the nation (Isaiah 61:1).

Here, then, is the first significant thing. In the old days anointing had been the privilege of the chosen few, the priests, the prophets and the kings; but now it is the privilege of every Christian, however humble he may be. First, then, the anointing stands for the privilege of the Christian in Jesus Christ.

The High Priest was called The Anointed; but the supreme Anointed One was the Messiah. (Messiah, Greek #3323 and compare Hebrew #4899 and Hebrew #4886, is the Hebrew for The Anointed One and Christos, Greek #5547, is the Greek equivalent). So Jesus was supremely The Anointed One. The question then arose: when was he anointed? The answer which the Church always gave was that at his baptism Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38).

The Greek world also knew of anointing. Anointing was one of the ceremonies of initiation into the Mystery Religions in which a man was supposed to gain special knowledge of God. We know that some at least of the false teachers claimed a special anointing which brought them a special knowledge of God. Hippolytus tells us how these false teachers said, "We alone of all men are Christians, who complete the mystery at the third portal and are anointed there with speechless anointing." John's answer is that it is the ordinary Christian who has the only true anointing, the anointing which Jesus gives.

When did that anointing come to the Christian and of what does it consist?

The first question is easy to answer. There was only one ceremony that all Christians passed through, and that was baptism; it was, indeed, in later days the standard practice at baptism to anoint Christians with holy oil, as Tertullian tells us.

The second question is not so easy. There are, in fact, two equally possible answers:

(i) It may be that the anointing means the coming of the Spirit upon the Christian in baptism. In the early Church that happened in the most visible way (Acts 8:17). If in this passage we were to substitute the Holy Spirit for anointing we would get excellent sense.

(ii) But there is another possibility. 1 John 2:24 and 1 John 2:27 are almost exactly parallel in expression. In 1 John 2:24 we read: "Let what you have heard from the beginning abide in you." And in 1 John 2:27 we read: "But the anointing which you received from him abides in you." That which you have received from the beginning and the anointing are exactly parallel. Therefore, it may well be that the anointing which the Christian receives is the instruction in the Christian faith which is given him when he enters the Church.

It may well be that we do not need to choose between these two interpretations and that they are both present. This would mean something very valuable. It would mean that we have two tests by which to judge any new teaching offered to us. (i) Is it in accordance with the Christian tradition which we have been taught? (ii) Is it in accordance with the witness of the Holy Spirit speaking within?

Here are the Christian criteria of truth. There is an external test. All teaching must be in accordance with the tradition handed down to us in Scripture and in the Church. There is an internal test. All teaching must undergo the test of the Holy Spirit witnessing within our hearts.

ABIDING IN CHRIST (1 John 2:24-29 continued)

Before we leave this passage we must note two great and practical things in it.

(i) In 1 John 2:28, John urges his people to abide continually in Christ so that, when he does come back in power and glory, they may not shrink from him in shame. By far the best way to be ready for the coming of Christ is to live with him every day. If we do that, his coming will be no shock to us but simply the entry into the nearer presence of one with whom we have lived for long.

Even if we have doubts and difficulties about the physical Second Coming of Christ, this still remains true. For every man life will some day come to an end; God's summons comes to all to rise and bid this world farewell. If we have never thought of God and if Jesus has been but a dim and distant memory, that will be a summons to voyage into a frightening unknown. But if we have lived consciously in the presence of Christ, if day by day we have talked and walked with God, that will be a summons to come home and to enter into the nearer presence of one who is not a stranger but a friend.

(ii) In 1 John 2:29 John comes back to a thought which is never far from his mind. The only way in which a man can prove that he is abiding in Christ is by the righteousness of his life. The profession a man makes will always be proved or disproved by his practice.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 John 2:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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