Deceivers and Antichrists (Part Two)

Previously, we saw that the apostle John gives various descriptions of the antichrist spirit that was prevalent at the end of the first century and continues today. He notes that there were many antichrists—people influenced by this spirit—who had separated from the faithful (I John 2:18-19). He identifies these antichrists as those who deny the Father and the Son—that is, those who reject Jesus Christ as the Messiah (I John 2:22-23). In addition, as a litmus test to determine those who have true faith, he focuses on the fact that the Son of God came as a flesh-and-blood human:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (I John 4:1-3)

With this background, we can look at the final usage of "antichrist":

This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (II John 6-7)

This passage appears almost identical to what is said in I John 4:2—the warning against those who do not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. However, the difference in the verb tense is quite significant. While I John 4:2 seems to be in the past tense, it is actually written in the perfect tense, which indicates an action that took place in the past, but the effects of it continue in the present. In other words, I John 4:2 means that the Messiah appeared in human flesh, and the effects of His incarnation were still reverberating when John wrote and are continuing even now.

But II John 7 is not written in either the past or the perfect tense, but in the present tense. John says that those who do not confess that "Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh"—or "as appearing in flesh" or "as entering flesh"—in the present—are deceivers and antichrists.

The various translators and commentators do not know what to make of this, if they even take note of it at all. The footnotes in the New English Translation say:

It is not clear why the author changed from a perfect participle in I John 4:2 to a present participle here. The perfect participle suggests a reference to the incarnation (past). The present participle could be a reference to the (future) second advent, but based on the similarity to I John 4:2 it is probably best to take it as referring to the incarnation.

The notes in the Companion Bible indicate that it refers to Christ's second coming, but that cannot be correct because the Bible says He is returning with the brightness of His glory (Matthew 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 13:26; Luke 9:26; 21:27; II Thessalonians 1:9-10; 2:8), not in flesh.

This puzzle becomes clear when we remember that there is flesh in which Christ is appearing, or entering, right now: yours and mine! Take note of the fact that II John 7 follows a verse about walking in the commandments. We will see a concrete link between the indwelling of Christ and the keeping of the commandments.

This same apostle records Jesus' explanation of His indwelling, given during His final Passover. He promises that a Helper would be sent to dwell in them, referring to His being in His disciples by means of His Spirit (John 14:15-21). Out of His own mouth, the indwelling of the Father and the Son are tied to keeping God's commandments (verses 15, 21) and His words (verse 21).

In John 15:4, Jesus explains that His presence in us is the source of the spiritual fruit that will be produced (see Galatians 5:22-23). In John 16:3-4, He implies that persecution arises because the persecutors do not know the Father or the Son who are dwelling in Christians. His indwelling will lead us into all truth (John 16:13). In His prayer in John 17:23, Jesus says that the presence of the Father in Him and His presence in His disciples—which includes us—leads to the disciples being "made perfect in one." This is the mystery, Paul writes, that has been hidden from ages and from generations, but has now been revealed to the saints: "To [the saints] God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27; emphasis ours throughout).

Christ's presence in us gives us the hope of His glory, resulting in our being made perfect in the resurrection. It also causes something in the present. John writes in I John 3:3, "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." The hope that comes from the indwelling of the Savior results in a specific action on our part: purification.

Next time, we will continue to contemplate the indwelling of Christ and see more of its implications for identifying the antichrist spirit.

—David C. Grabbe

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