CHRIST OUR ADVOCATE (2.1-2)
2:1: “If anyone does sin……. Over against ‘the secessionists’ who seem to have claimed not to have sinned since they came to know God and experienced the ‘anointing’ of his Spirit (1.10), John recognizes that believers do yield to temptation and commit sin.
“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2.1) GNB: “We have someone who pleads with the Father on our behalf”. See also Rom 8.34: “Christ Jesus…is at the right-hand side of God, interceding for us” (GNB: “pleading with him for us“). Literally, John says that Jesus is our ‘Paraclete’ – the word which often used in John 14-16 of the Holy Spirit is the one who “draws alongside to help us“.
The picture is of a heavenly court of law. We are arraigned before the Judge of all the earth – we are charged with having flouted God’s laws. The evidence against us is overwhelming. But in this hopeless situation we discover that we have been provided with a lawyer – Jesus offers his services as our advocate. Jesus is willing to argue our cause at the bar of God’s justice. He points out to God the Judge that the matter has been dealt with – the penalty for our sin has been paid – justice has already been done. For “he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (GNB “ the means by which our sins are forgiven“).
At this point the scene shifts from the law courts to the temple courts. We move from legal to sacrificial terminology. There has been much discussion as to the precise meaning of the underlying Greek term (hilasmos), translated in the NRSV & NIV as “atoning sacrifice“, as to whether the AV was correct to speak of “propitiation” or was the RSV correct to speak of “expiation”.
In favour of propitiation is that hilasmos outside the Bible always conveys the thought of an offering made to placate the wrath of a god whom they have offended. The concept of the wrath of God is something we find strange. We prefer to think of the love of God. But God’s love is also a holy love. God’s innate sense of justice has been offended by our sin. As Paul wrote: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness” (Rom 1.18). If we are to be forgiven, God’s wrath needs to be dealt with. The good news is that Jesus propitiates God with respect to our sin. But the picture breaks down – for while it is true that the demands of God’s justice need to be met, this doesn’t mean that God does not care for us. For even before our sins were dealt with God already loved us. As John himself wrote: “In this is love, not that we loved God that but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4.10)
Others prefer to describe Jesus’ sacrifice as an “expiation” for our sins. I.e. he becomes the means of neutralizing & cancelling sin. As NEB puts it: he became “the remedy for the defilement of our sins“. The offended God himself pardons our offenses by giving his own Son to be our Saviour. The crucified Jesus expiates sin by propitiating God!
THE NEW COMMANDMENT (2.3-17)
The reference here is to the ‘new commandment’ given by Jesus in the Upper Room (John 13.34) Confusingly John speaks both of an “old commandment” (2.7) and of “a new commandment” (2.8). According to Colin Kruse, “’the new command’ of Jesus was the ‘old command’ for the author and his readers, and it was something his readers had heard long ago, then they first received the gospel”: i.e. “John is recalling them to what they have known from the very beginning of their Christian walk”.
Another apparent confusion is found in that John has referred to “commandments” (2.3,4) in the plural, whereas in he now speaks of “commandment” (2.7,8) in the singular – presumably because John regards all the commandments as being summed up in one.
“We may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments” (2.3). NB when John speaks of knowing God, he uses the Greek perfect tense: he is thinking of a past experience which has continuing results in the present. The test of religious experience is whether it issues in a desire to try (and to some extent succeed) in keeping God’s commandments.
“Whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection” (2.5). This does not mean that we have become perfect, but that ”our love for God completes its work when we obey his command to love one another” (Kruse). There is always room for further progress and development in our lives!
Somewhat starkly John writes: “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light’, while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light.” (2.9, 10). By contrast, we might say that although there are people who we do not love, that is not the same thing as hating them. However, for John love is about caring for others in need – and if we do not care, then God’s love does not abide ins us (see 5.17). John, of course, is in the first instance writing about relationships in church – but the principle can be extended beyond the church. Note too that for John the spiritual life is characterized by positive acts of love – whereas we sometimes think of Christian maturity in terms of freedom from sin!
“I am writing to you little children… fathers…. young people” (vv13). Are these distinctions just a rhetorical device? According to CH Dodd John is writing about qualities which are appropriate to the three stages of life and which ought to be true of all believers. All Christians should have the innocence of childhood, the strength of youth, and the mature knowledge of age!
“Do not love the world or the things in the world” (2.15). In John’s writings “the world” refers to humankind “organized in rebellion toward God” (Howard Marshall). John is not thinking of the created or material world and its contents. John is not seeking to deny the pleasures from being alive in God’s world, but of the attractions of a life lived in opposition to God’s commandments.
THE ANTICHRIST (2.18-28)
1 John 2.18: “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come”
The term “antichrist” is found within the NT only in the Johannine letters (1 John 2.18, 22; 4.3; 2 John 7) – John is probably responsible for coining it. GNB translates “the Enemy of Christ”. The general concept of a powerful end-time figure opposed to God is found in the Jewish apocalyptic writings (see Dan 8.11, 13,25; 9.27; 12.11). Within the NT four main passages reflect this concept, although only John uses the term ‘antichrist’
2 Thess 2 (“the man of lawlessness”
Matt 24/Mark 13 (“False Christ/prophets shall come”)
Rev 12-13 (The “beast” roses from the scene and performs miraculous signs to deceive the inhabitants of the earth)
Here in 1 John the Antichrist figures are former members of the community (2.19) who deny that Jesus is the Christ (2.22), i.e. God’s Son who has come in the flesh (5.6-7). The antichrist “denies the Father” (2.22,23) in the sense that it was the Father who sent his Son (4.10) and bears witness to his Son (5.9,10).
Down through the centuries the term ‘antichrist’ has been used of all kinds figures. Martin Luther, for instance, described the Pope as the antichrist. Today there are some who identify Donald Trump with the antichrist!
the sun: Donald Trump is the Antichrist who’ll bring the Apocalypse, crackpots claim – citing Bible references to a charismatic ‘big talker’ sparking the end of the world… REMEMBER when conspiracy theorists though Barack Obama was the “Antichrist”? Well, now they think Donald Trump is the “Beast” as well. Yes that’s right – someone took the time to write a lengthy explanation citing several biblical references, to prove that President-elect Trump is actually the man who will bring the Apocalypse.
“According to the Bible, the Antichrist will be a charismatic celebrity, a ‘big talker’ and a ‘smooth talker’,” the website states. “He will convince people that he alone has the solution to every problem. He will claim to be a deal-maker and a master negotiator…He will claim to know how to defend Israel and to create lasting peace in the Middle East. He will be an intimidator and a militant lover of power….He will exalt and magnify himself and claim to be the ‘only Saviour’. He will deceive the masses, and even the very elect.”
Donald Trump is said to have so many connections with the Devil’s number 666:
1. Trump Tower is on 666 Fifth Avenue, New York City
2. The Tower also happens to measure 666 feet tall
3. Trump inherited his grandmother’s real estate empire when she died on June 6, 1966 = 6-6-6
4. The billionaire tycoon announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 2015 = 6 + (1×6) + (1+5) = 6-6-6
5. And the year 2016 when he won the US election = 666+666+666+6+6+6
As church history makes clear, it is impossible to try and identify the antichrist with any particular figure. The most we can say is that behind people and movements there has been – and still is – an evil force seeking to make war against God and his people. However, as far as 1 John is concerned, the Catholic scholar, Raymond E. Brown, suggests that what John was teaching was “not the advisability of continuing to identify one’s Christian opponents as the Antichrist, but the evil of schism and of doctrinal division in the Christian community” (Epistles of John 366).
“You have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge” (2.20): see also 2.27 “The anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you”. In the NT the word ‘anointing; is found only in 1 John 2. The cognate verb ‘to anoint’ is used of Jesus being anointed by God with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 4.27; 10.38); and of Paul being anointed by God who put his Spirit on him (2 Cor 1.21,22). Here in 1 John 2 the reference is best interpreted as a reference to the Holy Spirit whom they had received when they first believed, and who confirms to them the truth of the message that they heard at that time. The believers do not need any further teaching from the ‘secessionists’! The question then arises: who or what is it that guarantees correct belief among members of the church? Is it the teaching authority of bishops – or the inner illumination of individual believers by the Holy Spirit? The truth is that this is not an issue for John: he was concerned not for the church as a whole, but for a local community threatened by false teachers!
FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
To what extent is it important to understand the Cross? See the comment of Max Warren, a former CMS General Secretary, on 2 Cor 4.6 (GNB “The God who said, ‘Out of darkness the light shall shine!’ is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory, shining in the fact of Jesus Christ“) wrote: “We are standing in the darkness of the Cross. There is only one place and one attitude in which even an attempt at a doctrine of the Atonement should be made – that is on one’s knees in that darkness. It is a pity that so much has been written about the Atonement in broad daylight! It is out of darkness that the light shines…”
Have there been times when you have been tempted to doubt your experience of God? To what extent does John help you with the concept of ‘assurance’?
Do you agree with John that we either love or hate others – or would you prefer a more ‘neutral’ or ‘in-between’ position?
The word ‘antichrist’ is a very graphic term to use of those with whom we disagree. Have we as Christians become over-tolerant in our approach to those with whom we disagree? Should we be more willing to call ‘a spade a spade’?