Studies in the
First Epistle of John
1 John 2.20-29
"But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know." (1 John 2.20 RSV)
Coming just after John's stern warnings against Antichrist this word is one of comfort and assurance. We have an anointing of the Holy Spirit, and that anointing is our safeguard and protection against all the assaults of the Adversary. Those who come under the anointing thereby come under the protection of God Himself. "He that dwells in the shelter of the Most High who abides in the shadow of the Almighty'' (Psa. 91.1 RSV). There is no need to fear the power of Antichrist even in those periods of the Age when his oppressive persecutions bear most hardly upon the faithful Church. We have an anointing of the Holy Spirit, and that anointing is all-sufficient and all-powerful for our safety, if we but remain under it. That is a great truth, says John, which we all know, of which we all ought continually to be aware. It is a pity that the AV has rendered the phrase "ye know all things", for that distorts the meaning of the entire text and makes it say that our possession of the Holy Spirit's anointing automatically gives us all knowledge. So many of the Lord's little ones, realising their own deficiencies in the matter of knowledge, have puzzled over this verse and wondered if, because they manifestly do not "know all things", they have not really been anointed with the Holy Spirit. We do well to remember that Paul said quite plainly that he and those with him had knowledge only "in part" (1 Cor.13.9-12) and would not be complete in knowledge until beyond the Veil. Paul surely was anointed of the Holy Spirit! We are told, too, that it is because of belief that we are sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise (Eph.1.13). It is our faith and our consecration, not our knowledge, that ensures our anointing. The text is badly translated. Ancient authorities give it "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye all know", and modern translators put it the same way. What John is really saying is that his readers are all recipients of the Holy Spirit and they all know that they are, and in that knowledge they can rest secure. "I write to you not because you do not know the truth" he says "but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth" (v 21). Let no one think that John has so little confidence in his disciples that he fears their defection from the truth through ignorance. He knows full well how firmly grounded they have been in the knowledge of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and how they are standing fast in the traditions in which they have been taught (2 Thess.2.15). He has no fears for their present position; what he does fear is for their future, when he and those of his generation will have passed into death and the disintegrating influence of time made its inroads into the faith and hope of the still waiting believers. He knows that the power of Antichrist will wax stronger in the next generation and stronger still in the generation after that, and he is striving with all his might to impress the minds of his brethren with the necessity not only of receiving and knowing the Truth, but of holding to it tenaciously throughout life despite all the opposition and misrepresentation that will be brought to bear against it.
The Apostle's train of thought carries him now to a fierce denunciation. It is his deep concern for the purity of the faith and the clear understanding of Christian truth so necessary to spiritual life that makes him thus emphatic. "Who is a liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son" (v.22). This is a much more serious matter than may appear at first sight. It is serious for believers, much more so than for the world. For an unbelieving Jew to deny that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of prophecy can be understandable. It might even be excusable if the unbelieving one has his mind so saturated and dazzled by the glory of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies that he cannot possibly reconcile their hero with the Man of sorrows who died upon a cross. Such an attitude is admittedly a refusal or failure to believe in Christ for one's self, but it is not necessarily antichrist. The condemnation passed by John in this verse is against the man who in his denial is deliberately fighting against the cause of Christ. The setting of the denunciation seems almost to point to the apostasy of some within the Christian community rather than to those who are outside it. For professing Christians to deny that Jesus is the Christ means in effect that God, the Father, has not after all revealed Himself to man. It is only through the person and work of Jesus Christ that God has thus revealed and manifested Himself. "No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared (manifested) him' (John 1. 18). When Philip desired this same manifestation Jesus had to explain to him "He that has seen me has seen the Father, how do you say then, Show us the Father?" (John 14. 7-9). To the Jews, Jesus said "He that sees me sees him that sent me" (John 12. 45). If Jesus is not the Messiah, then God has not spoken; and if God has not spoken, then our faith is misplaced and in vain and we are of all men most miserable. John certainly triumphs above all such foreboding but he states quite positively that there can be no Christianity without Christ and moreover without the Christ he preached, the One who is a redeemer from sin and an advocate for the sinner, and Whose death was necessary before man could be released from the sentence of death passed upon the race and an opportunity granted to man to become reconciled to God. Any other gospel, says John, is the gospel of antichrist and the preacher is a liar.
We need to halt at this point and apply this to our own day. In our own time and generation, more so even than in the Apostle's day, there is this denial of Jesus Christ as a suffering Messiah Who must die for the sins of the people before coming in glory to lead them into eternal happiness. The existence of "original sin" is denied and the Bible philosophy of redemption belittled and dismissed as of no importance or consequence to the present generation. The effect of worldly wisdom infiltrating into theological education has been to introduce something which is quite definitely the modern counterpart of what John is condemning here. The person of Jesus of Nazareth is accepted; He is looked upon and worshipped, but the Messianic work and office of the One Who died upon the Cross is either ignored or else openly repudiated. It would be quite wrong and unjust to accuse the Christian clergy as a whole of this fault. Happily the pulpits still contain many faithful men of God; but that a considerable body of ecclesiastical opinion rejects Christ as Messiah while retaining Him as a distant object of veneration and worship is true.
"Whosoever denies the Son hath not the Father; but he that acknowledges the Son hath the Father also" (v 23). The second phrase, although appearing in italics in the A.V., rests on good textual authority and should be quoted. It is just one of the many statements which show how deeply and accurately the "beloved disciple" had grasped the truth regarding the relationship existing between Jesus Christ and the Father. The one cannot be accepted or rejected without accepting or rejecting the other. The one cannot be imagined as receiving or possessing anything without the other sharing in the same. Since His resurrection our Lord has been "set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3. 21). The Father has committed judicial power equivalent to His own, to the Son. "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5. 22). In that mystic oneness which we try to define but can never hope, in this life, fully to comprehend, neither can hold anything back from other. "I and my Father are one" (John 10.30). We may try to define it, following more closely the Scriptural terms that are used, but we can never hope while in the flesh to understand it fully. All our lives, and all we have in life, is yielded up willingly both to Father and Son, and in their keeping we are safe. "Let that therefore abide in you which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father" (v.24).
It might almost seem as if there is a somewhat wearisome repetition of thought in John's exhortation. This constant stressing of the need to abide in those things which we have heard from the beginning is a theme that has been worked out in later days. But it is the true abiding in Christ of which John speaks, and appropriately enough therefore, he comes in here with that reminder of a truth we already know full well. "This is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life" (v.25).
It is at this point that we have one of the most charming expressions of confidence in his pupils by a teacher that is found anywhere in the Scriptures. After all this long catalogue of deceptions and snares and enticements that may beset the path of the Christian, and all the grave warnings against being overtaken by the wiles of the Adversary, John expresses his complete confidence in his disciples and tells them of the basis of that confidence. "These things" he says "have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and you need not that any man teach you. But as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him" (vv 26 27).
Some have taken this text as an excuse for claiming that they need receive no instruction or help in spiritual things from any man; that the Holy Spirit will teach them inwardly in a kind of mystic supernatural way. They need not and will not that any man shall teach them. It is a dangerous condition of mind to get into, or would be dangerous if our Lord took them seriously. Probably He does not. Probably there are many fanatics of various kinds who name the name of Christ and spend all their lives exploring and practising some fantastic philosophy or theory upon the basis of some such misinterpretation of a text, whom our Lord simply ignores. Christ's Kingdom will be time enough to deal with them. And it wants plainly to be said that this idea, that God will take an individual and give him special instruction apart from all his fellows and without their proffered help in the Christian way savours of spiritual pride and certainly betokens blindness as respects the Divine method of building up the Church in knowledge and faith. God has set the members in the body as it hath pleased Him and given to each member a place to fill and a duty to perform for the building of the entire body. Neither hand, nor foot, nor any other, abound in every spiritual gift and every necessary item of knowledge, and as an anointed company eventually attain the "full stature of a man in Christ" (Eph. 4. 13), so becoming fitted for His future purpose.
That which we "have no need that any man teach you" is quite evidently the truth that John had stated in the same breath. The anointing that we have received abides in us. That is a self-evident truth. We have no need that any man teach us that. We have the witness of the Spirit within ourselves and no man can ever take that confidence away from us. That is John's faith, and ours.
So he comes to what is perhaps the end of one letter, now appearing as the first two chapters of this his First Epistle. The final verses appear to partake of the nature of a closing exhortation; it may well be that we have more than one letter in the First Epistle of John and that vv 28-29 represent the closing injunction of the first of such letters. "And now, little children, abide in him, that, when he may appear, ye may be comforted and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that every one that does righteousness is born of him."
The abiding, then, is to be until He appears. The hope of the Second Coming burned very brightly in John's heart. He knew it was going to be a long time. That did not trouble him. He was concerned only that his flock should not be confounded or ashamed before the Lord at that great day. Here is a solemn thought for us. How necessary it is that we abide in Him, in His love and manifesting His spirit, that we be not of those who are "ashamed before him at his presence". There were times when the twelve disciples quarrelled between themselves by the wayside, with Jesus perhaps, as they thought, just out of earshot; and He must many a time have gently reproved them for their lack of brotherly love and understanding, and made them feel ashamed of themselves. So it is with us. Whether we believe that our Lord is present or that the time of His arrival is imminent, we must realise that we do stand very closely before Him and that He is very near. We do well to watch every point of our life's conduct, and particularly our relationship with our brethren, lest we so fail to abide and we come short of His standards at the last. If with our fallible human judgment and imperfect reasoning we have made a mistake regarding our Lord's coming, He is not going to attach great importance to that, if we have continued earnestly waiting for His appearing. But if we have a wrong spirit and failed to abide in Him, and smitten our fellow-servants, then it is very different. How can we expect our Lord to accept us for His great work of the future? If we cannot show His spirit and His standards in our contacts with our brethren now, how can we expect to do it toward the world then? How can Jesus conscientiously, as it were, present us before the presence of the Father as one who has proved himself worthy of the Father's love? The exhortation comes to us with keen, penetrating force, "abide in him, that, when he shall appear, ye may not be ashamed before him".
(To be continued)