Do Not Be Deceived

As some of you may remember, the last time we were in 1 John we covered 1 John 2:15-17 where John charged us to love neither the world in general nor the things of the world in particular. Our faithfulness must be undivided. Our love must be singularly and totally focused on God – a total commitment to Him and Him alone. To pledge allegiance to the world is to declare our opposition to God.

Our response as Christians should be to confront and destroy the world’s spiritual lies and false worldviews with the truth of God’s Word. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is no longer a slave to the world system but instead has been “rescued…from the domain of darkness, and transferred…to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).

God created the material things of the world for our enjoyment, but people have made these things into idols. The three things listed in 1 John 2:15-17 should not be seen as a comprehensive list of vices, but instead, these are avenues by which mankind is especially prone to pervert the goodness of God’s creation.

Our contemporary culture and civilization is anti-God, and believers and followers of Jesus Christ should not love it. We are to be in the world, but we are not to be of the world. You are either going to obey the world system, live in it and enjoy its temporal pleasures, or you are going to obey God and enjoy the blessings He provides and ultimately eternal life with Him. Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Paul is saying that the cross stands between the believer and this world system. The world system is tempting us to follow it and glory in the temporal, but rest assured the world is not glorying in the cross of Christ!

In 1 John 2:18-23, John continues to provide warnings, but now he focuses warnings of the antichrist at the end times and the antichrists who are here now. There are a number of significant points that John highlights.
– It is clear that early Christian teaching included the discussion of a powerful ‘antichrist.’
– It is also clear that early Christian teaching made a distinction between the great antichrist and the lesser antichrists who are already here attacking Christianity and negatively impacting the church.
– It was also widely recognized that the key function of all the antichrists was and is to lie and deceive those seeking God.
– Lastly, throughout Scripture we see the antichrists have attacked the church from the outside. Only here in this passage are the antichrists identified as current and previous members of the Christian community.

These are significant points, but John is also highlighting as a general proposition that there can occur an evil and doctrinal division that occurs in some local church bodies. Many times these divisions occur due to strong preferences or real doctrinal issues. As Christians, we need to have great humility when preferences or differences are involved and great discernment when doctrinal differences are raised by others who seek to distort the truth. When erroneous teaching exists that is clearly not the true gospel, it must be confronted and its roots exposed.

So, here John begins with a warning about the coming antichrist and the ones that are already here.

18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)

John once again reminds his readers of his love for them. He addresses them again as ‘children’, reflecting both his affectionate relationship to them and his position as one more advanced in the faith.

John reminds his readers of the time in which they live: “this is the last hour.” The phrase refers to the “latter times” or “last days,” i.e., the time period between the first and second comings of Christ. The time in which they live is described as ‘the last hour’, an expression which is found only in the New Testament. It is the time in which we live.

However, there are similar phrases in several places in the New Testament. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:1, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” And James says in James 5:3, “Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” And Peter says in 2 Peter 3:3, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts.” Yes, we are living in the “last hour.” These three verses highlight the very events taking place in our culture today. People are leaving the faith and paying more attention to evil spirits and demons. Their hearts are being captured by the mystery and as such are being deceived to turn against the holy, righteous, perfect, loving, gracious, and merciful God.

John’s warning begins with the acknowledgement of the antichrist. The term “antichrist” is found only in John’s epistles and originally in John 4:3, again here in 1 John 1:18 and 22 and lastly in 2 John 7. This antichrist refers to the coming final world ruler strengthened by Satan. It is his desire to replace and oppose the true Christ. It is obvious that the early church anticipated that a mighty character of evil, the antichrist, would appear at the end of time. Paul refers to this antichrist as ‘the man of lawlessness’ (2 Thess. 2:3).

There are several verses that reference this antichrist throughout the Old and New Testaments. But today, I want to highlight a couple of references in the book of Daniel.

9 Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. 11 It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. (Daniel 8:9-11)

31 “Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation. 32 “By smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. 33 Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days. 34 “Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy. 35 “Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time. 36 “Then the king will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods; and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done. “He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the desire of women, nor will he show regard for any other god; for he will magnify himself above them all. 38 “But instead he will honor a god of fortresses, a god whom his fathers did not know; he will honor him with gold, silver, costly stones and treasures.” (Daniel 11:31-38)

This is the antichrist! A liar and deceiver who will one day rise to great power here on earth and those who follow him will seek to destroy all that is of God. He will destroy God’s faithful and yet others will join with him. He will speak monstrous things against God. His ultimate goal is to magnify himself above all and most of all above the one true God.

While the term ‘antichrist’ first refers to a particular individual prophesied in Scripture, this latter occurrence is plural and refers to many antichrists; enemies of Christ – those who are against Christ. John uses the plural to identify and characterize the others, which would include false teachers who were distressing, confusing, and misleading the church because their false doctrine distorts the truth and opposes Christ.

The term “antichrists,” therefore, refers to a principle of evil, incarnated in men, who are hostile and opposed to God. John writes to expose the antichrists who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Yes, this future appearance of the antichrist is very concerning to John, but he is also concerned with the spirit of antichrist which is already here and actively deceiving people today. Jesus says in Matthew 24:24, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” Jesus almost word for word repeats again in Mark 13:22, “for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”

These individuals, as their designation indicates, are against Christ, opposed to Him. They hold to a heretical theology and more specifically a heretical Christology. They are deceivers whose false views are spread to lead believers astray and to oppose Christ. Did you hear what Jesus said? Their goal is to mislead, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Even though it is impossible to alter God’s plan; the elect have been chosen by God and cannot choose otherwise. However, it is the desire and intent of the antichrists to do their best to even lead them astray.

John has warned us not only about the coming powerful antichrist, but he is also warning us of many antichrists which are already here and actively deceiving people who are seeking, searching for hope. We must absolutely be on alert for antichrists and just as alert for those who are being led astray by these liars. If you are here today and think you have a weak faith in Jesus Christ, you need to make a decision – either follow Jesus Christ with all your heart, soul, and mind or you may become one of those who follows after the antichrists. John continues…..

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

The first characteristic John mentions of the antichrists is that they already have or they will depart from the faithful followers of Jesus Christ. We will see later that there are two other characteristics; the next is in verses 22-23, which we will cover today, and then we will cover another one later in verse 26. The phrase, “they went out from us” means they arise from within the church and depart from true fellowship with the family of God. Those whom John describes as antichrists were in fact once members or at least regular attenders of a local church body, but they pulled away and ultimately departed the fellowship of God’s people. Why did they depart? Why did they leave the true fellowship of believers? It is because “they were not really of us.”

If these people had been truly part of God’s family, born again believers and followers of Jesus Christ, they would have remained as members and persevered in the faith. They would not have departed. But John knows that their true colors will be revealed. We may have suspected that they were not believers, but they confirm it upon their departure. I am not talking about those who have chosen to leave this body for another body of believers; I am talking about those who leave the community of faith. They not only leave the local church, they leave the universal church and denounce Jesus Christ in the process by their words or actions.

These antichrists had been actively involved in the local church but their participation, service and attendance was purely an outward act, for their hearts were unchanged. Those who have left or will leave the church shared in the outward part of the church life but they never were a part of its inner existence because they had never truly become believers – they never had a heart change. They were living perverted theology – a man-made theology to suit their beliefs instead of following the true gospel.

John places an emphasis on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. True believers are those who are genuinely born again; they will endure in faith and fellowship and the truth of God’s Word. 1 Corinthians 11:19 says, “there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”

Two of the best indicators of true Christianity are visible fruit and endurance. The departure of people from the truth of the gospel and the local church exposes them for who they really are. 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” John is warning us that these deceivers are very real and people will leave the church and deny Jesus. Those who persevere are those who have had a real conversion experience.

This is a very serious and very solemn warning. These people made a hobby of being Christians and outwardly looked and sounded like Christians. They even call themselves Christians and identify themselves with a local church. They may have even been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They most likely took the bread and the cup as part of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. However, John tells us that we can know these impersonators because they will eventually forsake the assembling together of God’s people by leaving the church. They will withdraw from the body of believers and return to the world. They may even feel uncomfortable with strong doctrinal preaching and teaching and seek to find a church that delivers a softer, gentler man-centered message that is partially or completely devoid of the true gospel.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (1 John 2:20-21)

John now provides all believers with a word of encouragement. You might recall the false teachers, including the Gnostics, had been claiming extra spiritual knowledge and a special anointing to define their “religious experience.” These arrogant, conceited, and self-focused individuals saw themselves as possessing a higher form of divine knowledge, and as the recipients of a secret, superior anointing. This type of thinking led them to believe they had access to additional and more complete truth beyond the “normal” Christian. But John reminds everyone that all true Christians have an anointing from the Holy Spirit.

D.A. Carson says, “You have an anointing from the Holy One is another way of saying that all have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The illumination given by the Spirit means that in Christianity there is no enlightened elite on whom all others depend.” All believers have been equally anointed by the Holy Spirit and none have received additional truth or knowledge.

Because true believers have received this anointing from the Holy Spirit, they have the true understanding of God that comes exclusively through Jesus Christ according to 2 Corinthians 4:6. And according to Colossians 2:3 it is Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Believers already have all they need through Christ and do not need any additional secret or special understanding. We have all we need! Jesus said in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” In John 16:13 Jesus says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” Because we abide in Him, the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, therefore, it follows that believers know the truth.

John re-emphasizes that true believers have the true knowledge of God by saying “he had not written to them because they did not know the truth, but because they did know it.” Christians have been taught by the Holy Spirit to know the truth; therefore, they can identify error as well. John is reminding us that we already know the gospel and associated truths and appeals to us to exclusively hold to the biblical truth of the gospel.

As believers we certainly know the truth of God’s Word when we hear it. The Holy Spirit has given all believers a level of discernment and wisdom to know the truth. It is by knowing the truth we can identify error when we hear it. You don’t have to be an aged theologian to know the difference. You just have to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ which means that you have been anointed by the Holy Spirit.

John then closes the verse with the obvious, yet strong statement that “no lie is of the truth.” Truth and error are incompatible. The truth and the lie are mutually exclusive. They have no part with one another. Lies have their source in what is false, not in what is true. The knowledge that the antichrists have does not make the believers ignorant, it makes the antichrists liars, confirming the assertion back in verse 19 that they were never truly a part of the believing community.

Regarding verses 20 and 21, John MacArthur says this: “Two characteristics mark genuine Christians in contrast to the antichrists. First, the Holy Spirit guards them from error…the Holy Spirit is their illuminating guardian from deception. Second, the Holy Spirit guides the believer into knowing “all things.” True Christians have a built-in lie detector and persevere in the truth. Those who remain in heresy and apostasy manifest the fact that they were never genuinely born again.”

The truth is not available only to a select few as the Gnostics taught, but it is available to all who believe. This is not a promise of total knowledge, yet it is a reassurance that believers know all the truth we need. Believers know the truth of the gospel and the truth about the lies the false teachers were spreading. They need no further insight, as the Gnostics claimed.

22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23)

Here we have the second characteristic of antichrists; they deny the Christian faith. They deny Jesus Christ who is absolutely foundational to Christianity! He is the core of God’s salvation plan. How could anyone who claims to be a Christian deny this truth? However, it gets worse. This denial also constitutes a denial of God Himself, who testified to His Son. Jesus says in John 8:18, “I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.” The antichrists deny the Son, the Father, and some claim to have special anointing from the Holy Spirit. Now that is a twisted theology. To deny any part of the Trinity is to deny the whole. Yet to claim special anointing by the Holy Spirit and yet deny Jesus Christ is completely illogical, non-trinitarian thinking.

The antichrists now identify their very nature – there are liars. Who is the liar? Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar. Early in this chapter John highlighted their lies and delusional claims. They claimed fellowship with God (1:5), they claimed they had not committed sins (1:8, 10), they claimed they lived in God (2:6), and they claimed they were in the light (2:9). But in this verse, for the first time, we see a core belief of their teaching: they deny that Jesus is the Christ. This is clearly and absolutely a lie originating from the pit of Hell.

The antichrists are liars because they deny that Jesus is the Christ – they deny that Jesus is the divine Son of God. Consequently, this denial also constitutes a denial of the Father. Their claim to be in fellowship with the Father cannot be true since they are not in fellowship with His Son. No one can have the Father without the Son, nor can they have the Son without the Father. Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is in fact an antichrist, and their denial is not only a denial of the true identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Messiah, it is also a denial of God the Father Himself. To accept or reject one is to accept or reject the other!

Having a right view of Jesus Christ is an essential mark of genuine saving faith. No one can be a true believer who has rejected Jesus Christ. Jesus says in John 8:24, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

John MacArthur quotes, “Genuine salvation requires embracing Him as the anointed Messiah of God, affirming that He is the one and only God-man, and obeying His gospel teachings.”

Without a right view of the Son we cannot have a right view of the Father. D.A. Carson says, “If Jesus is not the very Son of God and one with the Father, then it is not the love of God that we see revealed in his life and death; in that case it would be only the love of a good man that is seen.”

It is only because God first loved us and by faith we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that we become children of God. John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Therefore, if we reject Jesus Christ we are not members of the family of God. Thus, we have no right to call God our Father. When people deny the Son, they show that they do not have the Father.

John is stressing the inseparable, indivisible divine equality of the Father and the Son and that antichrists are the ones who deny them both. Despite their claims to the contrary, those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ do not know God. John states the truth in absolute and unequivocal terms. Jesus says in Matthew 11:27, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” And in Luke 10:16 Jesus says, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” It must be absolutely understood that to reject the Son is to reject the Father. Now, John closes out verse 23 with some more encouragement.

John balances his previous strong negative statement about those who do not have the Father with a positive reminder: the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. John Calvin puts it well, “The Father cannot be separated from the Son.” It is those who know the truth and acknowledge the Son who really know the Father. The apostle John is stressing the connection between acknowledging and following the Son and a person’s relationship with the Father.

John explains the glorious truth that our relationship with the Father comes through a relationship with the Son, Jesus Christ. In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

An open confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God automatically results in a relationship with the Father, for our relationship with the Father is only made possible through our relationship with Jesus. He is our advocate, our representative, and our reconciler with the Father.

John has provided us with a proper understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ and His equality with the Father. He has also helped us to see that there is a very powerful antichrist who will rise up in the last hour and that the antichrists who are here now are those who have and will continue to reject Jesus Christ.

John gave us two principles in this section of Scripture to recognize the antichrists. First, they “went out from us,” highlighted in verse 19. The antichrists come into a local fellowship of believers and subtly spread their lies and deceit and sow general discord among the body. They gain the trust of some who are not firmly committed to the truth of the gospel but who want to attend church services to maintain friendships, create business contacts, and a host of other reasons. At some point, they leave the body and try to get others to follow with them. Watch out for those who would divide and separate Christ’s people through lies and deceit. We all need to be very discerning regarding what is taught and stand firm on God’s Word.

They go out because “they did not really belong to us” – they didn’t belong to God’s family. The believers who have remained in the family of God through the local church can take heart that God cleanses the body by removing the antichrists. Those who leave the faith take with them their heretical views so that the church will be purified.

Second, the basis for their lies is that they deny Jesus is the Christ. By rejecting the Son, they reject the Father also. Sooner or later, the antichrists will distort the Bible’s teaching on who Jesus is. As John MacArthur said, “Any denial, deviation, or distortion of the scriptural view of Jesus Christ—His incarnation; that He is both Son of God and Son of Man, the promised Prophet, Priest, King, and Redeemer —constitutes the spirit of antichrist.”

So there is objective criteria by which to test relationships with Christ. We are faced with either confessing or denying Jesus Christ. There is no middle ground. Unfortunately, over the years, some have left this body and have openly denied Jesus Christ either in work or deed. It is a very sobering reality to know that these people were here in our midst and claiming to be Christians and now openly deny Jesus Christ.

Other than God, you and you alone know if you are a child of God and are responsive to His voice. And you and you alone know if you are growing and changing; becoming more sanctified – being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Just ask yourself honestly, “Am I seeking to be obedient to God’s Word out of a love for Jesus Christ? Have I repented of my sin and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior?” As Bilal preached a few weeks ago, do you have a living faith – do you have a faith which is being perfected by your works? If so, then you can have great confidence that you know Jesus and you are a part of God’s family. However, if you are just “playing” a game with God and His people, you should be very concerned. Hell is not a place for those who have been forgiven; it is a place for the unforgiven. It is a place where everlasting torment and separation will occur.

Let’s get very real! It has never been, and never will be, enough to be a regular attender or even a formal member of the local church body. It is not enough to be a good person. It is not enough to do good deeds for others. It is not enough to be extremely compassionate toward mankind. Our confidence must never be in our works, a place, a position, or any person other than the Lord Jesus Christ. We must place our faith in Him and His sacrifice for our sins which results in our name being written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

The Bible says Jesus Christ died for all who would believe in Him. Even though this passage of Scripture is a warning about the antichrists, I believe it is also meant to be an encouragement for believers to realize that we have been given all we need to know Him and to live in a manner that acknowledges the Father and the Son. It is my prayer that the Lord Jesus Christ would give us the strength, stamina, and perseverance to remain faithful to His Word and to stand strong against the antichrists that are already here, not only this day, but all the days of our lives or until Christ returns.

18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)