Love and Discernment
The Love of the World (2:15-17)
It is strange to hear the apostle whose most famous words are about how much “God so loved the world...” (Jn. 3:16) also write that God’s people should not love the world. The problem, of course, is that the term world (Greek: cosmos) is used in several different ways. Here in 1 John, the context makes clear that the apostle means that God’s people should not be drawn into the carnal things that make up the power structures and fleshly desires of “the world.”
John’s description of the world here is reminiscent of the original sin: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruity and ate...” (Gen. 3:6). To love “the world” is to transcend the good and proper uses of the body and of material and to make them gods.
The term “antichrist” is an extremely popular word in Christianity, because he is a major character in the End Times narrative. The problem with this is that much of this information is assumed and misunderstood by many.
"Antichrist" only appears in John’s letters. This term appears in John’s letters to refer not to one person or ruler who is to come, but to many false teachers whom he feared were leading the people of the church astray. For that reason, it may be helpful to use the Hebrew form of the word “Christ” and think of these false teachers (and the spirit of these false teachers) as anti-Messiah. The complex world of the first century was full of people claiming that God was acting at last in this way, in that way, through this movement, or through that leader.
For John, an anti-Messiah is anyone who opposes the truth about Jesus and teaches that which is contrary to the fullness of the gospel. Three things are generally true for John about anti-Messiahs:
1. They are not truly anointed. The term “Christ” literally means “the anointed one.” Unlike Jesus (the anointed one), these false teachers who lead people astray are not truly empowered or filled by the Spirit of God.
2. They usually appear to be “part of us.” For John, anti-Messiahs are not immediately obvious because they appear to be part of the Body. Like the most dangerous beast in Revelation 13, they “look like the lamb but speak like a dragon” (13:11).
3. Those who possess the spirit of the anti-Messiah will always be present in the world. Therefore, the church must always be on its guard.
Once again, Christian pop culture has taken a complex term and oversimplified it. Whenever we hear the term "Last Hour" we immediately think, "the end of the world."
The Last Hour is actually referring to an inter-advent time. To understand this, we need a quick lesson in Jewish theology. The Jews believe that we are living in a linear timeline (there's a beginning and an end). Our current timeline will end when the Messiah arrives. Once He comes, the "Time to Come" will begin (this coming age has numerous labels, such as "New Creation," "heaven on earth," etc.). The twist in this story is that the Messiah arrived early. So, instead of a clean two-part timeline, there is now an overlap in the middle.
This overlap time is called the inter-advent time. When Jesus arrived, the then-timeline was overlapped by the next-timeline. We are living in both timelines today. In other words, Jesus announced that He's coming again, and when He does, the old timeline will end, and the new timeline will prevail. Since no-one knows when the Second Coming is going to happen, the overlapped time was nicknamed, "The Last Hour."
Jesus Has Come in Flesh (2:22-23; 4:2-3)
Many of the Gnostic (more on the Gnostics in my previous post) opponents of John struggled to accept the incarnation (that Jesus had a real physical body). Gnostics believed that physical bodies are bad and spirit is good. Therefore, How, they asked, could an unchangeable God become part of mutable flesh? Some Gnostics even went so far as to claim that Jesus only appeared to be human but that he was actually a spirit.
Throughout this letter John emphasizes that Jesus was truly flesh. This one who was from the beginning has been heard, seen, touched, and experienced. Jesus, the incarnate one, has entered into and redeemed life in the flesh.
The Discernment of the Spirit (2:24-25; 4:4-6)
There is a great challenge that emerges from this text. The difficulty the people of God had in the first century (and continue to have in the twenty-first) is learning to discern how to “be in the world but not be of it” or how to “glorify God with our bodies.” Life in the Spirit (living life in balance) is not an easy proposition. It requires for the Body of Christ a unique, divinely gifted form of discernment.
How can the Body of Christ learn discernment?
1. The people of God discern in Christ. The fullness of the Father’s revelation ends with Jesus. Whatever is counter-Jesus is anti-Messiah.
2. The church discerns in community. John’s instructions are addressed to the church in community. The Body of Christ prayerfully discerns together the will of God.
3. God’s people discern the truth in the power of the Spirit. The anointed one (the Christ) has anointed his people with the same Spirit. God has promised to give his people an inner power necessary for life to be complete.