As we’ve seen, John’s first epistle teaches about the three main aspects of the Christian life. And, the second chapter of 1 John covers all three emphases of this letter. The first part of this chapter (1 John 2:1-6) emphasizes the important of right morality and learning to walk in the same manner as Jesus walked. The second part of this chapter (1 John 2:7-17) emphasizes right relationship and learning to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the third and final part of this chapter (1 John 2:18-27), we find an emphasis on right doctrine and believing the truths of the Christian faith as taught in God’s Word.
So, in order to counteract the false teachers who are seeking to lead people out of the church, out of Christian fellowship, the Apostle John teaches believers how they ought to “abide in the truth.” This week, we’ll consider what it means to “abide” by looking at the verses that frame this passage (vv 18-19, 28). Next week we’ll look at how John describes this “truth” in which we are to abide by looking at the middle verses of this passage (vv 20-27).
Abiding in the Church (1 John 2:18-19)
The first thing that we learn about what it means to “abide” is with reference to persevering or remaining in fellowship with other believers in the church. We’ll see that in a moment, but first we need to set the stage a little bit and understand how and why John begins this final section by speaking about the end-times and antichrists (1 John 2:18):
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.
Unlike much of pop-culture and much of pop-theology, the Bible teaches that the last days began with the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. We are already in the last days; we are already in the eschaton – or, as John calls it here: “the last hour.” In Acts, chapter 2, the Apostle Peter preached on the day of Pentecost that indeed “the last days” as foretold through the prophet Joel had come (Acts 2:17). And, as evidence, Peter pointed to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The letter of Hebrews opens by making the point that because God has finally revealed Himself in Jesus, His Son – by this we know that it is the last days (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Those are mostly positive, encouraging evidences that we are in the last days. John, however, brings forth some other, less encouraging (to say the least!) evidence as proof that we are indeed in the last days or the last hour. He says, “You heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared.”
The term “antichrist” occurs in Scripture only five times – all in the letters of John. Four times in this first epistle, and once in John’s second epistle. Three of those five occurrences in Scripture are here in 1 John 2. Yet, when most people hear the term “antichrist,” they think of a political or religious leader who gains power and influence, setting himself up against Jesus Christ and His Church. And, indeed we find such a person mentioned in other parts of Scripture.
For example, Jesus used the phrase – “the abomination of desolation” – which seems connected (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). The Apostle Paul speaks of “the man of lawlessness” or “son of destruction” who “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and portrays himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Most likely, it’s these teachings to which John is referring, when he says “You heard that antichrist is coming.”
But, John expands a little bit on the concept of the antichrist and broadens the definition. He broadens the definition to include many others. He says, “many antichrists have appeared” – that’s how we know that it is the last hour. It’s actually quite striking the way John includes all the false teachers, along with those who had professed faith in Christ but who had not persevered in the faith, in the same category and calls them “antichrists” (1 John 2:19):
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.
There are two key doctrines which are taught in this one verse.
First, we learn of the necessity of perseverance. Here we learn that perseverance in the faith is one of the characteristics of true faith. Notice, this is not an exhortation or command to persevere; rather John speaks of perseverance as a principle or characteristic of true faith. Salvation is not the reward of perseverance; perseverance is the mark of those who have received salvation. In essence, John is saying, “We know that those who departed from among our fellowship were not truly saved because they lacked one of the critical marks of true faith: namely, perseverance.”
Second, we learn something about the nature of the church. Not all who profess faith in Jesus Christ and are members of the visible church are truly saved. John Stott writes:
Granted that God intends his church to be visibly manifest in local, worshipping, witnessing fellowships, this does not mean that all the professing baptized, communicant members of the church are necessarily members of Christ. Only the Lord knows ‘those who are his’ (2 Tim. 2:19). Perhaps most visible-church members are also members of the invisible church, the mystical body of Christ, but some are not. They are with us yet do not really belong to us. They share our earthly company but not our heavenly birth. Only on the final day of separation will the wheat and the tares be completely revealed. Meanwhile, some are shown up in their true colours by their defection. (John Stott, The Letters of John)
So, abiding – first of all – has to do with remaining in the fellowship of the church community, abiding in Christ’s body, the church.
Abiding in the Word (1 John 2:24)
The second aspect of “abiding” has to do with abiding in Christ’s Word (1 John 2:24):
24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
John addresses those that have remained in the church and gives a word of caution: “The Word that you first heard proclaimed to you – the Word that brought you to faith – let that Gospel message abide – or remain – in you.” This is a warning for all God’s people to not succumb to the “tickling ears” syndrome It’s a warning for us to discipline ourselves to endure sound doctrine, rather than accumulating for ourselves teachers that make us feel good, teachers who will cause us to turn away from the truth and follow lies (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
This is a perennial problem in the Christian faith. People may initially receive the gospel and the Word of truth, but then go seeking after other things – a “higher knowledge,” if you will. The Apostle Peter put it this way, “…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 1:2-3).
But again, John takes it a bit further, as he applies the very teachings of Jesus. John says, “If the Word of God abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” If you hold to the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel message that you heard from the beginning – then you will be safe and secure in Christ and in the heavenly Father.
“Chimney-Corner Theology” is a phrase that I learned a while back when I was the pastor of a church in Georgia. Basically, “Chimney-Corner Theology” is that theology or doctrines that people hold to that are based on fables and witty one-liners. You might have also referred to it as “bumper-sticker theology.” Things like – “God helps those who help themselves.” You won’t find that anywhere in the Bible. In fact, what you find is the exact opposite: “God helps those who are helpless.”
When it comes to eschatology (the study of the end times) chimney-corner theology abounds. It seems that there’s no end to speculations and wives-tales. And, there are certain words and phrases that seem to take on a life of their own, and thus have come to mean something very different from their Biblical meaning. For instance, the word “apocalypse” is often thrown around by many who think that it means something like: “a great disaster, or a horrific, catastrophic event.” As in, “The apocalypse is coming.” Or, “Get ready for the zombie apocalypse.”
In actuality, the word literally means “revelation” or “to reveal” something. So, the Apostle John begins the book of Revelation, he writes, “The revelation (“the apocolupsis”) of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1). In other words, the book of Revelation is a revealing of truth and reality that God gave to Jesus, which Jesus revealed to John, so that John could then share this revelation with us, God’s people.
Consider, also, the terms “end times” and “antichrist.” These terms have taken on some pop-theology and pop-cultural meanings that are not quite biblical. Chimney-corner theology is alive and well, especially with the human fascination with all things having to do with the last days – with all things eschatological.
But, as we’ve seen, the Apostle John teaches us in this passage that since the time of his writing in the first century, we have been living in “the last hour” (or the last days). And, we know this because “many antichrists” have appeared. Many who have professed faith in Christ, have subsequently been deceived by false teachers, leading them to abandon the church and abandon the Word of God.
So, as those who wish to persevere in the faith, let us seek to “abide” in these two ways. Let us remain or persevere by doing all that we can to maintain fellowship with God’s people, the church. And, let us remain or persevere by doing all that we can to continue to adhere to the Bible, the Word of God. And so, we will continue to abide in the Son and in the Father.