Last week, the letter of 2 John taught us to live in truth and love. And this week in the second half of the letter, Apostle John gives us warning of false teachers.
When I was a young man, I used to be fascinated to find out who the antichrist is, I would spend hours searching in the library and online, or trying to watch all the half-baked videos on YouTube about this subject. Some people said that the antichrist was Roman Emperor Nero, or Hitler, or Stalin, or other evil rulers in the course of human history. But as I read from God’s Word in the Bible, I notice that the term ‘antichrist’, is only found five times in the New Testament, and solely in the letters of 1 John and 2 John, including in today’s passage. In the Bible, the meaning of an antichrist is very different to the secular world’s portrayal in movies or books. And today we are going to have a look at who is, or who are the antichrists in the world. John urged us to beware of them, so that we will not assist them in anyway, or participating in their evil.
1) Be ware of false teachers – the deceivers and antichrists.
In verse 7, John wrote, “I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”(2 John 7)
In this one verse, Apostle John has given us five descriptors of what these false teachers are like.
First, they are many. How many of them is unknown, but a substantial section of John’s Christian community has broken away from the remaining believers loyal to the true gospel of Christ. They are gaining in popularity among the people and they represent a serious threat to the spiritual well-being of Jesus’ followers.
Secondly, they are deceivers. Many people in the community were led astray with their false teachings. In Greek, the word “deceivers” – “planoi”is associated with or inspired by “the spirit of error”, “planeäs”.As John wrote in his letter of 1 John 4:6, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listen to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
Thirdly, they do not acknowledge or confess the fundamental “confession of faith” issue for the Elder, that Jesus Christ as coming to earth in the flesh. John wrote in 1 John 4:2 that this is a criteria to distinguish between true and false prophets. They denied Jesus’ full humanity. Like the Docetists who claimed that Jesus Christ only seemed to be human, but not a real person, just a projection instead of flesh and blood. Or later heretics like the Gnostics, who claimed that the human body was inherently evil, therefore, could not consider the Son of God to have been actually in the body. These false teachers taught that spirit was good and matter was evil; therefore, they reasoned that Jesus could not have been both God and man. They against the biblical teaching and John’s witness account in his Gospel, that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14a) If Jesus is not fully human, he cannot die and bled to take away our sins on the cross. And if Jesus is not fully divine as the Son of God without sin, he cannot rise up again three days later to bring us eternal life. So in the biblical truth, Jesus must be fully divine as the Son of God, and fully man as a mortal in the flesh in order to bring us salvation. But these false teachers spread lies and deceive others saying that Jesus cannot be both God and human at the same time. John warns the church against this kind of false teaching in strong terms. When a teacher or preacher does not understand or believe correctly about who Jesus is, denying that Jesus came in the flesh – that is, Jesus was born as a human, and promote non-biblical teachings, they are dangerous. They distort the truth and undermine the foundations of Christian faith.
Fourthly, these false teachers have gone out into the world. They have left, and have broken away from John’s community in early churches, of which they were once a part. As Apostle John wrote in his first letter, “1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”(1 John 4:1-3)
These people who departed from John’s community and denying the truth of Christ were to be lost in the darkness of the devil’s domain. So in the future if you hear these false teaching or someone tells you that he is a Gnostic, you know that he is not from Jesus but he is with the enemy of Christ the devil.
And fifthly, John wrote, “any such person is…the antichrist”. They are Apostle John’s opponents, the liars who deny the fundamental truth about Jesus. “Anti” means opposite, or opposition. So “antichrist” means those who oppose the truth of Jesus Christ and his Father in Heaven.
As John wrote in the letter of 1 John, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)
These false teachers may use all the right words but change the meanings. So they are misleading people about the truth of Christ and they lead people astray. That is why Apostle John called them the deceivers. They don’t know Jesus and not the followers of Christ. John wrote that there are many have gone into the world. Their very numbers, and the magnitude of their error, made them dangerous people. They deceive people, bringing people away from salvation. What they proclaim is not the Good News, but Fake News to the world.
These antichrists or deceitful religious leaders might seem so sincere and believable. They are not easy to spot in the crowd. And usually, they are winsome and attractive; otherwise, how would they gather people to themselves. As the church of Christ who believes in the true gospel, we need to be wise in evaluating the character and conduct of those who would seek to influence people.
I used to work in North Sydney as a programmer over ten years ago, and one day, I had a new manager in the I.T. department, who happened to be a Gnostic believer. I remember that at first, I heard he said he is a Christian, and I was joyful to have Christian manager, and I have invited him to read the Bible with me during lunch hour. But as we went through a few more chapters, he revealed that his understanding of the Bible is quite different to what I have learnt from the church. He said he believes in God, and that Jesus is the Christ, but he does not except that Jesus is the Son of God. And he would argue with all the “spiritual knowledge of Gnosis” or philosophy about Good and Evil and between the Spirit and the Matter. I give thanks to God that my Bible knowledge at that time was strong enough to refute his teachings, but the other co-worker who is not a firm Christian but have joined our lunchtime conversation was drawn into his false teachings because the manager is a much better speaker and more articulate than me. It was very sad to see that my co-worker was taken away from the true gospel but to that heresy of the Gnostic teachings.
If I had read 1 John or 2 John earlier I would know that he is what this letter called an antichrist. It was a blessing that within a few months later I left that job away from that manager, so that I was not influenced by him as much as the others in the office. It was very dangerous to listen to heretic idea and false teachings without a solid understanding of the Bible. They sounds plausible and sounds like the Bible but in fact they are not the same, and that the false teachings can draw people away from the true salvation of Christ.
So what should we do when we meet these false teachers?
2) Do not show hospitality to false teachers
After John has finished describing these false teachers, he warns the community against following them. John wrote in verse 8, “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.”(2 John 8) John told us to watch out, because of the serious consequences of going the way of the false teachers.
If we follow the false teachers, then first, we would loose everything that has been accomplished so far in our Christian lives.
Secondly, we would not be able to obtain the full eschatological reward that God has prepared for the faithful.
And thirdly, we would loose the vital relationship with God, in the process; we would loose our share of eternal life. The consequence is deadly. So pay extreme attention in this so that you will keep your heavenly reward fully in heaven.
Then John continues in verse 9, “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”(2 John 9)
When the group who follows the false teachers ran ahead by themselves from the rest of John’s Christian community, they broke the unity of the community in love. They might think of themselves as progressives, modern and theologically up-to-date. But to Apostle John, they have left authentic Christianity with their new teachings, and they no long have God. These people who left the community have lost their salvation with false Christology, not knowing who Jesus is. Thus they no longer have the right relationship with God.
But the other faithful Christians continue to believe in Christ with the right doctrine of Christology, knowing Jesus came in the flesh. They continue to enjoy their relationship with God with true faith.
John also gave us warning not to contribute or welcome any of these false teachers who come to us. Don’t take them into our house. Do not join those who preach another teaching that is contradicting to the true gospel of Christ. Anyone who welcomes the false teachers is like inviting false teaching into their house.
John wrote, “Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.”(2 John 11) It might sound harsh, but those who remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus must resist those who d not. If a person did not teach truth about Jesus, these believers were not to practice hospitality toward him. Anyone who cooperate in or help with the mission of those who have divided the community are wicked works from the evil one. As a church of Christ, we have the responsibility to draw lines which exclude teaching and practice that are not in harmony with the revelation of God and Christ in the Scripture. Never give heresies any foothold in our place.
3) Face-to-face fellowship brings more joy then written communication
Finally, John wrote at the end of the letter, “12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.”(2 John 12-13)
Written communication is good, but meeting up each other physically in fellowship is better. Chatting face-to-face is always better than texting each other over the phone. We all have been staying at home in the lockdown for quite a while now, even we have much more advance technology today, with video calls, social media and WhatsApp messages for distance communication. But nothing quite like it to have a real physical fellowship with each other in person. As John says, it makes our joy complete. Our joy complete when we see each other face-to-face, praying for each other, talking with each other, worship God together as a community. John loves his fellow Christians and eager to stay in touch with them in person. And we all longed the same thing. By the grace of God, NSW is relaxing its social restriction from the pandemic, and now our church will fully open again in July. So next time when I come out and preach on stage, I hope to see you all here. Our Zoom online worship will stop, but our Sunday Worship will still be recorded and you can see it on our YouTube channel later on the day. This is a really exciting time that we will finally meeting up in fellowship physically, seeing each other face-to-face. And I hope you too will enjoy and treasure the time we have together meeting up each other. All other church activities will also re-open to physical meetings. It is my joy, as John did, to see you all again next month.
Let us praise God and give thanks for his goodness, letting us to meet up one another again.