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26 July 2019

Coming of Jesus in the letters of John

SYNOPSIS:  According to John, the presence of false teachers in his churches constituted evidence that Christians were living in the “last days.”

John the Theologian
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The second and third letters of John are personal and brief. They include no direct references to the future return of Jesus; the issue is not relevant to the situations of the Christians addressed.

There is a reference to the false teachers in his second letter who caused dissension among the congregations under John’s supervision. Apparently, they denied the real humanity of Jesus. John labels them “deceivers” and “antichrist”:

(2 John 7-8) – “And this is love that we should be walking according to his commandments: This is the commandment, even as ye heard from the beginning that therein ye should be walking. Because many deceivers have gone out into the world, they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh: This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Be taking heed unto yourselves, lest ye lose what things we earned — but a full reward ye may duly receive.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The reference to “many deceivers” echoes a warning of Jesus recorded his ‘Olivet Discourse’ about coming deceivers who are intent on deceiving the “elect”:

(Matthew 24:4-5) – “And answering, Jesus said unto them — Be taking heed, lest anyone deceive you; For many will come upon my name, saying — I am the Christ — and will deceive many” – (The Emphasized Bible).

John declared in his first letter that, “it is the last hour,” the same period elsewhere called the “last days.” That period was already underway when John wrote his letters:

(1 John 2:18-22) – “Little children! it is, the last hour; and just as ye have heard that an antichrist is coming, even now, antichrists have become many, whence we perceive that it is the last hourFrom among us they went out, but they were not of us; for if of us they had been, they would in that case have abode with us; but it came to pass in order that they might be made manifest, because all are not of us. And ye have an anointing from the Holy One — Ye all know: I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no falsehood is of the truth. Who is the False One; — save he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? The same is the Antichrist — he that denieth the Father and the Son.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The idea that Christians lived already in the “last days” was characteristic of the earliest churches and the New Testament often links their commencement to the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:15-22, Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 1:1-4, 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Peter 3:1-3). 

As evidence that the “last days” had arrived, John pointed to the many deceivers that had originated within his congregations, just as Jesus had predicted shortly before his arrest and execution (“Even now many antichrists have come whereby we perceive that it is the last hour”). Their deceptive activities of false teachers demonstrated that Christians were living in the end-times (Compare - Matthew 24:4-5Mark 13:5-6Luke 21:81 Timothy 4:12 Timothy 3:1).

John labels these false teachers “antichrists.” They were not pagan deceivers from without the church but false teachers within it (“They went out from among us”). And they could be identified by their denial “that Jesus is the Christ” (Verse 22, 1 John 4:1-3).

In this epistle, John did not attempt to coordinate the “antichrists” or the coming “antichrist” with the return of Jesus or other final events.  His emphasis was on the damage being inflicted on the churches by these deceivers. However, their presence was evidence that the “last days” were underway (Compare 1 John 4:1-3).

(1 John 2:28–3:3) - “And, now, dear children, abide ye in him, in order that if he be made manifest, we may have boldness, and not be shamed away from him by his presenceIf ye know that he is righteous, ye perceive that — whosoever doeth righteousness of him hath been born. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us — that children of God we should be called — and such we are! Therefore, the world understandeth us not, because it understood not him. Beloved! now are we children of God; and not yet hath it been made manifest what we shall be — We know that if it should be made manifest, like unto him shall we be, because we shall see him just as he is. And whosoever hath this hope on him is purifying himself, just as He is pure.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

John exhorted his congregations to “abide” in Jesus so that, “When he may be manifested, we may have boldness and not be shamed away from him at his coming.” This was a call to holy living, especially considering the impending arrival of Jesus and the expected rewards he would bring.

Manifested” translates the Greek verb phaneroō or “manifest, appear, make known, become visible.”  The Apostle Peter used the same verb for the coming of Jesus in his first letter, likewise, the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians:

(1 Peter 5:2-4) – “Shepherd the beloved flock of God, which is among you — not by compulsion, but by choice, nor yet for base gain, but of a ready mind — Nor yet as lording it over the allotted portions, but becoming ensamples to the beloved flock; And when the Chief Shepherd is manifested, ye shall bear away the unfading crown of glory.”
(Colossians 3:4) – “The things on high hold in esteem, not the things upon the earth: For ye have died, and your life is hid together with the Christ in God — As soon as the Christ shall be made manifest — our life, then, ye also, together with him shall be made manifest in glory; Make dead, therefore, your members that are on the earth — as regardeth fornication, impurity, passion, base coveting, and greed, the which, is idolatry.

Paul also used a related compound noun five times to refer to the arrival of Jesus, epiphaneia, that is, “appearance, manifestation.” This noun is built on the same verbal stem as phaneroō or phan- (2 Thessalonians 2:8, 1 Timothy 6:14, 2 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:8, Titus 2:13).

Presence” or “coming” in Verse 28 translates the Greek noun parousia or “arrival.”  The Greek term denotes the actual arrival of someone, not the process of his coming. Parousia is a noun, not a verb. This is the only instance where John uses this term. The same Greek verb occurs in Matthew’s version of Christ’s Olivet Discourse when he referred to his future “coming” and it may be the source for John’s usage in Verse 28 (Matthew 24:324:2724:37-39).

Photo by Bowen Chin on Unsplash
The world did not understand Jesus; therefore, it does not understand those who follow him. For now, Christians look no different than other human beings to the surrounding society, although their conduct may strike many as nonconformists and alien.  Despite present appearances, believers are the very “children of God,” although, what they will become has not yet been “made manifest.” When Jesus is manifested, however, Christians will be transformed and be “like him,” and they will see him “just as he is” (1 John 3:1, Hebrews 9:28).

Implicit in this passage is that when Jesus arrives believers will undergo a transformation to bring them into conformity to him. Those with this hope “purify themselves” in preparation (Compare - Colossians 3:41 Corinthians 15:49Philippians 3:21).

John exhorted believers to “abide in Jesus” so they would be able to stand in boldness rather than shame at Christ’s “coming.” Christians are the “children of God” and, consequently, constitute a people distinct from the rest of the world.
The reality of things will be made clear to all when Jesus is “manifested.” At that time, true believers will find themselves “like him.” Considering this hope, it behooves Christians to live pure and holy lives. 

John does not detail what he envisions about future events and the “coming” of Jesus.  However, the terms he uses for Christ’s coming (phaneroōparousia), as well as his basic concepts, correspond to what Jesus and the other apostles taught about the future.

John uses two different Greek words for the coming of Jesus, but he applies both to the same event, one a noun and the other a verb (parousia, phaneroō). He refers only to one future coming of Jesus, not two (or more).

John shows little interest in “signs of the times” or any markers of the “times and seasons.” The return of Jesus is certain and future. The apostle is concerned with how believers live in the present in consideration of this future reality.

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