26 July 2019

The Coming of Jesus in John's Letters


Dawn breaks over the hills
The second and third letters of John are personal and brief. In them, no direct reference is made to the future return of Jesus and the issue was not relevant to the situations of the Christians addressed.
     There is reference to active deceivers in 2 John 7-8 that denied the genuine humanity of Jesus.  John labels them “deceivers” and “antichrist,” as in his first letter (1 John 2:18-22, 4:1-3). His reference to “many deceivers” echoes the warning of Jesus from his ‘Olivet Discourse’ about coming deceivers intent on deceiving the “elect” (Matthew 24:4-5, Mark 13:5-6).
     John declared that “it is the last hour,” the period elsewhere called the “last days.” That period had already begun by the time John wrote this letter (1 John 2:18-22). The New Testament often links the commencement of the “last days” to the Death and the resurrection of Jesus (e.g., Mark 1:15, Acts 2:15-22, Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 1:1-2, 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Peter 3:1-3).
     As evidence of the end times, John points to the many deceivers that had arisen from within his churches, just as previously predicted (“even now many antichrists have come whereby we perceive that it is the last hour” [Matthew 24:4-5, Mark 13:5-6, Luke 21:8, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1). Their activities demonstrated that Christians even then were living in “the last days.”
John calls these false teachers “antichrists.” They were not pagan deceivers from without the church but false teachers within; “they went out from among us.” They were identifiable by their denial “that Jesus is the Christ” (verse 22; 1 John 4:1-3).
     In this epistle, John did not coordinate the “antichrists” or the coming “antichrist” with the return of Jesus or other final events (1 John 4:1-3).  His emphasis was on the present deceiving activities of deceivers within his congregations. But their activity evidenced that the “last days” were underway.
(1 John 2:28 – 3:3) - And now, dear children, abide in him in order that, when he may be made manifest we may have boldness and not be shamed away from him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous ye perceive that whoever does righteousness has been born of him. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God, and such we are! Therefore, the world understands us not because it understood not him. Beloved! Now are we children of God; and not yet has it been made manifest what we shall be. We know that if it should be made manifest, we will be like him, because we shall see him just as he is. And whoever has this hope on him is purifying himself, just as He is pure.”
    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 in light of 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 1 Peter 5:4 where a similar idea is expressed:  when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.”
     The Apostle Paul also used it to describe what would happen to believers when Jesus arrived from heaven.  Christians must not judge “before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will make manifest the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5). All Christians “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
     Paul also used a related compound noun five times to refer to the arrival of Jesus or epiphaneia, which means “appearance, manifestation.” The compound noun is built on the same verbal stem as phaneroō or phan-.
     Note the following passages where epiphaneia is used:
  • [2 Thessalonians 2:8] – “And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the appearance of his coming.”
  • [1 Timothy 6:14] – “I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • [2 Timothy 4:1] – “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearance and his kingdom.”
  • [2 Timothy 4:8] – “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearance.”
  • [Titus 2:13] – “Awaiting our blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
     Coming” in 1 John 2:28 translates the Greek noun Parousia or “arrival.”  This is the only instance where John uses this term in his letters. This same Greek verb occurs in Matthew’s version of Christ’s Olivet Discourse when he refers to the future “coming” of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:3, 24:27, 24:37-39). Possibly this is John’s source for this use of the term.  More significant, Paul applies parousia to the coming of Jesus seven times (1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:9. See also James 5:7-8, 2 Peter 1:16, 3:4, 3:12).
     The world did not understand Jesus, therefore it does not understand those who follow him (1 John 3:1). For now, Christians look no different than other human beings to the surrounding society although their conduct may strike many as nonconformists and strange.  Despite present appearances, believers are the very “children of God,” though what they will be has not yet been “made manifest.” When Jesus is manifested, however, Christians will be transformed, be “like him,” and they will see him “just as he is” (cp. Hebrews 9:28).
      Implicit in John’s words is that when Jesus comes believers will undergo a transformation that brings them into conformity to him. Those with this hope “purify themselves” in preparation (compare Colossians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Philippians 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 real state of affairs will be made clear to all when Jesus is “made manifest.” At that time true believers will find themselves “like him.” In light of this hope, it behooves Christians to live pure and holy lives.
     John does not explain in detail what he envisions about future events and the “coming” of Jesus.  However, the terms he uses for Christ’s coming (phaneroō, parousia), as well as his basic concepts, correspond to what Jesus and the other apostles taught about the return of Jesus.
     John uses two different Greek words for the coming of Jesus but applies both to the same event. He refers to only 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. John is concerned with how believers live in the present in light of that future reality.

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