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26 July 2019

Last Days According to John

SYNOPSIS - The presence of false teachers in the church constitutes evidence that already we are in the “last days” - 2 John 7-8

Sun after storm - Photo by Michael Busch on Unsplash
The second and third letters of John are personal and brief. They include no direct references to the future return of Jesus. That issue was not relevant to the situations of John’s congregations. The letters do refer to false teachers that were causing dissension among them. Apparently, the deceivers were denying the real humanity of Jesus. The Apostle labeled them “deceivers” and “antichrists”:
  • (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, 11-13, 23-25) – “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 manyAnd many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold. But he that endures to the end, the same shall be saved…Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or, Here; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand.
John declared in his first letter that “it is the last hour,” the same period elsewhere called the “last days” in the New Testament. That era 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 hour: From 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…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 idea that Christians were living already in the “last days” occurs multiple times in the New Testament. To substantiate this claim, John pointed to the deceivers that were operating in his congregations, just as Jesus predicted would occur – (“Even now many antichrists have come whereby we perceive that it is the last hour”). Their activities 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 labeled these false teachers “antichrists.” They were not pagan deceivers from without the church but false teachers from within it - (“They went out from among us”). And they could be identified by their denial “that Jesus is the Christ.”

Stopwatch - Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash
Stopwatch - Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

In his letters, John did not attempt to coordinate the “antichrists” or the coming of the “antichrist” with the return of Jesus or other final events.  His concern was with the damage being inflicted by them. However, their presence demonstrated 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 presence. If 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 understands 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.”
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 considering the inevitable arrival of Jesus and the expected rewards he would bring.

Manifested” translates the Greek verb phaneroō - “manifest, appear, make known, become visible.”  The Apostle Peter applied the same verb to the coming of Jesus in his first letter, likewise 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 - “appearance, manifestation.” This word is built on the same verbal stem as phaneroō - (2 Thessalonians 2:81 Timothy 6:142 Timothy 4:12 Timothy 4:8Titus 2:13).

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

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 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, they will be transformed to be “like him,” and they will see him “just as he is” - (1 John 3:1, Hebrews 9:28).
Thus, when Jesus arrives believers will undergo a transformation to become like him. Those with this hope “purify themselves” in preparation for that day - (Compare - Colossians 3:41 Corinthians 15:49Philippians 3:21).
Believers must “abide in Jesus” so they are able to stand in “boldness” rather than shame at his “coming.” They are the “children of God” and, consequently, constitute a people distinct from the rest of the world. This reality will become clear to all when Jesus is “manifested” and faithful Christians find themselves “like him”; therefore, it behooves them 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 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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