"Antichrist - or Anointing?"
May 17, 2009 1Jn 2:15-27, 4:1-6
ANTICHRIST - THEN AND NOW?!
Last weekend we were in Wheaton Illinois for my niece's wedding. On Sunday we had planned to visit one of the renowned churches in the area, possibly Willow Creek or Moody Bible Church in downtown Chicago. But by that morning Yvonne had succumbed to one of her day-long seizure-spells so it was best to let her just rest in bed. Allison and I checked our in-room options. Apart from a brief half-hour service at 9:00 there was nothing else worship-related on TV - too bad. Thankfully Moody Bible Church offered their service broadcast live online starting at 10 to 10. That served admirably. In between, Allison introduced me to GodTV, a Christian channel broadcast over the internet. In the bit we watched before the Moody service began, the station founders were interviewing Grant Jeffrey, a popular theologian familiary with end-times doctrine. He was explaining that though the events prophesied in Daniel and Revelation have yet to come to pass, there are some signs that things are lining up so the end is not far off. In fact he said it's quite likely that the Antichrist is alive already today, though he hasn't yet come into the worldwide spotlight.
Dr Jeffrey could very well be right. 2Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13 do describe a 'man of lawlessness' or 'beast' who organizes global opposition to Christ just before His return. Jesus Himself foretold in Mk 13:22, "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect-- if that were possible." But today's reading from John's first letter argues that many antichrists have already come (2:18). Before we get too hung up or preoccupied on whether the final Antichrist is already alive, let's learn from the apostle how to avoid a mindset that is counter-Christian. Escaping from the spell of the world's desires, we discover, through belonging to Christ, an anointing from the Holy Spirit that blesses us with a love that lasts, and clues us in to what's important to God.
UNDER THE SPELL OF PASSING DESIRES
This is the Victoria Day Weekend - originally celebrated in honour of Queen Victoria's actual birthday, and now the official birthday of the currently reigning monarch. But their majesties Victoria or Elizabeth II are no longer in effect sovereign over the holiday: colloquially in recent years it's become known in Canada as "May 2-4" weekend after a case of 24 beers. Throughout the country people will be having campfires and falling under the influence of King Molson, or Labatt, or even King Bud (how unpatriotic!). Afterwards, no doubt some will suffer the unpleasant after-effects of over-consumption. This is typical of how short-lived worldly pleasures tempt us to stray from God's healthier and ultimately more lasting alternatives. Paul cautioned the Ephesians, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." (Eph 5:18) That Spirit-filledness or 'anointing' (which the witnesses of the Spirit's outpouring at Pentecost mistook for durnkenness - Acts 2:13) is how John recommends believers find real lasting enjoyment - not just for a weekend party, but forever.
When John wrote this letter near the end of the first century, the early church had become more or less established - and was facing some real challenges. Some people who may have been attracted to Christian gatherings at first by its newness were drifting away, moving on to newer variants. V19, "they went out from us...their going showed that none of them belonged to us." John and the other apostles had become itinerant evangelists, often serving a circuit of churches which hosted them and helped look after their daily needs. False teachers had sprung up, adapting this system as a means of circulating without having to do any manual work, sort of an unholy hosteling. They claimed to be authorized but preached made-up stories not Christian truth. 4:1 says, "test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." Some clever types blended Christianity with Greek philosophy to come up with Gnosticism, a secret 'knowing' that promised release from the body of evil matter to an enlightened spirit-world. Docetism taught that Christ only seemed to have a body - no actual shadow or footprints. Another teacher, Cerinthus, held that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before he died. Such inventiveness promoted lies and false doctrine. 2:26 refers to 'those who are trying to lead you astray'.
The impostors were at least moderately successful. Some people seem to have grown tired of Christian teaching and had left the church to join the new cults. The false teachers were gaining an audience: 4:5, "the world listens to them." Give 'em what they want to hear! What lustre or gratification is there in such teachings of Jesus as 'take up your cross daily and follow Me'? Who wants to forgive those who've wronged you when you figure 'they've got it coming to them' - I mean, you 'have a right' to be upset with them? The crowds were not content with the orthodox lessons of the apostles and church leaders who succeeded the apostles when they were martyred. 4:6, "whoever is not from God does not listen to us." As John wrote, he was probably very conscious of the new upstarts and the threat they posed to young churches.
What was the essence of the heretical teaching? Basically, denying that Jesus was who He said He was. V22: "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-- he denies the Father and the Son." 'Antichrist' means basically counter-Messiah: opposing what Jesus stands for as Lord and Saviour. John offers a litmus test to help sort out who's really a true Christian teacher and who's not: 4:2-3, "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, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world." Note it all revolves around Jesus - does this teacher acknowledge Him, honour Him, as coming in the flesh to die as sent uniquely from God to save us from our sins? As Paul reminded the Galatians, any other gospel ('good-spell') is bogus. Those who preached circumcision as a way to get right with God through good works were washed up. "Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Gal 1:7-8)
The Gnostic preachers held that matter was inherently evil, so Jesus couldn't really have been incarnate, God-in-the-flesh. This led some of them to hold that consequently it didn't really matter what you did in your body: as long as you believed the spiritual secrets or mysteries, you could cater to your flesh in sin, orgies, and excess. In their view, Jesus didn't really die to redeem us as whole persons, with physical bodies. Followers of these cults could live scandalously. You can understand why such a form of 'religion' was gaining popularity - it gave people the feeling they were fashionably 'religious' - keeping up with the latest spiritual trend - while at the same time giving them permission to indulge all sorts of wrong appetites.
4:5, "They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world..." What's the 'viewpoint of the world' today - how would you sum up culture's key drive now? We're the 'me' generation, self-serve. For the past 200 years, since the Enlightenment, man has made himself the judge of things religious; we are on the bench, and God is in the dock. How does Paul describe the final singular Antichrist or 'man of lawlessness' in 2Thessalonians 2:4? "He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God." Isn't that attitude typical of culture today? WE take the place of God, WE decide what's important; satisfying MY wants and appetites is what has to take priority. Listen sometime to how the advertising slogans cater to our me-centredness.
John Piper asks how a fish can know it's wet when its surrounded by water all the time. Likewise in our culture we're surrounded by arrogance, so we don't even realize how arrogant we are!
"They are from the world and therefore speak form the viewpoint of the world..." The apostle John sums up pretty well in 215f what that worldly viewpoint is all about: "Do not love the world or anything in the world...For everything in the world-- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-- comes not from the Father but from the world." (1Jo 2:15-16) Other translations list those 3 things, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life" (NASV); NLT - "the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions." In the temptation of Eve, why did she eat the fruit? Because it was "good for food and pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom"; "you will be like God," the serpent hissed, "knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:3,6) Also in Jesus' own temptation, what did Satan offer? Bread for His stomach; the splendour and wealth of all the kingdoms of the world; and fame or prestige if He would make an exhibition of His supernatural power by throwing Himself down from the Temple (Mt 4:3-9)
But the things Satan tempts us with we find are not ultimately satisfying. The shine wears off. We have to consume just a bit more to get the same 'buzz'. And soon we find the counterfeit pleasures come with a hidden price tag we really don't want to pay. Even if we 'get it all', sooner or later we have to give it all up. 2:17, "The world and its desires pass away..." As John Ortberg's book title reminds us, "When the game is over, it all goes back in the box." We don't get to keep one chip, one little plastic house off Park Place. Then what does our life amount to?
A sad new story this week featured the child star of the box-office hit, Slumdog Millionaire. Although the movie has grossed millions of dollars, the actor that was plucked from the slums of Mumbai to star in the role has actually ended up back living in a shack in a slum with his family. This week he was woken up hurriedly and told he had to leave: then bulldozers, on the order of city officials, knocked down his family's shack along with dozens of others, as they routinely do. How absurd - and unfair! Yet this world with its desires are about as permanent.
LASTING BENEFITS OF THE GODLY
Believing in Jesus snaps us out of the bad spell of the tempter who tries to suck us into anesthetizing ourselves from life's pain and difficulty by passing pleasures and preoccupation with selfishness. John outlines briefly five blessings that come to those who receive Jesus in their life: love, last, lean, learn, and listen.
LOVE: v15, "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Previously we saw His emphasis on becoming God's dear children, and the love that is ours in that born-from-above relationship. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (3:1) "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.God is love." (1Jo 4:15f) When you feel loved and cherished and special to the Almighty, that frees you from trying to fill that hole by a lot of less-fulfilling behaviours.
LAST: v17, "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." V25, "And this is what he promised us-- even eternal life." That's for keeps - that goes on forever! In some sense this physical world we touch and rely now is a mirage, a phantom; Christ in His resurrected body walking through a locked door is a picture of that. God's Spirit and those connected to Him / born anew in Him are what's 'really real', outlasting this temporary universe. In Christ we last beyond this earthly life.
LEAN: 'Anointing' doesn't begin with an 'L' so I'm using this instead - Jesus becomes alive and real to us through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, so we can rely or lean on His presence 24/7. V20, "You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth" - what's real, spiritually 'solid', what you can lean on. Three times this 'chrism' is mentioned in v27: "the anointing you received from Him remains in you...His anointing teaches you...that anointing is real, not counterfeit...remain in Him." NLT replaces 'anointing' with 'Holy Spirit' which is what John means, poured out from the Father in Jesus' name to connect us to God. Other verses refer to this less directly: 24, "remain in the Son and in the Father;" 4:6, "we are from God"; and 4:4, "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." How wonderful to have the anointing of the Holy Spirit in us, our heaven-sent companion! Someone we can lean on.
LEARN: Jesus said a principal role of the Holy Spirit would be to help us learn the things of God. "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things...When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth." (Jn 14:26; 16:13) So here in John's letter, the Spirit helps us learn: 2:20 & 27, "you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth...His anointing teaches you about all things...it has taught you..." The early Christians listened to the apostles to learn Jesus' truth; we are privileged to have the New Testament, a precious deposit, an inspired record of God's truth. Just pick it up and read it, and hear the Holy Spirit guiding you to understand!
Finally, LISTEN: 4:6, "whoever knows God listens to us..." - that is, the apostles and subsequent church leaders, guardians of classic Christian truth. We have much to gain from listening to those who are more experienced than us in the Christian walk: they've been through things and can give us tips that will help when we perhaps someday encounter similar trials. The apostolic pattern was to teach others, who in turn could teach others: every 'Paul' needs both a 'Barnabas' (to mentor you) and a 'Timothy' (to be passing it on to - in your own fresh words). Build a library with famous believing authors like CS Lewis, Watchman Nee, E Stanley Jones, Chuck Colson - discover your own! Then, when it's your turn, speaking to others forces us back to rely on the words the Holy Spirit can give us. The core truth doesn't change, but how we express it to new generations will.
We spoke earlier how the world and the things we desire in it pass away, but those with Christ's anointing last. In the movie Civil Action, John Travolta plays the role of a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in a civil suit brought against a large corporation because of that company's irresponsible polluting of the environment. Chemical waste is being dumped into the rivers in a particular town in Massachusetts, causing cancer to break out among the townspeople.
Unfortunately, this lawyer and his small firm are no match for the tremendous legal services the corporation can buy. Little by little, the corporation exhausts the lawyer's financial resources and destroys his firm. In one highly dramatic scene, the lawyer stands before a bankruptcy judge and declares that fourteen dollars and a portable radio are all the possessions he has left in the world. The judge responds in amazement, "Where are all the things that you should accumulate in life in order to give you your identity?"
Tony Campolo comments, "That is exactly how the world in which we live evaluates the worth of an individual. Money and things establish a person's identity. For Christians, things and the things money can buy do not establish identity. Instead, Christ does that." Praise God for His incredible love, His gift of eternal life and true significance as His dear child, His anointing of us and indwelling us by His Spirit. Antichrists may come and go, but they'll never figure that out! Let's pray.