“The Bible explains in a sixth type of passage that people who fail to remain loyal to Christ NEVER WERE GENUINE BELIEVERS. Once again the apostle John explains: ‘Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but THEY DID NOT REALLY BELONG TO US. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that NONE OF THEM BELONGED TO US’(1 Jn 2:18-19)” (“The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance” by Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, page 13).
In case you didn’t know, I’m back to blog on a new book, called “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance” by Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday.
Tonight’s post is an interesting one. The verses quoted in the post title as well as in Schreiner’s quote are verses often used by many conservative evangelicals to defend their view of unconditional perseverance (which states that, those that Christ chooses for salvation will certainly persevere until the end). I wanna tackle this proof text right away because as we travel through Schreiner’s book, we will find that eventually, he claims that we cannot perfectly evaluate every person’s spiritual condition—which totally does away with this proof text he offers here!!
I looked up 1 John 2:18-19 in other major translations (www.biblegateway.com) and discovered that very few cross-references are provided for this supposedly “all-important” passage. The New American Standard (NASB) references 1 Corinthians 11:19 with this text, which doesn’t really mean much. 1 Corinthians 11:19 addresses factions within the church, amongst members regarding Holy Communion. The passage itself is not addressing members who walk away from the congregation (so while it does mention “factions,” those who misuse and abuse the Lord’s Supper are not called “antichrists”). The English Standard Version references 1 Corinthians 11:19. The Holman Christian Standard doesn’t give a reference verse (which is surprising). The Amplified Bible doesn’t cross-reference; and the New King James (NKJV) cross-references Deuteronomy 13:13.
In this post, I want to tackle the passage of 1 John 2 itself and point out some main features of the chapter and see what it has to say about the text of 1 John 2:18-19.
I’ve pointed out that 1 John 2:19 makes it clear that those who walked away “were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (NKJV).
However, to pull out this verse and use it as justification of one’s salvation (or to disprove another’s salvation) is to do a disgrace to the Word of God and a serious injustice to this text.
I was taught by my hermeneutics professor to examine a verse within its context. “A verse means what it means in its context,” he’d always say. We can’t do justice to the text of 1 John 2:19 without examining the rest of 1 John 2. More specifically, when studying a verse, we must study its “immediate” context (“immediate” refers to the verses right before and after the selected verse). In this case, the immediate context of 1 John 2:19 would be verse 18 (the verse right before it) and verse 20 (the verse after). The full context of the passage in question would involve the entire chapter of 1 John 2, as well as 1 John 1, as well as the rest of the book of 1 John, and then all of the rest of the canon of Scripture (the other 65 books of the Bible).
Looking at the immediate context, we can see the problems with Schreiner’s interpretation. Verse 18 reads, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the ANTICHRIST is coming, even now MANY ANTICHRISTS have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” Those who left out from the group were “antichrists.”
But notice what John has to say in verse 20 about the antichrists:
“But YOU HAVE AN ANOINTING FROM THE HOLY ONE, AND YOU KNOW ALL THINGS” (1 Jn. 2:20).
He separates those to whom he writes of those who have left the congregation entirely. Those to whom he writes “have an anointing from the Holy One”—in other words, they are believers, filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
Now that we know what we are dealing with, the antichrists versus the faithful, let’s look into the context of 1 John 2 itself. John writes,
“Who is a liar but HE WHO DENIES THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST? He is ANTICHRIST who denies the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22).
The antichrists are those who are “antichristos,” meaning “against Christ.” Notice that the antichrists are the ones who “deny that Jesus is the Christ.” The Amplified Bible translates this verse in the following manner:
22Who is [such a] liar as he who denies that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah)? He is the antichrist (the antagonist of Christ), who [[l]habitually] denies and refuses to acknowledge the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22, Amplified Bible)
Notice that the denial of Jesus as the Christ is the issue being discussed here, not a person’s refusal to cease sinning in their personal walk with the Lord. These people, according to what the context gives us, never even believed. They continued to deny Jesus as Lord and Messiah. But remember Paul’s words:
“Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord EXCEPT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT” (1 Corinthians 12:3, NKJV).
If a person, then, does not deny Jesus as Lord, then they acknowledge He is Lord—and they can only do this IF the Holy Spirit is present in their lives. Therefore, those in the church who denied Christ were those who never believed.
To take this, however, and apply this to every situation is to stain the Word of God. Let’s look at the rest of 1 John 2 to get a deeper understanding of what the “antichrists” are all about.
As I said, keep in mind that the antichrists are divided from the rest of the congregation. As for the rest of the group, John is confident of their salvation—for he writes, “BUT you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (v.20). The believers to whom John is writing have a genuine salvation, unlike the antichrists who continually denied the Lord and walked away. In verse 21, he tells them, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, BUT BECAUSE YOU KNOW IT, and that no lie is of the truth” (v.21). The congregation has come, to use a Pauline phrase, “to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), and knows right from wrong, truth from error.
In verse 24, John writes,
“Therefore let that abide in you which you have heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning ABIDES in you, you also WILL ABIDE IN THE SON AND IN THE FATHER” (v.24).
These words regarding “abiding in the Son and the Father” automatically bring to mind Jesus’ words in John 15:
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:5-8, NKJV)
Notice that “anyone [who] does not abide in Me” (v.6), anyone who “does not remain,” is “cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” Those who do not remain (“the branches,” John 15:5) are thrown into the fire. Those who bear fruit are those who “abide” in Christ (John 15:5). If someone fails to remain in Christ, the little fruit they have borne for Christ will die, and they will become “withered” (Jn. 15:6); the branch is then fit for nothing but the flames.
Go back to 1 John 2 and let’s read about the importance of abiding in Christ and the Father:
“And this is the promise that He has promised us—ETERNAL LIFE” (1 Jn. 2:25, NKJV).
So right after mentioning the importance of abiding in the Son and the Father, John gives us the effect or result of so doing—“eternal life.” We see from 1 John 2 that only if we “abide” will we receive eternal life. In other words, “he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:17b, NKJV).
There are two other verses I would like to cover in 1 John 2. The first concerns verse 26:
“These things I have written to you concerning THOSE WHO TRY TO DECEIVE YOU” (1 Jn. 2:26).
Connecting the context of 1 John 2, we discover that those who deny Jesus is Christ are also those who are attempting to “deceive” the believers. It is one thing to walk away from one’s faith, but another entirely to attempt to pull others away from their faith. To lead others astray is a mark of the false prophets and antichrists that are present and are to come. Jesus speaks of such people in Matthew 24:
“Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matt. 24:11).
“For FALSE CHRISTS and FALSE PROPHETS will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, EVEN THE ELECT” (Matt. 24:24).
After telling His disciples these things, Jesus says,
“See, I have told you BEFOREHAND” (Matt. 24:25).
Jesus was warning His disciples about the end and their need to endure (Matt. 24:9-13). So those in the church to which John is writing who have a full-scale campaign waged to turn people against God are those who have never believed in Him; for, how can one believe in a God that they then raise themselves up against?
I have made it clear in the following study of 1 John 2 that Thomas Schreiner cannot use 1 John 2:18-19 as a proof text against every person who turns away from the faith. Why? because every person who walks away from Christ is not doing what the antichrists did (leading others astray). Such deliberate deception stems from someone who is not only bent on not following Christ, but someone who wants Christ done away with, at all costs. Most of those who fall away, however, don’t hate Christ—they just don’t want to conform to His image.
Finally, Jesus also declared woe against those who lead others astray:
“38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”
39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our[c] side. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
42 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:38-42, NKJV)
I will cover 1 John 2:28 in my next post.