13 January 2017

1 John 2:18-21

“Children, it is the last hour!” (v. 18)

Psalm: Psalm 11:1-5


The remainder of chapter 2 begins a new section in which the writer deals with the subject of the false teachers who have been mentioned earlier in the letter. They see them as being part of the general terror and disaster which would herald the last days. Whilst those days would bring judgement, they would not be a final end to all things, but the birth pangs of a new age, which Christians believed would involve the return of Christ as king. In the event the writer was wrong, but there is a sense in which we always live in the last days, in a time of conflict between humans and between good and evil.

Verse 18 introduces the idea of antichrist. The antichrist was the leader of the evil side at the last days. The way the writer says "As you have heard that antichrist is coming" (v. 18) implies that their readers are familiar with the concept, which must have been part of contemporary thinking. In fact, "antichrist" is a word which is only found in the Letters of John (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). The writer takes this abstract idea and applies it to the readers' situation, by referring to the false teachers who had been among them, but had subsequently left the church.

Verses 20-21 are words of encouragement to those who remained in the Christian fellowship. Their anointing (probably associated with their Baptism with water) has given them understanding and discernment, so that they can recognise the lies of the false teachers. The use of the word "knowledge" in verse 20 is significant, in that the heretics claimed for themselves special knowledge of God.

Those two verses do not mention the work of the Holy Spirit in the believers, but it is implied. Significantly in the Methodist Worship Book's Service of Confirmation, the prayer immediately before Confirmation uses words drawn from Isaiah 11:2: "fill them with your Holy Spirit: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; the Spirit of discernment and inner strength; the Spirit of knowledge, holiness, and awe".

To Ponder

  • How do you react to thoughts of the return of Christ? Is it something to which you look forward? Why?
  • Who do you think are the 'antichrists' in the life of the world today? Can they be found in the Church?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.