Study #4 (2 John 5-7)
Identifying the Deceivers
The previous three studies covered the material in Second John 1-4.
1. The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,
2. because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
3. Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
4. I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.
The elder, the Apostle John, reminded this God-chosen woman and her children of the love in truth which he and other believers have for them through Jesus Christ. Then John declared three certain expectations that are ours as believers. We are assured of God’s grace, mercy, and peace. These three blessings are ours from God alone, who is the source of all blessing.
Next, John expressed his joy to know that some of the lady’s children were walking in God’s truth. They were living faithfully according to his commandments. This seems to be what directly stirred John to rejoice. He was moved by the Holy Spirit to write this letter of encouragement and warning.
Having laid this foundation John presented a request based upon these opening comments.
John urged this dear lady to remember the ancient law of love.
5. And now I ask you, dear lady–not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning–that we love one another.
6. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
John is not asking something new of her. He is presenting a serious request that we all should obey God’s commandment to love as defined in Scripture. Like this woman’s children, we all should continue walking in truth even when being pressured and challenged by heretics.
The problem John is dealing with here seems to be similar to the one he addresssed in First John. Hellenistic philosophy was being blended with a distorted gospel producing a cultish heresy. Instead of coming up with innovations and trendy inventions like these heretics, John was promoting the same ancient truth God had revealed from the beginning.
The Bible, and John in particular, presents the importance of love again and again. Each time it addresses that topic it presents it from a fresh view point so that we will appreciate it more and understand it better.
There are those today who promote a different kind of love which is the opposite of what’s presented in God’s word. They teach that the principles of law in the Old Testament were for ancient Israel only. They claim that now we live only by love instead of by God’s law. But that is absolutely not what the Bible teaches. Love and law are always connected. It’s God’s revealed law that shows us what God means by love.
Moses stated the centrality of love long ago in his books of law:
Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Jesus regularly cited the law as still in effect and binding upon his people. He brought the law to its completed form. It’s in that sense that he fulfilled it. That doesn’t mean he cancelled it out. The law was brought to it’s intended purpose. The “ceremonial and sacrificial laws” are there to teach us, but they are no longer the way we are to worship and show our faith. They were brought to completion by Jesus on the cross. It was there that he died as the Lamb of God which the sacrifices represented. The “moral law of God” was fulfilled by Jesus taking on the penalty we all deserve for breaking those eternal moral principles, and by his righteousness being credited by grace to those brought to faith in his work of atonement. We are still told not to have other gods, not to murder, not to steal, and so on. Jesus always promoted the moral law of the Old Testament as the foundation for and the definition of true love. In John 14:15 he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
He even supported his position about love by directly quoting the law of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 in his comments in Luke 10:26-28, “He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’ ”
John himself presented this idea as consistent with the Old testament in his First Epistle:
2:7, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.”
3:11, “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
4:21, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
We should always be suspicious of things that seem new and which push aside things directly taught in God’s word. Like the Bereans mentioned in Acts 17:10-11, we should search the Scriptures to see if what we are hearing is true. For the Bereans, the Scriptures they searched were the books of the Old Testament. That’s the method we should follow so we can see if what we are hearing is consistent with what God has already made known.
Love can’t be separated from walking by God’s Commandments. John states this command in the first person plural “we” to include himself and all believers. We all ought to love in the way God tells us in Scripture, by walking consistently in God’s truth.
The Bible does not speak of some undefined standard for love determined by our emotions. Instead it tells us that love is the fulfilling of the law. For example, Paul wrote in Romans 13:10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Love and law are not exclusive of one another, and certainly not opposed to one another. They are unified concepts in the mind of God. Both are revealed to us to show us how we ought to behave. Law specifies what actions are pleasing to God. Love specifies the heart attitude that ought to motivate these right actions.
With a wrong heart, our deeds and acts which we call “good” or “kind” only steal glory from God. They imply that the work of Christ was unnecessary. Works without love are man-centered and offend God. With wrong actions, the sincerity of our claimed love and faith is called to question. If we love, we ought to be moved to do things that please God as revealed in his word. Our love for other humans ought to make us do what God says is best for them. The content of truth, God’s revealed statements, defines what love looks like. If those things are missing, there is no evidence that real love is in the heart. The one without the other is a fraud.
So many decry “doctrine” as if it was the enemy of love and leaves us cold. But the Bible teaches the opposite. A claim to love, that doesn’t care what’s true about God, or what duties he requires of us, is not really love at all.
1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
1 John 4:8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
This demands that love should conform to all that God has spoken. Words are not enough.
1 John 3:18, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Jesus is ever our perfect example of how walking in love is a walk within God’s commandments.
1 John 2:6, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
But the keeping of the law out of love for God and others is not a burden.
Psalm 119:47, “for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.”
In pastoral love and directness John avoids generalities. He switches to “you” for the final clause: “just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.”
This makes the application even more emphatic and personal. John’s focus is this: Just as it’s so joyous to have heard that some of your children are walking in love, so let me be joyous all the more that you and all your children with you also walk in truth, even in light of this growing problem you are facing. This is where he takes us next.
John now turns to the main point of his letter.
7. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
The “For” (in the ESV, NASB, KJV) is like our “Because”. That’s the primary meaning of the Greek word here, “hoti” (ὅτι). It shows that what follows directly depends upon what has been said already. For some reason the NIV translation ignores the “because” entirely which loses the connection and flow of thought.
What is about to follow builds upon the fact that true love is based on God’s truth revealed in his commandments, and that this love is ours only through the gracious work of Jesus Christ as he regenerates our spiritually dead hearts.
A time of testing had come to where the elect lady was living when she received this letter. She and those with her needed encouragement to live by the truth which they knew. It’s usually not our ignorance of God’s word that gets us in trouble. It’s our failure to live faithfully according to what we already know God has said.
So John comes to the pivotal point in the letter.
Verses 4-6 are positive, directive, and encouraging: laying the foundation in hope.
Verses 8-11 are negative as warnings, cautions, and admonitions: applying truth to a need.
We must be careful to recognize those leading us astray. Deception implies that the truth is being undermined and perverted. The truth is given to us in God’s word. It tells us about his nature, his promises, and principles. Deceivers attack all three: the warnings, cautions, and admonitions. If we live by the biblical meaning given to “love” we walk according to what God has commanded us toward all the objects of our love.
If we walk in love according to God’s commandments we will recognize deception. That which does not conform with what God has said will stand out to us. The deceivers are recognized best by those who know and live by the word of God.
This is a timeless lesson that helps us in every age of history.
Many deceivers are present in our world today. It’s not just a possible or potential threat. They are not just in one place. They have gone out aggressively in the world. They may claim to be loving Christians as these heretics had done, but they do not conform to revealed truth. They do not live according to God’s principles.
The deceivers reject the core of God’s promise of redemption. Nothing exposes error as thoroughly as when it denies the centrality of God’s plan to redeem his people. From the beginning in Eden, a Messiah had been promised. He was intimated in the most ancient promises, depicted in the ceremonial law, extolled in the inspired books of poetry, and expounded upon by the prophets. He was fully revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus and declared by the Apostles.
Those who teach that we can be right with God, but do not base it upon Christ’s atonement alone, are deceivers of the worst kind, and by definition are “Anti-Christ”.
“Antichrist” is a term only John uses, and he only uses it in his epistles. This mention in Second John is the last time this word appears in the Bible. It was also used in First John 2:18, 22, and 4:3. It refers to those who deny that Jesus is the Messiah as the Bible presents him. It never refers to some future character who becomes God’s arch enemy who aspires to destroy God’s church and plan in the days of the final judgment. There will be those with the spirit of Antichrist in the future and in every era of history.
Antichrist was something in the world at the time of John. According to his use of the word in First John 2:18 there were many antichrists in the world then, not just one. The use of the definite article “the” for this deceiver and antichrist does not mean there was just one particular individual. It is referring to this particular identity. It’s the attitude that deserves that title. It particularizes the problem, not the individual.
Today the spirit of anti-christ continues. It can be applied to any who promote a false religion, but does not present Jesus Christ and his atonement as the only way true worship and godly living can be accomplished. They divorce living lovingly from conforming to the moral and redemptive teachings of the Bible.
Those religious TV shows, movies, songs, and rallies are antichrist if they promote a generalized faith that does not show Christ to be God in human form who came to die to redeem unworthy and undeserving sinners by grace alone,.
They who do not know Christ truly will love in a different way. They will not promote God’s glory in their lives in the way Scripture says he should be honored. The deceivers promote what they say are beneficial things for society, things that make us feel good for the moment, or make promises not supported by God’s word. They expose themselves when they imply that a suffering Messiah is not necessary for attaining salvation from God’s wrath and the comforting assurance that we are adopted into God’s family.
To recognize these deceptions we too need to learn to walk faithfully in love. That walk in love is to live in obedience to all of what God has spoken and commanded in his word.
Bob Burridge ©2017
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted