Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Meditations on 1 John: XV

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. [2:18].

When we read New Testament passages showing that the Apostles believed themselves to be living in the last days or in the last hour we can excuse them as being mistaken in light of their expectancy of Christ’s return or we can believe what they said and align our belief with theirs. If we accept the testimony of the Apostles in every other facet of doctrine and practice what warrant do we have to dismiss their clear teaching that the last days began in the first century? When those who have a high view of Scripture explain away the apostolic teaching of the inauguration of the last days we do what others do who make no pretence of viewing Scripture as the Word of God – we bend the Bible to our understanding rather than seek to conform our understanding and belief to the Bible. The Word of God is not to submit to us, we are to submit to the Word of God.

John writes that the fact that many antichrists have arisen is a sign that it is the last hour. As the Kingdom of God breaks forth into the world through the Incarnation and Resurrection and Pentecost the powers of darkness manifest themselves in opposition to Christ, an opposition which often takes the form of false Christs. Jesus tells us that there will be those who claim to be Christ, the Apocalypse portrays the Beast demanding worship – the antichrist, in whatever form he may take is opposed to Jesus Christ – in one sense the enemy doesn’t much care what we believe as long as we abandon our testimony of Jesus Christ; the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ is always the focal point – that is the testimony that we are to live for and to die for.

We are called to worship God in spirit and in truth, we are called to be a spiritual people who are sitting in the heavens in Christ Jesus, while we may live on the earth we are not to draw our understanding and our breath from the earth; as 1 Corinthians Chapter 2 makes clear, the natural person cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are spiritually understood. Spiritual understanding corresponds to Scripture, and true Scriptural understanding is understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit. If we do not “see” that the Apostle John lived in the last hour then it is incumbent on us to ask our gracious Father to enlighten the eyes of our understanding so that we will see as He sees.

This is a passage (1 John 2:18 – 24) that we like to gloss over, especially verse 18; for unless we gloss over verse 18 we have to stop and ask the question, “Is this true or was John mistaken? Was it the last hour when John wrote?” If John’s statement is true then what does that say about our preoccupation with “End Times” excitement, about the energy and money and attention given to popular “End Times” teaching, about investment in the “End Times” industry?

As John’s letter makes clear, the central question for the believer and the church is Jesus Christ: the confession of Christ, our obedience to Christ, our abiding in Christ, our love to one another in Christ, our overcoming the world and the enemy in Christ, our life in Christ. The question does not hinge on world events, the question hinges on the Person of Jesus Christ; and the primary context for John’s letter is not the world at large but the professing church in particular – this is not typically the context of the End Times industry.

What matters is our faithfulness to the confession of Jesus Christ; when John saw people in the professing church denying the Son he knew that it was indeed the last hour. The fact that the “hour” is a bit longer than we might expect does not invalidate John’s statement but rather challenges us to understand the flow of cosmic history from a Biblical perspective – we should live and think as sons and daughters of our eternal Father and not, as Revelation terms it, as “earth dwellers”.

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