A Study of 1 John 2:12-23
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father, but from the world. And the world and its lusts are passing away, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
When the coronavirus crisis began to grab the headlines, Joshua Rowe and I were in California, and we were talking about whether a global pandemic like this was a sign of the Last Days. Joshua said, “I don’t think this is leading immediately to the Tribulation; this is what Jesus called the birth pangs.” And that sentence has stayed with me. In Matthew 24, Jesus spoke of a number of global disasters that will begin to happen during the Last Days, and he said, “All these things are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8).
In other words, before Christ comes again the world will suffer painful contractions, like a woman does before giving birth to a child. Our world is reaching an acceleration point. And what happens when we lose control of what’s ahead? I think we already have! But I want to tell you the Lord hasn’t. His hand is still on the wheel, and what we need to do in times like this is to consult His Word. Today we’re going to consult the letter of 1 John and continue our series into the epistles of the apostle John.
I’ve always been intimidated by preaching from 1 John. This is both the simplest and the most complex book of the Bible. The Greek text of this book is so simple it’s often used as a textbook for beginning Greek students, and yet after years of studying and reading 1 John, I still don’t know quite how to analyze this letter. The Bible is the curriculum in God’s school. This is God’s curriculum for you and me. And in any school I’ve ever attended, the curriculum becomes more advanced as you progress into your studies. That’s true for the Bible. The latter books of the Bible are a sort of Graduate School—and the book of 1 John is both the simplest and one the most complex piece of literature I’ve ever tried to deal with.
But let’s give it a try with the paragraph that begins here in 1 John 2, with verse 12 and goes through verse 18.
1. Those Who Live for Christ (verses 12-14)
In this chapter, verses 12-14 describe what it means to live for Christ: I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
This is no easy paragraph to exegete. In the middle of John’s set of exhortations, he puts in this poetic insert. It’s as though he just wrote a little song and stuck it into the middle of his message, and commentators don’t always agree on what he means by fathers, young men, and children. But I want to show you the interpretation that seems most obvious to me. I’ve taken these elements and charted them in a little diagram. Now, there is some poetic repetition in this, so let’s reduce it down to its basic message.
When we first come to Jesus Christ, there’s a tremendous sense of relief. Suddenly we realize that we are perfectly free from all our feelings of guiltiness and shame, and we have a living relationship with the God who made us.
I just read the testimony of a man named Frank Barker. Beginning in high school he started living a reckless life. He graduated and went to college on a ROTC scholarship, then became a jet pilot in the U.S. Navy. One weekend while in flight training school, he came back to Birmingham and had a wild weekend. On his way back to Pensacola, he fell asleep at the wheel, and his car came to rest with the headlights shining on a sign that had been nailed to a tree. The sign said, “The wages of sin is death.” He said, “I think God is trying to tell me something.” Sometime later, Barker went to an Air Force Chaplain and asked about becoming a Christian. The chaplain told him that God offered salvation as a free gift through Jesus Christ. Barker said, in effect, “Something like that can’t be free. You’ve got to do something for it.” But as Barker began to realize the grace of God and the Gospel of Christ, he surrendered his will and transferred his trust to Christ. And, he said, his life changed immediately.
A lot of times we talk about our chains falling off when we come to Christ. That’s a description of what happens when you turn your life over to Christ. That’s the experience of new Christians. You have a tremendous sense that your sins are forgiven on account of Christ and you know have a relationship with God.
Now, John says something about growing Christians—they are strong and the Word of God lives within them. I read a blog this week by a woman named Sarah Ann who is wife and mother and a blogger. She described how draining it was to have a two-year-old autistic child and a bright-eyed baby boy who refused to sleep. She became emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Then one day she saw her Bible and realized she hadn’t read anything in it for a week or so. She simply turned to the book of Psalms and began reading one Psalm a day. She couldn’t believe how the verses spoke to her, and she found a notebook and started jotting down the verses and truths that came to her. After finishing the book of Psalms, she went on to the Gospels, and she started filling up one notebook after another. It reminded me what Katrina used to do every morning. I have boxes of old spiral notebooks in the closet full of notes from her morning Bible studies. This is simply the bottom-line secret of growing Christians—the regular intake of the Word of God. And it’s God’s Word that helps us overcome the evil one.
At some point we begin to show the signs of maturity—and what does John say about grown-up Christians? This is remarkable. He doesn’t have a list of great things they do. He doesn’t have a list of great qualities they possess. He simply says they know Him who is from the beginning. They have an ongoing, daily, abiding friendship with the eternal God. At some point you have such a sense of God’s presence in your life that you know He is with you and you can trust Him all the time.
There is something utterly wonderful about maturing into the realization that you are constantly abiding in the presence of God. It’s not just when you come to church. It’s not just when you’re reading the Bible. The Lord is near you and with you amid the stress and strain of every day. He’s your friend.
I love songs that talk about the Lord being our friend. Several years ago, sang a song here, “I Am a Friend of God.” It was one of my favorites. When I was about twenty years old, I learned a hymn by Wilber Chapman that said:
Jesus, what a friend for sinners,
Jesus, lover of my soul.
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.
Before Katrina passed away, she had a lot of trouble sleeping at night and she couldn’t read, and I didn’t know what to do for her. But the kids gave us an Alexa, and every night after I got her in bed and we had prayer and said goodnight, I would hear her say, “Alexa, play ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’” And she would listen to that and other great hymns through the night. Sometimes when I came to wake up her in the morning, those songs were still going. I think we come to a point when we grow into the wonderful sense of the abiding presence of God with us, like an ever-present Friend.
2. Those Who Live for Anti-Christ
That’s a description of those of us who are living for Christ. We need to be accelerating in our walk with Christ. But down at verse 18, John talks about the acceleration of evil in our world today and about those who are living, not for Christ, but for antichrist: 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.
John said he was living in the last hour. Every generation of believers have felt Jesus would come again in their lifetime, and that’s the way we’re supposed to feel. We’re to expect His return at any time. But if John was living in the last hour—as God understands the calendar and the clock—we must be living in the last few minutes, as it were, of the last hour. We’re getting close to midnight.
And, he said, the antichrist is coming. I’ve underlined those words in my Bible: The antichrist is coming. He said: Dear friends, this is the last hour: and you have heard that the antichrist is coming. This was a well-known and much-discussed truth in John’s day. John had undoubtedly taught it himself.
Throughout the Bible, there are prophecies and prototypes of the antichrist.
- As I understand it, it first began with a man named Nimrod in the Bible. He was said to be a mighty hunter—and apparently what he was hunting was not animals but people. He was a warrior, and he established the city of Babylon—which from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, represents a world system totally opposed to the rule of heaven.
- And then we have Pharaoh at the Red Sea, who was determined to annihilate the Jewish people. This is always the relentless drive of the spirit of the antichrist—to annihilate the Jewish people. By wiping out the Jewish people, Satan knew he could keep the Messiah from coming.
- We come to the book of Daniel. The prophet Daniel gives us detailed information about the coming world ruler in multiple of his chapters. In Daniel 9, we’re told that in the last days a powerful man will arise and he will be charismatic and commanding, and he will gain control of the governments of the world. He’ll establish a seven-year treaty with Israel, but after three-and-a-half years, he’ll march into the rebuilt Jewish temple, put his image inside it, and demand to be worshipped. When the Jews resist, he will wage war against them and this will be a time of great tribulation.
- And then we come to the book of Esther, and the wicked Haman was determined to annihilate the Jewish people.
- In between the Old and New Testaments, an evil man lived named Antiochus Epiphanes, who Daniel described as the authorized prototype of the antichrist.
- Then we come to the book of Matthew, and Herod the Great sought to destroy all the baby boys of Bethlehem to prevent the Messiah’s first coming.
- Jesus spoke of the antichrist and the ensuing Great Tribulation in Matthew 24 and 25.
- Paul taught in 2 Thessalonians 2: Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God, so that he set himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
- And John, the author of the epistle we are studying, wrote in Revelation 13: The beast [the antichrist] was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme god and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
In the last century, a wicked dictator arose with demonic power seeking to annihilate the Jewish people.
There is an evil thread throughout history—it is worse than evil; it is worse than wicked—that is opposed to God’s people, both the Jews and the Christians. And this thread is leading to the future antichrist.
So the Bible teaches that at some point the world is going to face a crisis so great, so severe, so terrible that only one man will be able to arise and handle it. And this man will become inflamed with Satan and seek to destroy once and for all the Jewish people and to prevent the second coming of Christ.
So in John’s day, the people were talking about this. Maybe they were saying:
- Is it Caligula?
- Is it Claudius
- Is it Nero?
- Is it Vespasian?
- Is it Titus?
- Is it Domitian?
Just like today we wonder—is the antichrist alive yet? Is he in the world? We don’t know.
But let’s get back to 1 John 2:18. John said: Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrist have come.
In other words, the world is already full of anti-Christian forces. Look at verse 22: Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist.
Whoever rejects Jesus Christ and opposes him is anti – Christ. That’s what anti-Christ means—against Christ. There are tremendous forces right now, in the world and in America, that are anti-Christ.
In chapter 4, John is going to say that even now the spirit of the antichrist already at work in the world. We see that all around us. You know, of course, about how the Christian organization called Samaritan’s Purse moved in here and worked alongside us after the tornado. What they did, and how they partnered The Donelson Fellowship and our community is amazing. Well, you probably also read how Samaritan’s Purse moved into Central Park setting up mobile hospitals to work at great personal risk during this pandemic. They partnered with Mount Sinai hospital on Fifth Avenue. They set up these field hospitals to treat any and every man, woman, or child who needs help, no questions asked, no discrimination of any kind.
Well, Samaritan’s Purse has come under withering criticism and under tremendous pressure to tear down their hospitals and leave — simply because in the documents for their workers is a statement of belief for a biblically-defined marriage. The world is full of hatred directed at humanitarians. It’s hatred directed at Christ. It’s the spirit of the antichrist in the world.
Over in Greenville, South Carolina, a U.S. District Court has just forced the county school system there to pay nearly a half-million dollars to American Humanist Association because the school included a prayer in its graduation service. This is hatred. This is intolerance. The school officials and the students could espouse atheism or agnosticism or humanism—all of them religions, and that would be perfectly all right. They could have used the word “God” or the word “Jesus” as a curse word, and that is perfectly all right. But to say a word that is Christian in nature means you have to give the humanists a half-million dollars to further attack Christianity. That’s evil. That’s the spirit of the antichrist.
At the same time, in China the government has decreed that crosses on the steeples of churches must be removed if they are higher than the Chinese national flag. All over China, government workers are climbing onto steeples and tearing down the cross. And furthermore, the government of China has banned the livestreaming of worship services during the pandemic. That’s the spirit of the antichrist in the world.
I could give you example after example, of course, but you already know it. We are living in the last hour and the spirit of anti-Christ is getting stronger in this world every day. And none of us knows what’s coming next.
Few people started 2020 expecting a global virus to literally shut down the planet. So what’s coming next?
- Is there another virus with an even higher mortality rate?
- What would happen if the world’s internet collapsed?
- What would happen in America’s internet was wiped out?
- What would happen if North Korea or Iran fired an atomic weapon at Jerusalem?
These are the kinds of events that make us feel we’re living close to the days of the book of Revelation. These are the beginnings of birth pains. The world is having contractions, and they are accelerating. And that’s pretty exciting for the believer because it means we’re getting closer and closer to seeing Jesus. And one day soon, Jesus is going to come and take us out of the way. And the antichrist is going to appear.
So let’s sum up.
John said I am writing to new Christians who have been freed from their sins by the power of the name of Jesus. I am writing to growing Christians who are abiding in the Word and overcoming the evil one. I am writing to mature believers who have grown deep in the abiding sense of God’s presence. And I want you to know that we’re living in the last hour. The antichrist is coming, but the spirit of the antichrist is already in the world.
So what should we do? We must be accelerating in our walk with Christ because the world is accelerating toward Judgment day.
So let me close with the middle portion of this Scripture, the one we began with—verses 15-17:
Do not love the world
or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is
not in them. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of
the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father, but from the world. And
the world and its lusts are passing away, but whoever does the will of God