June 29: 1 John 5:4

1 John 5:1-4, continued
Verse 4f

“(Indeed, it is) that every(thing) having come to be (born) of God is victorious [nika=|] (over) the world” (v. 4a)

As a follow-up to the previous note, on 5:1-4a, it will be helpful to look in detail at verse 4a, along with in the transitional sub-unit vv. 4b-5. First, there is the clear parallel with verse 1a; indeed, the two short statements effectively bracket the unit (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note):

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God”
    • “every(thing) having come to (be) born of God is victorious (over) the world”

The parallelism is even more precise (with a clear thematic chiasm) if we include vv. 4b-5:

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed
      • has come to be (born) of God
      • every(thing) having come to be (born) of God
        is victorious (over) the world…
    • the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God.”

There is also a logical sequence at work:

    • Everyone trusting in Yeshua =>
      • has come to be born of God
        and, everyone born of God =>

        • is victorious over the world.

Through our trust in Jesus Christ we (as believers) become the offspring (te/kna) of God, sharing the presence and power of the Son of God. And, since the Son (Jesus) has been victorious over the world, so are we, the other offspring of God, who are united with him. This idiom of being victorious (vb nika/w) over “the world” (o( ko/smo$) represents a key Johannine theme, attested in both the Gospel and First Letter. Though rare in the Gospel, it occurs in the climactic declaration by Jesus at the end of the Last Discourse (16:33): “…I have been victorious (over) the world!”. This refers, principally, to the Son’s completion of his mission (viz., his death and exaltation), for which the Father sent him to earth. This is alluded to in 1 Jn 3:5a and 8b, though without use of the verb nika/w.

In the Johannine theological idiom (and mode of expression) “the world” (o( ko/smo$) refers to the domain of darkness and evil—on earth, among human beings—that is fundamentally opposed to God. Throughout the Johannine writings, there is a stark contrast between God and “the world”, as also between believers and “the world”. Since true believers are the children of God, the world has the same opposition and hostility toward them that it does to God the Father (and Jesus the Son)—cf. Jn 15:18-19; 16:20; 17:14ff. The contrastive juxtaposition, between believers and the world, runs throughout the Last Discourse, and also the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (where the noun ko/smo$ occurs 18 times).

As the offspring/children of God, believers share in the Son’s victory over the world (Jn 16:33). The author of 1 John mentions this on several occasions—first, in 2:13-14, when he states, in particular, that the “young (one)s” (neani/skoi) “have been victorious (over) the Evil” (nenikh/kate to\n ponhro/n). Probably the articular substantive adjective o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) should be translated “the Evil one”, in reference to the Satan/Devil (cf. 3:8). Being victorious over the Devil is essentially the same as being victorious over the world (cf. 5:19), since the Devil is “the chief (ruler) of the world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The ‘defeat’ and “casting out” of the Devil is part of the Son’s victory over the world (cf. 12:31; 16:11, in relation to 16:33), which occurred with the completion of his earthly mission (1 Jn 3:8).

This is stated even more clearly in 4:4:

“You are of God, (dear) offspring [tekni/a], and (so) have been victorious (over) them…”

The reference is specifically to the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 1ff), who are false believers belonging to the world, and not to God. Thus, true believers are (already) victorious over these “antichrists”, since they share in the Son’s victory over the world. A theological basis for the statement in v. 4a is provided in v. 4b:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] the (One) in you is greater than the (one) in the world.”

The expression “the (one) in you” refers to the Spirit of God, which is also the Spirit of the Son (viz., his abiding presence), in contrast to the false/evil “spirit of antichrist” that is present and at work throughout the world. As the offspring of God, they/we are born of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:3-8), and enter into an abiding union with God through the Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13, and the Paraclete-sayings in their Gospel context). Since this birth comes about as a result of our trust in Jesus, and we (as believers) abide/remain in that trust, the author can say, in all truth, that our victory over the world lies in our trust. This the message of 5:4-5 (as a unit):

“(So it is) that every(one) having come to be (born) of God is victorious (over) the world—and this is the victory (hav)ing been victorious (over) the world: our trust. [Indeed,] who is the (one) being victorious (over) the world, if not the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God?”

As previously mentioned, vv. 4b-5 are transitional, serving both as the conclusion of 4:7-5:4 and the introduction of 5:5-12, where the theme of trust in Jesus again becomes the primary focus. The section 5:4b-12 shares with 2:18-27 and 4:1-6 an emphasis on the false view of Jesus Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents (thus their designation as a)nti/xristo$, lit., “against the Anointed”). From a rhetorical standpoint, the author’s declarations, to the effect that his readers have (already) been victorious over these opponents, are meant to exhort the Johannine Christians to reject the opponents’ teachings, and thus to protect the congregations from the malevolent influence of these ‘false believers’.

Interestingly, as a variation of his usual manner of expression, the author, at the beginning of verse 4, uses the neuter— “every(thing) [pa=n to/] having come to be (born) of God”, rather than “every(one) [pa=$ o(] having come to be (born) of God”. Probably this switch anticipates the use of the feminine subjects “victory” (ni/kh) and “trust” (pi/sti$) in v. 4b, and thus allows for a generalizing of the reference. Our trust, like our love, ultimately comes from God as its source, and thus, in its own way, can be said to be ‘born’ of God.

At some point, in a later study, I intend to analyze the many instances of Johannine essential predication that pervade these passages (cf. the examples discussed in prior notes, e.g., on 3:1, 2, 3, 7, 8; 4:7). They are fundamental to the Johannine theological idiom and mode/manner of expression, and are utilized extensively by the author of 1 John.

In the next daily note, however, we will examine the final birth/offspring reference in the Johannine writings—the author’s climactic declaration in 1 Jn 5:18.

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:18-27

1 John 2:18-27

In the previous two studies, we examined the conflict that is at the heart of 2 John, and how it shaped the author’s treatment of the Johannine theology. In particular the key Johannine theme, of the two-fold duty (entol¢¡) required of every true believer—trust and love—is expounded and applied in relation to the conflict surrounding the “antichrist” opponents (v. 7). A genuine trust in Jesus Christ is defined in terms of the opponents’ Christology (and their false trust, vv. 7-9ff), while love for one’s fellow believers involves protecting them from the opponents’ influence (see vv. 10-11).

The same conflict is present in 1 John. This is clear from the similarity in wording between 2 John 7 and 1 John 4:3. The author of 1 John (if he is not the same person who penned 2 John) provides a more extensive and developed treatment of the conflict involving the opponents, whom he also calls antíchristos (antichrist). The central section, or division, of 1 John is 2:28-3:24. In this section, the author offers a presentation of what it means to be a true believer. By contrast, in the flanking sections (2:18-27 & 4:1-6), the focus is on the false believer. The principal theme of the treatise is the contrast between the true and false believer; the opponents are identified as false believers, while, in the author’s rhetorical strategy, his audience is essentially treated as true believers. This approach serves the purpose of both exhorting and warning Johannine Christians to remain faithful to the truth, in the face of the danger posed by the ‘antichrist’ opponents.

At various points throughout 1 John, we can see how this conflict has shaped the Johannine discourse. Various teachings and traditions, the language and manner of expression, have been adapted or interpreted so as to address the conflict involving the opponents. The first ‘antichrist’ section, 2:18-27, provides a number of examples for consideration. We begin with verse 18:

“Little children, it is the last hour. And, just as you (have) heard that (the one) ‘against the Anointed’ [antíchristos] comes, even now there have come to be many (who are) ‘against the Anointed’ [antíchristoi]—(and) from this we know that it is (the) last hour.”

The chiastic parallelism of this statement demonstrates how the author can use certain literary and grammatical-syntactical means in order to apply Johannine tradition to the situation involving the opponents. Note the structure:

    • “Little children, it is the last hour
      • you have heard that antichrist comes
      • even now many antichrists have come to be
    • (thus) we know that it is the last hour.”

The framing statements regarding “the last hour” relate to the eschatological expectation of Johannine Christians. The author, and doubtless many (if not all) of his addressees, held an imminent eschatology, with a strong belief that he/they were living in the time just before the end of the current Age. Part of this expectation, apparently, was that someone (or something) called “against the Anointed” (antíchristos) would come, just before the end, during the end-time period of distress (see Dan 12:1; Mark 13:19, 24 par; Rev 1:9; 7:14, etc). The author uses the term antíchristos (a)nti/xristo$) without explanation, nor does he offer any additional information regarding this expectation, which suggests that we are dealing with a tradition that was familiar to his audience. It is not at all clear whether the term here refers to an individual human being, a spirit-being, or an impersonal (spiritual) force. Possibly all three are involved; cf. the expectation elucidated by Paul in 2 Thess 2:1-12. For more on this subject, see my three-part article “The Antichrist Tradition” (the Johannine references are discussed in Part 3).

In any case, the author clearly interprets this eschatological expectation in terms of the opponents. They are manifestations of this antíchristos—indeed, through the presence and activity of the opponents, many ‘antichrists’ have come to be. These antíchristoi are human beings, and yet the author also recognizes that a distinct spirit of ‘antichrist’ is at work.

The author does not immediately explain how (or in what way) the opponents are “against the Anointed”. This is because the main point(s) at issue are only expounded progressively, throughout the three sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:4b-12) that deal most directly with the opponents’ views. What the author initially tells us about these ‘antichrists’ is that they have departed from the Johannine Community—or, at least, what the author regards as the Community of true believers:

“They went out of [ek] us, (in) that they were not of [ek] us; for, if they were of us, they would have remained [vb ménœ] with us—but (this was so) that it would be made to shine forth [i.e., be made apparent] that they are not of us.” (v. 19)

This is an example of how the distinctive Johannine theological language is applied to the situation involving the opponents. Two bits of Johannine vocabulary and style are employed. First, there is the preposition ek (“out of”), used two different ways, with a dual meaning: (a) “out of, [away] from”, in the sense of departing/leaving the group, and (b) “(part) of”, i.e., belonging to, the Community. Even more distinctive is the use of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”), an important Johannine keyword that is used (with special theological meaning) many times throughout the Gospel and First Letter. The true believer remains—both in Christ and in the bond of Community—while false believers (such as the opponents) do not remain. The opponents, like Judas in the Gospel narrative, depart from the Community of true believers, going out into the darkness of the world (Jn 13:30; 1 Jn 4:1ff). This could simply refer to their departure from the truth (specifically with regard to their view of Jesus), or it may mean that a more tangible separation/division within the Johannine churches has taken place.

In verses 20-21, and again in verse 27, two additional Johannine features are related to the conflict. First, there is the allusion to the Spirit in verse 20:

“And (yet) you hold an anointing from the Holy (One), and have seen [i.e. know] all (thing)s.”

Though the point has been disputed by some commentators, it is best to understand the noun chrísma (“anointing”) here as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Related to this emphasis on the role of the Spirit, is the use of the noun al¢¡theia (“truth”) in verse 21:

“I did not write to you (in) that [i.e. because] you have not seen [i.e. do not know] the truth, but (in) that you have seen [i.e. do know] it, and that every(thing) false is not of [ek] the truth.”

This would seem to reflect a fundamental spiritual (and spiritualistic) principle within the Johannine Community (see the recent article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”). The indwelling presence of the Spirit means that every true believer is able to know and recognize the truth, through the internal witness of the Spirit. However, the presence and activity of the opponents has created a challenge to this principle, since there are certain Johannine Christians (the opponents) who, according to the author, are spreading false teachings. Such false teachings can not come from the same Spirit of God. This is a point that the author develops more clearly in 4:1-6.

A key rhetorical strategy of the author, as noted above, is to address his audience as though they are all true believers. Being true believers, who are taught (internally) by the Spirit (who is the truth, 5:6), they will be able to recognize teaching that is false. The implication is that the readers/hearers should be able to recognize the falseness of the opponents’ teachings.

And it is the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ that is most at issue. The author provides his first summary of the matter here in vv. 22-26. The main principle is that the ‘antichrist’, one who is “against the Anointed”, denies that Jesus is the Anointed (Christ/Messiah). This is another way of saying that the opponents deny Jesus as the Anointed. However, the precise meaning of the author in this regard is not entirely clear, and has been much discussed and debated by commentators. For a relatively in-depth treatment of the issue, see my earlier three-part article “1 Jn 2:22 and the Opponents in 1 John”. I will touch on the matter again in an upcoming study within this series.

What is most important is that, for the author, the opponents’ Christology (their view of Jesus) means that they are not true believers. By effectively denying Jesus, they show that they do not possess the bond of union with either the Son of God (Jesus) or God the Father (vv. 22-23). The presence of the Spirit (i.e., the “anointing”), and its internal witness, is the ultimate source of authority for believers (see again the aforementioned article), to the extent that there is no need to be taught (externally) by another human being (v. 27). But how, then, can individual believers be certain that their understanding is true, guided by the Spirit of God, and has not been led astray by false teachings (coming from other spirits)? The author gives an initial answer to this question in verse 24:

“(As for) you, that which you (have) heard from the beginning must remain in you. If it should remain in you, that which you heard from the beginning, (then) you also shall remain in the Son and in the Father.”

The only way for the believer not to be led astray, is to remain in the true teaching (regarding Jesus Christ). The author uses the key expression “from the beginning” (ap’ arch¢¡s) to summarize the true teaching. It echoes his words in the prologue (1:1-4), which, in turn, seem to be inspired by the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18). The implication is that the internal witness/teaching of the Spirit will conform to the established Gospel tradition, regarding the person and work of Jesus. Any teaching which deviates from the truth of the Gospel cannot come from the Spirit of God, but from a different (false/deceiving) spirit. By remaining in the truth of the Gospel tradition, one is sure to remain united (through the Spirit) with the Father and the Son.

It is the Gospel account, rooted in historical tradition, of who Jesus is, and what he said/did during his earthly ministry, that is principally in view. The opponents, in their view of Jesus, have departed from the Gospel tradition. This, at least, is how the author of 1 John understands the matter. Their teaching denies the truth of who Jesus is, and so they are “against the Anointed”. Their teaching is a malevolent reflection of the end-time spirit of Antichrist, capable of leading many believers astray.

Next week, we will continue this study, examining how the author of 1 John further adapts the Johannine tradition and theology to address this vital conflict. We shall turn our attention to the central section of the work (2:28-3:24), isolating a number of key elements that are particularly emphasized and employed by the author.

Saturday Series: 1 John 3:4-9

1 John 3:4-9

After a hiatus for the Christmas season, the Saturday Series returns, with a continuation of the studies on sin in the Gospel and Letters of John. In the most recent studies, we examined the sin references in 1 John 1:5-2:2. In that passage, the author of 1 John combats the idea that believers are completely without sin. In three different units, the author presents three different false claims or ideas about sin (in relation to the believer)—1:6a, 8a, 10a—and, in each instance, refutes the claim (v. 6b, 8b, 10b), and then presents the true view regarding sin and the believer (vv. 7, 9; 2:1-2). It has been thought that the false claims regarding sin represent positions held by the opponents which the author otherwise combats in 1 and 2 John. These opponents, who are discussed most directly in 2:18-27 and 4:1-6 (also 2 Jn 7ff), are described principally in terms of their Christology (that is, their view of Jesus Christ); however, it is certainly possible that they also held views regarding the nature of sin—and of the relationship of sin to the believer in Christ—which the author found objectionable.

An interesting aspect of 1 John, in this regard, is that the author, while combating the idea (in 1:5-2:2) that believers are without sin, makes several statements, elsewhere in the letter, to the effect that believers do not (and, indeed, can not) sin. These seemingly incongruous—even contradictory—statements have long proved a challenge for commentators on the Johannine writings. We may refer to this as the “sin problem” in 1 John. Does the author contradict himself in these sin references? There have been numerous attempts to harmonize the references, or to explain them in various ways. These explanations, on the whole, are far from convincing. But they raise another, in some ways more interesting question: why does the author use language and wording which, on the surface, seems so similar to the very ideas that he condemns (in 1:5-2:2)? If the ‘false’ claims regarding sin in that earlier passage do, indeed, represent the views of the opponents—people whom he takes great pains to oppose (and warn his readers against)—why does the author risk confusing the matter by putting forward his own (apparent) claims of sinlessness in 3:4-9 (repeated in 5:18)?

There is no simple solution to the “sin problem” in 1 John. In the course of this study, mention will be made of several proposed solutions, none of which I find particularly satisfying or convincing. I have made certain proposals of my own—of interpretive approaches, rather than a definitive solution—and will present these again here, after the references in 3:4-9 (and 5:18) have been examined.

Let us begin with the structural context of our passage. The unit 3:4-9 is part of a larger section (2:28-3:10) which also comprises the central division of 1 John—2:28-3:24. There are two sections to this division: (1) 2:28-3:10, and (2) 3:11-24. The central division is flanked by the two “antichrist” passages, 2:18-27 and 4:1-6, in which the author deals most directly with the opponents, referring to them as antíchristoi—that is, those who are “against the Anointed”, “against (Jesus) Christ”. This refers primarily to their Christology, which the author regards as false. Their view of Christ is false, and thus they are false believers; even worse, by promoting their false view, they act as ‘false prophets’, inspired by a false and deceiving spirit (and not the holy Spirit of God), which threatens to lead astray even many genuine believers. The central theme of 1 John is the contrast between the true believer and the false believer. In the “antichrist” sections of 2:18-27 and 4:1-6, the focus is on defining the false believer, while in the central section of 2:28-3:24 the emphasis is on the true believer.

Significantly, the section begins with an urgent exhortation (and warning) to the author’s readers (whom he treats as true believers), in light of this threat posed by the opponents, and the danger of being led astray by their false teachings. The exhortation features the Johannine key verb ménœ (“remain”):

“And now, (my dear) offspring [i.e., children], you must remain [ménete] in him…” (2:28a)

In the Johannine writings, this common verb (“remain, stay, abide”) has special theological meaning, referring to the abiding union which the believer has, with God the Father, through Jesus Christ (the Son). This union comes through trust in Jesus, and is realized through the presence of the Spirit. The previous section closed with an emphatic usage of the verb (vv. 24 [3x], 27 [2x]), and its usage frames the central section, occurring here and at the close (3:24 [2x]), while also being used throughout the line of argument (vv. 6, 9, 14-15, 17). The idea of remaining in Christ, expressed by the verb ménœ, is thus central to this section, and defines what it means to be a true believer.

The exhortation to remain is is framed in eschatological terms, by which the author (like nearly all first-century Christians) has in mind an imminent eschatologythat is, he and his readers are living in the ‘last days’, with the end being very near. The presence of the “antichrist” false believers is a sign that the end is near (2:18), and the true believer must remain firmly rooted in the truth, and must be guided by the true Spirit of God. Here is how the author states the eschatological urgency in v. 28b:

“… (so) that, when he should be made to shine forth [i.e. appears], we might hold an outspokenness, and not move (away) from him with shame, in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousía] (of us).”

That is to say, if we remain in Christ, as true believers, then we can face the end, when he appears, boldly and with confidence. The eschatological emphasis continues in 2:29-3:3, as the author develops this aspect of his exhortation. The closing of the exhortation is significant for its ethical orientation, providing an important transitional link to the sin-references that follow:

“And every (one) holding this hope, upon him, makes himself holy, even as that (one) is holy.” (3:3)

The verb hagnízœ (“make holy”), used reflexively with the pronoun h(e)autos (“himself, oneself”), is best rendered in English as “purify oneself, make oneself pure”. This idea of purity is obviously significant in relation to the the question of sin and the believer (and the possibility of sinlessness). Indeed, in verses 4-9, this matter of sin becomes the author’s main concern. He begins with something of a definition regarding sin (hamartía):

“Every (one) doing the sin also does the lawless (thing); indeed, the sin is the lawless (thing).” (v. 4)

The author explains that sin (hamartía), by definition, means that which is “without law” (anomía, adj. ánomos), i.e., lawlessness. The noun anomía occurs only here in the Johannine writings. It is not a Johannine term, which suggests that the author has a particular purpose in introducing it here. The a– prefix of the noun is privative, indicating a lack, or being without something; specifically, it refers to being without any law (nómos). The early Christian use of the noun anomía generally follows the Jewish usage. There are two main contextual aspects to its use in the New Testament: (1) religious-ethical, and (2) eschatological. As regards the first aspect, the meaning can be general—i.e., violating or ignoring what is moral and right—or can specifically refer to violating/ignoring the commands, etc, of the Torah. According to either sense, the one “without law” acts in a manner that disregards the Law of God. The noun, as such, occurs in the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (7:23; 13:41; 23:28; 24:12), and also occurs in the Pauline Letters, where it is specifically juxtaposed with the idea of purity (Rom 4:7; 2 Cor 6:14; Titus 2:14), much as we see here in 1 John (v. 3, see above).

The other context where anomía is used is eschatological; “lawlessness”, or being “without (any) law”, involving a disregard of the Law of God, is a basic characteristic of the end time. Indeed, just before the end, it was expected that things on earth would increasingly grow worse and worse, with evil and wickedness becoming ever more prevalent among human beings. First-century believers understood themselves to be living during this period of time right before the end. The noun is used with this significance in the Matthean version of Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse (24:12), and is also implied in 13:41. Paul’s use of the term in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 7 is closer to the eschatological context of 1 John, with its emphasis on the opponents as demonically-inspired “antichrists” of the end-time. The “man of lawlessness” or “lawless (one)” (vv. 3, 8) may well draw upon the same early form of the Antichrist tradition to which our author seems to allude in 2:18.

It is quite likely that the author of 1 John intends both of these aspects of meaning: sin is both a violation/disregard of God’s Law and also represents the wickedness (characteristic of “antichrist”) prevalent at the end-time.

In our previous studies, I have discussed how, in the Johannine writings (and certainly in the Gospel of John) there is a dual-aspect to the idea of sin (utilizing the noun hamartía and verb hamartánœ). On the one hand, there is the conventional religious-ethical meaning (i.e., sin as wrong-doing or a failure to do what is right); on the other hand, there is the special theological (and Christological) aspect of sin as a failure (and/or refusal) to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. This second aspect is primary in the Gospel of John: the sin of unbelief is the great sin.

But how is this terminology intended here in 1 John? In 1:5-2:2, sin was understood in the general (ethical-religious) sense of wrongs and misdeeds, etc, done by human beings. Is that how the terms are being used here? The author’s statement that follows in verse 5 would suggest so:

“And we have seen [i.e. we know] that that (one) [i.e. Jesus] was made to shine forth [i.e. appeared] (so) that he might take (away) the sin, and there is not (any) sin in him.”

This wording seems to echo the Lamb of God declaration in the Gospel (1:29), using the verb aírœ (“take up”) in a similar sense: the effect of Jesus’ sacrificial death was to take away (i.e. remove) sin for those who trust in him; for more on this, see the earlier studies on Jn 1:29. Here, the noun hamartía, with or without the definite article, refers to sin in a general (and comprehensive) sense, in two ways: (i) all the sin that a human being does, and (ii) sin (and sinfulness) as a personal attribute or characteristic. Jesus’ death removes sin from the believer, and he (Jesus) himself was without sin (“there is not sin in him”). These two aspects of the sin-reference in v. 5 are important for the author’s understanding of the believer’s relationship to sin. The implications are clear: sin is removed from the believer; and, at the same time, since Jesus is without sin, the one who remains in Jesus partakes in that same sinlessness. This would suggest that the true believer, the one who remains in Jesus, is free of all sin (i.e., is sinless). The author states as much in verse 6:

“Every (one) remaining in him does not sin” (6a)

The converse is stated, with similar bluntness, in 6b:

“every (one) sinning has not seen him and has not known him.”

The implication of the author’s statements seems clear: the believer who remains in Jesus does not sin, while the one who does sin (“the [one] sinning”) cannot be a true believer.

How does this square with the teaching in 1:5-2:2, where the author seems to argue rather the opposite point?—viz., that believers do, in fact, sin (see above). Is he contradicting himself? This is a key interpretive question, and will be discussed next week, in our continuation of this study on 1 Jn 3:4-9.

June 21: 1 John 4:2-3 (8)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

In our initial discussion of verse 3, in the previous note, we examined the important text-critical question in the verse—namely, regarding the minority reading lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (“looses Jesus”) vs. the majority reading mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n (“does not give account as one [of] Jesus”, i.e., “does not confess/acknowledge Jesus”). I considered briefly what the reading with lu/ei might have meant for the author, if it were original. The best guide to its meaning, in that case, is the use of lu/w in the Johannine Temple-saying of Jesus (Jn 2:19), along with the only certain occurrence of the verb in 1 John (3:8). This comparison raises two possible lines of interpretation: (1) the opponents in 1 John denied the incarnation of the Son, or (2) that they denied the significance of his human life (and death), negating its importance. In either case, the opponents could be said to have, in a sense, “dissolved” Jesus (spec. his body).

The premise of Bart D. Ehrman (pp. 125-35) is that the reading lu/ei made its way into the text through a marginal comment in the manuscript(s), much as we see for the only attested occurrence of the reading in a Greek manuscript (the minuscule 1739). The comment would have been introduced sometime in the 2nd century, primarily for the purpose of combating certain heretical or heterodox Christological views. This certainly corresponds to the context of the reading as it is cited in early Christian writings, beginning in the late-2nd century.

For example, Irenaeus cites it in Against Heresies III.16.8, in opposition to the Valentinians (and other ‘Gnostic’ heretics) “who say that (the man) Jesus was merely a receptacle for (the Divine) Christ, upon whom the Christ descended from above” (16.1). This separation of the man Jesus from the Divine/heavenly Christ—understanding “that Jesus was one (entity), and Christ another” —is commonly referred to as a “separationist” view of Jesus. The possibility that the opponents in 1 John held such a view has been mentioned previously, and will be discussed again in upcoming notes. An early “separationist” Christology is associated with the figure of Cerinthus (Irenaeus, I.26), who was considered an opponent of the apostle John, according to early tradition (cf. Irenaeus, III.3.4).

Tertullian cites the reading lu/ei against the Christology of Marcion (Against Marcion V.16.4). However, Marcion appears to have held a docetic view of Christ—i.e. that Jesus only seemed (vb doke/w) to be a real human being. Tertullian thus understands Marcion to have “dissolved” the humanity of Jesus, citing 1 Jn 4:2-3 in reference to a denial of the reality of the incarnation of Christ. Many commentators believe that the opponents in 1 John represent an early form of docetism. This also will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

Origen, like Tertullian, was aware of both readings, and cites the reading lu/ei (in his Commentary on Matthew), understanding it in the sense of “dividing” the human and Divine parts of Jesus Christ. More than two centuries later, the Church historian Socrates (Church History 7:32) cites the reading in the context of the Nestorian controversy. Nestorius, he says, errs in precisely the way described earlier by Origen—that is, he unwittingly divides Jesus’ humanity from his Deity. Socrates recognizes that, at the time, the reading lu/ei was not commonly known, but that it is attested “in the ancient copies”. Cf. Ehrman, pp. 128, 169. It is noteworthy that the Latin versions and citations alternate between the translation solvit Iesum (“dissolves Jesus”) and dividere Iesum (“divides Jesus”).

The overwhelming manuscript evidence, in favor of the reading mh\ o(mologei=, makes it rather unlikely that the reading lu/ei is original. For a fairly convincing argument on this point, cf. Ehrman, pp. 126-7ff. Christian readers and copyists in the 2nd century, like many of us today, may well have sought to clarify the Christological error of the opponents in 1 John. Marginal comments may have been introduced (as in MS 1739) for this purpose; in particular, there would have been an interest in relating 1 Jn 4:2-3 to the Christological controversies which were then current. Even today, there are commentators who would identify the the opponents in 1 John as early docetists or separationists. The use of the verb lu/w in John 2:19 (and 1 John 3:8) may well have influenced the marginal comment, utilizing Johannine language to explain the reference. On this, cf. the discussion above, and in the previous note.

Now accepting the majority reading (mh\ o(mologei=), but respectful of the variant reading lu/ei (from an interpetive standpoint), let us proceed to examine verse 3 in more detail:

“And every spirit that does not give account as one (of) Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God; indeed, this is the (spirit) of the (one) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], (of) which you (have) heard that it comes, and now is already in the world.”

As mentioned previously, verse 3a simply negates the Christological confession of v. 2—viz., that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in the flesh”). The opponents do not confess or affirm this. Thus, they do not speak from the Spirit of God, but from the spirit of Antichrist. This makes them “false prophets” (v. 1), inspired by a false and lying spirit that leads people astray (pla/nh, vb plana/w, v. 6).

The use of the term a)nti/xristo$ (cf. also 2:18, 22) is particularly significant in this regard, since the literaly meaning is “against [a)nti/] the Anointed (One) [xristo/$]”. By denying the truth of Jesus Christ (v. 2), meaning they deny his identity as the Anointed One (cf. 2:22-23), they effectively speak and teach “against Christ”. For more on the background and use of a)nti/xristo$, cf. the earlier article on the first “antichrist” section (2:18-27) and my 3-part article on the Antichrist Tradition. For a discussion on the nature of the opponents’ view, in relation to 2:22-23, cf. my recent note.

Verse 3b echoes the earlier “antichrist” section (2:18ff), by claiming that the coming “Antichrist” of the end-time is realized already now in the person of the opponents. They fulfill the role of the “false prophets” who lead people astray during the end-time period of distress. Even believers are in danger of being led astray by such people (2:26; cf. Matt 24:24).

It is not entirely clear whether the author understands the traditional “(one who is) against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristo$) as a human being or spirit-being; possibly the latter is intended. Certainly, the focus here in 4:1-6 is on an evil spirit that is opposed (and antithetical) to the holy Spirit of God. This is how the expression to\ tou= a)nti/xristou= should be understood. The neuter article to/ assumes the neuter noun pneu=ma (“spirit”)—i.e., “the spirit of the (one) against the Anointed”.

This emphasis on the true and false believer, defined in terms of the true and false spirit, reflects a fundamental Johannine spiritualism. This will be discussed further in the next daily note, along with further consideration of the Christological view of the opponents, such as it can fairly be determined, by a comparison of 2:22-23 with 4:2-3.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993). His discussion of 1 Jn 4:3 is found on pages 125-35.

 

June 14: 1 John 4:2-3 (2)

1 John 4:2

“In this [i.e. by this] you (can) know the Spirit of God: every spirit [pa=n pneu=ma] that gives account as one [o(mologei=] (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed [Ihsou=n Xristo/nhaving come [e)lhlu/qonta] in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] is out of [i.e. from] God [e)k tou= Qeou=]”

As discussed in the previous note, the confessional statement in verse 2 is fundamental for an understanding of the nature of the conflict/crisis within the Johannine Community, as the author sees it, posed by the opponents. This conflict is, at its heart, Christological; this can be seen by the statement here, focused as it is upon the person of Jesus Christ. The author established the Christological emphasis from the very beginning of his work, in the prologue (1:1-4, cf. the earlier notes on these verses).

I have highlighted the key components of this statement in bold (cf. above). Each of the components will be discussed in turn.

every spirit
pa=n pneu=ma

The expression “every spirit” must be understood in light of the author’s opening words here in v. 1:

“Loved (one)s, do not trust every spirit, but give consideration to [i.e. examine] the spirits, (to see) if it is out of [i.e., from] God, (in) that [i.e. because] many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

The expression “every spirit”, in connection with use of the plural “spirits” (pneu/mata), suggests that the author has a multitude of spirit-beings in mind, comparable to what we find, for example, in the Qumran texts. However, while the author may have recognized the existence (and activity) of such spirit-beings—especially with regard to the evil spirits that are under the control of the Evil One (i.e., the Satan/Devil)—I do not think this is at all his focus here. Rather, “spirits” refers primarily to the the two opposing spirits—the Spirit of God and the spirit of Antichrist—as they are manifest in individual human beings. In this regard, there are as many “spirits” as there are people; each person is either influenced by the holy Spirit of God or by the evil spirit of Antichrist.

This strong dualism, evidenced throughout the Johannine writings, is similar, in some respects, to the dualism in the Qumran texts. In a number of these writings, the contrast, between the righteous (i.e., the faithful ones of the Community) and all others in the world, is defined by the juxtaposition of two opposing spirits. The most notable example of this spiritual dualism is found in the so-called “Two Spirits” treatise (3:13-4:26) of the Community Rule document (1QS):

“He created man to rule the world and placed within him two spirits so that he would walk with them until the moment of his visitation: they are the spirits of truth [tm#a#] and of injustice [lw#u*]…” (3:17b-19a)
[Translation García Martínez & Tigchelaar, except for the final word which I render as “injustice” rather than “deceit”]

The contrast of these two spirits generally corresponds to the contrast in v. 6, which is parallel to the opening words here in v. 2:

“In [i.e. by] this you (can) know the Spirit of God…” (v. 2)
“…Out of [i.e. from] this we know the Spirit of Truth [a)lh/qeia] and the spirit of going astray [pla/nh]” (v. 6)

The expression “Spirit of Truth” is essentially synonymous with “Spirit of God” (4:6; 5:6; Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; cf. 4:23-24). The Spirit that abides in the true believer will speak the truth, and, certainly, anything the Spirit says regarding Jesus will be true. Every other spirit is false, and will not speak or teach what is true. In fact, there is really only one other spirit, to be identified with the “spirit of Antichrist”, called here in v. 6 the “spirit of going astray”. The noun pla/nh literally means “wandering, going astray” (vb plana/w); however, it can also be understood in the active (causative) sense of leading someone astray, and, as such, pla/nh can often connote “deceit” or “deception” —cf. above on this aspect of the corresponding Hebrew lw#u* in 1QS 3:18.

The opponents, as false believers, speak from this evil spirit of pla/nh, and not from the holy Spirit of Truth. Whether or not they intend it so, their (false) teaching leads people astray, and might even lead believers astray; the author warns of this danger at several points, most notably in 2:26: “I (have) written these (thing)s to you about the (one)s leading you astray” (cf. also 3:7). The verb plana/w is specifically used in an eschatological context, of the false prophets, etc, who would lead people astray in the end time—cf. Mark 13:5-6 par; Matt 24:11, 24; 2 Tim 3:13, and note particularly the repeated occurrences in the book of Revelation (2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3, 8, 10). The noun pla/nh similarly occurs in 2 Thess 2:11, in a context very close to the Johannine idea of a “spirit of Antichrist”; cf. also the eschatological context of 2 Pet 2:18; 3:17; Jude 11.

All of this is in accord with the author’s belief that the opponents are a manifestation of the deceiving “false prophets” of the end-time, inspired by the spirit of Antichrist, rather than by the holy Spirit of God.

In the next daily note, we will look further at the author’s emphasis on Christological confession as prophecy, when we consider the next component of the statement in v. 2, with the use of the verb o(mologe/w.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 2:18-27

1 John 2:18-27

In these articles, dealing with the spiritualism in the Johannine Writings, we now turn to the Letters of John, with special attention to the First Letter, the work known as 1 John. As virtually all commentators recognize, there is a close relationship between the Johannine Gospel and the Letters. The Gospel writer and the author of 1 John, if not the same person, share a similar literary style, mode of expression, thought-world, and theological vocabulary. The precise relationship between the Gospel and First Letter, in terms of the sequence and when each was composed, continues to be debated, with no consensus having yet been achieved. However, in my view, there is relatively strong evidence that at least a first edition of the Gospel had been completed and distributed (within the Johannine churches) prior to the writing of 1 John.

The closeness of thought and expression, between the Gospel and First Letter, means that there is methodological validity in turning to the Gospel for elucidation of passages in 1 John, and vice versa. Throughout these upcoming articles, I will be making frequent mention of the prior notes and studies on the Johannine Gospel. The discussion of spiritualism, and the role of the Spirit, in the Gospel is, in my view, entirely applicable to our study on 1 John.

The recent daily notes, covering significant portions of 1 John 1:1-2:17, are, in many ways, preliminary and supplemental to these articles. I will be referencing them at numerous points below. Our initial article here is focused upon 2:18-27, the first of the two “antichrist” passages. It is worth summarizing the structure of the Letter leading up to this passage:

    • Prologue (1:1-4)
    • First Section: Contrast of the Light of God vs. the Darkness of the World (1:5-2:17)
      • “Walking about” in light or in darkness: Sin and the Believer (1:5-2:2)
      • “Walking” in light/darkness defined in terms of the (two-fold) duty (e)ntolh/) believers are required to complete (2:3-11)
      • Believers have overcome the darkness of evil, and should not be drawn to the world (in its darkness) (2:12-17)

The dualistic light/darkness theme developed in 1:5-2:17 is used by the author as a way of contrasting the true believer with the false believer. The ‘opponents’ of 1 John are specifically characterized as false believers (cf. below).

It is generally considered by commentators that the author is referring to his opponents, alluding to their beliefs and positions, throughout 1:5-2:17. However, in the “antichrist” section of 2:18-27, he begins to discuss them more directly. He does so by placing the crisis, posed by these opponents, in an eschatological context:

“Little children, the last hour is (here), and, just as you (have) heard that (one) ‘against-the-Anointed’ [a)nti/xristo$] comes, (so) even now there have come to be many ‘against-the-Anointed’ [a)nti/xristoi], from which we know that the last hour is (here).” (v. 18)

The author clearly believes that he and his readers are living in the “last hour”, and that the end of the current Age is very near; cf. my earlier article on the imminent eschatology of first-century Christians. A basic premise of Jewish and early Christian eschatology was that, just before the end, things would get much worse in the world, with sin and evil becoming more prevalent and pervasive, including an intensive (and increasing) persecution of the righteous. This worldview is clearly reflected, for example, in the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13 par). The presence of false prophets and false Messiahs was one feature of this end-time period of distress (cf. Mk 13:5-6, 21-22 par); the false Messiahs (i.e., false Christs), in particular, could properly be referred to as “anti-Christ” (cp. 2 Thess 2:7-12).

The specific word a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos) occurs only in the Letters of John (here, and also v. 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). It likely was coined by early Christians, patterned after the comparable a)nti/qeo$ (antítheos), when used in the (admittedly rare) sense of a rival God (qeo/$) or something imitating the Deity. The fundamental meaning of the preposition a)nti/ is “against”, but it can also mean “in place of”, and both of these aspects apply to the Antichrist Tradition as it was developed. And, indeed, the author does appear to be drawing upon an established eschatological tradition involving the use of a)nti/xristo$. He refers to an expectation that (one) “against the Anointed” (anti/xristo$, singular) will come in the “last hour”; whether this refers to an evil human leader or a spirit-being is not entirely clear, but probably the author has the latter in mind (cf. 4:3). For more on the background and development of the Antichrist Tradition, cf. my earlier three-part article (Part 1, 2, 3) on the subject.

Whatever tradition the author is referencing, he clearly interprets it in a new way, applying it specifically to the presence and activity of the ‘opponents’, considering them to be “many (who are) against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristoi polloi/). He continues in verse 19:

“Out of us they went out, but they were not out of us; for, if they were out of us, they would have remained with us; but (this happened so) that it might be made to shine forth [i.e. be made apparent] that they were not all out of us.”

The author plays with a dual-meaning of the preposition e)k (“out of”). In the opening phrase, it is used in the spatial sense of leaving, of going away from a group of people. However, in the remainder of the verse, it used in the sense of belonging to a group, being “of” a group of people. Thus, at one and the same time, the opponents are “out of” the Community, and also not “out of” it. Moreover, that they went “out of” it shows that they were never really “part of” it.

The author identifies himself (and his readers) with this Community, characterized as the Community of true believers. The opponents, having left the Community, show themselves to have been false believers. In all likelihood we are dealing with a genuine separatist movement, and a factional split within the Johannine churches. In this regard, the use of the preposition e)k and the verb e)ce/rxomai (“go/come out”) refers to a concrete division, and not simply a conceptual departure in terms of the opponents’ beliefs.

In verses 20-27, the author applies this crisis-situation to his readers, continuing the true-vs-false believer contrast established in 1:5-2:17. These verses may be divided into three subsections, each of which begins with an emphatic use of the pronoun u(mei=$ (“you [plur.]”)

    • Vv. 20-23: Kai\ u(mei=$… (“But you…”)
    • Vv. 24-26 (Umei=$… (“[But as for] you…”)
    • Verse 27: Kai\ u(mei=$… (“And [as for] you…”)

In each unit, the author addresses his readers as true believers, to be distinguished from the opponents (false believers and “antichrists”), and fully able to recognize the truth of the matter. This is expressed thematically through a chiastic structure:

    • The anointing (xri=sma) which believers hold within them (vv. 20-23)
      • That which is “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$) remains in them (vv. 24-26)
    • The anointing (xri=sma) remains in them (v. 27)

The discussion is thus framed by a pair of references to the “anointing” (xri=sma) which is present in believers; in between, we find the expression o^ a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“that which [is]…from [the] beginning”), with which the author began his work (in the prologue, 1:1; cf. also 2:7, 13-14). A clear sense of the author’s use of these keywords is vital for an understanding of his entire line of argument.

For my part, I have no real doubt that the noun xri=sma here refers to the presence of the Spirit. It is worth noting, however, that these three instances (in vv. 20, 27) are the only occurrences of xri=sma in the New Testament. It occurs 10 times in the LXX, primarily in the Pentateuch (Exod 29:7; 30:25; 35:12, 19, etc), where it refers to the oil used for the consecrated anointing of people and objects. Quite possibly, its use here in 1 John alludes to the practice of anointing with oil as part of the baptism ritual. However, we cannot be entirely certain of this practice in the first-century; the earliest attestation is found in Tertullian, On Baptism 7, cf. also Cyprian Epistle 70[69].2, and the Apostolic Constitutions 7:27.

Even so, it is likely that the oil/anointing symbolism was part of the ritual from very early times. Its association with the Spirit would follow naturally from the common idea that it was in connection with baptism that a believer first received the Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:12-13ff; 9:17-18; 10:45-48; 19:5-6, etc). The association goes back to early Gospel tradition, in both the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:10 par) and the saying by the Baptist about Jesus (Mk 1:8 par). In Luke-Acts, this coming of the Spirit upon Jesus (at his baptism) is clearly understood as an anointing (Lk 4:18ff; Acts 10:38; cf. also the quotation of Ps 2:7 in Lk 3:22 v.l.). This is no mere Lukan invention, since the idea relates to the early application of Isa 61:1ff to Jesus as the Anointed One [Messiah] of God; on the similar idea of God placing his Spirit upon Jesus (as His chosen Servant), cf. Isa 11:2 and 42:1 (and the use of the latter in the Gospel tradition).

This Messianic concept of being anointed by the Spirit is part of a wider Prophetic tradition describing the activity of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. Of special significance is the motif of the Spirit being poured out, as liquid (water, oil, etc) upon God’s people—cf. Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-29 [cited in Acts 2:17-18].

For all of these reasons, we may safely assume that xri=sma in 1 John 2:20, 27 is a more or less direct allusion to the presence of the Spirit in believers. Believers hold (vb e&xw) this anointing in them (v. 20), and it remains (vb me/nw) in them. Both of these verbs have special theological meaning in the Johannine writings, and refer here to the abiding presence of Jesus (the Son), along with God (the Father), through the Spirit.

What are the consequences of this abiding presence of the Spirit (the xri=sma) in believers? The author explains this, to some extent, in each portion of his discussion:

    • “…and you know all (thing)s. I did not write to you (in) that [i.e. because] you have not seen [i.e. known] the truth, but (in) that you have seen it, and (also) that every false (thing) is not out of [i.e. does come from] the truth.” (vv. 20b-21)
    • “…and you do not have need that any(one) should teach you, but, as His anointing teaches you about all (thing)s, and is true and not (something) false, and, just as it (has) taught you, you must remain in him.” (v. 27)

The anointing (i.e., the Spirit) teaches believers “all things”, and so there is no need for anyone (else) to teach them. This touches to the heart of the Johannine spiritualism. It reflects the promised role of the Spirit in the Paraclete-sayings of Jesus in the Last Discourse (14:26; 16:13ff; cf. also 15:26). Through the Spirit, Jesus will continue to be present with believers, and to teach them. It is this emphasis on the spiritual presence of Jesus which may have led to the opponents devaluing the earthly life and ministry of Jesus (including his death).

This is particularly important, it seems, for the author’s rhetorical strategy here. On the one hand, he fully accepts and affirms the Johannine spiritualistic principle of the primacy of the Spirit—it is, indeed, the Spirit who teaches believers “all things,” and the true believer has no need to rely on any other human teacher. This apparently radical concept is actually inspired by the Prophetic tradition (cf. above) regarding the role of God’s Spirit among His people in the New Age. In this time of a New Covenant, the Spirit will lead all people to serve as prophets (Joel 2:28f), effectively fulfilling the wish expressed by Moses in Num 11:29; moreover, because God will write his Law upon the heart of each person, they will all know Him, without the need for anyone else to teach them (Jer 31:34). In this regard, the Johannine emphasis simply reflects an early Christian version of this Prophetic ideal, an eschatological hope for God’s people that is realized among believers in Christ.

The Spirit, being the Spirit of Truth (4:6; 5:6; Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), will always teach believers what is true, and will never say anything that is false. As a result, with the Spirit’s guidance, the true believer will be able to recognize any false teaching, including the false teaching of the opponents (v. 22, cf. below). If the Spirit teaches believers “all things,” with no need for anyone else to teach them, then why is the author bothering to give the instruction that he does? Even though the Spirit may be primary, there is still value in human instruction and exhortation. The guidance of the Spirit does not happen automatically, but requires a measure of faithfulness and cooperation by the believer. There is thus a place for human teaching and exhortation within the congregation, such as the kind that the author gives here. He expresses the contingency in two ways:

    • “I have written these (thing)s to you (warning you) about the (one)s leading you astray.” (v. 26)
    • “…just as he/it has taught you, you must remain in him” (v. 27)

The first point indicates the real danger, in the mind of the author, that the false teaching of the opponents could lead some believers astray (vb plana/w). How could this possibly happen to a believer? The concluding words in v. 27 make this clear: the believer must consciously and willingly remain in the Spirit, in order for the Spirit to continue guiding him/her in the truth.

The verb me/nw is a fundamental Johannine keyword, as I have noted above. The form used here, me/nete, could be read as an indicative or an imperative; in my view, the author intends an imperative, even as he does in the following v. 28. The Spirit teaching believers the truth depends upon the believer remaining in the Spirit. The actual phrase is “you must remain in him [e)n au)tw=|]”, and it is not entirely clear whether the pronoun (“him”) refers specifically to God the Father, Jesus, or the Spirit. In terms of the Johannine theology, the latter two—Jesus and the Spirit—would be principally in view, since a person remains in the Father through the Son (Jesus), and, in turn, remains in the Son through the Spirit. Much the same is expressed in the Last Discourse, cf. especially the illustration of the Vine (15:4-9).

The author tells us something about the false belief of the opponents in verse 22; I have discussed this at length in a set of three supplemental notes (1, 2, 3). The title o( xristo/$, as used in the Gospel of John, indicates that it refers specifically to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Another possibility, however, is that it functions here as a shorthand for the fuller Christological statement in 4:2—viz., regarding Jesus Christ as having “come in the flesh,” usually understood specifically in terms of his earthly life. Either way, it seems likely that the opponents of 1 John, in some fashion, denied or devalued the importance of Jesus’ earthly life (and death). This may have extended to a denial of Jesus’ identity as the Jewish Messiah.

A devaluation of Jesus’ earthly life could be explained on the basis of both the Johannine Christology and its spiritualism. The high Christology of the Gospel, emphasizing Jesus’ identity as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God, could easily have led some Johannine Christians to question the importance of his earthly life and ministry. Moreover, if Jesus continues to be present with believers in the Spirit, continuing to teach “all things”, then of what value are the traditions of the things that Jesus said and did in the past?

In the prologue (1:1-4), the author clearly establishes the importance of the historical Gospel tradition—of the things Jesus said and did, preserved and transmitted to future generations by the first disciples (functioning as eye/ear-witnesses). It is no coincidence that the author essentially repeats the opening phrase—o^ h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$ (“that which was from [the] beginning”)—here in the central unit of his exposition (vv. 24-26). In between the two references to the teaching of the Spirit, he includes this reference to the Gospel tradition: “that which you heard from (the) beginning”.

In an earlier note on 1:1ff, I discussed how there are two aspects to the expression a)p’ a)rxh=$ in 1 John: (1) Christological, referring to Jesus as the one who was with God “from the beginning” (Jn 1:1, etc); and (2) Evangelistic, referring to the message about Jesus, which believers have heard “from the beginning”, i.e., from the time of the first disciples. The Christological aspect is primary, but it cannot be separated from the Gospel witness. This is essentially the message of the author of 1 John, and he states it again here in vv. 24ff:

“(As for) you, that which you (have) heard from (the) beginning, it must remain in you. If that which you heard from (the) beginning should remain in you, (then) indeed you will remain in the Son and in the Father.”

According to the Johannine mode of expression, the person of Jesus (“the one from the beginning”) must remain in the believer; but this is not possible if the truth of the message about Jesus does not also remain in the believer. Here is a key sign distinguishing the true and false believer, in the context of the crisis caused by the opponents. The true believer remains faithful to the authoritative Gospel tradition(s) about Jesus, preserved from the first disciples, while the false believer has forsaken or has distorted those traditions. Put another way, the internal teaching of the Spirit will (and must) conform to the Gospel tradition; and any such teaching which contradicts that tradition, and is thus false, cannot come from the Spirit.

This will be discussed further, along with a further examination of the nature and beliefs of the opponents of 1-2 John, in the upcoming study on the second “antichrist” section (4:1-6). However, first I will consider the spiritualism of 1 John as expressed in the central section (2:28-3:24), where the marks of the true believer are most clearly enunciated.

Note on the Johannine “Paraclete” passages

This is a supplement to the recent daily note, the last of a series exploring the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God within early Christianity. Given the special character of the “Paraclete” passages in the Johannine writings, I felt it was best to discuss them separately. I will not be presenting a detailed critical and exegetical analysis of them here, as that has been done in earlier notes and studies. Instead, the focus will be along the lines of the recent note on the Johannine references to the Spirit, considering how these passages relate to the development of the early Christian belief.

The term “Paraclete” is a transliteration of the noun para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos), used as a title four times in the Johannine Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33)—at 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7. It also occurs at 1 John 2:1, but nowhere else in the New Testament (nor in the LXX), essentially marking it as a distinctive Johannine term. The noun is derived from the more common verb parakale/w (“call alongside”), often used in the sense of calling someone alongside to give help. This help can be understood various ways, including the more technical sense of serving as a (legal) advocate. The relatively wide semantic range has led New Testament translators to render para/klhto$ variously as “advocate”, “counselor”, “comforter”, all of which can be misleading and are not entirely accurate. A safer route would be to transliterate the noun as a title in English—i.e., Paraclete—as many translators and commentators have done. The best solution, however, is to adhere to the literal, fundamental meaning of “(one) called alongside” (i.e. to give help). A related noun, para/klhsi$ (parákl¢sis), more common in the New Testament, refers properly to the help that is given by the person “called alongside”.

In each of the four references in the Last Discourse, Jesus first mentions the para/klhto$, and then subsequently identifies it with the Spirit (pneu=ma):

    • 14:16-17— “And I will make a request of the Father, and He will give to you another (one) called alongside [para/klhto$], (so) that he would be with you into the Age, the Spirit of truth…”
    • 14:26— “…but the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$], the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, that (one) will teach you all (thing)s…”
    • 15:26— “When the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] should come, whom I will send to you (from) alongside the Father, the Spirit of truth who travels out (from) alongside the Father, that (one) will give witness about me”
    • 16:7, 13— “…if I should not go away, the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you; but, if I should travel (away), (then) I will send him toward you. …. And, when that (one) should come, the Spirit of truth, he will lead the way for you in all truth…”

This has led to all kind of interesting speculation as to whether the Last Discourse material may originally have referred only to the para/klhto$, and that the identifications with the Spirit were introduced in a subsequent stage of editing. I do not find such theories very convincing; in any event, within the overall framework of the Gospel as we have it, there can be no doubt that the “Paraclete” and the Spirit are identical.

In three of the references, the expression “Spirit of truth” is used, while “holy Spirit” is found in 14:26 (though some manuscripts there read “Spirit of truth” as well). It should be noted that “holy Spirit” is quite rare in the Johannine writings; apart from a traditional reference in the baptism scene (Jn 1:33), presumably inherited as part of the wider Gospel tradition, the expression occurs only in the episode where Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples (20:22), and does not occur in the Johannine letters at all. Also, it is worth noting that there is no other reference to the Spirit in the Last Discourse, apart from these four “Paraclete” references.

It is perhaps best to begin with the use of the word para/klhto$ in 1 John 2:1, as in some ways it is the key to a correct understanding of the term in the Last Discourse as well. There the author assures his readers that, if any believer happens to commit sin, “we hold (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] (for us) toward the Father—Yeshua (the) Anointed, (the) just/righteous (one)”. In his role as para/klhto$, Jesus speaks before God on our behalf, much like a legal advocate in front of a judicial court. This implies the exalted position of Jesus (following his resurrection), standing at the “right hand” of God the Father, in accordance with the exaltation-Christology that dominated the earliest period of Christianity.

The main point to note, however, is that it is Jesus who is identified as the para/klhto$, a fact which helps to explain the use of the expression “another para/klhto$” in Jn 14:16. Jesus himself was the first para/klhto$, one called by God to be alongside believers (i.e. his disciples) during his time on earth. He quite literally spent time alongside (para/) them, having previously been alongside (para/) the Father. In his ministry, Jesus gave all sorts of help and guidance to his disciples, teaching them about God the Father and instructing them in the way of truth. The Spirit continues this same work of Jesus, remaining alongside the disciples (believers) and “leading the way” for them “in all truth” (16:13). This association of the Spirit with the truth of God is a key Johannine theme, expressed most clearly elsewhere in John 4:23-24 and 1 John 4:6; 5:6 (“the Spirit is the truth”); cf. also Jn 1:14ff; 8:32, 44; 14:6; 17:17-19; 18:37; 1 Jn 1:8; 2:4; 3:19.

Even more important, from the standpoint of the Last Discourses, is the idea that the Paraclete/Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus himself, after he has departed/returned back to the Father. This is part of a wider tendency in early Christianity, whereby the Spirit came to be understood as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus. Paul uses “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” more or less interchangeably, though the latter is admittedly more rare. In prior notes, we examined the idea, best seen at several points in Paul’s letters, that, through his resurrection/exaltation, Jesus came to be united with God’s own Spirit. The Gospel of John, of course, expresses a much clearer sense of Jesus’ pre-existent deity; and his identity as the Son—both in the Gospel prologue and throughout the Discourses—must be understood in light of this Christological emphasis. Jesus the Son was present with the Father, in heaven/eternity, prior to his human life and ministry on earth. With his departure from his disciples, he returns back to the Father, leaving the Spirit in his place. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with believers (the important Johannine use of the verb me/nw, “remain”); it is also the means by which Jesus shows the way for us to the Father. We are united with both Jesus the Son and God the Father through the presence of the Spirit.

Commentators have long noted the apparent ambiguity with regard to who it is that sends the Spirit, whether the Father or the Son, or the two of them together:

    • The Father gives the Spirit at Jesus’ request (14:16)
    • The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:26)
    • Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father (15:26; 16:7)

Ultimately, the Spirit comes from the Father, but this has to be understood in terms of the clear chain of relationship established and expressed repeatedly throughout the discourses: the Father gives all things to the Son, who, in turn, gives them to believers. The Spirit is certainly among those things that are given—indeed, it is the primary thing given by God to the Son (and then to us as believers). This is summarized and expressed most clearly in John 3:35:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

According to the prior verse 34, the Spirit is what is primarily in view in this statement:

“For the (one) whom God sent forth from (Himself) speaks the utterances of God, for (it is) not out of a measure (that) He gives the Spirit.”

To say that God does not give his Spirit “out of a measure” means that he gives it fully and completely—that is, here, fully and completely to the Son. The Son, in turn, is able to bestow God’s Spirit upon all who trust in him.

1 John 4:1-6

Finally, some light may be shed on the Paraclete passages from the discussion in 1 John 4:1-6, where the expression “Spirit of truth” is used. This passage has a strong eschatological orientation, whereby the author has set the conflict (in the Johannine Community) involving certain ‘false’ believers as part of the end-time appearance of “Antichrist” —a)nti/xristo$, literally “against the Anointed”. According to the author, these false Christians hold a false view of Jesus Christ, which, being false, cannot be inspired by the Spirit of truth—that is the Spirit of God and Christ. Instead, such “false prophets” are inspired by evil and deceitful spirits—the opposite of God’s own Spirit—characterized as “the spirit th(at is) against the Anointed” (i.e., spirit of ‘antichrist’). Part of the early Christian eschatology, inherited from the Judaism of the period, involved the expected rise of “false prophets” and Satanic-inspired figures during the time of distress (qli/yi$) which precedes the end of the current Age. For further study, cf. my three-part article “The Antichrist Tradition” in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

This eschatological worldview was central to much early Christian thought, going back to Jesus’ own teachings, and received a distinctive expression within the Johannine writings. The presence of the Spirit marked the beginning of the New Age for believers in Christ. All of the anticipated future blessings of the New Age—resurrection, eternal life, abiding with God in heaven—were experienced by believers, through the Spirit, already in the present. This is the “realized” aspect of early Christian eschatology, and it is especially prominent in the Gospel of John. At the same time, the activity of the Spirit in the present offers a promise of what will be experienced fully in the future. For more on the Johannine eschatology, in terms of the Last Discourse and references to the Spirit, cf. my articles in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, along with the earlier notes, e.g., on Jn 16:7-15.

 

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The Letters of John

The Johannine Writings, Part 2:
The Letters of John

The three Johannine Letters (1-3 John), like the Gospel (discussed in Part 1), have been traditionally ascribed to John the Apostle. However, there is no evidence for this whatsoever in the Letters themselves. The author, while probably known to his immediate readers, remains unknown to us, identifying himself (in 2 and 3 John) simply as “the Elder” (o( presbu/tero$). Commentators disagree somewhat on whether the same person also wrote 1 John, but this is probably the best (and simplest) explanation. All three letters certainly stem from the same Community, referred to by the traditional label “Johannine” —a group of regional congregations, sharing a common tradition and heritage, which also produced the Gospel of John. This region has traditionally been identified as Asia Minor, especially the area around Ephesus, which is also the provenance of the book of Revelation—and this may well be correct. The Letters almost certainly were written sometime after the Gospel (or at least a version of it) had been produced, and are typically thought to date from the end of the 1st century (c. 90-100 A.D.).

The Johannine Gospel and Letters share the same basic religious and theological outlook, including a common style, vocabulary, and mode of expression, etc. Indeed, portions of 1 John could have been lifted straight out of the Gospel Discourses (and vice versa), so close are they in terms of their language and style. As a result, we may fairly well assume that the Gospel and Letters also reflect a common eschatology—that of the Johannine Community—and a comparative study of the writings (esp. of the Gospel and 1 John) generally bears this out. Eschatology is not particularly emphasized in 1 John, due primarily to the prominence of the specific conflict within the Community that is being addressed. I have discussed this historical-critical aspect at length in recent Saturday Series studies on 1 John. The situation is somewhat analogous to that of Galatians, in which the theological-religious question of the place of the Torah among believers, and the opposition of those who claim that is still binding for believers, dominates the letter.

There are, however, a number of eschatological references throughout 1 John, which generally reflect the idea that believers are living in the end-time (i.e. the end of the current Age), while the New Age has already been realized for believers, in the present, through the Spirit. For more on this “realized” eschatology, and its relation to Johannine theology, cf. the discussion in Part 1. Several of the passing references and allusions in 1 John illustrate this:

    • 1 John 2:8b:
      “…(in) that [i.e. because] the darkness leads (the way) [i.e. passes] along, and the true light already shines”
      —that is, the New Age (of eternal Light and Life) is already being realized for believers in Christ.
    • 1 John 2:13-14:
      “…you have been victorious over the Evil (One)” (stated twice)
      —the final victory over evil has already been achieved (perfect tense of the vb. nika/w) through the work of Jesus Christ (Jn 16:33) and our trust in him.
    • 1 John 2:17:
      “And the world leads (the way) [i.e. passes] along, and (with it) its impulse for (evil), but the (one) doing the will of God remains [me/nei] into the Age.”
      —this is a general statement of the transitory nature of the world (with its impulse for what is corrupt and evil), but also specifically of the idea that the current Age is coming to an end.
    • 1 John 3:14a:
      “We have seen [i.e. known] that we have stepped across, out of death (and) into Life”
      —i.e., the Judgment has already occurred for believers; cf. the discussion on John 5:24 in Part 1.
    • 1 John 4:17:
      “In this love has been made complete with us, (so) that we might hold outspokenness (before God) in the day of Judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] even as that (one) [i.e. Christ] is, (so) also are we in this world.”
      —our identity as believers in Christ (present aspect) gives us assurance that we (will) pass through the Judgment (future aspect).

Other verses could be cited, to the effect that believers already possess the eternal life which otherwise was thought to be experienced (by the righteous) only after the final Judgment (cf. 2:25; 5:11-13, etc). Even so, when considering the eschatology of the Johannine Letters, two passages especially stand out, which need to be considered in more detail—(1) 2:18-27 (along with 4:1-6), and (2) 2:28-3:10. I have already discussed these at length in earlier studies, but without much attention being paid to the eschatological emphasis; this will be the focus here.

1 John 2:18-27 (with 4:1-6)

The eschatological statement in verse 18 is clear and direct, and informs everything that follows in the passage:

“Little children, it is (the) last hour, and, even as you heard that against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$] comes, even now many (who are) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristoi] have come to be—from which you (can) know that it is (the) last hour.”

The author clearly believes that he and his readers are living in the end time, the “last hour” (e)sxa/th w%ra) of the current Age. While this belief may be problematic for Christians today (living 1900+ years after the fact), there can be no real doubt of the imminent eschatology that characterized early Christian thought, especially in the 1st century A.D. It may be amply demonstrated from nearly every writing of the New Testament, as the articles in this series attest (see esp. the earlier study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament). The noun w%ra (“hour”) often has eschatological significance—cf. Dan 8:17f; Sirach 18:19; Mark 13:11, 31-32; Matt 24:44; 25:13; John 5:25, 28; Rev 3:3, 10; 14:7, 15; and note also the eschatological dimension of the use of the word in the Passion narrative (Mk 14:35, 41; 15:33 par; Lk 22:53; Jn 13:1). However, the expression “the last hour” is rare, occurring only here in the New Testament, “the last days” or “last day” being more common (Acts 2:17; James 5:3; 2 Tim 3:1; 2 Pet 3:3; Heb 1:2; Jn 6:39-40ff; 11:24; 12:48). It would seem to indicate a specific moment rather than a period of time, perhaps emphasizing here all the more that the end was imminent.

The presence of those who are “against the Anointed” is particularly noted as a clear indicator that it is the “last hour” and that the end is near. The Greek adjective is a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos), usually transliterated in English as “antichrist”, but literally meaning “against the Anointed (One)” —that is, against the Messiah. The prefix a)nti/ fundamentally means “against”, i.e. someone or something that is opposed to the Messiah; however, it could also denote something that stands “in place of” (or in exchange for) the Messiah, i.e. a false Messiah or Messianic imitation. I discuss the term further in the first part of my article on the Antichrist Tradition. It appears to have been coined by Christians, with specific reference to Jesus as the Anointed One (i.e. Jesus the Christ). Thus, it here it means “opposed to Jesus as the Christ”.

The author gives us some indication of what he has in mind when he calls certain people “antichrists” (a)nti/xristoi). A careful study of this section (2:18-27, note the adjective again in v. 22), along with 4:1-6, where the term is also used (v. 3), as well as several other references in the letter (and 2 John, vv. 7-9), allows us to reconstruct the historical situation to some degree. There were certain individuals who, according to the author, had separated from the main Johannine Community (“they went out of [i.e. from] us”, 2:19), and who espoused a view of Jesus (as the Christ) considered to be false or in error. As a result, these persons demonstrated that they were false believers (and false prophets), who effectively denied Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God (vv. 22-23). Thus, from the author’s standpoint, they could rightly be characterized as “against the Anointed”. The specific Christological point at issue is difficult to determine precisely; it appears to have involved an unwillingness to recognize the reality (and saving power) of Jesus’ humanity—especially the reality of his death. I discuss the matter in some detail in the aforementioned Saturday Series studies; here, the main thing to note is that these people, with their false view of Jesus Christ, are identified as an eschatological manifestation of “antichrist”.

From an eschatological standpoint, the main difficulty for interpretation lies in the first part of the statement in verse 18:

“…you (have) heard that ‘against the Anointed’ comes”
h)kou/sate o%ti a)nti/xristo$ e&rxetai

The present form of the verb e&rxetai (“comes”) is perhaps better rendered in English syntax as “is to come” or “is coming”, implying an (eschatological) expectation that something (or someone) referred to as “antichrist” will appear at the end time. The author is clearly referencing an existing tradition of some sort, but the precise nature and significance of this tradition is uncertain, and continues to be debated. I would outline three possibilities:

    • The expectation of a wicked (world) ruler, as in 2 Thess 2:1-12, in which case it could be considered an early form of the later Antichrist Tradition, following especially after the “wicked tyrant” motif from the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic writings.
    • A personal (or personified) manifestation of evil—a Satanic spirit-being (or Satan himself)—in which case, it would resemble the end-time appearance of Belial/Beliar, described in other writings of the period.
    • A more abstract manifestation of the forces of evil, though with the possibility of being further manifested/localized in (personal) spirit-beings. This would be closer to the symbolism of the Dragon and Sea-creature, etc, in the book of Revelation.

Many commentators assume the first view—that it is a reference to an early form of the later Antichrist tradition. If so, it would seem that the author is contradicting this tradition. Essentially he would be saying: “you have heard that this Antichrist figure is coming, but he has already come, and in the form of these false believers (antichrists)”. I do not think that this is correct. It seems more in keeping with the thought of the letter—and of the wider Johannine tradition and theology—that the author is referring to a tradition that he accepts, that of an Antichrist-spirit (or spirit-being) who appears, and is dominant on earth, at the end-time. The false believers who espouse this false view of Jesus are a specific manifestation of this end-time spirit, themselves being inspired (perhaps unwittingly) by evil and deceptive spirits (4:1-3ff). This is fully in accord with the Johannine view of the world in the current Age, dominated by the power of evil (and the Evil One)—cf. Jn 3:19; 7:7; 17:15; 1 Jn 2:13-14; 3:12; 5:18-19; also Jn 1:10, 29; 8:23; 12:31; 14:17, 30; 15:18-19; 16:8ff; 1 Jn 2:15ff; 3:1, 13. The situation in the world only becomes more intense and acute as the moment of the end comes closer, with evil becoming ever more prevalent and pervasive throughout humankind.

For further discussion on the matter, consult Part 3 of my study on the Antichrist Tradition.

1 John 2:28-3:10

In early Christian writings of this period, it was common for authors to couch their ethical and religious instruction in eschatological terms. Indeed, the imminence of their eschatology gave a special sense of urgency to the instruction; to paraphrase—since the end is near, and Jesus will soon appear, how much more ought we to remain faithful and vigilant, etc.

1 John 2:28-3:10 opens with an eschatological statement, similar to that in the previous section (2:18-27, above). Even more to the point, the end-time appearance of “anti-Christ” (v. 18) is parallel to the end-time appearance of Christ himself, and immediately precedes it. That the return of Jesus is in view in vv. 28ff is confirmed by the use of the noun parousi/a (parousia, “[com]ing to be alongside”), a common technical term in early Christianity for the end-time coming of Christ, even though this is the only occurrence of the word in the Johannine Writings. In 2 Thess 2:8-9, Paul uses parousi/a for the appearance of Christ and the anti-Christ (i.e. “the lawless one”) both, heightening the parallel between the two.

“And now, (my dear) offspring, you must remain in him, (so) that, when he should be made to shine forth [fanerwqh=|, i.e. appear], we might hold outspokenness, and not feel shame from him, in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] (us).” (v. 28)

This statement reflects the standard early Christian eschatology, though phrased somewhat in distinctive Johannine terms. In fact, the passage is a good example of the interplay between “realized” (present) eschatology and a traditional future eschatology. The present (“realized”) aspect is dominant in the Johannine Writings (especially the Gospel), and is expressed clearly here in verse 29, using a formulation that defines believers (“the ones doing justice/righteousness”) as having “come to be (born)” out of God. That is to say, true believers are already God’s offspring, in union with him—an eternal identity that normally would be reserved for the righteous in the afterlife, following the Judgment (i.e., eschatological). This is stated even more precisely in 3:1:

“You must see (then) what sort of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called (the) offspring of God—and (so) we are.”

The present tense form of the verb of being (e)sme/n, “we are”) is emphatic, emphasizing both an essential identity and present reality. Even so, our identity as God’s children/offspring will be made complete in the end, at the return of Jesus—i.e. the future eschatological aspect. For early Christians, this was understood primarily in terms of the end-time resurrection, when believers would be transformed into a divine, exalted state of existence. The Johannine writings tend to downplay this metaphysical aspect (but cf. the prior discussion on resurrection in the Gospel), and, indeed, here the transformation is expressed by the Johannine idiom of seeing (= knowing)—by seeing God we come to be like Him; this is the declaration in 3:2:

“Loved (one)s, we are now (the) offspring God, and yet it has not been made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh, i.e. appear] what we will be; (but) we have seen [i.e. known] that, when it should be made to shine forth [fanerwqh=|] (for us), we will be like Him, (in) that we will see [o)yo/meqa] Him even as He is.”

Throughout this section there is wordplay involving the verb fanero/w (“shine [forth]”, i.e. appear, be manifest), something that, sadly, is obscured or lost in most translations. In the main line of argument, it refers to the appearance or manifestation of Jesus (the Son of God) on earth—both in his earlier/first (vv. 5, 8) and future/second (2:28) appearances, both being understood by early Christians as eschatological events. Here in 3:2, however, the verb has a slightly different meaning—it refers to the manifestation of believers as the children of God (cf. the earlier article on Romans 8:18-25). And yet, this manifestation is tied to the manifestation of Jesus (i.e. his return). Something similar is expressed (by Paul) in Colossians 3:1-4 (discussed in an earlier article), with a different sense of “realized” eschatology—through our union with Christ (in the Spirit), we are already present with him in heaven, and this reality will be experienced fully at the moment of his appearance (from heaven).

The transformation of the righteous (believers) through a consummate vision of God (i.e. seeing Him) reflects an eschatological expectation that has a long history. For Jewish thought, its roots go back deep into Old Testament tradition, finding later expression, for example, in the writings of Philo (e.g., On Abraham 57-59) and subsequent Rabbinic tradition. An especially memorable declaration is found in Pesiqta Rabbati 11.7 (46b): “In this world, Israelites cleave to the Holy One…but in the time to come they will become like Him.” (cf. R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 30 [1982], p. 425). In the Matthean Beatitudes, Jesus pairs seeing God with being called sons (or children) of God (Matt 5:8-9), just as here in 1 John; on the eschatological/afterlife context of the Beatitude-form, cf. my earlier study. Both here and in Matt 5:8, the verb o)pt–an—omai is used for the future tense of seeing; literally, it refers to gazing with (wide) open eyes, especially appropriate for the idea of beholding God Himself. Paul describes this eschatological vision (for believers) in somewhat different terms, though just as memorably, in 1 Cor 13:12 and 2 Cor 3:18.

This eschatological (and theological) discussion concludes with the ethical-religious exhortation in verse 3:

“And (so) every (one) holding this hope upon him makes himself holy [i.e. pure], even as that (one) is pure.”

The lack of explicit subject-references, as well as ambiguous use of pronouns, in these verses creates some difficulty for interpretation (and translation). Does “he/him” in vv. 2-3 refer to God the Father or Jesus? to Christ or to the believer? In verse 2, it would seem that it is the relationship between the believer and God the Father that is primarily in view, and it is possible that this continues into verse 3. In this case, our hope is upon Him (i.e. the Father), and we are to purify ourselves because He Himself is pure—traditional instruction reflecting Lev 19:2, etc (compare Matt 5:45 par).

On the other hand, the hope (e)lpi/$) of the believer is better understood in terms of the hope that we hold in Christ (“upon him”). The noun e)lpi/$ frequently has an eschatological connotation in the New Testament—the future hope, of salvation, resurrection, eternal life, etc. This hope tends to be located in the person of Christ; moreover, the demonstrative pronoun “that (one)” (e)kei=no$) is often used as a distinctive way of referring to the person of Jesus, and so at times here in 1 John (2:6; 3:5, 16; cp. 3:7; 4:17). I take the focus in verse 3 as being on Jesus, parallel to the original exhortation in 2:28 (“remain in him”), after a shift in focus (in 2:29-3:2) on God the Father:

    • Exhortation (2:28): “remain in him” (Christ)
    • Exposition (2:29-3:2): the identity of believers as children of God (God the Father)
      • Main premise (2:29): our life and conduct should reflect our identity as children of God (even as Jesus is the Son of God)
      • Present reality (3:1)—we are God’s children now, resembling Him (“realized” eschatology)
      • Future reality (3:2)—we will be like God Himself, seeing Him clearly (future eschatology)
    • Exhortation (3:3): purify ourselves (in Christ)

Antichrist and the Nero Legend

In my study on the Antichrist Tradition (Part 3), I mentioned the possibility, accepted by many commentators, that the book of Revelation is drawing upon the legend of Nero’s return (Nero redivivus). The emperor Nero (r. 54-68 A.D.) was a notorious figure already in his own lifetime, as the historians of the period (Tacitus, Suetonius, et al) amply document. In response to rumors that he was responsible for the great fire in Rome, Nero instigated a persecution of Christians in the city, during which many were put to death (cf. Tacitus Annals 15.44). This would leave an indelible impression on believers, for whom Nero would remain in memory as the persecutor of Christians. Evidence for imperial persecution (arrests and executions) of believers during the reigns of the subsequent emperors (such as Domitian) in the 1st and early 2nd centuries is uncertain at best. Even under Nero, the period of persecution was brief, and more or less limited to the city of Rome. It wasn’t until much later, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, that widespread, state-sponsored persecutions took place.

For early Christians, the role of the emperor itself was representative of impiety and wickedness, especially as the establishment of the imperial cult throughout the provinces emphasized all the more the traditional pretensions to deity intrinsic to ancient kingship (cf. the “wicked tyrant” motif in Part 1). Nero’s character and behavior added a particularly monstrous layer of wickedness to the figure of the Roman emperor, which would greatly influence how first-century Christians viewed imperial rule (compare how Paul speaks of it, prior to Nero). In some ways, this had been prefigured by the reign of Gaius (Caligula) some years earlier, but outside of the specific context of the persecution of believers.

By all accounts, Nero died by his own hand (committing suicide, cf. Suetonius, Nero 49.3-4) in 68 A.D. However, rumors soon took hold that Nero had not actually died, but had gone into hiding—perhaps in the East (among the Parthians), waiting for the opportunity to return and reclaim the throne. In the twenty or so years after his death, a number of Nero-pretenders appeared on the scene (Tacitus Histories 2.8-9; Suetonius Nero 57; Dio Cassius Roman History 66.19.3), and rumors doubtless persisted for a number of decades after that.

It is possible to understand the idea of Nero’s “return” in a figurative sense, in terms of his cruelty and tyranny being repeated in subsequent Emperors; on comparisons between Domitian and Nero, cf. Juvenal Satires 4.38; Pliny the Younger Panegyricus 53.4; Philostratus Life of Pythagoras 7.4.1 (Koester Revelation, p. 571). This is probably closer to how the book of Revelation makes use of Nero (and the Nero-legend)—as a type-pattern for the wicked ruler of the end-time, similar to that of the earlier emperor Gaius (Caligula) and the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (in Daniel 7-12 etc).

However, many commentators would see in the book of Revelation a more precise application of the Nero-legend, especially in the detail of the Sea-creature’s head that had apparently received a death-blow (“strike of death”) and was then healed/restored to life (13:3). The phrasing in 17:11 is thought to reflect this same imagery. The idea is that one of the heads (emperors) had suffered a mortal wound, but then recovered; on the assumption that this is an allusion to Nero, he would presumably be one of the first five emperors (heads) mentioned in 17:10. The eighth emperor, then, would be a demonic incarnation, in the form of Nero, or patterned after him—and, in this sense, he ‘returns’ from the dead. The visionary symbolism here may indeed have something like this in mind; certainly, the eighth ruler appears to be a direct (personal) manifestation of the forces of evil (cf. also on 2 Thess 2:3-12 and the Ascension of Isaiah 4:2ff in Part 3).

The Nero-legend would seem to feature in several eschatological passages in the Sibylline Oracles (cf. the survey in Part 2). This is rather clear, for example, in 4:119-24, 137-9—a great king’s flight from Italy, into the land of the Parthians, from whence he returns leading a great army. Nero also seems to be primarily in view in 5:28-34, 137-51, 214-27, 361-71; these verses include the idea that the wicked king flees from Rome (‘Babylon’), and, ultimately, on his return, will seize and destroy the Temple in Jerusalem (which the emperor did in 70 A.D.). Also worth mentioning is the detail in 3:63ff, when Beliar (= Belial), at the end-time, will appear, coming “from the Sebastenoi [Sebasthnoi/]”, which has sometimes been identified with the Sebastoi, the house of the emperor Augustus. This could refer to the idea that Beliar will be manifest/incarnate as a Roman emperor, and could apply to Nero (as well as any other early emperor). The incarnation of Satan/Belial (or a comparable evil Spirit-being) was certainly a component of the developed Antichrist Tradition, as mentioned and discussed in Part 3.

The Antichrist Tradition: Part 3

In the first two parts of this study (1 & 2) I examined the Old Testament and Jewish background of the Antichrist tradition—or, stated more precisely, the eschatological themes and motifs which influenced and helped shape that tradition. Now, here in Part 3, it remains to explore the New Testament writings themselves.

The meaning and significance of the adjective a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos, “against the Anointed”) was discussed in Part 1. This adjective occurs five times in the New Testament, and all in the letters of John (1 Jn 2:18 [twice], 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7). Moreover, the author of 1 and 2 John uses it (and inteprets it) in a way that is quite different from the customary usage (based on the developed Antichrist tradition). The irony in the New Testament is that the passages typically thought to refer to the Antichrist do not use the term a)nti/xristo$ at all, while the passages that do use it are not referring to the traditional Antichrist-figure, or at least not primarily so. This will be discussed further below.

There are four sections of the New Testament that may be said to relate in some way to the later Antichrist tradition, and which likely played a role in its development:

    1. The Eschatological Discourse of Jesus in the Synoptics (Mark 13 par)
    2. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
    3. Revelation 13, and the chapters following (esp. 17:7-14)
    4. The References in 1 and 2 John
    5. Early Christian References outside the New Testament

I have already discussed these passages in considerable detail in earlier articles in this series (and in the daily notes on the book of Revelation). Thus, I will not present a full exegesis here, but will focus instead on only those details or features which relate to the Antichrist Tradition.

1. The Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mark 13 par)

I have examined the “Eschatological Discourse” at length in an earlier four-part article (Pts 1, 2, 3, 4). It is, of course, unique to the Synoptic Tradition, set during the final period of Jesus in Jerusalem (Mark 13, par Matt 24-25, Luke 21:5-36). I will use the Markan version as the primary point of reference.

The heart of the Discourse relates to the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$, v. 19; cp. Rev 7:14, etc), presented in three sections—vv. 5-8, 9-13, and 14-23. Some might see this as a chronological sequence of events, but I believe it is better to view them as different aspects of the same period of distress, describing:

    • Its affect on humankind as a whole (vv. 5-8)
    • Its affect on Jesus’ disciples (believers), in terms of their witness/mission (vv. 9-13)
    • Its affect on the people of Judea, especially those in and around Jerusalem (vv. 14-23)

Each of these sections contains at least one important theme which relates to the subsequent Antichrist Tradition. In fact, in each case it is the leading theme of the section, stated or expressed in the initial verse.

Section 1: The rise of “false Messiahs” and “false Prophets” (Mark 13:5f, also vv. 21-22)

This is the leading theme of the section, framed in a general way in verse 5:

“You must look (to it that) no one should lead you astray [planh/sh|]”

The warning follows in verse 6, though the matter is stated more clearly later in verse 22:

“For there will rise false Anointeds [yeudo/xristoi] and false Foretellers [yeudoprofh=tai]…” —that is, false Messiahs (Christs) and false Prophets.

These persons will deceive and lead humankind astray (thus the emphasis at the start of the first section), and even, if possible, actual disciples of Jesus (believers, vv. 22b-23). The issue of false Christs (Messiahs) is stated two ways, in verses 6 and 21, respectively:

“Many will come upon my name, saying that ‘I am (he)’….” (v. 6)
“…if anyone should say to you ‘See, here (is) the Anointed…'” (v. 21)

The first statement suggests that people will claim to be Jesus himself. However, the Matthean version reads differently, no doubt intended to clarify the situation:

“For may will come upon my name, saying ‘I am the Anointed‘…” (24:5)

This almost certainly reflects the meaning of Jesus’ statement in its original context—people will claim to be the Messiah (Christ), not Jesus himself. Of course, for early Christians, claiming to be the Christ would essentially be the same thing as taking Jesus’ place, since only he is the true Anointed One (Messiah or Christ). In this regard, the noun yeudo/xristo$ (pseudóchristos, “false Anointed”) is close in meaning to the adjective anti/xristo$ (antíchristos), with the prefix a)nti/ (antí) in the sense of “in place of”, “in exchange for” —i.e., an imitation or false version.

There is also a close connection between the idea of “false Messiahs” and “false Prophets“, though this may not be immediately apparent to the average reader today. We are not accustomed to thinking of the Messiah as a prophet; however, there were a number of different Messianic figure-types in Jewish thought during this period, as I discuss at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. These figure-types include several kinds of Anointed Prophet, most notably those patterned after the figures of Moses and Elijah (cf. Parts 23 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). In Jesus’ own lifetime, and especially during the period of his ministry in Galilee, he tended to be identified as an Anointed Prophet as much (or more so than) as a Messiah of the Davidic-ruler type. In Luke 4:17-21ff, Jesus explicitly identifies himself with the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff; also, in the transfiguration scene (Mark 9:2-8 par), Jesus is associated directly with both Messianic Prophet-figures—Moses and Elijah. More examples could be given (cf. the aforementioned articles).

Josephus notes several instances of would-be Messianic/Prophetic figures, spanning from the time of Jesus (the reign of Pilate, c. 36 A.D.) down to the aftermath of the Jewish War (post 66-70 A.D.)—cf. Antiquities 18.85; 20.97, 169-172; War 7.437ff. In each of these instances it would seem that an end-time “Prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15-18) was primarily in view—that is, a miracle-working Messianic Prophet, patterned after Moses, who would lead his people into the ‘Promised Land’.

It is not only the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse that connected the Jewish War and destruction of the Temple with the coming of the end; the War itself appears to have been fueled, in part at least, by eschatological and Messianic expectations (Josephus War 6.312f; cf. also Tacitus Histories 5.13.2, and Seutonius Vespasian 4.5). In such an environment, in the face of rebellion, war, and upheaval, it is hardly surprising that “false prophets” and “false Messiahs” might appear, even as predicted by Jesus in the Discourse. Indeed, false prophets were an element of the end-time period of distress and wickedness, according to the eschatological pattern in the Jewish apocalyptic writings (discussed in Part 2). In a more developed form, this would be understood in terms of the influence of Belial and his “spirits of deceit”, inspiring the false prophets. This is most significant in light of how the term “antichrist” is used in the letters of John (cf. below).

Section 2: An intense persecution of Believers (Mark 13:9ff)

The end-time period of distress would also be a time of suffering and persecution for Jesus’ disciples (believers), as summarized in verses 9-13, and also in other Gospel passages. Beginning with his death, the disciples would enter into an “hour of darkness”, a time of testing (peirasmo/$) that would continue until his future return. What Jesus predicts in this section of the discourse was in fact fulfilled, during the first century, among his disciples (and the first generation[s] of believers), as is well-documented, for example, in the book of Acts, the letters of Paul, and in the book of Revelation. While 1st-century Christians certainly believed they were already living in an end-time period of distress, the persecution was expected to become much more intense, and the suffering more acute, as the end drew nearer.

This expectation of greater persecution and suffering, by the surrounding population as well as the governmental authorities, certainly informs the subsequent Antichrist Tradition. We will see it expressed more precisely in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13ff (cf. below). It also represents a continuation of the earlier Jewish (and Old Testament) traditions—of the “wicked tyrant” motif, the theme of the hostility shown by the (wicked) nations, and so forth (Parts 1 & 2). In particular, the development of the “wicked-tyrant” type-pattern, shaped by the figure of Antiochus IV in the book of Daniel, included prominently the idea of the wicked ruler’s oppression and persecution of the righteous, even to the point of brutally attacking their religious beliefs.

Section 3: The “stinking thing of Desolation” (Mark 13:14)

The third section of the Discourse, describing the suffering of the people in Judea and Jerusalem (including believers), opens with a somewhat cryptic reference to the tradition in Daniel 9:27 (also 11:31; 12:11):

“And when you should see the ‘stinking (thing) of desolation’ [bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$] having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not (be)…then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (Mk 13:14)

Matthew’s version clarifies the situation somewhat, while retaining the aside “the (one) reading must have (it) in mind”, making the reference to Daniel explicit:

“So (then), when you should see the ‘stinking (thing) of desolation’, the (thing) uttered through Daniel the Foreteller, having stood in the holy place…” (24:15)

Matthew’s description brings the statement in line with the context of the Daniel references, in which the “disgusting thing[s] bringing desolation” clearly involve the Temple sanctuary and its sacrificial offerings. Commentators continue to debate the exact nature and identity of “the disgusting thing bringing desolation” (<m@ovm! JWQV!h^). It is especially problematic in light of the actual wording in Dan 9:27:

“and upon the wing [[nk] of despicable (thing)s he lays waste”
or, perhaps:
“and upon the wing of despicable (thing)s (the one) laying waste (comes)”

This does not make particularly good sense in the context of the verse, complicated further by the interpretation/translation in the Greek versions:

“and upon the Temple there will be a stinking (thing) of desolations [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn]”

The Hebrew suggests a person, whereas the Greek, perhaps understanding the “wing” [[nk] to be the side or pinnacle of the Temple (cf. Lk 4:9), seems to indicate something (an idolatrous object?) placed on the Temple structure. The earliest interpretation is found in 1 Maccabees 1:54, following the Greek rendering—the “stinking thing of desolations” [bde/lugma tw=n e)rhmw/sewn] is identified with a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5).

In light of this, some critical commentators have proposed emending the Hebrew [nk (“wing”) to <nk (“their place”), with the expression then being <nk lu (“upon their place”, cf. Dan 11:38), i.e. the pagan altar with its sacrifices in place of the prescribed sacrificial offerings of the Temple (Collins, Daniel, p. 358). This is very reasonable, but it involves the always questionable step of emending the text; it also depends on the particular interpretation of vv. 26-27 as describing the reign of Antiochus IV.

In the (original) context of the Daniel prophecy, this desecration of the Temple was fulfilled by the actions of Antiochus IV, the very embodiment of the “wicked tyrant” motif. The use of the same prophecy, by Jesus (and early Christians) in the first century A.D., indicates a belief that it would be fulfilled (again), presumably by another wicked (foreign) ruler, following the type-pattern of Antiochus. I have previously mentioned several possibilities for how this might have been understood by early Christians, assuming an expectation of its fulfillment in the general time-frame of the first century:

    • The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307).
      In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
    • The destruction and despoiling of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D.
    • The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.

The first two are the most relevant (and plausible). Indeed, in the Lukan version of the Discourse, the Daniel prophecy appears to be interpreted in terms of the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by swaths of soldiers, then know that her desolation [e)rh/mwsi$] has come near” (Lk 21:20)

This emphasis receives confirmation from the statement by Jesus in 19:41-44, located at the fateful moment of his approach to Jerusalem. If we accept vv. 43-44 as authentic, then Jesus, on at least one occasion, prophesied a horrific military siege of the city. The wording is similar to both the prediction of the Temple’s destruction (21:6 par), as well as that here in v. 20. The destruction of the Temple by pagans (i.e. Romans) would, in and of itself, represent a terrible act of desecration. It would also mean that Jesus’ prediction was accurately fulfilled in the war of 66-70 A.D. For more on this, cf. the earlier article on the Eschatological Discourse, esp. Part 3 on the Lukan version. We may thus isolate three aspects of this prophecy which relate to the Antichrist tradition:

    • According to the Hebrew (MT) of Dan 9:27, it refers to the actions of a person—i.e. the wicked tyrant Antiochus IV and his forces
    • The idea of the desecration of the Temple by including a pagan altar (and/or statue), thereby turning it into a pagan shrine; this certainly could be understood in relation to the establishment of the Roman Imperial Cult (cf. below)
    • The destruction of the Temple by hostile pagan forces, led by a wicked (foreign) ruler

2. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

(This section is an abridgment of the earlier article in this series.)

In 2 Thess 2:1-12, the description of the figure called “the man of lawlessness [o( a&nqrwpo$ th=$ a)nomi/a$]” (verse 3, v.l. “man of sin […th=$ a(marti/a$]”) and “the lawless (one) [o( a&nomo$]” (v. 8) is often assumed to be a reference to ‘the Antichrist’ —that is, to the Antichrist tradition. Much can be said in favor of this, at least in a general sense, since the portrait of this “lawless one” does more or less follow the contours of the later tradition. It also continues the earlier line of tradition (the “wicked tyrant” motif, etc) preserved in Jewish apocalyptic writings of the period (Part 2); cf. especially the use of the same expression (“lawless one”) for the wicked tyrant in Ps Sol 17. The description here begins in verse 3:

“No one should deceive you (then), not by any turn! (For it is) that, if there should not first come the standing away from (the truth) [a)postasi/a]—(by this I mean that) the man of lawlessness [a)nomi/a] should be uncovered, the son of ruin [a)pw/leia]…”

It would seem that some among the Thessalonians were saying that the experience of suffering and persecution meant that the “Day of the Lord” had come. Paul warns forcefully that they should not be deceived (vb e)capata/w) into thinking this. In my view, the importance of this point for Paul is that the “Day of the Lord” signifies the end-time Judgment that awaits the wicked, and the precise moment for that has not yet come. Paul begins to explain this with a conditional sentence that he never finishes: “(For it is) that if there should not first come a standing away from (the truth)…”. If we were to complete the thought, it would presumably be something like “…then the Day of the Lord cannot come“. Instead of finishing the sentence, he expounds the significance of this “standing away” (a)postasi/a, often transliterated in English as “apostasy”).

Here the expressions “man of lawlessness” and “son of ruin/destruction” likely reflect the Old Testament “son[s] of Beliyya’al” (and “man/men of Beliyya’al”). On the original Hebrew term lu^Y~l!B= (b®liyya±al) and the name Belial, cf. the discussion in Part 2. On several occasions, Hebrew lu^Y~l!B= is translated in the LXX by a)nomi/a (or the related a)no/mhma), “without law, lawlessness”. In 2 Cor 6:14f, a)nomi/a is parallel with Beli/ar, a variant transliteration in Greek (i.e. Beli/al, Belial) of Hebrew lu^Y~l!B=. As previously discussed, in the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period, Belial/Beliar is a title for the Evil One (i.e. the Devil/Satan), but is also used in the eschatological context of an evil/Satanic figure or ruler who will appear at the end-time. This “man of lawlessness” is further described as:

“…the (one) stretching out against and lifting (himself) over all (thing)s counted as God or (worthy of) reverence, (even) as to his sitting in the shrine of God, showing (of) himself from (this) that he is God.” (verse 4)

The wording in v. 4a echoes the language and imagery of the “wicked tyrant” motif, going back to the Old Testament Prophets (cf. Part 1). Only here, this figure takes the divine pretensions a step further, by sitting in the Temple sanctuary (“the shrine of God”). In many later manuscripts, this pretension to deity is made even more clear with the addition of w($ qeo/n (“as God”): “…sitting as God in the shrine of God”. According to the ancient religious worldview, temples were the dwelling places of God, especially the sanctuary or inner shrine, where the specific image/manifestation of the deity was located. For the Jerusalem Temple, the inner shrine housed the golden box (“ark”) which represented the seat or throne of YHWH. Thus, by sitting in the shrine, the “man of lawlessness” puts himself in the place of God. In this regard, the adjective anti/qeo$ (“opposed to God, in place of God”), corollary to anti/xristo$, certainly would apply to him.

“Do you not remember that, (in) my being yet (facing) toward [i.e. when I was still with] you, I related these (thing)s to you? And now you have seen the (thing) holding down (power) unto [i.e. leading toward] the uncovering of him in his (own) time. For the secret of lawlessness already works in (the world), only until the (one) holding down (power) now comes to be out of the middle.” (vv. 5-7)

For a detailed discussion of the difficult syntax in this passage, cf. the earlier article. Here are the most important things to note:

    • The verb kate/xw literally means “hold down”. It can be used either in the transitive sense of holding someone down (i.e. restraining them), or the intransitive sense of holding down a position or control. In my view, the latter best fits the context of the passage.
    • This verb is used here twice, as two participles—one neuter (to\ kate/xon, “the [thing] holding down”) and one masculine (o( kate/xwn, “the [one] holding down”). The latter is correctly understood as a person. The neuter expression refers to the “secret [musth/rion] of lawlessness”, characterizing the current time prior to the rise of the Man of Lawlessness, while the masculine refers to a person “holding down power” during this same time.
    • Lawlessness already prevails in this current time (i.e. the end-time), but in a secret way, so that many people (i.e. believers) are not always immediately aware of its power and influence—i.e. it does not operate in the open. With the appearance of the “Lawless One” (= Man of Lawlessness) the cover will be removed, and lawlessness will no longer work in a hidden manner.
    • The phrase “come to be out of the middle [e)k me/sou]” could mean either that: (a) someone will appear from the middle, or (b) someone will be taken out of (i.e. removed) from the middle. The latter is to be preferred, and understood of the one “holding down power” prior to the appearance of the Lawless One.
    • Probably the reference here is to the current Roman emperor and his imperial administration (cf. below). The author (Paul) may be anticipating the sudden rise of an emperor far more wicked, along the lines of Gaius (Caligula) who embodied and prefigured the “wicked tyrant” motif. This wicked ruler would either follow the current emperor or appear sometime soon thereafter. However, it should be made clear that he will be no ordinary emperor or ruler.

“And then the lawless (one) will be uncovered, whom the Lord [Yeshua] will take up/away [i.e. destroy] with the spirit/breath of His mouth and will make inactive in the shining of his coming along [parousi/a] upon (the earth), (and) whose coming along is according to the working of (the) Satan in him in all lying power and signs and marvels, and in all (the) deceit of injustice for the (one)s going to ruin, against whom (it is that) they did not receive the love of the truth unto their being [i.e. so that they might be] saved.” (vv. 8-10)

One might easily misread the relative pronoun ou! (“of whom, whose”) as referring to the Lord (Jesus), when in fact it refers back to the Lawless One. If we were to translate the primary line of the sentence, in more conventional English, it might be:

“And then the Lawless One will be uncovered… and (his) coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power and false signs and wonders, and in all the deceit of injustice for the ones perishing, (those) who did not receive the love of the truth so that they would be saved.”

The nouns e)pifanei/a (“shining forth upon”) and parousi/a (“[com]ing to be alongside”) both were common early Christian terms for the end-time appearance of Jesus on earth. The same noun parousi/a (parousia) is here also applied to the Lawless One, clearly indicating that his “coming” is an evil parody of Jesus’ return. And, just as the exalted Jesus will come with power and glory, so this Lawless One comes with great power, given to him by the working of Satan. There will be supernatural events and miracles associated with the Lawless One; they are called “false” (yeu=do$) not because they are illusory, but because they deceive people into thinking that they come from a Divine source. Paul, like most Christians of the time, would have admitted the reality of Satanic-inspired miracles. This person will thus be a “false Christ” and “false Prophet”, a development of the expectation expressed by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse (cf. above).

In verses 11-12, we finally have described the coming of the “Day of the Lord”, i.e. when God acts to judge/punish the wicked. The beginning of this Judgment is that the wicked—all who did not trust in the truth of the Gospel—will be made (by God) to trust in something false instead. The implication is that they will trust in the Lawless One. There is here no mention of persecution of believers by the Lawless One, but this is likely to be inferred, based on parallels in the Eschatological Discourse and Revelation 13, etc (cf. below). The period of the Lawless One’s rule presumably will be short, but characterized by intense and widespread wickedness and injustice, though, in all likelihood, those deceived by him would not be aware of this negative aspect. The period is brought to an end with the coming of Jesus (“the Lord”), who will destroy the Lawless One (v. 8, described in Messianic language from Isa 11:4b, etc).

Most commentators are in agreement that Paul is drawing upon the same tradition from Dan 9:27 that is alluded to in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:14 par, cf. above). If so, he seems to accept a rather different interpretation of this tradition—what stands in the Temple sanctuary is not a statue, but a person (cf. the actual Hebrew in Dan 9:27 MT, noted above); it is not a pagan army, rather, it is a wicked pagan ruler. Almost certainly, Paul would have understood this as a Roman emperor, perhaps one fulfilling the pattern of the wicked Gaius (Caligula) who had intended his own image to be set up in the Temple (cf. above). This would have occurred just ten years or so (c. 40 A.D.) before 2 Thessalonians was written (assuming Paul was indeed the author). It would not have been difficult to see it as a foreshadowing of something that would be done by an even more wicked ruler.

This portrait of the “lawless one”, while following in the line of Jewish and early Christian tradition, brings out several particular points of emphasis which, when taken together, can be viewed as representing a kernel of the subsequent Antichrist tradition:

    • The divine pretensions of this wicked ruler reach the point where he is in the position (i.e. in the Temple sanctuary) of being worshiped by the people as God.
    • He is a personal embodiment of a wider manifestation of the forces of evil (“the secret of lawlessness”) at work in the end-time, and in the current wicked Age.
    • He will work miracles and wonders that are directly inspired by Satan, by which humankind will be led astray; this is close to the developed Jewish tradition of the personal manifestation of Belial (with his spirits of deceit) at the end-time.
    • His appearance (and activity) directly imitates the coming (parousia) of Jesus (the Christ)—thus, he can rightly be referred to as “antichrist” (against, or in place of, the Anointed).

3. Revelation 13ff (esp. Rev 17:7-14)

The visionary symbolism of the book of Revelation is extremely complex, and I have devoted a lengthy series of detailed notes to its exposition. The portions most relevant to the Antichrist Tradition are the chapters dealing with the ‘beast’ (lit. “wild animal”, qhri/on) that comes up out of the Sea. This symbolism is introduced in chapter 13 and continues into the final Judgment visions of chapters 19 and 20. Space here does not permit anything like a thorough study of these references (for this, you must consult the daily notes, beginning with those on chapter 13; cf. also the summary note on the chapter). I will be focusing here specifically on several details in chapter 13, along with the interpretation given in chap. 17 (vv. 7-14) on this ‘beast’ (Sea-creature) and its heads.

To begin with, this symbolism—of the Sea-creature and the corresponding Earth-creature (13:1-4ff, 11-12ff)—stems from two primary lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition:

    • The vision in Daniel 7, of the four ‘beasts’ that come up out of the Sea (vv. 2-8); in the interpretation that follows (vv. 15ff), these beasts are said to be “kingdoms” which, correspondingly, arise out of the Earth (v. 15). The fourth beast, in particular, resembles the Sea-creature of Revelation.
    • The apocalyptic/eschatological tradition of Leviathan (from the sea) and Behemoth (from the earth), as primeval/mythic creatures who embody the forces of darkness and chaos, wickedness and disorder. See, e.g., the references to this tradition in 1 Enoch 60:7-8, 24-25; 2 Baruch 29:4; and 2/4 Esdras 6:49-52 (in Part 1); the latter two are more or less contemporary with the book of Revelation. On the ancient (and Old Testament) background to this tradition, cf. my earlier supplemental article and the summary note on Rev 13.

The “antichrist” aspect to this symbolism derives largely from the “wicked tyrant” motif in Daniel 7, etc, with the original/historical type-pattern of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (cf. the discussion in Part 1). The Sea-creature, with its horns and heads, acts (and speaks) much like the “little horn” in Daniel 7-8. However, in the vision(s) of Revelation 13, there has been a considerable development of the symbolism, both in terms of its specific (and contextual) detail, and in the way it brings together nearly all of the eschatological themes and motifs expressed (earlier) in the Eschatological Discourse and the description of the “lawless one” in 2 Thess 2:1-12 (discussed in Sections 1 and 2 above). Note the following, more or less in order of their occurrence in chapter 13:

    • The Sea-creature resembles the evil Dragon (i.e. the Satan/Devil)—cp. 13:1 with 12:3—thus emphasizing its Satanic/demonic nature and character, being a kind of manifestation of Satan himself (cf. further below).
    • Specifically the Dragon (Satan) gives the creature its authority, i.e. power to act (verse 2, cp. 2 Thess 2:9)
    • The Sea-creature’s diadems, names, and its apparently fatal wound (from which it lives again), all play into the idea that it is a wicked imitation, an evil parody, of the exalted Christ; cf. on 2 Thess 2:3-12 above
    • Humankind is drawn to worship the Sea-creature, i.e. as God (vv. 4ff, cp. 2 Thess 2:4); this is also part of his names, etc, which are an insult to God (vv. 1, 5-6)
    • The Sea-creature “makes war” on the holy ones (vv. 7ff)—i.e., attacking and persecuting believers, even to point of putting them to death

All of these “antichrist” elements are put into effect through the work of the Earth-creature (vv. 11-18), with two aspects being especially emphasized: (a) the worship of the Sea-creature, and (b) the persecution of believers. However, based on the tradition in Daniel 7, it is clear that the Sea-creature is not a person, but a kingdom. Thus, contrary to what is often assumed, chapter 13 does not refer specifically to a wicked ruler (personal Antichrist), but to a wicked kingdom or system of government (which, of course, would be headed by a king, etc). I would interpret the Sea-creature as representing the forces of evil at work on earth—that is, in the kingdoms of the world. The Earth-creature represents the local manifestation of this power, i.e. in particular aspects of society and government, both political and religious. This local government enables the forces of evil to dominate and influence humankind, on a practical level.

Most commentators recognize that the primary point of reference, from the standpoint of the historical background of the book of Revelation, is the Roman Empire—the preeminent world-power of the time. In particular, the work of the Earth-creature is manifest in the Imperial Cult, which had become pervasive and well-established throughout the empire by the end of the 1st century A.D. The refusal of Christians to participate in the various aspects of the Cult—including veneration of the emperor (and his image)—would be a prime reason for their being persecuted and put to death. At the time the book of Revelation was written, such persecution by the authorities was still infrequent and sporadic, but it would become far more widespread and intense in the decades and centuries to come. The Earth-creature is also referred to as a “false prophet” (16:13; 19:20), indicated as well by its miracle-working power (13:13-15; cf. Mk 13:22 par; 2 Thess 2:9-10). In its own way, the Earth-creature is an evil imitation of Christ (“false Christ” = “anti-Christ”), resembling the Lamb (Christ) but speaking and acting like the Dragon (Satan).

It is in the heads (and horns) of the Sea-creature that we find the “wicked tyrant” motif expressed most directly. However, this aspect of the creature is alluded to only briefly in chapter 13—specifically, regarding the head which had, apparently, received a death-blow but was restored to life (v. 3). On the one hand, this detail is part of the evil parody of Jesus—the Lamb who was struck to death and came to life again (v. 8; 5:12, etc). At the same time, many commentators feel that it also reflects the historical circumstances of the “heads” (i.e. kings/emperors) of the Sea-creature (i.e. the Roman empire). This comes more firmly into view in chapter 17, with the interpretation (vv. 7-18) that follows the vision (of the Prostitute seated on the Sea-creature) in vv. 1-6. An interpretation of the heads of the creature occurs in vv. 7-14.

Revelation 17:7-14

I have discussed this passage in some detail in earlier notes. On the basic assumption that the heads (kings) are Roman emperors, various attempts have been made to identify the kings in vv. 10ff with a specific sequence of emperors. The text states clearly that “five have fallen” and “one is” (i.e. is currently living, at the time the book was written); this would imply a sequence of 5 emperors, followed by a sixth (the current emperor). I outline several scholarly theories in the notes; however, in terms of the Antichrist tradition, it is the wording in vv. 10b-11 that is most important. Though it would have been accepted that the author and audience were living the end-time, the book envisions at least a short period of time yet before the end, and it is expected that would yet be two more emperors:

    • a seventh (v. 10b), of which little is said except that he has “not yet come” (ou&pw h@lqen); his reign will be brief— “it is necessary for him to remain (for only) a little (time)”
    • an eighth (v. 11), the final ruler—this is the figure who best fits the ‘Antichrist’ type-pattern, i.e. the wicked world-ruler of the end-time

The language used to describe this eighth emperor is elusive, but significant:

“And the wild animal [i.e. the Sea-creature] that was, and is not, indeed he is the eighth, and is out of the seven, and he goes away into ruin” (v. 11)

I discuss this wording in one of the earlier notes; I take it to mean that this ruler, while appearing like one of the emperors, is actually an embodiment of the Sea-creature itself—in other words, a kind of Satanic or demonic incarnation. The phrasing here, along with idea of the death-blow and restoration of one of the heads (13:3), may also indicate that the book of Revelation is drawing upon the legend of Nero‘s return, as many commentators assume. I discuss this in a supplemental note. This does not mean that the author believes in the legend per se, nor that the visions confirm it as true, but simply that Nero is being used as a type-pattern for the wicked end-time ruler, much as Antiochus IV had been earlier. This concept of a ‘demonic emperor’ seems to correspond generally to the description in 2 Thess 2:3ff, as I understand it (cf. above).

4. The References in 1 and 2 John

As noted above, the term a)nti/xristo$ (antíchristos) occurs only in the letters of John—in 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7. I discuss these passages in the current article in this series on the Letters of John, so I will only touch upon the matter briefly here. The main issue involves the author’s statement in 1 Jn 2:18:

“Little children, it is (the) last hour, and, even as you (have) heard that ‘against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$] comes’, (so) even now many (who are) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristoi] have come to be—from which we know that it is (the) last hour.”

This is the earliest surviving occurrence of the adjective a)nti/xristo$, and yet the author treats it as a term known to his readers, requiring no explanation. Indeed, he seems to be referring to an eschatological tradition that would have been familiar to them. The question is whether this is to an early form of the Antichrist Tradition, as many commentators assume. If it does refer to the tradition of a wicked world-ruler of the end-time, then the author actually contradicts it—or, at least, he re-interprets it rather dramatically. I tend to think that this Johannine tradition of “(the) Antichrist” is itself somewhat different than the later Tradition; I would formulate it according to two possibilities:

    • A personal (or personified) manifestation of evil—a Satanic spirit-being (or Satan himself)—in which case, it would resemble the end-time appearance of Belial/Beliar, described in other writings of the period.
    • A more abstract manifestation of the forces of evil, though with the possibility of being further manifested/localized in (personal) spirit-beings. This would be closer to the symbolism of the Dragon and Sea-creature, etc, in the book of Revelation.

Throughout, the author is clearly talking about a spirit of “Antichrist” (against the Anointed), akin to the idea of Belial/Beliar and his “spirits of deceit”, i.e. evil/deceptive spirits who are the source of false prophecy (= the false teaching about Jesus). The world in the current Age was already under the control of the Evil One (the Satan/Devil/Belial), but this wicked control and influence would become even more pervasive and powerful as the end drew nearer. This was a basic premise of early Christian eschatology, and the wickedness of the end-time certainly included both hostility to believers and false teaching/prophecy about Christ himself. The author is saying that this end-time opposition to Christ (“against Christ, anti-Christ”) is being manifest in persons who claim to be Christian, but who he regards as false believers—and false teachers/prophets who effectively deny the truth about Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God). He thus considers them to be “antichrists”, and a fulfillment of the eschatological expectation.

5. Early Christian References outside the New Testament

When we turn to the extra-canonical writings of early Christians, in the period c. 90-150 A.D., there is little evidence for either the use of the term a)nti/xristo$ or the Antichrist tradition itself. As far as I am aware, a)nti/xristo$ occurs only once in these writings, in the epistle of Polycarp (d. 155 A.D.) to the Philippians (7:1). It is essentially a citation of 1 John 2:22 / 4:3 (cf. above), and clearly follows the Johannine tradition in its use and meaning of the term, and shows no indication of a development of the Antichrist Tradition as such. Noteworthy, perhaps, is his characterization of the person who holds the ‘false’ (antichrist) view of Jesus as “the firstborn of the Satan”. This tends to confirm the basic idea of “antichrist” as a kind of incarnation of Satan.

The “Teaching (of the Twelve Apostles)”, or Didache, offers perhaps the earliest evidence for the Antichrist Tradition in the 2nd century. At the close of this work, in chapter 16, there is an eschatological warning to believers, expressed in traditional early Christian terms (going back to the eschatological sayings of Jesus). It describes the end-time period of wickedness and distress, warning of the coming of false prophets, etc (v. 3-4). At the climax of this period we read:

“…and then shall be made to shine forth [i.e. shall appear] the (One) leading the world astray [kosmoplanh/$, i.e. World-Deceiver], (appearing) as (the) Son of God, and he will do signs and marvels, and the (whole) earth shall be given along into his hands, and he will do (thing)s without (regard for what is) set down (by law), (thing)s which have never come to be out of [i.e. since the beginning of] the Age.”

While generally following the sort of description given by Paul in 2 Thess 2:3ff (of the “lawless one”), clearly there has been a measure of development, and we are approaching here something closer to the later Antichrist Tradition.

Finally, mention should be made of the apocalyptic pseudepigraphon known as the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah. Like the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (discussed in Part 2), and other surviving pseudepigrapha, it represents a Christian re-working of earlier Jewish material. The main eschatological portion is in chapter 4, which includes a detailed description of the end-time coming of Beliar (= Belial). While this follows Jewish eschatological traditions regarding Belial (cf. in Part 2), these traditions have been developed and sharpened significantly, placing the portrait of Beliar in a Christian context that provides perhaps the clearest (and earliest) evidence for the Antichrist Tradition proper. Scholars tend to date the Ascension of Isaiah from the first half of the 2nd century A.D. The details and aspects most worth noting are (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 199-200):

    • Beliar descends in the form of a lawless king, i.e. incarnate as a wicked human ruler (v. 2)
    • He persecutes the Christians (v. 3)
    • He holds universal power, i.e. he is true world-ruler (vv. 4-5)
    • He pretends to be the Beloved, i.e. Jesus Christ—an imitation of Christ (v. 6)
    • He leads the whole world astray, even causing believers to fall away (vv. 7-9)
    • His statue is erected in all cities, by which he is worshiped (v. 11)
    • The period of his reign is approximately 3 ½ years (v. 12)

This is much closer to the standard idea of “the Antichrist” than anything we find, for example, in the book of Revelation. And, while there is certainly a line of development, from the New Testament to this 2nd century portrait, we must be cautious about reading this (later) portrait back into the New Testament itself.