Saturday Series: 1 John 4:1-6

This study continues our series examining how conflicts within the early Christianity shaped the theology and religious worldview of the New Testament. The initial set of studies has focused on the Letters of John (see the prior studies on 2 John 4-11 and 1 John 2:18-27, as well as the previous study exploring the central section of 1 John). We will be looking at 1 John 4:1-6, focusing on several important Johannine themes, which the author has adapted, as a way of confronting and addressing the conflict involving the “antichrist” opponents. In so doing, we will also consider briefly some of the themes and points emphasized in the central section (2:28-3:24).

1 John 4:1-6

This passage must be considered in the context of the entire central bloc of material spanning 2:18-4:6. In 2:18-27 and 4:1-6, the author deals directly with the conflict involving a group of ‘opponents’ whom he refers to as antíchristoi, people “against [antí] the Anointed [Christós]” (i.e., against Christ)—2:18, 22; 4:3 (see also 2 John 7). These two “antichrist” sections flank the central division of the treatise (2:28-3:24), which expounds the author’s central theme: the contrast between the true and false believer.

By all accounts, the opponents, no less that the author and his adherents, were Johannine Christians who were rooted in the Johannine Tradition. Both groups likely knew (and used) some version of the Gospel of John, and would have shared a common religious tradition, theological vocabulary, and mode of expression. For this reason, in order to combat what the author regards as the false teaching (and example) of the opponents, it was necessary for the author to develop, adapt, and apply certain aspects of the Johannine Tradition. I wish to examine several of these here.

1. “The Spirit of Truth”

In both the Gospel and 1 John there is a strong emphasis on truth. The noun al¢¡theia occurs quite frequently in the Johannine writings (45 out of 109 NT occurrences); it occurs 25 times in the Johannine Gospel, compared with just 7 in the Synoptic Gospels. Also the related adjectives al¢th¢¡s and al¢thinós occur with some frequency—17 out of 26 for al¢th¢¡s, and 13 out of 28 for al¢thinós (23 out of 28 if one includes the book of Revelation as Johannine). Truth, of course, is a fundamental attribute and characteristic of God, and naturally applies to the Son (Jesus) and his teaching, etc, as well. However, in the Johannine writings, there is also a distinctive association with the Spirit. The expression “the Spirit of truth” (to pneúma t¢¡s al¢theías) occurs three times in the Gospel (in the Paraclete-sayings of the Last Discourse), 14:17; 15:26; 16:13, and also here in 1 John 4:6 (see below). A close association between the Spirit and truth, as a fundamental Divine attribute, is expressed famously in Jn 4:23-24, and the author of 1 John goes so far as to identify the Spirit with truth itself (5:6; compare a similar identification of the Son [Jesus] with truth in Jn 14:6).

According to the Johannine theology, which is rooted in the broader early Christian tradition, believers in Christ receive the Spirit of God (Jn 4:10ff/7:37-39; 6:63; 20:22; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13), and are also born of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:3-8). It is through the Spirit that believers, as God’s offspring, are united with both the Son of God (Jesus) and God the Father. That is to say, our abiding union as believers, in the Son and in the Father, is realized through the Spirit. As a theological point, this is not stated explicitly in the Johannine writings, but it may be plainly inferred from a number of passages. First, since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24), any union with Him must take place in a spiritual manner, at the level of the Spirit. Secondly, there are the statements regarding the Spirit-Paraclete by Jesus in the Last Discourse (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:8-15) where it is clear that, even after his departure back to the Father, the Son (Jesus) will continue to be present in and among believers through the Spirit. The context of these statements, in the Last Discourse, and also the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, well establishes the principle that the abiding union of believers with the Son and the Father is realized through the Spirit. This theology is confirmed by the author’s words in 3:24 and 4:13 as well.

Through the Spirit, Jesus continues to be present within believers—all believers—and continues to teach them the truth of God. In light of this role of the Spirit, as it is described in the Paraclete-sayings, there would seem to have been a notable spiritualistic emphasis, or tendency, within the Johannine congregations. The teaching that comes through the internal witness of the Spirit takes priority over the external teaching (by other human beings), since this witness of the Spirit is that of God Himself (and His Son, Jesus).

Such an emphasis on the teaching of the Spirit was a basic component of early Christian identity, rooted in Old Testament prophetic and eschatological tradition. The early Christians viewed their experience (of receiving the Spirit) as the fulfillment of a number of key prophecies (Joel 2:28-32; Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:26-27; 39:29, etc) regarding the restoration of God’s people in the New Age. God will ‘pour out’ His Spirit upon His people in a new way, with the result that the Instruction (Torah) of God will be written within, on their hearts (cp. 2 Corinthians 3:6-18). Of particular importance is the “new covenant” prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which indicates that, in the New Age, God’s people will no longer need to be taught the Torah, because it will be written in their hearts.

This prophecy had enormous influence on early Christians, but it seems to have been taken particularly seriously by the Johannine Community. There is an allusion to Jer 31:33-34 (by way of Isa 54:13) in Jn 6:45, and I believe that it informs the Paraclete-sayings as well (see above on the teaching role of the Spirit). The priority of the internal witness of the Spirit is also expressed in 1 John, featuring prominently in all three sections—2:18-27, 4:1-6, and 5:4b-12—that deal most directly with the “antichrist” opponents. Particularly in 2:21ff and 27, the author emphasizes that believers are taught by the Spirit; I take the references to “the anointing” as referring to the Spirit, though not all commentators agree on this point. The witness of the Spirit is sufficient; believers do not need any other human being to teach them regarding the truth—specifically the truth of who Jesus is (Messiah and Son of God), and what was accomplished through his earthly ministry.

But this creates a problem. If all believers are taught the truth by the Spirit, how can Christians such as the opponents espouse a false view of Jesus? Indeed, from the author’s standpoint, these opponents have a false belief in Jesus, and thus cannot be true believers at all; rather, they are false believers, and also false prophets. This is how the author characterizes them in 4:1: “…many false prophets [pseudoproph¢¡tai] have gone out into the world”. The noun proph¢¡t¢s means “foreteller”, but this does not always mean telling the future (i.e., beforehand); rather, the corresponding Hebrew term n¹»î° properly means a “speaker” (spokesperson), one who speaks as God’s representative, communicating His word and will to others. According to the early Christian ideal, all believers function as prophets in this way, and the Johannine churches seem particularly to have emphasized an egalitarian approach to prophecy.

If the opponents (as “false prophets”) are speaking a false word regarding Jesus, then they cannot be inspired by the Spirit of God (the Spirit of truth); instead, they must be speaking from a different spirit. Throughout 4:1-6, the author contrasts this ‘spirit’ with the Spirit of God, beginning here in verse 1:

“Loved (one)s, you must not trust every spirit; but (instead) examine the spirits, (to see) if it is of God.”

There is, of course, only one Spirit that is from God; however, the plural here refers to the idea that each person, who would speak about God, as a prophet, speaks under the influence of a spirit. If they are not inspired by God’s Spirit, then they speak by a different spirit that is not from God. The author puts forward a test, by which believers may examine the prophetic word, and this test is Christological (vv. 2-3). More to the point, the Christological significance is related to the controversy surrounding the opponents (and their understanding of the person of Christ). Unfortunately, from our standpoint, the defining phrase “having come in (the) flesh” does not tell us as much about the opponents’ Christology as we might like to know. Did they deny the reality of the incarnation, holding to an early docetic view of Christ? Or did they, in some way, deny or minimize the importance of the life and ministry of Jesus? The parallel confessional statement in 5:6 suggests that it was the death of Jesus, and/or its significance, that was particularly at issue. For further discussion on the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ, see my earlier notes and articles on the subject, especially the sets of notes on 2:22 and 4:2-3.

Two Johannine themes are thus brought together here in 4:1-6, in an attempt to combat the views of the opponents: (1) the Johannine principle of the internal witness of the Spirit (in teaching the truth), and (2) the eschatological aspect of prophecy (and false prophecy). The opponents are false prophets of the end-time; their view of Jesus, which they speak and teach, being false, does not come from the Spirit of God, but from a different spirit—a false and deceiving spirit. It is a spirit that is opposed to God, and is “against Christ” (antichrist). Indeed, the spirit that does not confess the truth of Jesus Christ “having come in the flesh” (v. 2), is a “spirit of antichrist” (v. 3), a deceiving spirit of false prophecy that is at work in the world. It is a spirit that belongs to “the world” (in the thoroughly negative Johannine sense of the term kósmos); those who speak from this spirit (i.e., the opponents) belong to the world, and only others who belong to the world (i.e., false believers) will listen to and accept what they say (v. 5).

The true believer, however, belongs to God (as His offspring), and not to the world. The Spirit of God dwells within every true believer, and this Spirit is far greater than the false/deceiving spirit of “antichrist” that is in the world (v. 4). Because the Son (Jesus) was victorious over the world (Jn 16:33), believers, who are united with him, share this same victory (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5). In this immediate context, “victory” (vb nikáœ) refers specifically to rejecting the false teaching of the opponents and resisting their influence. The true believer should not—and will not—let himself/herself be led astray by the false teaching and example of the opponents. Here again, the author draws upon early Christian eschatological tradition, regarding the ‘false prophets’ of the end-time who lead people astray (vb planáœ)—see Mark 13:6, 22 par; 2 Tim 3:13; 2 Pet 2:15; Rev 2:20; 12:9; 13:14, etc).

The author offers an exhortation (and warning) to his readers not to be led astray by these particular “false prophets” (2:26; cf. also 1:8; 3:7). At the close of this section (v. 6), the author establishes a stark contrast, between “the Spirit of truth” and “the spirit of going/leading astray [plán¢]”. The noun plán¢ is derived from the verb planáœ, and carries the same eschatological significance—see 2 Thess 2:11; 2 Pet 2:18; 3:17; Jude 11. True believers possess the Spirit of truth, are guided and taught by it, and speak from it; false believers, by contrast, are guided by a false spirit, being led astray by it, and also leading others astray. Just as the true believer will not listen to the false spirit, so the false believer cannot (and will not) hear the Spirit of truth. Note the way that the author frames this in terms of “us” (i.e., true believers) vs. “them” (false believers, viz. the opponents):

“We are of God, (and) the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) who is not of God does not hear us. Out of this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of going/leading astray.” (v. 6)

Next week, we shall examine several other Johannine themes, which the author employs in his effort to deal with the conflict surrounding the opponents.

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: 2 John 4-11 (continued)

2 John 4-11, continued

As mentioned in last week’s study, the author of 2 John (“the Elder”) frames his message in terms of the dual-theme of truth (al¢¡theia) and love (agáp¢). These are primary themes in the Johannine writings, occurring throughout the Gospel and First Letter . They are established here in the opening of 2 John (vv. 1-3), and then are subsequently developed/expounded in the body of the letter.

Of particular importance is the positioning of the truth-love thematic pair in relation to the keyword entol¢¡, another important Johannine term that is used throughout the Gospel and First letter. The noun entol¢¡ denotes a duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is then obligated to complete. It is often translated flatly as “command(ment)”, but this can be somewhat misleading, especially in the Johannine theological context. The term is introduced at the start of the body of the letter (v. 4), with particular reference being made to the entol¢¡ of believers loving one another. For more on how the author establishes this in vv. 4-5, see the discussion in the previous study.

In actuality, the author divides his message (vv. 4-11) in two parts, focusing first on the thematic component of love (vv. 4-6), and then on truth (vv. 7-9ff). The author of First John (if he is not the same person), does much the same thing, alternating between the themes of trust (pístis) and love in the body of his work:

In First John, it is clear that trust and love represent the two components of a single entol¢¡the great duty that all believers are required to fulfill. Indeed, the author states this quite plainly at the end of the central section (3:23f). The author of 2 John would seem to hold a similar outlook, only he utilizes the Johannine keyword al¢¡theia (“truth”) in place of pístis (“trust”). However, the meaning and focus is essentially the same. The Gospel (esp. the Last Discourse of Jesus, 13:31-16:33) likewise affirms a single (two-fold) entol¢¡, defined in terms of remaining in Jesus’ word (lógos/rh¢¡ma) and in his love (agáp¢).

 

As mentioned above, verses 4-6 focus on the entol¢¡ of love. However, in verse 6, the author begins transitioning to the theme of truth/trust. This is done rather cleverly, using an elliptical and illusive style that is typical of the Johannine writings. Keeping in mind that the noun entol¢¡, in this context, refers, not to customary ethical-religious ‘commands’ (such as the Ten Commandments), but specifically to the duty of believers to love each other, the author seems to be using circular language in verse 6:

    • “And this is the love—
      • that we should walk about according to his entolaí;
    • this is the entol¢¡
      • that we should walk about in it [i.e. the love]”

If believers love, then they will live/act (“walk about”) fulfilling the duty required of them; but the duty is that they love. Actually, as mentioned above, love is only one aspect of the two-fold entol¢¡; the second aspect is trust, referenced here in 2 John under the label “truth” (al¢¡theia).

The final phrase of verse 6 (“that we should walk about in it”) is ambiguous, since the feminine pronoun aut¢¡ could refer to any one of three prior nouns, all of which are feminine, also being closely interrelated in Johannine thought: agáp¢ (“love”), al¢¡theia (“truth”), and entol¢¡ (the duty believers are required to fulfill). All three are valid as a referent for the pronoun, and this ambiguity has led to considerable disagreement among commentators as to which is intended. The immediate context of verse 6 suggests that “it” refers to love; however, the overall arc of vv. 4-6, and the transition here to vv. 7-9, argues in favor of a reference to truth. Von Wahlde (p. 223f) effectively illustrates the chiastic framework of vv. 4-6, whereby the initial phrase “walking about in (the) truth” in v. 4 has a natural parallel in the final phrase of v. 6 (“we should walk about in it”).

From a Johannine theological standpoint, the term “truth” covers both components of the great duty—(i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, according to Jesus’ example. One cannot fulfill this duty without fulfilling both components; moreover, violation of either aspect means violation of the entire command. When the author speaks of the need for believers to love one another, this also entails the affirmation (and confirmation) of genuine trust in Jesus among believers.

The conflict within the Johannine Commmunity involving the “antichrist” opponents forced apostolic leaders and missionaries (such as the “Elder”) to define the great entol¢¡ (trust and love) in relation to this conflict. For the first time in recorded Church history, we find Christians in disagreement over what trust in Jesus specifically entails. In other words, this is the first known Christological controversy. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God? Where is the dividing line between a true confession of faith and one that is false?

For the author(s) of 1 and 2 John, as well as (we may assume) many others in the Johannine churches, the view(s) expressed by the opponents were false, demonstrating that the opponents were actually false believers. By promoting a false view of Christ, they could be considered “against Christ” (antichrist). It is likely that the opponents held the author and his circle in similarly low regard.

While First John gives us an extensive treatment of the conflict, it is presented in a more seminal way here in Second John. This probably means that 2 John was written prior to 1 John, but this is far from certain; indeed, some commentators would argue just the opposite. In any case, the author states the matter quite simply and directly in verse 7:

“(For it is) that many plánoi (have) gone out into the world, the (one)s not giving common account of Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is (the) plános and the antíchristos!”

The author refers to the opponents by two labels. The first (used twice) is plános, which means someone who leads people astray. The second is antíchristos, literally “against (the) Anointed”, where the prefix anti– can connote both opposition and the idea of a (false) replacement. The term antíchristos was used of the opponents in 1 John (2:18, 22; 4:3). While the other term (plános) was not used in 1 John, the basic idea (going astray and leading people astray) is certainly present, through the related noun plán¢ (4:6) and verb planᜠ(1:8; 2:26; 3:7).

The great error of these people, according to the author, is that they do not confess Jesus Christ as “coming in the flesh”. The precise nature of their view of Christ has been the subject of longstanding debate among commentators and historians of doctrine. I have discussed the matter at length in a number of recent articles and series of notes (links to which you will find below). For the purposes of this study I wish to focus, not so much on the nature of the opponents’ Christology, but on the author’s response to it, and how this shapes the message of 2 John.

An important detail of the statement in verse 7 is the notice that a number of these opponents have “gone out into the world”. Given the distinctiveness of the noun kósmos (“world-order, world”) as a Johannine keyword, this phrase can be understood two different ways. First, it can mean that the opponents have left the Community of true believers, and, like Judas (Jn 13:30), have gone out into the darkness of the world (in opposition to God and Christ); cf. 1 Jn 2:19. Second, it can be understood in the neutral sense of traveling about, acting as missionaries, spreading their beliefs into other areas and among other congregations. Both of these aspects of meaning are doubtless intended by the author. Compare the same wording in 1 Jn 4:1.

What follows in vv. 8-11 makes clear that some of the opponents (i.e., people holding their views) are traveling about as missionaries and representatives, and that congregations (such as those of the “Lady”) are likely to encounter them. As false teachers (1 John calls them false prophets, 4:1ff) who would lead people astray, the author perceives a serious threat posed by the opponents traveling among the various Johannine congregations (house-churches), where, as Christian travelers and missionaries, some might be inclined to give them hospitality (and a hearing).

The author’s warning is given in verse 8, and then he proceeds (in verse 9) effectively to declare that the opponents—and all those who follow their view of Jesus—are not true believers in Christ. The author does this with a typically Johannine formulation:

“Every one leading forward and not remaining in the teaching of (the) Anointed, does not have/hold God…” (v. 9a)

The use of a substantive participle (with definite article) preceded by the adjective pás (“all/every”) is typical of Johannine style, and occurs frequently in 1 John. It is a way of describing the essential nature/character of a person or group, i.e., “everyone doing/being {such}”. The verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) is another important Johannine keyword, occurring many times in the Gospel, and with even greater relative frequency in 1 John. The person who remains in Christ (that is, as a true believer) will remain in both his word and his love; conversely, anyone who does not remain in his word or love, does not remain in him (and thus, is not a true believer).

The author expounds this Johannine idea of remaining in Jesus’ word in terms of holding to a true view of Christ (i.e., true faith), one that is firmly rooted in the Gospel Tradition (viz., the Discourses and Jesus’ own witness regarding his identity as the Son). By not remaining in the truth, the opponents have left it, leading the way forward (vb proágœ), in a negative sense. Only the person who remains in the true teaching, and who thus possesses true faith/trust in Jesus, is a true believer, holding union with the Son (Jesus) and God the Father (v. 9b). All of this is expressed in traditional Johannine language, applied to the specific context of the conflict involving the opponents.

The body of the letter concludes (vv. 10-11) with instruction on what should be done when encountering the opponents (as travelers/missionaries). Here the themes of love (vv. 4-6) and truth (vv. 7-9) merge together again. The response to the opponents demonstrates fidelity to the truth (i.e., trust in Jesus) but also love for fellow believers, by protecting them from the opponents’ false teaching. The author’s advice is straightforward:

“If any(one) comes to you and does not carry this [i.e. the true] teaching, do not receive him into (the) house, even a ‘glad tidings’ you must not say to him” (v. 10)

In other words, give no hospitality to such people, and do not even offer any good wishes to them. The use of the noun oikía (“house”) could refer to a private home, but probably the congregation (house-church, meeting in a home) is primarily in view. In any case, the purpose of the instruction is clearly to prevent the opponents from further spreading their views throughout the churches. This is the purpose of First John as well, but here we see the instruction (and warning) being addressed to a specific congregation (and/or church leader).

The author concludes by emphasizing again that the opponents must be avoided, as thoroughly as possible. Even to offer such a person words of greeting or well-wishes, in the author’s view, means that you are “…making common bond with his evil deeds” (v. 11).

It is interesting that in 3 John, the same author condemns this practice of refusing hospitality to traveling Christians (v. 10, cf. vv. 5-8). The author’s view of the matter was thoroughly dualistic in this regard: all true believers are to be welcomed, while all false believers are not to be welcomed. In the Johannine writings, love (agáp¢) refers primarily (if not exclusively) to the love between believers (i.e., true believers). As note above, by shunning false believers, other (true) believers are protected, and the unity of the Church (that is, the Community of true believers) as a whole is maintained. In this regard, the shunning of false believers is actually an act of love. This, I am sure, is how the author of 2 John would view the matter.

In our next study, we shall look at this same conflict (involving the “antichrist” opponents) as it is dealt with in First John, and how the author’s response to the conflict shapes the distinctive theological expression of that work.

For discussion on the Christology of the opponents, see my earlier studies on 1 Jn 2:22 (parts 1, 2, 3) and 4:2-3 (parts 1, 2, 3), as well as the article in the series “Spritualism in the New Testament”.

References above marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).

 

Saturday Series: 2 John 4-11

Beginning in May, and continuing through the Summer, the Saturday Series will focus on the role that cultural-religious conflict has played in shaping early Christian belief and practice, as expressed in the New Testament Scriptures. This involves historical criticism—examining the historical background of the texts—but also various aspects of literary criticism, including rhetorical criticism—analyzing the author’s purpose in writing, the central proposition(s), the arguments and literary-rhetorical devices used in support, and so forth.

We will begin with the conflict that is at the heart of the Letters of John (esp. 1-2 John). These writings attest to the existence and activity of a group of opponents, whom the author considers antíchristoi, people who are “against the Anointed”, i.e., “antichrists”. In recent notes and articles—including the Saturday Series studies on the subject of sin in the Johannine Writings—the views of these opponents have been discussed. It is my contention that the conflict involving these “antichrist” opponents is central to First John, and represents the principal reason and purpose for the author writing as he does.

The same is true of Second John, though, in some ways, the brevity and relative simplicity of the letter allows us to obtain a clearer glimpse of the situation. Second John also provides an excellent test case for a study on the influence of religious conflict on early Christian thought and practice. For this reason, our studies will begin with 2 John.

It is quite possible that the same author who penned 2 and 3 John (“the Elder”) also wrote 1 John. However, even if he did not, 1 and 2 John clearly derive from the same religious and theological setting—Christians with a shared culture, language, and belief system. It is generally assumed that this involved a number of congregations throughout a particular geographical region (usually identified with Asia Minor, and the area centered around Ephesus), and which is typically referred to by scholars as the Johannine Community—the Community within which the Johannine Writings (Gospel, Letters, and [probably] the book of Revelation) were first produced and distributed.

More than this, the authors of 1 and 2 John, if they are not the same person, also share a distinctive language, style, and manner of expression, utilizing a common vocabulary, syntax, and so forth. The two letters also clearly are addressing issues related to a common group of opponents. That is to say, the same basic historical, cultural, and religious conflict is at the heart of both writings.

The Conflict in 2 John

Because of how short 2 John is, it is very easy to outline its structure:

    • Epistolary Prescript (Introduction/Greeting), vv. 1-3
    • Body of the Letter, vv. 4-11
    • Epistolary Postscript (Conclusion), vv. 12-13

Two aspects of the Introduction are important to note, as they relate to the body of the letter and the author’s purpose (causa) in writing. The first of these is the addressee of the letter: “the chosen Lady and her offspring”. The adjective eklektós (lit. “gathered out”) identifies this “Lady” as a believer (or group of believers). The denotation (of being “selected out, elect, chosen”) reflects early Christian usage and the distinctive religious identity of believers in Christ—see Rom 16:13; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:4ff; Rev 17:14; cf. also Mark 13:20, 27 par.

It seems clear that the author is writing to a Christian congregation, though there remains uncertainty as to whether the “Lady” refers to a specific individual, or is figurative for the congregation itself. In the former instance, she would to be regarded as a prominent figure in congregation, perhaps the host of a house-church. Similarly, her “offspring” could refer to the actual children of a particular woman, but, more likely, the term “offspring” is a way of designating the members of the congregation/community. The same term (tékna, “offspring, children”) is used in such a figurative sense by the author of 1 John (3:1-2, 10; 5:2; cf. also 3 John 4).

The congregation of the “Lady” would seem to be some distance removed from the author and his circle, but still closely aligned with it in thought and practice. The idea of a “sister-church” may be appropriate. In any case, it suggests a network of relations between Johannine congregations, across a particular geographic area. In this regard, the “Elder” is functioning in the manner of an apostolic missionary, similar to Paul, for example. Like Paul, he seems to be concerned with establishing and maintaining a sense of unity among the congregations. First John likely reflects a similar purpose—that is, uniting the Johannine churches, exhorting them in their identity as believers in Christ, and warning them against the opponents.

Such a network of churches would have to be maintained through a combination of letters and personal visits (see v. 12). The letters themselves would be delivered by traveling missionaries (or other trusted believers). Paul’s letters reflect this dynamic in vivid detail, and we can see it clearly in 2 and 3 John as well. The opponents also would have written and traveled to many of the churches as well, something which the author regarded as representing a dangerous (and nefarious) influence on the Johannine churches. His own efforts are meant to counteract the opponents’ influence.

The second important feature in the Introduction is the author’s use of the words love (agáp¢, vb agapáœ) and truth (al¢¡theia). These are key Johannine terms, which occur extensively throughout the Gospel and First Letter. Though common terms, they take on a special theological (and Christological) significance within the Johannine writings. This vocabulary is fundamental for defining what it means to be true believer in Christ. The author’s use of the terminology in the Introduction effectively positions the “Lady” congregation, along with himself (and his own circle/congregation), as true believers:

“…to the gathered out [i.e. chosen/elect] Lady and her offspring, whom I love in (the) truth—and not only I, but also all th(ose) having known the truth—through the truth th(at) remains in us, and (which) shall be with us into the Age” (vv. 1-2)

He concludes with a blessing (v. 3) that ends, emphatically, with the expression “…in truth and love”.

This terminology is especially important since, in the author’s view, the opponents do not manifest either truth or love—indeed, they fundamentally violate the duty of the believer, that duty which defines a person as a genuine believer: viz., to remain in the truth (i.e., true faith) and in love.

The Johannine language used by the author existed prior to the conflict with the opponents, and is used to address that conflict; but, in the process, the theological meaning and significance of the language would develop and be further clarified. In the body of 2 John, we are able to see something of this interaction between the Johannine theology and the conflict that surrounded the Johannine opponents.

2 John 4-11

The author’s rhetoric is carefully crafted, built up through several short discourse-units, each of which reflect the Johannine language and style, especially as one sees it expressed in 1 John. He begins by praising the members of the “Lady” congregation, effectively identifying them as true believers:

“I was very glad that I have found your offspring walking about in (the) truth [peripatoúntas en al¢theía], just as we received the (charge) laid on (us) to fulfill, (from) alongside the Father.” (v. 4)

The phrase “offspring walking about in the truth” is Johannine language that clearly identifies people as true believers. The very expression “in the truth” (en al¢theía) serves this purpose—i.e., referring to believers as those who are, and who remain, “in the truth”. At the same time, the use of the verb peripatéœ (“walk about”) reflects a traditional ethical-religious idiom for the regular/habitual behavior of people. The one who “walks about” in the truth, fulfills the Christian identity throughout his/her daily life (see 1 John 1:6-7; 2:6, 11). The substantive use of a participle, to express the essential identity and character of a person—here, for example, one “walking about in the truth” —is typical of Johannine style.

The author of 1 John similarly treats his audience as if they are, effectively, true believers—as opposed to false believers, such as the opponents. This is an important aspect of the author’s rhetoric, both in 1 and 2 John.

Another important Johannine keyword is the noun entol¢¡, which is often translated flatly as “command(ment)”, but which properly refers to a duty placed on (en-) someone which they are obligated to complete (the component –tol¢¡ is related to the noun télos and the verb téllomai, “complete, fulfill”). The true believer fulfills the duty that God has placed on us. The characteristic conduct of “walking in the truth” is defined specifically in terms of fulfilling this duty (entol¢¡) that we have received from God.

In verse 5, the author’s tone shifts from praise to exhortation:

“And now, I would ask (of) you, (dear) Lady, not as a new entol¢¡ being written to you, but (as one) which we hold from (the) beginning: that we would love (each) other.”

The duty required of the (true) believer is to love one another. In the Johannine tradition, this duty (entol¢¡) goes back to the words of Jesus himself (Jn 13:34-35; 15:9-13, 17) and is emphasized extensively throughout 1 John. There are actually two components to the great duty (or ‘command’, entol¢¡) required of every believer: (i) trust in Jesus as the Son of God, and (ii) love for fellow believers, following the example of Jesus. The author of 1 John expresses this quite clearly in 3:23-24, and the alternation of themes trust-love-trust-love-trust is an organizing principle for the main body of his treatise (2:18-5:12). Much the same is true, though on a smaller scale, for the author of 2 John. He divides the body of his letter between the themes of love (vv. 4-6) and trust (vv. 7-9ff). The theme of truth covers both components of the entol¢¡, but applies more directly, in 2 John, to the aspect of trust in Jesus.

Next week, as we continue this study, we shall see how the author of 2 John positions the conflict with the opponents in this love-truth / love-trust matrix. This will also allow us to glimpse ways in which such conflicts worked to shape and develop the early Christian theology.

Saturday Series: John 1:29

A careful critical study of Scripture is essential for establishing the theology of early Christians, as recorded and represented in the New Testament. Beyond this, it is important to realize that the theology of the New Testament is actually comprised of a number of distinct theologies—tied to the thought and expression of different individuals and communities. There are at least two major Communities represented by the New Testament Scriptures; these may be labeled the Pauline and Johannine. The first refers to the congregations founded by Paul during his missionary work, and to his influence over them; the second refers to the churches among which the Gospel and Letters of John were first written and distributed.

As with Paul and the Pauline churches, there was a shaping influence over the Johannine congregations, attributable either to the writer of the Gospel and letters (if the same person) or to a Johannine ‘school’ of thought and expression shared by a number of individuals. In the Saturday Series studies for September-October, I will be exploring one particular area of Johannine theology: the concept and understanding of sin. In the technical parlance of systematic theology, this area of study is referred to as hamartiology.

Each reference to “sin”, where either the Greek noun hamartía (a(marti/a) or verb hamartánœ (a(marta/nw) is used, in the Gospel and Letters of John, will be carefully examined. The result of this critical and exegetical study will allow us to gain a relatively clear and accurate picture of the Johannine understanding of sin. This will also serve as a demonstration of how New Testament Criticism helps us to establish New Testament theology. Different areas of Biblical Criticism—textual, historical, literary, etc—will be touched upon in our study.

John 1:29

We begin with the first occurrence of the hamart– (a(mart-) word-group in the Gospel of John. This verse is part of the first major section of the Gospel, following the Prologue (1:1-18). A brief consideration of the narrative structure of this section, from a literary-critical standpoint, will help us understand verse 29 in context.

The section 1:19-51 is structured as a sequence of four episodes, narrated as four “days”, during which the focus shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus (see Jn 3:30):

    • 1:19-28—The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
    • 1:29-34—The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
    • 1:35-42—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
    • 1:43-51—Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness

This structure is discerned from the wording used to demarcate the three sections of vv. 29-51, each of which begins with the phrase t¢¡ epaúrion, “upon the (morning) air” (i.e. “upon the morrow”, in conventional English, “the next day, next morning”). Here is the precise wording in verse 29:

“Upon the (morning) air [t¢¡ epaúrion], he [i.e. John] looks [blépei] (at) Yeshua coming toward him, and says…”

It will be useful to outline this first ‘day’ covered by vv. 29-34. Structurally and thematically, it is best represented as a chiasmus, in which statements by the Baptist, regarding the true identity of Jesus, are enclosed by a pair of declarations given in more traditional (and symbolic) language:

    • Witness of John the Baptist—Jesus coming toward [erchómenon prós] him (“See, the Lamb of God…”), v. 29
      • Statement of John the Baptist concerning the true nature and superiority of Jesus (v. 30); his baptizing reveals Jesus to Israel (v. 31)
      • Statement of John the Baptist (v. 32); Jesus’ true nature (and superiority) revealed in John’s baptizing (v. 33)—descent of the Spirit & Divine announcement (baptism of Jesus implied)
    • Witness of John the Baptist— “This (one) is the Son of God”, v. 34

This outline can be expanded with a bit more detail, in terms of the action of the scene:

    • Declaration 1— “See! the Lamb of God…” (v. 29)
      • Jesus coming toward John (vv. 29-30)
      • John came to baptize (Jesus) (vv. 31, 33)
        [The Baptism of Jesus, as described by John]
      • The Spirit stepping down (i.e. coming down) and remaining on Jesus (vv. 32-33)
      • Before this, John had not seen/known Jesus (i.e. recognized his identity) (vv. 31, 33)
    • Declaration 2— “This is the Son of God” (v. 34)
      [Note: Some MSS read “this is the Elect/Chosen (One) of God”]

As noted above, over these four ‘days’, the focus shifts from John the Baptist to Jesus. This is part of a wider theme that runs through chapters 1-3, contrasting John the Baptist with Jesus. This contrast is established in the Prologue (vv. 6-8, 15), and then developed in the remainder of the chapter. On the first ‘day’ of the opening narrative (vv. 19-28), John the Baptist explicitly denies that he is the Messiah. Three different Messianic figure-types are mentioned (vv. 20-21, 25), on which see my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Then, by contrast, throughout the rest of the narrative, a sequence of Messianic titles is applied to Jesus, indicating that he (and not the Baptist) is the Messiah. The narrative concludes with the visionary “Son of Man” saying by Jesus in verse 51, introducing the important Johannine theme of Jesus’ heavenly origin (as the Son), utilizing the idiom of descent/ascent (literally, “stepping down/up”, expressed by the verb pair katabaínœ / anabaínœ).

Another key Johannine theme is of John the Baptist as a witness (martyría, vb martyréœ) to Jesus’ Messianic identity (and Divine/heavenly origin as God’s Son). Again, this theme is established in the Prologue (vv. 7-8, 15), and then developed in the narrative—focused in the first two ‘days’ (vv. 19-28, 29-34). The Baptist’s declaration in verse 29 is part of this witness:

“Upon the morrow he looks (at) Yeshua coming toward him and says: ‘See—the lamb of God, the (one) taking up the sin [t¢¡n hamartían] of the world!'”

Jesus is specifically identified by the expression “the lamb of God” (ho amnós toú Theoú). The text of this verse is quite secure, but the precise interpretation has proven something of a challenge for commentators. What, exactly, is the significance of the expression “the lamb of God”? Before considering this question, let us look at how the noun hamartía is used here. First, a note on the hamart– word-group.

The basic meaning of the verb hamartánœ (a(marta/nw) is “miss (the mark)”, i.e., fail to hit the target. From this concrete meaning, it came to be used in the more general sense of “fail (to do something)”, and then in the ethical-religious sense of “fail to do (what is right),” i.e., do wrong. In the Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, hamartánœ frequently translates the verb µ¹‰¹° (af*j*), which has a comparable range of meaning, and tends to be used in the ethical-religious sense of “do wrong”, i.e., sin. The singular noun hamartía (a(marti/a) can refer: (a) to a single/particular sin, (b) sins collectively, or (c) to sin in a general sense (or as a concept).

In verse 29, the singular noun is used, with the definite article—literally, “the sin” (in the accusative case, t¢¡n hamartían). The expression is “the sin of the world”, where the noun kósmos (“world-order, world”) is used in the general/neutral sense of the entire inhabited world, i.e., all human beings (on earth). Since all of humankind is involved, the singular hamartía is clearly being used either in sense (b) or (c) above—that is, of sins taken collectively, or of sin understood in the general sense. Both meanings would apply—i.e., to any and all sins committed by human beings. It is also possible to view the genitive expression (“…of the world”) as reflecting the nature and character of the world (and of human beings in it)—that it is fundamentally sinful, characterized by sin. This is very much in keeping with the negative use of the word kósmos in the Johannine writings, referring to the “world” as the domain of darkness and evil, which is opposed to the light and truth of God.

Next week, we will look specifically, and in some detail, at the expression “the lamb of God” in verse 29 (repeated in v. 35), noting how it relates to “the sin of the world”.

Spiritualism and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 1)

Having discussed the Johannine ‘opponents’ targeted by the author in 1-2 John, throughout these recent notes and articles, it is now time to consider the possible relationship of these opponents to the Johannine spiritualism, such as it may be discerned in the Johannine writings. It will be helpful first (here in Part 1) to summarize both the views of the opponents and the spiritualistic tendencies of the Johannine Christians (as evidenced by the Gospel and First Letter). Then the data will be applied and synthesized (Part 2), to see what conclusions we might draw.

For a more detailed examination and appraisal of the evidence referenced below, consult the various notes and articles, some of which are cited (with links) below.

The Opponents

In this context, the term “opponents” refers to certain Johannine Christians, whom the author of 1 and 2 John opposes, and whom he regards as false believers. He certainly considers them to be in opposition to the truth—and even to God Himself—calling them by the term a)nti/xristo$ (“against the Anointed”, i.e. antichrist), see 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7. Through their false view of Jesus Christ, they effectively deny the Son of God, thus denying the God the Father as well (1 Jn 2:22-23).

What we can reasonably know (and reconstruct) about the opponents is summarized by the following points. The information comes entirely from the author(s) of 1 and 2 John, and must be judged as having been presented from the standpoint of a hostile witness. Here is what I believe can be established regarding the opponents:

    • The author has in mind a single and distinct group of Christians.
    • They are/were part of the wider Johannine Community—that is, the congregations within which the Gospel and Letters of John were produced and distributed. This involves a (loose) network of churches over a geographical area; if the traditional location turns out to be correct, this is the region of Asia (Minor), centered around Ephesus.
    • The author treats this group as having separated from the main Community (1 Jn 2:19; cf. also 4:1). This is often regarded as a genuine secession and schism within the Johannine churches—the first such recorded in Church History.
    • It is likely that the opponents were engaged in their own missionary activity, spreading their views and beliefs throughout the network of Johannine congregations, presumably with the hope of converting other believers to their cause (cf. 1 Jn 2:26; 4:1ff; 2 Jn 7ff).
    • The author certainly regarded this missionary work as a dangerous rival to his own, urging his readers (in 2 Jn 8-11) not to support or give hospitality to the opponents; it is likely that the opponents did much the same, responding in a similar manner.
    • The author’s chief objection to the opponents involves their Christology, their view of the person of Jesus Christ, which the author references in 2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:5-12, and 2 Jn 7ff.
    • The opponents almost certainly affirmed the fundamental Johannine confession (Jn 11:27; 20:31, etc)—viz., that Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ) and Son of God—in spite of the author’s polemical presentation of the matter. However, it is possible that they denied (the importance of) Jesus’ specific identity as the Jewish Messiah (cf. the supplemental notes on 1 Jn 2:22-23).
    • The opponents seem to have denied (or downplayed) the significance of Jesus’ earthly life as a human being. This may have centered on a rudimentary docetic Christology, effectively denying the incarnation of the Son/Logos of God and the reality of his human/earthly life (“in the flesh”); however, the extent of the opponents’ docetism (if such it may be called) remains unclear.
    • What the opponents principally denied (or downplayed) was the reality (and significance) of Jesus’ death. They may have accepted his birth as a human being (i.e., coming “in/through water”), but not his death (“in/through blood”). Alternately, “in/through water” could allude to Jesus’ baptism, focusing on his receiving of the Spirit from God.
    • The emphasis on the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death would seem to be confirmed by the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (esp. to the Smyrneans); the opponents he combats resemble, in certain respects, the opponents in 1-2 John. The Ignatian ‘docetic’ opponents avoided partaking in the Lord’s Supper rite, apparently considering it to be of little or no importance. Cf. my discussion of the Ignatian evidence in an earlier note, and in the supplemental study on 1 Jn 4:2-3.
    • The author accuses the opponents of failing/refusing to show proper love to other believers (and thus violating the second branch of the great dual-command [1 Jn 3:23]). Their main crime, in this regard, simply involves their departure from the Community (2:19); however, based on 3:16-18, it is possible that the author also considered the opponents to have been neglectful of the material needs of other believers.
    • The claims of Christian sinlessness, which the author refutes in 1:7-2:2 (1:8, 10), may reflect the view of the opponents. If so, it can be difficult to discern the difference between their claims and the author’s own declarations regarding the ‘sinlessness’ of believers (cf. 3:9; 5:18). Cf. my recent discussion on this question.
Spiritualism

The evidence for spiritualism (or spiritualistic tendencies) in the Johannine writings has been discussed and analyzed extensively in the articles of this series. Here I will merely summarize the key results of this analysis.

The Johannine view of the Spirit, on the whole, represent a distinct development of the early Christian understanding. The first-century Christian view, in turn, was rooted in Old Testament tradition—particularly the Spirit references in the later (exilic and post-exilic) Prophetic books. For a list of the key references, with links to detailed notes, see the Introduction to this series. Two aspects of this Prophetic tradition are especially significant, presented in terms of two distinct (but related) ideas which characterize the New Age of Israel’s restoration:

    • God’s Spirit will come upon all of His people, rather than upon specially chosen/gifted individuals alone.
    • Through the abiding presence of the Spirit, God’s Law (Torah) will be written within each person, on the heart/mind; this will ensure that all people will faithfully fulfill the covenant and never again violate God’s Instruction. For this reason, essentially there is no longer any need for a written Torah (since is now ‘written on the heart’), nor for anyone to teach the people about the Torah (and how to observe it).

These are key principles that inform early Christian spiritualism, such as it can be discerned in the New Testament. The principles are applied to the person of Jesus Christ, identified as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the end-time. Through his presence and work on earth (culminating in his death, resurrection, and exaltation), Jesus has ushered in the New Age, in which God’s holy Spirit is poured out on His people (believers), in fulfillment of the Spirit-prophecies.

The Johannine spiritualism, it would seem, was shaped primarily by the Johannine Christology. Of the numerous distinctive points of emphasis, I would isolate three that are fundamental:

    • Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, with his unique relationship to God the Father; while this is common to the broader early Christology, it receives particular emphasis, reflecting a definite theological development, in the Johannine writings. Part of this development involves the shift to a pre-existence Christology, emphasizing Jesus’ existence as God’s Son (in heaven) even prior to his life on earth (see esp. the Gospel Prologue [1:1-18]).
    • Jesus (the Son) continues to remain with believers even after his return to the Father in heaven. His abiding presence (expressed primarily by the use of the verb me/nw) is realized for believers through the Spirit. The Johannine theological expression of this belief (and the basis for it) is best seen in the Paraclete-sayings of Jesus in the Gospel Last Discourse (cf. the detailed notes on 14:16-17, 26-27; 15:26-27; 16:7b-11, and 12-15).
    • Believers are regarded as the offspring (te/kna) or children of God; their/our relationship with God the Father is thus parallel with, and a continuation of, Jesus’ own relationship as God’s eternal Son. The main Johannine idiom used to express this dynamic is the verb of becoming (genna/w), in the specific sense of coming to be born, along with the preposition e)k (“out of, from”); sometimes the preposition alone is used, with the verb implied. This ‘birth’ for believers occurs through the Spirit, as is clear from the famous statements by Jesus in Jn 3:5-8.

All three of these points help to emphasize the priority of the Spirit, in a way that is distinctive to Johannine Christianity. In addition to the Paraclete-sayings, and the statements on being born of the Spirit in 3:5-8 (part of the Nicodemus Discourse), there are two other key passages in the Gospel which are indicative of spiritualism:

    • The Samaritan Woman Discourse (4:1-42), especially to the “living water” statements by Jesus in vv. 10-15, which, based on the parallel in 7:37-39, were certainly understood by the Gospel writer as referring to the Spirit. In addition, we find the statements in vv. 23-24, with their strong emphasis on the priority of the Spirit (cf. the earlier article).
    • The Bread of Life Discourse (6:22-59), which is followed by an exchange, between Jesus and his disciples (vv. 60-71), that includes the spiritualistic declaration of v. 63.

In both Discourses, Jesus speaks of his giving living water/bread for people to drink/eat. In each instance, the context clearly indicates the spiritual nature of what Jesus offers. In the case of the Bread of Life Discourse, it is himself that he offers, alluding to his own presence in believers, and the spiritual nature of this presence (i.e., through the Spirit). This is especially telling, considering the strong eucharistic language in vv. 51-58; a reading of vv. 51-58, in context, and in light of v. 63 (cf. the earlier article), suggests a spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Supper rite. A non-sacramental understanding of the Supper tradition is very much characteristic of Christian spiritualism. I discuss this possibility of such spiritualistic tendencies, in regard to public worship and the sacraments, for the Johannine Community in an earlier note.

In First John, the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned (by the word pneu=ma) until 3:24, but the central (and climactic) position of this reference (cf. also 4:13) is most significant. It occurs at the very end of the central section of 1 John (2:28-3:24), dealing with the nature of the true believer (in contrast to the false believer, i.e., the opponents). The identity of the true believer is realized, and confirmed, by the abiding presence of the Spirit. Moreover, the three key Johannine points of emphasis, outlined above, can be found running (abundantly) all through the author’s work.

The other important references to the Spirit are found in the three trust-sections—2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:5-12—that is, the sections dealing with the first branch of the great dual-command, the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) required of all believers (3:23). The true believer has genuine (and correct) trust/faith in Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God, while false believers (i.e., the opponents) do not. In all three of these passages it is stated (or indicated) that the internal presence of the Spirit confirms the true view of Jesus Christ held by the true believer. This is most explicit in 5:6-8, but is also alluded to in 2:20-21ff, 27 and 4:2, 4ff. The references in 2:20f and 27, in particular, seem to be reflective of Johannine spiritualism, emphasizing the priority (and sufficiency) of the Spirit, as a source of knowledge and teaching (and religious authority) for the believer. For more on this point, and on the interpretation of the noun xri=sma (“anointing”) as a reference to the Spirit, cf. the article on 2:18-27.

In Part 2, I will attempt to bring together the evidence assembled above, synthesizing the results, to see how the Johannine Spiritualism may relate, specifically, to the views of the opponents, and to the way that the author (of 1-2 John) addresses them.

June 22: 1 John 4:2-3 (9)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

In considering the opponents described by the author of 1 John (in 4:1-6), and, in particular, regarding the Christology of the opponents (addressed in vv. 2-3), the earliest interpretative information we have comes from the letters of Ignatius of Antioch. These letters likely were written not many years after 1 John. Moreover, Ignatius was writing to Christians in cities of Asia Minor (Smyrna, Philadelphia, Tralles, Magnesia), in a region centered around Ephesus. This is the same area traditionally identified as the geographical location for the Johannine churches (cf. Rev 1:4; chaps. 2-3); and many commentators would accept this identification. If correct, it raises the likelihood that the opponents with whom Ignatius is dealing (in his letters) may be related to the opponents of 1-2 John.

Before proceeding, it is worth quoting the parallel to vv. 2-3 in 2 John 7:

“(For it is) that many pla/noi (have) gone out into the world—the (one)s not giving account as one (of) [i.e. not confessing/acknowledging] Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this is the pla/no$ and the (one who is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$].”

The noun pla/no$ is related to the verb plana/w (1 Jn 2:26; cf. 3:7) and the noun pla/nh (4:6); it refers to a person who goes astray—or, in the causative sense, makes people go astray, i.e., leads them astray (by deceiving them, etc). Here the noun pla/no$ captures the meaning of the verb in 2:26 (cp. Mark 13:5-6 par, and in the book of Revelation, 2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3, 8, 10); the noun pla/nh (in 4:6) refers to the same end-time dynamic—viz. of false prophets and evil spirits leading people astray (cf. 2 Thess 2:11; also 2 Pet 3:17; Jude 11). The opponents are thus characterized as end-time “false prophets” capable of leading even believers astray (2:26; cf. Matt 24:24). They do this primarily through their view (and teaching) regarding the person of Jesus Christ, a view which the author regards as false and inspired by an evil/lying spirit; they are thus said to be “against the Anointed (One)” (a)nti/xristo$), i.e. “against Christ”.

But what exactly was the opponents’ Christological error? In 4:2-3 and 2 Jn 7 it is summarized as denying (or refusing to confess) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in [the] flesh”). But what does this mean precisely? Some light on the question may be found by Ignatius’ use of 4:2-3, and the views of the opponents whom he combats.

In his letter to the Christians of Smyrna (5:2), Ignatius seems to refer to v. 2, describing certain people who do not confess/affirm that Jesus had real human flesh: “not giving account as one [mh\ o(mologw=n] (of) him (as) bearing flesh”. The adjective sarkofo/ro$ (“flesh-bearing”) is used instead of the participial phrase “having come in the flesh”; otherwise, the use of mh/ + the verb o(mologe/w makes it all but certain that Ignatius has 1 Jn 4:2-3 and/or 2 Jn 7 in mind.

At a number of points in his letters, Ignatius is combatting what is commonly referred to as a docetic view of Jesus Christ. The term docetism derives from the Greek verb doke/w (dokéœ), meaning “think, consider,” sometimes in the semi-passive sense of how something seems or appears to be (or how a person imagines it to be). When applied in a Christological context, to the person of Jesus Christ, it refers to a belief that Christ only seemed/appeared to be a real flesh-and-blood human being (i.e., the man Jesus). As a manifestation of the Divine Son/Christ, Jesus’ humanity was essentially a visual illusion.

Ignatius addresses such a view of Jesus, treating it as a dangerous error, from the very beginning of his letter to the Smyrneans (1:1-2). He emphasizes that Christian faith has its basis in both flesh and the Spirit, affirming that Jesus was “truly” (a)lhqw=$)

    • of the genealogical line of David “according to the flesh” (kata\ sarka/, cf. Rom 1:3)
    • born of a virgin and baptized by John
    • nailed to the cross “in the flesh” (e)n sarki/)

In emphasizing the real suffering and death of Jesus, Ignatius specifically mentions certain ‘false’ believers (lit. [those] without trust, a&pistoi) who say that Jesus only seemed [vb doke/w] to suffer (2:1-2; cf. also Trallians 10:1). The specific use of term sa/rc (“flesh”) has particular significance for Ignatius, even as it does for the author of 1 John, since it represents the reality of Jesus’ existence and life (and death) as a human being. He stresses how even after the resurrection, Jesus still had tangible flesh (3:1-2; cf. the Johannine evidence, 19:34ff; 20:17, 20, 25-29; 21:10-13). Again, Ignatius warns his readers against the dangerous false believers (“wild beasts in human form”) who teach that Jesus only seemed [dokei=n] to live and act as a human being (4:1-2; 5:1f [cf. above]; Trallians 9:1-2).

There are other points of similarity between the opponents of Ignatius and those in 1 John. He also emphasizes the opponents’ lack of true love for other believers (6:1-2; 7:1). Their abstaining from the Lord’s Supper rite (6:2) is tied to their denial of Christ’s real human flesh (cf. above), but it may also be related to an exaggerated form of Johannine-style spiritualism (cf. Jn 4:23-24 and 6:63, in connection with 6:51-58). Indeed, it is quite possible that the Johannine opponents would have seen little value in the physical partaking of the Lord’s Supper rite.

Elsewhere in his letters (e.g., Ephesians 7:2; 20:1; Romans 6:1; Trallians 9-11), Ignatius emphasizes the suffering and death of Jesus; in all likelihood, he has the same opponents (referenced in Smyrneans) in mind. Their denial of Jesus’ true humanity (“flesh”), and especially the reality of his death, certainly seems, on the whole, to correspond with the opponents’ view of Jesus in 1-2 John. Writing some years later, Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna), references similar opponents (with a docetic view of Jesus) in his letter to the Christians of Philippi. In 7:1, he quotes 1 John 4:2-3 (and/or 2 Jn 7), in a slight paraphrase:

“For, every (one), who should not give account as one (of) Yeshua (the) Anointed to have come in (the) flesh, is against-the-Anointed [antichrist].”
Pa=$ ga/r o%$ a&n mh\ o(mologh=| Ihsou=n Xristo\n e)n sarki/ e)lhluqe/nai a)nti/xristo$ e)stin

Polycarp was a younger contemporary of Ignatius, and a correspondent with him (cf. Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp; Ephesians 21:1; Magnesians 15:1). On the connection between the churches of Smyrna and the collection of Ignatius’ letters, cf. Philippians 13.

According to Irenaeus, writing no more than 20 years after Polycarp’s death, Polycarp had been a disciple of John the apostle (trad. author of the Johannine Letters). In one famous anecdote (Against Heresies III.3.4), Polycarp tells of John’s encounter with Cerinthus at a bath-house in Ephesus. By the time of Irenaeus, Cerinthus was regarded as an arch-heretic, but one who held, not a docetic view of Jesus Christ, but a separationist view—viz., that the man Jesus and the Divine Christ were two separate entities, who were joined together at Jesus’ baptism and then separated again at the moment of his death (cf. Against Heresies I.26).

This is significant, because there are some commentators who identify the opponents in 1-2 John as early separationists, though this is established more readily from the Christological statement in 1 Jn 2:22-23, rather than the one in 4:2-3. In this regard, the colorful anecdote of the confrontation between John and Cerinthus has been taken as symbolic of the crisis surrounding the Johannine opponents in 1-2 John.

In the next daily note, the final one in this set, I will briefly survey the notable theories regarding the opponents, comparing together the evidence from 1 Jn 2:22-23 and 4:2-3.

1 John 2:22 and the Opponents in 1 John (Pt 3)

1 John 2:22, concluded

In this final portion of the supplemental note on 1 John 2:22 (cf. parts 1 & 2), I will attempt to apply the results of our study on the Johannine use of xristo/$ (“anointed [one]”) to the author’s claim regarding the belief(s) of his opponents. In verse 22, the author identifies the opponents (mentioned in vv. 18-19) as false believers (“the false [one]”, o( yeusth/$), implying that they deny (vb a)rne/omai) that Jesus “is the Anointed (One) [o( Xristo/$]”. This makes them, not believers in Jesus at all, but “antichrists” (a)nti/xristoi, “[those] against the Anointed”, v. 18; cf. also 4:3; 2 John 7).

As discussed in part 2, the use of the title (with the definite article), o( xristo/$ (“the anointed [one]”), in the Gospel refers specifically to the Jewish Messiah (Heb j^yv!m*)—the Davidic royal Messiah (7:41-42), but possibly also the Messianic prophet figure-type[s] (cf. 1:20, 25). Thus, taken at face value, the author would be saying that the opponents deny that Jesus is the Messiah. As this would seem to be the most straightforward explanation, a number of commentators have posited that the opponents are Jewish Christians who have, indeed, rejected their faith in Jesus (as the Messiah), returning to the fold of non-Christian Judaism.

We may call this line of interpretation the Jewish theory. It has been argued for most strongly by Daniel R. Streett in his monograph They went out from us: The Identity of the Opponents in First John (De Gruyter: 2010). The proponents of the Jewish theory (like Streett) make some fine points, but I would disagree thoroughly with their proposal. If the crisis surrounding the opponents really did involve Christians abandoning their faith in Jesus, in favor of non-Christian Judaism, one would expect to find some real evidence of strong anti-Jewish, anti-synagogue rhetoric in 1 John, such as we see at various points in the Gospel, and in the Book of Revelation (2:9; 3:9). For my part, I do not see any indication of this in the Johannine letters.

A second option is that denying Jesus as the Christ serves as a shorthand for the Christology indicated in 4:2—viz., denying Jesus Christ as “having come in the flesh”. This has been explained as an early form of a docetic Christology (to be discussed further), though it could also be understood, through the lens of the author’s polemic, in terms of devaluing or denying the importance of Jesus’ earthly life (and death). According to this line of interpretation, the view of the opponents in 2:22 must be understood in relation to 4:2 (and also 5:6-10).

While I generally agree with this interpretation, it is not entirely satisfactory as an explanation of the author’s use of o( xristo/$ in 2:22 (and 5:1). The proponents of the ‘Jewish theory’ (cf. above) are correct, I think, in maintaining the Jewish significance of the title xristo/$, and in emphasizing the Jewish background of the Johannine Community (at least in its origins).

It may, however, be possible to preserve the Johannine usage of o( xristo/$ (as referring to the Jewish Messiah), without adopting the ‘Jewish theory’ regarding the opponents. I would propose, as a possible solution, that the opponents, while holding a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, denied his identification as the Jewish Messiah (o( xristo/$). This phenomenon, apparently unique among New Testament Christians, could be explained on the basis of two factors:

    • First, we have the “high” Christology of the Johannine Gospel, in which Jesus is identified as the eternal, pre-existent Son (and Word/Wisdom) of God. As the Divine Son, Jesus was sent to earth from heaven by God the Father, and then, following his death, returned to his heavenly origins. With this strong emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God, a Johannine Christian might well ask why it was important that Jesus should also be recognized as the Jewish Messiah.
    • Second, there is the historical background, evidenced at numerous points in the Gospel, of conflict between the (Johannine) Christians and Judaism, leading to their expulsion from the Synagogue (9:22; 12:42, etc). In light of this apparent legacy of opposition and hostility, still in evidence at the end of the first-century (e.g., Rev 2:9; 3:9), some Johannine Christians might well have refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the (Jewish) Messiah. In any case, why would this historical heritage (regarding Jesus as the Messiah) be important for believers in Jesus as the Son of God?

A third factor, I believe, is Johannine spiritualism, with the emphasis on Jesus’ abiding presence, in and among believers, through the Spirit. Such spiritualism could result in the tendency to downplay or devalue the details of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Why should one focus on Jesus’ presence on earth in the historical past, when he has a continuing (and eternal) presence with believers now in the present (and in the future)? For more on verse 22 in the context of Johannine spiritualism, cf. the current article on 2:18-27 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

If the theory I have outlined above is correct, then the opponents considered themselves as true believers in Jesus, recognizing him as the eternal and pre-existent Son of God, present now in believers through the Spirit, but they denied his identification as the Jewish Messiah—or, perhaps, simply refused to consider such an identification as having any importance. From the author’s standpoint, the two titles— “Anointed [One]” and “Son of God” —go together, and cannot be separated (cf. the confessional statements in Jn 11:27 and 20:31, discussed in part 2).

The true believer will affirm both titles of Jesus, while anyone who would refuse to acknowledge either title is shown to be a false believer. Ironically, from the author’s standpoint, the opponents, in denying Jesus as the Messiah, also are (without realizing it) denying him as the Son of God; and, as a result, effectively deny God as his Father. The opponents surely would reject such a line of reasoning, but it is very much the way the author of 1 John presents the matter:

“Who is the false (one), if not the (one) denying (by saying) that ‘Yeshua is not the Anointed’? This is the (one) against the Anointed, the (one) denying (both) the Father and the Son!”

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)

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

The Johannine Writings, Part 1:
The Gospel of John

The final (two-part) article in this series will examine the Johannine Writings—that is, the Gospel and Letters of John. They are called “Johannine” because of their traditional ascription to John the Apostle; technically speaking, however, they are anonymous, and we cannot be entirely certain about their authorship. Scholars today do retain the label “Johannine”, but more properly in reference to the Community (i.e. the regional congregations, etc) within which these writings were produced and first distributed. The Gospel and Letters share a common religious and theological outlook, with many similarities in language, style, mode of expression, points of emphasis, etc. If they were not written by the same person, they almost certainly were the product of the same Community. The Book of Revelation is often considered to be another “Johannine” writing, but whether it stems from the same Community as the Gospel and Letters remains a point of debate among scholars. In any case, I have discussed the Book of Revelation at length in an extensive series of daily notes, and so will not be devoting a separate article to it here. Only the Gospel and Letters of John will be examined.

When considering the Gospel of John, in terms of its eschatology, one notices immediately that there is nothing in it remotely like the great “Eschatological Discourse” in the Synoptics, nor the many eschatological parables and sayings (“Son of Man” sayings, etc) preserved in those Gospels. Indeed, the eschatology in the Gospel of John is somewhat limited, based primarily on two areas:

    1. References to the Resurrection in chapters 5 and 11, and
    2. References to Jesus’ (future) coming/return in the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33)

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Johannine eschatology is what is commonly referred to as “realized” eschatology. As this term will be used throughout this article, it may be worth defining and explaining what is meant by it beforehand. I would summarize it as follows:

The idea that things and events thought to occur in the future, at the end (and in the afterlife), are experienced (or “realized”) by believers in Christ now, in the present.

Commentators tend to make too much of the distinction between “realized” and future eschatology in the New Testament. In point of fact, early Christian eschatology was characterized by both aspects throughout. It was a fundamental belief that the person and work of Jesus, as the Messiah, marked the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. However, as Jesus did not fulfill this Messianic expectation entirely in his lifetime, nor did he usher in the great end-time Judgment, etc, these final eschatological events would have to wait until his future return—which early Christians believed was imminent, to occur very soon. This dichotomy, together with the experience of the presence and work of the Spirit, created a unique eschatological situation among Christians. The time prior to Jesus’ return—that is, the present period—is understood to be a short interim, during which the realization of the New Age is experienced by believers through the Spirit. And, because the Gospel of John places such emphasis on the role and presence of the Spirit (whether implicitly or directly), it tends to give more emphasis to the present, “realized” aspect of eschatology.

1. The Resurrection

There are two main passages in the Gospel of John dealing with the resurrection—that is, of the resurrection of the dead understood to take place at the end-time. In Jewish eschatology of the period, this resurrection was more or less limited to the righteous; however, by the end of the 1st-century A.D., there is more evidence for belief in a general resurrection—i.e. of all humankind, the righteous and wicked alike. The righteous would pass through the Judgment, into eternal life, while the wicked would face (eternal) punishment. This is the traditional eschatological expectation, and both Gospel passages deal with it, interpreting and applying it in a distinctive way.

John 5:19-29

This section is part of the great Discourse of Jesus in chapter 5, based upon the Gospel tradition (healing miracle & Sabbath controversy episode) narrated in verses 1-9ff. Verses 9b-16 are transitional, introducing and developing the Sabbath theme, and establishing the framework for the Discourse proper, which follows the basic form-pattern of the Johannine Discourses:

    • Statement/saying by Jesus (v. 17)
    • Reaction by his audience, expressing misunderstanding (v. 18)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true meaning of the saying (vv. 19-47)

The lengthy exposition is complex, and may be divided into two parts:

    • The Son performs the work(s) of the Father—vv. 19-30
    • These works are a witness to the Son (and to the Father)—vv. 31-47

The first part (vv. 19-30) is also divided into two sections, like poetic strophes, in which the same theme and motifs are repeated:

    • The Son gives eternal/spiritual life to those who believe—vv. 19-24
    • The Son gives new life (resurrection) at the end time (to those who believe)—vv. 25-30

These two aspects of the resurrection power at work in Jesus very much correspond to the “realized” and future aspects of early Christian eschatology. The “realized” aspect is emphasized in vv. 19-24, in which the traditional understanding of the resurrection (and the Judgment) is given a new interpretation:

“For, just as the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes alive th(ose) whom he wishes. For the Father judges no one, but all judgment he has given to the Son, (so) that all should give honor to the Son, even as they give honor to the Father. The (one) not honoring the Son does not honor the Father, the (One hav)ing sent him.” (vv. 21-23)

The power of judgment and resurrection both are concentrated in the person of Jesus, God’s Son; as a result, the entirety of the end-time (eschatological) framework of resurrection and the Judgment is defined in terms of whether one recognizes and acknowledges Jesus as God’s Son. Judgment is moved from the future, into the present, so that it occurs already (i.e. it is “realized”) based on a person’s trust (or lack of belief) in Jesus:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, that the (one) hearing my word/account and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) Life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across, out of death (and) into Life.” (v. 24)

The parallel declaration in verse 25 couples this “realized” eschatology with the more traditional future view:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, that (the) hour comes—and is now (here)—when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and the (one)s hearing shall live.”

In vv. 19-24, the idea of resurrection was spiritual, understood in terms of the life that comes from trust in Jesus; now, in vv. 25-29, it is a physical resurrection that is in view, such as will take place at the end (together with the Judgment, vv. 28-29). However, there are two main differences here with the traditional understanding of the resurrection: (1) as in vv. 19-24, it is Jesus the Son of God who holds the power of the resurrection (and the Judgment), and (2) people are already experiencing this (physical) resurrection from the dead now. The latter point is, primarily, an allusion to the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter 11, which we shall now consider.

John 11—The Raising of Lazarus (esp. verses 23-27)

The narrative episode of the raising of Lazarus (chapter 11) illustrates the very teaching in the Discourse, discussed above (on 5:19-29). The Lazarus-narrative itself, while relatively straightforward, contains within it two small sections with Discourse-elements:

    • Verses 7-16—especially the dialogue of vv. 11-16, in which the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ words in verse 11.
    • Verses 17-27—the dialogue between Jesus and Martha

It is in the latter dialogue (which I have discussed in considerable detail in an earlier series of notes), that we find the subject of the end-time resurrection again being addressed; it very much follows the basic Johannine Discourse-pattern:

    • Statement by Jesus (v. 23)
    • Misunderstanding by Martha (v. 24)
    • Exposition by Jesus on the true meaning of his words (vv. 25-27)

Let us briefly consider each of these.

Statement by Jesus (v. 23)

“Yeshua says to her, ‘Your brother will stand up [i.e. out of the dead]'”

This is a declaration that Lazarus will be raised from the dead, using the Greek verb a)ni/sthmi (lit. “stand up”). The verb can be used either in a transitive (“make [someone] stand up”) or intransitive sense. By the time of Jesus, among Greek-speaking Jews, it had come to have a technical meaning in reference to the raising of the dead—with the related noun a)na/stasi$ (“resurrection”). It was used previously (four times), in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, in which Jesus identifies himself as “the Bread from Heaven”, i.e. which has come down out of Heaven. This is followed by a dual (parallel) statement regarding the will of God (the Father):

  • “And this is the will of the (One) having sent me—
    • that every(thing) which he has given to me I shall not lose (anything) out of it
      • but I will make it stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 39)
  • “For this is the will of my Father—
    • that every(one) th(at is) looking (closely) at the Son and trusting in him might hold (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]
      • and I will make him stand up [a)nasth/sw] in the last day” (v. 40)
Misunderstanding by Martha (v. 24)

“Martha says to him, ‘I have seen [i.e. known] that he will stand up [a)nasth/setai] in the standing-up [a)nasta/sei] in the last day’.”

Martha clearly understands Jesus as referring to the traditional idea of the end-time resurrection (“in the last day”). This is entirely reasonable; indeed, in the Bread of Life discourse (cf. above), Jesus uses the verb in precisely the same context— “and I will make him stand up in the last day” (6:39, 40). In 5:19-29, it was declared that Jesus (as God’s Son) holds the power over the end-time resurrection (and the Judgment). However, there was a deeper meaning to his words in that passage (cf. above), which expressed a special kind of “realized” eschatology—and a similar line of exposition follows here in vv. 25ff.

Exposition by Jesus (vv. 25-27)

“Yeshua said to her, ‘I am the standing-up and the life—the (one) trusting in me, even if he should die away, he will live; and every (one) living and trusting in me shall (surely) not die away into the Age.'” (vv. 25-26)

As in 5:19-29, the power of resurrection and life is concentrated in the person of Jesus (the Son); as a result, this pulls the future aspect of the resurrection into the present, where Jesus is among his disciples. Here the exposition has been compressed into a single, almost elliptical declaration. It is not possible here to analyze this remarkable statement in detail (for an extensive exegetical study, cf. the earlier notes on vv. 25-26). What is most important to note, from an eschatological standpoint, is the way that the three different aspects of resurrection—also found in 5:19-29—are combined together:

    • Raised into eternal life at the end-time—Martha’s understanding
    • Raised into new life in the present—the miracle of raising Lazarus
    • Raised into eternal life (now) through trust in Jesus—the reality for believers

The first aspect represents the traditional framework of Jesus’ teaching (and Martha’s misunderstanding); the second is illustrated by the Gospel tradition (the miracle) at the heart of the narrative; and the third reflects the ultimate message of the Gospel, summarized by Martha’s climactic confession:

“Yeshua said to her…’Do you trust this?’ (And) she says to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I have trusted that you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God, the (one) coming into the world‘.” (vv. 26-27)

2. The Return/Coming of Jesus (The Last Discourse)

The great Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33), set within the narrative during the Last Supper on the eve of his Passion, is perhaps better viewed as a sequence of separate Discourses, encompassing a range of (Johannine) Gospel tradition. Many important themes, from earlier in the Gospel, are brought together and developed/expressed in a new way. Within this matrix, two key themes especially dominate the Discourse:

    • Jesus’ impending departure, back to the Father (i.e. the Son’s return to the Father), and
    • The sending/coming of the Spirit (also called para/klhto$, “one called alongside”)

These are twin themes that go hand-in-hand: Jesus’ departure leads to the coming of the Spirit, and, indeed, is the reason for it. Complicating the situation, within the fabric of the Discourse, are several references to Jesus’ coming back to his disciples. The richness of the Discourse is such that it is possible to understand these references on three different levels:

    • Jesus’ immediate return, following his death and resurrection (cf. 20:17-29)
    • His presence in the Spirit, tied to his departure to the Father, and
    • His future return at the end-time

It is not always easy to know for certain which aspect is primarily in view, especially in light of the emphasis on the Spirit and the “realized” eschatology in the Gospel of John (cf. above). I offer an overview of the eschatology of the Discourse in a separate note. Here, I wish to focus on two specific passages in the Discourse, which, as it happens, tend to reflect the future and present (“realized”) aspects, respectively.

Future—John 14:1-4

“Your heart must not be disturbed; you trust in God, (now) also trust in me. In the house of my Father (there) are many (place)s to stay [monai/]—and, if not, I (would have) told you, (for it is) that I travel to make ready a place for you. And if I would travel and make ready a place for you, (then know that) I come again and will take you along toward myself, (so) that (at) what(ever) place I am, you also may be (there). And (the) place where I lead myself under [i.e. go away, go back], you have seen the way (there).”

Most commentators are agreed that this statement by Jesus refers to his end-time return (from heaven). At the historical level, this may seem rather out of place. After all, his disciples had difficulty understanding (and accepting) the idea of his death and resurrection, much less that of a future return (which assumes the resurrection and ascension, etc). From a literary standpoint, however, it would have made perfect sense to early Christians and readers of the Gospel. Moreover, it follows the general pattern of the Johannine Discourses, whereby a statement by Jesus is not fully or properly understood by his audience (including his disciples). Accepting the authenticity of the saying, the disciples surely would not have understood its true significance until sometime later (cp. the asides in 2:21-22 and 7:39).

Even if we grant the reference to Jesus’ future return, when he will gather all believers to himself (cf. Mark 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:13-18), this basic tradition takes on new meaning within the Johannine context. This can be illustrated from two important details: (1) the vocabulary of the passage, especially the idea of “remaining” (vb me/nw), and (2) the individual discourse that follows (vv. 5-11ff), based on the specific statement in verse 4 (on knowing/seeing the “way” [o%do$]).

1. The ‘dwellings’ of God’s “house” are referenced with the plural noun monai/, i.e., places to remain or stay; it is related to the verb me/nw (“remain”), which has special theological significance in the Johannine writings. It occurs 40 times in the Gospel (compared with just 12 in the three Synoptics combined), including 14 occurrences in the Last Discourse. Its significance is two-fold: (a) it refers to the believer’s trust (and continued trust) in Jesus, and (b) it denotes the believer’s union with God the Father (and Jesus the Son), through the presence of the Spirit. Thus, believers can be said to have dwelling-places (monai/) with God now, in the Spirit, just as well as when they/we are in heaven, in the future.

2. The exposition on verse 4, about believers seeing the way to God, has a similar Christological emphasis—i.e., the way is seen/known through the person of Jesus (the Son), and our union with him. The latter point is only hinted at (in verse 6 and 12-14), until the theme of the coming/sending of Spirit is introduced in vv. 15-17. These verses are transitional to the focus on the present (“realized”) eschatology that dominates in vv. 18-24ff.

Present (“Realized”)—John 14:18-24

Once again, in verse 18, Jesus announces his departure and return:

“I will not leave you bereaved (of a father)—I come toward you. A little (while) yet, and the world no longer (will) look upon me, but you do look upon me, (in) that I live, (so) you also will live.” (vv. 18-19)

The motifs of Jesus’ own resurrection, and the future resurrection of the righteous (believers), are blended together here in a unique way (cf. above). Because Jesus (the Son) is going away, his disciples will no longer have access to God the Father; so, in a real sense, they would be orphans, bereaved (o)rfano/$) of their father. This could refer to Jesus’ impending death, his ultimate departure to the Father, or both. For more on this dual-aspect, cf. the supplemental article on the thematic structure of the Discourse. However, Jesus promises that he will not leave them without a father (God the Father), and announces again that “I come”. The immediate context (vv. 15-17, 25ff) clearly indicates that, in this instance, his coming refers, not to his traditional end-time return, but to his presence with believers through the Spirit. According to the Gospel narrative (cf. 20:19-23), this coming/sending of the Spirit took place, for Jesus’ immediate disciples, very soon after his resurrection (cp. the comparable, but very different, tradition in Luke-Acts). It will effectively be repeated for every person who comes to trust in Christ through the message of the Gospel (17:20-21ff; 20:29, 31, etc).

Other Eschatological References

There are several other eschatological references that could be cited from the Gospel of John. In closing, I would offer this brief survey of four references (and categories of references), that are worth noting.

1. References to the Judgment

There are a number of passages in the Johannine Discourses where Jesus refers to the Judgment (kri/si$), which is certainly eschatological, whether viewed specifically in an end-time or afterlife setting. As in 5:19-29 (cf. above), two points of emphasis are typically made: (a) the power of Judgment belongs to the Son (Jesus), and (b) the Judgment is defined almost entirely in terms of trust in Jesus. While this does not eliminate the traditional future aspect of the Judgment (cf. 5:29; 12:48), it places the emphasis squarely on the present—i.e., those who refuse to accept Jesus have already been judged (and condemned), while those who trust (believers) have already passed through the Judgment into eternal life. This was stated clearly enough in 5:24, and similarly in 3:19-21: “And this is the Judgment: that the light has come into the world, and the men [i.e. people] loved the darkness more than the light…. But the (one) doing the truth comes toward the light…”.

Similar declarations are found in 9:39 and 12:31:

“Unto Judgment I came into the world, (so) that the (one)s not seeing would see, and the (one)s seeing would come to be blind” (9:39)
Now is (the) Judgment of this world, (and) now the chief of this world shall be thrown out” (12:31)

The Spirit testifies regarding this same Judgment (16:8-11), again defined specifically in terms of trust in Jesus, with the sin of humankind understood as a lack of trust.

2. The Destruction of the Temple

The Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13 par) is built upon a prediction, by Jesus, of the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13:2 par). The Temple’s destruction (fulfilled in 70 A.D.) is to be taken as a definite indicator that the end is near (vv. 4, 14, 24, 28-30 par), and with it the return of Jesus and beginning of the great Judgment. However problematic this chronology might be for Christians today, there can be little doubt that the destruction of the Temple was a key eschatological event for believers at the time. I discuss the matter at length in the articles on the Eschatological Discourse, and on the Temple in Jewish and early Christian Eschatology.

The Gospel of John contains nothing like the Eschatological Discourse, nor the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction that features so prominently in it; however, there is a statement regarding the destruction of the Temple (the Temple-saying), in John 2:19, part of the Johannine version of the Temple-action episode (the ‘cleansing’ of the Temple, vv. 13-22):

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (up).”

This is quite similar to the statement reported at the Sanhedrin interrogation (‘trial’) of Jesus in the Synoptics (Mark 14:57-58 / Matt 26:60-61). There the Synoptic tradition indicates that it was reported by false witnesses; yet, if we accept the authenticity of the Johannine saying (in substance), then it would seem that Jesus did, in fact, make a statement of that sort, however it may have been misrepresented by unreliable or hostile witnesses. Jesus himself does not explain the saying—it is the Gospel writer who gives the explanation, as an aside (vv. 21-22). Many critical commentators assume that Jesus’ statement, in its original context, was eschatological, very much along the lines of the prediction in Mark 13:2 par—i.e., the destruction of the Temple marks the end of the current Age, and God, through his Anointed Jesus, would introduce a new Temple in the New Age. To the extent that such a view is correct, the eschatological aspect, in the Johannine version, has been transformed into a Christological statement, the Temple being identified with the person of Jesus. Thus, any eschatological significance for the saying follows the present, “realized” emphasis that dominates throughout the Gospel of John—the death and resurrection of Jesus marks the end of the current Age, and a New Age for believers, realized through the Spirit.

3. The “Son of Man” saying in John 1:51

There are relatively few “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John, compared with the Synoptics, and those which do occur, tend to emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus (cp. Mk 9:12, 31; 10:33 par), rather than his end-time appearance—cf. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31. Only in 5:27 do we find the clear eschatological context of the Son of Man overseeing the end-time Judgment.

The “Son of Man” saying in 1:51 is perhaps the most enigmatic verse in the entire Gospel. It has been interpreted many ways, including as an eschatological reference—that is, to the end-time appearance of the Son of Man (Jesus) in glory. There are certainly elements of this saying that resemble several eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics:

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down [i.e. ascending and descending] upon the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51)

Matthew’s version (16:27-28) of a core Son of Man saying in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this Synoptic passage:

    • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
    • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
    • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

I discuss these and other aspects of the saying in Jn 1:51 at length in prior notes and articles.

4. The Tradition in John 21:20-23

Our final passage comes from that last chapter (chap. 21,the so-called appendix) of the Gospel of John, and derives from an entirely different (Johannine) line of tradition than the Synoptic material. It relates to the person in the Gospel known as “the disciple whom (Jesus) loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20ff). The disciple is unnamed (though almost certainly known to the original audience), and identified, according to Christian tradition, as John the apostle, son of Zebedee. Embedded in the brief (traditional) narrative, is a saying by Jesus regarding this disciple, which, we can assume, was a relatively well-known part of the Johannine tradition. The context is clearly eschatological, related to the end-time return of Jesus. The very point being addressed in the tradition more or less proves the imminent eschatology—i.e. that Jesus’ return would occur within the lifetime of the apostles (and first generation of believers)—that was widespread in early Christianity during the first-century. I discuss this passage as part of the earlier study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament.