1 John 2
Pick your love: God or world
Jesus is still working for us1My dear children, I’m writing this to steer you away from sin. But if any of you wander off and commit a sin, you’ve got someone working for you: Jesus, who always gets it right. He has the Father’s ear.
2He’s the reason our sins are forgiven. And not only our sins, but the sins of everyone. 3There’s one way to tell if we really know God: We obey him. 4People who say, “I know God” but keep breaking his laws are nothing but lying liars.
5God, in his love, wants us to obey him. When we do, his love has succeeded. This obedience shows that we’re united with him. 6Anyone who says they’re living with God in their life should show it by living like Jesus did. People should see Jesus in them.
Hate takes us to a dark place7Dear friends, I’m not writing to tell you about a new demand from God. I’m writing about one you’ve already heard. It has been around since the start of all this. You’re well aware of it. 8On the other hand, Jesus brings a new dimension to it for you. Darkness is already fading as the light grows brighter.
9People aren’t telling the truth when they say they’re living in the light, yet they hate a fellow believer. That’s a dark place. 10People are living in the light when they love all the believers they know. That’s where God wants them. We don’t stumble in the light, like we do in the dark. 11People are bumping around in the dark if they hate any fellow believers. People like that don’t have any idea where they’re going. We can’t see anything in the dark.
A reminder for believers12Dear family, I’m writing this letter to you because I want to remind you that your sins are forgiven. We have Jesus to thank for that.
13Parents, I’m writing to you because you know who I’m talking about—the one who has existed since the beginning. Young adults, I’m writing to you because you’ve won your battle with Evil. 14Kids, I’m writing to you because you, too, know the Father.
Parents, once again, I’m writing to you because you know who has always lived. Young adults, I’m writing to you because you’re strong, you carry the power of God’s message inside you, and you have won your battle with Evil.
Don’t fall in love with the world15Don’t fall in love with this world or anything it offers you. When you fall in love with this world, you fall out of love with the Father. 16The allure of this world doesn’t come from the Father. He’s not the reason our eyes, ego, and body crave what can hurt us and hurt others. That enticement comes from the world. 17This world and every hurtful thing it offers will end. People who do what God asks won’t. They’ll exist forever.
Antichrists crawling all over the place18My dearest children, this is it—the last hour. You’ve heard an antichrist is coming. Look around. They’re already here, crawling all over the place. That’s how we know we’re near the end. 19I’m talking about former church people. They were with us, but not part of us. If they had been part of us, they would still be with us. But they left to make it clear they didn’t want anything to do with us anymore.
20The Holy Spirit has given you the spiritual gift of insight. You know the truth when you see it. 21So, I’m not writing to you because you’re spiritually ignorant and you can’t recognize the truth. Just the opposite. You also know a lie when you see it, and the difference between truth and a lie.
22Anyone who says Jesus isn’t the Messiah is a liar. There’s your antichrist. It’s anyone who turns their back on the Father and the Son. 23Anyone who rejects the Son has already rejected the Father. But anyone who believes in the Son also has the Father. 24Hang onto what you were taught from the beginning. If you hang onto that, you’ll be hanging onto the Son and the Father as well.
Jesus promised you’ll live forever25Eternal life. That’s it. That’s the promise Jesus made to us. 26I wrote this letter to warn you about the people who are lying to you. 27But I know you don’t need anyone to teach you about this anymore. You’re spiritually gifted because he anointed you. That gift sticks with you and continues to teach you. Just as the gift sticks with you, stick with him.
Act like God’s children28Dear children, don’t let go of him. That way, when he comes, you can welcome him in confidence, knowing you’ll have nothing to be ashamed of. 29You know Jesus always gets it right. So you also know that people who make the good and godly choices in life are God’s children too.
Literally, “he’s the propitiation” for our sins. The Greek word the writer used is hilasmos. It means to atone, or to make things right again. Paul used a variation of the word to say, “Our sins are a capital offense, but God sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus bled and died for the sins we committed. . . . He forgives everyone who puts his faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25). Jewish law taught that sin was a capital offense that required blood to atone for the sin. In Old Testament times, animals were permitted as substitutes to atone for the sins of humans. Jewish law quotes God putting it this way: “Blood is what brings a body to life. I’ve given you blood to use exclusively on the altar. It atones for your sin” (Leviticus 17:11). New Testament writers present Jesus as the final sacrifice, ending the sacrificial system “one time for all time” (Hebrews 10:10).
Some scholars say the writer is talking about the law of love. Jesus wasn’t the first to tell people to love one another. Moses passed that along more than a millennium earlier (Leviticus 19:18). But Jesus put a fresh emphasis on love over the traditional legalistic laws. He summed up all the legalistic laws with the law of love: “I’m going to leave you with a new law to live by: Love one another. You’ve seen how I love you. Love each other like that” (John 13:34).
Literally, “brother.” New Testament scholars say that word, adelphos in Greek, seems reserved in the New Testament for fellow Christians and not for all people. Still, hating nonbelievers takes us to a dark place too.
Paul talks about the “Man Above the Law,” also tagged the “Son of Destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Many centuries later, in the Middle Ages, some students of the Bible created what might sound like a theological Frankenstein. They patched Paul’s description of a nasty man with John’s description of antichrists “crawling all over the place” (1 John 2:18), then added a beast with “two horns” and “the voice of a dragon” (Revelation 13:11). Some students of the Bible identify this beast as the Antichrist. And they ID the beast from the land as the false prophet, both of whom, with Satan, form the Evil Trinity. Other scholars link the sea beast to the Roman Empire and the land beast to the emperor, beginning with Nero, the first to persecute Christians. The Evil Trinity is a counterpoint to the divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Daniel 7:3 describes a vision of four beasts coming up out of the sea. They had 10 horns and seven heads. Jews may have considered the sea as the mysterious abyss. John’s beast is one that some Jews of his day may have associated with the scary Leviathan, a female creature that Jewish legend says God made on day five of creation. It lived in the sea. Its counterpart, the Behemoth, lived on land. Monsters like these could represent invaders, like the Roman Empire, which occupied most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
If this letter was written in the AD 90s, as many scholars speculate, Emperor Domitian (ruled AD 81-96) was leading Rome through one of the most intense periods of persecution against Christians.
John seems to portray Jesus as our defense attorney in heaven, who is working for us and “has the Father’s ear” (2:1). Is that how you think it really works in heaven, or is John doing something else?
What an odd way to put it: “There’s one way to tell if we really know God: We obey him” (2:3). But “to know him is to obey him,” to paraphrase a song, sounds odd and maybe even uncomfortable. What do you think John means by what he said?
Why do you think John would tell young adults, “You’ve won your battle with Evil” (2:13)? No one on earth is beyond the reach of Satan or any other kind of evil.
Clearly, it seems, John didn’t understand the meaning of the phrase “the last hour” (2:18), at least not the way we do. Or if he did, he missed the hour by about 2,000 years. Christians often associate that phrase with the return of Jesus and the end of this physical world: “I saw a new heaven and Earth. The first heaven and Earth were gone” (Revelation 21:1). What do you think John meant by the phrase?
It comes as a surprise to many people that the antichrist is a no-show in the book of Revelation. Jesus doesn’t mention him either. Nor does Paul, who wrote almost half the books in the New Testament. How do you react to the idea of an end-times antichrist after reading everything the Bible has to say about him by name, antichristos, in Greek, the language of the New Testament? Here is every Bible verse that mentions him by name:
- “My dearest children, this is it—the last hour. You’ve heard an antichrist is coming. Look around. They’re already here, crawling all over the place. . . . Anyone who says Jesus isn’t the Messiah is a liar. There’s your antichrist. It’s anyone who turns their back on the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:18, 22).
- “People who don’t believe in Jesus aren’t speaking for God. They don’t have God’s Spirit. They have a spirit that’s antichrist. You’ve heard an antichrist is coming. Well, that spirit is already here” (1 John 4:3).
- “Liars have fanned out and covered the world. They’re anti-Jesus Christ. They won’t admit he came in the flesh as a human being. Anyone who tells lies like that is the antichrist” (2 John 1:7).
LIFE APPLICATION. “God, in his love, wants us to obey him” (2:5). That sounds a bit like something a parent would say to a kid. How do you think a parent might put it to the child, maybe in a scene you could imagine or have experienced?
LIFE APPLICATION. John says this is how to tell if someone is a true Christian: “People should see Jesus in them” (2:6). When have you seen Jesus in people recently?
LIFE APPLICATION. John says, “People aren’t telling the truth when they say they’re living in the light, yet they hate a fellow believer. That’s a dark place” (2:9). Come on, be honest. We can all think of situations in which one Christian could detest, hate, and want to punch a fellow Christian in the snoot a good one. Right? So, what should we do about what John wrote?
LIFE APPLICATION. Test your knowledge of Roman history. How do you think John’s readers, probably at the end of the first century, understood the following quote differently than we would today? “Don’t fall in love with this world or anything it offers you. When you fall in love with this world, you fall out of love with the Father” (2:15).