In this week’s selection from 1 John we are continuing the discussion of the believers’ separation from the world. The desires that are in the world are not only opposed to the will of God, they are temporary—but believers will abide forever in Christ. How then can we pursue such low, dark, fleeting, and anti-Christian desires? In verses 16 & 17 John gives us a decent definition of “the world,” in the sense of it being a system or worldview which is opposed to God.
John emphasizes that we are living in the last hour and will therefore be faced with the seductions of those who are “antichrists.” John is the only author of the scriptures to use this term, and it is rather self-evident what it means. These antichrists are worldly-minded and are not of the Church. They may have tried to pose as believers, teaching false doctrines and attempting to lure believers away from the truth, but they did not then—nor will they ultimately—remain hidden among those who earnestly follow Christ.
John makes his points clear with repeated phrases, stark contrasts, and brief, to-the-point sentences. He finishes with the reassurance that true believers not only know what they need to know for salvation, but they know it because they have “been anointed by the Holy One.” This points to the grace by which our salvation comes to us—not by any attainment of “knowledge” about which the gnostic wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing were boasting.
Now for the memory aids:
16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the
flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—
is not from the Father but is from the world.
We begin with a continuation of the thought with which we left off last week—that the reason we ought not love the world is that it has nothing to do with the love of the Father. Roll straight from that into to reason John here gives, “For all that is in the world.” Then he breaks off to define what he means by “the world”—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life— (desires x 2 + pride). He then resumes his thought that: all that is in the world—is not from the Father but is from the world. It makes perfect sense that all that is in the world would be from the world.
17 And the world is passing away along with its
desires, but whoever does the will of God abides
John adds to the reasons worldliness is incompatible with Godliness. And (there’s more!) the world is passing away (it’s temporary!), along with its desires (they’re temporary too!), but whoever does the will of God (as opposed to worldly desires) abides forever.
18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have
heard that antichrist is coming, so now, many
antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is
the last hour.
John now gives his Children in the faith a lesson in reason and logic. Bouncing off of forever in the previous verse, John reminds us that it is the last hour (are we closer to forever?). Assuming the premise that “the last hour” is when “antichrist is coming,” we have here a logical syllogism that:
You have heard that antichrist is coming [at the last hour],
[so] Now many antichrists have come;
Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
(I’m so glad that those homeschool lessons stuck!)
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us;
for if they had been of us, they would have
continued with us. But they went out, that it might
become plain that they all are not of us.
John continues the logical train of thought with the reason they (meaning the antichrists) went out from us (left our fellowship). The assumed premise here is that “those who are of us will necessarily continue with us.” Look for the pattern of what they (do), paired with 5 occurrences of us. Follow the logic. What the antichrists—they—did, served to prove that they did not belong among the fellowship of believers.
20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.
After all the logical clarifications, a word of deep encouragement. In contrast to those who said they knew so much, but didn’t live holy lives: But you have been anointed by the Holy One! This anointing—the grace of salvation which was given as a gift, not ‘earned’ the way the antichrists preached they were saved—is more precious and enduring than all the false knowledge of the false teachers! But even more—and you all have knowledge. The antichrists with all their false ideals may have made you feel like stupid bumpkins for holding to your simple faith, but your knowledge of Christ is sufficient for salvation—which is more than they know.
There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are known by God the Father, are sealed by the Holy Spirit for salvation, and who therefore know Christ, and those who aren’t and therefore don’t. John makes that distinction crystal clear. I pray that understanding this, as you meditate upon these verses, will encourage you all the more to renounce worldliness and cling to Christ. Friends, it is the last hour—eternity is on the horizon and this world is passing way. Cherish those things which will abide in the beauty of holiness.