Lord’s Library contributor Bill Furioso offers a spirit of the world meaning with KJV Bible verses and commentary. Check out his ministry At Christ’s Table for additional Bible studies and resources.
1 John 2:15-17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
In this passage, the apostle John is telling us to “love not the world.” In his gospel, the same writer is telling us in John 3:16 that “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” So, are we to understand that it’s OK for God to love the world, but we should not? Is the apostle John contradicting himself? Is this a contradiction in the Scriptures? Is God being inconsistent?
The key is to understand that there are various meanings to the Greek word, kosmos, which is translated as “world.” In this message, we’ll primarily be looking at John’s usage of kosmos in his epistles, which is different from his use of this word in his gospel. In fact, the Greek word, kosmos, has a number of applications. Editor’s note: What follows is based on Greek scholar Marvin Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament.
Firstly, it can refer to the physical earth. Secondly, it can refer to the inhabited world. This is how John used the word in “For God so loved the world” – the inhabited world, that is, humanity, God so loved humanity that He gave His only begotten Son. Thirdly, kosmos can refer to “a period of existence and all that exists in the world under the conditions of time.” Fourthly it can refer to “the course and current of this world’s affairs, which have been corrupted by sin.” Fifthly, it can refer to the order, the system, Vincent, describes as “the sum total of human life in the ordered world, considered apart from, and alienated from, and hostile to God, and of the earthly things which seduce from God.”
In his First, Second, and Third Epistles, the apostle John uses the word kosmos 23 times; and every time, he is referring to the last two aspects mentioned: “the course and current of this world’s affairs, which have been corrupted by sin” – “the sum total of human life in the ordered world, considered apart from, and alienated from, and hostile to God, and of the earthly things which seduce from God.”
I realize that this definition of “the world” is quite general, and that for personal life application one would look for more specific details and emphases. This message on the subject of spirit of the world meaning is meant to be introductory and an overview of this complex subject matter. I think the subject of “the world” is crucial to understanding the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet, it has been largely ignored, or at best, has been misunderstood because of simplistic interpretations. It’s my conviction that this deficiency leads to a perspective that is different from the one Jesus and His apostles had with regard to the place of the Christian and the Church in relationship with “the world.”
So, this message will be a general, introductory overview. I will limit myself to covering primarily what the apostle John mentions in his epistle. And I will trust the Holy Spirit to “personalize” this for each individual by speaking to your hearts and minds those more specific details and emphases for personal life application.
I will offer this: In his epistle, John uses very simple language; but what he is saying about “the world” has much wider and deeper applications than we might realize. For example, some (including myself) understand the term “the world” in this way, as quoted by Watchman Nee:
“An ordered world system governed from behind the scenes by Satan. This system encompasses politics, education, literature, science, art, law, commerce, music — anything involved in the progress of mankind [humanism]. No matter how good the initial intentions are, all organizations created by mankind eventually turn away from Godly power to worldliness. When the influence of Divine Life is removed, organizations gravitate towards materialism, humanism, worldliness, and Satan.”
But, at this point, we can summarize in this way: In his gospel, John tells us that God loves what He created. In his epistle, John tells us to not love what the world has fashioned.
Spirit of the World Meaning
Before we investigate this idea more deeply in John’s epistle, I think it would be good to first clarify that not every aspect of life in this world is to be shunned by Christ’s followers. As I look out upon the human condition, especially as I grow older, I see a bittersweetness. The “bitter” is attributed to sin; the “sweetness” is attributed to the Incarnation. Part of a song lyric I wrote many years ago may possibly communicate a little more of what I mean:
“This whole world is moaning and groaning to be redeemed. Sin and death in this world can everywhere be seen. But, Lord, we can still see Your hand in all of creation. And that just goes to show, Lord, how mighty You are.”
When God created the world, He said it was “good”; but sin drastically changed things – and that is exactly what the apostle John wants us to understand in his epistle. But at the same time, the image of God triumphantly shines according to Isaiah 60:2: “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.”
And as John stated in John 1:5: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
We also need to understand that neither the Holy Spirit nor the apostle John are suggesting that we look upon people in the world as personal threats to ourselves and are therefore to be considered objects of contempt. Some of the nicest people I know are sadly, and some thoroughly, deceived by what the apostle Paul calls “the elements of the world” in Galatians 4:3, 9, Colossians 2:8, 20:
- Galatians 4:3: “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:”
- Galatians 4:9: “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?”
- Colossians 2:8: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
- Colossians 2:20: “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,”
Suffice it to say that these “elements of the world” are the principles that make up the foundations of vain philosophies, false religions, and the culture of fallen humanity. While 2 Corinthians 4:4 is true: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”, it is also true that it is part of fallen human nature for people to, as 2 Timothy 4:3 says: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;”
Basically, people are products of what they have been taught – what has shaped their minds. Like our heavenly Father, we are to love the people of the world whom He created, but “hate” the “principles” that have shaped the culture of fallen humanity that the world has fashioned. Never-the-less, it is in no uncertain terms that the apostle John is telling us not to love the world. Why? What’s wrong with the world? Whatever it is, the apostle John is not alone in this perspective.
In their epistles, the apostles Peter, James, and Paul all hold the same view of the world. See 2 Peter 1:4, 2:20, James 4:4, 1 Corinthians 2:12, 11:32, and Galatians 6:14:
- 2 Peter 1:4: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
- 2 Peter 2:20: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.”
- James 4:4: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:12: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
- 1 Corinthians 11:32: “But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”
- Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
In his epistle, John states that the world – the culture of fallen humanity – is controlled by Satan when he refers to Satan as “the god of this world”, and states (in 1 John 5:19): “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”
In order to have the same spiritual perspective as Jesus and His apostles, it is crucial that we understand that, while God is Creator and ultimately in control, in this age, much of what is in the world has been fashioned, not by God, but by the world under the influence of sin and the control of Satan. I am not referring to the physical creation, but again, I am referring to the culture of fallen humanity. If we do not believe this is true, we do not hold a Biblical/Christian worldview.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:24: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” He presents an either-or case.
His brother James said in James 4:4: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Another case of either-or.
In the same way the apostle John says in 1 John 2:15: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Yet another case of either-or. In this message, we are looking into the explanation as to why that is the case.
In the next verse (1 John 2:16), John explains that: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” It is not from God – it is from the culture of fallen humanity. The “elements of this world” are born of, are sourced in, and emerge out of – the culture of fallen humanity. Where did the apostle John get this perspective of the world? This was the perspective given to him by Jesus. In John’s gospel, he records Jesus as saying that while His followers are in the world, they are not of the world. See John 17:15-18:
- John 17:15-18: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”
According to Jesus, the Christianity He initiated, is in the world, but not of the world. So, we see that, like Jesus, throughout his epistle, John draws very clear lines of demarcation when he speaks in the following terms in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
From the apostolic perspective, we are either abiding in life or death. See 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”
We are in the light or the darkness. See 1 John 2:9: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.”
We are either walking in the truth or in error. See 1 John 4:6: “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
We either have love for the Father or love for the world. See 1 John 2:15: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
I think a quote from Kaiser and Davids’ Hard Sayings of the Bible really captures the significance of the “line of demarcation” inherent in the apostle John’s command for us to not love the world:
“This makes it clear why a believer cannot love the world. To love is to be emotionally invested in something…. We cannot be totally emotionally invested in two contradictory directions. We chose either God and His values or the world and its values.
The natural human desire to be accepted and to “fit in” will not find these verses comfortable ones. The Christian will always live in tension with the world, suspicious of, if not rejecting, much of the product of human culture. The countercultural lifestyle of the Christian invites rejection, for living by different values suggests that the values of one’s neighbors are inadequate. The tension is there. The pain is real. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot love both God and the world.”
The Lusts of the Flesh
Again, John said (in 1 John 2:16): “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” What all is in and from the world? John offers three categories:
- The lusts of the flesh
- The lusts of the eyes
- The boastful pride of life
Seeing these things for what they really are helps us to see the world for what it really is.
To begin with, it may be helpful to look at how the Amplified Bible attempts to bring out the fuller meaning of the Greek words John uses in this verse: “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh [craving for sensual gratification] and the lust of the eyes [greedy longings of the mind] and the pride of life [assurance in one’s own resources or in the stability of earthly things]—these do not come from the Father but are from the world [itself].”
The Amplified Bible explains the “lust of the flesh” as “cravings for sensual gratification.” The J.B. Phillips translation refers to it as: “Men’s primitive desires.” Based upon the apostle James principle in James 1:15: “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” I believe it is accurate to say that “the lusts of the flesh” correspond to “the deeds of the flesh” – that is, desires in the heart and mind result in sinful actions in the soul and body.
There is a partial list of the “deeds of the flesh” in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. See Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
From this list, we see that some lusts and deeds of the flesh are sins of self-indulgence – like the various types of sexual sin, drunkenness, drug abuse, and partying. Other lusts and deeds of the flesh are sins of self-exaltation – like hatred, strife, jealousy, anger, conflict, factions, and envy. And still, other lusts and deeds of the flesh are sins of self-preservation – like idolatry and selfish ambition.
Each one of these “deeds of the flesh” warrants further attention, but it is not within the scope of this message to go into further detail regarding each one individually. But suffice it to say that they fall into these three categories of self-indulgence, self-exaltation, and self-preservation. From this, we can see that “self” is a primary focus in the “elements of the world.” This self-centeredness is resident in the hearts of fallen human beings who fashion and propagate the culture of the world.
The Lusts of the Eyes
The Amplified Bible explains the “lust of the eyes” as “greedy longings of the mind.” Phillips translates it as: “their greedy ambitions.” This refers to the ungodly longing for things which we can see. Biblical wisdom literature tells us that the eyes are never satisfied. See Proverbs 27:20 and Ecclesiastes 1:8:
- Proverbs 27:20: “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”
- Ecclesiastes 1:8: “All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
The word “covetousness” defines this condition. More modern terms would be “greed” and “materialism.” These terms speak of the tenor of our age – the culture of fallen humanity. But listen to the apostle Paul’s response in Colossians 3:5-7: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.”
See also Ephesians 5:5-7: “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
The Boastful Pride of Life
The apostle John would also have us to be aware of “the pride of life.” The Phillips translation refers to it as: “the glamour of all they think splendid.” Most Bible translations render simply “pride of life”; but the New American Standard includes an aspect from the root of the Greek word by adding “boastful” to “pride of life.”
The word implies “self-confidence”, as well as confidence in earthly, material things, as the Amplified Bible brings out with the phrase, “assurance in one’s own resources or in the stability of earthly things.” What is being described here is putting confidence and trust in one’s personal gifts and talents, money and material possessions, and the accompanying social position and power.
The World is Passing Away
The apostle Paul tells us that putting confidence and trust in one’s personal gifts and talents, money and material possessions, and the accompanying social position and power is not a very sound approach to life simply because God has a program wherein, He is determined to put to shame the things that the world considers strong and wise. He does this to intentionally nullify man’s boasting and to bring glory to Christ. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
- 1 Corinthians 1:26-31: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
Nevertheless, human beings continue to focus on their own abilities and the resources they have amassed from the world. While the resources of this world are, in fact, deceitful and uncertain, and while at some point, eventually, everyone’s pride is humiliated (if by nothing other than our becoming sick and dying), it is possible to seemingly do quite well in life through worldly success, or so many human beings would not be pursuing it. See Mark 4:19 and 1 Timothy 6:17:
- Mark 4:19: “And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.”
- 1 Timothy 6:17: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;”
The main point regarding this worldliness is not that it will eventually disappoint you – the main point is that it is ungodly. It is born of, sourced in, and emerges out from the world – not from the Father. This is the apostle John’s main point.
However, in the very next verse, John does say that the world will amount to a major disappointment, in a manner of speaking. This is the apostolic view of this world. But what does it mean? While Solomon did say in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”, this does not mean that the world is not evolving – or devolving.
While there is nothing genuinely new in the world (which is symptomatic of fallen human culture), what always “has been” and what always “has been done” are moving either one way or another. Is the world getting better? Or is it getting worse? The apostolic view of the world is that it is getting progressively more ungodly. The apostles understood that just as God is moving forward in His plans and purposes, Satan also has an agenda that began in the Garden and has been moving forward throughout all of human history.
In 1 John 2:18, the apostle John gives us this sense: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” Paul said something similar in his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, and more detail in his 2nd letter to Timothy: See 2 Thessalonians 2:7 and 2 Timothy 3:13:
- 2 Thessalonians 2:7: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.”
- 2 Timothy 3:13: “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
This apostolic perspective is most likely based upon Jesus’ own description of the world from Matthew 24:12: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
So, I think it accurate to say that the apostolic perspective established by Jesus Himself, is that the world is passing away, the world system – the culture of fallen humanity – is proceeding from bad to worse – but contained in this perspective is the good news that there is a new world coming. See Revelation 11:15: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
Overcoming the World
I’d now like to now shift from chapter 2 to chapter 5 in John’s epistle, where he is concluding his 1st letter to the Church. He writes in 1 John 5:4-5: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”
In this epistle, John writes of the idea of overcoming the world by being born of God and by our faith; and in Revelation 12:11 he adds: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
All this warrants a separate message in and of itself. What I would like to focus on here is simply that John feels that the world is, in fact, something that we need to overcome. We must overcome the world or be overcome by it.
John wrote in 1 John 5:4: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” Some translations read “Everyone who is born of God…” “Everyone” is a good translation, because the next verse is obviously referring to people. But “whatsoever” is more accurate. The Greek pronoun, pan, simply means “All.” It is neuter; so, it takes in neuter things, as well as masculine and feminine people.
So, it means “everyone” – all genders – who are born of God, overcome the world. But it also means “everything” – including our faith – that is born of God overcomes the world.
I have said that, in this epistle, John is drawing lines of demarcation. In these verses also, we see John’s perspective of the world. He sees only two groups of people in the world:
- Those who are born of God
- Those who are not
Only those born of God overcome the world – those that are not, are overcome by the world.
Also, there are only two groups of things in the world:
- Those things which are born of God, for example, our faith
- Those things which are not born of God, but are born of, sourced in, and emerge out from the fallen human culture.
Only those things born of God overcome the world – those things which are born of the world are overcome by the world.
John seems to verify this in the closing lines of his letter where he writes (in 1 John 5:19: “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” A.T. Robertson comments on this verse in his Word Pictures in the New Testament: “This is a terrible picture of the Graeco-Roman world of the first century A.D., which is confirmed by Paul in Romans….”
So, possibly a suitable exhortation to attach to the end of John’s epistle is a passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans from the Amplified Bible: “Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [do not be fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (be changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].”
1 John 2:18-19: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
In this passage, the apostle John associates the fact that “even now are there many antichrists” and that “antichrist shall come” with it being “the last time”, or the “last days.” He is expecting antichrist(s) because he is living in the last days. This is something we also should expect. The subject of “antichrist”, while not pleasant, is certainly not a “bizarre” subject – it is Biblical subject; and antichrists are to be expected.
The term “antichrist” is a combination of two Greek words, anti, meaning “against” or “in place of”; and Christos, meaning “anointed one.” There have been many antichrists that have come up against the person of Jesus the Christ; the Anointed One; and they are forerunners of the future antichrist, also known as “the man of sin” or “a beast” who will attempt to take the place of Jesus the Christ.
See 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7, Matthew 24:24, Acts 10:37-38, Acts 4:27, Hebrews 1:9, Luke 4:18, and Isaiah 61:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Revelation 13, Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11, and Matthew 24:15:
- 1 John 2:18: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”
- 1 John 2:22: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”
- 1 John 4:3: “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
- 2 John 1:7: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
- Matthew 24:24: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
- Acts 10:37-38: “That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”
- Acts 4:27: “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,”
- Hebrews 1:9: “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
- Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,”
- Isaiah 61:1: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;”
- 2 Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;”
- Revelation 13
- Daniel 9:27: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
- Daniel 11:31: “And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.”
- Daniel 12:11: “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”
- Matthew 24:15: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)”
There is an extended meaning and application to this phenomenon of antichrist: The term “Christian” is taken to mean “followers of Christ (the Anointed One)” – or “little christs” – “little anointed ones.” See 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Romans 8:9, 1 John 3:24, and 4:13: “
- 2 Corinthians 1:21-22: “Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”
- Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
- 1 John 3:24: “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”
- 1 John 4:13: “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”
God, Himself, refers to His people as His “mine annointed.” See Psalm 105:15 and 1 Chronicles 16:22:
- Psalm 105:15: “Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”
- 1 Chronicles 16:22: “Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”
Therefore, antichrists, in this sense, are against us Christians also.
1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
In this epistle, John made a distinction between “we” and “you.” See also 1 John 1:1, 3:
- 1 John 1:1: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;”
- 1 John 1:3: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
Here John says: “They went out from us.” In this context, “they” refers to the “many antichrists.” “Us” primarily refers to the apostles – their teaching, their fellowship, and the churches in fellowship with them which followed the teaching Jesus Christ had passed on to His apostles. A verse from John’s second letter supports this. See 2 John 1:9: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”
So, we see that these people, whom John refers to as “antichrists”, were at one point, in fellowship with the apostles and their churches, but “went out” from them. They “went out” into what John describes as “the world.” Another verse from John’s second letter supports this. He wrote in 1 John 1:7: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
Notice also that John identifies “deceiver and an antichrist” as persons “who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” This essentially means they were “denieth that Jesus is the Christ”, and this is definitive of the “spirit” which John is commanding us not to believe. This specifies the deception of the antichrist which John is addressing in his epistle to the Church at the end of the first century. The Holy Spirit continues to use these Scriptures to speak to the Church today regarding the deception of the antichrist.
John will refer to these things again in verses 22 and 23, and then again in the opening verses of chapter 4. So, in this message we will take a closer look at the phrase, “denieth that Jesus is the Christ”, and the significance of “who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” But for now, we will follow along John’s line of thought, where he next mentions “an unction” or “anointing.”
1 John 2:20-21: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.”
As I read this passage from John first epistle, I’m reminded of a similar passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. See 1 Corinthians 2:10-13: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
Again, in John’s words: We have been given “an unction from the Holy One.” The Greek word translated “anointing” is chrisma. In the Scriptures, the concept of “anointing” is associated with receiving the Holy Spirit, as well as, the Holy Spirit’s gifts, enablement, and appointments. In this instance, John is pointing out that the receiving of the Holy Spirit enables one to know truth; and that all who receive the Holy Spirit are able to discern between truth and lies. This “anointing” is absolutely critical in the Christian life. It is essential that we understand, believe, and practice what John is discussing here.
I fully agree with what Peter H. Davids has written in his commentary on 1 John:
“It is quite appropriate … that Christians, who are followers of the Christ (which means … the “anointed one”) should bear that same anointing (the root of “Christ” and “anointing” are the same in Greek).
Paul indicates that Christians have been anointed with the Spirit when he says: “He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). The experience of the Spirit was a normative part of early Christian initiation. Paul explicitly denies the modern idea that one is not supposed to experience or feel anything at conversion when he argues that one knows if one is a Christian because of the presence of the Spirit within (Romans 8:9; 1 John 3:24; 4:13). Acts also connects the reception of the Spirit to Christian initiation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:15-17; 10:44-48; 19:5-6).
John does not place Word and Spirit over one another. In 1 John 2:24 we read, “As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” The ‘what you have heard from the beginning’ is the apostolic witness to Christ (1 John 1:1-3), which in the Gospel of John became Scripture. The anointing is not “that which you heard”, but a complement to it, the Spirit within.
Again, John does not separate the Word from the Spirit or substitute one for the other, but he does recognize that the Spirit should be giving true discernment to the believer. It is the discernment taught by the Spirit that John believes will enable the believer who is committed to Christ to see correctly in this situation. The human remains important, but the divine Guide is the one in whom John places his ultimate confidence.
This passage is difficult then. It expects our experience of the Spirit to be real enough that we will understand that the Spirit himself does indeed teach us and lead us into truth. The challenge of the verse is to live in this experience, not in rejecting the role of the Word, for John never does that and in fact easily slips back and forth from Spirit to Word, but in so walking in obedience to the words of Christ in Scripture and the inner voice of the Spirit that we recognize immediately when the world tries to seduce us through that which claims to be Christian but is tainted in some way.”
I would also reference Romans 8:16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:”
So, it is imperative that we look to and rely on the Holy Spirit for truth. Basically, that is what separates true from false Christianity. The false Christianity – that which is a misnomer – that which actually should not be referred to as “Christianity” – that which is not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ – that which is not “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” See Jude 1:3: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” – is a particular heresy which John addressed at the end of the first century.
But this same heresy, in various forms, has continued to exist even until today. In his epistle John is specifically addressing Gnosticism. The particular phrase he employs – “denieth that Jesus is the Christ” – still applies to the modern-day versions of this same heresy. Again, this is the “spirit” which John is insisting we not believe.
John is speaking of “spirits” here in the same way Paul refers to the “spirits of the prophets” in his epistle. See 1 Corinthians 14:32: “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” The Greek word in both cases is pneuma, which is rich in meaning. In this context, it refers to the “breathings” (literally) or the “speakings” of prophets and teachers operating under either the influence of the Holy Spirit or the deception of evil spirits.
Denying Jesus is the Christ
Once again John brings us to the definitive spirit which he commands us not to believe – the spirit of the deceiver and the antichrist – the spirit which “denieth that Jesus is the Christ” because it “confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” He writes in 1 John 22:23: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.”
Here we see the Christ-centeredness of John’s theology: “… whoever denies the Son does not have the Father….” We cannot have God without Jesus Christ. But, if we have Jesus Christ, we have “the fulness of God” as it is said in Ephesians 3:19: “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” as Paul said in Colossians 2:9: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
It is significant that Paul specified “bodily” because John also demanded acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh or “in bodily form.” Again, not to “confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” is the heresy which John addressed at the end of the first century. But this same heresy, in various forms, has continued to exist even until today. In his epistle, John is specifically addressing Gnosticism, and there are modern-day versions of this same heresy.
“Gnosticism” gets its name from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. “Gnosticism” refers to a variety of teachings arising out of certain basic assumptions: The unknowable spirit god was far too perfect and pure to have anything to do with the material universe. One of the “emanations” of the pure spirit was “Wisdom”, which desired to know this unknowable god. This was the beginning of evil and the creation of the material universe. Deliverance from this evil material existence is attainable through “special” knowledge obtainable only from “special” Gnostic teachers. The Christ spirit came to the material universe to reveal this special knowledge necessary for redemption.
Even with my very over-simplified description of Gnosticism, it can clearly be seen that Gnosticism denies both the Incarnation and the Atonement. When John wrote in 1 John 2:27, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”, he was saying that Christians did not need the “special” knowledge and teachers of Gnosticism.
The particular Gnostic heresies being addressed by John are either the teachings of the Docetists or Cerinthus, or both. The term “Docetism” is from the Greek word dokeo, meaning “to seem” or “to appear.” This heresy argued that Jesus was not really a human being – the Christ spirit only “appeared to” materialize. Jesus only “seemed to” be a human being, and only “seemed to” die on the cross.
While Cerinthus taught that Jesus was a human being, he denied the Incarnation by teaching that the Christ spirit descended upon Jesus of Nazareth at His baptism and then departed from Him before His crucifixion. Therefore, Jesus died, but Christ did not die on the cross. On the other hand, John taught that Christ did not merely enter into an already existing human being, but that He came into the world as a human being.
In 1 John 4:2, John writes: “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” John’s use of the title “Jesus Christ” means that the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the Christ, and the Christ is the Man, Jesus of Nazareth. The Greek tenses in the phrase “is come in the flesh” indicate that not only Jesus Christ came as a human being, but also that He is still a human being – forever fully God and fully human. The denial of this is the heresy – “spirit of antichrist” – which John is addressing. See again 1 John 4:3: “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
As I indicated, revived ancient heresies are “alive and well” in Christendom today. It is not within the scope of this message to go into great detail in identifying and analyzing these modern heresies; but I will offer a few references regarding some “spirits” today which deny that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”, that is, deny that the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the Christ, and the Christ is the Man, Jesus of Nazareth.
Along with the popularity of Dan Brown’s Davinci Code, there has been a fascination with the so-called “lost gospels” of the Nag Hammadi Library (discovered in 1945) of Gnostic texts containing extra-biblical sayings of Jesus. A prime example would be The Coptic Gospel of Thomas. This document has been the main source material of authors like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossman, two Fellows of the Jesus Seminar. But also drawing from The Coptic Gospel of Thomas, authors like Elaine Pagels (and Edward Conze) have promised a brand of “Christian Gnosticism” which synergizes the teachings of Jesus and Buddha.
Citing Nicolas Notovitch’s book, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, many New Age teachers make a historically unverified scenario of Jesus traveling to India between the ages of 12 and 30 to study Buddhism. New Age teachers such as Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle present Jesus and Buddha as examples of men having achieved “Christ consciousness” – “oneness with the divine” – which is the potential in all human beings. The idea of the Christ being a “consciousness” that people can achieve through quasi-spiritual exercises rather than the One who “has come in the flesh” is a fundamental tenet of most New Age groups, as well as Mind Science groups like Christian Science and the Unity School.
Abide in Christ
1 John 2:24-27: “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
The anointing abides in us. If we heed this anointing, we will abide in Christ. His anointing teaches us about all things, therefore we have no need for the “special knowledge” offered by the “special teachers” of Gnosticism. “That which was from the beginning” is the apostolic witness of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1). If this apostolic witness abides in us, we will abide in Christ.
Peter H. Davids expresses very in Hard Sayings of the Bible well our need to abide in the real Jesus Christ: “The Christian church finds its unity not around this or that doctrine, but around Jesus Christ. To reject the real Jesus, either by denying his true humanity (“being in the flesh”) or by denying his divinity (by denying that Jesus was really the Christ), is to break with the faith and to split from the church community. It is not that doctrine is the key issue, but that it expresses the distinguishing characteristics of the person to whom one is committed. The one not committed to the real Jesus Christ does not know either the Father or the Son, according to John.”
Test the Spirits
1 John 4:1-3: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
As was stated earlier, the term “spirits” here refers to the messages of prophets and teachers operating under either the influence of the Holy Spirit or the deception of evil spirits.
So, we are to not just naively believe every spirit, but rather “test” every spirit to examine, distinguish, and discern (dokimazo in Greek) if the message is from the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of antichrist. If the message says that Jesus did not come from God, that is, that He is not fully divine, that message comes from the spirit of antichrist. And if a message says that Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh, that is, the Christ was not incarnated as fully human, that message comes from the spirit of antichrist.
In John’s epistle, and in this message, we have dealt primarily with Gnostic heresies old and new; but the anointing of the Holy Spirit is given to help us “try the spirits” to see if any doctrine be from the Spirit of God or from the spirit of the antichrist.
Peter H. Davids says in Hard Sayings of the Bible: “John says that one can tell the true Spirit of God by the doctrine he teaches. The true Spirit has the right doctrine; the spirit that does not lead people to pledge their allegiance to the orthodox Christ is in fact not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of antichrist.”
Spirits of Truth and Error
1 John 4:4-6: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
True Christians are from God, that is, born of God. We have the Holy One within us – this is the anointing – and He is greater than “the god of this world.” See also 2 Corinthians 5:19: “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” By discerning the deception of the antichrist, we overcome the world.
John said: “Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”: “They”, that is the false prophets, are from there world, so all those in the world who “lieth in wickedness.” listen to the deception of the antichrist. The “we” and “us” refer to the apostles, who are sent from God. Those who are “from God”, that is, those who are born of God and know God, listen to the Spirit of Christ in the apostles’ teaching.
Jesus taught that if we receive the apostles, we receive both Himself and the Father. See John 13:20: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” As the early church did, so also should we be “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” because their teaching is the teaching of Christ. See Acts 2:42, Matthew 28:30, 1 Corinthians 14:37, and 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
- Acts 2:42: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
- Matthew 28:20: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
- 1 Corinthians 14:37: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
Those who “llieth in wickedness.”, listen to the spirit of antichrist. Those who are “in Christ” listen to the Spirit of Christ. The Christian abides in Christ by distinguishing between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
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