Having addressed the fathers and the young men, John now turns to the young children, the immature believers. He sees them as being more vulnerable to the errors of the antichrists than the mature fathers or the well-versed young men.
The Antichrist (v.18)
These believers had been taught that the antichrist would emerge in a future day. Part of his agenda will be to outlaw all religion, but in particular he will hate the God of the Bible (2 Thess 2.4). He is "the lawless one" (v.8, RV), but the pervasive spirit of insubordination that will culminate in his emergence is already with us; "the mystery of lawlessness doth already work" (v.7, RV). Every New Testament writer believed in the imminence of the Lord's return and John's way of expressing it was this: "it is the last hour" (v.18, RV). He indicates that even then last days conditions were manifesting themselves, evidenced in the proliferation of the antichrist's forerunners, the "many antichrists".
The Antichrists (vv.19-23)
Once they had masqueraded as the genuine people of God, but now they had withdrawn from the believers - "they went out from us" (v.19). Their defection exposed their true condition; it manifested "that they all are not of us" (RV). Those who are "of us", sharing the same life and characteristics of the family of God, are people who "continue with us". Continuance proves reality: "they continued stedfastly" (Acts 2.42); "…exhorting them to continue in the faith" (Acts 14.22); "If ye continue in the faith…" (Col 1.23). Those who walk away from the Lord's people in embracing and promoting error give a clear signal that they have never been truly saved.
John brands these errorists as "liars" who deny "that Jesus is the Christ" (v.22). As ever, the devil was assaulting "the truth" about the Lord Jesus. In attacking His Messiahship and Sonship, the false teachers were also detracting from the Father's honour; they were denying Him; He had no place in their lives (vv.22-23). Their error completely opposed the Father's declarations about His Son, so their quarrel was with Him, even although they perceived Him to outrank the Son! Scripture teaches that "all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father" (Jn 5.23). To deny the Son is to defy the Father.
The torrent of error that was sourced in the 1st century continues to flow. Various cults pour scorn on the Christian perspective of the Trinity. Probably the most militant and vocal are those who call themselves Jehovah's Witnesses. They suppose that they are championing Jehovah's cause by denying the deity of the Son, ignoring and even meddling with Biblical references to His Godhood. Like the ancient antichrists, their stance demonstrates that "the same (have) not the Father".
The Little Children (vv.24-27)
The antichrists saw these new converts as soft targets, and so their aim was to "seduce" them, that is, to lead them astray (v.26). For these immature believers, a major preservative was the fact that they had "an anointing from the Holy One" (v.20, RV). Space prohibits a consideration of the various names and functions of the Holy Spirit, but the fact that He is seen here as an anointing imparted by the Lord Jesus, the Holy One, is very instructive.
• The phrase helps us to understand that in Scripture, oil is an emblem of the Holy Spirit; see also Zechariah 4. The connection between oil and the Spirit is not imaginative!
• Remember that though those being addressed here are new believers, even they had an anointing. This refutes the notion that a period of time elapses between conversion and the reception of the Holy Spirit. The teaching of Scripture is that whenever a person believes, the Spirit comes to reside (Jn 7.39; Eph 1.13 [verb tense - "upon believing"]; Gal 3.2). Someone who does not possess the Holy Spirit does not belong to Christ (Rom 8.9).
• Frequently, the Holy Spirit is seen as empowering believers both for Christian living and for Christian service. In this context He is seen as enlightening. Because they had an anointing they could "know all things" (v.20). That is, they had the capacity to discern between truth and error. The Spirit taught them the truth, hence they had no need "that any man teach" them (v.27). This does not mean that divinely gifted teachers of the Word are redundant, but in the context the reference is to the Gnostics who purported to impart superior innovative knowledge; in fact, their teaching was seriously flawed. At a practical level, John is saying that because immature believers have the Holy Spirit, they know intuitively when something is erroneous, even although by reason of their spiritual infancy they may be unable to find a Bible verse to prove their point.
• Another important truth in the section is that the Holy Spirit "abides" in the believer (v.27); there is permanence about His enlightening activity. The Comforter abides with believers "for ever" (Jn 14.16). There is never any situation in which a Christian would have Saul's experience when "the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul" (1 Sam 16.14). We would never have to pray as did David, "take not thy holy spirit from me" (Ps 51.11).
Allied with the enlightening activity of "the anointing", there must be resolve on the part of the believer to hold firmly to the sound doctrine that was imparted at conversion; "Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning" (v.24). Refusing to abandon familiar, foundational, original truth gives evidence that a man continues "in the Son, and in the Father", and with that union with divine persons there is the promise of eternal life (v.25). To give an inch to false teachers places a question mark over the reality of one's profession of faith. (The terms "abide", "continue" and "remain" in v.24 are different translations of the same Greek word.)
It does seem that John had confidence in the stability of these young believers. The ongoing teaching of "the anointing", that is the continuing impartation of truth by the Holy Spirit, would reinforce what had already been taught by Him, as indicated by the verb tenses of "teacheth" and "hath taught" (v.27). Compliance would be sufficient to confirm that they were among those who "abide in him".
Again, at a practical level, we have to abide in Him by cultivating communion with Him, "cleav(ing) unto the Lord" (Acts 11.23). Some translations place the end of v.27 in the imperative mood and read, "abide ye in him", and that is how the teaching is extended to the whole family of God in v.28.
The Whole Family (vv.28-29)
At v.28, John reverts to addressing the whole family: fathers, young men and little children. In using the "little children" word, he is going back to the term of affection that embraces everyone, and the plea to all is to "abide in him". With the background, it obviously includes the need for doctrinal stability, but there is surely an appeal to maintain the links of communion with our Lord. Practically, it involves the consistent reading of Scripture to hear His voice. It demands a disciplined prayer life which betokens our dependence on Him. It means wholly following the Lord as did Caleb (Deut 1.36), rather than following "afar off" as did Peter on the eve of Calvary (Mk 14.54).
The effect of "abiding" will be seen when "he shall appear". In this context, the appearing seems to refer to His appearing to His own at the Rapture rather than to His manifestation to the world at His coming in power and great glory. John seems to have the Judgment Seat of Christ in view. Those who abide will have confidence then. (John uses the word "confidence" on another three occasions in the epistle: in relation to prayer, 3.21; 5.14; and in relation to the day of judgment, 4.17, there translated "boldness".) The word carries the idea of freedom in speech. Those who abide will not be struck dumb with their mouths closed in an embarrassed silence under the scrutiny of the Judge of the living and the dead.
Allied with that positive confidence, negatively, there will be an absence of shame. Will failing to abide mean that I will be ashamed of my worldliness, my carnality, my lack of Christlikeness, my shallowness?
It is interesting that John uses the pronoun "we" in his statement. He indicates that at the coming day of review, if they have failed to abide it will reflect on him as their spiritual mentor. Nowadays, there are no apostles to take responsibility for us and instruct us, but there are men described as "them that have the rule over you" (Heb 13.17). Their duty is to "watch for your souls, as they that must give account". Is it possible that our mediocrity will be an embarrassment to our elders when asked to give an account of their stewardship?
To be continued.