Description of False Teachers (7-9)
Starting with this section, John explains why he is reminding them to walk in the commandments of God (verse 6).
(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.
John had just reminded them—begged them, actually—to love one another and to walk in the commandments of Jesus Christ. But why? Why was it so important for John to remind Christians about this? The word for in this verse means because. What follows in this verse is the specific reason why they needed to be reminded—because false teachers are here!
Deceivers have existed for thousands of years. Jacob deceived Isaac into thinking he was Esau in order to steal the firstborn’s blessing (Genesis 27:19-29). Simon the sorcerer deceived the Samaritans into thinking he was a truly powerful person from God (Acts 8:9-11). But the deceivers John is discussing are not simply those who misrepresent themselves. These deceivers could cause someone to lose their soul.
There were many of these deceivers going about during the time of John the apostle. False teachers were prevalent then, and they are prevalent today as well. We would all do well to realize not everyone speaks the truth. We should be like the noble Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to make sure what they were being told matched up with God’s word (Acts 17:11).
Are entered into the world
This is spoken of in the past tense. It has already happened. This is not a warning of something yet future, but it is a warning of a very present danger. These deceivers were out in the world already deceiving people. The time to be aware of false teachers is now.
Who do not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.
These liars (deceivers) did not confess Jesus actually came in the flesh. There are differing views as to exactly what this means.
Most believe this is a reference to the Gnostics, a group of false teachers who were prominent in the second century. The Gnostics promoted (among other things) the idea Jesus just appeared to come in the flesh, but was actually just a spirit who appeared to be flesh. Why would John warn Christians about these false teachers? If their doctrine was true, then there really wasn’t a death on the cross, nor a resurrection. And, as Paul said, if there is no resurrection, then we are still lost in our sins (I Corinthians 15:17-18). This doctrine denies the very thing upon which the Christians’ salvation rests: the death of Christ on our behalf.
The Gnostics were not prominent until the 2nd century, though the seeds of their doctrines would have been sown much earlier. However, it is difficult to believe full-blown Gnosticism was already a present problem in 67-69 AD when this book was written (see introduction for a brief discussion of the date of 2 John).
It is more likely the Jews, the constant thorn in the side of first century Christians, had begun going out and telling people Jesus was a made-up character. The apostle Peter had to deal with this same issue. He stated “we do not follow cunningly devised fables [made up stories]” (2 Peter 1:16). Instead, Peter says he was an eyewitness to Jesus Christ and His transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-17). Peter, in the mid-60s AD, had to counteract false teachers who were teaching the story of Jesus was a cleverly designed fable. This accusation said Jesus did not come in the flesh. It is worth noting John begins his first epistle with a defense of the historical truth of Jesus’ physical coming (1 John 1:1-4). If Jesus never existed, then our sins are not forgiven. Truly this is a damnable heresy (2 Peter 2:1).
This is a deceiver
If it wasn’t clear with John’s first statement about many deceivers, he clarifies it here. The people who teach Jesus didn’t come in the flesh are liars. Literally, this verse says, “This one is the deceiver [or, the deceiving one].”
This is…an antichrist
If it wasn’t clear to Christians that these liars, these false teachers should be avoided, John uses the word “antichrist.” “Antichrist” is not a name of a person, nor is it a title. It is a description. “Anti” means against, or opposed to something. “The antichrist” is literally translated as “the one opposed to Christ.” In the entire Bible, this word appears in just three other verses:
Little children, it is the last time [literally: final hour]: and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18)
Who is a liar but her that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)
And every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already it is in the world. (1 John 4:3)
When you read these verses—the only times in the whole Bible the word “antichrist” appears—it should become obvious John was talking about something taking place when he wrote. After all, the fact these “antichrists” (plural) are on the scene was proof the final hour (the destruction of Jerusalem—see Matthew 24:24) was near. The ones who say Jesus didn’t come in the flesh are deceiving and opposed to Christ. To accept their doctrines is to also be opposed to Christ. To be opposed to Christ means eternal destruction (Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Within the last 150 years, many doctrines have cropped up about a future person described as “the Antichrist” who will come to power and deceive many shortly before Jesus comes again and sets up an earthly kingdom. This verse proves all those theories false.
Remember the following:
- These deceivers had already (past tense) come into the world and began their work of deceiving in the first century. John is not speaking of some future character (especially not one 2,000 years away from his own time).
- There were many deceivers, not just one.
- These deceivers who existed in the first century are the antichrist.
Any doctrine that denies the antichrist was a first century reality is a false doctrine which should be flatly rejected.
Some well-meaning Christians have said the phrase “the antichrist” never appears in the Bible. While this is true in the King James Version, it is not true in the original Greek. This verse in Second John does indeed say “the antichrist,” or literally “the one opposed to Christ.”
(8) Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Look to yourselves
A recurring theme in the Scriptures is the need for constant self-evaluation. Paul says “Examine yourself, whether you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5). Here, John tells Christians there is an important need to look within. Look to yourselves to make sure you have not bought into the false doctrine peddled about by the deceivers and ones opposed to Christ (see notes on previous verse). John expresses the need to examine ourselves, and then gives two reasons why we should do it.
That we don’t lose the things which we have accomplished.
The Christian life is not an easy one (Luke 9:62). It takes work (James 2:24). But the work builds up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:20, 19:21). If someone were to spend his life obeying Christ’s will, and building up treasure, but then fell prey to these false teachings stating Jesus never came in the flesh, those treasures would be lost. Frequently, people will claim “once saved, always saved.” John says those spiritual things which we worked so hard for can be lost. Who will you believe? An inspired apostle or an uninspired denominational “pastor”?
Receive a full reward.
By continuing to examine ourselves frequently to make sure we have not fallen prey to false teachers, we keep a hold of the treasures we have laid up in heaven. Eternal life is the full reward being spoken of. Jesus phrased it this way, “be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Denominational teachers frequently say “Not of works! Not of works!” But the inspired writers say justification (being made right in God’s sight) is by works, and not by faith only (James 2:24). Here, John uses the word reward. A reward is something given based on the actions of someone else. The Greek word means payment, wages, or reward. Truly, the inspired apostle John didn’t believe or teach the false doctrine of “faith-only salvation,” or “once-saved, always saved.” For John spoke of a wonderful payment awaiting faithful Christians. The Scriptures teach we will be judged eternally based on our works we do while on earth (Revelation 20:12-13).
(9) Whosoever transgresses, and abides not in the doctrine of Christ, has not God. He that abides in the doctrine of Christ, he has both the Father and the Son.
The word transgresses means to go beyond something. The idea here is of a set boundary. Everything inside the boundary we’ll call “the doctrine of Christ.” Once you go outside the boundary, you have transgressed, or gone outside the borders of Christ’s kingdom. In short, you’ve left Christ behind. John clarifies the thought a bit further by saying transgressing is “not abiding” in the doctrine of Christ.
And does not abide in the doctrine of Christ
This means he does not stay in the doctrine of Christ. This is talking about someone who was saved, who became a Christian, who was in the church. This person, once saved, has left the doctrine of Christ. No one can forcibly take you out of God’s hand (Romans 8:34-39), but you have the freedom to leave on your own.
…the doctrine of Christ
Some have argued over this short little phrase. Is this the doctrine taught by Christ, or is it the doctrine about Christ? In order to satisfactorily answer this question, let’s consider the context. (1) John mentions antichrist, (2) describes the antichrist as anyone who doesn’t confess Christ came in the flesh, (3) then discusses the ones who don’t abide in the doctrine of Christ. The other times antichrist is mentioned, the same points are brought up (see 1 John 2 and 4).
So, there is no doubt the context is talking about the doctrine Jesus Christ came in the flesh. It is the doctrine about Christ.
But what are the logical implications? If we accept Jesus is the Christ, and He really did come in the flesh, that requires we follow His teachings (John has already made this clear in verse 6).
So, is this the doctrine about Christ, or the doctrine taught by Christ? The answer is both. You can’t have one without the other. We have to remain in the teaching about Christ as well as Christ’s teaching.