What is the main focus of 1 John?
There is, of course, the idea that his readers are being led astray by teaching which is less than Christian – which is to say, not Christian at all (2:26). There is also the problem of Christians (his readers) who claim more for themselves than they really are (1:6-10). And tied to that is the insistence of John that if you are going to be a follower of Jesus, you must live as Jesus lived (2:6). This leads us, by chapter three, to the repeated emphasis that sin is simply an unacceptable life choice for Christians. It isn’t that we won’t sin, or that we are incapable of sin, but that none of us should consider it an option (note the references to this teaching in 3:3, 6, 9).
But is John just concerned that we not sin, or does he have a specific sin in mind?
While the Apostle specifically mentions a number of sins in this letter, there is a positive life choice he wants his reader to make, and a specific life choice he wants them to avoid: he wants them to love one another, and he wants them to avoid any behavior that would be anything less than loving. There are forty-six references to love in the five chapters of the letter. God loves. Jesus loved. God’s children must love, and specifically, they must love one another – not laying down their lives for humanity (or even their country!), but laying down their lives for one another.
This isn’t often the attitude we find among Christians toward each other – but it should be, for only then can they legitimately claim to belong to the truth and be at peace with God (3:19). If we are going to look for a defining characteristic of the Church, faith must be first. But love for the brethren must be hot on its heels.
1 John 5 ends with the phrase: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
It’s weird because that’s the only place in 1 John where the writer mentions idols, so it’s curious to say the least – almost as if he throws it in as an after-thought.
But it begins to make sense if you know another meaning of the word translated “idol.” That meaning is the term “deception.”
Of course, to think that an idol is God is to be deceived. An idol is nothing compared to the God of the Bible. Idols cannot move on their own. They cannot speak. They cannot create. They can do nothing, good or evil. But when you believe in them as gods, you are deceived into many foolish ways.
1 John has not been so much about real “idols” as it has been about “deception.” There are those who say you can be a Christian without following Jesus. Some of them are teaching you don’t even have to believe Jesus came and you are still ‘good with God.’ Because it is untrue, but taught as truth, and because some have been led astray (which is why John is writing this letter in the first place), John calls it what it is: deception, and he tells his readers, including us, ‘stay away from such teaching – and those who teach it.’
Who is the “antichrist” of 1 John 2?
Pop religionists see the “antichrist” throughout the Bible, in Old Testament prophets, the letters to the Thessalonians, Revelation and the letters of John.
But really, the “antichrist” is only mentioned four times in scripture – three in 1 John and once in 2 John.
And there is not just one, and he is not “yet to come.” John says many were present in his own day. That, of course, doesn’t mean more won’t be coming.
John is emphasizing the total incompatibility of living like the world and living for Jesus. In doing so, he argues strongly for a working faith, one that lives as Jesus lived.
In this context, the antichrist is anyone who says: “you don’t really have to live like Jesus.” Specifically, they are Christians who say you don’t have to live like Jesus. Unfortunately, as in our own time, the ancient Church was full of these people. John says: “This isn’t what you know about Jesus. It isn’t according to the anointing of God (probably the Holy Spirit); it isn’t according to the leading of the Spirit. The Christian life isn’t whatever you want it to be. It is narrowly defined by the life and teachings of Jesus. Anything opposed to this teaching is anti Christ.
The word “antichrist”only occurs in the first two letters of John in the Bible and whoever they were, they were a part of the Christian fellowship being addressed.
Popular religious preachers and authors commonly describe “the antichrist” as some world leader, a messenger empowered by Satan, who has yet to arise to lead the world against Christians and deceive Christians into leaving the fold. Customarily, the “antichrist” is paired with the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians. But in describing the antichrist, authors and teachers would do well to confine themselves to the texts where the specific identification is made. An antichrist is anyone who undermines our submission to the authority of Jesus. It can be a nonchristian, but it is likely also to be a Christian.
Second, this attempt to identify the “antichrist” as some well placed political figure, and the attempt to see him in our own history, leads Christians away from focusing on their own behavior, submitting to the will of Jesus. In doing that, they (and we) ignore the primary message of First John – how we behave determines whether Christians are really disciples, or just hypocrites.
Third, John ties “belief” to behavior. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” he writes. We get side-tracked here into the discussion of whether “belief” is enough to be a Christian, or whether one must be baptized. But that is a mistake of huge proportions. John doesn’t write simply that the one who believes is “born of God,” but rather, that the one who believes and is born of God loves those others who are likewise born of God and keeps God’s commands (note 1 John 4:19 – 5:2). John is not discussing how one becomes a Christian, or how one is saved, but how the saved person acts toward other saved people. After all, John is not writing to the unsaved, but to Christians.
All New Testament books address the matter of proper behavior. In the case of the letters, it is usually poor behavior that is addressed, along with the imperative to change. In The First Epistle of John, a call to change in behavior among Christians is precisely in mind. John, the disciple most close to Jesus, wrote this letter in the later years of his life to Christians :
* who claim to have fellowship with Christ yet walk “in darkness” (1:6).
* who (amazingly) claim to be without sin (1:8).
* who claim an intimacy with God and Jesus but who do not live according to their direction (2:3-4).
* who are in love with the world and its ways, but claim to love as God loves (2:15).
* who claim to love God, but do nothing to help the needy (3:17-18).
John writes that such behavior is an intolerable contradiction, and those who live it and advocate it are hypocrites and liars – fairly tough language, but language that ought to remind us all that being a Christian is not a life of half-way measures, but one of unwavering commitment.
Hypocrisy by Christians will not be overlooked by the world. First John is a bold declaration that is not being overlooked by God either.