WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XV) 02/04/22

4:2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God.

Joseph Benson (1749-1821) notes that many commentators understand this clause, “Every spirit that confesses Jesus is the Anointed One, who is come in the flesh, is of God,” to mean that they acknowledge Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Therefore, they are devoted both with heart and voice to believing Him to be such, and committed to Him and confessing Him as such. However, this might expose them to the loss of all things, even their property, liberty, and lives. Therefore, we must acknowledge this to be a perfectly Scriptural and excellent standard of testing, proving those in whom it is found possess the Spirit of God and the Anointed One.[1]

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) sees the Apostle John saying here is a test he immediately specifies in verse two. This is how you can recognize God’s Spirit. One spirit says, “I believe that Jesus is the Messiah who came to earth and became a man.” That Spirit is from God. Another spirit refuses to say the same about Jesus. That spirit is not from God. It is the Spirit of the Anointed One’s enemy. You have heard that this enemy is coming, says John, but I’m telling you it is already active in the world.

Those that confess notes Barnes, that is, makes a proper acknowledgment that Jesus is the Anointed Son of God is part of John’s doctrine and gives its rightful place and prominence in his instructions. It cannot be supposed that a mere statement of this in words would show that they were of God in the sense that they were true Christians; but the reasoning is that if this constituted one of the doctrines followed and taught, it would show that they were advocates of truth and not apostles of error. If they did not do this, it would be decisive regarding their character and claims.[2]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) adds that the whole activity of salvation in the Christian world acknowledges this earthly, historical life of the Anointed One. If He had not come as a human, He couldn’t have died on their behalf; He could not have risen from the dead. This is humanity’s spiritual sanctuary, and anyone who attacks this has the spirit of the Antichrist. But, on the other hand, to labor for its illumination and fuller restoration is the proper task of all who work for God in the world with a clear conscience of what they are doing. The historical Jesus the Anointed One repels those who do not have a godly spirit; those He attracts surely have something of that Spirit. Hence, in all periods of the Church’s history, those tendencies have been the most destructive, which have more or less expressly proclaimed indifference to the historical Anointed One. Nothing can grieve the Christian spirit more than to see cold-blooded people rejoice at the destruction of this image of the Anointed One who is worshiped worldwide. At the same time, a critical study of His historical life is necessary.[3]

Johann P. Lange (1802-1884) says that the Apostle John now gives the test to use on these spirits mentioned in verse one. It is an oral confession of a doctrinal truth.[4] And although this is not mentioned here by John, the verbal confession must agree with the person’s Christian lifestyle.[5] Furthermore, only a confession originating from the heart under the influence of the indwelling Spirit of God can be meant here. That confession is “that Jesus the Anointed One who came in the flesh is God’s Son.”[6] This was extremely important because He had to be human to die on our behalf, and He had to be God so that He had the power and authority to forgive sin.

Daniel Whedon (1808-1885) sees the first test of a true Spirit in the opening of verse two. This test is aimed at the Docetists, who denied the flesh and body of the Anointed One and made Him a phantom. The Apostle John’s language is sweeping when he writes, “Every spirit of that confesses.” that Jesus came in the flesh yet denies other truths. The word “spirit” is with a lower case because it refers to the speakers and their inspiration. Or, as Augustine states: “Arius, and Eunomius, and Macedonius, and Nestorius,[7] acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh; are they not, therefore, of God?  Augustine answers his question: “Those heresiarchs did not, in fact, confess the Anointed One came in the flesh because whatever they might do in words, they deny Him by their works.[8] They lack kindness because they have no unity; that is, unity with the Church.” Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885) gives a different answer, which says in effect that to confess the Anointed One has come in the flesh is to acknowledge Him as Messiah, with all it embraces; namely, His divine atonement for our sins.[9]

William E. Jelf (1811-1875) points out that we can see how little similarity there is with Apostolic teaching and the modern notion that we cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood with sufficient certainty. As a Bible School teacher in the 1960s, I was stunned by how many books authored by so called theologians and Scriptural experts found few reasons to give the Apostles any credit for writing the epistles with their names on them. If you go as far back as the days of the Apostle John, there is an overwhelming cloud of witnesses who give John credit for writing both the Gospel and Epistles. And, of course, that cast a shadow over all the doctrines taught by these Apostles.

It is true, says Jelf, that we cannot, generally speaking, demonstrate to these skeptics any testimony to satisfy and persuade those who deny these things. However, that should not prevent being able, for our and others guidance, to assert with certainty which doctrines are true and false. So much is clear from John’s desire that his readers use a particular point of principle to test a teacher’s being or not being in error. Of course, if it had been impossible to say absolutely that this doctrine was objectively true, it could not have been a test of the subjective truth of the teacher. We are to form a definite judgment on doctrines and use them as tests. Again, it shows the weakness of the notion that it is immaterial what a person believes. Everyone’s belief must be true or false, even in points on which Scripture speaks most mysteriously. Humanly speaking, opposing doctrines cannot both be accurate. Those who do not accept either one is so far in error they may be thought and spoken of as such if need be.[10]

Richard H. Tuck (1817-1868) implies that the Apostle John’s readers should know how to detect heretical teachers because God gave them the Spirit. Apparently, they failed to use the Spirit’s wisdom and depended on their debate skills. But John’s message was clear, rely on God’s Spirit, not yours.

One person may assume they have the Spirit; another may have the Spirit: you will know which it is if you discern rightly what the spirit tells them what to say and do. John suggests one test as especially applicable to the delusions in his time. Another way was to insist on the Anointed One’s genuine humanity. It is vital to notice that the heretics of the later apostolic age did not deny the Divinity, but the humanity, of the Anointed One. The spirit of the antichrist inspired them. Observe that the antichrist is not a person but a sentiment, influence, point, and teaching attitude. The essence of apostolic teaching is loyalty to the Anointed One; the nature of the misleading teaching or self-deceived prophets was independence from the Anointed One or hostility toward Him. If any person wants to improve upon the Anointed One’s ministry or teaching, we cannot be wrong in calling them antichrist. And so, John is saying expect even more antichrists to come.[11]

John Stock (1817-1884) says the Apostles, who are inspired and infallible guides, did not leave us without help detecting heretics. The Spirit of God taught them how to prepare and warn the faithful followers of the Anointed One, which the Spirit guided them into all truth.[12] He, by them, leads to the confession of the true faith and the acknowledging of the incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Anointed One, both God and man, truly God, perfectly man; indivisibly God and man. The Apostles’ Creed was gathered from their epistles, amplified by the Nicene council, called on the Athanasian to lament their errors directed at our ever-blessed Lord. Also, the Arians denied the deity of the Anointed One; the Apollinarians rejected His human nature; Nestorians divided Him into two persons, and the followers of Eutyches could not distinguish between His God/Man personality.

Four things harmonize to complete the stature of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One: His Deity, His humanity, the combination of both, and the distinction of the two joined into one. Thus, theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600)[13] notes Stock speaks on these sublime matters. The three Creeds of the Church, also our Articles of Faith, affirm what that Holy Spirit teaches touching the two whole and perfect natures: that is to say, the Godhead and manhood, joined in one person, never to be divided, of whom is the Anointed One, wholly God and man.[14]

Stock continues; let us hold on[15] as we see others backsliding and pray God will never take His Holy Spirit from us, without whom no confession is made. Otherwise, we’ll become unprofitable servants. Let us confess that the Anointed One’s offering was a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world;[16] that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith in the Anointed One our Lord, who is our one, and only, and all-prevailing Advocate with the Father. The Apostle Peter, and all the Apostles, affirmed, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved than the name of Jesus the Anointed One of Nazareth, whom the Jews crucified, whom God raised from the dead,[17] and who was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification.”[18] [19]


[1] Benson, Joseph: Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 3, p. 11103

[2] Barnes, Albert: Notes on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 4859

[3] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., December 1883, pp. 123-124

[4] 2 John 1:10

[5] Cf. 1 John 1:6

[6] Lange, Johann, Exegetical Commentary, op. cit., p. 133

[7] Augustine: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, Book 5:5; Book 22:60, 64, op. cit., pp. 278, 520, 522

[8] Titus 1:16

[9] Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary of the Bible, op. cit., pp. 272-273

[10] Jelf, William E., Commentary on First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 56

[11] Tuck, Richard H., Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary, op. cit., p. 309

[12] John 16:13

[13] The works of that learned and judicious divine Mr. Richard Hooker with an account of his life and death by Isaac Walton arranged by the Rev. John Keble, M.A., late fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, seventh edition, revised by the Very Rev. R. W. Church, M.A., honorary fellow of Oriel College, and dean of St. Paul’s and the Rev. F. Paget, D.D. Canon of Christ Church, and regius professor of pastoral theology in the University of Oxford, Vol. I, Clarendon Press, London, 1888, p. 44

[14] Stock, John: Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 421-322

[15] Colossians 2:8

[16] Galatians 1:8; 1 Peter 1:12

[17] Acts of the Apostles 4:12, 10

[18] Romans 4:23

[19] Stock, John: Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 324-325

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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