WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXII) 02/15/22

4:3 Another spirit refuses to say this about Jesus. That spirit is not from God. It is the spirit of the enemy of Christ. You have heard that the enemy of Christ is coming, and now he is already in the world.

The mutilation of verse three is attributable to those who desired to separate Jesus’ Divine nature from His human body: or to use the language of the early interpreters, some persons have corrupted this epistle, aiming at “separating the manhood of the Anointed One from His Deity.” But humanity is united to the Divinity in the Savior to constitute not two persons but one only.[1]  This reading was found primarily in the oldest manuscripts and is referred to by many of the early church Fathers. Still, it has no authenticity and was introduced, perhaps at first from a marginal note, to oppose the prevailing errors of the times. The shared reading, “who does not confess,” is found in all the Greek manuscripts, in the Syriac versions, in the Arabic; and, as Johann Lücke (1703-1780) says, the other reading is manifest of Latin origin. The accepted reading in the text is continuous and entirely harmonizing with John’s way of writing.[2]

William Graham (1810-1883) noted that this is more proof of John’s agápe-love for the little children, to whom he writes to warn them against the delusions of false teachers and seducing spirits. Instead, he wants them rooted and grounded in the Anointed One so that all the trials of the world, the flesh, and the devil could not move them. Consequently, they grew up in Him, who is the head of all things, ever the deeper, ever the more substantial and steadier, the longer they are united to Him, the more violent the storms that beat upon them.

These spirits, says Graham, are no other than the angels who kept not their first estate[3] but, having sinned against God, were cast down into Tartarus[4] to await the Anointed One’s day of judgment.[5] The chief or leader of these infernal hosts is called Satan (“the adversary”) or “the devil,” or “the tempter.”[6] He is also “the destroyer.[7] All these names unite to give us the terrible conception of a powerful malignant fallen spirit, the primæval enemy of God and mankind, the first mover of evil in the universe, the liar from the beginning, detaching the world from its allegiance to God.

Graham believes that this corrupt being and his human slaves are the victims of apostasy and are called “messengers” or “angels of the devil.”[8] They are also referred to as “unclean spirits” because they lead people into uncleanness of body and mind.[9] They are also named “wicked spirits”[10] because they aim to extend the dominion of sin and death over the world. They are also often called demons, often used in connection with the possessions mentioned in the Final Covenant.[11] Their attributes are lying, wickedness, uncleanliness, seducing, etc. We may gather from these hints a clear idea of their character. It is the Satanic empire so often mentioned in Scripture, under various names, in which we are born, and to deliver us from which the Lord Jesus was appointed Mediator and Redeemer. From this infernal domain proceed spirits of false prophets, which have gone abroad into the world to deceive the nations and seduce humanity from their allegiance to the Son of God. In the Apostle John’s mind, we should try the spirits of all false prophets and delusive doctrines whether they are of God.[12]

Richard H. Tuck (1817-1868) sees the Apostle John setting aside some other verses for the moment. He now resumes his proper theme. His central truth is this – Love is the high-water mark of the children of God, who is love. Love to God is a delusion if it does not find expression in love toward one another as fellow believers. And the love of Christian brothers and sisters is a sure test of our having the Spirit of God, says Tuck, for the spirit of antichrist is a self-seeking and self-serving spirit. Just as it severs the Divine from the human in the Anointed One, it detaches Divine love from human conduct. Love to one another may be recognized as a gift of God’s Spirit, an influence from the very being of God.[13]

John Ebrard (1818-1888) maintains that distinguishing between the Spirit of God and the spirit of antichrist in this passage by the Apostle John is for all times the right criterion. The more the spirit of anti-Christianism and the antichristian dictatorship unfolds itself in the world, the more openly it exhibits itself as a spirit that denies the incarnation of God’s Son. For our own time, the passage teaches us that the spirits of those systems present a redeemer, either a mere man Jesus who is not the Anointed One and the Son of God, or the Anointed One-idea without any historical Messiah. It bears the essential marks of anti-Christianity, open apostasy, and unbelief. They do not have to name themselves as antichrists to be taken seriously. Their attitude toward God and the Anointed One is proof enough.[14]

Daniel Steele (1824-1914) also has confirmation in ancient manuscripts and the witness of Greek experts that there is overwhelming evidence, including the English Revised Version, requiring the omission of the words “is come in the flesh,” as an obvious amendment by some scribe to form an antithesis. No matter how orthodox one’s theological creed may be, they do not really and savingly confess the Anointed One until enthroned in their heart as both Savior and Lord. It is their reason for bowing to His authority as an infallible Teacher and submitting to His will as their supreme sovereign, God-man.[15]

In my research, I found that some commentaries, such as the Expositor’s Greek Testament, question if it was inserted, along with other additions, as a rejection of false teaching. But in so doing, it takes away the real emphasis on Jesus’s person as the Messiah. So, the text could read this way: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus the Anointed One is from God.” But no matter what the conclusion, this verse does not lose any of the power that acknowledges Jesus as the Anointed One.

Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) says we should notice the comparison of this verse to chapter two, verse twenty-three. Here we see the spirit of mankind influenced and controlled by an evil spirit and a divine Spirit. They never work together, no more than oil with water or darkness with light. There are not two seats on the throne of your heart, only one. As Jesus said, it is impossible to them both together; it must be one or the other.[16] The failure to acknowledge the Incarnation of the Son of God denies a characteristic of the Christian Faith, the true union of God and mankind.[17] By saying “antichrist” as distinguished from “is of the devil,” (or the like) John confronts the erroneous claims of the false prophets: such a spirit, whatever appearances may be, is not of God. And if it is not of God, it is against God. There is no neutral ground.[18]

John James Lias (1834-1923) points out that most commentators supply the “spirit of” antichrist here. But, says Lias, Dr. Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) and Bishop Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), more correctly, would have the rendering more general, “this is the temper,” or “tendency,” or “character” of antichrist. It refers to the many spirits and forces that reveal antichristian action. That “it” and not “he,” as the earlier translators render, is correct, appears from the neuter “the” – and “even now is in the world.” It’s another way of saying, “And now it is in the world already.” Therefore, the antichristian disposition must be in the world to pave the way for the advent of Antichrist himself.[19]

Lias unfolds the relation between Antichrist and the Man of Sin. Antichrist, we are told, (1) rejects the Anointed One, (2) denies the Father and the Son, (3) denies that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh. The man of sin (a) assumes to himself Divine honors, [20] (b) denies the claim of any other being than himself to be Divine, (c) sets himself against the law of God. Whether these two descriptions can be reconciled in every respect is not perfectly sure. But there appears no absolute, conclusive reason why they should not apply to the same person. To assume Divine honors is to deny the Anointed One, and to deny Him is to deny the Father who sent Him, and denial of Him who sent Him involves rejection of His law.[21]

American Pentecostal evangelist Bert B. Bosworth (1887-1958) once stated that “Heresy, in the Final Covenant, does not necessarily mean the holding of erroneous opinions. It may also mean the holding of correct opinions in an unbrotherly or divisive spirit.” Bosworth mentions that Augustus H. Strong (1836-1921) noted that the word “heretical” may also mean “dissenting.[22] Still, false doctrine is the chief source of division and is, therefore in itself, a disqualification for participation in the Lord’s Supper, which is an additional inappropriate ban.[23]


[1] Scholasticus Socrates: p. 312

[2] Barnes, Albert: Notes, Explanatory and Practical on the General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, Harper & Brothers, New York 1850, p. 372

[3] Jude 1:6

[4] Tartarus, the infernal regions of ancient Greek mythology. The name was originally used for the deepest region of the earth, the lower of the two parts of the underworld, where the gods locked up their enemies.

[5] 2 Peter 2:4

[6] Matthew 4:1-11; 13:19; 22:3; 1 Corinthians 7:5

[7] Revelation 9:11; See also his other appellations, Matthew 10:25, 27; 12:24; 2 Corinthians 6:15

[8] Matthew 25:41; Revelation 7:9; 9:14; 12:12

[9] Matthew 10:1; Mark 1:27; 3:11; 5:13; Acts of the Apostles 5:16; 8:7; Revelation 16:13

[10] Ephesians 6:12

[11] See Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 10:21 et. al.

[12] Graham, William, A Practical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Chap. X, pp. 244, 252

[13] Tuck, Richard H., Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary, op. cit., p. 310

[14] Ebrard, Johannes: Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 281

[15] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hour, op. cit., pp. 97-98

[16] Matthew 6:24

[17] Cf. 2:22ff

[18] Westcott, Brooks F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 142

[19] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., p. 297

[20] 2 Thessalonians 2:4

[21] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, p. 293

[22] Augustus Hopkins Strong is perhaps the most notable Baptist theologian of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. His place in a compendium of Baptist theologians is central. Strong taught and wrote his orthodox theology from a committed, reformed, Baptist perspective, while at the same time rigorously engaging intellectual developments within his cultural context. Strong’s magnum opus, the Systematic Theology, embodied the best of his own theological reflection and of Baptist theological thought.

[23] Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, op. cit., pp. 358-359

About drbob76

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