WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXVI) 02/21/22

4:3 If another spirit refuses to say this about Jesus. That spirit is not from God. It is the spirit of the Anointed One’s enemy. You have heard that the enemy of the Anointed One is coming. Well, he’s already in the world.

With all the grammar aside, Boice points out that a true confession explicitly accepts that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, was human and the divine – the Son of God, the Anointed One. Jesus did not earn it, nor was it given to Him, nor was He randomly chosen for this role. He already eternally existed with the Father and voluntarily came to earth to become a human being so that He might save the world from sin’s curse of everlasting punishment. So, we are not talking about two-in-one, but one-and-the-same. It means that, unlike the Docetists, you cannot separate the Son of God from the son of man; it’s not one or the other. He is simultaneously divine and human in one body. That’s how He lived, died, and rose from the dead, that’s how He ascended into heaven, and that’s how He will return to gather the dead and living believers up and take them to live in heaven with Him, the Father, and the Spirit.

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) says there can never be an authentic gospel without true teaching concerning Jesus, the Son of God, is come in the flesh. At the very least, any true gospel must boldly blaze abroad that the man Jesus is “the Anointed One, the divine Savior.” The Son of God has come in the flesh. He is as much God as the Father is God. He is as human as we are human in all things except sin. Only such a One can be our Savior.[1] However, any over-emphasis on our Lord’s divinity or humanity does a disservice to His real mission. He could not die as God on our behalf to remove sin’s curse, nor could He rise from the dead and ascend into heaven if He were not God. Just like sodium chloride is needed to create salt, it took Jesus’ divinity and humanity to make the Messiah.

William Loader (1944) says that the words “acknowledge Jesus” is short for “recognizing that Jesus the man is the Anointed One in the flesh.” Anyone who objected to this identification was labeled as the spirit of the antichrist. The Apostle John has already identified the false teachers who have left the community as operating under the antichrist’s influence; therefore, antichrists themselves.[2] Now here in verse three, John returns to this traditional theme. The danger facing his readers is the ultimate danger expected to confront the Christian community, at the utmost risk of division and disharmony.[3]

David Jackman (1947) talks about the traveling prophets who claimed to speak authoritatively to the nations or (more often) to the Church. Some claim the authority of God to direct others’ lives, including decisions about work, or marriage, or where they live, by virtue of their direct communication with God. Others claim the power of God to exorcise or heal, or to perform signs and wonders. Any thinking Christian (and to be biblical, we must be thinking!) will want to assess these claims to determine whether they are genuine or bogus. We are not called upon to be naïve or gullible, fondly believing all who claim to speak for God. Instead, we must follow John’s exhortation to test these phenomena, not cynically but lovingly, by applying the two critical criteria laid down in this paragraph.[4]

John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) says that the voices we listen to shape our choices. We must listen to the correct ones.  In the first three verses, the Apostle John responds to a relatively specific heresy that is being promoted by some in the church.  Referred to as Docetic Gnosticism, or Docetism, [5] this position held that Jesus, being fully God, is fully Spirit and only appeared to be human.  Since the world is evil, they held that God’s purity would prevent Him from being part of humanity.  They entirely denied Jesus’ human nature, since they tried to resolve a conflict that Jesus could not be fully man and God simultaneously.[6]

What Colin G. Kruse (1950) says here about a spirit’s acknowledgment that Jesus the Anointed One from God has come in the flesh does not vary from the Jewish hope for their Messiah. The one big difference is that for the Jews, the Messiah is yet to come in the flesh. That means, if Jews are hoping for the Messiah to come quickly to bring them freedom from anti-Semitism and establish the kingdom of David once more, John announces that such a spirit was already in the world.[7]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) sees the Apostle John acknowledging two very different kinds of spirit manifestations, and this is why some yardstick is necessary. First, a spirit may be “of God.[8] It may represent and express ideas or sentiments in line with God’s assessment of things. Paul wrote his epistles with a consciousness of having God’s Spirit.[9] John writes with a similar sense of presence. His letter typifies an expression that is “of God” in the sense of conveying God’s wisdom and the truth about the matters at hand.

Or, says Yarbrough, a spirit may give a very different impression: it may seem to indicate that “Jesus is not of God.” It is probably an indirect expression that, in context, means that Jesus as God’s Son did not really and fully assume human nature with real flesh and blood. John issues a warning with at least formal parallels: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus the Anointed One as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world.”[10] The readers of 1 John are to be alert to the misrepresentation of the Anointed One amid the spiritual manifestations that arise within their community. Such falsification is not a fine point of doctrine but rather the specter of antichrist himself, who, as John has already said, [11] has come and is active in the world. Satan will stoop to any level to deceive people, including God’s susceptible people, who remain present in the world with glorious redemptive potential. The adversary is also on the scene to disrupt and mislead where he can.[12] [13]

However, Judith M. Lieu (1951) says the Apostle John’s warning against “many” spirits encourages the readers to see themselves as vulnerable unless they are alert. There is no suggestion that without John’s intervention, his readers may have been enchanted to believe “every spirit,’’ nor that they were in danger of being awed by any charismatic behavior. Instead, the appeal to discernment is conventional, [14] and it encourages the audience to see themselves as those who consciously measure alternative ideas by their standards and always remain on guard against any decrease in their past practices.

Therefore, any principle for such testing would be unlikely to contain anything new or unexpected. The Apostle John is not giving them a command as to how they are to recognize any spirit that comes from God; instead, he is making a statement of what is already the case. This is the standard pattern following the characteristic, “This is how you can recognize.’’ [15] Some translations have “By this you know,”[16] carries a note of instruction and warning not to forget. The actual wording of this confession is unparalleled, [17] and translators and commentators have interpreted it in any number of ways. First, the debate surrounds the grammatical construction – the content of the spirit’s acknowledgment and, second, the intention of its distinctive emphasis.[18]

Ben Witherington III (1951) states that the correctness of this conclusion to acknowledge Jesus as being from God can be confirmed by noting that the opposite verse of the true confession is said to be “failing to confess Jesus” – nothing more. Now, this is unlikely to indicate failure to accept that a person named Jesus of Nazareth existed or was a human being. Recognizing that a person exists does not require a confession. What, then, about Jesus, the human being, does require a confession of faith? The answer is that this human being, Jesus, is the human Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, who lived and died according to God’s plan.[19]

Gary M. Burge (1952) mentions that this is the only time the Greek dokimazō (“testing”) occurs in the Johannine literature, although it often occurs in the Final Covenant (twenty-two times). But what should one test for? The Spirit of God always glorifies the Son of God.[20] Thus the first test centers entirely on one’s view of Jesus the Anointed One. We saw earlier how incarnational Christology was at the heart of this community’s struggles.[21] Behind these words, John is urging three things about our belief: (1) that the man Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the divine Word of God; (2) that Jesus the Anointed One was and is fully divine as well as completely human; and (3) that Jesus is the sole source of eternal life since He alone reveals the Father to us and atones for our sins.[22]


[1] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 134

[2] 1 John 2:18, 22

[3] Loader, William, Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 50

[4] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., pp. 110-111

[5] The Word Gnosticism is based upon the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. The word Docetism is based upon the Greek word dokesis, meaning appearance. There were two groups of Gnostics, the Docetics and the Cerinthains. The Dosetics denied the humanity of the Anointed One, seeing Him as a mystical god much like the Greek gods. The Cerinthians accepted Jesus’ humanity, and taught that He first received the Holy Spirit at His baptism, and gave it up on the Cross.

[6] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: Holding to the Truth in Love (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), pp. 101-102

[7] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, (The Pillar New Testament), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[8] 1 John 4:1

[9] 1 Corinthians 7:40

[10] 2 John 1:7

[11] 1 John 2:18

[12] Cf. 1 Peter 5:8

[13] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 224

[14] Cf. Mark 13:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:21

[15] New International Version (NIV) cf. 1 John 2:3; 3:24; 4:6, 13; 5:2; cf. 3:16, 19

[16] See New American Standard Bible (NASB)

[17] See 2 John 1:7

[18] Lieu, Judith: The New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. 165-166

[19] Ben Witherington III. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: op. cit., loc. cit., (Kindle Locations 7092-7097

[20] John 15:26; 16:13-15; 1 Corinthians 12:1-3

[21] 1 John 2:18-22; See 1:1-4

[22] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., pp. 174-175

About drbob76

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