WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXVII) 02/22/22

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.

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) notes that the divide between “the way you know the Spirit of God” in verse two and “the way you know the spirit of antichrist,” in verse three, is that each is marked by the initial use of the Greek pronoun hos, (“this” – NIV).  “This” is a demonstrative pronoun that frames the description that distinguishes the two spirits. The statements “every spirit that confesses that Jesus the Anointed One is come in the flesh is of God” and “and every spirit that does not confess this Jesus is not of God” together prescribe the litmus test for distinguishing one side from the other. It is the yardstick for measuring the genuine work of the Holy Spirit instead of the unholy spirit.[1]

But to the average reader, it must seem strange that the Apostle John says that this confession is by a “spirit.” Some might think these conflicts with what the Apostle Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”[2] However, Paul said earlier, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”[3] So, even today, it must be our spirit that confesses that Jesus is the Son of God who came in the flesh to save us.[4]

Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) observes that the Apostle John paraphrases the longer statement that one must acknowledge that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh[5] with the simpler formula that one must acknowledge Jesus.[6] Such a restatement makes it clear that what John ultimately seeks is faith in a person; the Incarnate Anointed One, and not faith in a doctrine, even the doctrine of the Incarnation. It is personal, for it is a person’s commitment to Jesus the Anointed One. In John’s dualistic world view – truth and falsehood, he can state in the harshest of terms as the opposition of the antichrist.[7] The defectors have the spirit of antichrist, a spirit opposed to the Spirit of God because it sets itself up against the Son of God, Jesus the Anointed One, and what John calls people to be and do.[8] [9]

Ken Johnson (1965) states that Jesus was born 100% human and yet was, 100%, God. Some Gnostics taught Jesus was a phantom, not having a real body. When He walked along the shore, He did not leave any footprints![10] He also left no cross as a holy object, nor the empty tomb as a holy shrine, nor His crown of thorns to be venerated. However, He did leave His Apostles and the Holy Spirit as witnesses to the reality of His incarnation.

Peter Pett (1966) agrees that the spirits of the prophets needed testing against revealed truth, which would determine whether the Holy Spirit inspired their motivations. It was probably false if the prophecy was of new, previously untaught ideas, but it could easily be figured out. The Spirit of God at work through the spirits of the prophets could be tested in this way. If they were true, their Spirit-inspired spirits would testify that Jesus came as a human being in the flesh but was equally the Anointed One, the One Who was the unique “Son of God.”[11] For that was the revealed truth proclaimed by the Apostles and prepared for in the First Covenant. On the other hand, those whose spirits do not prophesy of Jesus as God’s Son at all but only speak of “the Anointed One” are not of God, for what they teach is false. Rather, they are antichrists, setting up a false Anointed One instead of the true one. The believers in the churches had heard that such were coming. Well, here they were, already in the world. Let them listen carefully to what was taught before accepting any prophet’s message.[12]

Duncan Heaster (1967) says that a person claiming to be filled with the Spirit had to confess Jesus as the Anointed One, as Messiah. The Judaist infiltrators would not openly confess Him in this way. But they must confess that He “came in the flesh.” They must openly accept that Jesus was a real person, for already emerging ideas of Docetism. The Jews were advocating Gnosticism to cloud the whole issue – that a man born of Mary was God’s Son, the Messiah, having a perfect character, and now risen, was able to share His spirit with believers in Him. Much false teaching about the nature of the Lord began with Jewish attempts to cloud the true Christian teaching about the Lord; these attempts later morphed by further extension into the absurdities of Trinitarian doctrine.[13]

Here we see an open confession by Heaster that to believe in the Trinity is absurd. That’s because the one God approach by the Jews that would deny Jesus as being a separate Son of God from the Father needed to be stopped. In later writings by the Apostles, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were made individual deities. Hence, the trinity was born. But many times, in the Epistles, they are presented as three in one, inseparable from each other.[14] But Heaster could not be more wrong. Numerous scriptures point to their ministries and mission on earth.[15]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) notes that the statement that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh would certainly argue against Docetic claims.[16] But there are several other kinds of heretical views that this statement refutes. Because they all strike at the heart of truth about Jesus the Anointed One, they can be easily identified as antichrist spirit rather than the Spirit of the Anointed One. The antichrist spirit does not acknowledge that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh. Yet, there is simply not enough information in the text to allow a specific reconstruction of the antichrists’ beliefs that put them at odds with the Apostle John.

We may never know, says Jobes, which of these various readings of 4:2-3, often in light of 5:6-7, come closest to characterizing the dispute in the Johannine community, but some points can be noted with greater certainty. First, the perfect tense of the verb “has come” indicates that the point being made about Jesus the Anointed One has a present significance resulting from the past action of His coming. Second, John presents this statement about Jesus the Anointed One having come in the flesh as the criterion for testing whether a teaching “spirit” is of God or not. Thirdly, John’s dispute with the secessionists is about who has the authority to interpret the significance of Jesus. Jesus commissioned men who personally knew Him to be His witnesses.[17]

David Legge (1969) relates that the first and greatest test in verses two and three is this: “What do you know about Jesus?” “What do you know about Him as the Anointed One?” The Apostle John already told us that if you deny that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God the Father, you are a liar.[18] Not only that, but you are one of the antichrists. Now, the Apostle Paul put it this way, “I tell you that no one who is speaking with the help of God’s Spirit says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ without the help of the Holy Spirit.” So, the first test of whether you are of God or not, and whether the spirit that motivates your prophecy and teaching about the Lord Jesus is of God, is what you are saying, what you believe. In an early church hymn, the composer put it this way:

               ‘What think you of the Anointed One? Is the test
               To try both your state and your scheme;
               You cannot be right in the rest,
               Unless you think rightly of Him.’
[19]

David Guzik (1984) outlines how to know when a false prophet speaks: (a) Every spirit that confesses that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh is of God. (b) Every spirit that confesses that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh is of God. (c) This is the spirit of the Antichrist: To deny the true Jesus is the basis of the spirit of the Antichrist. (d) Is now already in the world. And to protect the child of God, Guzik offers this list: (i) You are of God, little children, and have overcome them. (ii) He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (iii) He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Guzik feels it is safe to say that initially, the Apostle John directed this against some form of Docetism, the view that the Anointed One was a spirit who only seemed to be a true man. Today, some groups deny that Jesus is really God (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Muslims). But way back when John lived, it was a time closest to the actual life and ministry of Jesus on this earth; people didn’t have a hard time believing Jesus was God. But it is difficult for them to believe that He was a real man. So, this false teaching said Jesus was truly God (which is correct), but only a “make-believe” man.

Some think that this is the only test of false doctrine. However, this is not the only test, but it was the significant issue challenging the Church in John’s immediate time. Today a person might confess that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh yet deny that He is God as the Bible teaches. They also promote false doctrine because they are not presenting the true Jesus. The devil doesn’t care at all if you know Jesus or love Jesus or pray to Jesus – as long as it is a false Jesus, a make-believe Jesus, a Jesus who is not there, and who, therefore, cannot save lost sinners.[20]


[1] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., p. 421

[2] Romans 10:9

[3] Ibid. 8:16

[4] Cf. John 4:24; Acts of the Apostles 2:38; Romans 1:9

[5] 1 John 4:2

[6] Ibid. 4:3

[7] Ibid. 2:18-19

[8] Ibid. 3:23

[9] Thompson, Marianne M., The IVP New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. 116-117

[10] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 77

[11] Ibid. 2:22-23

[12] Pett, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, PDF, loc. cit.

[13] Heaster Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, pp. 29-30

[14] John 10:30; Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 2:9

[15] Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; John 1:4; 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Peter 1:2

[16] Ibid. 5:6

[17] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, Book 18), pp. 179-182

[18] Ibid. 2:22

[19] What Think Ye of the Anointed One? (1775) by John Newton and adapted to a common German folk tune, “De Fleury [“flower”], as in Fleur-de-lis.

[20] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

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