We’re approaching Christmas. Picture Jesus, the newborn infant, lying in a manger. Now answer these questions:
- Did the newborn Jesus cry like any other newborn or was he supernaturally peaceful?
- Would the newborn Jesus be recognizable as something different from the rest of humanity by a stranger, or would he look just like any other crying baby?
- Hebrews tells us that the world was created and is sustained through Jesus. In his infant mind, was he holding and spinning the galaxies around in space, or do you think he only cared about pooping, eating, and sleeping?
How you answer those questions reveals a lot about your Christology. The ancient church discerned that Jesus was fully God and fully man. That’s fine in the abstract, but difficult to figure out in reality.
The false teachers (let’s call them by John’s term, now: antichrists) had shifted their Christological views. They would have assumed that they were just a different, more enlightened variety of Christian. John knew otherwise—their views led to a denial of the Father as well as the Son, which removed them from the promise of eternal life.
. . .
Let’s catch up with the antichrists. John’s told us a lot about what they claim for themselves indirectly:
- fellowship with God (1:6)
- committed no sins (1:8, 10)
- know God (2:4)
- abide in God (2:6)
- in the light (2:9)
Here John makes a direct accusation: they deny that Jesus was the Christ. Later in 4:2, John will clarify this: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (NRSV, emphasis mine)
Although it’s difficult to figure out exactly what the opposite side of an argument is, John Stott provides a good summary of what these antichrists likely believed:
The antichrists probably taught (as some later Gnostics certainly taught) that Jesus was born and died a man, and that ‘the Christ’, by which they meant a divine emanation, was within him only during his public ministry, descending upon him at his baptism and leaving him before the cross. They thus denied that Jesus was or is (estin, 22) the Christ or the Son.
These views were infiltrating John’s church, so he had to provide his people with a method for discerning truth from error. That method is confession.
. . .
Bultmann says it well:
God is always to be perceived in his revelation in Jesus, just as, according to Jn 17:3, the knowledge of God and Jesus belong together.
In the footnotes to this passage, Bultmann offers a collection of texts from the Gospel of John that elaborate on the relationship between the Father and the Son. It’s a fascinating collection:
- Whoever honours the Son also honours the Father (John 5:23)
- Whoever knows the Son also knows the Father (John 8:19; 14:7)
- Whoever hates the Son also hates the Father (John 15:23)
- Whoever does not know the Son also does not know the Father (John 16:3)
- Whoever has seen the Son also has seen the Father (John 14:9)
I grew up picturing God as an old man who was slightly angry with me for all my sins. In contrast to that, his son was full of love for me and took the blame for my sins so the Father would begrudgingly allow me into heaven. Scripture says very plainly that the Son and the Father are one God, and share many attributes. If you want to figure out what God the Father is like, just look at his Son. If you know one, you’ll know the other. It’s a much happier picture than what I used to think!
The antichrists in John’s congregation denied Jesus was the Christ. That means, for John, that they denied the Father as well. In contrast to that, we’re invited to confess the Son, and we’ll wind up with the Father as well. Confession is a public act. It’s throwing your cards on the table and revealing to everyone what you believe.
The promises continue.
Next John reuses one of his favourite words: abide or remain (menō). If the teaching you heard from the beginning abides/remains in you, then you will abide/remain in the Son and in the Father. This takes the promise of the last verse one step further. If we confess the Son, then we have the Father. Furthermore, if original teaching abides in us, than we will abide in the Son and in the Father.
Wait, there’s more.
Verse 25 goes on to remind us of eternal life. When solid teaching remains in us, and we are not swayed by the false teaching of the antichrists, then we are heirs to the promise of eternal life.
When we hear the word “eternal” today, most of us think of a really, really, really long time. While there is a time aspect to it, Dallas Willard has done a great job of showing how eternal life is more than just a duration of time: it is a quality of time (The Divine Conspiracy). When we became believers, we received eternal life—a God-filled life—that we participate in now. It’s not just for the dead.
. . .
Let’s return to the issue of Christology. I’m not suggesting that the modern church is falling for the old idea that Christ’s spirit inhabited Jesus for a time, and left him before the cross. That battle’s been fought. However, could there be ways that we distort Jesus’ life today?
Do we ever over-spiritualize him at the expense of his humanity? Do we just assume he knew everything all the time because he was fully God? Do we secretly assume that his temptation in the desert ultimately wasn’t too bad, because he knew that he was God anyway? Will we picture him this Christmas as a little infant spinning the galaxies in space?
A good remedy for the is to return to the gospels. Read them again. Read them with fresh eyes. Allow yourself to see how Jesus struggled, cried, and got angry. Allow the Spirit of Christ, who inspired the words of the gospels, to teach you the truth.