7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
A Great Deception (v.7)
John warns the church here of deceivers who are in the world. It is not necessary that we see these deceivers as coming from the church (i.e. Apostates), but rather that they are actively going about their task of deceiving. They are devoted ministers of their ideologies.
He identifies who these deceivers are by what they refuse to confess: “the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” This is one confession which has at least three doctrinal facets. First, “the coming.” John does not say, “the birth” and certainly not “the creation.” “Coming” implicates an existence prior to arrival. Jesus came, meaning that He was somewhere before He arrived. This facet of the confession points towards the Deity of Jesus, to the eternal glory He shared with the Father and Spirit as co-participants in eternal and divine joy, being of the same substance and essence as they, separate in personhood but never in ontology.
Second, “Jesus Christ.” Cristos is the Greek translation of “Messiah.” John knew Jesus well enough to refer to Him as simply “Jesus,” and several times in the New Testament it is done. Yet here, in this confession, He specifies that Jesus is the Messiah. The Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures would fill two roles: He would save His people from their sins and deliver His people from their enemies. As Messiah/Christ, Jesus is thus Savior and Lord. By this means, we find two doctrines within one facet of the confession.
Third, “in the flesh.” By this John means simply that Jesus is a man, and deeply that Jesus is the union of God and man. This is a confession of the Incarnation and the hypostatic union. It is not the case (John would have us know) that Jesus merely appeared as though a man. He actually, truly, in every sense, took upon Himself manhood.
This confession therefore is that Jesus is divine, that Jesus is Messiah, that Jesus is man. The deceivers are those who have denied such things. By including room for three doctrines yet calling it one confession, John broadens the scope of who this description can apply to. For one needs only to deny one of the three doctrines in order to qualify as a deceiver.
Systematically, it is possible to sum-up all three of these doctrines into one: Jesus is Messiah. For it is evident within prophecies, and especially within the New Testament, that the Messiah must be both God and man. For the sake of analysis, it is more helpful to separate the confession into three, yet most helpful into four, facets. “Jesus is God, Jesus is Savior, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is a man.” By separating “Messiah” into “Savior and Lord,” we may more clearly evaluate potential heresies – for if one affirms Jesus as Savior yet denies Him as Lord, he has actually denied Him as Messiah altogether.
The greatness of this deception is evident in the universal scope of it’s grasp. I submit that every damnable heresy involves one or a combination of the doctrinal facets in this confession – thus, an outright denial of the confession. Consider any ideology in light of this confession. If it denies one of the facets of this confession, it is a damnable heresy.
Mormonism denies the deity of Jesus by saying He and the Father are not of the same substance and essence. Islam denies the deity, saviorship, and lordship of Jesus. Roman Catholicism denies the saviorship of Jesus by robbing the Gospel of His sufficiency. These are just three examples to demonstrate that all damnable heresy involves one or a combination of the doctrinal facets in this confession.
It is improbable that John means to identify a singular figure called “Antichrist” here because he speaks in the present: “is the deceiver…antichrist.” Secondly, by “such a one,” he means to say something about every individual who denies the confession elaborated upon above. If you deny that Jesus is God, Savior, Lord, or man, then you are the deceiver and the antichrist. By this word, John does not bring mysticism to the table, but rather means to identify the seriousness of such heresy. If one teaches such heresy, it is as though he were pitting himself in solitary war with Christ and the truth itself.
Yet John certainly means to link such deceivers to the eschatological figure “antichrist,” and we should read this verse with the last things in mind. What we may say about it is: “Those evil forces and ideologies which will lead the world in a final rage against the Almighty are yet at work in this very day. The heresies which shall plague the day of Christ’s return are plaguing the world today. The kind of wicked men which shall work on the day of Christ’s return are working today. So beware, Christian, not to assume yourself alive in a safe time. You are living in the last days, the church age, in which damnable heresies and fowl, wicked men run amok.”
A Great Watchfulness (v.8a)
In light of such danger, John writes, “Watch yourselves.” This is a command, not a suggestion. He calls the church to the activity of watchfulness. This is what a commander would say to the sentries which he places atop the city walls: “Watch these fields.” You cannot fulfill this command by remaining idle or passive. Though John does not elaborate on how exactly this watchfulness should be conducted, a brief dip into systematics will lend an answer.
First, this requires one’s head to be buried in Scripture. Scripture is the measuring rod, the standard of all truth. If this first step is not completed, and completed initially, then the following two will be of no use. Second, this requires one’s eye to be keenly upon his life. A sharp look must be maintained upon the goings-on in the home and the church and the workplace. What information comes knocking at the mind, must be clearly visible. Third, this requires a willingness to sound the alarm if any discrepancies emerge between Scripture and one’s life. What good is a night watch who will not cry aloud once the enemy immerges? If we find any item of our lives unsynchronized with Scripture, we must be willing to toss it aside.
This Great Watchfulness is what John calls the church to. It is necessary because of the Great Deception promulgated by all manner of ghoulish, wicked deceivers. As to what great losses may be incurred if one does not obey John’s command, we shall now seek to understand.
A Great Loss (v.8-11)
It is clear that John believes false doctrine to be sin, for participation in it is referred to as taking part in wicked works. It is a transgression to believe and teach false doctrine. And of this sin John speaks most gravely. He explicitly and implicitly gives us three warnings regarding the plea for watchfulness.
First, by commanding all Christians to watch themselves, and without any qualifying language, John implies that all Christians therefore have a need to watch themselves against damnable heresy. Damnable heresy is dangerous because any one of us may believe it. Just as a foolish man says, “Grace abounds, therefore I sin!” So a foolish man says, “Grace abounds, therefore I flirt with damnable heresy!” John’s warning is clear: “O Church, you have not yet reached Zion!”
We may rejoice 9 times in the sufficiency of Christ and the sovereignty of grace – but in the 10th discourse, let us sober ourselves to consider the tragedy of false conversion. Let us on occasion take great pains to remember the great ravines which come up to each side of our pilgrim road, lest we fall headlong into one of them.
Because of Scriptural teaching regarding the eternal security of all who are united with Christ, clarification is in order regarding what exact dangers are at play in this type of situation. To these dangers John speaks most expertly.
Second, if your faith in Christ is genuine, then you will incur great dishonor upon yourself by flirting with the Great Deception. John says clearly that there is a reward awaiting Christians – but be warned: some may receive a full reward, while others not so full. Much is at stake here.
What shame you will experience on the last day, if you spend your days on earth flirting with the Great Deception! You never denied Jesus’ divinity – but you considered every now and then other ideas. You never denied that Jesus is Savior – but every other month or so, you wondered if there were other ways to God. If you only knew, beloved, how easily the righteous slip into a flirtatious relationship with heresy! They never abandon Christ, but they consider it at times. How greatly this stifles righteousness and ministry. Many a man has ran after Christ with great ambition, only to slow himself down to a trot, and eventually a stroll – because he was so busy reading the billboards of heresy that lined the pilgrim highway. Many a woman has cast great visions for glorifying Christ, only to have such visions clouded by ideas of heresy.
And on this point, I fear especially for the American church. We have at our fingertips the clearest translations of Scripture ever produced. We have more Bibles, more Bible scholars, more Bible study programs, and more time to study the Bible, than any other people in history. It is absolutely astounding what wealth God has blessed us with. Yet I submit to you that there are Christians who have a fourth of what Americans have, who have better theology. There are pastors imprisoned in North Korea, whom only have a few pages of the Gospel of Mark to hold under the light slipping into their jail cell. That’s all they have, yet by the Spirit of God and their diligence in study and prayer they have better theology than many churches in this country. There are congregations in India who pass around what few canonical books they have. They never worship on Sunday morning, or throughout the week, with a complete Bible in hand. Yet they know more about the glories of God and the sovereignty of His might than the lot of liberal seminary professors that evangelicalism has amassed.
And I can only wonder: what great shame shall we experience on that day? What great dishonor will we incur upon ourselves when we see how greatly devoted and studied these brothers and sisters have been in the faith, and yet the American church – with all its resources and Bibles – comes out the dumbest and estranged. I implore you all to make it the great ambition of your life to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Scripture has revealed Him to us, and to cling to that testimony – to bear in mind that one day your deeds shall be given in an account.
Third, if your faith in Christ is not genuine, then it will be manifest in your love of the Great Deception. O beloved, do not bat your eyes and wave your hands at the clear teaching of this text. John means for everyone who sits weekly in a pew to consider, if only even once, the possibility of leaving truth and proving yourself reprobate.
Dear pilgrim, I must remind you that you have not yet reached Zion. You have not yet crossed the gates of splendor. You still sleep in a tent by the wayside of your pilgrim road, with miles of trial stretched before you. There are pits and snares on either side of the road, and you still have time to plunge yourself into them and lodge yourself in wrath for eternity.
But don’t take my word for it – read the Divine Word. Take John to task for this: “Watch yourselves…. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (vv.8a, 9a). John commands every professing Christian to take watch over themselves. Then he warns every professing Christian that if they go ahead beyond the teaching of Christ – if they leave Biblical teaching for the Great Deception – they do not have God. And so I say, with love in my heart and driven by pastoral concern: if any of you today leave the teaching of Christ for the Great Deception, you do not have God. If any of you, my dearly beloved, decide one day that Jesus is not God, or not Savior, or not Lord, or not man – I declare to you, based upon the authority of Scripture, that you will be damned.
Do not play with fire. Do not play chase with lions. Do not stick your hand in the cottonmouth’s den. And certainly, if you value your life, do not leave yourself unguarded against the Great Deception. Watch your homes, men. Watch your congregation, elders. Church: watch your life and take great pains to ensure that the Great Deception is repelled by sound teaching and a love for Christ. Do not even assist in the ministry of one who has fallen sway to the Great Deception, for “if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (vv.10-11).
Beloved, I would like to end on a positive and sincere note. I look forward to the last day, finding you all still following Christ. I greatly rejoice in the expectation of spending an eternity worship Christ with you – a people who stand firm in the Divinity of Jesus, the sufficiency of His redemptive work, the sovereignty of His authority, and the eternity of His humanity. Remember that although the one who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God, the Gospel is that whoever abides in the teaching of Christ has both the Father and the Son (v.9).