In the Flesh

2nd Epistle of John

2 John 7

The elect lady and her children, 2 John 1

This short epistle is written to “the elect lady and her children”. Most commentators believe “the elect lady” refers metaphorically to a congregation or church as whole, and “her children” are individual members within the church. Being a “child of God” was a consistent theme of 1 John (see 1 John). The children of God make up a family of those who believe the human Jesus is the Christ, and they are to love one another as brothers and sisters (1 John 5:1). In the last verse of 1 John 2 the author sends “the elect lady” greetings from “the children of your elect sister, i.e., from the believers of another congregation with children (see more comments about the “elect lady” in the REV Bible commentary).

The coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh, 2 John 7

The verse that particularly jumps out at us in this epistle is verse 7:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

We believe that “the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” means that the Messiah has come, and that he is the real human being, Jesus.

When John was writing there was already a teaching, today called Docetism, which claimed that Jesus wasn’t a real human being but only “seemed” or “appeared” to be a human. “Docetic” is from a Greek word meaning “an apparition, a phantom” and therefore Jesus only “seemed” to be human. According to this theory Jesus couldn’t be “flesh”, a real human, since the world and flesh are corrupt the “spiritual Christ” couldn’t be directly involved in it.

Traditional Christianity is not entirely docetic but tends toward Docetism since it claims that Jesus only “took on flesh”. If Jesus only “took on flesh” then he is not a real human being, not a real human person. Unfortunately, traditional Christian belief by definition denies that Jesus the Messiah is a real human person. Because, if Jesus is an eternally pre-existent God-person, he can’t be a real human-person, because then he would be two persons (a god-person and a human-person). So traditional Christianity beginning in the centuries after Jesus was on earth began to say that Jesus was a god-person who only “took on flesh”. But a pre-existent god-person who only “took on flesh” is not really a human person. He only “seemed” to be a human person.

John tells us differently. He emphasizes that Jesus is a real human person.

“Jesus” is the name of the child born in Bethlehem, not the name of a pre-existent deity. This Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) who has “come in the flesh”. “Christ, Messiah” is never a title for God himself in the Scriptures. It is a title for the “Anointed” one chosen by God.

Jesus didn’t just seem to have flesh (Docetism), and didn’t just seem to be a human person (Traditional Christianity).

Jesus the Messiah has real human flesh (now raised from the dead, glorified, immortal).

Jesus the Messiah is a real human person, not a god-person just dressed up in human flesh.

See our comments on 1 John 2:22 and 1 John 4:2 earlier this week for more description of what John did NOT say when he said that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”

“Don’t receive him into the house”, 2 John 10

2 John 10 is a verse that can easily be taken out of context and abused. “If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting.” A person can make up any false doctrine, and then say if someone doesn’t agree with it, “don’t receive him into the house”.  This is what Traditional Christianity has done. Traditional Christianity, denying that Jesus is a real human person, made up a false doctrine in the centuries after Jesus, claiming: “Jesus is pre-existent eternal God who took on flesh”. Then once that false doctrine was established, Traditional Christianity said: “Don’t let anyone who doesn’t agree with this doctrine into the house”. See our comments to 1 John 2:19 (this past Sunday) about many anti-christs who have come into the world.

God, and God’s Son, 2 John 3

The beautiful greeting that the author sends God’s children is also a fitting departure blessing.

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.”  There is only One God, the Father. Jesus the Messiah (Christ) is God’s Son, and we as God’s children are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

 

Bill & Stephanie Schlegel

The Son of God

1 John 5

1 John 5 5

This chapter was especially significant for our family about a year and a half ago when I (Bill) was coming to understand that God is One and that Jesus is His human Messiah. My wife points out the irony in the fact that while Trinitarians often go to the Gospel of John and the Epistle of 1 John for presumed evidences of the deity of Jesus, it was these two books that showed us that God is One person, and Jesus is God’s designated human Messiah.

1 John 5:1 “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whomever has been born of him.”

How tragic that people who believe that Jesus is God condemn those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They say that unless you believe that Jesus is God, you are “denying Christ”. What a strange twist of Scripture. The Scripture says that “anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) is born of God…”

This Scripture does NOT say you are born of God if you believe that Jesus is:

  • A God-Man
  • co-eternal (“pre-existing”) and co-equal to the God the Father
  • of the same substance as the Father.
  • One person of a trinity in a godhead

These are all human inventions.  We should not turn to human inventions (5:21) while abandoning God our Father’s revelation of Himself and His testimony that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). We don’t want to call God a liar (5:10) by twisting or distorting what God said, or by claiming God said something He didn’t.

“Jesus” is the name of the human person, born in Bethlehem. It is not the name of a pre-existent person of an eternal godhead. This human Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). This same human Jesus is the “Son of God” (5:2) a title which is parallel to and in many ways synonymous with “Messiah/Christ” (2 Sam. 7:14, Psa. 2:1-7). “Son of God” does not mean “God the Son”. There is no “God the Son” in the Bible.

The person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is a child of God. If you love God, you will love that person, God’s child. If do not love that person, or reject that person, or call that person a heretic, the implication is that you do not love God the Father. Because whoever loves God the Father loves God’s child (5:1).

To love God’s child (the person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah) is a commandment from God (5:2-3; 3:23).

1 John 5:20 is a verse that Trinitarians claim shows “the deity of Christ”. Such a claim shows the weakness of evidence for the “deity of Christ” in the Scriptures. Their claims depend on dubious interpretations of a handful of Scriptures. For instance, from the whole Book of Romans, Paul’s treatise on matters of great theological importance, Paul supposedly told us that Jesus is God in one verse (Romans 9:5)!

I don’t think so.

There is a better way to understand Romans 9:5, just like there is a better way to understand 1 John 5:20. Below is a translation (RSV) that gets it right. I have capitalized “Him” for clarity whenever the pronoun refers to Almighty God:

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

In short, “This is the true God” does not refer to Jesus Christ, but to the One who is called two times “Him who is true” (cf. John 17:3), who is the Father of Jesus. Jesus the Messiah is His son.

Bill & Stephanie Schlegel

His Commandment

1 John 3

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The World’s Relation to God’s Children

This chapter mentions two ways in which the non-believing world reacts to the children of God:
1. The world does not know us (that we are God’s children) just as it did not know Jesus, that Jesus is God’s Son (3:1).
2. The world hates us (3:13). The world is like Cain, who hated and even murdered his brother.
Especially in 3:11-18, the author instructs us not to be like the world and hate our brothers, our fellow believers in Messiah Jesus.
Knowing what Love is, I John 3:16, the parallel to John 3:16

“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
This verse encouraged me (Stephanie), so much during the hardest time of my life, which was just after my husband came to the understanding of the one true God and His Messiah Jesus – and the mistreatment that followed in result of his faith. The verse really helped me to focus on what real love is – to think how Jesus humbled himself to death on a cross. He was mistreated and ill spoken of; they even took his clothes away from him. That is how I know what love is, and I could take courage because of what Jesus went through and lay down my life for the brethren, disregarding the shame.

Jesus didn’t come to give a license to sin, but to remove sin, 2:4-10
At first glance the author may seem to contradict himself. In 1:8-9 he says we sin, but in 3:6 he says “no one who abides in him (Jesus) sins”. I think what the author is saying is that believing in Jesus does not give people a license to sin. Believers may sin (and there is a way to forgiveness, 1:8-9) but a life characterized by continual sin is not one in step with abiding in Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to give a license to sin. On the contrary, the writer gives two reasons why Jesus “appeared”:
1. To take away sin.
2. To destroy the works of the devil
Jesus and a believers life in Jesus does not give license to sin, but rather removes and destroys sin.
Theme Verse
1 John 3:23 could perhaps be considered a good theme for the entire epistle:
“And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

Bill and Stephanie Schlegel

Some observations from 1 John, chapter 2

1 John 2 1

“From the beginning…”

 

The phrase “from the beginning” which was used in the first verse of the book (1 John 1:1), is used 5 more times in chapter 2. In John 1:1 “that which was from the beginning” was that which they had heard, seen and touched, “the word of life”. This “beginning” refers to Jesus the Messiah and his ministry on earth communicating God’s word, not to the beginning at creation. The occurrences of “from the beginning” in chapter 2 are verses 7, 13, 14, and 24 (two times). It is important to keep in mind that “from/in the beginning” in the Scriptures does not always refer to the Genesis creation.

 

Context must help determine which “beginning” is meant. For instance, in the Gospel of John, the phrase “from the beginning” does not usually refer to the creation, but to Jesus ministry on earth. Note these references:

  • “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:65)
  • “So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning’” (John 8:25).
  • “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you” (John 16:24).
  • “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (15:27).

In each case mentioned above, from the beginning means the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

With only two exceptions (John 8:44 and 1 John 3:8 which refer to the devil) “from the beginning” in the Gospel of John and in the Epistles of John (1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14, 24; 3:11 and 2 John 1:5-6) refers to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. This may help us understand “In the beginning…” of John 1:1. Some One God believers see John 1:1 as a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Similarly, Luke mentioned “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2). Mark 1:1 mentions “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah.”

 

“My little children”

 

Several times the writer refers to those whom he writes as “my little children” or “children” (2:1, 12, 18, 28). This should not be understood as if the writer is derogatorily chastising his listeners for being immature. Rather, these references should be understood as a terms of endearment and care, just as when he calls his listeners “beloved” (1 John 2:7, 3:2, 21, 4:1, 7, 11). As children of God (3:1-2), those that believe that Jesus is the Christ are a family, brothers and sisters, who must love one another (5:1).

 

An Advocate with the Father

 

The writer explains that we do sin, but there is a path to forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10). He writes to us “so that we may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Jesus is our advocate, like a lawyer on our side. This should give us great encouragement. Jesus is the honest, righteous lawyer on our side. He is for us. As an expert lawyer, Jesus knows the rules. He knows how to take our case before the Father. He has access to the Father and successfully intercedes for us (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5 and Hebrews 8:1).

 

We lived in Israel and all our children were born there. Most countries do not grant citizenship to foreign children by virtue of being born in the country. Two of our young adult children applied to become citizens in Israel. They were denied several times over three years. However, not long ago a lawyer, an advocate, took up their case and presto, my children received their citizenship. The lawyer knew the rules, had the connections, authority and knowledge on how to present my children’s case, and succeeded. Jesus is our expert, righteous, successful advocate before the Father.

 

“Do not love the world…”

 

The author’s admonition to “not love the world or things of the world” are perhaps the best known verses of chapter 2 (vs. 15-17). He defines what “loving the world” is: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. It is a love of the way of the world, or of this world’s system. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have an appreciation for the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation, the work of God’s hands, which is “very good” (Gen. 1:31). After all we wait for the regeneration of this world, and indeed the regeneration of this world’s system (Matt. 19:28, Heb. 2:5).

 

“The last hour”  and “anti-christs”

The author says it is the last hour. What a long hour it has been! He knows that it is the last hour since many anti-christs had already come. Specifically, here he says that the anti-Christ (anti-Messiah) is anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah). The text does not say, as many traditional trinitarian Christians say, that the anti-Messiah is anyone who denies that God is the Messiah, or that the Messiah pre-existed as God. Rather, the text says that the anti-Messiah is anyone who denies that Jesus, the man Jesus, is the Messiah. “Christ” (Messiah) is never a title for God himself.

 

Of these anti-christs, the author says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us…” (1 John 2:19). It is easy to see how a text like this could be mis-interpreted and mis-applied. Especially as centuries passed, anyone could use the text to condemn any kind of a reformer. For instance, Catholics could apply it against Protestants.  Today it is leveled against anyone who denies that Jesus is God. But in its original context it was directed against anyone who denied that the man Jesus is the Christ (Messiah).

 

The promise of God – eternal life

1 John 2:25 says that God has promised us eternal life (immortal life in the age to come). We can take comfort and joy that God is pretty good at keeping His promises.

 

Having confidence, and not shrinking back in shame

 

1 John 2:28 says that if we abide in Jesus, that is, live according to knowledge of who he is, we can have confidence so that when he appears, at his coming, we won’t shrink back in shame. Since we know who Jesus is — the Messiah of God the Father, risen from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand, appointed to rule the world, we can look forward to his return. There is a similar admonition in Hebrews 10:39: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.”

-Bill Schlegel