Sunday, July 19, 2009

7-20; I John 2:18-21 False Christ and false Christians

(Antichrist selling indulgences lucas Cranach 1521)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

July 20- 2:18-19
18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (TNIV)

Calvin commentary abridged: 2:18- “it is the last hour” John is trying to strengthen the faithful against disturbing criticisms. Already many sects had risen up which brought disunity and disorder in the churches.
The apostle turns this problem into an opportunity by reminding them that the last time had already come, and so they should be more vigilant. It is as though he was saying, “while various errors come up, it makes sense for you to be awakened rather than overwhelmed; for Christ is not far away; so let us attentively look for him, so that he doesn’t surprise us.” In the same way we should comfort ourselves and see by faith the nearness of the second coming of Christ. Satan’s causing confusion and disturbing the Church is a sign of the last times.
But so many ages have passed away since John died; But what John was trying to say was that nothing more remained of the necessary signs except that Christ should appear to redeem the world. But because he doesn’t assign a time to Christ’s coming, he did not give them a false hope, nor did he intend to say the succession of the years of the Church was unnecessary. Doubtless, if we think on the eternity of God’s kingdom, so long a time will seem to be a moment to us. The last days or times are those in which all things are so completed that nothing remains except the last revelation of Christ.
“as you have heard the antichrist is coming”- John speaks of the antichrist’s coming as something well known and taught regarding the future disorder of the Church. He reminded them of this so that they may be careful to keep themselves in the faith, and instruct their posterity to be watchful as well. Yet many say nothing about the antichrist today. Some (namely the Romans) claim that the antichrist will harass the church for only three and a half years. “Even now are there many antichrists” Those who say there is only one man are greatly mistaken. Paul predicts a defection that would prevail throughout the Church. He then makes the head of the apostasy the adversary of Christ who would sit in the temple claiming divinity and honors. Paul seems to point to an Antichrist and John saying that there were already many antichrists. John only meant to say that many particular sects had already risen which were forerunners of a future Antichrist (like Cerinthus, Basilides, Marcion, Velentinus, Ebion, Arris and others who were in opposition of Christ). Though the Antichrist was not yet in existence, John was using the name that he might effectively stimulate the godly to repel frauds. If the Spirit of God even then commanded the faithful to stand watch, now is the time not to sleep when he holds the Church under his cruel and oppressive tyranny and openly dishonors Christ.
2:19- “They went out from us”- He anticipates another objection, that the Church seemed to have produced these pests, and to have cherished them for a time in its bosom. When anyone of us professes the true faith, fall away, the weak are disturbed. But John denies that they were ever really of the Church. The Church is always exposed to this evil, so that it is burdened with many hypocrites who don’t know Christ, no matter how much they may profess his name in their mouth. “They went out from us”- they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly- as chaff though mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot be labeled wheat.
“For if they had been one of us”- the ones who fell away were never members of the Church. The seal of God remains sure (II Tim. 2:19). A difficulty appears that many who embraced Christ often fall away. But there are three sorts of those who profess the faith; those who feign piety while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before others, but also dazzle their own eyes so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts. The first two have no stability, but the last is the group of which John says it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church because the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated. The incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed. It is not the faithfulness of people that the writer has in mind here, but God. So where the calling of God is effectual perseverance is certain. Those who fall away never had the full knowledge of Christ, but only a light and transient taste of it.
“That they may be made manifest” – trials are useful and necessary for the Church. Since the Church is like a threshing floor, the chaff must be blown away that the pure may remain. This is what God does when he casts out hypocrites from the Church for He then cleanses it from refuse and filth.

Not much is really known of Calvin’s view of the last things. Here he hints at some parts of his view. The end of the world and the second coming of Christ appear to occur simultaneously to Calvin. He believed that he and all the Church were in the last times in which nothing else needed to be fulfilled before the Lord came back. He also was convinced that before Christ came back there would be a common falling away in the Church. He also believed strongly (against Donatism and all those who want to find a pure church in this life) that God alone purifies the Church, and the Church is made up of good and bad (wheat and chaff). If Calvin could speak today, he would note how far the Church in the West has fallen still, and point out that we need to be ready for Christ’s coming. Yesterday on CNN the newspeople were speaking of republicans who had gone to a certain house in Washington D.C. for Bible study, but whose political careers were now in shambles because of immorality. It is easy to be discouraged in our day when so many fall prey to temptation. We should learn from this passage in John.

Prayer: Help us, O Lord, to live with the impure here without becoming corrupted by them. Help us not to be discouraged by those who profess faith yet fall away. Come Lord Jesus.

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