1 John and the Refutation of the Antichrists
In 1 John, the Apostle seeks to write a letter to a church of Christians to assure them of their hope and salvation in Christ (2:12-14; 5:13). Attached to this primary purpose is a response to a group likely responsible for encouraging doubting. The Apostle John responds to the heretical group, who appear to deny Jesus being fully human, in primarily three sections: 2:18-28, 4:1-6, and 5:6-7.
John’s opening includes a strong hint that paves the way for his repudiation of heresies. In his prologue, we find John emphasizing “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed, and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life,” (1:1). We find Paul repeating ‘heard’ twice, ‘revealed’ twice, and ‘seen’ three times. We leave the prologue with the sense that this incarnated Word was of a physical form, which initial sets a tone that denies the charge of Jesus being a phantom on the grounds that John and the apostles had not simply seen and heard Him, but “physically touched” Him with their own hands (1:1). The next section to build upon this foreshadow is 2:18-28, where we find the opponents first mentioned. We come to learn that these ‘antichrists’ were once associated with the Christians until they promoted heresies and left their ranks. The first heretical doctrine of Jesus that they promote is that He was not the Christ/Messiah (2:22). Although this does not objectively conclude they rejected the physical nature of Jesus, the Messiah of prophecy did seem to be a figure in human form. Later in the letter John continues his refutation of their heretical teachings, where he claims that every Spirit acknowledging, “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist,” (4:2-3). Denying Jesus is associated with denying he came in the flesh, which now attaches their heresy with denying he was both the Messiah and in human Form. The third refutation from John comes in chapter 5, where he states, “Jesus Christ – He is the one who came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and by blood,” (5:6). It appears that these theological opponents promoted Jesus as coming simply in some phantomlike form.
John refutes this heresy as coming in the spirit of the antichrist. He affirms that rejecting Jesus in the flesh is tantamount to making God a “liar,” as “it is God’s testimony that He has given about His Son,” (5:10). In addition, the refutation is found in the set-up of the prologue: Not simply is this testimony from God, but this is the testimony of those who physically ‘saw,’ ‘heard,’ and ‘touched’ the ‘Word of life,’ (1:1).