The Great Lie (2:22-23)

The truth that the community confesses and that the liar, the antichrist, denies, is that Jesus is the Christ. Stated in these terms, it might appear that the Elder's rebukes are directed against Jewish opponents who did not see in Jesus the hoped-for Mes siah. Yet that is probably too simple. To begin with, it does not adequate ly explain how such people could ever have been part of a Christian fellowship at all. For it seems that those who had left the church had appeared at one point to be true believers. But it is very difficult to decide exactly what the dissidents were advocating and what the author feels compelled to defend against them. Broadly speaking, the liar is anyone who claims knowledge of God apart from the revelation in Jesus Christ (Culpepper 1985:58). More specifically, the liars are the defectors from the community. But what exactly are they denying?

Here we must take into account other statements from the epistle. The affirmation that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" (4:2; 2 Jn 7), and that he is the one who came by water and blood (5:6) suggest that the mere identification of Jesus as the "Messiah," while important, is not the ultimate issue. Moreover, we can view these statements almost as slo gans, as pithy summaries of emphases found elsewhere in the Gospel and epistles. As a human being who "lived among us" (Jn 1:14; 1 Jn 1:2) and who died to atone for sins (1 Jn 1:7; 2:1-2), Jesus mediates salvation and eternal life, and is therefore the way to knowledge of and fellowship with God (Jn 14:6; 17:3; 1 Jn 1:7).

All these truths have at their heart the affirmation that Jesus makes God known and so mediates the way to knowing God. The use of the title "Christ" or "Messiah" fits into this category of "mediation" as well. On the one hand, the Messiah was, by definition, to be God's chosen and anointed delegate in ruling the kingdom. To follow the Messiah was to obey God's chosen one, and so to obey God. Thus the term "Christ" or "Messiah," when applied to Jesus, does say something about his identity; and what it says is that he is God's accredited agent in establishing the reign or kingdom of God (Houlden 1973:80). The dissidents may not have disagreed with this statement; they may not even have denied that Jesus is the Messiah. But the Elder asserts that in their actions they effectively do deny his function in mediating knowledge of God and eternal life (2:25). That is what their secession from the community reveals.

"Messiah" is thus the author's shorthand summary for his understand ing of Jesus. It entails far more than the confession of Jesus as an expect ed figure of Jewish eschatology. The "more" that Messiah connotes for John is made clear in the bold assertion that to deny the Son is in fact to deny the Father (2:23). We move from language of God and Messiah to the familial terminology of Father and Son, which stresses the intimate relationship that exists between them. Typical of 1 John, this assertion is made negatively, denies the Son, with an eye toward those who went out, and positively, acknowledges the Son, with an eye toward the faithful community. Those in the faithful community not only know God, they [have] the Father; that is, they have God as Father. If Jesus is the unique Son, those who acknowledge that Son are children of God (3:1-2; Kysar 1986:63).

In this context, "denying" and "acknowledging" have two aspects: a cognitive dimension, the dimension of true understanding, as well as the matter of discipleship or following Jesus. For to deny Jesus is to deny the true and accepted understanding of him, such as has been heard from the beginning (v. 24). But, second, denial of Jesus is also a "failure of allegiance" to him (Houlden 1973:80). Those who left the fellowship of believers have in fact failed in their allegiance to Jesus himself.

The positive "acknowledging Jesus" entails holding a true understand ing of him and his atoning and intercessory work (1:7-10; 2:1-2). John lays out how we must understand Jesus and what he has done. Having understood the how of Jesus' mediating work, we also acknowledge Jesus in commitment and loyalty to him. Thus to acknowledge Jesus is to accept his command to love (2:7-11) and to walk in his example of single-minded obedience to God (2:6, 15-17). That is, "acknowledging Jesus" means recognizing both that he mediates salvation and how he mediates salvation. These truths are so integrally interrelated that the author speaks of them simply as the truth (2:21). And it is especially at the point of the way in which Jesus mediates salvation, how salvation comes to us, that John and the schismatics disagree, as the Elder's earlier words about the necessity of accepting the atoning work of Jesus (1:7— 2:2) have already made clear.

Here then is a reminder to the church that the message it dare not sacrifice is the "stumbling block of the cross," to borrow a phrase from Paul. Any version of the Christian message that abandons the twin truths of human sin and divine salvation through the cross of Jesus would fall outside of John's rubric of the truth. The very real danger facing John's church and the church today is to water down and ignore the realities of human sinfulness and God's demand. And this happens in many ways. It happens when the gospel is turned into a panacea for the problems, big and small, that we all face, and the sum and substance of the gospel becomes a promise for a better life defined on our terms. It happens when we preach only what God generously gives to us and not what God also expects of us. It can happen when human beings label as acceptable what the Scriptures label as intolerable: injustice, unkindness, intoler ance, immorality, hatred, greed, selfishness and so on. And it happens when alternative ways to knowing God—whether in other religions or movements, such as the New Age movement—are condoned as accept able ways of salvation.

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