Summary: 1 John 2:18-27. What really happens when someone abandons the faith; and why do they do it? Find out from the Apostle John.
1 JOHN | FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD AND MEN
FELLOWSHIP WITH MEN: UNDERSTANDING & AVOIDING APOSTASY
- In American history, there is a man who became famous for all the wrong reasons. You have probably heard his name, even if you don’t know the details of his life. Benedict Arnold is a name that brings to mind betrayal and treason; yet he actually was a gifted man and a great soldier.
- He was a general during the American Revolutionary War who fought under George Washington. Benedict Arnold was passed over for promotion, falsely accused by his rivals, deferred by those who could help, including George Washington, and deprived of recognition for his accomplishments. He wouldn’t admit that he had caused any of his problems. He always blamed someone else. So he finally decided to get revenge by switching sides to help the British. In fact, while he was the commander of West Point, he plotted to surrender it to the British. Before that happened, a British spy was captured carrying papers that exposed his plan; and Arnold barely escaped.
- The British rewarded him, but never completely trusted him. He earned a name for himself, but it is a reputation as a traitor. The man who started out as a brave soldier in the American Colonial Militia ended up dying as a British general in London. He had completely abandoned his allegiance to the land that would become the United States of America.
- A similar thing happens all the time in the experiences of those who have declared their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord, and have done so for any significant amount of time. And when it happens, it is always a mind stretching and heart wrenching situation to address: it is when someone who was thought to be a believer in Jesus abandons the faith. Sometimes it is a close family member or friend, which makes the situation very difficult. Sometimes it is simply an acquaintance and the situation is observed from a distance. But each and every time a supposed believer disowns their faith our own faithfulness is tested and our theology determines how we respond to and understand such occurrences.
- The term for this abandonment, if it is complete and final, is apostasy. An apostate is someone who rejects a belief or commitment they previously held to; and so in the context of the Christian church, it is someone who, though they once outwardly accepted biblical Christianity, finally rejects the tenets of the faith. Apostasy is a problem in today's church. It was a problem in yesterday's church, and it will be a problem in tomorrow's church. I say that, not to be pessimistic, but to paint an accurate picture of reality according to what the Scripture says has and will happen.
- As we move on in our look at 1 John, the Apostle continues to defend the true, biblical Jesus. In our passage today, he does this by addressing those who were once a part of the church but now overtly deny the true Christ. And what makes the issue so complicated and intriguing is that the people he warns his readers about did not come from way out in left field to attack the church, but from within the ranks. Let's pick up our study at v.18:
[READ 1 JOHN 2:18-27]
- Now we're going to take what was going on in the first century here, get an understanding of it, and then see how it still applies to today's church and world. The first thing to notice comes from v.18, and it is that:
[APOSTASY WAS, IS AND WILL BE A PRIMARY CHARACTERISTIC OF THE LAST DAYS]
- John yet again addresses his audience as children, those for whom he has great spiritual concern, and tells them that it is the last hour. Now this is the only occurrence of this phrase in the New Testament, but there are several similar phrases with the same meaning. The New Testament authors use phrases such as the last days, the last times, and here, the last hour, to describe the time period that began with Christ's first advent and will end with his second advent. So the last days or the last hour describes the age between the first and second coming of Jesus; and it is intended to have an imminent tone. We could say it this way: historical time is running out.
- How then, were his readers supposed to know that it was the last hour, that time was running out? By the rise of many antichrists in anticipation of the chief Antichrist who is to rise in the years immediately preceding Christ's return. He says, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. His readers were to understand that the end of the age was drawing near, and as a sign of that, many people had begun to become antichrists. That word of course is a simple compound word that implies opposition to Jesus Christ.