Teaching series from 1 John

Detecting False Teachers

1 John 2:18-27

Teaching t12640


Remind briefly of the setting (MAP), including recent separation from Gnostic teachers. These Gnostic teachers shook the Ephesian Christians’ confidence about whether they really belonged to God and knew Him, were saved, were spiritual, etc. So John wrote this letter for two purposes: to assure them that they did know and belong to God (5:13), and to expose and refute the Gnostic teachers (2:16). John returns again to this second purpose in 2:18-27. Since he covers the same topic in 4:1-6, we will cover it as well.

Read 2:18. We need to understand two technical terms to get what John says here.

“It is the last hour.” John isn’t predicting that Jesus would return within 60 minutes (if so, he would never have bothered to send this letter!). “Last hour,” like “last days” and “the end of the age” are all biblical terms usually used to describe the period of history between Jesus’ First and Second Comings (TIMELINE). Jesus’ First Coming was the decisive event of God’s redemptive plan because Jesus died for our sins. His resurrection guaranteed that He will return to establish God’s kingdom over the earth. The interim period – the period in which Christians spread the news of Jesus’ forgiveness and imminent return – is the “last hour,” the last period of fallen human history.

“Antichrist” means “opposing Christ” – those who oppose the real Jesus. especially through deception. He says that the “last hour” will be characterized by many antichrists, and that it will culminate in the emergence of the Antichrist. John is referring to Jesus’ own warning in Matt. 24:4,5,11,24,25 (read). Many false teachers and false prophets would come throughout the time between His First and Second Comings—people who would claim to speak for Him, speak as Him, even do miracles—but who are actually working against Him. These opponents are forerunners of the ultimate Antichrist—a diabolical false Messiah who will emerge shortly before Jesus returns. John is saying that the false teachers/prophets have emerged—just as Jesus predicted. And they continue to emerge today, which means it’s important to knowhow to detect them...

Apostolic authority

Read 2:19,20. Notice the three pronouns. “You” refers to the Ephesian Christians. “They” refers to the Gnostic teachers. To whom does the “us” refer? It refers to John and the other apostles, the authoritative teachers about Jesus. John is saying that the fact that the Gnostics deviated from the apostles’ teachings proved that they were “not of us” – false teachers. He says the exact same thing in 4:4-6 (read) – especially 4:6, where John says that anyone who does not agree with the apostles is not from God and is spiritually deceived. That’s quite a claim! That sounds like an arrogant power-grab! What is the basis for John’s claim for this “apostolic authority?”

First, most of the apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. Therefore, they know the facts about who He claimed to be and how He validated those claims (e.g., John’s gospel). And the fact that they were willing to suffer (including martyrdom) for their testimony gives it the strongest kind of historical reliability. The Gnostics were not eyewitnesses.

Second, and even more importantly, Jesus designated them as His official spokespersons. “Apostle” (apostolos) means “one sent by another.” It means something like ambassador – one who speaks officially for the authority. Jesus expressly gave the apostles this authority (read Matt.10:40), and He promised that His Spirit would supernaturally enable them to remember and properly interpret His words and deeds (Jn.14:26; 16:13).

Who were these apostles? Jesus’ twelve disciples (minus Judas), plus Matthias, Paul, and James (Jesus’ half-brother). They had to have been personally chosen by Jesus for this role (not self-chosen), and they had to have seen the risen Jesus (Acts2:32; 1Cor.9:1). Since Paul was the last person to whom the risen Jesus physically appeared (1Cor.15:8), there are no more apostles. This fact has significant implications for the way we define Christianity.

This is why (not surprisingly) the New Testament is the authoritative definition of Christianity – because its authors are apostolic. Every New Testament book was authored by an apostle – either directly (e.g., Paul’s letters; Peter’s letters; Matthew; John; etc.) or indirectly (e.g., Mark; Luke-Acts).

This is why later (2nd-century AD or later) “gospels” (like “The Gospel of Thomas”) are false gospels and not authoritative. This is why the Roman Catholic Church’s claim that the popes have apostolic authority (“apostolic succession” handed down by Peter) is false.

Now that we understand who the “us” in 2:19 is, we are ready to understand how to detect false “Christian” teachers...

Tests for detecting false “Christian” teachers

John has already given us two tests for detecting false teachers. They both have to do with the kind of lifestyle the teachers live and/or promote.

Do they “walk in the light” (1:6,8,10)? Do they teach and practice biblical ethics, or do they live and/or promote lifestyles characterized by sexual immorality, materialistic greed, or abuse of power?

Do they “walk in love” (2:9)? Do they teach and practice real love for Christians and non-Christians. or do they live and/or promote lifestyles characterized by hatred and bigotry toward people who do not agree with them?

Now John gives us two more tests for detecting false teachers.

Do they agree with the apostles’ teaching about who Jesus is? Read 2:22; 4:2,3a. If someone claims to speak for God but denies that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” he is a false teacher. This is not just a trite religious slogan; it is loaded with important theological content. It means “Jesus of Nazareth is fully God and fully human, humanity’s only Savior and Messiah.” “Jesus” refers to the historical figure. “Christ” refers to the Messiah/Savior predicted by the Old Testament. “Has come in the flesh” implies that this Person Jesus pre-existed and took on humanity at a point in history.

Why is Jesus’ identity so critical? Because who He is determines the salvation He can provide. According to the Bible, salvation is being reconciled to God by being forgiven for the guilt of our sins. Our sins can be forgiven only through the death of God’s chosen Substitute. This Substitute must be both a sinless human (in order to die for sinful humans) and fully divine (in order to pay for all of our sins). Only Jesus lived a perfect human life to qualify to lay His life down for our sins. Only Jesus was God, so that His death could pay for all sins and provide complete forgiveness to everyone receives Him (Jn.3:16).

False teachers deny Jesus by rejecting his true identity in one way or another.

These Gnostic teachers reinvented Him as a human-only teacher who taught salvation through secret spiritual knowledge. This is similar to the New Age Jesus who is a guru of God-consciousness.

Other Gnostic teachers denied Jesus by reinventing Him as a lesser spirit being, but not God-incarnate. This is similar to the Jesus of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism, who is an angel but not fully God.

Today we have many additional counterfeit versions of Jesus: The “Jesus Seminar” Jesus is a wandering sage/religious revolutionary; the Da Vinci Code Jesus is a religious mystic who taught enlightenment through sexual intercourse; the Jesus of Eastern religions is one of many manifestations of God; the therapeutic Jesus is whoever we want Him to be to help us with our problems as we define them (“Jesus as Genie”).

John says that those who teach other versions of Jesus are “antichrists” – opponents of the real Jesus who are spiritually deceiving people. John is not arrogant or intolerant; he is honest and loving. He speaks as one who has been healed from a fatal disease through a wonderful medicine – and then warns others with the same disease about counterfeit medications that will leave them to die in their sickness.

Does the Holy Spirit confirm this view of Jesus? Read 2:20,27. This “anointing” that all Christians have received from God and who abides in us is His Spirit (read 2Cor.1:21,22). The Holy Spirit is a Person (not a force), also fully divine, who permanently indwells us the moment we entrust ourselves to the real Jesus (Eph.1:13,14). He always influences us toward Jesus (Jn.16:14): He assures us of Jesus’ love for us, He transforms our characters to be like Jesus’, He empowers us to serve Jesus, He illuminates Jesus’ Word, and He helps us to recognize the true Jesus. How does the Holy Spirit do this? Jesus answers this in Jn.10 (readJn.10:4,5,27).

Just as sheep intuitively recognize their shepherd’s voice and follow him, so those who belong to Jesus have His Spirit, who enables them to recognize His voice in spiritual teachers who talk about the real Jesus. And just as sheep also are unwilling to follow another voice, so those who belong to Jesus have His Spirit, who sounds an inward alarm when they hear spiritual teachers advocate a false Jesus.

Prior to receiving Christ, I occasionally heard Billy Graham on TV. He always left me utterly cold. A couple of months after receiving Christ I happened to hear him on TV – and I was amazed at how much he had improved! He hadn’t improved; the Holy Spirit in me resonated with his teaching. About this same time I listened to a positive thinker preacher on the radio – and I had a visceral negative reaction to him. As I discussed his content with other Christian friends, they helped to understand why the Holy Spirit within was warning me.

Re-list the four tests. Apply these four tests to all who claim to be spiritual teachers – especially the third test (1Jn.4:1). This is your responsibility. God holds teachers accountable for what they teach (Jas.3:1), but He holds each of us responsible for testing teachers. You have unprecedented access to spiritual teaching through the internet, but there are many false teachers! Do not trust spiritual teachers (including me) just because they have a seminary degree, or because they are a powerful speaker, or because they are part of a long-standing denomination, or because they have supernatural power, etc. Genuine teachers should be open about their lives, they should root their teachings in the Bible, and they should encourage you to test their teachings by the Bible. Be suspicious of those who discourage this in any way. Now let’s briefly consider some additional biblical applications ...

Additional biblical applications

Don’t call people false teachers unless they fit this description. We may disagree about matters of lesser importance (e.g., worship style; lesser ethical matters; role of ritual; church structures and methods; etc.) – but if they uphold the real Jesus, have moral integrity, and are genuinely loving, we should not use this term.

Don’t support false teachers with your personal fellowship or with your financial support (2 John1:9-11). This passage doesn’t mean that we should shun all conversation – we owe them the same basic courtesy that we owe all people. It means that to embrace false teachers as fellow Christians and/or to financially support their ministries is to compromise our commitment to Jesus and participate in their deception.

Warn other Christians about false teachers. This is what John is doing in 1 John, and what virtually every New Testament letter does. By doing this, we help protect them from being damaged by false teaching so they can grow spiritually and be effective workers for Jesus. By failing to do this, we fail to speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, reach out to those who have been influenced by false teaching (read Jude1:22,23). Avoid fruitless argument—but relate with genuine love and share the real Jesus and His gift of God’s complete forgiveness. This can have a powerful impact! How many people in this room are glad that others did this for them?


NEXT WEEK: 1John 2:28-3:3 “Living In Light of Jesus’ Return”


About the corresponding Hebrew term (shalika), the rabbis said: “The one sent is as the one who sends him.”