For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh….

2 JOHN 1:7

Deception has always been an effective weapon and is deadliest when used in the field of religion.

Our Lord warned against this when He said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” These words have been turned into a proverb known around the world, and still we continue to be taken in by the wolves. There was a time, even in the twentieth century, when a Christian knew, or at least could know, where he stood. The words of Christ were taken seriously. A man either was or was not a believer in New Testament doctrine. Clear, sharp categories existed. Black stood in sharp contrast to white; light was separated from darkness; it was possible to distinguish right from wrong, truth from error, a true believer from an unbeliever. Christians knew that they must forsake the world, and there was for the most part remarkable agreement about what was meant by the world. It was that simple. The whole religious picture has changed. Without denying a single doctrine of the faith, multitudes of Christians have nevertheless forsaken the faith. Anyone who makes a claim to having “accepted Christ” is admitted at once into the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the glorious company of the apostles regardless of the worldliness of his life or the vagueness of his doctrinal beliefs. We can only insist that the way of the cross is still a narrow way![1]

Being Loyal to the Truth

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. (7–8)

Biblical love does not imply a naïve, uncritical, undiscerning acceptance of anyone who claims to represent Jesus Christ. Thus, having stressed the importance of love, John immediately set limits on it. Believers cannot, in the name of love, embrace any of the many deceivers who have gone out into the world. Followers of the true Christ cannot love antichrists; those who are committed to biblical truth cannot have fellowship with those who pervert it (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14–15). Deceivers translates the plural form of planos, which literally means “a wanderer” (the English word “planet” derives from it). In this case, it refers to those who wander from the truth of Scripture; who corrupt it; who lead others astray from it; who are impostors (Paul called such people “false brethren” in 2 Cor. 11:26 and Gal. 2:4; cf. Jude’s description of them as “wandering stars” headed for the “black darkness” of eternal judgment [v. 13]).

These wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15) become especially dangerous when they infiltrate the church; hence the New Testament is full of warnings about them. In the Olivet Discourse Jesus predicted that in the end times “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). Paul called them “savage wolves” (Acts 20:29); “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13); servants of Satan who, like their wicked master (v. 14), “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (v. 15). The apostle told Timothy that “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). In his first letter John pleaded with his readers,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:1–3)

Jude vividly and extensively denounced these deceivers as

certain persons [who] have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.… Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 4, 11–15; cf. Peter’s similar denunciation of them in 2 Peter 2:1–21)

Everywhere the true gospel goes, Satan’s emissaries are sure to follow. They preach a false, satanic gospel and thereby pervert the true gospel message and pollute the church. Paul warned the Galatians against them in the strongest possible terms:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:6–9)

John defined the particular false teachers in his sights as those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. There are many ways to undermine the gospel, such as by denying the deity of Jesus Christ, or that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. But these heretics denied the true humanity of Jesus Christ, refusing to acknowledge that He was God who had become fully human. They were forerunners of the dangerous second-century heresy known as Gnosticism, which posed one of the gravest threats to the early church. (For further information on the heresy against which John wrote, see the Introduction to 1 John in this volume.)

John countered the false teachers’ diverse attacks on the person of Jesus Christ by stressing the truth about Him in his epistles. In 1 John 1:3 he identified Jesus Christ as God the Son (cf. 3:23; 2 John 3); in 2:1 he presented Him as the believers’ Advocate with the Father, whose death propitiated God’s wrath against their sin (v. 2; cf. 1:7; 4:9–10); in 2:22–23 he declared that those who deny that Jesus is the Christ do not know God; in 3:8 he pointed out that Jesus has destroyed the works of Satan; in 4:14 he affirmed that the Father sent the Son into the world as Savior, and reiterated in verse 15 that only those who confess Jesus as the Son of God know the Father (cf. 2 John 9); and in 5:9–13 John wrote that only those who believe the divine revelation about Jesus Christ have eternal life.

To deny the biblical truth that in Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, God became fully human is to propagate demon doctrine. Anyone who does so is a deceiver and an antichrist (cf. 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3). To teach, as these heretics did, that Jesus’ humanity was merely an illusion is to strike a blow at the heart of the gospel. If Jesus were not the God-man, fully human as well as fully divine, He could not have died as the substitute for men.

Knowing the serious threat the false teachers posed, John warned his readers, Watch yourselves. The church must be vigilant, discerning, even suspicious, because what is at stake is so vital. Having labored in the lives of this lady and her children, John wanted to see the full fruit of that effort; he did not want them to lose what they together had accomplished. Paul expressed a similar concern for the Corinthians:

I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Cor. 11:1–4)

Like every faithful pastor, John and Paul were concerned that those under their care not lose ground spiritually. It was that concern that prompted Paul to sharply rebuke the Galatians for dabbling in false doctrine:

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:1–3)

The church today has a legacy that has been handed down to it, a heritage that must be preserved at all costs. Men of God throughout history have preached, taught, and defended the true gospel, often at great cost of time, effort, and persecution—even to the point of death. As his life drew to a close, Paul repeatedly exhorted Timothy to protect the truth that had been handed down to him: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20); “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:13–14); “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Tim. 3:14; cf. 2 Thess. 2:15).

But those who, influenced by false teachers, slip backwards risk far more than undoing the labor of faithful shepherds. The tragic consequences of their spiritual regression will include failing to receive a full reward. The Bible teaches that believers will be rewarded in heaven for their service in this life (e.g., Matt. 5:12; 10:41–42; Luke 6:35; 1 Cor. 3:10–15; 4:3–5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 3:24; Rev. 22:12). While salvation cannot be lost (cf. John 6:37–40; Rom. 5:1; 8:1, 28–39; Heb. 7:25; 1 Peter 1:4), unfaithful believers may forfeit some of the reward that faithfulness to the truth would have gained them. John did not want to see that happen to those whom he loved and labored among. Paul had the same concern in mind when he warned the Colossians, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18).

Believers must be discerning and decisively reject deceiving false teachers, no matter how loudly they clamor for love and tolerance. Loyalty to the truth, written and incarnate, demands it, and the consequences of not doing so—both now and in eternity—are sufficient reason to be faithful.[2]

  1. Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver, and the antichrist. 8. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
  2. “Many deceivers … have gone out into the world.” The translators of the New International Version have omitted the word because which stands at the beginning of the sentence in Greek. Apart from minor variations, this sentence resembles 1 John 4:1, “Because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” John calls these false prophets deceivers, for they are filled with a spirit of deception and seek the spiritual destruction of Christians. There are many deceivers. We assume that formerly they were part of the Christian community. They left the church (see 1 John 2:19) to make the world the domain for their pernicious doctrines. And in the world they try to persuade the Christians to accept their views.
  3. “Who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” Note that John mentions the full name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to remind his readers of his human and divine nature. These deceivers continue to proclaim their opposition to the teaching that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.

Already in his first epistle, John warns the readers to test the spirits: “Every spirit [teaching] that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (4:2–3). Even though there is similarity between this passage and that of 2 John 7, the difference in the verb forms has come (1 John 4:2) and as coming (2 John 7) is obvious. The one verb is in the past tense, the other in the present. Is there a difference in meaning? Hardly. The past tense describes Jesus’ earthly ministry, and the present tense is a descriptive term about Christ. In the New Testament, the expression the one who is coming is a messianic designation (e.g., Matt. 11:2; John 1:15, 27; 12:13; Rev. 1:4). Thus, John applies the present tense of the participle coming to Jesus Christ as a testimony to anyone who denies this truth.

  1. “Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” John is not afraid to give the false teacher names. Here he calls him not only the deceiver, but also the antichrist—that is, the person who comes in the place of Christ (compare 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3). At the beginning of this verse (v. 7), John refers to many deceivers; therefore we should understand the appellation the antichrist as a collective name.
  2. “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for.” In these words we hear an echo of Jesus’ discourse on the signs of the end of the age. Jesus begins his teaching with the warning, “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Mark 13:5; also see vv. 9, 23, 33). Similarly, John tells the readers to keep their eyes on their spiritual possessions so that they will not lose them. He no longer requests them to do something. Instead he gives them a command.

We have three different translations for verse 8. Here they are with the variations in italics:

  1. that we [do] not lose those things we have worked for, but that we receive a full reward (NKJV; and see KJV).
  2. so that you may not lose all that we worked for, but receive your reward in full (NEB; also see NASB, ASV, RV, GNB, and JB).
  3. that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully (NIV; and see NAB, RSV, MLB, and Moffatt).

The better Greek manuscripts have the reading you in place of “we.” Translators therefore favor either the second or the third reading. The difference between these two readings is the phrase we worked for over against “you worked for.” Although translators are about equally divided on this point, the more difficult reading is “we worked for” and is to be preferred.

What is the meaning of the phrase rewarded fully? It does not mean salvation which, because it is a gift, cannot be earned (Eph. 2:8–9). We merit a reward for faithfulness, obedience, and diligence. Nevertheless, a reward is also a gift of God and therefore “one further token of the free grace of God.” Scripture teaches that a worker in God’s kingdom receives his full reward (compare Matt. 20:8; John 4:36; and see James 5:4).[3]

7 The hoti that opens this verse is omitted by the NIV, perhaps because its significance is unclear (cf. Grayston, 154). It may be that the word has a mild causal force, indicating that believers must hold to the command “because many deceivers … have gone out” (so Marshall, 69; Brown, 668; Culpepper, 121). It is also possible that hoti here introduces an eschatological community slogan used proverbially to stress the danger of the situation. Similar language appears at Matthew 24:24, where Jesus warns that in the last days false christs and false prophets will “deceive [planaō, GK 4414] even the elect [eklektos]”—the same term John uses to refer to believers at 2 John 1 and 13. The notion that the Antichrists are “deceivers” who have “gone out” closely parallels Revelation 20:8, which describes Satan leaving the pit as he “goes out to deceive the nations.” Revelation 12:9 and 20:10 both refer to the devil as ho planōn, “the deceiver.” In conjunction with the term “Antichrist,” which itself seems to be drawn from a community slogan of unknown origin (see comment at 1 Jn 2:18), the phrase “many deceivers have gone out into the world” is probably John’s adaptation of a familiar eschatological creed. As with the creed cited at 1 John 2:18, John has shifted the tense of the statement to apply it to the immediate situation, so that the future exeleusontai (“deceivers will go out”) has become the aorist exēlthon (“deceivers have gone out”; both are forms of exerchomai, GK 2002).

The adaptation of a familiar creed to the Antichrist crisis allows John to portray the danger of the situation in absolute eschatological terms. Just as the believers were clearly warned about the coming of the Antichrist (1 Jn 2:18), they have also heard that deceivers will come in the last days. Both prophecies have, in John’s view, been partially fulfilled with the appearance of the Antichrists. As in 1 John, an “Antichrist” is a person who promotes a doctrine of Christ that differs from that taught by John (see Introduction), specifically refusing to confess “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.”

The wording of this christological confession at v. 7 differs somewhat from that at 1 John 4:2. In the latter verse, John says that every teacher who truly comes from God will support the confession “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” In the Greek, “has come” is elēlythota (GK 2262), a perfect tense participle. At 2 John 7, however, John shifts to the present tense participle erchomenon, which gives the reading indicated by the NIV—“Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” The potential significance of this shift is the topic of considerable debate. Dodd, 149, notes that the most natural implication is that the Antichrists denied that “Christ is coming,” i.e., they denied the second coming of Christ. From this perspective, the confession parallels the community slogan about the coming of the Antichrist cited at 1 John 2:18. Some scholars, however, see the present tense as an emphasis on “the timeless character of the event” of the incarnation (so Bultmann, 112; Barker, 364). Stott, 212, notes that Jesus’ “two natures, manhood and Godhead, were united already at his birth, never to be divided. The combination of the present and perfect tenses (in 1 Jn. 4:2 and here) emphasizes this permanent union of [two] natures in the one person.” Marshall, 70–71, who takes this position, suggests that John may be countering the Gnostic doctrine that the “Christ” was a heavenly power that descended on the human Jesus at baptism, used his body for several years, and then returned to heaven just before Jesus’ death on the cross. A third group of scholars regard the shift in tense from 1 John 4:2 to 2 John 7 as insignificant. Since John is generally concerned to demonstrate that the incarnation was a real historical event of the past, the two verses are seen as alternative wordings of the same christological creed (so Brown, 670; Culpepper, 122; Rensberger, 153–54). From this perspective, the two verses are virtually synonymous.

All three positions are reasonable, and it is difficult to ascertain which most accurately represents John’s thinking. The first position, that the Antichrists denied the second coming, is supported by the grammar of the verse and by the fact that the parallel slogan about the Antichrist in 1 John 2:18 seems clearly to imply a future event (see comment there). Just as the readers have heard that “Antichrist is coming,” they have heard that “Jesus Christ is coming [again] in the flesh.” This position is generally rejected for lack of evidence that a denial of the parousia [second coming] presented a problem in the early church or to the readers of John’s letters in particular (so Smalley, 329; Stott, 212). Such an argument, however, begs the question, for if v. 7 indeed refers to the Antichrists’ denial of the second coming, the verse itself would become evidence for such a “problem.” Further, Paul warns the Thessalonians about those who teach that “the day of the Lord has already come” (2 Th 2:1–2), apparently denying a future parousia on the basis that Christ has already returned to the church in the form of some spiritual experience. It is very possible that the Antichrists used a similar line of reasoning to argue that Christ “comes” in the form of the Paraclete, so that the experience of the incarnate Jesus was not radically different from the experience of all Christians (see Introduction; comment at 1 Jn 5:6).

The second position—that John wishes to emphasize the continuing reality of the incarnation—would seem to be counterproductive to his argument. The Antichrists have degraded Jesus’ humanity by overemphasizing his spiritual nature (see Introduction), and it is this very point that John wishes to counter. It is unclear how he could do this by spiritualizing the human nature of Jesus to the point that “in the flesh” refers to the present state of Christ’s existence in heaven. Such a statement would support the position of the Antichrists, who would say that Christ’s past earthly state was no different from his present divine state.

The difficulties associated with these first two solutions make the third position most attractive. While the participle erchomenon is present tense (“is coming”), its force here is primarily substantive, characterizing Jesus as “the one coming in flesh,” the very point the Antichrists would deny. Rather than highlighting Jesus’ continuing deity, John is stressing his past humanity, the fact that he lived and acted as a real human being in human history. Verse 7 may therefore be paraphrased, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, who do not confess that Jesus [the human being] is the divine Christ who came to earth in physical flesh.” The verse is therefore parallel in thought, if not in wording, to 1 John 4:2.[4]

7 This brings us to the test of doctrine. The great question is: “Did God really become Man in the Person of Jesus Christ?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The Gnostics believed that the divine Christ came upon Jesus of Nazareth for a period of time. But John insists that Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be God.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 231–235). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 380–381). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Thatcher, T. (2006). 2 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 517–518). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2331). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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