Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“Don't Be Fooled”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

(1 John 5.20-21)

At first glance, the last line of 1 John seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the letter.  John wrote about walking in truth, keeping Jesus’ commandments, loving one another, and the fact that Jesus came in the flesh.  He did not mention idols—at least, not directly. 

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.

(1 John 2.22)

Anti- is a Greek proposition meaning against, or in place of.  It’s not just that the antichrist denies Jesus’ teachings and divinity; rather, by his own teachings he replaces Jesus with something else—a cheap imitation of the real thing.  The heresy known as Docetism was growing in the churches, and John was pointing out that to deny God became flesh is to replace Jesus with a false god—an idol.  The idol may wear the same name as the real God, but it’s still an imposter.  Stay away!

This was neither the first, nor the last time Satan made use of parodies to lead God’s children astray.  Paul preached the gospel and founded the church in Corinth, but his departure was followed by the entrance, or perhaps the ascendency, of some unnamed teachers who bad-mouthed Paul, promoted themselves as better orators, with more knowledge and a greater understanding of the truth than the “humble” Paul (2Co 10.1).  For the sake of his “beloved children” (1Co 4.14), Paul insisted on addressing this problem and receiving the proper degree of respect.  He hinted that these pathetic imitations were taking credit for his work, saying that, by contrast, “We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others” (2Co 10.15).  He writes that these upstarts, in effect, preach “another Jesus than the one we proclaimed,” along with a “a different spirit from the one you received” and “a different gospel from the one you accepted” (2Co 11.4).  Although decades prior and doubtless for different immediate reasons, this perfectly mirrors the situation in 1 John! 

But it gets better.  Paul calls these men “super-apostles,” using a word that he appears to have made up himself, ὑπερλίαν-huperlian.  This is a combination of two words, a preposition and an adverb, either of which would have been adequate for the job on its own.  The fact that Paul smushes them together in an awkward fashion, and uses the  word again in 12.11, combined with his biting sarcasm throughout this portion of the letter suggests he’s being glib.  An approximation in English might be, “super-duper apostles.”  That’s how they see themselves, anyway; but they’re just pale imitations of the real thing.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.

(2 Corinthians 11.13-15)

These men were not pursuing Christ’s glory, but their own prestige and enrichment!  They were playing a part, nothing more.

Another example appears in John’s second and third letters.  John tells Gaius that faithful brothers “have gone out for the sake of the name,” preaching the Gospel and deserving our “support” (3Jn 7-8).  At the same time, he warns the church that “many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2Jn 7).  This is the same heresy he covered in 1 John, and he calls its teacher “the deceiver and the antichrist” here, as well.  What is to be done about such a person?  John writes, “do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2Jn 10-11).  But when John names one of these antichrists in 3 John, he says that Diotrephes “refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3Jn 10).  Isn’t that pretty much what John said ought to be done, to someone like Diotrephes?  And here he is, using the same tactic, for Satan’s purposes!  He’s another imitation, a parody of the faithful preachers.

Let’s consider one last example.  There are several main characters in Revelation, who are generally not identified by name, but rather by symbols and descriptors.  This starts with the Father, who sits on heaven’s throne (ch4).  The Lamb stands before the throne, even though it appears “as though it had been slain” (5.6).  Also near the throne are “seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (4.5).  Then there is the city of Jerusalem, which is also pictured as the Lamb’s “Bride” (19.7).  Corresponding to the Father is the Dragon (ch12), who rebels but cannot achieve victory.  Corresponding to the Lamb is the beast from the sea, who has a head with “a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed” (13.3).  Corresponding to the Spirit of God is the false prophet (ch13b). Corresponding to Jerusalem is “Babylon the great” (17.5), which is also pictured as “the great prostitute” (17.2), a parody of the Bride.

Considering that he is the father of lies, we should not be surprised that one of Satan’s favorite tactics is to make use of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7.15).  Rather than create something of his own, he merely imitates the outward appearance of God’s good creation, while remaining polluted to his core.  Keep watch, and do not be fooled!

Jeremy Nettles