In our passage today, God wants us to pay attention to two things: What will happen in the final hour, and what will happen in the final judgement, which comes after the final hour.
Last hour. V.18. “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” Last hour = the time between Christ ascending to heaven and Christ returning again. When John was writing the letter, it was already the last hour. And right now, while we are still waiting for the return of Christ, we are still in the last hour. In fact, the bible teachings on the last hour would be more relevant now than when John wrote this. Why does the “last hour” seem so long? God acts in his own time, and he has not satisfied our desire to know the exact timing fixed by his own authority. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples asked him, in Acts chapter 1, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” But Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” But even if we do not know the timing of God’s plan, we know the sequence of events of God’s plan, which has been revealed to us in the Bible. After Jesus came back to life and went up to heaven, we have entered the final chapter of the history of man. There is nothing else that we Christians are waiting for except the second coming of Christ. No matter how long this “hour” may extend in terms of time, the fulfilment of all of God’s promise is near because it can come anytime now. Because of this, it is true that “the time is near.” How do we know when it is the last hour? When the antichrists come. V.18. “… so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” Who is the antichrist, and who are the antichrists? Not referring to politicians, or billionaires who work together to control the economy, or satanists. At least, not here. The antichrists that John is referring to are those who were previously part of the church, but then left the church and the faith. Verse 19 is actually describing the antichrists. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Vv.22-23. “22 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. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” Calling ex-Christians antichrists too harsh? Matt 12:30. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Enemies of Christ. Phil 3:18. “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Antichrists came because of the Antichrist. Common early church teaching on the evil figure. Matthew 24, Jesus warned us of False Christs rising up, pretending to be him. 2 Thess 2, the man of lawlessness is coming, he will take the seat in the temple and proclaim himself as God. Rev 12. The beast from the sea blasphemes God, and humans are forced to worship an image of the beast from the sea. Unlike the false christs in Matt 24 and the Man of Lawlessness in 2 Thess 2, the beast is symbolic. Because it “stands” over human beings. Best to understand this as a hidden spiritual force working behind human actors. Unlike the small case plural antichrists, the big case singular Antichrist has clear political undertones, and is a visible enemy that comes from outside the church. Antichrists are those who respond to the call of the Antichrist, and see the fallen world order as someone more desirable than the redeemed world order that Christ has instituted in the church, and will later institute in the whole world. A common theme among these antichrist figures is deception. 2 Thess 2:9-10. “ The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Matt 24. False Christs will show great signs and wonders and lead many astray. Who is true? The one who is true to the Bible. But can we know the Bible right ourselves, so to distinguish between true and false teachers? Yes, because we have the Holy Spirit.
Vv.20-21. Anointed. Used to be with oil. But now with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in John 14:26. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” We are able to understand, not because of great study, but because of faith. V.20. “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.” V.27. No need for others to teach you. Not that we don’t need teachers. But that it is impossible for us to not be able to understand the Bible, so we need someone else to make it clear to us. We have the Holy Spirit who will lead us into truths. There are difficult passages in the Bible, but so long as we read it by faith, believing in the words written, we will not be led astray. And that’s why we all have a copy of the Bible. And that’s why our preaching constantly points back to the Bible verses. How should we respond? Vv.24-25. “24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.” What does it mean? It means holding on to the gospel. “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” In other words, abiding in God = holding on to the gospel. Response: hold on to the gospel. Vv.21, 26. Writing not because you don’t know, but because the deceivers are coming. Response: do not be deceived.
After the final hour, comes the final judgement. V.28. “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” His coming. See Matt 16:27. “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” At his coming = The visible, second, and final return of Christ at the end of the age.
Shrink from him in shame. Is this about working hard for the kingdom of God? As if some of us will be ashamed when Jesus returns to find us not faithful? No. In this verse, those who are ashamed at the coming of Christ refers to those who do not believe in him. The clue is “abide in Christ.” Those who abide in Christ will have confidence. Whereas those who do not abide in Christ will shrink from him in shame when he returns. Why shame? Because every hidden sin committed in darkness will be exposed when Jesus returns. Eph 5:8-13. “8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.” Of course, this passage is talking about Christians as the light of the world that exposes darkness. But how much more will Jesus Christ, the true light of mankind, who knows the deepest thoughts of mankind, expose and punish all sins in the final judgement? But what about Christians? Christians are not perfect either. Their sins will also be exposed. Will they feel the burden of their sins? Yes, but their responses will not be the same as those who have no hope. Pay attention to verse 28. The unbelievers’ shame will drive them to shrink from Christ. But for Christians, when their sins are exposed before the judgement seat, they will not shrink from Christ, but rather run to Christ. For Christ is the basis of their justification. Justification = made not guilty. We were born in sin and we lived in sin. And the curse of physical and spiritual death is upon us. But God the Son became flesh. He took upon himself a human nature, with a human body and a human soul. And as a human, Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. And he died as our representative. Jesus represents everyone who places his trust in him. As our representative, Jesus took the full punishment of our sins for us. The punishment of death that should have fallen upon us, fell upon him instead. So that when Jesus died, the debt of our sins is paid for in full, and the justice of God is satisfied. And now, when God the Father looks upon us, he will no longer judge us according to our sins, for it is no longer fair for God to punish the sins that have already been paid for. The fair and just thing for God to do, is then to forgive us of our sins. 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is the gift that God the Father has given us. It is his Son, Jesus Christ. And everyone who receives Jesus Christ shall be justified by works of Jesus Christ. John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Returning to V.28. “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” How to abide in Christ? Trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. v. 24. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” So, what will happen to Christians at the final judgement There will be zero condemnation. No. None at all. No matter how grave or numerous your sins may be, there is no more condemnation for you before God. Rom 8:1. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
However, that is not the end of our judgement. There are those who appear to be Christians, but are not. Wheats and tares. Sheep and goats. “Lord, Lord… I do not know you.” Examples of false Christians. Those who believe in falsehood. Or even teach falsehood. V.22-23a. “22 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. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father…” Those who do not live according to the faith they profess. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Vv.3-6. “3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” Those who shrink from Jesus in shame at his coming. Those who love this world more than the next world. Like Lot’s wife who looked back to Sodom. Result of false Christians. Eternal death, for their sins are not forgiven. Does this mean that faith itself is not enough, but we must also live a righteous life in order to be saved? No. We are saved by faith itself. “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” But this faith must be tested. This is because counterfeit faiths exist. Test gold: vinegar. If the metal changes colour, then it is not real gold. It is not that some gold can stand the vinegar test, while some gold doesn’t. It is that real gold can stand the test, while counterfeit gold cannot. And it is the same for our faith. What is the test that separates real faith in Christ from counterfeit ones? Three: by our profession, by our good works, and by our hope of the return of Jesus Christ. Profession: Jesus is the Christ. Good works: faith without works is dead. Real faith has a certain effect in our lives. God the Father gave us two gifts: The Son, who justifies us. And the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us. And these two gifts are never separated, as if someone can receive only the gift of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, but does not at the same time receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Return of Jesus Christ. One day, this life, this world, and all there is in it, will pass away. Have you learned to play the game of life so well that you just don’t want it to end? Find a way to make money. Have you come to find something so precious in this life, that you just cannot imagine a world where this precious thing is either absent or different? E.g. marriage, unbelieving friends. Application: Test your own faith.
Since the word “shame” in v.28 applies to non-Christians and not to Christians, I still have a question. Will I still be ashamed when I don’t do what I should do as a Christian? Before we talk about shame, let us first talk about the third part of our judgement. The first part, judgement of righteousness, all whom Christ died for will have their sins pardoned. The second part, judgement of false believers within the church. In a way, this is not a separate judgement from the first part. For if their faith was false, they would not have known Christ nor be known by Christ. And so, Christ did not bear their sins to begin with. The third part of judgement is actually the judgement of works. Will there be a judgement of works for Christians? Yes. 2 Cor 5:10. “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” This includes Christians. What we do in this life has eternal consequences. Matt 6:19-20. “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” 1 Tim 4:7-8. “7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” We can use what is temporal to exchange for what is eternal. But less like a judgement of works, but a reward for works. Judgement = where there is punishment and reward.
Because there is no punishment for sins, there is therefore no shame. My worry on the teaching of shame before the judgement seat: Thinking that we can lessen our guilt by doing more things. Guilt-based work ethics. On “Thinking that we can lessen our guilt by doing more things.” Our works are received in Christ. In other words, Our works, which are inadequate, imperfect, and riddled with sins, are accepted, because all these shortcomings and all these hidden sins are already forgiven in Jesus Christ. Our works are strictly speaking God’s works! Phil 2:13. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The Spirit of God is responsible for our progressive sanctification. Explain progressive sanctification briefly. Titus 3:5. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” We are saved by God’s mercy. But this mercy is shown through giving us the Holy Spirit, which will regenerate and renew our hearts. On “guilt-based work ethics.” We will feel unworthy, but we will not feel guilty and ashamed. Because guilt and shame are punishments of sins that Christ had borne for us. And in heaven, he will wipe away our tears. We will no longer be sorrowful for our sins. If we are motivated to live for God, in order to lessen our guilt in eternity, it is as if we refuse to have Christ wipe away our tears. That even though God has forgiven me, I cannot forgive myself. There is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ. When we stand before God, our guilt will turn into praise and thanksgiving, our sorrows will turn into joy, our shame will turn into glory, and the memories of our sins will only remain to further beautify the image of Christ in our hearts. Christian life is not driven by guilt. But by love. It is a responsive love. Because we have been loved by God first, and we perceive that clearly as love from God, therefore we are moved to love God back. And by God’s grace, the Christian life is driven also by reward.
More on reward. Our work comes with a reward, although we don’t have an inherent right to claim it. Thus Jesus says, in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” But God promises reward for obedience. In the Parable of the Talents. The servant came up to his Master and said, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ Did the master said to him, “You are an unworthy servant. What you have done was simply your duty”? No. Instead, his master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Illustration: like parents giving allowance to their kids for doing chores or practising piano. In the Beatitudes. After the eight “Blessed are you,” Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” The “doctrine of rewards” is beginning to lose its place in the church. Maybe people don’t like to think about reward, because it seems to cheapen our love for God. But it was taught as a major puritan doctrine back then. And it is a biblical teaching. The parable of talents retold in the gospel of Luke, but the focus this time is different. Luke 19:16-19. “16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’” Both were given the same amount of minas, but the first one made 10 minas more, while the second one 5 minas more. And the Master, representing God, rewards the servant who made 10 minas, 10 cities. While the servant who made 5 minas was rewarded 5 cities. Note: 1 minas for 1 city. We don’t know what the difference is, but there is a difference. 1 minas for 1 city is outrageous. Great grace shown in both situations. In heaven, nobody will think they did not receive enough. They will all be astounded by how much they receive. There will no longer be sinful comparison, motivated by pride or greed. Although it is not our primary motivation, it is nonetheless a legitimate motivation. Because our Heavenly Father loves us, and he loves our works in Christ.
1. In Matthew 24, Jesus warned us that false Christs will rise up in the last hour. They will pretend to be Christ and lead many astray.
a. In our day and age, what could the “false Christs” refer to? How are they deceiving the people of this world to leave God?
2. The passage tells us, Christians, that we should expect the coming of the final judgement.
a. What are the feelings you get when you think about the final judgement? Consider these truths:
i. Christians will not be ashamed when Jesus returns (v.28)
ii. Christians will look forward to the return of Jesus (Rev 22:20)
iii. Christians will be rewarded for their works in the day.
b. How should we then live, knowing that the final judgement is drawing nearer each day?
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