1 John 2:12-28

Parenthesis: Eternal Life in Various Stages of Maturity
1 John 2:12-28
1 John 2:12-28. Having closed the introductory portion of the epistle, John now enters into a digression on the characteristics of eternal life as seen in various stages of development in the believer. There are things that are true of the whole family, regardless of the stage of development. But there are things that are appropriate to fathers, young men, and little children. This passage (vv.12-28) has been described as a parenthesis. It begins with something addressed to the whole family (v.12), and ends with something addressed to the whole family (v.28). That this passage is a parenthesis is evident from the interruption of the flow of argument in v.12, and the resumption of that flow in v.29. Prior to v.12 John was giving the characteristics of eternal life that are manifested in the believer, namely obedience and love. After the parenthesis, John resumes a similar line, describing the characteristics of the family of God; righteousness and love for one another. In the parenthesis (vv.12-28) we have the expression “I have written unto you because…” or something similar eight times. Notice that John does not write to tell the whole family, fathers, young men, and little children to say what they should be, but writes to them because of what they already are.

The Whole Family: Sins Forgiven (2:12)

12 I write to you, children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. v.12 The Forgiveness of Sins. Before dealing with fathers, young men, and little children, John addresses the whole family of God affectionately as “children”. In the following verse, he uses the expression “little children” to denote those who are young in the faith. In v.28, the word “children” is resumed again. John assures the whole family of what was true of them already; that their sins are forgiven. Each believer has the knowledge of sins forgiven as an accomplished fact, and therefore he has “no more conscience of sins” (Heb. 10:2). This is one of the universal privileges of the family of God.

The Outstanding Characteristics of Fathers, Young Men, and Little Children (2:13-27)

1 John 2:13-27. In this portion of the chapter, John uses the relationships of natural life to represent believers in various stages of development. He addresses fathers, young men, and little children twice. First he addresses that which characterizes the level of maturity that each one has reached in their spiritual growth (v.13). Second, he goes over the same characteristics again, and expands on young men and little children a little more, giving more explanation and considering the challenges the each face in their pathway. Overall, only a small amount is said to the fathers, a little more to the young men, and much to the little children. Note that these terms such as “young men” apply to both men and women, young and old. An eighty-year-old man could be a “little child” in the family of God, and a young mother could be a “father”, as John speaks of them.

Fathers, Young Men, Little Children (v.13)

13a I write to you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. v.13a Fathers. Fathers are characterized by a knowledge of “him that is from the beginning”. Who is the “him”? Clearly, from 1 John 1:1, “Him that is from the beginning”, is the Word of Life; i.e. Christ. The beginning referred to is the incarnation, when the Word became flesh. Fathers are characteristically marked by a personal knowledge of Christ, and specifically as an incarnate man (from the beginning). This goes beyond the knowledge of sins forgiven (v.12). We come to know Christ in this way by continual occupation with Him. It is not a matter of gift, or of an amount of service done for Christ, but rather of the enjoyment of a relationship in which, to the believer, Christ is everything! A father is attached to Christ, and therefore knows what is of Christ, and what merely pretends to be, or what is mixed with the flesh. Fathers are rare.
13b I write to you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. v.13b Young Men. Young men are characterized by having the spiritual energy to overcome the Devil, called “the wicked one”. It isn’t that young men never fall prey to the strategies of the devil, but rather that they are characterized by overcoming. A young man in the family of God is one who is in progress of reaching full spiritual maturity. They have learned that they are powerless in themselves, but that the life of Christ is in them, and that when they face the wicked one in dependence on the Lord, the Devil is powerless against them! A young man is one who has learned the meaning of death and resurrection with Christ. He has taken to himself the whole armor of God (Eph. 6). Again, is is not a matter of gift that marks a young man, but spiritual energy.
13c I write to you, little children, because ye have known the Father. v.13c Little Children. Little children in the family are characterized by having known the Father. This implies that they know that they are His children, and they are confident in that relationship. Take a little child in a natural family. He doesn’t have a great deal of knowledge about life, but he knows his father’s heart, and he is assured of his father’s love. A little child in the family of God is saved and has the assurance of salvation!

Fathers (v.14a)

14a I have written to you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. v.14a Fathers Again. It is instructive to see that, in addressing fathers again, John repeats the same words; “ye have known him that is from the beginning”. When a soul has come to know Christ, and when Christ becomes everything, there is nothing beyond that. The eternal life which is in every member of the family of God is in fullest bloom when Christ is known personally, and He becomes everything.

Young Men (vv.14b-17)

14b I have written to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word [‘logos’] of God abides in you, and ye have overcome the wicked onev.14b Young Men Again. Young men are addressed again, with added details. The are said to be “strong”, which refers not to natural strength but spiritual strength. The source of that strength is that the Word of God is abiding in them. To have the Word abiding in us is more than to hear it and have a knowledge of it. It means to be immersed in it such that we begin to think God’s thoughts! The young men have God’s Word [‘logos’] abiding in them in the broadest sense; to be well-acquainted with the whole revelation of God. In Col. 3:16 we are told to have “the word of Christ” abiding in us, which is that part of the written Word that flows to us from an ascended, glorified man; specifically the New Testament epistles (see notes on the Word and Words of God). The particular danger for young men is to love the world (v.15). The world is that great system set up by man and presided over by the Devil, designed to replace God in the hearts of men. That which characterizes the young men is exactly what is needed to overcome the wicked one, and to overcome the love of the world. The wicked one seeks to awaken the lusts of the flesh in the believer through presenting the world before his eyes. But when the believer immerses himself in the Word of God, it abides in him, and through it God presents to the soul another world of a wholly different character, of which Christ is the center! These thoughts are God’s thoughts, expressed in inspired writing. They awaken the desires of a new nature within us; the eternal life that is true in Him (Christ) and in the believer. Faith in the believer lays hold of these eternal realities (1 John 5:4-5), and Satan’s world has no more hold. In fact, it is by the Word of God that the young man has victory in conflict with the enemy. He has learned to wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
15 Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him; 16 because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. vv.15-16 The Love of the World. John exhorts the young men not to love the world. This is the particular danger for young men; to turn to the world with all its interesting objects, absorbing diversions, and attractive pursuits. There is the danger of loving the world itself; i.e. the system. But there is a danger also of loving the things of the world; to attempt to take something from the world without loving the whole system. In fact, the world and the things in it are linked. If we love the things, we cannot help but be fond of the system. There is no doubt that for a believer to love the world is offensive to God (James 4:4). Here we find that, if the love of the world in a person, the love of the Father cannot be in them. Those two things are mutually exclusive, because the world is opposed to the Father. The world is opposed to the Father, just as the Devil is opposed to the Son. The point of dispute between the Father and the World is the Son. Jesus is the object of the Father’s love, and Jesus is the object of the world’s hatred. This has powerful implications for Christians! Further, all that is in the world is fundamentally contrary to the Father:
  1. “The lust of the flesh” is that desire to gratify carnal wants; e.g. Amnon lusting after his sister. The world encourages this kind of lust my making it permissible thorough corrupted social standards and degenerate moral philosophy. The lust of the flesh originates from within the soul, where the fallen human nature resides. The lust of the flesh begins with self, but is excused, enticed, and encouraged by the world.
  2. ‘The lust of the eyes” is the the desire to have what we see with our eyes; e.g. Ahab lusting after Naboth’s vineyard. The world presents various objects of lust before man, and the desires of the fallen nature attach to it. The lust of the flesh begins inside man, the lust of the eyes begins outside of man. Another word for this might be covetousness.
  3. “The pride of life” is the desire to be something great in the eyes of man; e.g. Nebuchadnezzar boasting in his works.
In a certain sense it is a strange thing to tell a person not to love somebody or something. The heart is unpredictable, and therefore it needs to be guarded (Prov. 4:23). But occupation with the love of the Father is important. We must do what Jude exhorts, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), and we will have no desire for the things of the world. The love of the Father is the strongest antidote to the love of the world (John 17:26). J.N. Darby gave a helpful example. “How can such an one who has come to know God, be interested in the world? Should we see a boy eating bitter, worthless fruit in an orchard, while on the very next tree there were delicious apples, we should judge that he did not know of the good apples.”1
17 And the world is passing, and its lust, but he that does the will of God abides for eternity. v.17 The Passing World. John then gives another reason not to love the world. Knowing the transitory character of the world helps the believer to view its attractions in the proper light. To spend our life pursuing the world is to live a wasted life. The believer does not indulge in the world’s passing lusts, and instead does the will of God. By living here below for the will of God, the believer enters a sphere that is forever. We can go through this passing world with the conscious sense that we are living not for time only, but for eternity!

Little Children (vv.18-27)

18 Little children, it is the last hour, and, according as ye have heard that antichrist comes, even now there have come many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour. v.18 Antichrist and Many Antichrists. John turns again to the “little children”. Previously, the only statement was that the little children know the Father. Here we have a warning to the little children concerning the dangers that face them particularly. It was already the “last hour”, an expression similar to the “latter times” when enemies creep in (Jude 18) and then individuals fall away teaching lies (1 Tim. 4:1-3). This began in the latter days of the apostle Paul (Acts 20:29-30), who could say “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thess. 2:7). The final stage of this apostasy will take place under the man of sin, the “Antichrist” (2 Thess. 2:3-12), who will lead the world in a false religion against Christ. The early Christians John was addressing had “heard that antichrist comes”. While that special individual (capital ‘A’) is yet coming, that are many antichrists (lowercase ‘A’) that are already here. These are false teachers that spread evil doctrine concerning the person of Christ; the Gnostics being an example. The spirit or “power of antichrist” (1 John 4:3) is already here, and morally it is just as wicked as when the full blown result is seen. It may at first seem strange that when John wrote, only a few decades into the Church period, it was already “the last hour”. God has seen fit to extend the period of grace for hundreds of years. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are still in “the last hour”.2 The proof that it is the last hour is that “many antichrists” have come. This is something that the youngest believer knows. It is not beyond them.
19 They went out from among us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have surely remained with us, but that they might be made manifest that none are of us. v.19 How Antichrists Manifest Their Identity. The antichrists went out from the fellowship of the apostles, and therefore from the doctrine of the apostles (Acts 2:42). They may have been with the apostles, but they did not embrace the truth the apostles taught. The fact that they departed from the fellowship of the apostles was the evidence that they were false teachers, and antichrists. This is what is called apostasy: ones who have made a profession of Christianity then give up the truth.3
20 And “ye” have the unction from the holy one, and ye know all things. v.20 The Unction. Even a new convert (little children) can detect a false teacher when they depart from the doctrine of the apostles. To aid them in this discernment, the believer has “the unction from the holy one”. This refers to the indwelling Spirit of God. This word “unction” is the same word as anointing, used in v.27. The anointing of the Spirit gives us intelligence of divine things; “and ye know all things”. Since a young believer in Christ has the indwelling Spirit, he has intelligence to understand divine things, and therefore the ability to discern truth and error. Discerning error is possible by familiarization with the truth. Notice that the unction is “from the Holy One”. There may not be sufficient intelligence in a new convert to articulate doctrine, but at least they can detect unholiness in doctrine, especially as regards the Person of Christ. We might ask, if the little child in God’s family has the unction, “and ye know all things”, why does Paul say we should be no longer “children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4)? There is that which the new convert needs much instruction in, as we have unfolded in Ephesians and Colossians, or we will be tossed, etc. But there is no development of the truth of the Person of Christ. 

The Anointing (Unction) of the Spirit (1 John 2:20; 27; 2 Cor. 1:21). The "anointing" or "unction" of the Spirit is the ability of the Spirit of God in the believer to give intelligence of the truth of God. This is necessary for service, worship, direction, and discerning error. When the Spirit of God comes to indwell a person, no matter how young or inexperienced they are, they receive Divine help to discern between truth and error; "ye have not need that any one should teach you; but as the same unction teaches you as to all things" (1 John 2:27). This follows what Jesus taught about "the Comforter, the Holy Spirit... he shall teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance all the things which I have said to you" (John 14:26). It is by one Spirit that we have access to the Father in prayer (Eph. 2:18). Furthermore, the Spirit is like a "fountain of living water" inside a believer, "springing up" in the enjoyment of eternal life (John 4:14), enabling us to worship the Father (Phil. 3:3). The Spirit is also like "rivers of living water" flowing out to this world with the refreshing testimony of Christ (John 7:38). We also find that the sons of God "are led by the Spirit of God", who guides and direct our steps (Rom. 8:14). We could summarize the anointing of the Spirit as that which enables the believer to understand God's thoughts.

21 I have not written to you because ye do not know the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. v.21 Knowing the Truth. When John says the little children “know” the truth, it refers to knowing whether what is presented is the truth or a lie. This ability to detect truth and error is a function of the anointing of the Spirit. We do not need to know all the errors that are out there, but rather become familiar with the truth. These ones knew the truth as to the Person of Christ. But there are many other aspects of the truth that are important for little children in the faith to become established in.
Two Safeguards. The two safeguards that all believers have are: (1) the unction of the Spirit indwelling, and (2) the truth (of the Person of Christ) abiding in them. If you have those two things, you are fully equipped to detect and reject evil doctrine. It is amazing to see that the little children, the youngest babes in Christ, have these two safeguards.4
22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? “He” is the antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. v.22 Two Lies. John next brings out two lies were being presented by false teachers in that day. The first lie is connected with Jesus as the object of Old Testament prophecy; i.e .that Jesus is the Messiah. This was the lie that the unbelieving Jewish enemies were guilty of bringing. They didn’t deny that there was a Messiah, but they denied that Jesus was Him. The Unction of the Spirit will guard against this. The second lie is even worse in that it is connected with the eternal relationships in the Godhead; i.e. that Jesus is the Son of God. Having the truth of the Person of Christ abiding in us will guard against this. Both lies are promoted by the enemies of Christ, but the second is “anti-Christian” in that it attacks the foundation of Christianity. Both will be pressed by Antichrist when he appears in the future, but the denial of Father and Son is the more terrifying of the two evils. In that day, not only Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah but also professing Christians who deny the Father and the Son will come together in receiving Antichrist! The apostasy is twofold: a Jewish apostasy and a Christian apostasy. It is remarkable that the evil that John describes is not a mere ignorance of truth, or even a general course of lawlessness. Is a direct attack on the revelation of the person of Christ. It is incredible that this brand of wickedness would spring up so shortly after the Lord Jesus returned to heaven, although it will be seen in its full manifestation in the future. This evil is called anti-Christ, or against Christ.
23 Whoever denies the Son has not the Father either; he who confesses the Son has the Father also. v.23 Having the Father by the Son. The identity of the Father and the Son are co-relative. This is how the father-son relationship works. You cannot have a father without a son, nor can you have a son without a father. To deny the Son – which anti-Christian false teachers were doing – was to also deny the Father. This is one of the great implications of rejecting the eternal Sonship of Christ; we also deny the eternal Fatherhood of God. The Fatherhood of God is co-relative with the Sonship of Christ, and that co-relativity is eternal! You lose both if you deny one. It is common to hear religious people making a claim to know God the Father , meanwhile they reject – in doctrine or in practice – His Son. Denying the Son proves the falsity of their claims to know the Father. The Father will reject any claim to know Him by those who dishonor His Son. But the converse is blessedly true; “he who confesses the Son has the Father also”. Putting our faith in the Son brings us into relationship with the Father, because “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18).
24 As for “you” let that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you: if what ye have heard from the beginning abides in you, “ye” also shall abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise which “he” has promised us, life eternal. vv.24-25 The Truth Abiding, Enjoyment of Eternal Life. The fullest revelation of truth that God has given is the Person of the Son declaring the Father, which is the same truth they had heard “from the beginning”. It is the doctrine of the Person of Christ. The believer is to abide in this doctrine, not falling for the deception of false teachers. It is difficult to discern if abiding in the Son and in the Father here is the possession of eternal life, or if it is the enjoyment of that life by means of communion (as in abiding in the vine, John 15). Perhaps it is both! The truth of the Person of Christ must abide in us for us to abide in communion the Son and the Father. And we must abide in communion in order to enjoy eternal life (John 17:3). There is nothing higher than that which we already have according to the promise of God!
26 These things have I written to you concerning those who lead you astray: 27 and “yourselves”, the unction which ye have received from him abides in you, and ye have not need that any one should teach you; but as the same unction teaches you as to all things, and is true and is not a lie, and even as it has taught you, ye shall abide in him. vv.26-27 Summary of the Message to Little Children. In conclusion concerning his message to little children in the family of God, John emphasizes that he wrote to these young believers “concerning those who lead you astray”. They needed to be warned, but they did not need anyone to teach them; i.e. there was no need for “added light” concerning the Person of Chirst. In believing on the Son, He had given them “the unction”, which remained in them. The Spirit of God, as the author of God’s Word, is indwelling the believer, teaching him all things. The Spirit does not deceive. His witness “is true and is not a lie”. When someone comes presenting something new about the Person of Christ, we can trust the inner witness of the Spirit of God who teaches us according to the Word of God. It is the Spirit of God that causes the sheep to recognize the Shepherd’s voice.

The Whole Family: To Abide in Communion (2:28)

28 And now, children, abide in him, that if he be manifested we may have boldness, and not be put to shame from before him at his coming. v.28 Communion and Christ’s Coming. John next resumes his exhortations to the whole family.5 The secret to a fruitful Christian life – for the whole family, regardless of the stage of growth – is to abide in communion with Christ. John wanted the saints to do this in view of the manifestation of Christ. The expression “if he be manifested” is not putting His coming in doubt, but rather reasoning from it as a certain fact. The manifestation of Christ refers to the appearing of Christ, when rewards will be displayed. John wanted the saints to abide in Christ so that “we” (the apostles) would “have boldness, and not be put to shame from before him at his coming”. When the Lord comes, there may be shame in the sense of disappointment or sorrow at missed opportunities. Responsibility is never connected with the rapture, but it is connected with the appearing. John speaks in this way as a spiritual father, regarding the behavior of his spiritual children.
  1. J.N. Darby. What the World is; and how a Christian can live in it.
  2. This falling away of individuals later progressed into “the last days”, wherein widespread false profession and blatant denial of the Lordship of Christ came in (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3; 2 Pet. 3:3).
  3. But there is something more. These antichrists came out from among the Christians. There was apostasy. Not that they were really Christians, but they had been among the Christians and had come out from them. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  4. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost as an unction and spiritual intelligence in them, and the truth which they had received at the beginning — the perfect revelation of Christ — these were the safeguards against seducers and seductions. All heresy and all error and corruption will be found to strike at the first and divine revelation of the truth, if the unction of the Holy One is in us to judge them. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  5. With verse 27 ends the second series of exhortations to the three classes. The apostle begins again with the whole body of Christians (v. 28). This verse appears to me to correspond with verse 8 of the second epistle (2 John 8), and with chapter 3 of the first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 3). – J.N. Darby. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.