For many deceivers have come forth into the world, who do not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves, so as not to lose what we have done but receive your full reward. Whoever breaks forward and does not abide by the teaching of the Christ does not have God; the one who abides by his teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not take him into your house, and do not give him any greeting; for anyone who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds (2 Jn. 1:7-11).
Recently a friend and I were discussing the second epistle of John. She had brought up the above passage and was specifically interested in the seventh verse:
For many deceivers have come forth into the world, who do not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such is the deceiver and the antichrist (7).
And within that verse, the phrase “the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” stood out for her. “Do you have an idea of what this means”? she asked.
Just a few days before, I’d read this epistle and had thought about the very verse she’d pointed out. I suggested that the words “in the flesh” did not refer to Jesus’s earthly life of a few decades. Rather, it seemed to me, the apostle was alluding to the presence of Christ Within; it was our flesh—the believers’ flesh—to which the Light of Christ is come. And “acknowledg[ment]” that Christ is come in the flesh is predicated upon that inward encounter with him, with his Presence.
A week or so later, my thought was confirmed when I read one of Fox’s tracts titled “A Word,” from which the following excerpt is taken:
Who loves the light that he hath given them, witness Jesus Christ come in the flesh. . . and you that hold up the figures, deny Christ come in the flesh (The Works of George Fox, IV: 33).
Loving the light Jesus Christ has given us (having first received it!) is inherent in any authentic witness that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. And conversely, to “hold up the figures” (“figures” being concepts provided by bygone prophets) is to “deny Christ come in the flesh.”
Those not having known this encounter-cum-revelation can only posture an attitude of faith, and thus deserve the designation the apostle gives them: deceivers. John sought to distinguish between those who’d experienced the arrival of Christ Within and those “deceivers” or “antichrists” (signifying enemies of Christ) who had not. In short, John was telling us that the essential defect of “the deceiver and the antichrist” is profession without possession.
Whoever breaks forward and does not abide by the teaching of the Christ does not have God; the one who abides by his teaching has the Father and the Son (9).
To “abide by the teaching of the Christ” is to learn from the one who “is come to teach his people himself,” Christ who inwardly reveals himself that we may learn the Father’s will and do it. And “whoever breaks forward,” and distances him- or herself from this condition of hearing obedience, “does not have God” but are instead “presumptuous talkers of God, who see him not” (Works, IV:30).
“Do not take him [the deceiver] into your house”(10) is a warning to readers to keep some distance between themselves and deceivers, but the warning can also be interpreted figuratively. One must not allow a conceptual approach to faith to enter and occupy the living space where only an experience of faith should reside.
The apostle knows the danger of losing “what we have done”(8) and cautions rigorous care when dealing with conceptual faith and those who harbor it: to refuse to offer even a greeting. For to greet is to acknowledge, and thus, in a minor way, to sanction. And to sanction deceit even in a minor way is to participate in and promote it: “for anyone who gives him a greeting shares in his evil deeds”(11).
That mind, which doth speak of God, but lives not, dwells not, nor abides in the fear of God, that mind must suffer, and pass under the judgment of God, for the curse of God is upon that mind. . . . And that mind may talk of God, and speak of God, but not in union with God, nor from enjoyment of God in the spirit, nor from having purchased the knowledge of him through death and sufferings; but from hear-say of him, and from custom and tradition (Works, VII:32).
Thus far this essay has considered the second half of John’s epistle, which, with its warning about deceivers and antichrists stands in contrast to the epistle’s first half, concerned as it is with truth and love. See how frequently the word “truth” appears in the epistle’s first sentence (italics mine):
The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever (1-2).
Love is the outgoing expression of truth, which resides within, and thus not only does the apostle express his own love for the “elect lady” but is confident that “all they that have known the truth” will also love her: not because she elicits his or their affection but because the truth dwells within them, and is the living source and impetus of love.
And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another (5). And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it (5-6).
In verse 5, we read that love for one another is commanded, and has been so “from the beginning”: “the beginning” referring to that glorious, singular event when one is “born. . . of God” (Jn. 1:13). And so to love is to bring forth, to express, the Life that began and is continuing in Christ, the Truth.
In verse six, a significant distinction is made between 1) the inward hearing of the Source and 2) its conveyance outward into the world. This distinction is made by the use of one letter: the letter “s” added to the word “commandment,” making the word either singular or plural. The Source is one, and to attend to that Source is the one commandment (no “s” added). The expression of that Source will vary according to whatever teaching or guidance He gives at particular times and places: that is, there will be various, specific commandments (and so an “s” is added). These commandments (with an “s”) are what we Quakers call “continuing revelation.” So verses 5 and 6 diagram the economy of parousaic revelation: the Source being God, the Father, and the various, particular expressions of His person being love brought into the world through His Son, His substance and body: the elect people of God.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God (1 Jn. 4:7).