That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us…(I John 1:1-2)
The Final of the three simple, theological propositions set forth by the apostle John, in his restorative ministry to those whose faith had been distorted due to the gnostics is this;
…Jesus Christ has come (and remains) in the flesh…(I John 4:2)
Who is the only true God and eternal Life ? God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all…God is Love…and Jesus Christ , the only unique Son of the Father, is himself God incarnate.Jesus Christ has come and remains in the flesh.
First a word about why I insert (and remains) into the confession that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. The word Come,in I John 4:2 is in the perfect tense, elelythota. As John Stott in his commentary, THE LETTERS OF JOHN states,
“…elelythota seems to emphasize that the flesh assumed by the Son of God in His incarnation has become his permanent possession…Christ actually came in the flesh and has never laid it aside.”(Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series, The Letters of John, John Stott, pg 158)
The gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection have a markedly physical emphasis. We are told that the cross is wooden, the dying Jesus is thirsty, when pronounced dead by the guards, his side is pierced with a spear, and blood and water flow out. The disciples have to pry Jesus’ dead body off the cross , spices are used to embalm Jesus’ body, and a stone is rolled over the mouth of the tomb.
On that first Easter morning, the disciples race to the tomb, and have to stoop to enter it. We are told that when they saw the embalming clothes, they believed. Jesus appeared to them and told them to handle him. When he ate fish with them, you couldn’t see the fish go down his esophagus because Jesus isn’t merely a spiritual entity, he is in the flesh!
When Jesus is seen after many days by the disciples, while they were fishing, He is cooking a breakfast for them on a charcoal fire. The fish they caught were counted and there was a specific number, 153.
Why all of this physical detail?
Gnosticism, a religious trend that predated christianity, but sought to incorporate it, was heavily influenced by a hybrid of greek philosophy and eastern religion , believed in a dualism between the material world and the spiritual. In their worldview, the material world is evil, it is bondage, something to escape (through gnosis,ie revelation knowledge). But to them everything Spiritual was the good.
These went so far as to say that the God who created the physical world was evil. Supposedly Jesus came to liberate us, through secret knowledge, back into the spiritual state.
Therefore the Christian teaching that God became a man, lived and died as a man, and rose from the dead on the third day, was considered by these intellectuals to be insulting and offensive. I John is an attempt to refute this false teaching and it’s implications. Jesus Christ has come and remains in the flesh!
All belief has consequences. When Christ is reduced to a spiritualized, ethereal entity, so also righteousness and love are reduced to that which is merely ethereal, intellectual and abstract. Truth also becomes subjective, and fluent. Faith itself becomes a constantly evolving allegory, an ever-changing, subjective narrative with no fixed structure to cling to.
The Christianized gnostics want to spiritualize Jesus, because they want to spiritualize everything else, Righteousness, Love, Prayer, Truth, doctrine, fellowship, judgment, etc. We are warned that the AntiChrist spirit would spiritualize Jesus, that it might confuse the whole world on this most important identification.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (I John 4:2-3)
Jesus is real. The Christ of God has come unto us, (from heaven, for He is the eternal God). “The child is born”(Humanly speaking), but “the Son is given“, from everlasting. “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world”.
He came into the real world, for there were dates on the calendar, there was a governor (He was crucified under Pontius Pilate), He suffered, hungered, thirsted, wept, rejoiced, in short, he fully entered into the full gamut of human experience. At the prime of his life, He offered himself to be a sacrifice to God for our sins. He was pronounced to be dead by witnesses.
Three calendar days later, He (bodily) rose from the dead. Forty days later, he ascended to heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High.He pleads there for us as a high priest, bearing the physical scars of his suffering. And He (God) has appointed a calendar day for the judgment by Him of the living and the dead.
We will look next at the two distortions of the “Doctrine of Christ ” that the gnostics taught, and their implications.