David C. Grabbe: By the time the apostle John penned his gospel and epistles, he had witnessed the ministry of Jesus Christ, the crucifixion, the resurrected Messiah, and the founding of the church of God. ...
David Grabbe, describing several contexts of the term "anti-Christ," points out that one meaning of anti-Christ is those who believe that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah, but a mortal, who may have been a good teacher, but was not a Savior or a literal Son of God. Two-thirds of the Abrahamic religions—Judaism and Islam— fall into this category. The apostle John dealt with a group of false apostles in the early Church who had embraced the Gnostic teaching of Docetism, which considers anything physical impure, thereby precluding Christ's physical presence as having any consequence, but considered only the other part of the dual nature, the spiritual, worthy of worship. The teaching of Docetism led to a passive idea of repentance, causing people to accept Jesus' sacrifice and grace, but reject any attempt at overcoming and living by His laws. Sadly, most professing Christians have accepted this deception, rejecting the idea that God's Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to walk in His commandments, enabling spiritual growth into the stature of Jesus Christ. They may claim to follow Him, but they reject His commandments. With God's Spirit in us, prompting spiritual growth, we will mature into the fullness of Christ. Without His Spirit, we will have the spirit of anti-Christ.
Martin Collins, focusing upon various interpretations of who or what constitutes antichrists, examines several characteristics of this group of beings, including fostering deception and confusion, preventing fellowship, and creating intense spiritual conflict. Realizing that our real enemies are not human beings at all, but demonic principalities emanating from the spirit of darkness, we are mandated to put on the whole armor of God, embracing the truth. The mystery of evil and lawlessness has been extant from the beginning of the early church, recognized by Paul and John. Some teachers in the early church actually attained leadership and influence in the teaching of noxious false doctrine. Ultimately, the being or order emerging as the antichrist will be motivated directly by Satan. Historically, antichrist teachers have proclaimed that Jesus was only a man, or that He had a phantom body and never really experienced death. The syncretistic new religion of Chrislam is actually a prime example of antichrist doctrine. The false prophet and the great political leader in Revelation 13 and 17 will both be worshipped by people duped by Satan to believe a strong delusion. We need to be on guard for antichrist influences attempting to penetrate the greater church of God. We are admonished to test the spirits, realizing that heretical tares have been permitted to test our faith. The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well today, attempting to sabotage our spiritual welfare and steal our spiritual crown.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
John Ritenbaugh highlights how the witness of the apostles, particularly miraculous healings performed in the name of Jesus Christ, brought them into conflict with the established Jewish leaders, the entrenched Sadducees and the Sanhedrin. Peter used the startling impact of these healings to draw attention to the fulfilled prophecies pertaining to Jesus—the source of the healing power—whom the crowds Peter was addressing had crucified in ignorance. As the veil of ignorance is lifted, they (and we) have the responsibility to act on this knowledge of culpability in His crucifixion and fully repent—undergo a total change of life. Focusing on his predominantly Jewish audience, he affirms that belief in the prophecies of the Old Testament will lead to belief in Christ. Being in Him makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, perhaps an exemplification of the entire unconverted world, but also symbolic of a church, initially hardened, self-willed and skeptical when called out of the world, but afterwards zealous and energized when enlightened by the truth. As Jesus revealed Himself to her and exposed the disgusting details of her past, so God does the same thing to us when we are called. As the woman had to be drawn away from false concepts of worship, we must be weaned away from poisonous superstitions and false doctrine polluting our worship of God. Only those who attain the Spirit of God within their inner beings will worship God in spirit and in truth. Spiritual sacrifices include humility, fidelity, and service. As the woman had to be diverted from using the living water for selfish purposes, we must learn to derive satisfaction from serving others, emulating Christ's example of becoming energized by doing the work of God, planting and reaping the spiritual harvest.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that whom we believe in is every bit as important as what we believe in. The last part of the first chapter focuses upon the selection of the disciples, many of whom had known one another and had been in business together. John and James were directly related to Jesus. Nevertheless, all had to have the Messiah revealed to them. When Jesus chose the disciples, He (having the ability to look into the innermost hearts) looked past their current flaws to their long-term potential. In the second chapter, focusing on the beginning of signs (the miracle of turning water into wine), Jesus' relationship with His mother now turns from dependent son to authoritative savior. This miracle reveals that God is involved in the simple little details of our lives as well as the great events in the course of human events. Likewise, God desires to be involved in the practical aspects of our lives, relieving our burdens and saving us from embarrassment. In the driving out of the moneychangers from the temple, Jesus revealed another aspect of His personality, showing contempt for underhanded, extortionist financial transactions conducted in the name of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus was placed on trial not for what He did, but for what He claimed about Himself. John has provided at least eight separate forms of witness, establishing the veracity of Jesus Christ's identity as God in the flesh. Fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament (over 300 separate prophecies) concerning Christ's identity and the events of His life is overwhelming, compelling, and mathematically irrefutable (The chance of fulfilling only eight of those prophecies would be 1 in 10 to the 17th power or 100 quadrillion). John makes a compelling proposal for belief and faith. The last part of the first chapter of John focuses upon the work of John the Baptist, a physical cousin of Jesus, the forerunner of Christ, who witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ at His baptism, again establishing Christ's identity as the Lamb of God.
John Ritenbaugh probes into the reasons the book of John had to be written and the major differences distinguishing the book of John from the other Gospels. John omits entirely certain topics which the other gospels go into detail. Where the other Gospels have short narratives, John goes into lengthy descriptive and quantitative detail, providing in-depth characterizations of the disciples. From the perspective of an eye-witness to the events, a Jew (from a well-to-do family) having been thoroughly acquainted with Hellenistic culture, John, a physical cousin of Jesus, is able to bridge the gap explaining the significance of these events to an emerging gentile population not acquainted with Hebrew culture or tradition, but familiar with Greek patterns of thought- including the Platonic (and Gnostic) dichotomy of real and corporeal. Building on this concept, John presents Jesus, not as a phantom emanation, but as the reality—transcending the shadows represented by the temporal physical life. John presents the miracles of Jesus (not so much as acts of mercy) but as signs of the reality of God- indicating the way God works and thinks.