First John, chapter 4, part 1
Jan 27, 2018
1 John 4:1 says,
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
There is much confusion in the minds of Christians today, because they have not been taught adequately the difference between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. When Scripture speaks of the “spirit,” it is left to the translators to make the distinction, for they must decide whether to capitalize the “S” or not (Spirit or spirit).
Likewise, the original New Testament Greek text had no lower case letters, and the authors did not punctuate their sentences. In fact, they did not even put spaces between their letters. This sometimes made it difficult for readers to read the text correctly. Paul mentioned this problem in 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV, where he spoke of “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Paul spoke of “spirit and soul and body” in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and the translators understood that he was not speaking of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the S in “spirit” is not capitalized. But there are times when the author’s meaning is unclear. Was he speaking of the spirit or the Spirit? The only way to tell is by looking at the context.
In 1 John 4:1 above, we are to “test the spirits.” Because spirits is plural, it is obvious that John was not referring to the Holy Spirit. The real question is whether John was referring to human spirits or evil spirits, especially when we come to the next two verses. 1 John 4:2, 3 says,
2 By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
These verses have been used often in deliverance ministry, quite literally demanding a confession from the evil spirit: “Do you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?” I have been told that evil spirits are unable to make such a confession, but I myself have never been led to set up such a test. I have always been required to discern the spirits and to know which spirits they are.
I do not have a problem with using these verses to determine the nature of spirits. However, in the flow of John’s letter, it seems doubtful if the apostle intended for us to understand his words in that manner. It seems to me that he was speaking of the human spirit. Admittedly, a human spirit may potentially be infected by an evil spirit that has taken up residence in someone. In such cases, both types of spirits may be involved at the same time. However, I believe that John was speaking specifically about human spirits which had not truly been begotten by the Father.
The last verse in the previous chapter (1 John 3:24) speaks of abiding in Christ and how the Holy Spirit abides in a true believer—that is, in his spirit. The Holy Spirit begets Christ in the human spirit, pictured by the presence of God filling Solomon’s temple—that is, the Most Holy Place in the temple.
Abiding in a Temple
Today, we ourselves are temples of God. The outer court represents the body; the Holy Place represents the soul; the Most Holy Place represents the spirit. In times past, the dwelling place of God was in the Most Holy Place. After the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the dwelling place of God has been in our own Most Holy Place—the human spirit (Spirit in spirit).
John’s word picture was of our personal temple in which the Holy Spirit was abiding, even as we abide (meno) in Him. We are His house, if indeed the Holy Spirit abides in us. But at the same time, He is also our house, as Jesus explained in John 14:2, saying, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places,” or literally, many abodes, or abiding places (Greek: mona).
The verb, meno, “to abide,” is mona in its noun form, “abode.” Therefore, we abide in Him as our abode, while at the same time He abides in us as His abode. We are each other’s house in this intimate relationship. He abides in us by the Spirit of truth, for Jesus said in John 14:17,
17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him, because He abides [meno] with you and will be in you.
Since Jesus was speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper, which was before Pentecost, they could not fully understand what He was saying, for they had yet to experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. At that time, the Spirit of truth abode “with” them, but was not yet “in” them. Nonetheless, it is important to see that Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth,” implying that the WORD was to abide in them.
Jesus explained this further in John 15:7,
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Jesus’ “words” are the equivalent of “the Spirit of truth,” and we have shown already that the word of truth is the “seed” that begets Christ in us. Therefore, Christ indwells us by His Spirit if His “words” abide in us.
The Spirit in Passover and Pentecost
I heard it said many years ago (by a Baptist minister) that “a word-filled Christian is a Spirit-filled Christian.” There is much truth in that statement, although he did not recognize the difference between Passover and Pentecost. We are begotten by the Spirit in our Passover experience, but this is not all that there is to the Holy Spirit. There is also a Pentecostal experience with the Holy Spirit that is distinct, having a different purpose.
Passover is about justification by faith in the blood of the Lamb by the word of truth. By believing the gospel (word), the seed of the word impregnates us with Christ, so that Christ then takes his abode in our spirit. It is the equivalent of Israel keeping the first Passover in order to qualify them as “the church in the wilderness,” leaving Egypt and beginning their journey to the Promised Land.
But the church could not bypass Mount Horeb, where Israel was supposed to experience Pentecost. This was something that occurred more than seven weeks after Passover. It was a second experience that God intended to give us, so that we might be empowered to hear His voice and to grow to spiritual maturity. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not the same as the Spirit of truth impregnating us with Christ. If God intended for us to equate them, He would have had Israel keep both Passover and Pentecost at the same time.
Passover is about justification; Pentecost is about sanctification and obedience (writing the law on our hearts). The Holy Spirit is operational in both feasts, but in different ways. For this reason, when we look at Israel’s wilderness journey, we see that the Spirit of God was with them from the first day, many weeks before they arrived at Mount Horeb for Pentecost. Exodus 13:20-22 says,
20 Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
The fact that the presence of God began to lead Israel on the day of Passover, as they left Egypt, did not mean that they had all of the Holy Spirit that they needed to enter the Promised Land. Neither can we say that if we are begotten by the Spirit of truth that we are fully equipped to receive all the promises of God. No, Pentecost is required to grow spiritually, so that our faith is increased sufficiently to experience Tabernacles.
Let us not be as the Israelites under Moses, who rejected Pentecost by refusing to hear God for themselves. Their rejection bore bitter fruit later when they discovered that they did not have sufficient faith to enter God’s rest (Hebrews 3:15, 18, 19). Just because they were the church did not mean that they were able to receive the promise. So also is it today.
Just because we have been begotten by God does not necessarily mean that we are overcomers. To be an overcomer requires endurance to the end of the journey. It requires learning all the lessons that God has for us at Horeb (Pentecost) and at each spiritual oasis along the way. Those who fail to be like Caleb and Joshua (overcomers) will not be lost; they will simply have to wait longer to receive their promised inheritance.
Greek and Hebrew Views of the First Resurrection
This is why it is important for us to understand the two resurrections in Revelation 20. When the early church moved out of Judea into a Greek culture, by the second century Hebrew thought patterns began to be replaced by Greek thought patterns. Biblical truth was based on history—events that actually happened—but the Greek Christians began to allegorize everything. They downplayed the importance of history, because they were already used to this as a culture. Greek religion was based on myths—stories that were treated as allegories and parables, but not taken seriously as historical events.
By the time another century had passed, the church had begun spiritualizing the resurrection. In time, they began teaching that the first resurrection of Revelation 20:5 was not a future, historical event, but a spiritual experience of becoming a believer in Christ. That idea implanted the notion that justification qualified all believers to be “priests of God and of Christ and… reign with Him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).
In other words, they lost the distinction between the church and the overcomers. They also lost the understanding of the purpose of Pentecost and Tabernacles. Yet we see from Israel’s example that most of that first church died in the wilderness, not receiving the promise. Justification by itself does not qualify a person to reign with Christ. All who reign with Christ are justified, but not all who are justified are qualified to reign.
Hence, this misinterpretation of Revelation 20:5, 6 has done harm to the church, for it gives believers a false perspective and minimizes the need to be overcomers. It gives believers the idea that as long as they have professed Christ, they are qualified to receive the promises of God. Pentecost was ignored for many centuries, and when Pentecost was reignited in the church in the early 1900’s, even the Pentecostals did not fully understand its purpose and meaning.
Few Pentecostals know that their favorite experience was actually a feast day established in the time of Moses. They do not know that it was a celebration of the giving of the law at Horeb. This lack of understanding causes them to reject the law, as if it were unspiritual, when, in fact, Paul said that “we know that the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14).
By rejecting or ignoring the revelation of the law, Pentecostals were unable to hear the full gospel that is revealed in the law. They found it necessary to set up their own laws and often became legalistic. They were unable to understand and assimilate the great promises of God in the so-called Ten Commandments—which are really the Ten Promises of God under the New Covenant.
So let us reestablish the original Hebrew view of the Scriptures that John himself had. Let us understand that the word of God speaks of things that actually happened historically. Let us understand that when John spoke of two resurrections, he was not speaking allegorically, but was revealing the beginning and end of a Sabbath Millennium. Let us understand that if our desire is to receive the promise of God in the first resurrection, we must be qualified (as Caleb and Joshua) to reign with Christ over others who are not yet mature.
Well, I have followed a rather long rabbit trail, but I hope that this has been helpful nonetheless.
The Great Profession
Getting back to John’s original topic, I believe that the apostle was telling us that “every (human) spirit that confesses (professes, agrees) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Such human spirits know and profess this, because Christ abides in them, and they know this by personal experience.
In other words, our spirit knows that a new creature within it is growing into the full stature of Christ, and that the day will come when that son of God will be brought to full birth in the image of Christ. That son of God will “come in the flesh,” even as Jesus did when “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
Each son of God will then receive a new body, capable of doing what Jesus did after His resurrection. He could put on a physical body and appear to His disciples; and He could disappear, divesting Himself of physical flesh and returning to pure spirit form. As priests of God, they will have access to the holy garments as well as to earthly garments, able to minister to both God and men.
But John’s focus in 1 John 4:1-3 is upon the human spirit that has truly encountered the Spirit of truth and is thus able to confess and profess the truth that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. Such a confession knows also that Christ in us is also putting on human flesh, in order to fulfill the original purpose for man’s creation in the earth. When we come fully into the image of God, we will be like Jesus Christ, our great Example.
By contrast, a spirit that cannot make this profession “is the spirit of the antichrist,” John says, because it remains a usurper. When Adam sinned, the soul usurped the leadership position over the spirit and became, in effect, antichrist. All antichrist spirits are “already in the world,” and as a result, the political and social orders of antichrist are constructed by individual antichrists. Such people create governments in their own image.
Hence, antichrist originates within the human spirit, but it is then manifested externally as a result. The spirit of the antichrist creates the antichrist system of government. The spirit of antichrist resided in Absalom when he usurped the throne of David. The spirit of antichrist resided in the chief priests when they usurped the throne of Jesus Christ.
Those antichrist spirits deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and 1 John 2:22, 23 says,
22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
Christ vs. antichrist is first a heart issue, and secondarily, it is a conflict between two competing forms of government on earth. Let us support the right side in this conflict and not be as Judas, the son of perdition, who, though he was Jesus’ disciple, aided the antichrists who refused to profess Christ.
This is part 21 of a series titled "Studies in First John." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones