1 Yochanan, Jewish New Testament and comment David H. Stern

chapter 4
1. Dear friends, don’t trust every spirit. On the contrary, test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Don't trust every spirit. On the contrary, test the spirits to see whether they are from God (compare 1 Th 5:19-22). This is an important principle for our age. After years or'having lost touch with the spiritual realm altogether, many people are rediscovering it but have not the discernment to know which spirits "are from God." Not every inner voice or feeling is from God. Some are merely from ourselves, either consequences of being overtired or overwrought, or expressions of our own wishes and fears. Others are truly from the spiritual realm, but, unfortunately, from Satan and his demons, not from God and his angels. By the same token, not every prophet or religious leacher is from God; yet some are.

Verses 2-3 give one criterion by which to test the spirits. Another is that "spirits from God" can be expected to give wholehearted support to everything the Bible says. 

2. Here is how you recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges that Yeshua the Messiah came as a human being is from God,
Every spirit which acknowledges. Yechiel Lichtenstein writes, "Yochanan did not say 'believes,' because a person cannot be recognized by his thoughts, only by his confession."

Yeshua the Messiah came as a human being. One of the earliest heresies was that of the Docetisis, who taught that the Messiah only appeared to be a human being. They considered human flesh on too low a plane for so exalted a figure as the Son of God. This heresy persists explicitly in "theosophy" and in sects based on Eastern religious teachings which speak of "the Christ" as a spiritual entity which, in effect, masqueraded as human but was actually "a far higher being." It persists in a far more widespread fashion in the implicit popular theology of much of the Christian Church, which in emphasizing Yeshua's divinity practically ignores his humanity and portrays him as if he floated around the Holy Land several feet off the ground. For a Jew there may be difficulty in regarding the Messiah as divine, but none whatever in regarding him as human; quite the contrary, the idea of a Messiah who is not a human being is virtually meaningless within the thought-framework of Judaism. 

3. and every spirit which does not acknowledge Yeshua is not from God — in fact, this is the spirit of the Anti-Messiah. You have heard that he is coming. Well, he’s here now, in the world already!
The Anti-Messiah. See 2:18-19N. 

4. You, children, are from God and have overcome the false prophets, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
He who is in you is the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit). He who is in the world is "Your enemy, the Adversary," Satan, who "stalks about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Ke 5:8). 

5. They are from the world; therefore, they speak from the world’s viewpoint; and the world listens to them.
6. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God doesn’t listen to us. This is how we distinguish the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error.
False prophets were promised by Yeshua (Mt 7:15. 24:11, 24; Mk 13:22; Lk 6:26); and see 2 Ke 2:1.

The world listens to them. True then, and true now. Any number of false prophets, basing their pronouncements on their own imaginations (since ihey are from the world), on demonic influences (Ac 13:6-12, 16:16-18) and on what people want to hear (2 Ti 4:3-4) are available to distract and miseducate the public. You can find them in the media, on the streets, in the schools and universities, in many homes, and, yes, in the pulpits.

Among the false prophets whom the world will listen to will be some who have "gone out from us", (2:19), who have at one time or another claimed to be Messianic but have renounced their faith. It is useful to see that Yochanan recognized such a category of people. His advice is to beware of their errors, but not to become preoccupied with trying to win them back (compare 1 Ti 1:20). Rather, we should take as our guideline that whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God doesn't listen to us; like Yochanan, we can be satisfied with that. 

7. Beloved friends, let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who loves has God as his Father and knows God.
8. Those who do not love, do not know God; because God is love.
God is love (also v. 16). This simple sentence embodies the profoundest religious truth; yet it can be perverted into a callow slogan, in which God is pictured as some sort of floating fuzz-ball of love, accepting everything and judging nothing. This is wrong for two reasons:
(1) God's love is not mere feeling, but action, as the familiar Yn 3:16 teaches: God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son to die for us sinners who needed rescue (compare v. 12 below and 3:16-18 above).

(2) God is not only love; he is also justice, pouring out wrath on those who reject his mercy (Ro 1:18-2:16, 3:19-20). Believers must proclaim not only God's love, but also his hatred for sin and his intolerance of human pride that presumes on God: God is not mocked (Ga 6:7).

C. S. Lewis points out an interesting relationship between consciousness of self and love as spoken of in this chapter:

'There is no reason to suppose that self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a 'self,' can exist except in contrast with an 'other,' a something which is not the self. It is against an environment, and preferably a social environment, an environment of other selves, that the awareness of Myself stands out. This would raise a difficulty about the consciousness of God if we were mere theists: being Christians, we learn from the doctrine of tht Blessed Trinity that something analogous to 'society' exists within the Divine Being from all eternity — that God is Love, not merely in the sense of being the Platonic form of love, but because, within Him. the concrete reciprocities of love exist before all worlds and are thence derived to the creatures." (The Problem of Pain, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., paperback edition 1962. p. 29) 

9. Here is how God showed his love among us: God sent his only Son into the world, so that through him we might have life.
10. Here is what love is: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the kapparah for our sins.
Kapparah ("atonement"). See 2:1-2N. 

11. Beloved friends, if this is how God loved us, we likewise ought to love one another.
12. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God remains united with us, and our love for him has been brought to its goal in us.
People saw Yeshua, Yeshua as the Word "is" God (Yn 1:1,14), and yet Yochanan writes that no one has ever seen God. New Testament faith is not so simplistic as some make it out to be. See Yn 1:18N. 

13. Here is how we know that we remain united with him and he with us: he has given to us from his own Spirit.
14. Moreover, we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent his Son as Deliverer of the world.
15. If someone acknowledges that Yeshua is the Son of God, God remains united with him, and he with God.
16. Also we have come to know and trust the love that God has for us. God is love; and those who remain in this love remain united with God, and God remains united with them.
17. Here is how love has been brought to maturity with us: as the Messiah is, so are we in the world. This gives us confidence for the Day of Judgment.
18. There is no fear in love. On the contrary, love that has achieved its goal gets rid of fear, because fear has to do with punishment; the person who keeps fearing has not been brought to maturity in regard to love.
19. We ourselves love now because he loved us first.
20. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
21. Yes, this is the command we have from him: whoever loves God must love his brother too.
These verses come against making religion a matter of "words and talk" instead of "actions" and "reality" (3:17-18&N). 

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