Heard From the Beginning

As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father (1 John 2:24).

Even the early Christians of the first century had to contend with false teachers and divergent teachings regarding the faith. Their presence and tactics upset the faith of some. Part of John’s purpose in writing his letter is to assure, comfort, and confirm them in their faith in the Son of God.

John provides some clues as to the nature of these opponents. He calls them “antichrists,” those teaching and working in opposition to Christ (1 John 2:18). They participated in Christian assemblies for some time, seemingly a part of the group, but departed and no longer maintained that association (1 John 2:19). They denied that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; in doing so, they denied the true nature of the Father as well (1 John 2:22-23). They are actively working to lead Christians astray and follow their doctrines (1 John 2:26). They likely do not practice righteousness as defined by God in Christ (1 John 2:29, 3:3-10). Since John uses similar ways of speaking of the opponents in 2 John 1:7-11, they may well be the same or closely related groups; in 2 John the opponents deny that Jesus came in the flesh (2 John 1:7).

These opponents, at the least, are docetists: docetists taught that Jesus was not really flesh and blood human, but only seemed to be human (from Greek dokeo, “to seem”). They perhaps saw Jesus something akin to our idea of a hologram or some spiritual being that seemed to have physicality but did not. These opponents may also have been developing the ideas that would become manifest in many Gnostic groups in the second century and beyond; Gnostics (from Greek gnosis, knowledge) were as internally divided as they were opposed to “orthodox” Christianity, but most Gnostic groups believed they had a superior knowledge to that of Christians and understood the “real” spiritual story behind what is found in the Bible. They often infiltrated Christian assemblies, seeming to go along with everything being said and done while privately attempting to influence individual believers to consider their extra level of knowledge. Gnostic versions of the Jesus story proved to be some of the most dangerous and pernicious heresies to challenge the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ in the first few centuries following the death of the Apostles. Even in its nascent forms John perceives the danger in these teachings: they deny the physicality of Jesus, and therefore undermine the Apostolic proclamation of Jesus’ Incarnation, death, and resurrection, for if Jesus were never truly human, He was never truly born, did not really die, and therefore could not have been raised from the dead. If Docetism and Gnosticism were accurate, the Christian faith was a lie, since Jesus was not raised from the dead, and we all remain in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)!

John must assure and confirm his beloved fellow Christians in their faith, reminding them of the truth of the Gospel, persuading any who might be falling prey to these false teachers. He reminds them of the anointing they received from God, their knowledge of the truth, their confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and their persistence in the Lord’s commands and walking as He walked (1 John 2:3-6, 2:20-23, 3:3-10). One can have confidence in faith when one follows after the Spirit and accomplishes righteousness (Matthew 7:15-20, 1 John 2:1-3:10), and this fruit is clearly not evident in the opposition. Yet one of the lynchpins of John’s argument is found in 1 John 2:24: early Christians should abide in what they heard from the beginning, for if they preserve themselves in the message they heard from the beginning, they will abide with the Father and the Son. “From the beginning” is the Word of Life, manifest as the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:1-5, 14-18, 1 John 1:1-4). The beginning of Christianity is Christ, the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, His life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and promised return, and the original Apostolic proclamation of Jesus as the Christ over the Kingdom of God (Acts 2:14-41, 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 7:12-9:28). This was the truth of the Gospel proclaimed from the beginning; these docetic and gnostic ideas came later. John affirms the truth of God was lived and proclaimed before it was perverted and distorted by later false teachers (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). John’s beloved fellow Christians should not be troubled or disturbed in their faith because of these Docetists and/or Gnostics; they had come to know and believe in the faith in Christ as originally proclaimed by the Apostles, the true, “orthodox” (from Greek ortho doxos, right belief) faith. They had learned the authentic faith; they had no need to follow after later, poorer imitations.

John’s exhortation has resonated throughout Christianity ever since. Early Christian apologists appealed to the principle of the existence of orthodox teachings before heresy, and sought to demonstrate continuity between the churches of their day and the churches founded by the Apostles (this has, in part, led to the idea of apostolic succession in Roman Catholicism, but the entire argument falls apart if a given church’s teachings today vary greatly from its teachings in the past). John’s exhortation should resonate with Christians today as well.

Over the past 1900 years many more divergent teachings have been introduced in Christianity; many are hopelessly confused about how to truly follow Jesus on account of all of these competing voices. In such a confused religious environment we do well to reclaim John’s message in 1 John 2:24: let us abide in what was heard, and therefore, proclaimed, from the beginning, the original and apostolic Gospel of Christ. This Gospel is still preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament, and can be proclaimed, believed, and acted upon in its original, primitive purity. Such is why the call for restoration of New Testament Christianity ought to remain relevant in the twenty-first century: not because Christians should live in the Mediterranean basin, speak Koine Greek, and wear tunics, but because the original, apostolic, primitive Gospel is the only message which has received God’s seal of approval in Christ (Romans 1:16). It remains the faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 1:3). It is the only Gospel by which people can come to the full truth and understanding of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of Life made flesh, who lived, died, was raised again in power, and now reigns as the Risen Lord in heaven, and who will come again on the final day, and of the Kingdom of that Christ, in which God calls all men to participate in Him to this day. When we abide in the original, pure Gospel of Christ, we abide in the Father and the Son. If we pursue a divergent message which came later, shaped by the philosophies of the world or in reaction to the errors of others, we are left with no confidence, from Scripture, that we would continue to abide in the Father and the Son.

John is absolutely right: the truth comes first; error comes later. Let us prove willing to uphold the pure, primitive, apostolic Gospel of Christ as proclaimed from the beginning, restoring New Testament Christianity in the twenty-first century, and abide in the Father and the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Son of Man

I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).

“Son of Man” is one of those phrases that everyone has read and regarding which most just keep on reading. We get the understanding as we read that Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man (e.g. Matthew 16:13-16, 16:21, 17:22-23). It might strike us as odd for Him to do so; why all of these references to the “Son of Man” if He is indeed the Son of Man? Why describe Himself as such? What difference does it make?

“Son of man” is an interesting way of describing Jesus considering that it has a long history of being used to refer to all different types of people. “Son of man” is sometimes used in parallelism with “man” (e.g. Numbers 23:19, Job 16:21, 35:8, Psalm 8:4, 80:17, Isaiah 51:12, Jeremiah 49:18). It is almost exclusively the means by which God addresses the prophet Ezekiel (e.g. Ezekiel 2:1, 3). Daniel the prophet is also described as a “son of man” (Daniel 8:17).

The phrase may seem a bit odd to us, but it makes complete sense in Hebrew. A “son of man” is a human being. There are many times in Hebrew when a person or persons are spoken of as “sons of” someone or something. A wicked person is sometimes described as a “son of Belial” [e.g. Judges 19:22, often translated “base fellows” (ASV), “worthless fellows” (ESV)]. The Ammonites are almost always spoken of as the “sons of Ammon”; for that matter, the Israelites themselves are time and time again referred to as the “sons of Israel.” A “son of man,” then, is a human being.

So why the constant emphasis on this phrase, especially in the life of Jesus? How can Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of Man if Ezekiel and Daniel before Him were “sons of men”?

Jesus is reckoned as the Son of Man on account of the prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14, in which “one like a son of man” came before the Ancient of Days and received dominion, glory, and a kingdom. This “one like a son of man” seemed awfully like the same One who would be the rock destroying the kingdoms in Daniel 2:41-44, and consonant with the Branch from David described in Isaiah 9, 11, and in many other passages. Thus, this “one like a son of man” is the Messiah, the Christ, and it was so understood in Jesus’ day.

But why that description? Why does Jesus own it so? Perhaps part of the reason involves the language used. The “man” of “son of man” is frequently the Hebrew word ‘adam, which also refers to dirt or land in many contexts; it is also the name/description of the first man Adam. Thus, in a sense, the Son of Man is the Son of Adam, the Son of the ground. Perhaps God calls Ezekiel the “son of man” to remind him that he is but mortal and dust while God remains immortal and spirit. Yet Jesus is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14, 18, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). And that is precisely why He refers to Himself as the Son of Man so frequently!

It was as easy then as it is now to get so caught up with Jesus’ divinity and spiritual power that His humanity is forgotten. Daniel quite clearly sees one like a human being receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom that does not end– it is not a disembodied spirit or some immanent entity beyond our comprehension, but Someone who experienced the same types of things we have experienced (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 4:15, 5:8). God the Son condescended to the point of taking on the form of dirt, being the Son of Man– the Creator taking on the form of His creation (John 1:3, Philippians 2:5-7). As “the” Son of Man, He was just like the other humans around Him– the humans for whom He lived and died to redeem.

Gnosticism– the overemphasis of the spiritual, theoretical, and the abstract so as to reject the physical, practical, and the concrete– has been a challenge in the church since the beginning. But the idea of Jesus as the “Son of Man” entirely does away with this. Flesh cannot be entirely bad; God the Son took on the form of flesh. The body is not necessarily the enemy; God took on a body in Christ, had it transformed for immortality in the resurrection, and in that form “like a son of man” received all power and authority (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 42-57). We cannot just give up on the creation since God refused to do so and continues to refuse to do so (Romans 8:17-24, Hebrews 1:3).

Does it make a lot of sense to us that God would become man and live as man? No, of course not! Yet whereas every other religion exalts men to the position of God, it is only in Christ do we see God descending to become a Son of Man. It is a great mystery, but one for which we ought to be most thankful. Jesus reminds us through His words that He is not just the Son of God but also the Son of Man; let us praise Him for suffering with us and for us and redeeming us for the hope of the resurrection in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry