The "Elect Lady", Whom John Loved
Jesus Christ is Come in the Flesh
About the "elect lady"
As far as we know, 2 John is the only letter in the Bible written to a woman. We don't know her name or where she lived. It could be that she was a lone mother, literally bringing up children to love God, but it seems much more likely from the context that she was the leader of a small group of believers, who may have been her converts - hence his designation of them as her children. In either case, there is no man in the picture. Given that, and the fact that John says he found her children walking in the truth, it seems safe to conclude that they were not being led astray by being without a male leader.
John, though he identifies himself as an elder, seems unconcerned that she should submit herself to him as an elder, or to any man, as he doesn't even hint at such a thought, and indeed she doesn't appear to be 'under' him either, in any way. This is a letter written not only with affection but also with respect. There is not a hint of rebuke or correction. And John makes no secret of his love for her. He doesn't think it improper to express such sentiments. He urges that they continue to love one another, reminding them that this was the commandment of Jesus right from the beginning. It may well be that he is writing to a woman who is much older than himself and it has even been speculated that the lady was Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom Jesus bequeathed to John as a mother when He died.
That she is elect is not in question (no waiting until after she has died to find out, as some would claim). And she is a lady; in other words she has a high status in her society. So this group of people, whether family or not - whom John is rejoicing over after his recent visit - walk in the truth: that is the main thrust of his letter.
JOHN'S MESSAGE AND WARNING
In characteristic fashion, John urges all to love one another, as Jesus taught. But there is one other burning subject which, above all the things John wanted to say, was so urgent it couldn't wait until they met again soon.
Ever since the Good News of Jesus began to be preached, diversions and perversions have attacked to destroy, deny or neutralise the radical nature of the message. This started so early on that many of the letters from the church founders (apostles) that have been included in the Bible reaffirm the pure Gospel whilst warning against such attacks from both right and left.
The apostle John, a master at finding the bottom line, gave us a plumbline by which to measure/check/judge/test whether any teaching was in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He writes:
Many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (2 John v.7)
Jesus Christ is come in the flesh
So this group of people, whether family or not - whom John is rejoicing over after his recent visit - walk in the truth: that is the main thrust of his letter. In characteristic fashion, John urges all to love one another, as Jesus taught. But there is one other burning subject which, above all the things John wanted to say, was so urgent it couldn't wait until they met again soon.
Dangerous perversions of the Good News
In this brief letter - one could almost say note - John feels pressed to include a warning against people who are denying that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This 'doctrine of Christ' is so important, he insists, that those who don't have it don't have God, and the mild, love-centred John sees this as such a danger that he urges them not to have any dealings with people who want to pervert the Good News in this way.
What was the danger here? Well, John's warning was relevant then, but it is just as relevant now.
The Nub of the Deception
John warns, "Many deceivers went out into the world;" and in order to have any chance of deceiving these people, they would have to appear to be believers in Jesus in some form. We shall be referring to religious and philosophical worldviews which are quite obviously not Christian in any sense. These are much easier for the believer to identify and avoid, but a more detailed awareness of them can be useful because of their constant insidious influence on thinking within the church. Many ideas and attitudes have seeped into the thinking of Christendom - both mainstream and sects - from such sources as classical Greek philosophy, Islam, oriental philosophies such as Buddhism, and paganism (ancient and current forms). To this day, this osmosis is a process that continues.
The common defining characteristic of these ideas, particularly when fused with Christian or biblical terminology, is that they significantly undermine the position of Jesus. The results are always
The same insidious deceptions now
What is the nub of the deceit? They "do not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." And John is very direct as he goes on: "this is the deceiver and the antichrist". Strong words, this is clearly something to watch out for. John thinks there are plenty of deceptions to take us away from this truth. We'd better know how to recognise these! And what better way to do that than to know what it does mean to confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh? Let's zoom in.
The Bible in Basic English renders 'confess' as 'give witness'. So this is not mere lipservice to a formula, to confess means to be giving a consistent message with conviction.
The Greek version of Yeshua, meaning saviour or, more literally Jah saves. I'm also told that the word appears many times in the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) and is translated salvation. This is supported by the spontaneous outburst of the old man Simeon, who held Jesus as a baby, long before He was crucified, and said, "... now my eyes have seen your salvation ..." Jesus not only brought salvation, He was salvation right from the start.
And what of the first part of His name, Jah? This is a short form of the name by which God called Himself, which we write YHWH, Yahweh or, more archaically, Jehovah. It is often rendered in English "I am what I am" or simply "I am." However, that can give a very static impression, which is not present in Hebrew. Hebrew is a much more dynamic language, centred not around the thing, the noun, but around the deed, the doing, the verb. Thus it more accurately translates as, "I will become what I will become." And that is just what was happening in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the infinite becoming limited, the Ancient of Days becoming a baby, the Eternal having a birth, the Immortal dying, the Invisible becoming a spectacle, the Unimpeachable becoming a scandal, the Most High lowering Himself into the gutter, the All-Powerful hanging totally helpless on the cross. It is exactly that one who saves. The name Jesus, Yeshua, YHWH saves tells it all. To teach other than this would be to say that there was no salvation, or that others could save, or that we are our own saviours or co-saviours. We deny that Jesus is the only saviour if we take any responsibility whatsoever for our own salvation or the salvation of others. We deny it if we rely on our religious acts, rites, or initiation ceremonies, we deny it if we rely on our having said the Sinners' Prayer, we deny it if we put any weight on our own faith, or experience, or feelings, or prayers, or on our spiritual, intellectual or moral advancement, YHWH and only YHWH can be fully relied upon to save us all from being lost, from suffering, from death - in fact, from all evil.
Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah - the anointed, or chosen, or special one.
(First, may I briefly mention the "we are Christ now" teaching. A popular idea currently, this says that Jesus was the Christ at the time he visibly walked the earth, but that His unique Christhood has come to an end, that we have moved into another age during which His "body" has become "the Christ" instead. I caution that this is nothing but a distraction from Jesus.)
Now to Jesus's anointing.
Jesus was anointed in every possible way. In the Jewish religion, anointing was the ceremonial pouring of oil on a person's head or on a thing. Oil was mixed with spices to a special recipe for the purpose, and it was taboo to copy the recipe for other uses. Anointing was for the purpose of setting apart for a specific task or role. It was performed to dedicate priests, the altar, the area and tools of sacrifice. It was also done to dedicate kings. (This is still done today: the Queen of England was anointed with oil at her coronation.) Perfumed oil (though not of course to that specification) was used cosmetically, too, being left off in company only to indicate mourning and fasting. Finally, the body was anointed as a preparation for burial.
Jesus was anointed, not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit - a special anointing that no one should counterfeit or synthesise. The specific task for which He was anointed was summed up in the text He chose to read as He opened His ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed meHe was anointed for a priest-like role, in that He was commissioned to bring about reconciliation between God and the creation, on God's initiative.
to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
to preach deliverance to the captives,
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty them that are bruised,
to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
(Luke 4:18-19 quoting Isaiah 61:1)
He was anointed as a king, though He was at pains to point out that He and His kingdom operated in a totally different way from the kingdoms of the world system based on domination, force, law and self-aggrandisement with which we are all too familiar.
Jesus wore the "aroma" of festivity and welcome that He had described in some of His stories about restoration, forgiveness and feasting.
Finally, Jesus had priceless perfumed oil poured over Him by a despised woman who could find no other way to express her overwhelming love and gratitude to Him than to obliterate a whole year's wages in this one crazy act. Jesus assured those criticising her that she had actually anointed Him for His burial.
or, has come (not originated here, but come from God - or as God)
Some say that Jesus "only became the 'Son of God' at His baptism", yet this would be saying that He came from God in the spirit rather than in the flesh.
Others go further, and say He "came into being just like us, the only difference between Him and us was that He had the Holy Spirit in fullness". This is a complete denial that Jesus has come from God.
Another way of reading this statement is that Jesus the anointed and unique saviour has arrived already. This truth counters the fallacy that "the 'real Jesus' or 'full and true image of Jesus' hasn't come yet", which from a New Age type might mean successive reincarnations of Jesus(!); but in the event of it coming from within Christendom, might imply that Jesus-as-he-came-in-the-flesh is not being considered adequate as a deliverer and a leader without some added extra - usually military might, or visual splendour, or threats of fury and vengeance - which He never displayed when He actually did come to us.
in the flesh
This is not just "the Christ spirit" or a vision, or illusion, but means that He really took a body and the accompanying limitations, functions and experience of being fully human. "In the flesh" is not tacked on as an afterthought: it is not an incidental or arbitrary phrase. It is what Jesus did in His flesh - His death on the cross and His resurrection - which are the essential events in our salvation.
We also learn the nature, methods and purposes of God though what we see of Jesus in the flesh. Knowing this helps us avoid getting confused: it is so simple. Jesus as He was, as He appeared, as He behaved right there, before our very eyes, is what there is to know about the Father. He was known in the flesh before His resurrection and after it, and this is where we can look for reliable information about God's nature. We will often hear that Jesus's days in His flesh are finished, that He is now 'spirit' (often considered to be superior to supposedly defiled flesh), and to support this view Paul's rather cryptic comment is quoted that "we no longer know Christ after the flesh". Yet Paul appeals to many things that Jesus did while walking the earth, and His main theme is Jesus's death and resurrection - a physical event if ever there was one! After Jesus had returned after bursting free from death, He invited Thomas and other disciples to handle Him so that they would know for sure that Jesus was not an apparition, a spirit, a ghost, so that they would know that He had "flesh and bones". Yes, Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, not only as a baby but at the time of His resurrection, too.
Only the whole truth is the truth
If you look at these points, many cults and false gospels will concede some of these points, but they don't proclaim all of them. And this can be quite subtle, though sometimes it is more obvious.
Denying the saviour
The Judaisers within the early church recognised that the messiah (Christ) had come in the flesh and was from God, but they insisted that keeping the Law of Moses was what brought individual righteousness.
Added to this was a tradition that adhering to the Law of Moses would also bring about the just world God had promised, and the reign of the Messiah. Both of these, however, relied heavily on their own efforts, and this tacitly denied that Jesus was the saviour, and no one else. We still find the same attitude extremely common within the church, where people will often be taught quite correctly that it is what Jesus has done that saves us; but simultaneously will be pressurised to conform to the norms of the group which are really collections of rules, and if they don't conform their salvation is questioned. Or, they are taught that praying a particular form of prayer will save them if it is said sincerely. I have lost count of the people who have told me they prayed the "sinners' prayer" over and over again to make sure they were really "saved". This teaching makes them their own saviours and denies the unique saviourhood of Jesus Christ.
Denying His coming in the flesh
The Gnostics, another great scourge and deception within the early church - and not so early, there are still some around today under various labels - taught that Christ had come from God, but it was the Christ spirit that had come; that Jesus the man was no different from other people, except that He somehow tapped into that "Christ spirit" and that rather than being our saviour, He was our example. They said (and say) that we need to escape from the material world and that this escape can be achieved or hastened through spiritual exercises which detach us from the material world; this is how we can be saved (in other words, how we can save ourselves).
John is often cited as "tending towards mysticism" or "leaning to Gnosticism" but his insistence on the importance of Jesus in the flesh gives the lie to that.
The creation of matter-energy is God's good creation, He is totally committed to the material universe, and this is where His acts of salvation and deliverance are performed and see their consummation. I know of no faith where spirit serves the physical world, but it would be true to say that YHWH is a materialist - He is spirit and His angels are spirits, yet both He and they are committed to serving us, the material, physical beings.
Denying Jesus come in the flesh
We find the idea of the "Christ spirit" being separate from Jesus in quite a lot of New Age philosophy, for example when both "the Buddha" and "the Christ" are said to spiritually attend a particular religious festival in the Himalayas. This philosophy denies both that He is the saviour and that He has come in the flesh.
Denying Jesus as the Christ
Yet others deny Jesus as "Christ" - the anointed, or chosen, or special one. Islam has been criticised by Christendom for stating that Jesus was only one of the prophets, nothing more. Yet aren't we in danger, too, of implying the same thing?
For example, people claim that Jesus is God in the flesh and at the same time say piously that "God can't look on sin". Where did that idea come from? Habakkuk says, "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness," (full text with comment) and this incomplete quotation, which alone out of all the bible suggests that God can't look on sin, is stated as an indisputable fact. Yet we see Jesus constantly engaging in meals with prostitutes, with tax-collectors (who were untouchable and seen as traitors), and with others self-righteously labelled "sinners" by those who thought that they themselves were not. Do we accept a few words out of context from the prophet Habakkuk, or do we prefer the consistent message of friendship and total acceptance that Jesus gave by His behaviour?
The above is an example of the many misquotes and misconstructions which deny Jesus's pre-eminence.
Jesus outshines all others
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record an event at which Peter, James and John saw Jesus shine brightly, and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. The two authorities of the Jewish religion were the Law and the prophets - so Moses and Elijah represented these respectively.
Afterwards, when Moses and Elijah had disappeared again, Peter suggested honouring all three, but immediately they heard a voice from a cloud saying "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him." God is unmistakably telling them, and through them, us, that neither the Law nor the prophets should get a look in when Jesus is around, unless they agree with Him (not the other way round!).
Jesus dismantles earlier ideas about God
Specifically, Jesus did not accept everything that Moses said or everything Elijah did: among other things, He annulled at a stroke Moses's dietary laws (Mark 7:19) and the laws on revenge ("kill your relative's murderer - your eye shall not pity nor your hand spare" - Deuteronomy 19:13), and He ignored many laws forbidding touching people in various states of health and touching corpses.
Not only did He Himself ignore them, He actually told a man He had healed, "Pick up your bedding and walk." This presented the man with a serious dilemma because it was the Sabbath day. Carrying a burden on the Sabbath was against the Law of Moses (a man was stoned to death for picking sticks up on the Sabbath in Numbers 15:32-36) and raged against by Jeremiah (chapter 17:27). The man who was healed knew how to choose between Moses and Jesus.
As for Elijah, when Jesus was not welcomed by a village and His disciples suggested that they call down fire to destroy them, just as Elijah had done, Jesus was horrified: "you don't know what spirit you are of," He said - hardly an endorsement of Elijah's action. And He added that, in contrast, He Himself had "not come to destroy lives but to save them." (Luke 4:54-56)
Denying Jesus's own definition of "Christ"
Again, is there a danger that we acknowledge Him as the one with special authority but don't accept the kind of Messiah (Christ) He said He was.
In His first recorded reading in a synagogue, He made perfectly clear what He was anointed for:
to bring good tidings to the afflictedRight up to the moment of the crucifixion, Jesus's disciples were hoping that He would turn out to be the kind of leader they were looking for in the Messiah. Two of them even said after His death, "We had hoped that He would be the deliverer God was sending," not realising they were speaking to the resurrected Jesus Himself - who then proceeded to explain what kind of deliverer God had sent.
to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim liberty to the captives
the opening of the prison to those who are bound
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.
The Jews of Jesus's time were hoping for a messiah who would appear in military and political power, who would smite His enemies and theirs, who would subdue the heathen peoples with force, humiliate them. But as we see from Jesus's own announcement, He had no anointing and authority for this.
When Jesus didn't turn out to be as they had expected, most of them rejected Him. His kingdom, He said, was not like those of this world system, didn't run like that at all! That's why, He explained, He didn't retain an army; that's why He healed a man in the posse arresting Him.
Has this changed? Has Jesus since decided to run His kingdom like the world does?
Sadly, even now, there are many who claim to believe in Jesus but don't believe He was really the kind of deliverer that God will ultimately send. They don't have the nerve to say direct that the ultimate Messiah will be different from Jesus, so they say, "Oh yes, Jesus will come again: last time He came meekly as saviour, next time," they add ominously, "He will come in power as judge". Yet when Jesus disappeared from His followers' sight, they were told by angels that it would be "this Jesus" - "this same Jesus" in some translations - who would return, and in the same way He had disappeared (Acts 1:11).
Jesus's humility, love, compassion, patience and gentleness were not just an act, to be cast off once He had done the job in hand and achieved the resurrection! That is what He is really like! Jesus really is the same "yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). His judgement, putting everything right, will be part of salvation - no, it will BE salvation, as all death, decay, sadness, pain and evil are destroyed to make way for endless vibrant life and love.
As the very name Jesus means Saviour, "this same Jesus will come," might very well have been translated, "this same Saviour will come."
The saviour, the anointed one, has come in the flesh. It is the very same Jesus who made Himself known at the time of His incarnation who is the Christ, the anointed. We are not waiting for another messiah. Nor do we wait for Jesus to change His nature so that He can deliver us, or so that He can fully be the messiah.
Looking and longing for another Christ
On the whole, Christendom has rejected Jesus too; rejected the Christ that has come in the flesh, rejected the one whose kingdom is not of this world. Instead, they worship and look for another Jesus, another messiah, one who is anointed to fight, to kill, to subdue, to punish and destroy. They want a 'Jesus' who grasps power and dominion, who lords it over others, who demands and forces subservience on pain of death - or worse. Or perhaps a 'Jesus' who hands out worldly rewards to His most faithful: enormous material wealth, the power of life and death over others, unbelievers as cowed subjects or even slaves. Yet this is not the Jesus who came in the flesh to save the world; it is a projection of the unredeemed imagination.
To remain "Christian" one of course cannot do away with Jesus altogether. The problem is, in keeping Jesus we also have to contend with His scandalous behaviour, subversive values, insane ideas and unworkable standards, and especially His embarrassingly shameful and undignified death. So these irritants are sanitised by dismissing them as merely a temporary strategy: they were a pretence, they were just for then, not now, and certainly not the way God normally chooses to act.
But what is this actually saying?
It is saying that Jesus was not God revealed in the flesh, that Jesus's compassion and acceptance was a hypocritical act, it is saying that Jesus is not the Word, the Expression of God. It is in fact saying that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh. And this is exactly what John was so careful to warn against. Jesus Himself told us just what sort of Messiah (Christ - anointed, special one) He was.
How can we claim to be confessing Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ when we present a Messiah of our imaginations or one who is a composite of certain groups' aspirations of dominance, rather than the Messiah He Himself told us He was, and is.
Confess the whole truth with lips and lives
It is not enough to recite the formula "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh," we have to confess it in all its implications - demonstrate that we really believe it and that this truth is central to our lives.