2:24-29 If that which you have heard from the beginning remains within you, you too will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which he made to you eternal life. I am writing these things to you to warn you about those who are seeking to lead you astray. As for you, if that anointing which you have received from him remains in you, you have no need for anyone to teach you. But, as his anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is no lie, and as he has taught you, remain in him. And now, little children, remain in him, so that, if he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink in shame away from him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you must be aware that everyone who does righteousness is born of him.
John is pleading with his people to abide in the things which they have learned, for, if they do, they will abide in Christ. The great interest of this passage lies in an expression which John has already used. In 1 John 2:20 he has already spoken of the anointing which his people had had from the Holy One and through which all of them were equipped with knowledge. Here he speaks of the anointing which they have received and the anointing which teaches them all things. What is the thought behind this word anointing? We shall have to go back some distance in Hebrew thought to get at it.
In Hebrew thought and practice anointing was connected with three kinds of people. (i) Priests were anointed. The ritual regulation runs: "You shall take the anointing oil, and pour it on his (the priest's) head and anoint him" ( Exodus 29:7 ; compare Exodus 40:13 ; Leviticus 16:32 ). (ii) Kings were anointed. Samuel anointed Saul as king of the nation ( 1 Samuel 9:16 ; 1 Samuel 10:1 ). Later, Samuel anointed David as king ( 1 Samuel 16:3 ; 1 Samuel 16:12 ). Elijah was bidden to anoint Hazael and Jehu ( 1 Kings 19:15-16 ). Anointing was the symbol of coronation, as it still is. (iii) Prophets were anointed. Elijah was bidden to anoint Elisha as his successor ( 1 Kings 19:16 ). The Lord had anointed the prophet Isaiah to bring good tidings to the nation ( Isaiah 61:1 ).
Here, then, is the first significant thing. In the old days anointing had been the privilege of the chosen few, the priests, the prophets and the kings; but now it is the privilege of every Christian, however humble he may be. First, then, the anointing stands for the privilege of the Christian in Jesus Christ.
The High Priest was called The Anointed; but the supreme Anointed One was the Messiah. (Messiah, Greek #3323 and compare Hebrew #4899 and Hebrew #4886 , is the Hebrew for The Anointed One and Christos, Greek #5547 , is the Greek equivalent). So Jesus was supremely The Anointed One. The question then arose: when was he anointed? The answer which the Church always gave was that at his baptism Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit ( Acts 10:38 ).
The Greek world also knew of anointing. Anointing was one of the ceremonies of initiation into the Mystery Religions in which a man was supposed to gain special knowledge of God. We know that some at least of the false teachers claimed a special anointing which brought them a special knowledge of God. Hippolytus tells us how these false teachers said, "We alone of all men are Christians, who complete the mystery at the third portal and are anointed there with speechless anointing." John's answer is that it is the ordinary Christian who has the only true anointing, the anointing which Jesus gives.
When did that anointing come to the Christian and of what does it consist?
The first question is easy to answer. There was only one ceremony that all Christians passed through, and that was baptism; it was, indeed, in later days the standard practice at baptism to anoint Christians with holy oil, as Tertullian tells us.
The second question is not so easy. There are, in fact, two equally possible answers:
(i) It may be that the anointing means the coming of the Spirit upon the Christian in baptism. In the early Church that happened in the most visible way ( Acts 8:17 ). If in this passage we were to substitute the Holy Spirit for anointing we would get excellent sense.
(ii) But there is another possibility. 1 John 2:24 and 1 John 2:27 are almost exactly parallel in expression. In 1 John 2:24 we read: "Let what you have heard from the beginning abide in you." And in 1 John 2:27 we read: "But the anointing which you received from him abides in you." That which you have received from the beginning and the anointing are exactly parallel. Therefore, it may well be that the anointing which the Christian receives is the instruction in the Christian faith which is given him when he enters the Church.
It may well be that we do not need to choose between these two interpretations and that they are both present. This would mean something very valuable. It would mean that we have two tests by which to judge any new teaching offered to us. (i) Is it in accordance with the Christian tradition which we have been taught? (ii) Is it in accordance with the witness of the Holy Spirit speaking within?
Here are the Christian criteria of truth. There is an external test. All teaching must be in accordance with the tradition handed down to us in Scripture and in the Church. There is an internal test. All teaching must undergo the test of the Holy Spirit witnessing within our hearts.
Before we leave this passage we must note two great and practical things in it.
(i) In 1 John 2:28 , John urges his people to abide continually in Christ so that, when he does come back in power and glory, they may not shrink from him in shame. By far the best way to be ready for the coming of Christ is to live with him every day. If we do that, his coming will be no shock to us but simply the entry into the nearer presence of one with whom we have lived for long.
Even if we have doubts and difficulties about the physical Second Coming of Christ, this still remains true. For every man life will some day come to an end; God's summons comes to all to rise and bid this world farewell. If we have never thought of God and if Jesus has been but a dim and distant memory, that will be a summons to voyage into a frightening unknown. But if we have lived consciously in the presence of Christ, if day by day we have talked and walked with God, that will be a summons to come home and to enter into the nearer presence of one who is not a stranger but a friend.
(ii) In 1 John 2:29 John comes back to a thought which is never far from his mind. The only way in which a man can prove that he is abiding in Christ is by the righteousness of his life. The profession a man makes will always be proved or disproved by his practice.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)