“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” 1 John 4:1-3
Jesus’ coming was real in every sense of the word. John went so far as to say that anyone not confessing Jesus Christ as “come in the flesh” is of the spirit of antichrist – an enemy to the Gospel and against the Lord Jesus. (v. 3)
There were cults in the early centuries of the Christian Church that denied the real physical coming of Christ into the world. They were called “Gnostics,” (Greek for “those who know”). The term meant that they considered themselves to be the true holders of secret superior “knowledge” above the simple Christians who believed Jesus had become a true human and that the physical creation is real and had been made by the one true good God. They taught their followers that the physical creation was just an illusion, a dream that had been forged by an evil “god” who tried to trap people into his false illusion of physical existence. Only through their secret “gnosis” (“knowledge”) bestowed by their magic rituals and ceremonies could one hope to move up the scale of being and eventually escape from the world of illusions. The main attraction this kind of error held for the Greco-Roman world (and holds for its practitioners today!) was found in the Gnostics’ further teaching that “…seeing this world is just an illusion, a dream, then it doesn’t matter at all if one commits acts of immorality and debauchery, because this is all just a false illusion anyway.” Thus, many people who followed the Gnostic path threw their lives away by rejecting the real Lord Jesus Christ who “came in the flesh.” Those who deny the reality of His incarnation inevitably must end up denying the reality of His physical death on the Cross, as well as His physical resurrection and ascension. Thus, they have a Cross-less Christianity because they have a Christ-less one. The real Christ has no place in their hearts.
In addition, anyone who denies the reality of Jesus’ first physical, visible, bodily coming into this world must also deny His visible, physical, bodily return at His second coming. Obviously, to them, if He didn’t really come physically the first time, He won’t be coming physically a second.
But just as His first coming was real, so will be His second. Those who by grace receive God’s testimony in Scripture concerning the reality of the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ also joyfully receive the wonderful promise of Jesus’ visible return on the last day. John tells us that those who hope to see the Lord Jesus when He comes again find this hope to be a purifying one. “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure.” (1 John 3:3) It changes us by the work of the Holy Spirit in our thinking and attitudes, transforming us. We act like citizens of heaven, because that’s who we are. Further, we know that’s where we will be with our wonderful God and Savior for all eternity.