Comment: The anointing
What makes a true believer abide in the doctrine of the apostles and not fall away from following Christ?
Having described some who had departed from the faith, John declares that those who persevere ‘have an anointing from the Holy One’ (1 John 2:18-27). They embraced the apostolic faith because they had been anointed with the Holy Spirit.
Anointing is, of course, a metaphor picturing a spiritual reality. ‘God … saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by his grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life’ (Titus 3:4-7).
When someone was anointed in Old Testament times, oil was poured over their head in abundance. Psalm 133 likens unity among brethren to ‘the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments’. Aaron was anointed (and thereby consecrated) as high priest, with a costly, fragrant oil compounded from liquid myrrh, cinnamon, cane, cassia and olive oil (Exodus 29:7; 30:22-33).
So what does this striking metaphor tell us about those who are regenerate and made heirs of eternal life?
Firstly, anointing was reserved for chosen ones. Of all the tribes of Israel, and all the families of Levi, only Aaron and his sons were chosen to be priests. Again, when Samuel was sent to anoint the future king of Israel, he went only to the house of Jesse. And of the eight sons of Jesse, God rejected seven and David alone was chosen (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
Above all, the titles ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ both mean ‘anointed’ – Peter (quoting Isaiah) writes: ‘Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes in him shall by no means be put to shame’ (1 Peter 2:6). Jesus was the elect cornerstone, the chosen one through whom God would redeem his people from their sins.
So also, all believers are ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2). Here ‘sanctification of the Spirit’ is best viewed as an act of setting apart, consecration or anointing, since it precedes obedience to the gospel and cleansing from sin. Secondly, anointing always implied consecration of the chosen one to a role or task – Aaron to be high priest, David to be king, and so on. It signified not only favour but function!
So believers are ‘a chosen generation’, anointed to ‘proclaim the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Peter 2:9).
Knowing truth, bearing fruit
Thirdly, those who have the anointing, says John, ‘know the truth’ – truth that makes them free. Above all, they know God the Father and God the Son, whom to know is life eternal (John 17:3).
But they also know the Scriptures that are able to make them wise unto salvation through faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15). Taught by the Spirit, they are wiser than their enemies, wiser than their teachers and wiser than the ancients – because they meditate upon the Word of God (Psalm 119:97-100).
Fourthly, those anointed by the Spirit bear the fruit of the Spirit – perhaps particularly the fruit of joy. The Father has anointed Christ ‘with the oil of gladness more than [his] companions’ – so that ‘all [his] garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia’ (Psalm 45:7-8).
Christ is uniquely joyful, but all believers, as his ‘companions’, share his anointing of joy. David could write, ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever’ (Psalm 23:5-6).
As anointed ones, believers should demonstrate their ‘election by God’ (1 Thessalonians 1:4) by fragrant lives, functional activity, spiritual understanding and by joy – ‘for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17).