SYNOPSIS – John labeled false teachers within the church “antichrists” whose activities demonstrated that the “last days” had begun (1 John 2:18).
In the New Testament, the term “antichrist” occurs only in the second and third letters of John. Whether John envisioned a coming global political leader, he applied the plural noun to deceivers who had emerged within his congregations. These individuals had caused dissension in John’s churches. He labeled them “deceivers” and “antichrists,” and their presence constituted evidence that the “last days” were underway:
(2 John 7-8) – “And this is love that we should be walking according to his commandments: This is the commandment, even as you heard from the beginning that you should be walking in it. Because many deceivers have gone out into the world, they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh: This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Be taking heed to yourselves, lest you lose what things we earned.”
His reference to “many deceivers” echoes a warning by Jesus about coming deceivers who were intent on deceiving the “very elect”:
(Matthew 24:4-5, 11-13, 23-25) – “And answering, Jesus said to them, Be taking heed, lest anyone deceive you; For many will come upon my name, saying — I am the Christ — and will deceive many…And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because iniquity will be multiplied, the love of the many will wax cold. But he that endures to the end, the same will be saved…Then if any man will say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or, There; believe it not. For there will arise false Christs, and false prophets, and will show great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand.”
The Greek term rendered “antichrist” – antichristos – means “instead of Christ,” NOT “against Christ.” The force of the Greek preposition anti prefixed to “Christ” is “instead of.” Certainly the “antichrist” is no ally or friend of Jesus, but his strategy is to replace the Jesus found in Scripture with a “different Jesus” – a different kind of Messiah than the one who died on the cross and rose from the dead.
In his first epistle, John had declared that “it is the last hour,” the same period elsewhere called the “last days” – The final era was underway already when John wrote his letters in the late first century:
(1 John 2:18-22) – “Little children! it is, the last hour; and just as you have heard that an antichrist is coming, even now, antichrists have multiplied, thus, we perceive that it is the last hour: From among us they went out, but they were not of us; for if of us they had been, they would in that case have abode with us…Who is the False One, except he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? The same is the Antichrist — he that denies the Father and the Son.”
The idea that Christians were living in the “last days” occurs multiple times in the New Testament. To substantiate his claim, John pointed to the deceivers who were operating in his congregations, just as Jesus predicted would occur – (“Even now many antichrists have come whereby we perceive that it is the last hour”). Their very presence demonstrated that believers were living in the end-times – (Matthew 24:4-5, Mark 13:5-6, Luke 21:8, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1).
John labeled them “antichrists.” They were not pagan deceivers from without the church, but false teachers active within it – (“They went out from among us”). They could be identified by their denial “that Jesus is the Christ”; that is, his genuine humanity.
In his three letters, John did not coordinate the “antichrists” or the coming of the “antichrist” with the return of Jesus or other final events. His concern was with the damage they inflicted on the church – (Compare – 1 John 4:1-3).
(1 John 2:23-26) – “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If that which you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the everlasting life. These things have I written to you concerning them who would lead you astray.”
Thus, John provided instructions on how the believer is to avoid deception by the “antichrists”; essentially, by adhering to the teachings of the Apostles and the believer’s knowledge of the “Son.” In this context, this means the same “Son” who died a genuine human death on the cross. There is no true knowledge of God apart from Jesus.
(1 John 4:1-6) – “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know the Spirit of God – every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesses not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof you heard is coming; and now it is in the world already. You are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God: he that knows God hears us; he who is not of God hears us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
In the fourth chapter of his first epistle, John elaborated further on this subject. Believers must exercise discernment because “many false prophets,” with stress on “many.”
The activities of deceivers and “antichrists” was and is a constant in the life of the church. They were recognizable by their denial that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”; again, the rejection of his genuine humanity – “By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
The “spirit” that denies this IS the “spirit of the antichrist,” presumably, a trait that will characterize THE “Antichrist,” the one who is in the process of “coming.” This last term represents the Greek verb that is in a progressive present tense – A process that already is underway.What about the larger world and the threat posed to it by the “Antichrist”? In fact, the deceivers – the “antichrists” – are “of the world”; they are part and parcel of the existing fallen age. Therefore, they “speak as of the world, and the world hears them.” The world receives their lies gladly because it already is under deception.
In all this, John said nothing about any specific “signs” that would portend the arrival of THE “Antichrist” or the “last hour.” What would be the point? The “last hour” had arrived already. Nor did he show any interest in future events in the surrounding world connected to THE “Antichrist.” His sole focus was on how these deceivers impacted believers and how the church could identify them.
This conflict has raged within the church since its very inception – A flood of deceivers and deceptions far too numerous to list, all determined to foist “another Jesus” on his disciples. This battle will continue to rage until the very day the Risen Jesus arrives in all his glory at the end of the age.