The presence of false teachers in the church demonstrates that we are in the “last days,” and the “last hour” is almost upon us – 2 John 7-8.
The second letter of John is personal and brief, and it does not discuss the return of Jesus. Its key concern was the false teachers that were causing dissensions among believers, especially the denial of Christ’s genuine humanity. Moreover, their activities within the church demonstrated that the “last days” were underway even in John’s time.
John identified these deceivers with the “antichrist.” Likewise, in his first epistle, he linked the same group of false teachers to the “spirit of antichrist” that believers expected to appear in the “last hour.”
- (2 John 7-8) – “This is the commandment, even as you heard from the beginning that therein you should be walking. 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. Beware lest you lose what things we have wrought, but a full reward you may duly receive.”
The reference to “many deceivers” echoes the words of Jesus from his final discourse on the Mount of Olives, especially his warning about coming deceivers who would be intent on deceiving as many of the “elect” as possible:
- (Matthew 24:4-5, 11-13, 23-25) – “And answering, Jesus said to them: Beware 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 deceive many. And because iniquity will be multiplied, the love of the many will wax cold. But he that endures to the end, the same shall be saved… Then if any man say to you: Behold, here is the Christ, or, There; believe it not. For there will arise false Christs and false prophets, and they will show great signs and wonders; to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
In his first letter, John declared that “it is the last hour,” the period elsewhere called the “last days.” That “season” was already underway when he wrote his letters:
- (1 John 2:18-22) – “Little children! It is the last hour. And just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now, many antichrists have come, whereby we perceive that it is the last hour… Who is the false one, save he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? The same is the Antichrist, he that denies the Father and the Son.”
The idea that Christians are living in the “last days” occurs multiple times in the New Testament. To substantiate this idea to his recipients, John pointed to the deceivers that were operating in their midst, just as Jesus had predicted. Their very activities and presence demonstrated that his congregations 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 proponents of pagan religious ideas from without the church, but instead, false teachers active within it – (“They went out from among us”). And he identified them by their denial “that Jesus is the Christ.”
John does not attempt to coordinate the “antichrists” or the coming of the “antichrist” with the return of Jesus or other final events. His concern was with the damage being inflicted already on his congregations, though the very presence of such deceivers demonstrated that the “last days” were well underway – (1 John 4:1-3).
- (1 John 2:28–3:3) – “And now, dear children, abide ye in him, in order that if he be made manifest, we may have boldness, and not be shamed away from him by his arrival. If you know that he is righteous, you perceive that whosoever does righteousness has been born of him. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God, and such we are! Therefore, the world understands us not, because it understood not him. Beloved! Now are we children of God, and not yet has it been made manifest what we shall be. We know that if it should be made manifest, shall we be like him, because we shall see him just as he is. And whosoever has this hope is purifying himself, just as He is pure.”
Considering present conflicts, as well as what is coming, believers must “abide” in Jesus so that “when he is manifested, we may have boldness and not be shamed away from him at his arrival.” This is a call to holy living, especially because of his inevitable coming and the expected rewards that he will bring.
“Manifested” translates the Greek verb phaneroō – “manifest, appear, make known, become visible.” The Apostle Peter applied the same verb to the coming of Jesus in his first letter, as did Paul to the Colossians – (1 Peter 5:2-4, Colossians 3:4).
“Arrival” in verse 28 translates the Greek noun ‘parousia’, which denotes the actual arrival of someone, not the process of its coming. This is the only instance in his letters where John uses the term. It occurs in Matthew’s version of the ‘Olivet Discourse’ when Jesus applied it to his future “arrival” – (Matthew 24:3, 24:27, 24:37-39).
The world did not understand Jesus, and therefore, it does not understand those who belong to him. For now, Christians look no different than other human beings, though their conduct may strike many as nonconformist, even antisocial. But despite present appearances, believers are the very “children of God.” And when Jesus is “manifested,” they will be transformed to become “like him,” and they will see him “just as he is.” Those with this hope “purify themselves” in preparation for that day – (1 John 3:1, Hebrews 9:28).
Believers must “abide in Jesus” so they will be able to stand in “boldness” rather than shame at his “arrival.” They are the “children of God,” and consequently, they constitute a people distinct from the rest of the world. This reality will become clear to all men when Jesus is “manifested” and faithful Christians find themselves “like him”; therefore, it behooves them now to live pure and holy lives.
John does not provide details about future events and the “coming” of Jesus. However, the terms he uses for Christ’s coming, as well as his basic concepts, correspond to what Jesus and the other apostles taught about the future. Regardless of how far along we are “in the last days,” the return of Jesus is certain. The apostle’s concern is with how believers live in the present in consideration of this future reality and the “lateness of the hour.”