Meditations in 1 John : 21 : Antichrists?
1 John 2:18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
It is important for our understanding to try and grasp the flow of thought of a writer like John. Earlier on in this chapter he had spoken of light and darkness (2:9-11) when he had been speaking about behaviour. He then made it personal by addressing three specific groups of Christians, the last being young men (v.12-14). Now whether he has young men in mind or speaks to the wider congregation, he warns about loving the things the unregenerate world love (v.15-17), and about not being like them. It is in this context – as he looks outwards to the surrounding world – that he now speaks about antichrists.
If you are anti something you are against it, so let’s simply note that ‘anti-Christs’ are people who are not for Christ but actually against him. It is that simple. So what is he saying about those people?
He starts out by warning us that “this is the last hour.” Scripture is quite clear that “the last days” is an expression used to describe the period between Christ’s first coming and his Second Coming. The apostle Peter, under the anointing of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, took and applied the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 and applied it to the present day (Acts 2:17-21).
Having established the time frame, John points out teaching that was obviously well known in the early church, that in the very last days, there would come one who would be very obviously anti-God, anti-Christ. Jesus himself had taught, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” (Mt 24:4,5) and “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.” (v.24)
Daniel had had a vision in which four beasts had arisen (Dan 7:3) which represented four earthly kingdoms (7:17). The last of the four will be greater than the others and will oppress the whole earth (7:7) yet even he will be swept away before the coming of the Son of Man (7:11-14) but not before it devours the whole earth (7:23), even oppressing the saints (7:25).
The apostle Paul also spoke of this being: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thess 2:3,4) In the book of Revelation this being is referred to as The Beast (Rev 13).
However, whereas that appears to refer to a specific single figure who appears prior to Christ’s return, we live in an era where even as there is the kingdom of God expressed, so also there are those who rise up in deception who are against Christ and against his kingdom, antichrists, and there were and may be many of these. Jesus had spoken of “false Christs and false prophets” i.e. plural! Thus John was already able to say, “false Christs have come.” The history of the first century of the church was full of heretics, those who had veered away from the truth, who had perhaps started well in the Christian faith and in the Church, but who launched out with strange variants of the truth that had been handed down by the apostles, which is why John wrote, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.” (v.19a)
They had started off in the church as believers but they had eventually gone and were now in opposition to the church and so John declares that to be able to do this, “they did not really belong to us.” The reinforce this he adds, “For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (v.19b) These men who had deserted the Church showed in their going that they were not wholly and genuinely part of it because if they had been, then they would have held to the doctrines laid down by the apostles and not tried to distort and change what the apostles taught.
We need to be clear in our minds about these things. Those who disagree with the way a particular brand of church runs, are not heretics. A heretic is one who distorts the fundamental teaching of the New Testament and puts forth ‘another Jesus’ or ‘another God’ who is different from that revealed in the accepted text of the New Testament. Likewise we may challenge indifference and apathy in church life and not be a heretic. Heretics are all about distorting doctrine which is different from challenging practice. These people that John spoke about left the church because they disagreed with fundamental doctrines about Christ and about salvation. Our call is to remain true to the truths that we find in our Bibles and especially, as Christians, in the New Testament.