STUDY ELEVEN: ANTICHRIST – 1John 2:18 - 23

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

In 1John 1:1 – 2:11 John contrasted light and truth with darkness and deception.

In 2:12 – 14 he spoke of Christians having overcome the evil one.

In 2:15 – 17 he contrasted Christians with ‘the world’.

Now in 2:18ff he sets up a further, but related, contrast, drawing our attention to ‘antichrist’.

Our Christian faith is not faith in a vacuum. Faith exists in the context of opposition, in the context of those who deny truth and faith and those who seek to corrupt and/or destroy faith and all that faith believes. Faith exists in the presence of darkness and deception, in the presence of the evil one, in the presence of ‘the world’, and in the presence of ‘antichrists’.

Read 2:18 – 23. Answer these questions:
Why does John say that ‘this is the last hour’? (verse 18)

What did some people do to make John refer to them as ‘antichrist’? (verse 19)

 

How does John express his affirmation of his readers, in contrast to those who left? (verses 20, 21)

 

What does John call those who deny that Jesus is the Christ? (verse 22).

In denying the Son, what is also true of these people? (verse 22, 23).

In contrast, what is true of those who acknowledge the Son? (verse 23).

 

WHO OR WHAT IS ‘ANTICHRIST’?

John is the only New Testament writer to use the term ‘antichrist’, and that only in his letters: four times in his first letter (2:18 twice; 2:22; 4:3) and once in his second letter (verse 7). The word does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament.

John uses the word in various ways:

1. ‘Antichrist is coming’ – 2:18
In 2:18 John says ‘as you have heard that (the) antichrist is coming’. (There is no ‘the’ in the Greek.) By this statement he indicates that his readers were aware that prior to Christ’s return a figure whom John refers to as ‘antichrist’ would appear. This raises the questions: ‘What had they heard?’ ‘Is there anything written elsewhere in the Bible about an end-time figure?’

Read these verses. What do they say that could be relevant to these questions?
Matthew 24:15

Matthew 24:23 – 24

 

2Thessalonians 2:3 – 4

 

Revelation 13:5 – 9

Revelation 13:11 – 18

 

 

About these verses:

Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:15 (also in Mark 13:14) refers to Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 11. There, as well as the ‘abomination of desolation’ in the temple, a king rises up who exalts himself ‘above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods’ (Daniel 11:31, 36ff).

The prophecy about the ‘abomination of desolation’ in the temple was fulfilled at least in part on two occasions in history – firstly when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple in 168BC, and secondly, when Rome attacked Jerusalem in AD70 and defiled and destroyed the temple. There is disagreement among scholars as to whether these two historical events completely fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy.

Daniel’s description about the self-exalting, god-denying king is largely about his military power and victories. Many consider that this also refers to Antiochus Epiphanes. Whether we are to understand this ‘king’ also as a symbolic reference to an end-time ‘antichrist’ figure is not clear. The anti-god stance of this ‘king’ certainly ties in with the ‘antichrist’. Daniel was told ‘close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end’ (12:4); and ‘the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end’ (12:9).

In Matthew 24:23 & 24 Jesus warns us that ‘false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible’. The word used here is pseudochristoi ‘false Christs’ – people claiming to be ‘Christ’, and looking and sounding deceptively like Christ, but not Christ. Anyone who promotes themselves as ‘Christ’ is obviously anti (against) the real Christ as well as being a ‘false’ Christ.

In 2Thessalonians 2:3 – 4 Paul states that ‘that day’ (the return of Christ) would not come until ‘the man of lawlessness’ appeared. In verse 4 this figure sounds quite similar to Daniel 11:36, 37). It may be that this is the figure John is talking about in his letters.

Revelation 13 describes two figures, both obviously anti Christ in what they do and whom they serve, and both with the potential to be identified as ‘the antichrist’. John himself does not identify either of them as ‘the antichrist’, even though he is the only biblical writer to use the term. In this context we learn of the ‘number of the beast’ – 666 – which the text tells us is ‘man’s number’. The Greek uses the word anthropos (human being) not aner (man as distinct from woman). This tells us that this figure is a human being, not a demonic spirit and not Satan himself. [While we cannot identify the antichrist figure as Satan himself, the ‘antichrist’ certainly does his work and promotes his anti-God agenda. The antichrist also employs the same tactics of deception as Satan.]

Down through the history of the church various individual persons have been named as ‘the antichrist’. They have come and gone, but ‘the end’ has not yet come. These persons include such powerful figures as Nero, the Pope, Napoleon, Hitler, Gorbachev.

We need to be aware, however, that the Bible does not actually tell us much about ‘the antichrist’. Popular perceptions about ‘the antichrist’ are largely just that – popular perceptions, without much biblical basis. We also need to be aware that Mediaeval Christianity developed quite a lot of ideas about this figure. When we hear something said about ‘the antichrist’ or ‘antichrist’ we need to assess those ideas by the information that the Bible does actually give us.

 

2. ‘this is the last hour’ – 2:18
All of the above texts, at the time of writing, referred to the future – to a figure, or figures, who would come at some time prior to the return of Christ, and who would deliberately oppose Christ in one way or another.

John has come to the conclusion that when he was writing it was already ‘the last hour’ because of the presence of these people whom he calls ‘antichrists’. He says ‘this is how we know it is the last hour’.

When the New Testament speaks of the end times, it defines three distinct perspectives:

[1] that the whole time between the first and second coming of Christ is ‘the last days’ or similar phrase.

[2] that a period (of unstated length) immediately before the return of Christ is ‘the end’ or ‘the last hour’ or some similar phrase.

[3] that the actual day on which Christ returns in power, glory and judgement is ‘the last day’, the ‘day’, ‘that day’, or similar phrases.

Which of the above are mentioned in these verses?
John 6:40, 44

John 11:24

2Timothy 3:1

Hebrews 1:2

Hebrews 9:26

1Peter 1:5

1Peter 1:20

1Peter 4:7

2Peter 3:3

Jude 18

 

3. ‘many antichrists have come’ – 2:18, 19
John understands that the ‘antichrist’ is present in the ‘many antichrists’ that had already come at the time that he was writing. He tells us about these people in verse 19:

They used to associate and identify with the fellowship of people who believed in Jesus Christ – ‘us’. But they have since left the company of believers – ‘they went out from us’. John sees that as clear proof that they had never really belonged, because if they did belong they would have stayed. The fact that they left exposes their unbelief.

The fact that they have turned their backs on Jesus Christ and his people means that there is in these people something of the nature of the ‘antichrist’. But that is not the only thing that makes John call them ‘antichrist’.

4. ‘The liar ... the antichrist’ – 2:22
In verse 22 John identifies anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, anyone who denies the Son and the Father, is both ‘the liar’ and ‘the antichrist’, and no such person ‘has the Father’ or the Son. In calling such a person ‘the liar’ John is connecting that person to Satan. In his gospel, John reported Jesus saying about Satan: ‘there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44). And as a ‘liar’ he has led ‘the whole world astray’ – which was what people in the church, who had now left the church, had been trying to do to the believers (see verse 26).

Regardless of who or what the ‘antichrist’ might be, John is here identifying the false teachers, and the people who had left the church having believed their teaching, as ‘the liar’ and ‘the antichrist’. They have been doing Satan’s work for him – corrupting the truth, attempting to deceive people with their erroneous perceptions of Jesus Christ. They have taught and acted against the real Christ, and they have also promoted an alternate Christ.

The word ‘antichrist’ is antichristos. When we see the prefix ‘anti’ our minds usually think ‘against’. We almost automatically think of ‘the antichrist’ as an end-time person who actively opposes Jesus Christ, actively setting himself against Jesus Christ. And that is certainly true.

But while ‘anti’ does mean ‘against’ it can also mean ‘in the place of’, inferring the concept of being ‘instead of’ or ‘alternate’ or ‘opposite to’ - ‘a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached’ (2Corinthians 11:4) or ‘a different gospel’ (Galatians 1:8).

Ultimately, any ‘christ’ figure, who sets himself up, or is promoted, instead of, or ‘opposite to’ Christ is also against the real Christ. (John’s only reference to that end-time individual figure who sets himself up against Christ is his reference to ‘the spirit of the antichrist’ in 4:3.).

So John readily identifies as ‘the antichrist’ these people who have denied Jesus. They had come into the church and were preaching an alternate ‘Christ’ – a ‘Christ’ who was less than the real Christ.

It was the presence of these people and their teaching that necessitated John’s letters. Their presence and their teaching was the reason he has been making all of those distinctions between true and false believers that we have seen already. Their denial of the real Jesus, and their promotion of an alternate Jesus, was the reason he stated his strong affirmations in 1:1 – 3 of the apostles as eye-witnesses of the real incarnation of the Son.