27 June 2021

In the Church

John labeled false teachers in the church “antichrists,” and their deceptive teachings confirmed the “last days” had commenced - 1 John 2:18

Wolves - Photo by Tom Pottiger on Unsplash
In the New Testament, the term “
antichrist” occurs only in the second and third letters of John, and he applied the plural noun to deceivers that had emerged within his congregations, individuals who had caused dissension within the church. And their very presence constituted irrefutable evidence that the “last days” had commenced - [Photo by Tom Pottiger on Unsplash].

The Greek term rendered “antichrist” means “instead of Christ,” NOT “against Christ.” The force of the preposition anti prefixed to “Christ” is “instead of.” Certainly, the “antichrist” is no ally of Christ, but his strategy is to replace him with a “different Jesus.”
  • (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.
John’s reference to “many deceivers” echoes the 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, 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 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 anyone says to you, ‘Behold, 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 deceive, if possible, even the elect.
In his first epistle, John declared “it is the last hour,” the same period elsewhere called the “last days.” Thus, the final era was underway even 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, and John could point to these deceivers to substantiate his claim (“Even now many antichrists have come whereby we perceive that it is the last hour”) - (Matthew 24:4-5Mark 13:5-6Luke 21:81 Timothy 4:12 Timothy 3:1).

He labeled them “antichrists.” They were not pagan counterfeits from without the church, but false teachers from within it (“They went out from among us”). They could be identified by their denial “that Jesus is the Christ.”

In his letters, John did not coordinate the “antichrists” or the coming of the final “antichrist” with the return of Jesus or other final events.  His concern was with the damage they were inflicting on the church - (1 John 4:1-3).

His letters provide instructions on how the believer must avoid deception by these many “antichrists” by adhering to the teachings of the Apostles and the believer’s knowledge of the “Son.” There is no true knowledge of God apart from Jesus.
  • (1 John 4:1-4) – “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.”
Believers must exercise discernment because “many false prophets” have arrived, and the stress is on “many.” The activities of deceivers and “antichrists” have been a constant problem in the life of the church. In John’s time, 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, here, a progressive present tense, that is, it described a process that already is underway.

What about the larger world and the threat posed by this coming “Antichrist”? In fact, the deceivers, the “antichrists,” are “of the world,” and therefore, they “speak as of the world, and the world hears them.” The world receives these lies gladly because it already is under deception.

In all this, John has said nothing about any specific “signs” that will portend the arrival of THEAntichrist” or the “last hour.” What would be the point since the “last hour” has arrived already? His focus was on how these deceivers were impacting believers and how the church could identify them.

This conflict has raged within the church since its inception, a flood of deceivers and deceptions far too numerous to list. And this battle will continue to rage until the very day the Risen Jesus arrives in all his glory to strike down the final deceiver, the “man of lawlessness” - (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).

If the letters of John provide us with a reliable precedent, when attempting to identify the final “Antichrist,” we ought to look first in our own midst before proposing any global political leader as the prime candidate for this dark role.

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