In His Church
In the New Testament, the term “Antichrist” occurs only in the second and third letters of John, and the Apostle applies the plural noun to deceivers that are causing dissension and spreading false teachings in his congregations, not to world political figures. And such “antichrists” in the church constitute irrefutable evidence that the “Last Days” are underway. These troublemakers are manifestations of the “Spirit of Antichrist,” and forerunners of the “Antichrist” who is yet to come.
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The Greek term rendered “antichrist” means “instead of Christ,” NOT “against Christ.” The force of the preposition anti is “instead of.” Certainly, the “Antichrist” is no ally of the Nazarene, but Satan’s 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.”
Moreover, John’s reference to “many deceivers” echoes the warning of Jesus about coming deceivers who are intent on misleading the “very elect.” “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… For there will arise false Christs and false prophets, and will show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” - (Matthew 24:4-5, 11-13, 23-25).
THE LAST HOUR
In his first epistle, John declares that “it is the Last Hour,” the same period elsewhere called the “Last Days.” Thus, the final era had commenced even as John was writing his letters in the first century - (1 John 2:18-22).
The idea that disciples of Jesus live in the “Last Days” occurs multiple times in the New Testament, and John can point to the deceivers in his churches to substantiate his claim (“Even now many antichrists have come whereby we perceive that it is the last hour”) - (Matthew 24:4-5, Mark 13:5-6, Luke 21:8, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1).
He calls them “Antichrists,” not because they are pagan counterfeits outside the church, but because they are false teachers active within it (“They went out from among us”). And they can be identified by their denial “that Jesus is the Christ.” THEY ARE IN THE CHURCH.
And in his letters, John does not coordinate these “Antichrists” or the coming of the final “Antichrist” with the return of Jesus or other final events. His concern is with the damage such deceivers are inflicting on the church - (1 John 4:1-3).
THE APOSTOLIC TEACHINGS
John’s letters provide instructions on how disciples can avoid deception by these “Antichrists”; namely, 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, and his disciples must “test the spirits” and not take every new teaching or self-described apostle or prophet at face value - (1 John 4:1-4).
The true disciple must exercise discernment because “many false prophets” have arrived, and in John’s letter, the stress is on “MANY.” The activities of deceivers and “Antichrists” have been a constant problem in the church.
These false teachers are recognizable by their denial that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” This means they reject 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 also will characterize THE “Antichrist.”
AN INTERNAL PROBLEM
And THE Antichrist is “coming.” In John’s letter, this term represents the Greek verb in the progressive present verb tense. That is, it describes a process that is underway.
But what about the larger world outside the church and the threat posed by this coming “Antichrist”? In fact, the deceivers, the “antichrists,” are “of the world.” Therefore, they “speak as of the world, and the world hears them.” The world receives their deceptions and lies gladly because it already is deceived; even now, the “Spirit of Antichrist” holds sway over humanity.
In all this, John says nothing about specific “signs” that will portend the arrival of THE “Antichrist” or the “Last Hour.” And what would be the point of doing so if that “Last Hour” is already underway? His concerns are about how these deceivers impact believers and how the church can identify them.
This conflict has raged in the church since its inception, a flood of deceivers and deceptions far too numerous to list. And this battle will continue until the very day the Risen Jesus arrives in all his glory to strike down the final great deceiver, the “Man of Lawlessness” - (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).
And Paul warned the Thessalonians that this “Lawless One” will only be revealed when he “seats himself IN THE SANCTUARY OF GOD,” a term he elsewhere only applies to the church, the “body of Christ.”
If the letters of John provide us with a reliable method for identifying the “Antichrist,” and with a biblical precedent, then we must look first in our own midst for this creature before pointing to any global political leader outside the church as the prime candidate who will become this dark figure.