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10 Things You Should Know about the Antichrist(s) in 1 John

There is hardly a more controversial and confusing topic in the Bible than that of the Antichrist: who or what is this? Is it a person or a symbol of corporate opposition to Christ, or perhaps both? In this article we’ll look only in John’s first epistle for helpful answers to this question.

(1) Interestingly, the only place in the NT where the word “antichrist” appears is in the Johannine Epistles, not in Revelation. Nowhere in Revelation is the “beast” ever called “antichrist”. In his first epistle John emphatically states (1 John 2:18) that we may know this is (the) last hour because of the existence and activity of many antichrists. He says: “Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (2:18).

(2) Note well that the entire period between the first and second comings of Jesus is called either the “last hour” as well as the “last days”. See Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pt. 1:20 (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11). Thus the “last hour” in 1 John 2:18 is not a reference to the final days preceding Christ’s return but a reference to the entire church age in which we now live.

(3) We read this in 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” The spirit of the antichrist, says John, is found in anyone who denies that Jesus is God come in the flesh (1 John 4:3). Again, in 2 John 7, he writes: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

(4) Thus, for John, “antichrist” is anyone “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22), or anyone “who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). Again, “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus” (1 John 4:3) is antichrist. Antichrist is a reference to “those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2 John 7)

(5) The term “antichrist” is a combination of anti (against or instead of) and christos (Messiah, Christ). It is ambiguous whether the antichrist is merely one (or anyone) who opposes Christ as his adversary or enemy, or is also a specific person who seeks to take his place. Most have believed that antichrist is a lying pretender who portrays himself as Christ; he is a counterfeit or diabolical parody of Christ himself (see 2 Thess. 2:3-12). B. F. Westcott has well said: “It seems to be most consonant to the context to hold that antichristos here describes one who, assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ” (70). Thus, “the Antichrist assails Christ by proposing to do or to preserve what He did while he denies Him” (ibid.).

(6) Although John’s readers have been told that antichrist’s appearance is yet future, “even now” many antichrists have already come. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” In 1 John 4:3 he points out that the spirit of antichrist is “now”, “already” at work in the world. Most believe that what John means in 1 John 2:18 is that the “many antichrists” (those who in the first century were denying the incarnation of Jesus) are forerunners of the one still to come. Because they proclaim the same heresies he/it will proclaim and oppose Christ now as he/it will oppose him then, they are rightly called antichrists (especially in view of their denial of Christ in 1 John 2:22-23).

(7) The antichrists of 1 John 2:18 are the false teachers against whom the epistle is directed. They are the ones whom John wishes to expose by means of the application of his “tests of life”. In 1 John 2:19 he indicates that at one time they were “members” of the community which professed faith in Christ. They were actively involved in the ministry of the church and until the moment of separation were hardly distinguishable from the rest of the Christian society. Thus the essence of antichrist, the height of heresy and the lie “par excellence” is the denial that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22).

(8) The use of the definite article (“the liar”) points to such a person as the one in whom falsehood finds its most complete expression. To deny that Jesus is the Christ is more clearly explained in 1 John 4:2-3. It is more than simply denying that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the OT. If these men were proto-Gnostics they probably argued that “Jesus” was a mere man upon whom the “Christ” (a divine emanation) descended at his baptism and from whom he departed before the cross. Jesus was a man invested for a brief time with divine powers (perhaps “adopted” by the Father). They denied that the man Jesus and the Eternal Son were and are one and the same person.

(9) The consequence of this heresy is that “no one who denies the Son has the Father” (1 John 2:23a). “If the heretics thought that they could 'have' God without believing in Jesus, they were completely mistaken. It is only through the Son that we know that God is Father, and it is only through the Son and his propitiatory death that we can have access to God as Father” (I. H. Marshall, 159). To “have” the Father is to know him (2:3-4) and to abide in him (2:6), clearly a reference to salvation. All knowledge of God the Father must come only through the Son (see Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 14:9-11).

(10) Some have argued that John’s point is that there is no other “antichrist” than the “one” even then operative in his day or the “one” who takes up and perpetuates this heresy in subsequent history. In other words, anyone in general can be “antichrist”, if he or she espouses this heresy, but no one in particular, whether in the first or the twenty-first centuries, is the antichrist as if there were only one to whom the others look forward. In other words, the “antichrist” who his readers were told was yet to come is “now” with them in the form of anyone who espouses the heretical denial of the incarnation of the Son of God.

Others insist that John is simply telling us that the many antichrists in his day who opposed the truth of who Jesus is are forerunners or anticipations of the final personal embodiment of Antichrist. 

The question still remains: Is the Beast of Revelation the same as the Antichrist of 1 and 2 John? Or is the Beast of Revelation a corporate symbol of all the opposition to Christ that will emerge in history and perhaps in a concentrated and intensified form at the end of history? Or is the Beast also a reference to a particular individual at the end of the age who will embody in himself all the opposition to Christ that existed in John’s day and throughout history? And what is the relationship, if any, between the Antichrist in 1 John, the Beast of Revelation, and the Man of Sin in 2 Thessalonians 2? Those are questions to be taken up in a later article.