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. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
(1 John 2:18-19 NIV)
As we discussed in the 1 John introduction, we talked about John’s format of repeating duets of doctrine and fellowship, of right belief and right practice.
Today’s reading marks the beginning of the second round of teachings on these two topics. John begins with doctrine.
In John’s first teaching on doctrine, he focuses on Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man. In this second go-around, John addresses the opposite of Christ, the counterfeit, the anti-Christ.
John opens this section with a familiar term of endearment, calling his readers “children”. Once again, John uses a specific Greek word (“paidion”) that is translated into the English word “children”. This term refers to a young child that is able to learn, an elementary-age school child. John wants to encourage and inform the young believers in the Asia Minor churches about choosing carefully whom they follow.
John tells his listeners that “this is the last hour”. What does John mean by that statement? Now, over two thousand years later, was John wrong? John was not referring to a literal hour, but to a general timeframe.
The writer of Hebrews offers the larger perspective that John was using:
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
(Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV, emphasis mine)
The Old Testament Jews knew that Messiah was coming, and when He came to earth, would usher in the kingdom of God. John is saying that Messiah has come, and now there are no more major events that must happen before Jesus comes back to begin His reign on earth.
John begins with a truth that his listeners already knew – the antichrist is coming to oppose God. John quickly dispels the angst that his readers had, always looking over their shoulders and wondering if this or that person was “the one”, the antichrist.
John quickly dispels that worry, saying that many antichrists have already come and gone. By telling his readers that many antichrists have already come, John is insinuating that many more will likely come and go before Jesus comes and takes on the final antichrist.
Let’s put this in perspective. In the Old Testament, God reveals Himself to mankind. Mankind rebels and decides to live their life apart from God. Many who have thumbed their nose at God decide to set up their own deity and worship it. Their “god” is a knock-off, a fake, a forgery.
Fast forward to the New Testament. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, has come to earth and revealed Himself to mankind. Once the Truth (personified in Christ) has been revealed, the forgeries, the knock-offs, the copies begin. These are the antichrists that John speaks about.
We see this pattern of behavior today. A famous designer creates an amazing item of beauty and worth, whether it be a watch, a pair of shoes, a suit, a purse, or a painting. Soon, there are look-alikes flooding the market, from very crude copies to very shrewd copies that only an expert would be able to distinguish. And so it is with the antichrists.
John goes on to say that some of these antichrists have even come from the local churches (v. 19). John tells his readers that if those that left the churches were followers of Christ, they would not have left in the first place.
So what is John’s litmus test on this doctrinal issue? In verse 22, John says that whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, is the antichrist. John is not saying that everyone is “the one”, the final antichrist. John is simply saying that everyone who denies Jesus as Messiah and thus sets themselves up as their own god is some varying form of antichrist, a copy, a fake, a knock-off.
May we always proclaim Jesus, acknowledging and worshiping Him as Messiah. We will quickly discover where people stand with God based on their view of and reaction toward Him. May we proclaim Him in love and kindness, letting the Lord show Himself, the true Christ, through us.