Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us. And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all the things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal. These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you; concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him. And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him (1 John 2:18-29).
After speaking about matters of association, walking in the light, and not loving the world (1 John 1:1-2:17), John now turns to one of his great concerns for the brethren: the emergence of the Gnostic teachers.
To John, these Gnostic teachers represent the reality of the “last hour:” the emergence of the “antichrists.” Many people have many ideas about the “Antichrist” and who he is. He is often described in terms of the beast in Revelation, yet John never uses the term “Antichrist” to describe the beast.
While it is true that the word “antichrist” simply means someone opposed to Christ, and therefore could refer to all sorts of persons, John has a very specific usage in mind here in 1 John 2:18-29. These “antichrists” were believers who used to have association with Christians but have now gone on their own way (1 John 2:19). These “antichrists” are denying that Jesus was truly the Christ, and denying the relationship between the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22, 2 John 1:7-11). The Gnostics were known for their denial that Jesus was the Son in the flesh and that God the Father was in fact a lesser deity than the “Christ” god. Therefore, “antichrists” as described in the New Testament represent those Gnostic teachers and believers who denied the fundamental truths regarding Jesus, His Father, and His work.
John is concerned for the Christians: he does not want them to be disturbed or to be led astray by these antichrists (1 John 2:21, 26). They have learned the truth and have received an anointing from God (1 John 2:20-21). They are to continue to accept and promote what they learned from the beginning, and should not follow after this new doctrine (1 John 2:24). They are to take comfort in the promise of eternal life, and strive to be prepared without shame if Jesus were to return soon (1 John 2:25, 28). Since only those who follow Jesus are truly righteous, Christians will know those who are His by their striving toward righteousness and doing it (1 John 2:29).
John, therefore, is warning fellow believers about the false teachers in their midst while attempting to strengthen their faith. The antichrists here have little in common with the presentation of the best in Revelation: while both may be against Christ, Gnostic teachers and the Roman authority are different creatures indeed. There is no justification, therefore, for calling the beast of Revelation the Antichrist, since John has different entities in mind in the two different contexts.
What of the condition of the antichrists as described in 1 John 2:19? John is not trying to say that those who fall away were never saved, as some would argue; 2 Peter 2:20-22 and Hebrews 10:26-31 would militate against such an interpretation. John is speaking specifically about the Gnostics, and they may have never truly obeyed Jesus from the heart, despite going through the motions.
What about the “anointing” of believers as described in 1 John 2:20, 27? This may refer to the presence of the Holy Spirit with these believers: John may have laid hands on them previously so they would receive the dispensation of the Spirit as is seen in Acts 8 and 19, among other places. Through the Spirit they know the truth; John writes to confirm them in the truth and so they do not doubt the Spirit’s message to them. The Spirit can still work to confirm the believer; we have the Scriptures by which we can understand truth from error (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Nevertheless, we must still strive toward righteousness, avoid false teachings, and hope in the promise of eternal life. Let us represent Christ in our lives today!
Ethan R. Longhenry