Adult Bible Studies
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April 26, 2015 
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Antichrist in the Johannine Epistles

Excerpted from “Antichrist,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible

The Antichrist is the adversary of God and Christ that comes in the end times. According to some sources he deceives many into false faith, and according to others he persecutes the (people of God. The word consists of the noun christos, meaning “anointed one” or “messiah,” and the prefix anti, which can mean either “against” or “in place of.” Both meanings of the prefix are significant. Most writers depict the Antichrist as an opponent, who is “against Christ,” but some also envision him imitating or putting himself “in place of” Christ and promoting false beliefs in place of the truth about Christ. The term Antichrist is not used in Revelation. It first appears in the Johannine Epistles (1 John 2:18, 22 ; 2 John 7), and writers from the 2nd cent. onward refer to the Antichrist as an agent of Satan, who combines traits of the man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2:1-3), the beast (Rev 13:1-10), and other enemies of God. …

The author of 1 John assumes that the devil has been active since the beginning of time and that the devil’s works are manifest in human lawlessness (1 John 3:8; 5:19). The author also knows that a figure he calls Antichrist is to appear at the world’s last hour, before the return of Christ. Although the term antichrist is used here for the first time in extant writings (2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7), it conveys a traditional expectation of an outpouring of falsehood at the end of the age. Nothing is said here about the Antichrist engaging in violent persecution; attention centers on his role as the consummate deceiver.

Expectations concerning the Antichrist are fulfilled by the emergence of many false believers, all of whom are antichrists according to 1 John 2:18-19. Written in the context of a schism within the Christian community, 1 John recognizes that the spirit of Antichrist is at work in the people who depart from the truth of the Christian message they received. Rather than looking for a single Antichrist, these epistles hold that the Antichrist is present among the false believers collectively, and regard each person promoting false teaching as the Antichrist (1 John 2:22 ; 2 John 7).

The hallmark of Antichrist is denying that Jesus is the Messiah, who came in the flesh. What makes this teaching deceptive, from the author’s perspective, is that it does not overtly reject Jesus, but presents a spiritualized form of the tradition, which denies Christ’s humanity and effectively disallows the atoning significance of his death (1 John 2:2). The false prophets spreading this message are moved by the spirit of error, not the spirit of truth (4:1-6).