Disclaimer: this post does not cover everything in 1 John 2:18-29, but focuses on the theme of the antichrist within that section.
The word “antichrist” is one of those words that strikes all kinds of emotions and thoughts in the hearts and minds of everyone who hears mention or discussion of the word. I would venture to say that there has not been a topic that has caused more fear, fascination, speculation, uncertainty, confusion, and division than this one. There is certainly not a shortage of books written on the topic, the vast majority of which are simply not true and unhelpful.
As we come to our text here today we are introduced to these terms, “antichrist,” and “the last hour.” We must deal with these things, as they are, in the text. It is our great privilege and joy to do so. As we come to our text, we rightly come to it when we come to it in it’s context. As we do so, we begin to see that John isn’t using these terms – “antichrist” and “the last hour” – to describe some great tribulation that you might find in any book you pick out of the prophecy section at the Christian bookstore. The context of this letter is one in which John is writing of things that he saw and heard from Christ, so that our joy may be complete, that we may not sin, and that we may know that we have eternal life. He does this, largely in the immediate context of refuting the Gnostic type heresies springing up in his day.
One of the ways in which John writes to give us assurance of salvation, is by laying out these different tests, so to speak. We saw early on, the practical test of obedience – do we obey God and keep his commands? Then we saw the test of love for the brethren – do we love our brothers and sisters in Christ? And now, within our passage today, John gives a doctrinal test. He does so by laying out a few foundational elements of doctrine that these antichrists deny. The aim of this passage is to assure the true Christian in the truth that they believe, which is evident by the several verses that talk about the anointing and the knowledge that Christians have, which we will look at more closely next week, Lord willing. As we will see, one of the ways that John assures the true Christians of the truth, is by exposing the false doctrine of the antichrists.
The Last Hour?
At the beginning of verse 18 we are confronted with a term which we cannot ignore, especially given the polarizing nature of the topic, as mentioned. John begins verse 18, “Children, it is the last hour…” Therein lies our first question we must answer today: what is the “last hour?” To be sure, the last hour is not the central theme of the passage, yet it is important to the passage because it does the lay the context and set the stage for the descriptions and exhortations given in our text.
There are those who read this passage with end times glasses on, and say, “How could John say that they were in the last hour, and yet many many hours have past sense then, with the world continuing on?” When we read it in context, we understand that John is not making prophecies for the very end of time here, although there is a certain eschatalogical element to the passage. John Calvin has a helpful comment on this passage and issue, “But so many ages having passed away since the death of John, seem to prove that this prophecy is not true: to this I answer, that the Apostle, according to the common mode adopted in Scripture, declares to the faithful, that nothing more now remained but that Christ should appear for the redemption of the world.” In other words, he is saying, “Christ has come, he has done his work, he has risen and ascended into heaven, the New Covenant is now in force, the Jewish system passed away, there are no more events of this nature to take place, until the second coming of Christ.
Its not a matter of time or timelines that John is referring to, but simply stating the era in which we now live. It is now the last days. It is the last hour. Ever since Genesis 3:15, throughout the Old Testament era, they were all looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. They were not in the last hour. John and his audience were on the other side of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The only thing that now awaits is the return of Christ, and all that is involved with that. In fact, A. W. Pink says the phrase “last hour” would be more accurately translated “last times.” So we see that we are to understand the last hour not in terms of time, or length of time, but in terms of events, or even better, in terms of revelation. In the Old Testament era they had promises of Christ to look forward to, the revelation of the law to guide and prepare them, prophets to do the same, signs and wonders as well. We now have all of that as recorded in Scripture, but even more, as Hebrews 1 tells us, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” In other words, we have more revelation than they. God has now revealed himself in Christ, as much as he will until we are with him in glory. There is no new revelation, nor will there be any more additional revelation of God until the end, when our union with Christ is consummated and we are with him.
To summarize: the last hour refers to the current era, or dispensation – the Christian age; thus indicating we are not to accept any new revelation or truth, until we are with Christ and see Him face to face. This is one way in which John rebukes the antichrist Gnostics, indicating that they are wrong to say that there is a higher elite knowledge to attain. The last hour indicates no new revelation! God has revealed himself in Christ, as we mentioned in Hebrews 1.
In context, John is not making an end of time statement, but rather, he is using the current age in which he lives – the last hour – as a way to prove that the Gnostics are teaching heresy. If you’re wondering what kind of millennial view this passage seems to take, I do not believe we can rightly deduce one from this passage, as that is not what is being addressed. All historical views can be agreed upon this passage.
Who is Antichrist?
We now turn to ask, who is antichrist here? Understanding the context we’ve laid, and reading the plain words of John, it is clear, he is not referring to one man at the end of time, but as John says, “so now many antichrists have come.” He says later in chapter 4 verse 3, “and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” So we’re not talking about one figure, but many people. Their coming into the world is one way in which John can say that this is the last hour. As he says, “so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” So their presence in the world is an indicator of the time in which we live, or the era in which we live. There were antichrists in John’s day, and as it is an indicator of the last days, there has been ever since, and will always be antichrists in the world until the final judgment. As we talk about antichrists we are not talking here about a specific individual, but the beliefs and characteristics of such.
What is Antichrist?
In verse 19 John mentions how there have been some from within the church who have left the church. We know certainly this would include those who fell for the different shades of Gnostic teaching going around – the false teachers and their followers. In many ways, this was probably a very distressing time for the believers to whom John writes. To see division in the church, to see teachers departing from the truth, and to see probably even some of their own friends following after these antichrists would have been difficult. It is always a disturbing and distressing thing for believers to watch others who once professed the faith apostatize; especially those who were fellow church members of the same congregation, or even family members. So as some of the remaining believers may have been struggling, John wants to write to them to assure them in the truth.
Antichrists go out from the church. They leave the church. They do not continue in the faith. We of course are not talking about if someone leaves a specific church for another church. We are talking about someone who forsakes The Church, turning from the faith; or forsaking a sound church and going to one that teaches heresy. If someone were to leave an orthodox church and join a Mormon church, or a Roman Catholic church, and not return, they have apostatized – they have went out from us. Such was the case with John’s audience, there were some who went out from them and put themselves under false teaching.
When this happens, it is not believers falling away. It is not Christians forsaking the faith. It is unbelievers showing themselves as unbelievers. As antichrists. They were never converted.
This is why John has spent so much time giving these tests of assurance. Do you obey the Lord, as you claim to know him? Do you love the brethren, as you claim to be in the light? Many people have appeared to be Christians. You can make yourself look like one on the outside. These antichrists that John describes, apparently looked, talked, and acted quite a bit like Christians for a while. Yet, John says, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” True Christians continue.
I was very sad to see an example of this just last week. Some of you may know Dustin Kensrue. He was a Christian artist who put out some good albums with solid reformed lyrics a few years ago. Apparently he has been slipping a lot lately, as he, just last week came out with a note online saying he no longer believes in penal substitutionary atonement – in other words, he no longer believes the gospel. Total apostasy. You look at a guy like that, who wrote such wonderful reformed lyrics, and wonder, how in the world could he write those things, and yet not truly believe them? It is because, he was not of us; for if he had been of us, he would have continued with us. While he is still living there is still time for Dustin Kensrue to repent and return to Christ and we pray that happens; but this is the mark of antichrist: they do not continue. They do not persevere. And those who do not persevere, are not Christians. Christians persevere.
Danny Akin says that “Defection from the fellowship is evidence of a defective faith.” My friends, leaving The Church, and leaving sound doctrine is evidence of leaving Jesus. Christians don’t fall away; unbelievers do.
It is important to note, that these antichrists came out from within the church. This is why it is so important to use discernment and not accept any every teaching just because they call themselves Christian or put themselves under the Christian banner. The most dangerous false teachers are not Satanists, but ones who call themselves Christians, who aren’t really Christians. I saw someone say one time that the most dangerous place an undiscerning Christian can be is in a Christian bookstore. That’s the absolute truth. There are so many books in there that call themselves Christian but are absolute heresy. Damnable heresy. This is why John says in chapter 4, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” It is your Christian duty to discern truth from error. You must do it for your soul’s sake.
The end of verse 19 says, “But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” When antichrists apostitize from the faith, it is not mere chance or happenstance; but there is a purpose to it. When unbelievers go out from the church, it is a sovereign work of God by which he purifies his church. On the one hand its distressing and difficult, and it hurts; but on the other hand, it is edifying and purifying. Not that we rejoice when someone apostatizes, but we know that God is using it for our good, that we might have a more pure and true fellowship. It is comforting to a Christian to know that when someone comes out from the church, they are not believers who lost their salvation, but rather they were never true Christians in the first place. We take comfort that in such a situation Christ is not losing his sheep, He is purifying His bride. A. W. Pink puts it this way, “…by means of false prophets, God purges his garner, and makes it appear who are the ones who hold the Truth in sincerity. The genuine gold endures every test to which it is subjected.” It is always better to be divided by truth than united by error.
But we see in this passage, that when antichrists come out from the church, it is not simply a matter of relocation. It is not simply that they leave; but more, it is that they depart from the truth, and deny foundational doctrine.
The end of verse 21 says, “no lie is of the truth.” This should be a painfully obvious statement. I was thinking on this phrase this week, wondering why John would say such an obvious statement. But you see, when you deny Jesus Christ, what you are doing is denying the very foundation of all knowledge – of all truth. The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. In Jesus Christ are all the riches of knowledge found. Only by beginning and seeing all things from the light of Christ, can we truly know all things rightly. When you deny the foundation of knowledge, you begin to do things, like believe and say lies to be true. You begin to lie about such obvious realities, because you are suppressing the truth. You begin to do things like call evil good and good evil, and believe it. No lie is of the truth.
So what is the doctrinal departure specifically of the antichrists whom John writes of here? There are two essential aspects of their doctrinal departure and denial. The first is they deny that Jesus is the Christ. The second is that they deny the Son. I will explain the difference here in a moment.
First, they deny that Jesus is the Christ. Christ is a title for Jesus. In Hebrew it is Messiah. The Messiah is the promised one who be the savior for his people. So when John says that the antichrists deny that Jesus is the Christ, he is saying that they deny that Jesus is the Savior. They are denying his office, they are denying his work. They are denying that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is what saves sinners from the wrath of God. This is a denial of the gospel. They deny the good news of Jesus Christ to save sinners.
They deny the work of Christ, but they also deny the person of Christ, or Christ’s nature. John simply tells us that no one who denies the Son has the Father. But through the use of the term Son, we see that John has switched from talking about the work of Christ to the person of Christ, as Son describes his relationship to the Father. John certainly has the Gnostic heresies in mind here, as different flavors of Gnosticism believed that divinity simply came upon Jesus at his baptism and left before his crucifixion, thus denying his very nature as the God-man. As John Calvin puts it, “Christ is denied whenever the things that belong to him are taken from him.”
John says that they deny the Father and the Son and that whoever denies the Son does not have the Father. There are two aspects to this. The first is that if you deny the divine nature of Christ, you are not only denying Christ, but you are denying the Father. You are denying the triune Godhead. The second aspect is the John 14:6 nature of this, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” The Gnostics claimed to have an elite knowledge of God, yet they denied the very son of God, thus proving that they do not know God. They are liars. The truth is not in them. They walk in darkness. You cannot know God apart from the Son. The Son is the way that we know God the Father.
Everything hinges on the person and work of Jesus Christ. John is not being too harsh in the way he talks about antichrists here, because it is the fatal and vital difference of truth and lies that determine your eternity. Everything centers and turns on Jesus Christ, the son of God and the savior of the world! As Calvin says, “…as the light of the sun comes to us by its rays, so the knowledge of God has been communicated through Christ.” The person and work of Jesus Christ is the most important subject we can study.
Jesus is the Son of God
Jesus is the Son of God. He is truly God and truly man, the only being who could thus save sinners like us. I cannot state his nature better than the 1689 baptist confession, in chapter 8, paragraph 2, “The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him who made the world, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmitites thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowing her, and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures; so that two whole, perfect and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.”
This is who the Lord Jesus Christ is, and it is because of who He is that He was able to do what He has done for us. If you deny who Christ is, you deny what he accomplished. It because of who He is that He is the only mediator between God and man.
Jesus is the Christ
As paragraph 4 in chapter 8 of our confession states, “This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which that he might discharge he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.”
This is the glorious gospel that antichrists deny. This is the only way of salvation that antichrists deny. It is not by gaining a secret knowledge by which men are saved. It is not by having a superior status by which men are saved. It is not by the wisdom and knowledge of men by which men are saved. It is not by another Christ by which men are saved. It is through the bloody cross that we are saved. It is through the only perfect Son of God and his work to save sinners that we are saved. Though the Gnostics thought they were so wise, they proved to be fools to deny the very power of God to save! I see so many parallels with the situation with the Gnostics to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1. “But God hose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise…” The message of Jesus being the Son of God who is the Savior of the World was foolish to the antichrists; but yet they were the ones who were foolish. As 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
So I ask you today: do you know the Lord Jesus Christ? Or do you deny Him? Do you deny his work as the Messiah? Do you deny him by thinking that what he did is not enough to save you? Do you deny him by thinking that you need to be your own Christ? I urge you to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved! Deny him no longer. There is time to be saved, and while there is time, there is no more willing and able savior than the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe upon him today.
Or maybe you are like the Gnostics today. Do you think that this stuff about Jesus Christ and the cross is all foolishness? Do you have so much pride and arrogance to think that you know better than God? If that is you then you must repent. You must repent this very day and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you do not you will spend eternity where the antichrists will send eternity in the flames of hell and under the wrath of God. Even for you, there is time this very day, to humble yourself before the Lord and trust upon Jesus Christ.