Halloween was highly controversial in Bible College. Half the school was hopped-up on Rebecca Brown and Chick Tracks, while the other half thought Halloween was all about cute kids and candy.
I found myself among the candy contingent. That explains why, in my third year of college, my friend and I dressed up like Kiss (including the face-makeup) and trick-or-treat-ed at my various professor’s houses to see what they thought about the whole night. It was an evening to remember (and yes, we did return with candy).
The problem with sensational media-driven events like Halloween, is that they make a caricature of evil. They give the Devil a red face, pointy horns, and a goat’s behind. Evil is portrayed as something so ridiculous, it can be ignored with a knowing smirk.
John tackles the problem of evil head-on in these two verses, giving it a name: antichrist. Lest you try to read the latest newspapers in an attempt to discern who Mr. Antichrist is, John pluralizes the word: antichrists.
You’ve heard that he’s coming, said John,
but they’re already here.
Let’s look at what John was talking about and give evil a real face in the process, so we won’t be caught off-guard as we search for the smoke and sulphur.
. . .
So far in the letter, John’s played nice. He spoke of the false teachers indirectly, using phrases like
if we say . . . (1:6), and
whoever says . . . (2:4) to relay the false teaching. Here in 2:18, John speaks about the false teachers directly. Time’s too short to play gentle.
The last days is a familiar motif in Jewish literature. This is when God will judge the nations and vindicate Israel, his people. After Christ, believers took up that theme as their own. Here John uses it here with even more precision. This is more than the last days, it is
the last hour (v. 18).
Stott describes how the New Testament writers conceived of that time frame:
What is clear is that they regarded the first coming of Christ as having inaugurated the new age and settled the doom of the old.The age to comehad come, andthe present agewas therefore drawing to a close.
Fast forward a couple millennia. The first coming of Christ did start the new age. And still, the
present age is drawing to a close. I’m pretty sure no one in the first century thought this passing of the old age would take more than two thousand years, but honestly, how can you or I conceive of a being who is not confined by time?
What we do know, is (just like some two thousand years ago), antichrists are in the world today.
. . .
The antichrist theme is a bit difficult to sort out in the Bible. The actual term antichristos appears only five times in the Scripture (all in John’s letters):
As you have heard that antichrist is coming . . .(1 John 2:18)
. . . so now many antichrists have come.(1 John 2:18)
. . . every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist . . .(1 John 4:3)
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!(2 John 7)
Of course, to solve the mystery of antichrist, we need to do more than pull up a concordance list of the term. Other New Testament authors likely had the same person(s) in view although they used different terms. Kruse points out four important texts to study on this topic:
- 2 Thessalonians 2 (see
- Matthew 24 / Mark 13 (see
- 1 & 2 John (
- Revelation 12-13 (see
If you’re interested in this topic, start with those passages. For my purposes, I’m going to stick to what John has in mind—which may or may not need to be reconciled with the other texts depending on how you interpret them.
Listen to John’s directness:
you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come (v. 18). John’s church was looking for a person that they had heard about, perhaps from the lips of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. However, in their zeal to watch out for this spectacular pinnacle of evil, a number of antichrists slipped into their assembly unnoticed!
Verse 19 goes on to explain that the antichrists in the church were never really a part of the true church (if they were, they would have stayed in it). The parable of the wheat and tares comes to mind. They grow together in the church. It’s the Spirit’s anointing on believers that allows us to discern truth, if we listen. More on that next devotion.
. . .
There’s a couple ways I find this relevant to the church today.
First, we need to keep an eye out for antichrists. They don’t look like the scary masks you see on Halloween. According to John, they blend into our church congregations quite well. We need to continually bring ourselves back to scripture so our mind as well as our heart is attuned to the Spirit’s guidance.
Second, and just as important, we need to remain accountable to the church lest we become antichrists ourselves! The thing that marked these false teachers as antichrists was that they went out from the church, without remaining accountable to the church.
The church at times can look pretty messed up, but she remains Christ’s body (and bride, to mix the metaphor) here on earth. The answer is not to leave and start your own infallible ministry—it’s to prophetically challenge and inspire the body to a higher fidelity to her bride.