Within many Christian circles there is one figure that gains much widespread attention (surprisingly it is not always Jesus). If you plan a conference to discuss the who, what, when, where and why of this person you will have a packed out room. The vast majority of Christians are fascinated with this person and at the same time fear him greatly. They believe this person is the final world ruler who opposes God’s elect (especially Jewish people), and seeks to usurp the place of divine worship through the desecration of the holy (especially Jerusalem and its temple). This person I am referring to is of course the Antichrist.
Many people have made predictions about when the Antichrist would appear on the scene. One of the church fathers Tertullian made a statement 1700 years ago saying that the Antichrist, “is now close at hand.” This is not just a modern day phenomenon but certainly many bible scholars are predicting that this Antichrist is now living and present among us. Hal Lindsey responded to a question regarding the Antichrist: “In my personal opinion, he’s alive somewhere now.” Best selling author Dave Hunt is convinced that, “somewhere, at this very moment, on planet Earth, the Antichrist is almost certainly alive.” Mark Hitchcock’s 2002 book asks: Is the Antichrist Alive Today? He titles chapter 8, “Antichrist is Alive and Well.” The “canon” on officially Bible prophecy today the “Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy” even includes a heading, “Is the Antichrist Alive Today?” Is this sort of attention for the Antichrist warranted? Let’s consider this in more detail.
The Term Antichrist
When examining the Scriptures the term Antichrist is only mentioned four different times (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). The origin of the doctrine in the first century is somewhat obscure. It does seem that many even in this early church development did tend to think this Antichrist was an individual. They believed it was an individual coming in their generation. John wrote about the Antichrist in his little epistles to correct their thinking on this issue. That is why he writes about the Antichrist. It was to correct error not to prophesy about the future. Early Christians had embrace many false eschatological concepts. John even had to correct another false notion suggesting that he will live until Christ’s second advent (John 21:22-23).
We should expect this sort of confusion, for Jesus himself did teach that within his own generation (Matt. 24:34) “many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:5); “many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:11). He also noted that “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). Based on all of this it is important to see what John means by “the Antichrist.”
Antichrist: Past, Present, or Future?
Remember John was writing his letter directly to the early church not directly to those of us reading this blog today. Many people during the time of John’s writing were speculating that the Antichrist was coming in the not to distant future. John writes to inform them that this “Antichrist” is now already in the world (1 John 4:3b). John clearly warns the early church that what they heard was coming (based on what Jesus said) is now already in the world. In fact he states, “As you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). Then he informs the reader that due to the presence of these antichrists they should understand that “it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). In the words of Kenneth Gentry this means, “They are not harbingers of a distantly future Antichrist, for their presence is the signal that “the last hour” has already “come” (gegonasin). The ‘even now’ emphasizes the presence of that which they fear (“as you heard”).
Antichrist: Person or Impersonality?
John is drawing the reader's (again this was written specifically to the early church) attention away from looking in the future for the Antichrist and looking to his contemporary existence. In addition he makes it very clear that the Antichrist is to be viewed as a movement rather than an individual “even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). In fact he says that Antichrist is a “spirit” (1 John 4:3) that pervades many “antichrists” (1 John 2:18), which involve “man deceivers” (2 John 7). John is not in any way writing to look for one individual as the Antichrist but rather to look for the spirit of Antichrist that produces many different antichrists.
Antichrist as John was writing about in reality is not even a multitude of people, but rather the “spirit” (1 John 4:3). This “spirit” then promotes deception (2 John 7) regarding the Lord Jesus Christ, “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). Do you see it? John is clearly promoting the conception of the one Antichrist to the generic tendency to promote lies about the identity of Christ. To make himself clear he repeats this point in his second letter, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and the Antichrist” (2 John 7). According to John what is to be feared about the Antichrist is not the unleashing of awesome destruction but the fomenting of heresy.
To conclude Kenneth Gentry gives a summary of what our conclusion should be about the Antichrist, “We learn that Antichrist is not an individual, malevolent ruler looming in our future. John was not looking to the appearance of some supernatural being in the prophesied future. Rather, Antichrist is a contemporary heretical tendency regarding the person of Christ, which is current among many in John’s day.” John was informing his audience about the contemporary spirit Antichrist which produced contemporary antichrists not making a future prophecy.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.