1 John 2:18-29
Little children, it is the last time: and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists…
I. PERIOD OF ANTICHRIST. "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." The apostle addresses his readers with the authority of age and experience. He has been referring to the transitoriness of the world; from that he passes to the last hour. What was designated in Old Testament times the age to come, extending from the Incarnation to the second coming, is here called not "the last age," or "the last days," but, more strongly, "the last hoar," to emphasize the fact that we know not the hour when the present order of things is to terminate. The solemnity of the end is fitted to have a salutary impression; and it is kept dark, that we may always have the feeling of its being the last hour. The present era is for the Christian manifestation; but opposed to it is the antichristian manifestation. John is the only New Testament writer who uses the term "antichrist." Paul's designation is "he who opposeth himself." Antichrist is more than Opposer; he is one who opposes under the guise of Christ. He is one who would supplant Christ by assuming to be and to do what Christ is and does. Our Lord had said that many would come in his name, saying, "I am Christ." This was doubtless the foundation for the teaching about the coming of antichrist. John follows the Master in referring to a plurality of antichrists. It would seem to follow that the personal element changes; the spirit remains. Those who represent separate anti-christian manifestations are antichrists; the whole of these manifestations, personally represented, is antichrist. In the apostle's day there were not wanting quasi-Christian movements; they are not wanting still. When Christianity is active, attempts are made to meet the demand it makes, with something spurious, resembling Christianity, but not really Christianity. There is a displacing of Christ by priestly pretension, by the multiplication of rites, by the authority of the Church, by the merits of the saints; or there is, on the other hand, an explaining away of the Incarnation and the substitution, hero-worship, the gospel of mere science. Such antichristian developments, however much to be regretted, are only to be expected. John would seem to say that they are the writhings of the last hour, the rising up of evil against him by whom it is being destroyed, increasing in bitterness as the end approaches.
II. RELATION OF THE ANTICHRISTS TO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. "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 how that they all are not of us." The same idea is brought out by Paul when he describes the development as an apostasy, i.e., a falling away from the Christian position once occupied. The leaders were apostates, perverts, men who used the intellectual quickening, general enlightenment, and even the forms of thought they had got from Christianity, against its essential principles. The leaving of the Christian society by the antichrists of John's day was to be accounted for by their not being animated by the common sentiment, or rather, as it is put, by their not being sustained in their life from the society, but from some other source. They had never been able to say that all their springs were in the Church (Psalm 87:7). If they had thus derived from the Church, they would have remained in the Church. But not being the Church's true progeny and upbringing, they went out. By this there was served a good probationary purpose. Their true character and position were clearly brought out. They were known as persons whom the Church did not own. It is well, when there is so much life in Christian societies, that those who are not of them feel the necessity of going out. It is well, also, when it is made clear with whom we have to do.
III. CONFIDENCE IN THE CHRISTIAN DISCERNMENT OF HIS READERS. "And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all 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." Christ has not left his people without suitable provision against deception. He is here called the Holy One; and we may conclude that his own holiness has to do with his discernment. It is through his own holy experience, acquired in this world, that he sees things. And so it is the good who have true discernment. "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." Without holy experience, intellectual giants and the most successful men of business are blind. Christ's provision is closely allied to his own name, viz. chrism. It is he who is himself the Christ, the Anointed of God, that supplies the chrism, the anointing oil for his people. After the tabernacle had been constructed, it had to be consecrated by the application, to all its parts and furniture, of the holy anointing oil, for the preparation of which special instructions were given. When Samuel poured the vial of oil on Saul's head he said, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee." The anointing of David is thus described: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." What was conferred on prophets and priests and kings is now conferred on Christians, viz. the anointing Spirit. The Spirit gives us a pure, deep, rich experience through which we can see things. We are here described ideally, as those who, with the anointing of the Spirit, know all things. As we are said to be omnipotent within the sphere of our doing, so we are said to be omniscient within the sphere of our knowing. As in the one case we must think of what is proper for us to do, so in the other case we must think of what is proper for us to know. We are to regard this as guarantee against deception. "For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." But it is not possible with what provision we have secured to us. There is no false appearance beneath which it is impossible for us to see, no truth into which it is impossible for us to penetrate. In writing, John recognized the favoured condition of his readers as qualified to know the truth, and to detect every lie as belonging to another category.
IV. ANTICHRIST DEFINED. "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." Having recognized their power to detect every lie (passing from the abstract), he asks vividly, "Who is the liar?" i.e., the utterer of the supreme lie, the denier of truth by pre-eminence? His answer is virtually a definition of antichrist, viz. "he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ." Jesus was a historical Person, who had been seen, heard, handled; what was to be predicated of him? As there was a definiteness about Jesus, so there was a definiteness about the Christ, or the Messiah, i.e., there were certain ideas which the Old Testament put into the word, and which the Jews were trained to associate with it. There were these ideas in the Jewish mind as to the work of the Messiah - that he would tell all things (John 4:25), that he would be a King, that he would be the Saviour of the world (John 4:42), in a word, meet all spiritual need. There were these ideas as to his Person - that it would not be known whence he was (John 7:27), that he would abide for ever (John 12:34), that he would be the Son of God (John 1:49). These ideas were far from being distinctly or consistently held; but they were founded on the Old Testament. When Jesus claimed to be the Christ, it was according to the pure Old Testament conception. The distinguishing part of the conception was his being the Son of God. This was understood by Peter (Matthew 16:16), and also by the high priest (Matthew 26:63). The liar here is defined to be he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ; and then this denier of Christ - named antichrist - is regarded as denying therewith the Father and the Son. The antichristian lie, then, comes to be the denial of the Incarnation, which is the key-note of the Epistle, viz. the union of the Son of God and man. The Jewish antichrist refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, declared him to be an impostor, and thus set aside the Incarnation. The Gnostic antichrist, which is more pointed at here, taught that the aeon, Christ, descended on the man Jesus at his baptism, and left him before the Passion. The antichrist is not confined to one shape or to two shapes, but is protean; its inmost character, however, always is the setting aside of the Incarnation. If God has not formed the connection with humanity, which is pointed to in the Incarnation, then his Fatherhood is not revealed; and we do not have the Father, i.e., possess him in living fellowship. Denying the Incarnation, we cannot have the joy of the thought that he has gone the length of sacrificing his Son for us. But, confessing God Incarnate, we have the joy of the Son dying for us, and of the Father giving him up to the death for us.
V. ADVANTAGE OF HOLDING TO THE CHRISTIAN POSITION. "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." That which they heard from the beginning was the truth about the Incarnation. If that abode in them, constantly mingled with their being, then they would also abide in the Son and in the Father - would have constant communion, not only with the incarnate Son, but with his Father. The promise contained in the Incarnation is the life eternal. What could such condescending love mean but that, in communion with the Son and the Father, we should have our highest well-being inalienably secured to us? Let, then, the Incarnation dwell in our minds. Let it elevate our conception of God; let it touch our hearts; let it be motive-power to our wills. According as it takes possession of us do we advance toward the goal of our being.
VI. RENEWED EXPRESSION OF CONFIDENCE IN HIS HEARERS. "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." The antichristian teachers were busy at their work, trying to lead them astray. That was his motive for writing to them as he had done. He did not thereby intend to convey any want of confidence in them. They had immediate communication with Christ, access to his thoughts through the reception of the anointing Spirit. The anointing abiding in them made them independent of any human teacher such as he was. Christ was present, in his Spirit, to teach them as every new occasion required - to teach them what was truth and what was no lie, to teach them always in the way of opening up the meaning of the original message. Thus taught by his Spirit, they abode in him, notwithstanding the attempts to lead them astray. This doctrine does not exclude new developments; but these must be developments of the original teaching. We have thus a safeguard against extravagances. We are not to despise human helps; but it is well that we can all have the truth witnessed in our minds. Our teachers are not intended to see for us (which is the Roman Catholic idea), but to help us to see for ourselves.
VII. EXHORTATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR KNOWLEDGE, IN WHICH TRANSITION IS MADE TO A NEW SECTION. "And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not he 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." In this hortatory part he addresses them, not as under his care, but rather as objects of his warm affection. They knew, as we have seen, how to abide in Christ; let them, then, abide in him. It was a great fact that Christ was to be manifested, i.e., in glory, though there was uncertainty as to the time of the manifestation. What was their relation to that manifestation? Were they prepared, the moment of its occurrence, to pass into his presence with boldness, and not "as a guilty thing surprised," to shrink with shame from him? They knew what was required. It was a requirement founded on what they knew God to he, viz. righteous. "The righteousness of God is the Divine attribute of an active nature, by virtue of which God wills and performs all things which are conformable to his eternal Law, prescribes suitable laws to his creatures, implements his premises made to man, rewards the good, and punishes the ungodly." The requirement, then (to which there is no exception), is doing righteousness, i.e., actively fulfilling our duties. The inner abiding in Christ must pass into the outer life of God-defined and God-like activity. Only thus can we show ourselves to be begotten of God - with which idea the new section begins. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.