The Antichrists Among Us


Introduction

Who is the antichrist and when will he show up? He is already alive right now, rising to power in some palace or executive residence or capital in this world? Is he right now a brilliant university student who has no idea the diabolical role he will play in the terminal days of history? Or is he a character who will appear in the future, in a hundred years or a thousand years from now?

I don’t have the answer to those questions. But I do know one thing. There are many antichrists among us right now—and we should be aware of them. Think of the word anti-Christ. What does that mean? It means anti-Jesus. It means anti-Christian. One day the final, ultimate world ruler of wickedness will show up. He will be the decisive devil-filled antichrist that we read about in several passages of the Bible. But even now there are many preliminary, precursory antichrists in the world, and it’s important to recognize them and to be on our guard against them.

To put it differently, there is a coming ultimate Man of Lawlessness that we often call the antichrist. But before he comes, there will be many others who are anti-Christ, anti-Jesus, anti-God, and anti-Christian.

Scripture

How do we know this? We read about it in 1 John 2:18-23. This is the most critical passage in 1 John as to understanding why John wrote the letters that we call 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. Let’s read and study this paragraph:

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Background

This is a remarkable passage. Here the apostle John says that many antichrists were alive and active in his own day, and, in fact, these people were once members of his own churches—the churches over which he was bishop in Asia Minor. Some of his members had marched out of his churches; they had deserted the congregations, and John was calling them antichrists. 

Scholars believe there was widespread desertion from John’s church as a result of the publication of his Gospel—the Gospel of John. Let me explain. The New Testament begins with four biographies of Christ, which we call the Four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were almost certainly written before the year 70. John had undoubtedly read them. I’m sure he agreed with them and appreciated every word. But John also had some things he wanted to say and some stories he wanted to tell. So he wrote the final Gospel when he was elderly, and he emphasized one particular truth that Matthew, Mark, and Luke had alluded to throughout their works but had not highlighted as much as he wanted to do it himself. John took this truth and he did highlight it. He spotlighted it with all the wattage he could load into his pen.

His great message is that Jesus Christ—the carpenter of Nazareth, the teacher of Galilee, the figure on the cross—was and is and always will be everything that it means to be God Himself. He was Almighty God dwelling among us as a human. 

We see this in many ways in John’s Gospel.

First, when you pick up the Gospel of John, notice how he opens and closes his Gospel. His first words were: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The term was known to first-century Jews because it was used in the Targums as a reference to God. When John used the term “Word,” he was referring to Jesus—and he said plainly in the very first verse of his Gospel that the Word—Jesus of Nazareth—was God. The very first sentence of John’s Gospel proclaims the deity of Jesus Christ—In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Then John ended the body of his Gospel in John 20:28 with Thomas, the most skeptical of the disciples, declaring of Jesus Christ: “My Lord and my God!” This is the beginning and ending note of the Gospel of John—Jesus is the Word who was and is God; He is our Lord and our God.

Second, as we read the Gospel of John, we see that even our Lord’s enemies recognized He was claiming to be God Himself. Look at John 5:18: For this reason they tried all the more to kill him [Jesus]; not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

And in John 10:33, the Lord’s enemies said: We are…stoning you for…blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.

Third, Jesus used the divine title I AM seven times, an explicit claim to divinity. In the Old Testament, Moses asked God, “What is Your name?” The Lord said, “I AM WHO I AM.” In other words, I am the one who always exists, who is self-existence. Jesus coopted this as a name for Himself seven different times in John’s Gospel. For example, He said in John 8:58: Before Abraham was born, I Am! He was saying, “I—Jesus of Nazareth—was alive 2000 years ago when Abraham was born. I Am self-existent. I Am eternal.”

Fourth, the Gospel of John attributes divine qualities to Jesus. 

  • John calls Him the creator of everything (1:3).
  • He attributed to him omniscience, the ability of knowing everything there is to know (21:17).
  • He affirmed that Jesus was perfect, righteous, and sinless (16:10).
  • He spoke of the glory that belongs to Jesus (12:41).
  • He spoke of the right and power of Jesus to raise the dead (5:21).
  • He referred to Jesus as being worthy of worship, which is only possible of God (9:38).

Fifth, John talked about the existence of two words—the world above and the world below. We belong to the world below, but Jesus belonged to the world above and He came down from heaven to bridge the gap. For example…

  • In John 3:31, Jesus said about Himself, “The one who comes from above is above all.”
  • In John 6:38, He said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent Me.”
  • In John 8:23, Jesus said, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”

There’s much more, but that’s a sampling of the high Christology—the high view of Christ—that John crafted in his Gospel. He left no doubt that Jesus was and is and always will be the eternal God.

The Reaction of Deserters: No He Isn’t!

So John wrote all of this in his Gospel and sent it out to all the churches of Asia Minor, over which he was the bishop. Some of the members of these churches could not fit John’s high Christology into their philosophical grid. Many commentators believe these people were holding early forms of what later became known as Gnosticism. There’s no need to go into the details of that. Suffice to say these people would not accept the high view of Jesus Christ that John incorporated into his Gospel. There was a faction in the early church that held a lesser opinion of Jesus, and they weren’t content just to leave the churches and form their own groups. They wanted to propagate their ideas. They wanted to take over the church. They had traveling teachers to spread their heresy, which became the basis of John’s writing his other two letters, 2 and 3 John. 

As Dr. Colin Kruse put it: 

The secessionists or false teachers were not content to keep their new beliefs to themselves. Instead they organized a group of itinerant preachers who circulated among the churches and propagated their beliefs with the view to winning people over to their understanding of things. This created confusion among the believers who remained loyal to the gospel as it had been proclaimed from the beginning, the gospel that had come down from the eyewitnesses. As a result of the confusion, these believers began to question whether they really knew God, whether they were really experiencing eternal life, and whether they were really in the truth. The primary concern of the author in writing 1 John was to bolster the assurance of such people….

That’s why the book of 1 John is so full of assurance. We love this epistle because of this. If you need assurance and reassurance about your relationship with Jesus Christ, this is a great book to study. John keeps telling the believers who remained true, “You are right and they are wrong. They are anti-christs, but you have an anointing. You know the truth. You have overcome the evil one. You have been forgiven your sins. You have eternal life. God will answer your prayers.”

Now, you may be saying, “What does any of that have to do with us?”

First, there’s confusion in many in the pews of evangelical churches. People cannot clearly explain who Jesus Christ is. A study conducted in 2020 by LifeWay Research found that thirty percent of people who identify as evangelical do not believe that Jesus Christ is God.  

Second, there’s erosion in many of the pulpits of Protestant churches. The President of Union Seminary in New York City was interviewed in the New York Times as part of their coverage of the Easter holiday. This woman was asked if Easter was a literal flesh-and-blood resurrection. She replied, “Those who claim to know whether or not it [the resurrection of Jesus] happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed…. For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith….”

She was asked about the Virgin Birth, and she said, “I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message. The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful.”

She was asked, “What happens when we die?” Her response: “I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife.”

Yet near the end of the interview, she asserted in clear terms, “I’m a Christian minister.”

John would have called her an antichrist.

This kind of erosion of Christian doctrine is something I’m keeping a close eye on; we all should. For us today, the flashpoint has to do with the sanctity of gender, sex, and marriage. Jesus taught very clearly about this in Mark 10, among other places. Yet many pulpits are too intimidated by the culture to teach the Scripture with clarity.

“But You”

So John told his readers: Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you…

Notice that sudden turn in the argument. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.

The word anointing in the Greek is the word chrisma. It means that you have been anointed with something. Someone has taken a substance and poured it on you or rubbed it into you. 

Who did that? The Holy One. We have an anointing from the Holy One. This is John’s phrase for Jesus Christ, which he used in His Gospel, in John 6:69: “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

So we have an anointing from Jesus Christ? What is it? It’s the Holy Spirit.

  • 1 John 3:24: The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it be the Spirit He gave us.
  • 1 John 4:13: This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.

The apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22: Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, and set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

All that makes the rest of the paragraph in 1 John clear:

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

So here was the situation. The apostle John had published His long-awaited Gospel, and in many different ways he declared that Jesus Christ is God Himself who became flesh and dwelt among us—truly God and truly man—two natures in one personality. And He died and physically rose from the dead. And all who come to Him and receive Him as their Savior have eternal life. Not only that, but Jesus pours on them the anointing of the Holy Spirit. At the moment of a person’s conversion, the Holy Spirit comes upon and into the lives of the follower of Christ. And it’s the Holy Spirit that gives us our deep conviction of truth and confidence and assurance as we study God’s Word.

Those who reject the Jesus of Scripture don’t really know Him. They do not have a relationship with God. They are liars. They are deniers. And they are antichrists. And we should never be rattled by them or intimidated by their teachings. We are right and they are wrong. We have an anointing from Jesus that reinforces the biblical truth in our hearts.

Conclusion

There are four practical applications we can take away from this.

First, we must commit our lives to Jesus Christ, who was God of very God who became man of very man to die for us and rise again to give us eternal life. We can know and be certain of our relationship with Him. He has given us an anointing.

Second, we must be students of the Scripture, growing in our understanding so that others will not deceive us or lure us away. There’s nothing so wonderful as becoming a student of God Himself as He reveals Himself in the Bible.

Third, we must be defenders of the faith. There’s something very interesting about how the New Testament is arranged. I believe the Holy Spirit guided, not just the contents of the Bible, but the way the books were arranged. 

The New Testament begins with four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus; followed by the book of Acts, which tells about expansion of the church throughout the Roman world. Next are the thirteen letters of the apostle Paul, in which he deposits into our hearts and minds the great truths that explain Christianity. These thirteen letters are full of theology, information, explanation, and instruction. After Paul’s epistles we have the books of Hebrews and James and 1 Peter, which add some rich details. 

But then, near the end of it all, we have five short books before the consummating book of Revelation. And these five books all tell us in one way or another that we are to be defenders of that story of Jesus we read in the Gospels along with the theological truths we read about in Romans through 1 Peter. Let me show you:

  • 2 Peter 2 warns us of false prophets that will arise in the church, warning us they will promise us freedom while bringing us into slavery.
  • The next three books are the three epistles of John, which tell us how to respond to false teachers who arise in the church.
  • Next is the book of Jude, which tells us to contend earnestly for the purity of the faith that has been handed down to us.

And then we have the final consummating book of the Bible—Revelation. So, in summary, the New Testament gives us the history of Jesus and His church, followed by letters of doctrine and truth, and then a series of warnings about those will distort this truth. And then it ends with the wonderful book giving us the story of how it will all end. So there are five books—2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude—that call us to be defenders of the faith.

Fourth, all of this helps us be confident that we are right, we are anointed, we have the truth, we have overcome the wicked one, our sins are forgiven, and we have eternal life. No other message, no other philosophy, no other worldview can match the supreme logic and joy given to us who hold the Bible in our hands.

Perhaps you bumped into Albert Camus in philosophy class in high school. He was a French philosophical writer who was born in French North Africa and arrived in Paris just as the Nazis took over the city. He joined the French Resistance and after the war became a popular writer and philosopher. He helped create an atheistic philosophical system known as absurdism, which says the universe is irrational and meaningless. Furthermore, human life, he said, was meaningless because in the end we all die. When I was in college, his books were required reading on secular campuses and had a huge impact on an entire generation. At my Christian college, we all read Francis Schaeffer, while on non-Christian colleges everyone read Albert Camus.

Camus died in 1960 in a car wreck as he and a friend were returning from Provence to Paris. He was only forty-six.

But here’s what most people don’t know. A year before the wreck, Camus began to doubt everything he had written and lectured. He had met a Methodist minister named Howard Mumma, an American who preached in Paris every summer in an English-speaking church. One morning, Pastor Mumma noticed Albert Camus in the congregation. The two met and became friends. Camus told him he was fed up with the philosophy of existentialism and was seeking something more. As a result, he had started going to church. He said he was seeking something “to fill the void” in his life. He also told Pastor Mumma that he had been reading the Bible and to his surprise he was finding answers there he didn’t know even existed.

Through many discussions, Pastor Mumma explained the Gospel to the great philosopher how to be saved. And Camus responded with these words: “Howard, I am ready. I want this. This is what I want to commit my life to.”

Four months later, he died in the car wreck. But because of Pastor Howard Mumma, we know how one of the most celebrated atheistic philosophers of the twentieth century discovered he could not live with the implications of his atheistic existentialism and absurdism, and he found meaning instead in the pages of 1 John and the other books of the Bible—and in the Christ whose message fills the pages of Scripture.

Some of Camus’ followers reject this story. Did Albert Camus really become a born-again Christian. I don’t know. I can’t be dogmatic about that. But Pastor Mumma was a good man with a respected career, and he waited many years, until he was 90, to publish this account. He didn’t want to exploit a celebrated conversion, but he did finally decide to tell the story before he took it with him to the grave.

At the very least, I think it tells us that those of us who hold to the logic of the Christian faith never find it absurd. It is sensible, logical, wonderful, and worthy of our commitment. And with grace and confidence we can say, “I’m not going to be rattled by the antichristian forces and philosophies of this life. They are wrong, but we have the right man on our side—the man of God’s own choosing. Do you ask who that may be—Christ Jesus, it is He!

So let’s be committed; let’s be students’ let’s be defenders; and let’s be confident!