The Antichrist in John’s Epistles: Part I

Perhaps no vision has shaped contemporary eschatology like that of the Antichrist. He is the epitome of evil and will reign over all the earth supplanting Christ and bringing in  the rule of Satan. However, “antichrist” is only mentioned in I and II John. He is not mentioned in Revelation, where one would expect to find him, especially since John wrote both books.  As I read I and II John I tried to determine if John actually teaches what so many people think he teaches. The exegesis of the antichrist passages in John’s Epistles is usually informed, not by careful examination of the text, but rather by a prior commitment to a certain eschatological viewpoint.   A good example of using prior commitment to examine the text is Pastor John MacArthur’s sermons on I John 2:18-26.[1] He preaches three sermons on these verses. The second half of his first sermon covers passages like II Thessalonians 2, Daniel 8-10, and Revelation 13, not I John 2:18-26. It is interesting that the first part of his sermon, (and in his remaining two sermons on this passage) when he focuses on I John is all about contemporary antichrists. He does a great job exegeting the text. He lays open exactly what the text says. He tells us who these antichrists are and how they behave. But this is not enough. He believes in a final, all powerful Antichrist. But to find the one he must go to other passages. (By the way, I really enjoy Pastor MacArthur, but I disagree with him on this point.)
Before we begin exegesis of the Apostle John’s passages on the antichrist we need to ask, what is the commonly held view of the antichrist?   Pastor MacArthur sums it up well:
“The Bible is clear that one man will be the final, most complete and powerful Antichrist. He will appear in the future history of the world in a time which is called the time of the Tribulation. This is a time that will end man’s day. It is a time, a seven-year period of time divided into two three-and-half year sections in which Satan releases his power in the world, at the same time God releases judgment in the world. And there will be in that day a world ruler who is identified as the Antichrist. He is the culminating and final one, that’s why we have here the singular “Antichrist is coming.”
So the Antichrist is the final culmination of all evil and will come at the end of the world to set up a kingdom that is opposed to Christ. But does John actually teach this?

Let’s look carefully at the text in John’s Epistles which mention the antichrist and then determine if the commonly held view of the antichrist is correct. I will begin with what is agreed upon and then move to the areas of disagreement.  The following passages will be in discussed: I John 2:18-27, I John 4:1-3, and II John 1:7.  I would recommend having your Bible open has you read.

There are several areas of agreement between those who see the Antichrist as a culmination of all evil at the end of history and those who do not. Let me list those briefly. First, all parties agree that antichrists live in the world. This is clear from I John 2:18. John says explicitly that there are many antichrists who have gone out into the world. Second, all parties agree that these antichrists prove that it is the last hour. Of course, there is much disagreement about what exactly that means. Third, all parties agree that the antichrist is someone who denies Jesus came in the flesh (II John 1:7) and denies the Father and the Son, especially the Son as Christ (I John 2:22).  Fourth, all parties agree that anyone who is an antichrist is not a Christian. They do not know have the Son or the Father (I John 2:23).  On all of these major points and several minor ones most commentators agree.

However, does I and II John teach that we are to look for a future all powerful Antichrist?  There are numerous arguments used to back up the claim that John is talking about an end times leader: the use of a singular antichrist in 2:18, the use of anti in the term antichrist, the phrase “is coming” in I John 2:18, and the phrase “have heard.”  I will address these items in order. By the way, I am not arguing against an end times, all powerful figure.  I am simply asking whether John teaches us about this end times figure.

Let ‘s begin by looking at the singular use of the term “antichrist” in John’s letters. You can see that Pastor MacArthur in the quote above uses the singular as one of the ways he establishes that there will be an end time Antichrist. Here are the four verses in I and II John, which use the singular term antichrist. All quotes are from English Standard Version:
(1Jn 2:18)  Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
(1Jn 2:22)  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.
(1Jn 4:3) 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.
(2Jn 1:7)  For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Let’s put the final three verses in a paraphrased form:
2:22 The one who denies Jesus is the Christ is the antichrist.
4:3 The one who does not confess Jesus is the spirit of the antichrist.
II John 1:7 The one who does not confess that Jesus came in the flesh is the antichrist.
In these verses is John pointing us to a future Antichrist or to antichrists which were present when he was writing?  Examining these three passages in more depth will give us an answer.
2:20-27 begins and ends with an anointing (vs. 20, 27) John exhorts his readers that they know the truth and that no lie is of the truth. He is encouraging them to hold fast to the truth. Then he tells them to watch out for liars; that is those who deny that Jesus is the Christ. These men are the antichrist. These men are trying to deceive them (vs. 26). This word deceive is verb form of the noun used in II John 1:7.  In other words, John expected his readers to be on the lookout for these antichrists who were trying to deceive them and keep the truth from abiding in them (vs. 24).  In these verses, there is no expectation of a future Antichrist. John is talking about men who were present when he wrote.
3:24-4:6 is a section on testing the spirits. It begins by saying that we have the Spirit (3:24). This is why we can test the spirits.  John then encourages his readers to test the various spirits. These spirits are not floating about in the air, but come through the false prophets who preach lies (4:1).  John gives his readers a key test: every spirit which confesses that Jesus came in the flesh is from God. The one who does not confess this is not from God. The one who does not confess this is the spirit of the antichrist.  John reminds them that this spirit of the antichrist was promised and is now here. John goes on tell his readers that they have overcome them (false prophets) because his readers are of God, but these false prophets are of the world (4:4-6). In these verses there is no expectation of a future Antichrist who will rule the world. John expects his readers to confront the antichrist by testing the spirits behind the false prophets.
II John 1:7 comes in the middle of short letter where John is exhorting his readers to keep the truth (1:4).  There are many deceivers who have gone out into the world. These deceivers do not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh. These men are the antichrist.  The ESV says, “Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”[2]John then exhorts this flock to look out for these men who do not bring this doctrine with them and to not receive them (vss. 9-11).  Again there is nothing in the passage about a future Antichrist even though John does use the singular “antichrist” in verse 7.
The point of examining these three passages is to show that the singular use of antichrist in 2:18 does not demand that this refer to a single powerful man in the future. None of the other uses of the singular in I John or II John are referring to a future antichrist.  All of the singular uses refer to something that existed at the time John wrote. He was exhorting his readers to make sure these antichrists did not deceive them.  It is not impossible, but it is unlikely, based on John’s use of antichrist, that antichrist in I John 2:18 refers to an end times world leader.

Over the next couple of days I will address various other arguments used to argue that John is teaching about an end times world leader. 

[1]These sermons can be accessed at under I John or the title “Christians and Antichrists.” 
[2]See also Wallace, Daniel B., Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 332.