One of the great myths of modern end times study is the rise of the antichrist. The picture is usually some great world leader who is inhabited by the Devil and takes over the United Nations. What is odd about this is that the only author to speak of the antichrist is John. And John does not speak of a “him” but of a “them.” And he does not speak of someone future, but someone present. Here are the verses where John speaks of the antichrist.
(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. (19) 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 it might become plain that they all are not of us. (20) But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (21) I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (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. (I John 2:18-22, ESV)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 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.
(1Jn 4:1-3, ESV)
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.
(2Jn 1:7, ESV)
There are several things to note about these verses.
First, John plainly says it is the last hour. The end came 2,000 years ago.
Second, John knows it is the last hour because many antichrists have come. This is past tense to John. He is not looking for some future Antichrist. There are antichrists everywhere he looks. He says a similar thing in 4:3. His readers knew antichrist was coming. John is telling them they are now here. Antichrists were a sign of the end. But again the end came 2,000 years ago.
Third, these antichrists went out from the Apostles. This is the point of verse 19. If they had stayed with John and the Apostles they would have shown themselves to be true prophets. As it is, they are liars and antichrists. John knows these antichrists personally. They went to seminary together.
Fourth, John shows very clearly what an antichrist looks like: an antichrist denies the Father and Son (2:22) and confesses that Jesus did not come in the flesh/is not from God. (4:2-3 and II John 1:7) An antichrist is not a great world leader who takes over the planet in the name of Satan. An antichrist is someone who denies a basic part of the Christian faith: Jesus left God and came in the flesh. Anyone who denies this is an antichrist.
Fifth and finally, note that John says that many antichrists have come and that many deceivers who are antichrists have gone out into the world. He does not speak of a single Antichrist. Many pastors associate this passage with the “man of lawlessness” from II Thessalonians 2:3. I have no idea why. The person in II Thessalonians tries to replace God with himself. There is nothing in I John that parallels that. John and Paul are talking about two different people. Ditto for the beast in Revelation. The antichrist denies a fundamental Christian doctrine, that Jesus came in the flesh. H is not someone who wants to be Jesus or God.
The upshot of all this is that we should not be looking for the rise of an Antichrist. We should be looking for false teachers who deny the Son and the Father. Our failure here has allowed us to write hundreds of books about the end of the world, while rarely dealing with what John is talking about. We tell lots of scary stories about some bald guy who rules the world with 666 tattooed on his forehead. But that man doesn’t exist. While there are many, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the Son and the Father. So every time a Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door, you should say, “Do you know that you are the Antichrist?” This may not open up evangelistic doors, but it is the truth.