The Fifth in a Series of Sermons on the Epistles of John
It is difficult to find anything in the Bible which has provoked as much unbiblical speculation as has the doctrine of antichrist. The very mention of this mysterious figure sends the Christian imagination off and running. But this is nothing new. The church fathers, by and large, thought the Antichrist would be an apostate Jew who would come to power after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Reformers–and virtually the entire Reformed tradition–have seen the warning about antichrist fulfilled in the Roman papacy. More recently, the dispensationalists have taught that the Antichrist will appear near the time of the end in connection with the rapture of the church. At the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period, dispensationalists tell us the Antichrist will make a seven-year peace treaty with the nation of Israel before turning on God’s ancient people, declaring himself to be God in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. Much of this antichrist speculation is so far afield from the way John uses the term “antichrist” in his epistles, it is truly remarkable. For the Apostle John, antichrist is not some dreaded future foe, but a very present threat to those to whom he is writing. John warns his readers in Asia Minor, “Antichrist is coming.”
We are continuing our series on the Epistles of John and we take up John’s warning regarding the antichrist in verses 18-27, the final of the four things in this part of John chapter 2 which John says should characterize all those who walk in the light. The first thing which should characterize Christians, John says, is that they confess their sins (1:5-2:2). The second thing they will do is to strive obey the commandments of God, which are a published revelation of God’s will (2:3-11). Those who walk in darkness have no interest in God’s law. Then, in verses 12-17, John warns us not to love the world. I attempted to make the case last time that John is not referring to the physical world (the universe) when he warns us not to love the world. Rather, John is referring to the fallen world as it is currently under the control of the evil one (cf. 1 John 5:19). John puts this in very stark either/or terms. If we love the fallen world in its opposition to God, we cannot love the Father.
This brings us to verses 18-27 and the fourth characteristic of those who walk in the light–they will oppose the many antichrists who have already gone out into the world. In order to make sense of John’s warning about these antichrists–these arch-enemies of Jesus Christ who is the word made flesh–recall that John is responding to an early form of Gnosticism, which held that reality exists in the form of a dualism between pure spirit (the good) and matter (evil). As we have seen, this conception of the universe makes Christ’s incarnation a metaphysical impossibility because if these proto-Gnostic categories are in fact correct, God (who is pure spirit) cannot take to himself a true human nature (which would be evil). In order to explain the physical appearances of Jesus in the gospels these proto-Gnostics opposed by John were affirming that while Jesus was truly God, he only appeared to be human (or took the form of a human). It is this so-called docetic heresy which John will now label the “spirit of antichrist.” This definition is quite different from the way in which most people use the term.
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