For tonight’s lesson, please read 1 John 2. In v. 18, John’s discourse takes a detour from building up his community in Love and in Christ to warning his community. John writes: “In this last hour . . . the antichrist is coming.”
The very sentence conjures up images of Satan’s final eschatological reign over the earth. From Damien in The Omen or Luca Signorelli’s frescos of Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist, the identity of the Antichrist has been a great pastime of Christian writers through the present day. From Hippolytus of Rome in the early 3rd century to the Left Behind series of the late 20th century, Christians have been fascinated with discerning who is The Antichrist.
The idea of an end-times adversary of God goes back to the book of Daniel which speaks of a great beast that will prevail over the saints of God until the “Ancient of Days” arrives and gives the saints their final victory. In the century before Jesus, we have the War Scroll which speaks of the great battle at the end of time between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness on the plains of Armageddon, and the Melchizedek Scroll where Melchizedek leads God’s army against the rebel Belial who seeks to destroy God’s people.
In the New Testament itself, in addition to John’s antichrist, there is Paul’s “Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:1-12) and Revelation’s “Beast from the Abyss” (Rev. 11:7) and “the Beast from the Sea” (Rev. 13:1). Although only John’s letters mention the antichrist, these other Scriptures have been brought to bear on interpreting John and discovering The Antichrist’s identity.
John, however, probably has a more prosaic meaning of the Antichrist than subsequent Christian speculation and Hollywood movies do.
John’s focus is not on the antichrist(s) or his teachings per se, but on John’s community. Therefore, John does not clearly lay out the identity of the antichrist. What we do know from this passage, however, is the (1) the antichrist came from John’s own community (v.19) and (2) that he denied that Jesus was the “Christ.” John does not directly tell us what this means. John talks about a denial of the “Son” and a denial that Jesus came in the flesh (2 John 1:7). If we look back to John 7, the writer records discussions about Jesus’ brothers and other Jewish people as to whether Jesus was the Christ – and some believed and some did not. We do not know whether the letter or the gospel was written first, but the controversy appears to be similar.
John’s antichrist is not the leader of a great end-of-time rebellion. (The Biblical witness is that the Church has always lived in the “last days.” Acts 2:17, Heb. 1:2, 1 Peter 1:20, Mark 1:15.) Rather, John’s antichrist is a leader within his community that taught an aberrant understanding of Jesus and who then split the community. In this sense, anti does not mean against so much as a false substitute or imposter. Paul continually confronted those within his communities who taught a “false gospel” that Christians are bound by Torah (Gal. 1:6). But John’s problem is more severe – not only did this person teach a false understanding of Jesus, but then tore the community apart with his teaching. In this way, John’s antichrist is more fearful than the popular understanding because John’s antichrist comes from within the community, he misleads the community with his teachings, and then he tears the community apart.
The purpose of John’s letter is not to correct or discipline the false teacher. The schism has already occurred. Rather, John’s purpose is to build up the remaining community. Within this passage, John uses a play on the Greek word chrio (meaning “to anoint”) to do this. In Greek, the word Christ simply means the Anointed One. Jesus is the Anointed Onet (v.22) and John tells his audience that they are anointed as well. They have experienced the chrisma of the Holy Spirit (vv.20, 27). They are an anointed community founded by the Anointed One. The false anointed one has worked havoc within the community, but they remain. John encourages them to abide in Jesus and have confidence in him, for they were born of him because of their shared chrisma. (vv.28-29). So are we.
As the last act in our Baptismal Rite, the priest uses oil to anoint the new baptized with the sign of the cross and words: “N, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” (1979 BCP 308). This is John’s message to his community and John’s message to us. Remember that you are anointed with the Holy Spirit and thereby are in Christ forever. Whatever happens, whatever antichrist rises up, whatever false teaching abounds, whatever schism occurs, know that you have been marked as Christ’s own forever.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is pizza. Discussion at 7:30 followed by Compline. Hope to see you here.
The anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.1 John 2:27