1 John 2:18-27.
Many Bibles have a section heading over these verses that says “Warnings about the Antichrist!” This is a part of the teaching in this section, but if that is all we gain from these verses, we are missing a bigger message. This passage is about anointing. In the Greek, just like the English, Antichrist is a compound word. It is made up of two Greek words anti- and christ. Anti in Greek carries a few different meanings. It typically means instead of or against. The word christ means Messiah, or anointed one. So anti-christ is someone who is against the anointed one or is setting themselves up to be anointed instead of Jesus.
John talks about "The Antichrist," as well as several antichrists who have already been at work within the community of believers. John describes these people as those who deny that Jesus is God’s anointed Messiah, or that Jesus is not the Son of God. He calls them liars and lets the believers know that anyone making these claims is not a true member of the body of Christ, nor can they make the claim to affirm belief in the Father without affirming belief in the Son.
John writes here to let the believers know about people who would lead them astray, but this is not a frantic warning. Rather there is an undercurrent of reassurance running through these verses. John affirms the anointing of the Holy Spirit at work in them. He tells them that they can stand secure in the Truth that they already know and have received from sound teaching as well as directly from the Holy Spirit.
John’s message here is empowering. Unlike many of today’s teachings about the Antichrist which inspire a lot of fear and panic, John starts his discussion by spreading out the threat. He tells them he knows about what they have heard about the coming of a powerful antichrist—strong enough to receive a title “The Antichrist.” But he shows them that this is nothing new, there have been several antichrists that have already come. John tells them that this is just a sign of the times. He casually says, “This is how we know we are in the final hour.”
John points to perseverance as the true test of belonging to the body of Christ. Only those serious about following Jesus will stay, that is why those who did not believe in him left the fellowship. Some try to turn this into a passage on eternal security, saying it explains everyone who makes a profession of faith and falls away, that they obviously were never really a part of the body since they left the fellowship. I don’t believe that to be John’s point in these verses.
John uses a lot of the same words in these verses emphasizing the anointing of Jesus as Messiah, the anointing we have as believers being anointed by the Holy Spirit. John talks about allowing those things we have received as Truth remain—abide—in us and the anointing remain—abide—in us and that we need to remain—abide—in God the Father and the Son. He is talking about perseverance, sticking with it, abiding or living daily with the Truth we have received and in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The contrast is with those who did not remain.
Those who departed were those who did not stick with the Truth, but instead believe and perpetuate lies about who Jesus is. John tells them, and us, that we already have the secret, the answer to not being drawn in. He tells these believers that they already have the Truth, in fact he says “I am not writing to you because you don’t know the truth, but precisely because you do know the truth.” Recognizing the truth, they can easily see that the lies do not fit.
Just like these believers, we have all received some basic elementary truth relating to who God is and what he did for us in the person of Jesus. We don’t have to have a theology degree to have enough knowledge of the truth to see and resist a lie. When someone makes a claim that Jesus was only a good teacher, only a prophet, only a messiah for some and they exclude any concept of Jesus being the Son of God, the Savior of the whole world, we can recognize the lie. We can see that you cannot have it both ways—either Jesus is the Son of God or he was a liar. If he falsely claimed to be the Son of God, and he did, he would be a liar. Being a liar makes him a bad teacher, a false prophet, and a poor messiah by anyone's standards.
John reaffirms the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers by telling them that the Holy Spirit will guide them into truth, enough that they don’t even need external teachers. The same is true today. If you did not have a preacher standing before you, God could still speak to you and show you his truth. In fact, I am confident that he would! He would still bring you into an ever closer relationship with himself. That is not to say that teaching is not good or helpful, but it is not a make it or break it component of your relationship with God through Christ.
Getting caught up in a perceived need for a teacher has caused many to lift up their teachers and preachers on high and make them “Instead Anointed.” Counterfeit anointing. The danger is still there today. It is easy to idolize leaders in the faith, and it is easy as a leader to allow people to idolize. It feels great to have people think you are great. With that tendency can creep in all kinds of false teaching that is contrary to the truth we have received. John is giving these believers permission to go without a teacher before allowing some false teaching to creep into their fellowship.
The Holy Spirit at work within us will always draw us closer to God, always further into his truth, and it will not contradict something that God has declared to be true. The secret to avoiding the traps of the antichrist or antichrists? Keep the truth close, abide in the Father, the Son, and allow the Holy Spirit’s anointing to teach and guide.