This Apostle alone makes mention of the Antichrist under this name (1 John ii, 18, 22, iv, 3; 2 John 7). The same question meets us here that we have met in considering St. Paul's Epistle: "Does St. John speak of one individual as the Antichrist, or only of many in whom is manifested the antichristian spirit? We find the expressions, "Antichrist," "the Antichrist," "many Antichrists," "the spirit of the Antichrist." (R. V.) Comparing the teachings of the Apostle we reach the general result: 1. That which constitutes the essential characteristic of Antichrist, or of the antichristian spirit, is the denial that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh," or that "Jesus is the Christ,"— a denial of the Incarnation. 2. This spirit of the Antichrist was already in the world, and had infected many: "Even now have there arisen many antichrists." 3. This antichristian spirit would find its last and highest manifestation in some one man, distinctively, the Antichrist. This clearly appears from the words, ii, 18. "As ye have heard that Antichrist cometh." Upon this Westcott remarks, " The absence of the article shows that the term has become current as a technical or proper name." 4. The appearing of the Antichrist marked "the last hour." 5. The many antichrists were apostate Christians. "They went out from us."
As this Apostle twice speaks of the knowledge which his readers had of the Antichrist, we must conclude that he had already taught them verbally, or that the knowledge came from the earlier teaching of some other of the apostles. As St. Paul had so long before written to the Thessalonians, what he had taught may have become known to all the congregations of Greece and Asia Minor. But we cannot doubt that this point was more or less explained by all the apostles, and not by St. Paul only, and was familiar to the early disciples, so that the Antichrist could be alluded to without express description.
Does St. John give us any datum as to the time of the Antichrist? He says: "It is the last time (hour); and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time" (hour). Is it the object of the Apostle to prove from the appearance of the many antichrists that it is the last time? If so, it shows how clear in his mind was the belief that the last days would be marked by the prevalence of the antichristian spirit. But his meaning may be that, being the last time, antichrists are to be expected. By " the last time "—hour — we are to understand the whole Christian dispensation, all the period from the ascension of Christ to His return; the duration of which was wholly unknown to the Apostle, but believed by him to be brief.* He could, therefore, well speak of it as if near its end, the last hour. This whole period, longer or shorter, is the time of the trial of the world in regard to Christ, His acceptance or rejection.
* " The last hour, i. «., the end of this age, and very near the return of Christ from heaven." Grimm's Lexicon, by Thayer.
"Every spirit which confesseth not Jesus, is not of God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh, and now it is in the world already." (R. V.) No earlier form of hostility to God could have been antichristian; Christ must appear in the world before His claims could be rejected. As the Incarnate Son, and God's representative, it is the hostility to Him,— the antichristian spirit — which distinguishes this whole dispensation, but comes into highest manifestation at the end. It is the Christian apostasy which produces the Antichrist.
As St. Paul had spoken of "the mystery of lawlessness;' working in the Church in his day a few years earlier, so St. John speaks of its further development. "Even now are there many antichrists. . . They went out from us, but they were not of us." This marks them as apostate Christians. They had a name among the disciples, but had fallen away from the faith. They were the first fruits of " the scoffers and mockers" predicted by St. Peter and St. Jude. Some of the early writers speak of them as Gnostic teachers and leaders.
The mention of the Antichrist is not that the Apostle may speak of the last Antichrist in detail, but that he may warn the Church against the workings of the antichristian spirit already active. As said by Ebrard, " the Apostle's design is warningly to testify that the many antichrists then appearing were in their character like the nature of the Antichrist to come." There is no good reason to doubt that he. like St. Paul, looked to see this spirit reach its full development in an individual Antichrist, who should deny both the Father and the Son. (I. ii, 18,22.) All who had yet appeared were but his heralds and forerunners; the growing, but not the ripened tares. The Apostle's teaching is doctrinal, to show in what the spirit of Antichristianity consisted — the denial that Jesus had come in the flesh, or the denial of the Incarnation. It is from the knowledge which his readers already had of the Antichrist to come, that he can explain the true character of the errors now seen among them, and their great significance and danger.
It deserves to be noted in considering the emphasis which this Apostle lays upon love in his Epistles, that he wrote at Ephesus, and that it was he by whom the Lord sent the Seven Epistles to the Seven Churches: in the first of which, addressed to the Church at Ephesus, he reproved it for "the loss of the first love." Whether his own Epistles were written earlier or later than the Seven, it is evident that he marked the same loss; and therefore enforced the value of this grace, both in its relation to the Head of the Church, and in that of the members to one another. "God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us." The loss of this love opened the way to many forms of evil, both doctrinal and practical.
Note.—It is said by Prof. Stevens ("The Johannine Theology," 1894), that the prevailing view in the Church in the past, that Antichrist in this epistle designates a person, is not well founded, because "the man of sin" of St. Paul, "the Antichrist" of St. John, and "the beast" of The Revelation, are representatives of different forms of evil; the first being the representative of Jewish hostility, and the last of the persecuting power of Rome. But our examination of St. Paul's words has shown us that he is speaking of the spirit of lawlessness in the Church, and not of Jewish hostility ; and that the beast does not symbolize Roman persecution, will clearly appear in the examination of The Revelation. That the Gnostic heresy was in the mind of the Apostle John, may be admitted, and the Apostle Paul seems, as we have seen, to have alluded to it; but this is wholly compatible with its union with other forms of evil, and all these are to be summed up in the Antichrist. It is observed by Plummer ( " The Epistles of John") that "there is a strong preponderance of opinion in favor of the view that the antichrist of St. John is the same as the great adversary of St. Paul." Bishop Wordsworth (Com. in loco) thinks that "the man of sin and the Antichrist do not correspond accurately to each other," but it is not "impossible that they may eventually coalesce." He identifies the man of sin with the Beast (Rev. xiii, 1—).