Perhaps no subject broached by contemporary Bible prophecy teachers engenders more speculation and less sound Biblical exegesis than does the subject of Antichrist. Such speculation has gone on almost from the beginning of Christianity. Irenaeus (130-200) argued that the Antichrist would be a Jewish born, satanically inspired, usurper of God's true glory, who would appear in the Jerusalem temple in connection with an end-times great apostasy.
The Protestant Reformers, of course, universally identified the papacy with the Antichrist. Rome, not to be outdone, has returned the favor, contending that antichristic Protestant "heresies have swept down from the North, where Calvin, Wycliffe, Luther and legions of Protestants are ravaging the flock of Christ."
I can still remember the fear instilled in me as a child, when I heard one preacher declare that Antichrist was then living somewhere in the Middle East, probably still a child playing stickball in some crowded dusty street, awaiting the day when he would be possessed by the devil and allowed to wreak havoc on the world after the rapture. Others have tabbed, at one time or another, virtually every leader of the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and the European Economic Community as possibilities to become the archenemy of Jesus Christ.
I am sure that many of you can identify with these prophetic schemes. But is this really what the Bible says about the Antichrist? While it may come as a surprise to many, there are only four texts in Scripture (all in John's first two epistles: 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7) where the term "antichrist" is actually used. John's four texts set out a markedly different understanding of Antichrist than that given us by contemporary prophecy "experts." Therefore, it is most helpful to review them.
Based on these texts, there are three critical points to be made related to John's treatment of the Antichrist.
1. John argues that the Antichrist is not some mysterious individual who is only and finally revealed in the last days.
In fact, John says just the opposite. Whatever (or whoever) the Antichrist is, it (or he or she as the case may be) was already present at the time of John's writing. John expressly states that the spirit of Antichrist, "even now is already in the world" (1 Jn 4:3b). As B. B. Warfield points out, "John makes this assertion with the utmost emphasis. This thing, he says 'is now in the world already.'" John instead describes him as a foe already existing when the epistle was written.
In fact, writes John, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour" (1 Jn 2:18). The very presence of Antichrist is clearly an indication that the last hour has indeed already come. And since Antichrist was present in John's own lifetime, we can only conclude that we have been in the last hour since John composed his epistle. Therefore, we cannot ignore the present reality of the Antichrist if we are to heed John's warning.
2. Not only has Antichrist already come, but John indicates that there is not merely one Antichrist, but a series of such enemies of Jesus Christ.
"Even now," he says "many antichrists have come." So, it is quite erroneous to contend that Antichrist is limited to a specific individual, totally unknown to Christians until his revelation immediately before Jesus Christ's return. Many Antichrists had already come in John's own lifetime. While it is certainly possible that this multitude of Antichrists will culminate in an Antichrist before Christ comes back, John (who alone among the New Testament writers even uses the term "Antichrist") does not say this.
But he does explicitly state that many Antichrists have already come, and their present opposition to the infant Church is part of the struggle with the forces of unbelief about which John is attempting to warn the faithful. In other words, one of John's purposes in writing these epistles is to warn all Christians who worry that Antichrist is still to come in the last hour that, on the contrary, many Antichrists have already come, and so it is indeed already the last hour.
3. John's focus is squarely upon the heretical nature of these individual Antichrists and their false doctrine.
"Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son" (1 Jn 2:22). In his second epistle, John reaffirms all three of these points by stating "Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 Jn 7)." Antichrist has already come. There are many of them. And anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh (and also, by implication, who denies the doctrine of the Trinity) is an Antichrist!
If Antichrist is already present when John wrote his letter, if there are many of them, and if they are heretics, then just why, exactly, does so much of the current preoccupation with Antichrist focus upon a future appearance of this evil figure? Certainly, this is due in part to the other images in Scripture which are likely related (i.e., Paul's Man of Sin, John's Beast). These may indeed have future reference. But if anything is clear from John's use of Antichrist terminology, it is that his focus is certainly on the present danger facing the church from heretical false teaching and not on the rise of a nebulous future tyrant.
Adapted from Kim Riddlebarger, “The Antichrist" Modern Reformation, May/Jun 1994. Used by permission.
With a few tips for understanding the symbolism of Revelation, the book opens up to us as an important and helpful book for Christians.