Christ and Antichrists – 1 John 2:18–3:9

Read the Passage: 1 John 2:18–3:9

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: 1 John 2

Description of Antichrists (2:18–23)

Recall from our look at 1 John 1 that one of John’s purposes in writing this letter was to confront false teachers in the church who were espousing a form of Gnosticism. John will address false teaching in various ways in this book (cf. 1 John 3:7; 4:1–3), but here he does so with the word “antichrist.” Interestingly, in the Bible this term is only used by John; however, the broad concept appears all throughout the Bible. Daniel refers to the antichrist as “the little horn” (Dan. 7:8) and “the prince” (Dan. 9:26), Paul calls him the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3a), the “son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3b), or the “lawless one” (2 Thess. 2:8), and John later calls the antichrist “the beast” (Rev. 13:2). While one will eventually come who is “the Antichrist” (1 John 2:18a), John’s purpose here is to inform the church about the “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18b) already present, not to identify the Antichrist. Indeed, forces of darkness are always present in the world.

There will always be those who teach heresy in the church, either out of error or with an agenda to corrupt believers. Those who fall away from the faith demonstrate that their faith was never legitimate. Indeed, the greatest test of faith is endurance. Writing to the church, John reminds them, “You know all things” (1 John 2:20). John is not claiming that those in the church are omniscient; rather, in writing “all things” John is referring to the fact that Christians “know the truth” (1 John 2:21). The truth, teaches John, is “that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22). Furthermore, this truth includes the fact that the Son and the Father are one (cf. 1 John 2:23). A certain sign of false teachers is that they deny that Jesus is fully God and fully man, as well tampering with the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Observe that sometimes false teachers will use Christian terminology, but they often redefine words.

Abiding in Truth (2:24–3:3)

In the closing verses of chapter 2 John gives more details about the “truth” he referenced in 1 John 1:6, 8, 2:4, 21. This truth, John writes, is what “you heard from the beginning” (1 John 2:24), which is the news of Christ. This truth must “abide in you” (1 John 2:24, 27). The term “abide,” which John uses 23 times in this short letter, means to dwell upon or to remain in. The idea here is that since Christians’ have received the gospel, their true identity is now in Christ, and the Holy Spirit is within them. The Holy Spirit, as well as the gifts He gives, is what John calls the “anointing” (1 John 2:20, 27). Note that a main ministry of the Holy Spirit is to guide believers in truth (cf. John 14:16–18; 16:13; 17:17). Therefore, believers can discern truth from error, and will be able to identify false teachers. This skill may not be manifest in new Christians, but it will be present in the Body of Christ.

In 1 John 2:28 the church is once again exhorted to “abide in Him.” To remain in Christ, to focus on His work for us, to worship Jesus, and to give Him the glory that He is due, will afford believers hope, joy, peace, contentment, and happiness. John teaches in 1 John 2:29 that a mark of true believers is that they are imparted with the righteousness that has been imputed to them in Christ. At the beginning of chapter 3, John praises God for our adoption as “children of God” (1 John 3:1). Observe an encouraging teaching in this passage is “that when He is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2; cf. Rom. 8:11, 29; 1 Cor. 15:49–54; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:10, 21; Col. 3:1–4; 2 Thess. 2:14). This teaching about believers’ conformity to Jesus—both in character and in body—ought to encourage those who are being overlooked and persecuted (cf. 1 John 3:1b).

Refraining from Sin (3:4–9)

John returns to his theme of sin and righteousness in 1 John 3:4–9. Again, employing his binary writing style, in this passage John writes, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. . . . Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:6, 9). Taken out of context, these verses may appear to teach a form of sinless perfection. However, we must remember that John earlier taught that the one who says he is without sin deceives himself (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10). These verses are explained, then, by understanding John to be writing about a given time in which a believer abides in Christ; or to be teaching about a Christian’s positional standing in Christ; or, as was noted earlier, John is simply expressing himself in a rigid, binary style for the purposes of understanding, effect, and clarity.

Application Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be an antichrist? Who is the Antichrist? Should Christians be fearful or concerned about antichrists?
  2. Other than a denial or redefinition of Christ, what are some other common characteristics of false teachers (cf. Matt. 7:15–23)?
  3. Is there a difference between believing in Jesus and abiding in Him? How can Christians abide in Jesus (cf. John 15:1–8).
  4. What does it mean when John teaches, “We shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2)? How can Christians purify themselves as John exhorts them to do at 1 John 3:3?
  5. How should we understand John’s seemingly contradictory statements about the presence—or lack thereof—of sin in the life of a believer (cf. 1 John 1:8; 3:6, 9)?