The “Antichrist” is a subject that has been thrown around a lot in the past few decades, especially in America. When it’s mentioned, it is usually in the context of a political figure or organization. It seems as though it has become commonplace to simply attach the word Antichrist to someone we don’t like or an organization with whom we disagree. Obama was the Antichrist, and now Trump is the Antichrist. Putin is the Antichrist. The DNC is the Antichrist. The SBC is the Antichrist. You get the idea.
In 1 John 2:18-28, we have one of the extremely few times that “antichrist” is ever mentioned in the entire Bible. But, when John mentions it, notice that he doesn’t pinpoint one political figure or something like that. When he mentions it, John says that already “many antichrists have come” (2:18). When John brings up the concept of antichrists, he does so while talking about false teaching within the church community. What can we gain from this? Here are three things that I think are a lot more useful than stirring the proverbial apocalyptic pot with these sorts of verses.
1. Antichrist is a term that needs clarification.
The term “antichrist” has pretty much ruined us. As I mentioned, we can’t even hear it without imagining a Nicolae Carpathia (Google it) figure in our day and time. In the context of John’s letters, that is unfortunate because it misses the point of what he’s trying to address.
Jesus had warned his disciples: “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). It might be helpful to equate the term antichrist with the term “anti-messiah.” The two words “Christ” and “messiah” are talking about the same thing, it’s just that one is Greek and one is Hebrew. There were, at that time, many people assuming positions of leadership and starting movements claiming that God was acting in different sorts of ways or working within them in a special way. By the time John is writing his letters, there were even people coming out of the early church itself that were claiming this sort of thing, just as Jesus has predicted above. John is saying these people are antichrists, or anti-messiahs, based not only who they are claiming to be but what they are teaching, and he describes them and what he means by the term in 2:22: “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.”
2. The antichrists John refers to might have been claiming Jesus was never human.
There is a lot that can fall under the umbrella of “denying Jesus,” so is there any way to know specifically of what this false teaching consisted? There might be. Later in the letter, John says this,
“…every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3).
So, every spirit that confesses Jesus has come in the flesh is from God. Otherwise, they’re not…that’s an interesting clarification. To deny that Jesus is the Christ, or has come “in the flesh,” is to separate Jesus of Nazareth (human) from Jesus the Christ (divine). This gets into some dangerous territory by claiming, whether indirectly or directly, that the two cannot unite. This goes against one of the foundational principles of the Christian faith, which is what Peter says in Acts 2:36: “Therefore, let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” This was a big deal for John, too, as he says at the outset of his Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
3. The reason they are antichrist is because they are causing division within the community
It’s not that these false teachers were teaching wrong things about Jesus; it is what that teaching was doing among the community. False teaching isn’t bad just because it’s false; it is bad because it causes division and disunity among the church who is called to love one another and be unified. That’s who we are; it is part of our identity as followers of Jesus. If we’re better together, antichrists are those who are tearing us apart.
In v. 27, John writes “As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.”
The word for “anointing” is the same root word for Messiah, which means “Anointed One.” In the New Testament for Everyone series, biblical scholar N.T. Wright notes about this section how John juxtaposes those two terms. Those who are “anti-anointed ones” and those who are the anointed ones of the Anointed One are contrasted. This is significant, because if God calls us his own through Jesus, and the antichrists are splitting us apart, then John is saying that they are not only denying Jesus, they deny his children. If our identity is found in Christ, then antichrists are trying to take that identity away from us, denying us of who we truly are, where we’ve come from, and who we are called to be in the world.
The words for John’s audience are not that different from ours today. There are, right now, many people, organizations, ideas, groups or what have you that are causing us to divide as a church. In the truest sense of the term, these are antichrists and we, too, must abide in Christ “what we have heard from the beginning” and not be deceived by them.
 Wright. N.T. The Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John, and Judah. (Westminster John Knox, 2011), 146.
This article originally appeared here.