What happens in your mind when someone says, “antichrist”? I bet you imagine things like plagues, fire, destruction, torment, warning. Those premonitions are warranted; the writings of John having gone far in crafting that type of imagery.1 Look now at the first verse of this lesson.
18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18–ESV)
When you read verse 18 that demon-driven specter of evil known from the Book of Revelation likely comes to mind. That, however, is not how John’s readers would have perceived it as the Book of Revelation followed these letters2. What the readership would have been familiar with were the words of Jesus Christ himself. Let us consider some of those now.
Matthew 243 begins with Jesus and his disciples on a walk. Jesus had just concluded his proclamation of woe on the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He had lamented over Jerusalem, and his little band headed out of Jerusalem. That night he would end up on the Mount of Olives. Can you recall what the disciples marveled over as they left Jerusalem? It was the magnificence of the buildings. Shortly after this Jesus would give the disciples a lesson about the end of time, and here is an excerpt.
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. (Matthew 24:3-6–ESV)
Words from one of Jesus’ final sermons would have been well circulated and understood. In those sermons, Jesus foretold that many would come claiming to be the Messiah and cause many to stray. That was the context of Christendom at the time of John’s letter into which he expanded the concept of antichrist. A whole cadre of people was coming, indeed were already among them, whose manner and teaching would stand against, as a replacement for, the things which Jesus and the apostles taught.