Many Antichrists Have Come

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. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23)

The term “antichrist” has been popularized as a reference to a future demon-possessed dictator who would wield his formidable political and military might to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ. However, such a figure is more aptly represented by the “beast” in Revelation, which arguably found its fulfillment in the first century. On the other hand, the antichrist is mentioned only in the letters of John, and is never connected with political or military power. An antichrist is what the term suggests – someone who is against Christ. Thus the term can refer to any non-Christian, but it is especially applicable to false teachers, that is, those who oppose the idea that Jesus is the Christ.

An antichrist is not a political adversary, but a doctrinal adversary. And there is not only one antichrist, but as John writes, “even now many antichrists have come” (2:18). It is silly for Christians to speculate about some political antichrist in Europe or some other place, when they have truckloads of them in their own churches and seminaries. What makes a person an antichrist? John writes, “He denies the Father and the Son,” and in this context, he does this mainly by denying the Son, and to deny the Son is also to deny the Father. This is “the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.”

“Christ” is not just a random sound or title. John has made clear what he means by the term from the outset of this letter. Christ is the one who had been the Word, and who had been with the Father since the beginning, even before the creation of the world, and who then appeared in human form, in a physical body that can be seen, heard, and touched. Then, John also mentions his work of atonement (which entails his sacrificial death) and his work as advocate (which assumes his resurrection and ascension). Therefore, to affirm that Jesus is the Christ means to affirm his incarnation, including his divinity and his humanity, and also his work of atonement, his resurrection, his ascension, and his continual role as high priest for his people. Because this is what John means by “Christ,” it follows that he means that someone who denies any of this denies that Jesus is the Christ, and this makes him an antichrist.

John continues, “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” This is the Christian answer to religious diversity. The world says that everyone is entitled to his own beliefs, that there are many ways to God, and that we are not to condemn other people for disagreeing with us. Against this, the Christian faith declares that nobody is entitled to his own beliefs, that there is only one way to God, and that we are to condemn everybody who disagrees with this. “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” Again, this refers to the denial of what John means when he calls Jesus the Christ – that Jesus was the incarnation of the Son of God, so that he was both divine and human, that Jesus died and made atonement for the sins of the chosen ones, that he was raised from the dead, and that he is now at the right hand of God as high priest and advocate for his people.

No one who denies any of this, that is, no one who denies the Son, has the Father. This must direct how we think about other religions, including the faith of those Jews who deny that Jesus is the Christ. I mention this because some Christians regard the Jews as their brothers in faith, at times even their superiors, although the Jews deny that Jesus is the Christ just as much as Muslims and Buddhists do. Do we think that the Jews have fellowship with God, only that they need to catch up to the Christians by acknowledging Jesus as well? But John says, “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” If they do not accept what we say about Jesus, then they have no fellowship with God – at all. They have fellowship with God just as much as the atheists do – that is, zero.

Anybody who had fellowship with God in the Old Testament knew and believed in Jesus Christ, although they had to believe in the promise rather than the fulfillment, and we possess a richer revelation about Christ than they did. God promised a savior to Adam and Eve, and from then on the promise – that is, the gospel – was passed down from generation to generation, while God continued to expand on it by his revelations to the prophets. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Moses predicted that a prophet like him would appear, and he visited Christ on the mount of transfiguration.

This has always been true: “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” Thus since the beginning of the world, the only ones who have been saved from hell and who have gained fellowship with God were “Christians.” It is not an anachronism to apply this term to Old Testament figures. In this sense the Christian faith is an outgrowth and completion of the Jewish faith, but not of a Jewish faith that denies Jesus Christ! A Jewish faith that denies Jesus Christ has no true connection with the faith of the Old Testament, but it is a mere cultural relic. We are the spiritual descendents of ancient “Christians,” and not the descendents of ancient antichrists. The Bible has never been anything but a Christian Bible. From the time of Adam to Abraham, and from Moses to Jesus, this faith has never been anything but the Christian faith.

Jesus said that if the Jews had believed Moses, then they would have believed in Jesus also, because Moses predicted the coming of Jesus and commanded the people to believe in him. Therefore, there is no such thing as a Jew who truly believes Moses who is not also a believer in Jesus, or a Christian. If he does not believe in Jesus, then neither does he believe Moses.

Now if the Jews, that is, those who are not Christians, do not know God, then it is even more obvious that all other non-Christians do not know God. This is the message of the apostles, and anybody who claims to be a Christian but who relaxes this even a little has aligned himself with the antichrists, because it is certain that he does not understand or acknowledge the idea of the Christ, and that Jesus is the Christ. “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” This applies to Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, atheists, and all those who are non-Christians. “Whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” In other words, whoever is a Christian has fellowship with God, but whoever is not a Christian (no matter what kind of non-Christian he is) does not know God.

Even if we believe that all non-Christians are condemned to hell, perhaps we can be polite about this? John does not think so. He calls the antichrist a liar. In fact, he repeatedly calls his opponents liars in the letter, and he uses many other terms in his Gospel and in Revelation. Sometimes I come across comments on debates between Christian and non-Christian scholars, and the positive reviews from believers often echo the refrain that the exchanges were “refreshing” because both sides remained “respectful” of the opponents, so that there was “more light than heat,” and so on. But if the Bible calls non-Christians all sorts of demeaning names, then have the Christians presented the biblical worldview if they have repeated none of them? Do the non-Christians really get a sense of what God thinks about them after these debates?

Christians have allowed non-Christians to frame the way that they think about unbelief and how they talk about Jesus Christ. (If that happens to you, realize that you are already defeated.) But let the non-Christians insult their wives and daughters, or even their favorite football teams and video games, and there comes the indignation! There comes the hostility! Jesus Christ has become an object of detached academic discussion, because that is “scholarly”! If this is what it means to be scholars, then let us become prophets instead. As the disciples of Jesus Christ, and as those who have inherited the apostolic message, we have a duty to call non-Christians what they are. Therefore, let us revive the biblical practice of name-calling, and of insulting and deriding unbelievers and false teachers.