This section of John contrasts Christians with antichrists. This is the first time the word “antichrists” appears in the Bible, and it only appears in John’s epistles. However the theology behind an Antichrist is in both the Old and New Testament. Most Christians today hear the ominous word and imagine a larger than life figure who commands the attention of the world leading up to the final battle of Armageddon. The end of time “Antichrist” will appear good initially but will eventually turn against Christ and anyone who follows him. As with all eschatology there is much debate over what he will really be like and what will happen, but there is no need to get into that with this particular passage.
Some find reason to disbelieve the Bible in the fact that John wrote that we were in the last hour around two thousand years ago, and Jesus still has not returned. MacArthur explains that the last hour began when Jesus arrived. The two ages outlined in the New Testament are the present age and the age to come. The present age is an evil age (Gal. 1:4), stretching from the beginning to the end of evil. “The age to come is the Kingdom when righteousness will prevail in the world and Christ will rule with a rod of iron, the great Millennial Kingdom, the thousand-year reign of Christ that's promised in the Old Testament, promised in the New Testament and described for us in the end of the book of Revelation… John says it is the last hour of this present evil age... in which we live… because the Messiah [had] come.”
Throughout the history of the church there has been speculation about who that Antichrist might be. But the key to these verses is that this future man is not the only antichrist. He is just the final one. The broader term “antichrists” refers to those following any “principle of evil that is hostile and opposed to God” (MacArthur). One reason people of every generation have put forth suppositions of who the “Antichrist” might be is because evil men in opposition have existed in every generation, either blatantly opposing God like Antiochus Epiphanies or subtly attempting to replace the truth of God with their own deceptions like Vladimir Lenin.
An antichrist can mean someone who is an adversary of Christ or someone who is a false representation of Christ. “To make it very simple, Jesus said this in Matthew 12:30, ‘He who is not with Me, is against Me.’ And there isn't any middle ground. You're either with Him, or you're against Him, that's it. You're either a Christian, or an antichrist. Kind of hard to think about the fact that antichrist wait on you in the restaurant, check you out of the market, but they do. Anybody who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, who does not embrace Him as Messiah, King, as God, as Man is guilty of the spirit of antichrist. You are either for Him, or you're anti-Christ” (MacArthur).
“To John, ‘antichrists’ is another word for false teachers. The Lord gave fair warning to the church about them. He said, ‘False Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect’ (Mk. 13:22). There will be a proliferation of antichrists in the last days – and that is true today. Jesus also said, ‘Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many’ (Mk 13:6). Paul warned the Ephesian elders, saying, ‘After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things’ (Acts 20:29-30). Wherever there are Christians, there will be opposition to Christ” (MacArthur).
It is not possible for the elect to be ultimately deceived from following Christ (Mt. 24:24), but it is certainly possible for them to be confused. John speaks specifically to spiritual babies about false teachers because those mature in their faith are unlikely to be victimized by false doctrine since the true word of God abides in them (1 Jn 2:14). Piper said, “What strikes me is the ease with which many people are deceived. Two things account for this: a lack of grounding in the Word of God and a lack of life in the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way, when people have no theological depth and no vital experience of the Holy Spirit they are sitting ducks for the deceiver and the antichrist.”
McArthur preached, “In some cases true believers drift away from the fellowship for a little while, but they are drawn back. There may even be some believers who drift away and die before they come back. God may have had to discipline them--He alone knows whether they're genuine or not. But the majority who depart from the fellowship were never believers to begin with. What about you? Are you a phony who will depart some day? Or are you a genuine Christian who has been secured by the Spirit and is continuing in the faith?”
The church suffers more from attacks originating from the inside than from the outside. Antichrists originate in the church and then depart from it. MacArthur taught that God allows false teachers to come into a church and pull out the people who aren't genuine in order purge the church. He said, “Some may fall into heresy and apostasy, and that manifests they never were saved. True believers will never fall into apostasy because the Holy Spirit is the Christian's built-in lie detector.” I have personally experienced false teaching in my life, and something within me went off like an alarm, warning me that something wasn’t quite right.
When John wrote that believers do not need anyone to teach them of course he did not mean that no one needs spirit filled human teachers or fellowship with other believers. However we are not to be dependent on any human, no matter how gifted a teacher, but on the wisdom of personally reading God’s Word and applying it to our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. And any teaching encounter must be filtered through the standards and teachings of Scripture.
The last verse commands us to abide in Him. Spurgeon preached, “He is that good ship into which you have entered that He may bear you safely to the desired haven. Abide in the vessel—neither venture to walk on the water, like Peter—nor think to swim by your own strength. ‘Abide in Him,’ and you shall weather every storm… If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone that does righteousness is born of Him. What your Lord bids you, continue to do. Call no man Master, but in all things, submit your thoughts, your words, and your acts to the rule of the Lord Jesus. Obey Him by whose obedience you are justified. Be precise and prompt in your execution of His commands. If others reckon you morbidly conscientious, heed not their opinion but, ‘Abide in Him.’ Cling to the Lord Jesus in your feebleness, in your fickleness, in your nothingness. And abidingly take Him to be everything to you. Abide in the rifts of the Rock of Ages and let nothing tempt you to quit your stronghold.”
Whatever you do - whether vacuuming the floor, leading a Bible Study, watching television, whatever you do – do it to the glory of God. Then you never need fear that you would “shrink away at His coming.” In the words of Spurgeon, “Glory awaits us and nothing but glory, if we abide in Christ. Therefore, keep your garments unspotted, your loins girt, your lamps trimmed, and your lights burning—and you, yourselves, as men and women that look for your Lord—when He comes, you may have confidence and not shame.”