Seventh day in the Octave of Christmas, December 31 – Reading

Commentary on 1 John 2:18-21

Today we look at the Fourth Condition for ‘walking in the light’. This calls for us to be on our guard against ‘Antichrists’.

“This is the final hour,” the writer tells his readers. It is the last hour in the sense of being that period between the death and resurrection of Jesus and his Second Coming in glory and judgement. The early Christians believed that the Second Coming would happen even in their lifetime. They believed that they were living in the ‘final hour’ and one of the signs would be the appearance of anti-Messiahs and false teachers. However, by the time this letter was written towards the end of the 1st century AD, that expectation was being modified.

Nevertheless, it is a warning that we need to take seriously. Our planet as we know it may continue for thousands of years (although we are doing our best to prevent that happening!) but what is much more relevant is that the ‘final hour’ of each one of us is not far away. Some of us will go on to a ripe old age and slip away when we have reached the fullness of our time but many others, perhaps the majority, will be cut short by sickness, disease or some other unforeseen happening. The warning today is timely.

Before that final day, the letter warns that the ‘Antichrist’ is coming. It is a term only found in the First and Second Letters of John. However, both Matthew (24:24) and Mark (13:22) speak of ‘false Messiahs’. Speaking of the ‘last days’ Mark quotes Jesus as saying: “Then, if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!” – do not believe him. For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear” (Mark 13:21-22). In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess 2:3) there is mention of “the Wicked One”. The gospels of Mark and Matthew and the Book of Revelation speak of several persons rather than just one.

1 John seems to make a distinction between an ‘anti-Christ’ who comes from outside the community (personified in the Roman emperors who persecuted the church) and those false teachers who come from inside. The Church has always been and always will be attacked from without and within.

‘Antichrists’ in the plural are linked to all those who are spreading false teaching about Christ and the Gospel within the community. And their presence is, says the letter, an indication that the ‘final hour’ is already on its way. However, many of these have since left the community, an indication that they never really belonged. Those who have been truly anointed by the Spirit are those who stay. “They have received knowledge”. In other words, they are genuinely in touch with Jesus and with God. The ‘knowing’ is based on personal experience and not simply on a set of ideas.

As Christians today we are constantly bombarded from within and without by people who, wittingly or unwittingly, are trying to undermine the vision of the Kingdom which Jesus passed on to us. We should not be surprised at this. It is foretold again and again in the Gospel and the New Testament generally. And we have to admit that some of the accusations thrown against us are true. Many, however, are trying to undermine our central mission. What is important is how we respond. The only way we can respond is through word and action always to ‘speak the Truth in love’. 

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