Antichrist and Antichrists
1 John 2:17 says,
17 And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.
We have already reconciled the apparent contradiction between “God so loved the world” and “love not the world.” Recall that it is really about priorities and idolatry. If the things of the world take priority over the word (commandments) of God, then we have a heart idol that must be overthrown before we can have the mind of Christ.
With that in mind, John says that “the world is passing away.” He does not mean that the earth itself is passing away, nor is he saying that God’s labor to create the universe was only a temporary project. Such thinking presumes that creation is evil, or that Adam’s sin corrupted creation so fully that it became irretrievable. That view might fit with Greek philosophy, but not with the Hebrew revelation of Scripture.
The Greek word cosmos, “world,” is not the same as the word ge, “earth.” The word ge is used Matt. 6:10, where Jesus says, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The cosmos is the world order and its arrangement. It includes the nations, their customs, and beliefs. The cosmos is passing away, because God has a plan that will be fulfilled.
Since Adam’s sin, the cosmos has been infected, and this is why the nations are “in an uproar” (Psalm 2:1). This is why the people imagine vain things and why the kings of the earth resist Yahweh and His Anointed One (Psalm 2:2). The nations have ordered their world around a revolt against the Creator, and they are willing to kill anyone who stands in their way. They have declared war on the Creator.
This is what is passing away. God’s plan is to cure the problem, not to destroy the earth. It is to remove sin and bring heaven to earth, not to separate heaven from earth. Scripture ends with the marriage of heaven and earth, not their divorce. The divine purpose for the earth will be fulfilled, for God is not a failure. Success is guaranteed, because God did not foolishly give away His sovereignty.
The “lusts” of the cosmos, John says, are passing away as well. Any desire that does not conform to God’s desire is only a temporary feature of the world order. The cross is the cure, which reconciled all things to Christ and made peace between God and His creation (Col. 1:16-20).
In other words, when all is said and done, all creation will be in harmony with its Creator. His desires will be their desires. There will be agreement in all things, and no one will sin or even desire to sin. All things will be put under the feet of Christ (1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22), because everyone’s priorities will be adjusted to perfection.
So, as John says, “the one who does the will of God abides forever.” There are a few who now do the will of God. These will abide for the eon (eis ton aiona). In other words, these will inherit life in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6) and fully “abide” in Christ for the final Eon, or Age. Others will join them at the general resurrection (Rev. 20:12; John 5:28, 29) and abide in Christ until the Creation Jubilee, when all creation is set free from its slavery to corruption (Rom. 8:20, 21).
No one will abide forever (with immortality) until they have done the will of God. Yet all will indeed do the will of God, for their eyes will be opened at various stages of history until all see and understand the love of God toward them and toward His creation as a whole.
That is the plan. It will succeed.
In the flow of John’s letter, he first writes about the world order and how its desires are in temporary opposition to the desires of God. He then speaks of “antichrists,” or those who oppose the right of Jesus Christ to rule the earth. These rebels then usurp His throne and pretend that they are accountable to no one. This condition was prophesied in Psalm 2:1-3,
1 Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord [Yahweh] and against His Anointed [Messiah, or Christ]: 3 “let us tear their fetters apart, and cast away their cords from us!”
The Greek term anti literally means “in place of.” The term is not necessarily a term of opposition, because there are times when a man can replace another in a lawful way. For example, Matt. 2:22 says, “when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of [anti] his father Herod….” Archelaus did not usurp his father’s throne; he replaced his dead father as the king.
John, however, uses the term anti in its negative sense, where the kings have usurped the throne of Christ, as prophesied in Psalm 2:2. 1 John 2:18, 19, 20 says,
18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
The antichrists are those who support antichrist. They support an antichrist agenda, which, generally speaking, is the plan and desire to usurp the throne of Christ. Obviously, usurpers had been rising up for a long time, and John recognized that it was going on in his own time, saying, “even now many antichrists have arisen.”
In modern times, the church has focused so intently on “The Antichrist” that they have often failed to ask themselves who the antichrists were in the first century when John wrote his epistle. If antichrists existed in the first century, which antichrist did they support? Some point to Roman emperors such as Nero (in Paul’s day) or Domitian (in the latter part of the first century). Certainly, these men had usurped the place of Christ, for they did not recognize the right of Jesus Christ to rule all nations. However, I do not think that John had them in mind specifically.
The Great Usurpation
The four gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ, who was born of the tribe of Judah and of the seed of David, to fulfill the prophecies given to both Judah and David. Jesus’ genealogy was important, because it established His throne rights according to prophecy. According to Gen. 49:10, Judah had been given the scepter,
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between His feet until Shiloh comes, and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
From the tribe of Judah came King David, and God established his throne and lineage in 2 Sam. 7:16, 17, saying,
16 “And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” 17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.
This was confirmed later in Psalm 89:3, 4, telling us that the throne of David was established by a covenant,
3 I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever, and build up your throne to all generations. Selah.
So Jesus came as “the Son of David” (Matt. 1:1), showing that the throne of Judah was rightfully His. However, Jesus was opposed by the Jewish leaders, who did not want Him to be the king. Hence, they killed Him and usurped His throne.
This opposition is seen clearly in many of Jesus’ parables, including the long parable of the “certain nobleman” who “went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return” (Luke 19:12). The nobleman obviously represented Jesus Himself, who went to heaven to appeal His case to the heavenly court “and then return” in the second coming of Christ.
Before Christ ascended to heaven, He gave various gifts and callings to “His slaves” (Christian believers) with instructions to “do business with this until I come back” (Luke 19:13).
Then Jesus said in Luke 19:14,
14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us.”
In other words, the priestly leaders who had usurped Christ’s throne prayed and appealed their case to the heavenly court, hoping that God would rule in their favor and give them the throne rights that had been promised to David and his seed. When the “nobleman” returns, Jesus says, he will give rewards to his servants according to their faithfulness in doing “business” with that which had been entrusted to them.
Then the parable concludes in Luke 19:27,
27 But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.
It is clear that the usurpers were to lose their case and that the nobleman was to win approval in the heavenly court case. In other words, when Jesus returns, He will take the throne that is rightfully His, and the usurpers (antichrists) will be executed for treason.
If there had been a single “antichrist” in Jesus’ day, it would have been Caiaphas, the high priest, for he was the leader of the opposition party. No doubt there is a leader today of the same opposition party, who will fulfill the prophecy in Luke 19:27 and be executed along with his fellow antichrists.
The question, however, is how John saw this in his day, for he witnessed this great usurpation of Christ’s throne. He understood that there were “many antichrists” in his day, many who supported the chief priests in the temple in Jerusalem in their plot to usurp the throne of David for their own benefit.