The interpretation of this section depends on the way we understand the first and last verses. "Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour" (2:18). When is this "last hour?" "And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming" (2:28). And how does "the last hour" relate to "when he is revealed" and "His coming"?
The answer is confused by a long line of people obsessed with trying to identify the antichrist. In Reformation times they said it was the Pope. Two hundred years ago it was Napoleon. Then Stalin took on the title, closely followed by Hitler, Mussolini, and Chairman Mao of China. More recent candidates have been Saddam Hussain and Yassar Arafat.
The word Christ should be translated Messiah (as in Matthew 1:1, 17, 18 and throughout the Gospels). And the preposition anti means instead of, or in place of (as in Luke 11:11, "instead of a snake"). So we should translate "some one instead of the Messiah." Anyone who looks to some human messiah to solve their political or personal problems, instead of the Messiah Son of God , is an anti-Messiah. "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Messiah" (2:22, 4:3). "Those who do not confess that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh, any such person is the deceiver and the anti-Messiah" (2 John 7 literal translation).
How then does John knows that it is "the last hour"? (2:18). The reason he gives is because "you have heard that "someone instead of the Messiah is coming" and in fact "many anti-Messiahs have come" (2:18). Here John is referring back to the teaching that Jesus himself had given. He spoke of the destruction of the temple when "not one stone will be left here upon another" (Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2). Every Christian knew that this would happen in the generation of Jesus' hearers (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30). And this in fact happened in the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem in AD 70. But that would be preceded by "Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah' and they will lead many astray" (Matthew 24:5).
In AD 66 there was a successful Jewish revolt against Rome, and in the national euphoria at that time all sorts of people proclaimed themselves, and were viewed as messiah saviors of the Jewish people. At this time many quit their Christian congregations to pursue a political solution, and organize the defense of the city (1 John 2:18-19).
But, as Jesus had said "If anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!' - do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear" (Matthew 24:23). Instead of believing in Jesus as the Messiah and his purpose to terminate the temple in Jerusalem and build his worldwide church, many Jews turned from him to any messiah who offered to lead them against the inevitable Roman counter attack. This came in AD 68 when the Roman legions swept down through the land destroying the Galilean cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Matthew 11:21-24) on the way.
Jesus had warned his disciples that as soon as the Roman legions appeared around Jerusalem (Luke 21:20, see the legion eagle insignia in Matthew 24:28, Luke 17:37 where it should be eagles not vultures) all who believed in him as Messiah must leave the city immediately (Matthew 24:16, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20-21). The Jewish historian Josephus records that the Christians did this, and escaped the siege and destruction of the city.
The second confusion is that people imagine that the Bible only refers to two comings of the Son of God. One is the familiar coming at Christmas to take birth among us. The other is a future coming which has already been delayed for twenty centuries. But the Old Testament is full of comings of the Lord King Messiah Son of God. He came very personally to individuals (Genesis 3:8, 12:7, 15:1, 17:1, 22, 26:2, 24, 32:24-30, Exodus 3:4, 16). But he also came to exercise wrath, and sometimes blessing, among the nations (Genesis 11:5, Exodus 7:5, 12:12, 51, 13:21, 15:19, Psalm 18:9, 68:17, 96:13, Isaiah 26:21).
The prophets used the term "Day of the Lord" (Isaiah 7:20, 13:6, 9, Jeremiah 46:10, Joel 1:15, 2:1) to describe a time when the Lord intervened among the nations. Speaking of the toppling of Babylon, Isaiah said "See the day of the Lord comes,, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger" (Isaiah 13:9). The day of the Lord against Babylon has metaphorical signs (stars, sun, moon, powers being shaken. Here the sun is the emperor, the moon his queen, the stars are all the generals, dignitaries, wealthy merchants of the city (Isaiah 13:10). . And Jesus used exactly the same metaphorical signs for his own coming to destroy the temple and city of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:29-30). In doing this he was claiming "I am the Lord King Messiah who came to destroy Babylon, and I will come in your generation to destroy the temple and city of Jerusalem."
It was this Day of the Lord that the early Christians expected as the time drew closer (1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, Hebrews 10:25, 1 Peter 4:7). And this was the "last hour" that John refers to in this section of his epistle (1 John 2:18, 28). Evidently it is not in the far distant future. "Now many anti-Messiahs have come" (1 John 2:18).
The false prophets and anti-Messiahs (1 John 2:18-22) are exactly the ones Jesus had prophesied would appear (Matthew 24:11, 23, as in Mark 13:3-6, 22). They would precede his "coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 24:30). The term "clouds of heaven" is used again and again to describe a Day of the Lord intervention (Psalm 97:2, 104:3, Isaiah 19:1, Jeremiah 4:13, Joel 2:2). Jesus had made it absolutely clear that his coming would take place in that generation (Matthew 24:34). This is why John knows for certain that "the last hour" was now imminent. This dates John's Epistle in the period from just before the Jewish revolt against Rome (AD 66) to the flight of Christians from Jerusalem (Matthew 24:16) before the siege began in AD 68.
Those who imagine that John is writing about "a last hour" (1 John 2:18) and a coming of the Messiah (1 John 2:28) which is to occur in our third millenium will find it very difficult to make sense of John's certainty that "the last hour" was right then.
Note In the above we have located Jesus' prophecy of his coming (Matthew 24, Mark 13, as in 1 John 2:18-28) in the lifetime of Jesus' hearers (Matthew 23:36, 24:34). This means that we can identify the same pattern of his interventions "in many days of the Lord" throughout history. There will be a final coming of the Messiah to terminate this space-time world. But that is not in view anywhere in this Epistle. But having grasped the importance of looking to him as Messiah in every personal, national, and church "day of the Lord" crisis, we will be kept from looking to human anti-messiahs who claim to offer a worldly solution.
In our own day we can see how the Christians of Ruanda failed to do this when they faced tribal rivalry. Instead they looked to messiahs who led them into the Hutus and Tutsis killing a million of their fellow Christians. A happier outcome was when the Christians of Leipzig and other cities marched in silent candlelight processions looking to the Lord to intervene in their terrible situation. Not one commentator guessed that in one month (November 1989) the iron curtain would be torn down, half a dozen countries would find freedom, and communism would disintegrate. We might add that right now both the Jews and Arabs are looking to anti-messiahs to solve their terrible situation, and no solution will emerge until both begin looking to the Messiah King of kings and Lord of lords.
2:19 In his Gospel John had recorded that when they came to understand the implications of Jesus' teaching "Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66). These were baptized disciples. Similarly now John writes "they went out from us," which suggests that when the Jewish rebellion against Rome took place (AD 66), many fell away from faith in Jesus the Messiah to throw themselves into the fruitless battle under false messiahs to save Jerusalem and its temple.
2:20 Those who remain faithful are those who have the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and they understand the truth.
2:21 Because his readers know this truth by the Spirit, they can discern the lies of the anti-Messiahs.
2:22 Liars (anti-Messiahs) are those who deny that Jesus is the Messiah Son of God.
2:23 When people turned to worldly messiahs to solve political problems, they inevitably denied the Messiah Son of God. It is only by faith in the Son that we can have a proper faith in the Father.
2:24 What will keep them faithful is what John had given them (from the beginning) in his Gospel.
2:25 And there is no eternal life apart from the Son (John 3:16).
2:26 John says he has written his Epistle to warn them against the anti-Messiahs who will tempt to look for a worldly solution instead of the intervention of the Lord King Messiah Son of God.
2:27 But actually they have the anointing of the Holy Spirit (2:20), and he will reveal to them what they need to know. The spirit will never lead them into the lies of the anti-Messiahs. All they need to do is abide in the Messiah (the Vine) and the Spirit will come into their branches like sap from the tree (referring back to John 15:1-5)..
2:28 John changes from children (paidia in 2:18) to little children (teknia) reversing the order of the contrasts in the previous section (see 2:12-14). Here the revealing of the Messiah is when he comes to topple the temple and city of Jerusalem (see the introduction above). By abiding in the Messiah they will "have confidence and not be ashamed" when they face the terrible events of the end of the Jewish state in the next few years (AD 66-70). And this is precisely what we need to do in the "day of the Lord" crises that we all face in our personal, national, and church situations.
D. CHILDREN OF GOD 1 John 2:29-3:10