Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 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, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:18-19).
Again, John calls church members children (Παιδία) in 2:18 and little children (τεκνία) in 2:28. He expresses “the fatherly concern felt by a genuine teacher for those who are still like children in their understanding and need his instruction” (Marshall, 1978, p. 148). The appearance of many antichrists characterizes the last hour. As Calvin (1961) puts it, “For these are signs of the last time” (p. 255). He intimates two things. First, agreeing with Marshall (1978), “the last hour has a sense more like that of ‘the last days’” (p. 148). Stott (1981) agrees, “Christians knew themselves to be living ‘in the last days’” (p. 103). Second, Calvin refers to what we call the inter-advent period, the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming at the end of time.
Matthew 24:11-12 characterizes this period, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” John Murray (1977) comments, “At verse 14, the more auspicious aspect of the inter-adventual history is promised, the worldwide preaching of the gospel” (p. 388). “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). During this period, “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). That is, there are and will be many antichrists. All those who oppose Christ in doctrine and life manifest the spirit of antichrist (2:22, 4;3). The final embodiment of the antichrist, “the Antichrist par excellence” (Marshall, 1978, p. 150), is the man of lawlessness forecast by the Apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
Verse 19, They went out from us, but they were not really of us. John now singles out the many antichrists he mentions in verse 18 (Haas et al., 1972, 63; Marshall, 1978, p. 151; Smalley, 2008, p. 96). He identifies them by their actions. “Originally they were members of the community,” however, “they had now separated themselves from the community … In spite of their external membership, they had never been true members of the Body … They did not share the inner life” (Brooke, 1964, p. 53, cf. 1:3).
John gives the reason for his judgment: For if they had been of us, they would have remained with us. A concrete outcome of the gospel is fellowship (cf. 1:3). “In short, he [John] means that those who fall away have never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ but only had a slight and passing taste of it” (Calvin, 1961, p. 258). How so? Jesus explains in Matthew 13:20-21. “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” Such people appear to be born again because of their initial joy. They have come into the assembly of worship and “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). Judas, who preached the gospel and cast out demons, is an example (Smalley, 2008, p. 97).
In the final analysis, those who oppose Christ, the antichrists, cannot remain in the Christian fellowship. In the case of the church in Asia Minor, they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. Those who oppose Christ are schismatic; they separate from the church. In doing so, they display their real character. This division also displays the distinctive qualities of genuine members of the church. The Apostle Paul makes this point, “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). Such circumstances serve to foster assurance. In them, it pleases God to confirm in their faith those who love Him.
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Calvin, J. (1961). The First Epistle of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Brooke, A. E. (1964). A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Haas, C., et al. (1972). The Letters of John. New York: United Bible Societies.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Murray, J. (1977). Collected Writings (Vol. 2). Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.