One Adventist reader, in response to a recent post, attempted to salvage the Adventist view that the papacy is "the antichrist" with the argument: "In 1 John, John makes clear that there is an antichrist that is in the future (coming), but that antichrists have already appeared (have come) in his day, and that the spirit behind antichrist is already at work in certain false teachers." In this light, he contends that one should not confuse the coming antichrist with the contemporary "antichrists" (and their teachings) John condemns.
A Coming Antichrist?
First, I do not believe the text anticipates a "coming" antichrist. In 1 Jn. 2:18, John reminds his readers that they have heard of a "coming" antichrist, and adds, "so now many antichrists have come." That is, their expectations have been realized. The construction "and just as [kathos]. . . so [kai] now. . . " appears elsewhere in Johannine literature to denote states or actions realized according to a pattern: "as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you" [John 15:9]; "as the Father has sent me, so I send you" [20:21].
"The antichrist" is no longer an anticipated figure in John, but one already present: "Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world" (1 Jn. 4:3; notice the stress on "now" and "already"). The antichrist is manifest in anyone who teaches his doctrines: "those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!" (2 John. 1:7; notice the application of the definite article; they are not merely "antichrists" but "the antichrist"). "The antichrist" is a movement, not a single figure (and yet, somehow, my last post was criticized for having too "restrictive" a view of antichrist).
It is also important to note that there is no "coming" future in John's epistles. John considers the rise of "antichrist" as confirmation that this is "the last hour" (1 Jn. 2:18):
It has been suggested that these Antichrists are meant by the author as precursors of the great Antichrist still to come. . . . That idea is refuted by the use of the Antichrists as a sign of the last hour, for he is not thinking of them as precursors. (Brown, Raymond E., The Epistles of John, The Anchor Bible 30, ed. W.F. Alrbight and D. N. Freedman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 337.)In light of these details, I believe John's epistles do not anticipate another antichrist.
The Doctrine of Antichrist
Even if the text did anticipate an "antichrist" par excellence to come, however, on what grounds do Adventists identify this figure with an entity that has opposed the teachings by which John defines "the spirit of antichrist" and "the antichrist" (cf. 1 Jn. 4:3; 2 Jn. 1:7)? Jesus' wisdom is so simple and applicable here: "how can Satan cast out Satan?" (Mk. 3:23) On what textual basis could we possibly believe "the antichrist" foretold in these epistles would condemn the teachings of "the antichrist" identified in these epistles? Again, on what textual basis (let alone by what stretch of logic!) could that claim possibly be made? And how can that claim be made without contradicting 1 Jn. 4:3: "every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God"? I am sorry; I simply cannot understand how this can be done. The epistles of John were written so that Christians could identify "the antichrist" deception.
(To be continued; feel free to comment though. . .)