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THE PAROUSIA IN THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
Commentators are much divided on the questions, When, where, by whom, and to whom, this epistle was written. There is no evidence on the subject except that which may be found in the epistle itself, and this gives ample scope for difference in opinion. Lange, who doubts the authenticity of the epistle, says that it ‘has quite the air of having been composed before the destruction of Jerusalem;’ and Lücke, who maintains its authenticity, is also of the opinion ‘that it may gave been written shortly before that event.’ We think any candid mind will be satisfied, after a careful study of the internal evidence, first, that the epistle is a genuine production of St. John; and, secondly, that it was written on the very eve of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is impossible to overlook the fact, which everywhere meets us in the epistle, that the writer believes himself on the verge of a solemn crisis, for the arrival of which he urges his readers to be prepared. This is in harmony with all the apostolic epistles, and proves incontestably that their authors all alike shared in the belief of the near approach of the great consummation.
THE WORLD PASSING AWAY: THE LAST HOUR COME.
We have frequently in the course of this investigation had occasion to remark how the New Testament writers speak of ‘the end’ as fast approaching. We have also seen what that expression refers to. Not to the close of human history, nor the final dissolution of the material creation; but the close of the Jewish aeon or dispensation, and the abolition and removal of the order of things instituted and ordained by divine wisdom under that economy. This great consummation is often spoken of in language which might seem to imply the total destruction of the visible creation. Notably this is the case in the Second Epistle of St. Peter; and the same might also be said of our Lord’s prophetic language in Matt. xxiv. 24.
We find the same symbolic form of speech in the passage now before us: ‘the world passeth away’ [o kosmoz paragetai]. To the apprehension of the apostle it was already ‘passing away;’ the very expression used by St. Paul in 1 Cor. vii. 31, with reference to the same event [paragei gar to schma tou kosmou toutou] ‘the fashion of this world is passing away.’
The impression of the Apostle John of the nearness of ‘the end’ seems, if possible, more vivid than of the other apostles. Perhaps when he wrote he stood still nearer to the crisis than they. In this view it is worthy of notice that there is a marked gradation in the language of the different epistles. The last times become the last days, and now the last days become the last hour [escath wra esti]. The period of expectation and delay was now over, and the decisive moment was at hand.
THE ANTICHRIST COME, A PROOF OF ITS BEING THE LAST HOUR.
In this passage for the first time ‘the dreaded name’ of antichrist rises before us. This fact of itself is sufficient to prove the comparatively late date of the epistle. That which appears in the epistles of St. Paul as a shadowy abstraction has now taken a concrete shape, and appears embodied as a person,---‘the antichrist.’
It is certainly remarkable, considering the place which this name has filled in theological and ecclesiastical literature, how very small a space it occupies in the New Testament. Except in the epistles of St. John, the name antichrist never occurs in the apostolic writings. But though the name is absent, the thing is not unknown. St. John evidently speaks of ‘the antichrist’ as an idea familiar to his readers,---a power whose coming was anticipated, and whose presence was an indication that ‘the last hour’ had come. ‘Ye have heard that the antichrist cometh; even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour.’
We expect, then, to find traces of this expectation---predictions of the coming antichrist---in other parts of the New Testament. And we are not disappointed. It is natural to look, in the first place, to our Lord’s eschatological discourse on the Mount of Olives for some intimation of this coming danger and the time of its appearance. We find notices in that discourse of ‘false christs and false prophets’ (Matt. xxiv. 5, 11, 24), and we are ready to conclude that these must mean the same evil power designated by St. John the antichrist. The resemblance of the name favours this supposition; and the period of their appearance,---on the eve of the final catastrophe, seems to increase the probability almost to certainty.
There is, however, a formidable objection to this conclusion, viz. that the false christs and false prophets alluded to by our Lord seem to be mere Jewish impostors, trading on the credulity of their ignorant dupes, or fanatical enthusiasts, the spawn of that hot-bed of religious and political frenzy which Jerusalem became in here last days. We find the actual men vividly portrayed in the passages of Josephus, and we cannot recognise in them the features of the antichrist as drawn by St. John. They were the product of Judaism in its corruption, and not of Christianity. But the antichrist of St. John is manifestly of Christian origin. This is certain from the testimony of the apostle himself: ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us,’ etc. (ver. 19). This proves that the antichristian opponents of the Gospel must at some time have made a profession of Christianity, and afterwards have become apostates from the faith.
It cannot indeed be said to be impossible that the false christs and false prophets of the last days of Jerusalem could have been apostates from Christianity; but there is no evidence to show this either in the prophecy of our Lord or in the history of the time.
On the other hand, in the apostolic notices of the predicted apostasy this feature of its origin is distinctly marked. We have already seen how St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John all agree in their description of ‘the falling away’ of the last days. (See Conspectus of passages relating to the Apostasy, p. 251). Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that the apostates of the two former apostles are identical with the antichrist of the last. They are alike in character, in origin, and in the time of their appearing. They are the bitter enemies of the Gospel; they are apostates from the faith; they belong to the last days. These are marks of identity too numerous and striking to be accidental; and we are therefore justified in concluding that the antichrist of St. John is identical with the apostasy predicted by St. Paul and St. Peter.
ANTICHRIST NOT A PERSON, BUT A PRINCIPLE.
In the opinion of some commentators the name ‘the antichrist’ is supposed to designate a particular individual, the incarnation and embodiment of enmity to the Lord Jesus Christ; and as no such person has hitherto appeared in history, they have concluded that his manifestation is still future, but that the personal antichrist may be expected immediately before the ‘end of the world.’ This seems to have been the opinion of Dr. Alford, who says:---
There is here, however, a strange confounding of things which are entirely different,---‘the man of sin’ and ‘the apostasy;’ the former undoubtedly a person, as we have already seen; the latter a principle, or heresy, manifesting itself in a multitude of persons. It is impossible, with this declaration of St. John before us,---‘Even now are there many antichrists,’---to regard the antichrist as a single individual. It is true that in every individual who held the antichristian error, antichrist might be said to be personified; but this is a very different thing from saying that the error is incarnate and embodied in one particular persona as its head and representative. The expression ‘many antichrists’ proves that the name is not the exclusive designation of any individual.
But the most common and popular interpretation is that which makes the name antichrist refer to the Papacy. From the time of the Reformation this has been the favourite hypothesis of Protestant commentators; nor is it difficult to understand why it should have been so. There is a strong family likeness among all systems of superstition and corrupt religion; and no doubt much of the Papal system may be designated antichristian; but it is a very different thing to say that the antichrist of St. John is intended to describe the pope or the Papal system. Alford decidedly rejects this hypothesis:---
But the language of the apostle himself is decisive against such an application of the name antichrist. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how such an interpretation could have taken root in the face of his own express declarations. The antichrist of St. John is not a person, nor a succession of persons, but a doctrine, or heresy, clearly noted and described. More than this, it is declared to be already existing and manifested in the apostle’s own days: ‘Even NOW are there many antichrists;’ ‘this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world’ (1 John vi. 18; iv. 3). This ought to be decisive for all who bow to the authority of the Word of God. The hypothesis of an antichrist embodied in an individual still to come has not basis in Scripture; it is a fiction of the imagination, and not a doctrine of the Word of God.
MARKS OF THE ANTICHRIST.
Here we may be said to have a full-length portrait of the antichrist, or, as we should rather say, the antichristian heresy or apostasy. From this description it distinctly appears,---
Doubtless, if we possessed fuller historical information concerning that period we should be better able to verify the predictions and allusions which we find in the New Testament; but we have quite enough of evidence to justify the conclusion that all came to pass according to the Scriptures. Whether the false prophets spoken of by Josephus as infesting the last agonies of the Jewish commonwealth are identical with the false prophets of our Lord’s prediction and the antichrist of St. John, it is not easy to determine. But the testimony of the apostle himself is decisive on the question of the antichrist. Here he is at the same time both prophet and historian, for he records the fact that ‘even now are there many antichrists;’ ‘many false prophets are gone out into the world.’
ANTICIPATION OF THE PAROUSIA.
In these exhortations and counsels St. John is in perfect accord with the other apostles, whose constant admonitions to the Christian churches of their time urged the habitual expectation of the Parousia, and therefore fidelity and constancy in the midst of danger and suffering. The language of St. John proves,---
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