I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.3 John 1:13
The minor prophets and epistles in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament lay ignored, when in actuality, they offer clear insight–especially regarding the founding of the church and the nuts-and-bolts concerns of the era. They shed light on the fears and hopes that existed within people; and what possessed them to do what they did.
While these accounts are not comprehensive by any means, it would be short-sighted to dismiss the details that have been recorded. In what is said and unsaid, we can use our intellect to come to our own conclusion.
John the Apostle
St. John was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is generally listed as the young one; or should I say, the youngest one. He outlived the other Apostles and was the only one to die of natural causes.
Scholars now refute the claim that he is the author of the books that have been named after him. There are certain details, however, that scholars have ascertained; namely that St. John may have been the son of Salome–the sister of Mother Mary–which would have made him Jesus’ cousin.
The Gospel of John–as well as all the other gospels–reflect the recollections of eyewitnesses; such as the house at Bethany being filled with the fragrance of the broken perfume jar. St. John, along with St. Peter, are traditionally believed to have played a prominent role in the founding of the church.
St. John, in particular, was identified as ‘the beloved apostle’ of Jesus. Since he was once considered the author of the Book of Revelation and several epistles, he played an extremely prominent role in art from the early Christian period onward.
In recent years, scholars have forcefully argued that the Gospel of John has elements in common with Gnosticism. Since Christian Gnosticism is held to not have developed until a century or two later; the claim that the Gospel of John contains elements of Gnosticism is to assume that Gnosticism had developed to a level that required the yet-to-be-identified author to respond to it.
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.1 John 1:5
The most inflaming comments that were made in John 1 and 2 have to do with the conceptualisation of an antichrist. It is in the Gospel of John that the earliest known occurrence of the term “antichrist” is espoused. The term and the concept would later be handed down to the ensuing generations that followed.
How much of it is tradition and how much of it is actually gospel? Bad pun, I know. Scholars and religious leaders (and these days, even Hollywood filmmakers) have always sought to ‘fill in the blanks’ using their judgement. While these traditions are rooted in scripture, a great deal of them are based on derivations; and at times, even imagination.
We can’t seem to tell the difference between which is which anymore. When it comes to the antichrist, the great battle scene is a long drama and an epic odyssey.
The stereotypical image of the antichrist is a one-dimensional one. He is an evil solitary genius who is Satan’s personal agent or Devil incarnate on earth. He is usually depicted as a political or business leader. He will reign over ‘the end of the world’ and persecute those who refuse to worship or submit to him. He is the all powerful darkness that seeks to destroy all that is good.
But in the end, a cosmic battle will ensue. Christ will return, destroy the antichrist and bring him to a fiery end. Is it just me or does it sound like a Hollywood movie? We know where the filmmakers got that idea.
Jokes aside, in the context of scripture and its various interpretations, it is a narrative of Christ and the Antichrist engaged in continued spiritual warfare. Except there’s one problem. The idea of spiritual warfare is not a Christian one, but a Zoroastrian one. It was conceptualised by Zoroaster well before the birth of Christianity.
The term “antichrist”, which was allegedly coined by St. John, was frequently used by church leaders and writers of successive generations. It was used to vilify and persecute the political and religious figures of their own times as well as their communities.
There are certain key criteria that one has to meet to ‘qualify’ as an antichrist. He is usually someone who has ‘left’ his community. In the Gospel of John, a sharp line is being drawn between two groups: those who belong to Christ and those who belong to the antichrist.
The text recognises that the main reason why people join and remain in a particular community is that they find its life and the community to be compelling. To leave the community is to join Satan and its agents of evil. The identification of the opposite group with the ‘antichrist’ is a powerful rhetorical devise. Not only does it provide a huge condemnation and sanction against leaving the community, it identifies that ‘the greatest evil’ is often born within.
While on first glance, the rhetoric leaves us with an ‘us versus them’ mentality, the plot does thicken. The struggle against the antichrist is not just about friend versus enemy; or even friend vs friend. It is a struggle that goes on inside the community itself and, by extension, within each member of that community.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.1 John 4:7