Not surprisingly, some commentators have identified “he who is in this World” [1 John 4.4] with Devil, but the more likely candidate is the current anti-Christ, whose “spirit” has just been said to be already in the World. But perhaps the commentators are right, since the concluding
summary of the Epistle asserts a connection between the World and Devil (under the name of ho Poneros):
We know that those who are born of God do not sin, and the Harmful One does not touch them. We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole World lies within the Harmful One. (1 John 5.18-19)
In the very brief Second and Third Epistles, only the Second adds to the themes that we have been studying in the First Epistle. Prester John tells his readers:
Many deceivers have gone out into the World, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Such a person is the deceiver and the anti-Christ. (2 John 7)
Once again, we see confirmation that anti-Christs are multiple, encompassing all those who do not have the right doctrine about Christ.
Yet, believe it or not, the last sentence has been taken to refer to Satan and his Main Man, the Antichrist. Here, for example, is the Jerusalem Bible translation:
There are many deceivers at large in the world, refusing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in human nature. They are the Deceiver; they are the Antichrist. (NJB 2 John 7)
Or maybe this translation is just saying that such deceivers add up to Antichrist, also called “the Deceiver.” But that would be to make Antichrist a personification or an abstraction. In the Gospel of John, we had the opposite grammatical problem, when Jesus refers to Judas as diabolos, “a devil,” in contrast to ho Diabolos, “Devil.”
The upshot of our analysis of John the Presbyter’s first letter is that he designates Devil as a source or patron of wickedness and injustice, who is especially associated with hatred, as in the case of Cain’s hatred of his brother. Heretical Christians who deny that Jesus was the Christ or Messiah are called anti-Christs. They are not directly
associated with Devil, but rather with the World, although since the World is said to be “in Devil,” we may wish to see Devil as fostering this heresy. Nevertheless, there is no warrant for saying that John envisages a single great adversary called Antichrist.