18 Παιδία, ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν, καὶ καθὼς ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἀντίχριστος ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἀντίχριστοι πολλοὶ γεγόνασιν, ὅθεν γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν. 19 ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθαν ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν· εἰ γὰρ ἐξ ἡμῶν ἦσαν, μεμενήκεισαν ἂν μεθʼ ἡμῶν· ἀλλʼ ἵνα φανερωθῶσιν ὅτι οὐκ εἰσὶν πάντες ἐξ ἡμῶν.
1 John 2:18-19
I have read these verses more times that I can remember. In particular, I have heard 2:19 used in connection with those who have fallen away from the faith in a number of sermons. But it seems that what John is saying of these who went out from us (ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθαν) is much stronger than what I initially thought or heard from the pulpit.
First, John gives warning that it is the last hour (ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν). He next reminds the readers that what they heard regarding the coming antichrist (καθὼς ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἀντίχριστος ἔρχεται) is now taking place in the appearing of many antichrists (καὶ νῦν ἀντίχριστοι πολλοὶ γεγόνασιν). It is the coming of these antichrists that gives John and the readers assurance that this is indeed the last hour (ὅθεν γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν).
Okay, that is all clear and obvious. It is how this relates to 2:19 that is quite revealing. In 2:19 John speaks of those who go and abandon their previously held position among the community. He says, “they went out from us (ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθαν), but they were not of us (ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν); for if they were of us, they would have remained with us (εἰ γὰρ ἐξ ἡμῶν ἦσαν, μεμενήκεισαν ἂν μεθʼ ἡμῶν); but so that it may be manifested that they all are not of us, they went out from us (ἀλλʼ ἵνα φανερωθῶσιν ὅτι οὐκ εἰσὶν πάντες ἐξ ἡμῶν).
Again, 2:19 is pretty straight forward it what it is saying. But what is not so straight forward is the identity of those who leave the community. While I am familiar with the explanation that these are not true believers, how about this: they are the antichrists mentioned in 2:18. These are not just unbelievers who have jettisoned their former confession and fellowship with the community of believers. These are antichrists! A few verse later John tells us that these antichrists are ones who deny that Jesus is the Christ. Their denial leads to their departure, which manifests them as antichrists, which is an indication that we are in the last days.
Now, I am not going to go around calling people who leave their confession of faith antichrists. I will still pray that God would grant them repentance and lead them to a true confession in Christ, one that will lead to eternal life. But John does not mence words when it comes to these people who forsake the community of believers.
Just my thoughts on these passages.