In this section of first John the writer touches upon a most basic danger to the church of Christ. He refers to the error and manifestation of those who are most rightly called “antichrists.” The danger for the readers is not really so much from without the church as from within the church, from those who were “out of us” in number but were not “of us” in the faith: No persecution from without threatens. Rather there is a lukewarm spirit of those who deny the essentials of the very Christian religion; and, if it were possible, they would deceive the entire congregation of Christ. The enemy is within the gates. And that makes him so much the more dangerous in his influence.
That the enemy shall not succeed is due to the fact that He that is in the believers is greater than all the forces of evil. They are God’s little children. They have the unction of the Holy One: They all know the truth in Jesus, the fundamental teaching concerning the Son of God having come into the flesh. However, John will remind them concerning what they all know. And those who deny this truth are the “deceivers” and the “liars.” And as such the teaching of these liars is also readily known and perceived by John’s readers.
These deceivers are the Gnostic teachers of John’s day who denied that Jesus is the Son of God; that He is the true God and eternal life. We shall have more to say about these teachers in this short series of articles which we contemplate writing on this section of the first epistle of John. Our purpose is to consider rather carefully what God would teach here in these verses 18-21 of this Second Chapter of first John. Literally this passage reads as follows: “Little children it is the last time (hour); and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time (hour). They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction (anointing) from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.‘”
In the light of our interpretation of the verses 12-14, where we reflected on the term ‘”little children,” we need not go into any great detail here. Suffice it to say that; with the term “little children,” John has reference to the entire congregation, young and old. He does not simply single out the little children in the natural sense of the term. The people of God are children of God by virtue of being born of God, and that, too, because they are; the objects of the great love of God. Wherefore the littler children have the forgiveness of sins, and also know the Father, the triune. God, in His saving power and love.
It is of importance for the little children to understand that it is the “last hour.” The King James rendering here is the “last time.” We prefer to maintain the term last hour. We trust our reason for this will be stated at the proper connection. It will hardly do in determining the meaning of the last hour to simply ask after the meaning of the term hour in our daily language, as an hour measured off on our clock and consisting of sixty minutes. Reasoning thus it would be very simple to draw the erroneous inference that the last hour refers to the brief span of time just prior to the return of Christ upon, the clouds in His Parousia. That would be all too simplicistic.
It will be incumbent upon us to make a survey of the Scriptures, both in the Old and in the New Testaments, to seek to come to some conception from the Word of God in general and from this passage in particular, as to the meaning of the term “last hour”! Our method is, therefore, not to, take a fragment of a text and then read our idea of the last hour into it, but rather that of the tried and approved method of interpreting Scripture in the light of Scripture.
Let us then, first of all, let a. few passages from the Old Testament Scriptures pass in review.
In the prophecy of Isaiah 2:2 we read the meaningful words, referring to the Messianic times. in the “latter days”: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” In this passage we may note: (1) That the “mountain of the Lord” is typical of the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the great King. It is the place where God’s glory dwells with his people. (2) That this shall be realized not in the time of the prophet, but rather in the “last time,” that is, in the days when the Son of God shall have come into the world, born from a woman and made under the law. It is the dispensation of the fullness of times. The last time is here viewed from the historical standpoint of the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament dispensation. It is last from this viewpoint, lying in the distant future from the point of departure of the Seer. It is well to bear this in mind constantly in this survey of Old Testament passages.
Next, we notice the very striking passage which we find in Genesis 49:1 where we read: “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that “which shall befall you in thelatter days. Gather yourselves together, and hear ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.” We would have you notice concerning this passage the following salient points: (1) That the aged patriarch here is calling his sons to his death-bed in Egypt, and that he will now not simply utter a departing wish but that he will be God’s prophet here, foretelling the things which shall befall Israel, the twelve tribes in the “latter days.” (2) That what is here foretold concerning Israel in part refers to what will befall Israel in the land of Canaan when they return and each shall dwell in his inheritance. From Jacob’s prophetical vantage-point this earthly, typical future does not lie outside of the prophetic perspective. (3) However, Jacob does look beyond the typical, Old Testament existence of the twelve tribes to the time of the Messiah, the Christ who is to come, as is evident from the classic passage in verse 8, where Jacob speaks of Judah, the first-born son by promise, the preeminent tribe. Writes Moses, giving Jacob’s words, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise . . . the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet till Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering (obedience) of the people be . . .” From this it is abundantly clear that the “latter times” refers to the New Dispensation, the greatness of Israel, the Israel of God, in Christ.
We should not forget that these two Scripture passages which we have thus far investigated establish the thesis that the “last times” refer to the time when Christ shall have come in the flesh. And this, we hope to show, has a great significance for understanding the term “last hour” here in I John.
But let us continue.
In Numbers 24:14 we read the prophetic utterance from the lips of Balaam concerning Israel, as he sees the people according to their tribes round about the tent of meeting the tabernacle. Says Balaam: “And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days:” And what Balaam says he sees in the “vision of the Almighty,” and that, too, “having his eyes open.” And what does he see? Listen: “I see him but not now: I shall behold him but not nigh: there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” Here too we note: (1) That this vision of Balaam is the same as that seen by Jacob when he is about to die. Balaam sees the Star to come out of Jacob, the scepter that shall not depart from Judah. He sees the era when the Christ shall have come and lay all his enemies low, when he shall put all things under his feet. This will take place in the “latter days.” (2). Balaam sees Israel as he hears this “sound of the King is in the “midst” of her, as the chief Captain and finisher of the church’s faith. It is in Him that Israel shall do valiantly.
Then, finally, we must still look at the passage from Deut. 4:30, which is spoken by Moses to Israel in the fortieth year of their wanderings in the wilderness. Here Moses holds the law before Israel for the second time. Hence, the name of the book of Moses called Deuteronomy (second law). And Israel is told what will befall them if they do not keep ail that is written in the book to perform it. Israel is hemmed in by the law! And cursed is every one that does not remain in all that is written in the book of the law to perform it! No nation has so seen the works of God. They shall not add to the word which the Lord commanded them, neither shall they diminish aught there from, so that they may keep the commandments of the Lord their God. And, if they do not keep the commandments, then they shall be scattered among the nations, carried into captivity in Assyria and in Babylon. But there is still hope. The Scepter shall not depart from Judah. The promise of God is not put to naught; the Lord does not forsake the people whom He foreknew. And therefore Moses says in Deut. 4:30: “When thou. art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shall be obedient unto his voice; (for the Lord God is a merciful God:) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” Truly this is a beautiful passage, expressive of hope and, consolation and of the Lord’s covenant faithfulness. It is the faithfulness to the people which he had foreknown. And we further notice: (1) That the term “latter times” must refer not simply to Israel’s return from Babylon, but rather to the coming of Christ. It was in this coming that the “Lord visited his people in mercy,” and herein he proved His great love to us, namely, in the sending of His Son, to redeem Israel from all her iniquity. In him both Jew and Gentile have the great. Advocate with the Father. For he is the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world,” that is, for Jew and Gentile. He will redeem from the curse of the Law, by becoming a curse for us. (2) Here too the “latter days” are viewed from the vantage-point of the Old Testament Seer. Israel is saved in hope of Him who is to, come.
And, not to weary you, reader, with too many quotations, I would just call attention yet to the prophecy of Daniel, which is full of the hope of the Messiah. Does Daniel’s prophecy not end with the promise of hope of the “latter days”? We read in Daniel 12:13: “But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”
Here we see the Old Testament perspective of the “latter times,” of “the latter days” and it will shed a great deal of light on John’s usage of the term concerning the “last hour.”