John’s ‘Last Hour’ – When Was It?

Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour (1 John 2:18).

What did John mean by the expression “it is the last hour”?

The “last hour” speaks of the nearness of things to come. It is connected with the theme of the text, namely the passing of ‘the world.’ John urges separation from this world on the basis that:

1) It is passing away;
2) A great crisis already had begun, and
3) The evidence of this was the appearance of antichrists.

By this John said we know it is the last hour. So what is John actually saying?

First, there is the “traditional” view that John was merely saying this is the last dispensation of time in some broad, epochal sense. Commenting on this verse, Melvin J. Wise writes, “We know that John was not referring to the last period of time just preceding the coming of our Lord: If so, he was wrong about it, for 1900 years have come and gone by and still the world exists. It is apparent, therefore, that he had in mind the last dispensation, or the Christian age.” [1]

But John said he knew it was the “last hour” because the antichrists have already come. Did John write and labor all those years not knowing what age he was in? Did it take the coming of antichrists to convince him he was a servant of Christ? Would Christ and inspiration not have told him this? The antichrists were not evidence of an age but of a “last hour” or last time. It signaled the end of whatever was upon them. The error here is not John’s, but lies in our concept of the coming of Christ and of the world that would end.

Second, there is the “error of John” view. This view is expressed in the Pulpit Commentary:

The last hour can only mean the last hour before the second coming of Christ. Nothing but the unwillingness of Christians to admit that an apostle, and especially the apostle St. John, could seem to be much in error about the nearness of the day of judgment, could have raised a question about language so plain … but it may very reasonably and reverently be asked, What becomes of the inspiration of Scripture if an inspired writer tells the church that the end of the world is near, when it is not near? The question of inspiration must follow that of interpretation, not lead it.

Let us patiently examine the facts, and then try to frame a theory of inspiration that will cover them; not first frame our theory, and then force the facts to agree with it. But the question in its proper place requires an answer. The Old Testament prophets were often guided to utter language the divine meaning of which they did not themselves understand. They uttered the words in one sense, and the words were true in a far higher sense of which they scarcely dreamed. The same thing is true of the New Testament prophets, though in a less degree, because the gift of Pentecost had given them powers of insight which their predecessors had not possessed. The present text seems to be an illustration of this truth. We can hardly doubt that, in saying “it is the last hour,” John means to imply that within a few years, or possibly even less time, Christ will return to judgment. In this sense the statement is not true.[2]

This view begins well, but runs into problems. Certainly, John was writing about the nearness of the second coming of Christ, or the end of the world. But since many assume that this hasn’t happened yet, John is credited with an error of judgment and understanding that made its way into his writing. This is a much less elegant theory than the assumption that John was correct and we must examine our understanding of what the ‘end times’ meant in John’s context.

John said the world would pass away, and then declared the nearness of this event by saying it was the “last hour” and citing the presence of antichrists. What, exactly, was then in its last hour? From what we have studied so far, we might guess that he is referring to the end of the Old Covenant age.

We now have a key for our interpretation, and it should fit.

It seems very likely that love for the Old Covenant system was the object of John’s warning in 1 John 2:15-17. It also was the object of Paul’s warning,

Therefore if you died with Christ from the basic principles (or elements) of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations?
(Colossians 2:20 – see also Colossians 2:8; Galatians 4:3, 9).

Would not their desire to return to the weak and beggarly elements in Galatians 4:9 correspond to their “love for the world” in 1 John 2:15-17?

Paul, like John, taught that the end of the world was near: “But this I say, brethren, the time is short…For the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31)

They were speaking of the world that Jesus said would end in that generation (Matthew 24:3, 14, 34). Jesus said that world – or heaven and earth – would pass away, but his word would abide (Matthew 24:35).

John was exhorting Jewish converts to faithfulness with that same message: “And the world is passing away…but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

Of course, Peter was speaking of the same ‘world’ and its destruction in 2 Peter 3:10-15. He too realized that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7).

The Old Covenant world could not abide the presence of him that sat upon the great white throne of Judgment (Revelation 20:11). The “elements” would melt with the fervent heat of divine judgment. That world was going to burn into oblivion, because they rejected Christ and opposed his gospel. Jesus lit that fire of destruction in his personal ministry (Luke 12:49), and it was fanned into a consuming fire by the end of the apostolic age. That was the “last hour” of John’s testimony. He knew by the signs of the times that the end of the world, the coming of Christ, and the day of judgment were upon them.

Before leaving the text of 1 John 2:15-18, we should note that sin or evil is not being charged against the Old Covenant world or system itself. Distinction must be made between the world or system created of God, which was good, and the sin that entered and reigned in that world. The Old Covenant system could not solve the problem of sin (because of humanity’s weakness), so it was necessary for that world to be removed and a new world to created that could minister to humanity’s weaknesses, and thereby help us overcome the sin that divides and alienates.

Concerning the law Paul said, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14). Therefore the law was removed – not because it was sin, but in order that grace might enter and reign. Grace is able to do what the law could not do, namely, free us from the guilt, state, and consequences of sin. The law was not evil, but to love the law and hold to it in preference to grace resulted only in humanity’s missing the mark of the law and falling into the grasp of sin. Therefore, the law, though it was good and spiritual in nature and design, had to be removed in order to stop the advance of sin.

John writes of this in 1 John 2:15-18. The Old Covenant world – which they were not to love – was good and holy within itself, being created of God. But it became the habitation of sin through humanity’s acquisitiveness. John did not say that this world was not of the Father, but that all that was in the world (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life) was not of the Father. The world was not created evil, but it became, through humanity’s insatiability without every truly feeling met, a world of fragmentation…of sin. The only solution to the problem was the creation of a new covenantal world, conditioned through God’s grace to deal with this problem of insatiability and alienation head-on. To love the world as they knew it, therefore, was to despise grace, and reject new righteousness in preference to familiar sin.

The city of Jerusalem and the temple are emblematic of this dynamic. They were holy in design and purpose, being created of God. Nevertheless, they illustrated the very alienation they sought to overcome. The great city finally took on the nature and description of Babylon (Revelation 16:19). Her sins reached unto heaven, and God remembered her iniquities. God’s plea for God’s people to depart out of her is equal to John’s plea for Christians to sever all connections with the world that was about to pass away.

Fragmenting sin, and the inability of the Old Covenant world to deal with it, made a New Creation necessary (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). To love the old in rejection of the new placed one under the dominion of sin in rejection of the reign of life and righteousness.

[1] The Last Days, Fort Worth Christian College Lectures, 1968. p. 244.

[2] The Pulpit Commentary: 1 John, pp. 25, 26.

Max KingJoin us each week as we continue exploring fulfilled covenant eschatology by blogging through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, you can always read the full book inspiring inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.

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2 thoughts on “John’s ‘Last Hour’ – When Was It?

  1. Thanks for the article, I believe it’s the interpretation of His 2nd coming that causes so much confusion.
    Jesus said He would come as a thief in the night, He said He would manifest Himself to those whom love Him, and He said His kingdom does not come with observation. From these I can see He comes quietly while all is still, He manifest Himself (comes) to the individual, as He said in the flesh, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
    In my opinion the last hour John spoke of is this time. While the kingdom of God is open to all whom seek, making all things new to those whom enter as we watch a lost and dying materialistic world fade away… I give thanks knowing and loving the presence of Jesus here and now! Hallelujah!!

  2. Thanks again for the article, got me thinking
    …seems a lot of believers are misled to being preserved by grace [(Old Testament) much like the Jews as they eagerly awaited the coming of their Messiah] rather than truely being saved by the grace that comes through the living presence of King Jesus.

    Sadly it seems like the good news of our risen Savior has been replaced with, He came and died for your sins and someday He will come again. The time to receive Him is now, the last hour has come. 🙂

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