Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. –1 John 2:18-19
Years ago, I walked through China Town in San Francisco. Across the street from a particularly scary-looking Chinese Restaurant, I saw a particularly tacky-looking gift emporium, one of those places with a lot of very thin T-shirts and assorted souvenirs to amaze and delight you. Stretched across the front of this joint was a large vinyl sign reading, “Going Out of Business Sale.”
There’s nothing all that unusual about a business going under. There was nothing very unwelcome in this particular place going under. What struck me as unusual, however, was the condition of that sign. Faded and frayed despite hanging in a relatively sheltered place, it looked as if it had been marking that spot for several years.
The proprietor, conceivably, might have argued that his sign was not deceptive. “After all,” I can imagine him claiming, “someday we will go out of business and we are having a sale, so . . .” Despite such a protest, I couldn’t help but laugh at the transparency of this little ruse. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that this same store still has such a sign hanging over the front door, although I’m fairly certain that the sign I saw has long ago disintegrated.
I’m reminded of this today as I read John’s words: “this is the last hour.” If this is the last hour, in the normal sense of the words, then I’d really like to inspect John’s watch. Rather like the alarmists who correctly predict five of the last three economic downturns, John seems to be either casting a very big net or missing the prediction altogether.
What do we make of that? Did John miss it? Or are we in the midst of an exceptionally long “last hour”? Perhaps we were in the midst of the last hour but then somebody hit the pause button on the VCR. I don’t find any of those interpretations very convincing, but on the other hand I struggle to consider John’s writing authoritative and reliable if he can manage to be so far afield on this matter.
Perhaps when we get to heaven, we can ask John what he meant by “the last hour.” Until then, though, we should consider the importance of this notion to our lives today. The question I would ask is this: Would you behave differently if you knew that Jesus would return this afternoon? I’m guessing that you might; I’m sure I would. Although I am planning for retirement, at least a dozen years away according to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, I should be living each day as if I am in the last hour, as if Jesus could return at any time.
Unfortunately, we all too often live our lives in a strange sort of middle ground, without the urgency of the last hour or the foresight of the long-term retirement plan. Instead, we should attempt to live with both of these forces, the long term and the short, simultaneously in our minds.