Until The Lord Comes
Facing The Last Hour
1. Today's passage of scripture begins with the words, "O you who are rich, listen carefully." Then, it continues with a speech to the rich that could be considered a very strong accusation and indictment. "Your wealth will rot away, your clothes will have insects on them, your gold and silver will corrode," (verses two and three). The issue taken up in this is the self-centeredness in which a person trusts in greed and constantly stores up wealth, and never intends to use it for the sake of someone else. James adds, "Look. The wages which you have not paid to the workers who have harvested [your] fields lifts up their crying voices," (verse four). The issue taken up in this is the unrighteous method which they have taken in order to store up [their] wealth. Then it even says that they "have condemned and murdered righteous men. They did not oppose you," (verse six). The issue taken up in this is the judgment that is twisted by the power of the wealthy.
2. So, when we read this passage, the problem we run into is we are made to stand before the pointed force of these words as well. Some will also think, "I'm always out of money. So, [I'm] not the same as 'the rich' with the problems here in this text." On the other hand, an argument could be made that "As long as one is living in 'rich Japan,' this statement applies to us all." It also certainly could be argued that while in this world, we living in Japan are self-centered in just heaping up treasures, having our hands in unjust methods for becoming rich, oppressing the poor, and distorting righteous judgments. We must truthfully scrutinize ourselves and the way we ought to be, and it is very important for us to seriously contemplate in what specific ways we should be living.
3. But, we must take note of the fact that James is not just saying here, "O you who are rich, listen carefully. Since what you are doing is bad, clean up [your act]. It does not say they "are evil," but says they "are miserable, afflicted." It says that a howling scowling inescapable misery will befall them. Therefore, the important point in this passage is how to define this misery that will come upon them. What is being given in this text is not some little indictment for wrongdoing. It is about why does evil bring misery "for the ones who initiate the practice of evil."
4. So, we should not read passed the latter half of verse three. "You have stored up wealth for the last day," (latter half of verse three). He wrote that the future that is to come has already been realized in order to express that it will certainly come into fulfillment. This is the way the Bible is speaking about "the last hour" which will definitely come into being. And, this isn't the only place that the Bible speaks about "the last hour." The Bible repeatedly speaks on it.
5. The fact of there being "a last hour" means that the time is coming when some kind of conclusion will be drawn. Whether positive or negative, it means that certain final decisions will ultimately be handed down. The hour is coming when ultimate decisions will be handed down for our lives and for the world. Who is the one to hand down those decisions? It won't be a human being because this world does not belong to a human being. It will not be a human being, but God will be the one to ultimately hand down the judgments. The hour is coming when God will lay down his judgments. Both humankind and the world are in the here and now moving towards that ending.
6. I would think it is easy to understand that there is "a last hour" in which each life will come to a conclusion because human beings certainly do die. "Death" as "the last [hour]" gives a summary to an entire life from birth to death. So, some kind of conclusion is made at that time. At that time we may direct our focus of interest on how a person died. Did the person die peacefully or while suffering? Did the person die in bed or in an accident? Did the person die satisfied or with regrets? If a human being were handing down the judgment, these differences would definitely have decisive significance. But, it is God who is handing down the final judgment on a person's lifetime. Therefore, a person might have a beautiful funeral with all the decorations, the way one died is not all that important. It really isn't. The decisively important thing is how a person lived in relationship to God, how a person lived before God's presence.
7. Thus, it is precisely because each individual and the whole world exists in the here and now and is moving towards that last hour when God will judge that the way people are becomes a problem, for example, [the way] the rich [are], as the text here has written of them. Self-centeredness and unrighteousness become the problem. James didn't take up this problem because what the rich did was a problem on a human level. That's not why he took it up. It's because it is a problem in the presence of God. It's not because this world is ultimately one where money and power do the talking. This world is a world where God does the talking, where God has the final word.
8. Therefore, in that sense, what is written here in the scriptures will practically involve every one of us. It is a message that is directed to us, regardless of whether we are affluent or not. -- Because we too are beings moving towards the last hour just the same. But, we don't need to look at "the last hour" as "the day for slaughter" as it has it in verse five. Starting in verse seven, James speaks on "the last hour" using a completely different image set.
Until The Lord Comes
9. Please look at verse seven. The scripture tells us, "Brothers, persevere until the Lord comes," (verse seven). In fact, it isn't translated but, it has the words "because of that" here. The statement is connected to the context before. As in verse five, "the last hour" will definitely be a truly dreadful hour whenever a person only "lives in luxury on the earth, and indulges in pleasures, is set for a day to be slaughtered, and fattens up his own heart." But, the church is given an image totally different from that [of fattening oneself up and being slaughtered]. The scripture expresses it as "when the Lord comes," (verse seven). In The Apostles' Creed which we confess each week, the words are declared, "From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." In this manner Christ will come to judge the world. I stated that "the last hour" is the time of God's judgment. That judgment will come to fulfillment in the moment when Christ arrives as the true king.
10. "From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." Are these words, which state regarding the judgment, that neither the living nor the dead can escape, such dreadful words? We should certainly have fear before these words. But, why in this passage, which speaks on "When the Lord comes," doesn't it have a sense of tragedy weighing upon it at all? Why, instead, is it filled with a bright hope? It is because Christ as judge of the living and the dead is not someone whom [we] don't know at all. No, instead rather, it is because our already knowing him is the essence of the Christian faith.
11. It is very much correct that the church has come to call this "The Second Coming Of Christ." He did indeed come once before. He took on flesh on our behalf and walked the earth. He loved us, suffered for us, was crucified for us, and shed his blood to forgive our sins. He was resurrected for us to be justified, and ascended up to heaven. As the head of the church, in the Holy Spirit, through the word of God, he is with us now and governs over us. As persons who have thus partaken of his pardon, we offer our worship together, and we offer our praise of thanksgiving unto him from our hearts.
12. He is coming. He will come again. "The last hour" is indeed to us "When the Lord comes." Therefore, our facing towards that last hour is not compared to "waiting for the time when a fattened calf just fine for eating," but is compared to "a farmer patiently waiting for the precious fruit of the earth."
13. As we know by experience, faith doesn't necessarily mean exemption from hard work and suffering. Instead, when we seek to walk sincerely by faith with God and also with others, we may just have to undertake some hard work and suffering because of it, and we are not always immediately rewarded for it either. We may never be rewarded for it until we die. Even after we've died, we may not have been given even one word of thanks. However, the scripture tells us to "Persevere." The word for "persevere" is different from the word that is found in chapter one, and is a word with the meaning of "waiting long for [spiritual] air, waiting long in the mind [for strength]." The farmer doesn't pay any mind when his hard work in tilling the earth is not rewarded right away because [he] knows that ultimately the time for yielding results will come. Therefore, [the farmer] waits with a patient mind. Likewise, those who know that the Lord is coming again should pay no mind that a payoff is not immediately present with pain and suffering.
14. As James wrote, [the time] "when the Lord comes" may be "imminent." Or, as nearly two thousand years have already elapsed since the time this was written, it may still be into the future. But, that's not what matters most. Either way, our lives are before the Lord. It is as if the Lord is standing at the doorways to the homes we are in. "Persevere until the Lord comes." -- In putting this into a specific practice, we are not to grumble about things to one another, says James. When we complain back and forth, we must imagine in our minds the Lord standing at the doorway. We mustn't forget that even our postures in complaining back and forth is before the Lord.
15. "We think those who have persevered are blessed. You have heard about the perseverance of Job and know what the Lord did for him afterwards; for, he is deep in compassion and full of mercy." (verse eleven). What did the Lord do to Job who had suffered? -- It wasn't just that he restored his prosperity to him. The biggest thing of all is that Job could now finally say "You have heard my cause. But, now I have looked upon you with my own eyes." The time is also soon coming when we too will be able to see face to face the Lord "deep in compassion and full of mercy." When that happens, "As [the Lord] knows clearly, we will know clearly," (First Corinthians 13:12). This is the very thing that is our most important reward above all, which [God] has promised to us.