2 Peter 3:8-13 ~ 20100307 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
03/07 2 Peter 3:8-13 Why the Wait?
3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Peter is encouraging the saints to remain faithful to the Lord and not be swayed by the false teachers. He addresses us four times in this section as 'beloved' because he cares deeply about our eternal well being, he knows eternity is at stake, and he will not stand idly by while apostates entice God's people toward destruction. Peter's job was reminding the saints of what they already knew. He points us back to our bibles - to the predictions of the holy prophets and to the command of Jesus given through the apostles - as a sure and safe anchor for our souls. The false teachers were teaching that morals don't matter and that since we are saved by grace alone we can live any way we please and we will not be punished. They question if we will ever be held accountable for any of our actions because they doubt that Jesus is really coming back at all. Peter has made it abundantly clear that those who teach these things have denied the Master who bought them, they are headed straight for the fires of hell, and any who follow them in their immorality will join them in their torment.
In this final chapter, he summarizes the character and argument of the false teachers and answers it with two lines of logic to demonstrate that they stand on shaky ground, and then he draws a practical application with an exhortation to godly living.
He has repeatedly made it clear that the main issue with the false teachers is a moral one. Their doctrine is a way to make them feel better about their lifestyle. Peter says they scoff and follow their own sinful desires. His restatement of their objection to orthodox Christianity, which demands a transformed life, is this:
4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
And his first line of argument was to challenge their truth claims. All things have not continued as they were from the beginning of creation. These false teachers are conveniently omitting one huge event in history - the flood. Men once before lived as they pleased, and after much patience, God wiped out the entire planet with a global catastrophe. God did it once. He can and will do it again.
7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
The second line of reasoning that Peter raises to demonstrate that the teaching of the apostates is foolishness comes from the character of God. And this answer comes in two parts. God is eternal, and God is patient. The false teachers objected that it's been a long time since he promised that he would come back soon. It appears as if he has abandoned his promise.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Peter makes reference here to Psalm 90:4
Psalm 90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. 3 You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man!" 4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 7 For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
God is from everlasting to everlasting; man comes from dust and soon returns to dust. To us a thousand years is unfathomable. This nation we live in has been around less than 300 years. But from God's eternal perspective, a thousand years is like yesterday when it is gone. How significant was yesterday in your life? A thousand years is like a day.
There have been several attempts in the history of interpretation to take this verse as a mathematical formula. The first was a way to explain why God told Adam he would die in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit, yet he lived to be over 900 years old. Adam didn't live to be 1000, and if a thousand years is one day to God, then Adam died within the first day from God's perspective. This misses the point that the death pointed to was not only physical - that day Adam suffered a severed relationship from a God who loves him, and it misses the mercy and grace of God in providing a substitute as God killed an animal in their place and clothed them with its skin. Another chronological interpretation seeks to find an outline of world history, particularly a date for the end, in the days of creation. God took six days to create the world, so the world will last 6000 years. On the seventh day God rested, so after the six thousand years are ended, Jesus will come and reign.
But our text does not say that a thousand years is one day but a thousand years is as a day. And our text says that the reverse is also true - one day is as a thousand years to God. God's perspective not only compresses time, but expands it. God sees not only the big picture but every minute detail. Time is intensive - God is so intimately acquainted with my life that one day is as a thousand years - he doesn't miss any details. What we in our impatience think should happen quickly may be thousands of years in delay, but is quick when considered on the backdrop of eternity. And what we think must take an eternity, God can accomplish in a moment of time. The Son of God bore multiplied eternities of punishment for the sins of the world in just three hours of darkness on the cross. The point is not that time is meaningless to God, but that God cannot be confined to operate on our schedules. Understanding that eternity of God makes the scoffing of the scoffers sound as ridiculous as it is; 'Where is the promise of his coming? It's been almost 40 years and Jesus hasn't returned.' It could be two thousand years and he wouldn't be considered late. It could be this very moment and we shouldn't be surprised. The scoffers overlooked the implications of the eternity of God, just like they deliberately overlooked the fact that God's word was decisive in the creation and destruction of the ancient world.
Peter continues by giving a different interpretation to the perceived delay that fits better with the character of God. Indeed, when Peter wrote the delay had been almost 40 years. When you're expectantly waiting, that seems like a very long time. Today the promise of the soon coming of Jesus is over 2000 years old. Why the delay? The accusation of the scoffers was that God is slack, slow, lazy, delayed, negligent, impotent - he lacks the power to fulfill his promises. He won't because he can't. Peter rather points us to the biblical picture of the character of God; God who is patient, long-suffering, loving, merciful, gracious. This is the picture that the bible consistently paints of God. This is the picture that God paints of himself:
Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
God is characteristically forbearing - [makrothumia] – he bears with sinners; holds back his wrath; refrains from intervening in judgment as soon as the our deeds deserve it, though he will not hold back indefinitely. The prophet Jonah understood well the character of God. This was Jonah's complaint against God and his excuse for fleeing.
Jonah 4:2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Jonah knew the character of God well enough that he was afraid God might actually forgive the Ninevites rather than destroying them as he had threatened. But God can accomplish his purpose even if it takes a great fish to swallow his wayward prophet and deliver him to the intended recipients of his mercy. God has a reputation for being rich in mercy.
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins... 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ––by grace you have been saved––
God is exercising self-restraint in the face of grievous provocation so that he does not hastily retaliate. But we are warned - do not presume on God's patience. Paul writes:
Romans 2:3 Do you suppose, O man––you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself––that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
God is rich in mercy, kindness, forbearance and patience, but this does not mean that he is soft on sin. God's wrath will be revealed, and if you are presuming on God's patience, Paul says you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. Instead God's merciful patience has a goal - to lead us to repentance. That's what Peter is telling us here:
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The delay in the return of Christ and the consequent judgment is due not to slackness but to mercy - mercy toward you, Peter says. These letters were intended to be read in the churches to whom they were addressed. Imagine this church, a church where apostate false teachers possibly held positions of authority, and had gathered a following in their immorality. These were the ones who may have taught on Sunday morning 'Where is the promise of his coming?' And Peter addresses them; "The Lord is patient toward YOU!" Peter is pointing out to these false teachers and any who have followed their error that God's delay in coming is meant to give further opportunity for them to repent. God's heart is indeed abundantly compassionate and merciful and his desire is for their repentance. Repentance – this indicates that their hearts and lives are moving in a direction away from the Lord and they need to forsake the direction they have chosen and turn back. The irony is that they use this merciful delay as a pretense for immorality rather than running for cover to the cross of our Lord Jesus. But God will not postpone his righteous wrath indefinitely. Peter re-affirms that the day of judgment will indeed come:
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
The emphasis is on the certainty of the event - it will come, the day of the Lord. And it will come unexpectedly and catch many off guard. Paul picked up on Jesus' teaching and compared the coming of the day of the Lord with a thief:
6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.
The day of the Lord will surely come, and it will come like a thief on those who are not watching and waiting for him. And Peter's description of what follows is cataclysmic:
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
The picture Peter paints is of the layers of atmosphere being peeled away to reveal to the eye of God what is being done by those that live on the earth. The revelation of Jesus Christ given to John paints a very similar picture:
Revelation 6:13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
But Peter's point (and John's point) is not to explain exactly how things will unfold in the end times or to give us a detailed sequence of events or to satisfy our curiosity about the makeup of the universe. All God's truth has a moral purpose. Life as we know it is coming to an end. The earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Every man will stand before the God of the universe and give an account, as it says in Hebrews:
Hebrews 4:13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Peter draws this conclusion:
Lots of people are curious about eschatology. If we advertise a seminar on the sequence of end time events and the book of Revelation, we can pack out an auditorium. If we hint that we will be suggesting a date, we could even get media coverage. But all that is missing the point! Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be? What sort of people ought we to be? Peter doesn't leave us wondering.
Our lives ought to be characterized by holiness and godliness. Our lives ought to be different from the world around us. Our values ought to be different from the people around us. Our goals and dreams and hopes and desires, our attitudes, our free time, our spending must be different from the world. Peter described us as 'elect exiles', 'sojourners and aliens'. And the standard is God himself. We are to live in such a way that our neighbors observe us and they begin to understand what God is like! Peter wants people to 'see your good deeds and glorify God' (1Pet.2:12). Does that feel heavy? Too much? More than we can pull off? Praise God, yes it is!
Peter began the letter pointing us to the fact that 'His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2Pet.1:3). It is through God's gracious promises – not our own efforts – that we have 'escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire' (1:4). Peter went on to describe that the effective fruitful life of intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ will be characterized by an ever-increasing display of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. And all this is rooted in and stems from faith – trust in the promises that God has freely given to us; promises to transform us from the inside out. Promises to save us from sin and set us free to live lives of radical Christ exalting holiness.
God is not tardy but patient toward you. What sort of people ought we to be?
Our lives are also to be characterized by waiting – eager expectation – hope. Since we are strangers and aliens, since we are not home yet, there ought to be an ache – a longing in our hearts for home. This world is a mess. This world has been wrecked by the fall, corrupted by sin and it awaits the final judgment, when the Righteous Judge will right all wrongs and make ugly things beautiful again. We are people of the promise – by faith trusting that what he said will happen. Jesus told us that he is going to prepare a place for us – a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness is no longer an alien and a stranger, but at home. The new heavens and new earth will be characterized by righteousness. If we want to be at home in the new heavens and new earth, then we must become righteous.
Where is the promise of his coming? When is Jesus coming back? Peter's answer is 'sooner, if you will repent!' If God desires all to come to repentance and he is holding back his wrath to make room for sinners to run to him, then by running to him you will speed up his coming. By pursuing personal transformation and a life of holiness, you will speed his coming. Jesus taught us to pray 'your kingdom come' and Jesus responds to the prayers of his people!