THE DAY OF THE Lord 2 Peter 3
“The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10).Seek solid joys and lasting pleasures.
Both Testaments speak of a final judgment when this present heaven and earth will be destroyed. Isaiah said this present universe will wear out like a garment and vanish like smoke (51:6). Paul pictured Christ returning “in blazing fire” (2 Thes. 1:7). And Peter in this chapter gave a powerful description of the universe being reduced to its constituent atoms. The biblical picture of a universe with a distinct beginning, and a distinct ending, was absolutely strange in the first century. The philosophers believed that matter was eternal, shaped by a craftsman god who was himself subject to natural law. A God who could create the universe from nothing, and dissolve it at will, was beyond their comprehension. The world was, always had been, and always would be. And human beings once dead were gone. The spirit of our age is not all that different. Scientists speak of a beginning of our universe, but deny a Creator. All that exists is explained by evolution. And whatever the future holds, no God will intrude in the orderly process of the ages to put an end to matter, and then to raise the dead and judge them. First-century intellectuals scoffed in the name of philosophy. Two thousand years later our intellectuals scoff in the name of science. But both are wrong. For God is. And the material universe is not eternal, but destined for destruction. Soon. This is the message of 2 Peter 3. This, and the kind of life to be lived by believers who know that they, and every other human being, will continue to exist long after our world comes to an end.
Trust the Prophets and Apostles (3:1–2) despite scoffers who ridicule the Second Coming (vv. 3–4) and deliberately ignore past divine judgment (vv. 5–7). God’s timing differs from ours (vv. 8–9), but this present world will surely be destroyed (vv. 10–13). So be godly and grow in grace (vv. 14–18).
Understanding the Text
“Wholesome thinking” 2 Peter 3:1–2.
Peter’s two letters are designed to stimulate the reader to a “pure disposition”—an “uncontaminated understanding” of faith and life. This is particularly important because false teachers attack the faith from within, and scoffers from without. Each, if their doctrines are followed, lead to immorality and undisciplined living. The false teachers appeal to sinful desires, and justify license as freedom. The scoffers, by removing the threat of judgment, drain away that awe of God which promotes godliness. There is really only one antidote that can protect us from error within and outside the faith. That is the words spoken in the past by prophets and by Christ, as faithfully reported by His Apostles. Complete trust in the Word of God, and an intimate familiarity with it, can guard us against every kind of error. “Scoffers will come” 2 Peter 3:3. There is a fascinating parallel between scoffers and false teachers. Each follows “their own evil desires.” Each resists truth, not so much out of intellectual conviction, but to guard against conviction of sin. One of my books is on Creationism. It Couldn’t Just Happen (Word, Inc.) explores fallacies in the popular notion of evolution, and explains some of the ways in which scientific discoveries point toward Creation of the universe, and of animal and human life. When my wife offered to contribute a copy to the library in the high school where she teaches, it was rejected. Creationism isn’t “scientific” and might confuse students. Yet the same library contains books that ridicule Creationism, novels that vividly describe illicit sex, and books that present abortion and homosexuality in a positive light. How fascinating that to complain about such books would raise immediate cries of “Censorship!” But rejecting a book that supports a biblical position—a book which, by the way, won a Gold Medallion at Christian Booksellers as the best book for young people of 1988-is fine, because it would be “confusing” and “unscientific.” Scoffers will continue to scoff. But the underlying reason is not the respectability of our beliefs, but bias against a faith that calls men to take God seriously, and to curb sinful human desires. “Everything goes on as it has from the beginning of Creation” 2 Peter 3:4. In science this concept is called “uniformitarianism.” It assumes that everything that currently exists can be explained by processes now taking place. Given enough time, the shape of continents, the height of mountains, the depths of the sea, can be explained by erosion, volcanism, earthquakes, etc. In essence this view says that God not only isn’t necessary now (though He may have begun the process). It also implies that God can’t become involved: even He is bound by natural law. We Christians believe that Jesus will invade earth and, on His return, will shatter sinful human culture as well as shake the material universe. How ridiculous, the scoffer says. Why, from the beginning nothing has changed. When you think about that argument, it seems more and more ridiculous itself. Nothing’s changed? Oh? Who has been around “from the beginning” to see it? Nothing has changed? Why, purely secular scientists claim that earth has changed radically. At best we can only say little has changed in our lifetime, or that little has changed since history began to be recorded. We live so briefly, history is known so few thousands of years back, that it is utterly foolish to argue that Jesus will not come because “nothing has changed.” It will change. Because Jesus WILL come. “They deliberately forget” 2 Peter 2:5–7. One radical change that has taken place during mankind’s residence on earth is described in Genesis 6–8. God brought a great Flood on the earth as a judgment on sin, and wiped out human civilization. The biblical record of the Genesis Flood is supported by traditions reported by various peoples worldwide. And that Flood demonstrates God’s ability to intervene in this present world—and His commitment to do so. Modern man doubts the historicity of the Flood. But the believer does not. And we find in the record of God’s historic act of judgment proof that God is mankind’s Judge, and that He will judge again. “Not wanting anyone to perish” 2 Peter 3:8–9. Peter gave two insights into the lengthy delay between the promise of Jesus’ return and its fulfillment. First, God doesn’t view time as we do. What we might refer casually to as “a couple of days” He might think of just as casually as “a few thousand years.” So we can’t impose our time sense on God. Second, God has good reason for what we experience as delay. Christ hasn’t returned yet, because the Lord does not want “anyone to perish.” As long as Jesus is absent, the door to salvation remains open. But when Jesus comes, that door will slam shut. And then it will be too late. “As they do the other Scriptures” 2 Peter 3:16–18. Peter’s reference to Paul’s letters, equating them with the “other Scriptures,” indicates how early the writings now in our Bible were recognized as Scripture by the early church. Every once in a while I see an ad urging me to send for the rest of the Bible—for lost gospels, or lost letters, or newly recovered apocalypses. Actually all these writings have been known for untold years. They are early Christian or heretical writings that circulated much as do books from the modern Christian bookstore. Some were propaganda for cults. Some were devotional writings intended to strengthen the believer. But none of them were ever considered Scripture—as the books in our New Testament quickly were. No wonder Peter urges us to recall the words of prophet and apostle. And to ignore false teacher and scoffer alike. As we keep our hearts fixed on the inspired Word of God, we will grow in grace and be ready when Jesus comes.
All Gone(2 Peter 3:10–18)
Someone has said there is only one real difference between a man and a boy. A man’s toys are more expensive. There’s probably more truth in that saying than we’d like to admit. It’s really amazing how much time and money people spend on newer clothes, sportier cars, bigger screen TVs, and faster boats. Especially when one morning we’re going to wake up, and find that everything we have is all gone. That’s the point Peter wanted to make here. He didn’t really care that he’d provided insight into how the world will end. He just wants us to know that, when “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the [very] elements will be destroyed by fire,” those material playthings we love so much will be all gone. Of course, once we understand this, Peter wants us to act appropriately. “What kind of people ought we to be?” he asks. And he answers. “You ought to live holy and godly lives,” as you look “forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” Why clutch your playthings to you, when tomorrow morning they’ll be gone anyway? And all you’ll have left, is you. Why not invest that time, that enthusiasm, in building the new you? A holy and godly life, marked by growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, will secure eternal rewards. How much better a focus that provides for our life than toys that, very very soon, will be all gone.
When time shall be no more, you will.
Since I am coming to that holy room, Where with thy choir of saints forevermore, I shall be made thy music; as I come I tune the instrument here at the door And what I must do then, think here before. -John Donne