by Jack Kelley
Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. (2 Peter 3:1-2)
Peter wrote this letter, his final one, around 65 AD. He was probably in Rome at the time, since he was crucified in 68, though he may have still been in Babylon, where he’d written letter number one five years earlier.
His purpose in writing was three-fold: to stimulate spiritual growth among Christians, to combat the false teaching that was coming into the Church, and to emphasize the certainty of the Lord’s return. We’ll focus on this third purpose, which Peter addressed in chapter 3.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”(2 Peter 3:3-4)
Peter’s first burden was to warn us about the false teaching that would come to be known as Religious Uniformitarianism. This view holds that God does not periodically intervene in the affairs of man but is content just to observe us as we experience a linear series of events over an extended period of time. Its proponents sometimes describe God as “the Great Watchmaker” Who constructed His universe like a master craftsman assembles a precision timepiece. Having “wound it up” and set it in motion, He’s now engaged in watching it run, apart from any subsequent involvement by Him. Galaxies, worlds and civilizations appear as if by chance as bits and pieces randomly come together to form them, and as species evolve into higher life forms. And as the enormous amount of time that’s passed demonstrates, we really shouldn’t expect anything more from Him. (An offshoot of this, called process theology, actually teaches that God is learning as He goes and is just as curious to see how everything will work out as we are.) As Peter implied, the emergence of this false teaching would in fact be a sign that the last days are upon us.
But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.(2 Peter 3:5-7)
These false teachers will have made conscious decisions to ignore three indisputable facts;
1) The Earth didn’t come into being by chance. It was created.
2) The One Who created it does periodically intervene in the affairs of man, at one time bringing a judgment so great that the entire world was destroyed.
3) And what’s more, He’s promised to do it again, because man didn’t learn from the first one.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.(2 Peter 3:8-9)
I don’t believe this passage can be used to justify the “one day equals 1000 years” theory that some students of prophecy promote. Granted there are places likeHosea 6:1-2 where this theory seems to apply, and in Ezekiel 4 the Lord used a day to represent one year, but He informed us that He was doing so. There are also passages mentioning the Day of the Lord that in some cases seem to cover a span of time as long as 2000 years and in others one as short as 24 hours.
But here I think Peter was simply trying to emphasize that God is not governed by time as we are, and so what we perceive to be a long time would not necessarily be so for Him. His point is this. The length of time that’s passed is no indication of a wavering intent. Instead it should be seen a measure of His patience in giving us as much time as possible to come to Him for forgiveness.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. 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)
Make no mistake, Peter warns us, the Day of the Lord will come, and when it does everything will be made new. Due to the popularity of the aforementioned false teaching it will catch a lot of people by surprise. And this is exactly the case today. Most mainline churches advocate the amillennial view of prophecy, which rejects the notion of a literal return by the Lord, and abandoned the Biblical creation account long ago. And even some conservatives deny a coming Kingdom saying all prophecy in the bible was fulfilled by 70 AD. (This is called the Preterist view). Remember, Peter wasn’t warning about non-believers promoting these ideas. He saw this teaching coming from within the church.
Some scholars have speculated that in verse 10 Peter was describing an instantaneous conversion of matter to pure energy and back to matter again in a “cleansing by fire.” If that’s the case then Peter would have been referring to the end of the Millennium when Earth and Heaven will flee from the presence of God (Rev. 20:11).
We shouldn’t confuse this with Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1 which both reference the time of the 2nd Coming that Jesus called the restoration (renewal) of all things (Matt. 19:28). We know this because in the verses following, Isaiah gave us one of the clearest descriptions of the millennium in Israel on Earth. And John quoted Isaiah 65:17 showing the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven, which also happens at the beginning of the Millennium. And finally, Peter also spoke of this restoration in Acts 3:21 but made no reference to the Heavens and Earth being destroyed at the time. Rather than being a restoration, 2 Peter 3:10speaks of a total destruction.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.(2 Peter 3:11-13)
Can we really hasten the Day of the Lord? In Romans 11:25 Paul wrote that Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. This means the Church will contain a predetermined number of members, and when that number is complete, we’ll all disappear in the Rapture. Maybe that’s one reason why we won’t know the Rapture’s timing in advance. It depends on the Church achieving a predetermined number, not on reaching a predetermined date. By living Holy and Godly lives, we can influence others to respond more favorably when we talk to them about Jesus. That would make the Church grow faster, bring the Rapture sooner, and hasten the Day of the Lord.
While the New Jerusalem, being the exclusive home of the redeemed Church, can rightly be called a home of righteousness, there’s no way millennial Earth can be described as such. Many of its inhabitants will be in their natural states, having survived the Great Tribulation and come directly into the Kingdom. Ezekiel’s description of Millennial Israel mentions sin offerings 14 times in 7 chapters (Ezek. 40-46). And eventually the Millennium will end in mass rebellion against God (Rev. 20:7-10). To me this settles the issue that in speaking of Heaven and Earth being destroyed to be replaced by a new Heaven and a new Earth, Peter was speaking of the transition from the Millennium into Eternity.
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.(2 Peter 3:14-16)
Some believe Peter was referring specifically to the Epistle to the Hebrews here, which many in the early church believed Paul had written. Since Hebrews was written about the same time, there may be some merit to the assumption. In any case his statement that the Lord’s patience means salvation underlines his earlier one that the longer the Lord tarries, the more people can be saved before He comes. Where would you be, for example, if the Lord had come 30 years ago? Still saved? How about 50? Get the point?
Peter and Paul were in Rome together at the end of their lives, and both were incarcerated in the Mamertime prison while awaiting execution. Peter was manacled upright to a post for 9 months before being crucified upside down. Paul, being a Roman citizen, was beheaded. Between them 47 prisoners and an untold number of guards and jailers were converted to Christianity. It was their final tribute to the Lord while on Earth and they labored at it till the day they died.
Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3: 17-18)
Peter isn’t implying that listening to false teachers could cost us our salvation. The phrase “fall from your secure position” describes a state of mind rather than a state of being. He’s warning us not to let false teaching confuse us about the certainty of the Lord’s return, thereby depriving ourselves of our hope in the coming Kingdom and the sense of security this hope brings us.
The Lord’s return was as real to Peter as His first coming had been. Remember, Peter was an eyewitness on the Mount of Transfiguration, and watched as Moses and Elijah spoke with the Lord about it. But he believed that the words of the prophets provided even greater certainty, since they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Take Peter’s advice and do your homework. Know what you believe and why. It’s your only protection against false teaching. And when you see all these things begin to take place stand up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.(Luke 21:28) If you listen closely you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.