Last session we completed the second chapter of 2 Peter in which Peter dealt with false prophets and teachers. In 2 Peter 2:1-3 we saw false prophets described: they will arise and lead people astray. In 2:4-10a we saw false prophets condemned: three Old Testament examples. And last session we saw in verses 10b-22 false prophets further described: five points.
In this session we study chapter three, verses 1-10, in which Peter turned to teachings about the second coming of Christ. He approached the task by exhorting the recipients to remember several important matters, beginning with previous teachings they had received.
In verses 1-4 the subject of the section does not become evident until verse four when Peter repeats a question raised by persons he called “scoffers.” “Where is the promise of his coming?” they asked. “For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!”
Obviously the delay of the second coming had become a problem for the Church. Peter, Paul and the other apostles had taught that Christ would return soon; but no one knew how long “soon” would be. Jesus himself taught that no one knew when the end would take place. Even Jesus in his human incarnation didn’t know.
Peter wrote this letter in the sixties of the first century, nearly four decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. By that time, many of the first generation of Christians already had died, yet Jesus still had not returned. So some were beginning to think that the second coming never was going to happen. Therefore in this part of his letter, Peter set out to exhort the recipients to maintain their faith in the second coming; and he did it with a series of exhortations, all of which were exhortations to remember something.
Now before reviewing the objections, I want to say that the false teachers of Peter’s day had two objections to the doctrine of the second coming. One was objection due to the delay in Christ’s second coming already mentioned. And two, they objected on the basis of the stability of the universe. In the latter case, the false teachers were claiming that because the universe had kept its regular movements for centuries, it was reasonable to assume that it would continue to do that. Thus they concluded that the apostolic teaching of a second coming of Christ accompanied by a cataclysmic end of the world and judgment was wrong.
This situation distressed Peter, because the prophets and other apostles clearly were teaching that Christ would come again in judgment. Thus we saw Peter’s first exhortation in verse 2: remember the teachings of the prophets and apostles. Many of these authority figures still were alive. Therefore the false teachers were opposing the Spirit-filled leaders of the Church. And Peter was telling the recipients that they must listen to the prophets and apostles.
Peter continued to answer the objection based on the continuity of the universe with his second exhortation in verse five. It is a bit indirect, but it is there. Peter declares that the scoffers, the false teachers and their followers, were ignoring, or forgetting, the word of God. So Peter tells the recipients not to do that. In other words, remember the word of God.
In verses 5-7 Peter instructed the recipients to remember two specific things in God’s Word. He told them to remember the creation and flood stories. During the creation, God by his word created out of “waters” (Gen. 1:1-2). And then during the time of Noah, God by his word destroyed mankind with a flood of waters. Peter’s point was that the universe is not as stable as the false teachers were claiming. God has the power both to create and to intervene when and if he desires.
But Peter’s reminder of the flood went far beyond the stability issue. It was an example of God’s intervention for the purpose of judgment. In verse three Peter calls the false teachers and their followers “scoffers.” A scoffer is one who treats serious matters as though they were not serious. The people of Noah’s day scoffed at the idea of a judgment. But the flood of judgment came, and God destroyed them. In Peter’s day the false teachers scoffed at the idea of a future judgment; but Peter assures them that an end-time judgment of fire is on the way.
Many today who scoff at the idea of a coming end-time judgment. They insist that there is no such thing as hell. They choose to ignore God’s Word, just like the false teachers of Peter’s day. But those false teachers and the scoffers of today both will face their maker at the last day, and the Lord Jesus Christ will judge them, as he will judge us all.
All right, we have seen Peter’s answer to the false teachers’ objection based on the stability of the universe. Next, in verses 8-10, Peter answered the objection based on the delay of the second coming of Christ. In verses 8-9 we see Peter’s third exhortation: remember God’s sovereignty over time. In this exhortation Peter not only is answering the objection of the false teachers based on the delay of the second coming, but he also is reassuring the recipients that what they had been taught by the apostles still holds true.
Time is different from God’s point of view than it is from ours, says Peter. “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Peter undoubtedly had Ps. 90:4 in mind. It says, quote: “a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.” In other words, the Psalmist and Peter were in agreement that human standards of time are inadequate to judge the speed or slowness of God’s actions. In the case of Peter’s situation, they are inadequate to judge the sped or slowness of God’s fulfillment of his promises. He is sovereign over time, and he will fulfill his promises according to his perspective on time. Philosophers today are spending a great deal of energy on this subject of time and how God relates to it. Although that is a subject worthy of philosophical and theological speculation, it always stays a bit beyond our understanding.
Peter goes on to say, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Ah, here is the real reason for the delay of the second coming. It isn’t a matter of God’s being slow to fulfill his promises. Rather it is a matter of God’s patience, his mercy. He delays because he doesn’t want any to perish. He delays in order to give sinners more time to repent of their sins and be saved (Cf. 1 Tim. 2:4).
Peter’s fourth exhortation in this section is seen in verse 10. Remember that the Day of the Lord will come, and that it will come unexpectedly. “But the day of the Lord will; come like a thief and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed (NIV ‘laid bare,’ lit. ‘discovered’)”. Jesus himself announced that the coming of the Son of Man would take place as unexpectedly as a thief. And when he comes, the works of mankind will be laid bare, presumably for purposes of judgment.
Now the events that Peter are describing are open to more than one interpretation, but he states that when the second coming takes place, four things are to happen:
—It will come unexpectedly.
—It will come with a loud noise.
—It will dissolve the elements.
—It will burn up the earth and its deeds (Mal. 4:1; Isa. 34:4).
This means that all, including the false teachers and their followers, should heed the call for repentance.