Last session we studied 2 Peter 3:1-10, in which Peter taught about the second coming of Christ. The delay of the second coming had become a problem for the Church. Peter, Paul and the other apostles taught that Christ would return soon; but no one knew how long “soon” would be. By the sixties of the first century, when Peter wrote this letter, nearly four decades had passed since 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.
First, Peter exhorted them to remember the teachings of the prophets and apostles (v. 2). Second, he exhorted them to remember the word of God (vv. 5-7). Third, Peter exhorted them to remember God’s sovereignty over time (vv. 8-9). And fourth. He exhorted them to remember that the Day of the Lord will come, and that it will come unexpectedly (v. 10). I noted that the events Peter were describing are open to more than one interpretation, but he clearly set forth four things that are to happen when the second coming of Christ takes place:
—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).
In verses 11-18, our study for today, Peter brings his letter to a close. In doing so, Peter applies his thoughts to the recipients with a moral mandate that he believes is required, and then he gives a few closing exhortations.
As we already had seen, Peter wanted the recipients to understand that the Lord is coming again; and he wanted them to understand some things about that second coming. But it’s one thing to have that knowledge, and it’s quite another thing to live the right kind of life in response to the knowledge.
Thus in verse 11 Peter gives the recipients a moral mandate. He asks, “Since all these things,” meaning the heavens and the earth, “are to be dissolved in this way,” meaning by fire, “what sort of persons ought you to be?” That’s an outstanding question. It’s a question we Christians ought to be asking ourselves much more often than we do.
God’s Judgment is coming. We may not live physically until Christ comes again, but all of us will be participants in the end-time (including the judgment), when he comes. We may not be able to understand how God will bring it all to pass; but it will come to pass. Each of us will be resurrected and will participate in the final judgment. And that is why Peter is asking how we ought to be living in the meantime.
Too many people, including many Christians, live as though there never will be an accounting. But God’s Word says there will be an accounting. Every human being will appear before the judgment seat of God, and God will punish or reward us according to what we have done in the body.
Now then, Peter answers his own question about how we should live. As the NIV puts it, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.” The letter to the Hebrews also stresses the holy life. Indeed Hebrews declares that holiness is required to see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). And it isn’t just a matter of conduct, though conduct is important. Primarily it is a matter of character. Indeed the only way to be consistently holy in conduct is to have a holy character. And holiness of character comes from one’s yielding to the will and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In other words holiness comes from the inside out, and it defines who we are as Christians.
Some may think of godliness as a synonym for holiness, but that isn’t really the case. Godliness has to do with devotion or piety. It indicates a moral attitude. In the New Testament godliness indicates a Christian attitude towards life. Indeed the word is used in the New Testament as an equivalent of the Old Testament concept, the fear of God.” In other words, godliness has to do with the kind of wonder, awe, and reverence we believers should have towards God. Those who have this proper attitude towards God are godly; those who do not are ungodly. They are not properly devout or pious (Dictionary of New testament Theology). As you can see, holiness and godliness are not the same thing, though they are closely related. Obviously, one who is truly holy will be godly; and conversely, one who is ungodly cannot possibly be truly holy.
In verse 12 Peter gives two more characteristics of true Christians. We are “waiting for, and hastening the coming of the day of God.” The NIV says we “look forward to the day,” rather than we are “waiting for” it; but I believe the NRSV is a better translation in this instance. Either translation is correct, and both are true. For example, it’s true that we look forward to the second coming. But the more consistent theme of the New Testament is that we wait expectantly for the second coming, as we look forward to it. That’s the idea behind this word, and that’s why I prefer the NRSV translation. So, in addition to living lives of holiness and godliness as we await the second coming, we are to wait expectantly.
Lastly, in addition to holiness, godliness and expectant waiting, we are to hasten the second coming. Wow! I doubt that many Christians give a lot of thought to that idea. We are to hasten the second coming.
There is no doubt that this is what that word means. Every time the word occurs in the New Testament, it means to hurry or hasten. For instance, in Luke 2:16, the shepherds “went with haste,” or hastened, to see the Christ child. In Luke 19:5-6, when Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down out of a tree, he said “hurry” [or hasten] and come down.” “So he hurried down.” And in Acts 22:18, when Paul is telling about a vision he had in which Jesus said to him, “Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly.” So we are in some sense supposed to be hurrying, or hastening, the second coming.
The obvious next question is, how can we hasten the second coming? Peter doesn’t tell us, but the New Testament as a whole reveals some ways we can do it. First, we can pray. For example, in Rev. 8:3-5, it is revealed that the prayers of God’s people have an influence on the events of the end time. I suggest you take the time to look at that passage to see what I mean. The context is the Tribulation vision, which suggests that it is during the end time.
I don’t want to deduce too much from this passage; but it does indicate that the prayers of God’s people influence end time events. And of course Jesus himself taught us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to pray “thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). Therefore, although the New Testament is a bit vague on this subject, it does teach us that our prayers can somehow hasten the second coming.
Second, we can hasten the second coming by preaching or witnessing. Again, there is mystery here. But when Jesus taught about the end-time, as recorded in Matt. 24:14, he said, “And this good news [or gospel]of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony [or witness] to all the nations; and then the end will come.” So according to Jesus, our preaching or witnessing, like our praying, can influence the second coming. We have no way of knowing when God will launch the end time events. We don’t know if the number of people saved, or the number of people groups or nations reached, has anything to do with God’s timing. But we do know that we are preach and bear our witness to the ends of the earth so that God’s purposes will be attained, which will hasten the second coming.
Yet a third way that we can hasten the second coming is repentance, as seen in Acts 3:17-21. Again I suggest you look it up and read it. As you can see from these verses, repentance of sin brings not only “times of refreshing,” but it hastens the sending of the Messiah, the Christ. Of course the sending of the Messiah in this instance refers to the second coming. Thus repentance is a third way to hasten the second coming.
Now then, Peter concludes the letter with several final exhortations. Verses 14-15a summarize what Peter said earlier. “While you are waiting,” that is, waiting for the second coming, “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 God gave him” (NIV). Once again Peter reminded the recipients that the delay of the second coming was for salvation purposes, not slowness to fulfill his promises.
Peter’s mention of Paul is significant. First, it indicates that Peter and Paul taught the same things. Second, it indicates that Paul’s letters were accepted as Scripture while he was still alive. Of course many scholars reject this. Rather than believe that Peter said that, they reject authorship by Peter. They attribute this letter to a later, unknown writer who was writing in Peter’s name. And third, it always has been comforting to me that Peter admitted that he found some things in Paul’s letters hard to understand.
Finally, in verses 17-18 Peter instructed the recipients to “beware,” or “be on your guard’ (NIV). In other words, they were fairly warned, and they had no excuse. And he exhorts them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”