(II Peter 3)
“WHERE IS THIS COMING HE PROMISED?”
The Bible frequently speaks of the second coming of Christ. In one of the historical accounts (Acts 1:8-11), the Apostles were told by two angels, after Jesus had ascended to Heaven, “…Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Other inspired writers, such as the Apostle Paul (II Thess. 1:8-9), spoke of the Christ’s return and the Judgment.
Many people today do not believe in God so obviously they do not believe Christ will return. There are others who might be religious, even believing in the God of the Scriptures, but they do not believe Christ will come back, or at least have doubts about it. Others are agnostics and don’t take a position one way or the other. With each group, some may even ridicule the idea of the Second Coming.
Apparently, in biblical times people also took various positions regarding the return of Christ. There were people who either did not believe Christ would return or at least they doubted it would happen. As today, it seems some people made fun of the very concept.
II Peter 3 was written around 64 or 65 A.D. Here, Peter is responding to certain individuals, described as “scoffers,” who would argue that since Christ had not returned, He was not going to return. In this chapter, Peter makes some very logical arguments answering their contention. In this study, we will look at Peter’s response to these people, plus other points made by him regarding the second coming of Christ. Various applications for today will also be made.
Peter starts the chapter by pointing out he wanted to remind them of certain things taught by the “holy prophets,” and the “apostles.” Clearly, Peter numbered himself as an apostle (1-2).
THE OBJECTOR’S ARGUMENT
In verses 3-4 he said the following, “knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’”
Peter makes it clear that those who would raise this objection would be “scoffers.” This means they would deride or ridicule the concept of Christ’s return. The NASB actually translates it “mockers.” We sometimes disagree with the views of other people, but when this happens, nothing productive comes from ridicule. Respectful discussion is more conducive for people reaching agreement.
These “scoffers” would be in the “last days” according to Peter. The phrase “last days” seems here to refer to the last age i.e., the Christian Dispensation. Notice Peter’s use of this phrase when the church was actually established. In response to a charge made against the apostles, Peter quoted a prophecy from the book of Joel about the last days and applied it to what was taking place then (Acts 2:17). Note also Hebrews 1:1-2 which says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.”
It is interesting to note in verse 3 that the scoffers would “walk after their own lusts.” Today, some who do not believe in God may be good moral people. They may be governed more by societal standards or perhaps by teaching they received as a child. Christians are not always perfect, but they do have a steady standard, the Bible, which governs their lives. Many people today have rejected the Word of God as their standard. Consequently, their standard typically is to “do whatever pleases them.” They simply do what makes them happy. It is not uncommon for such individuals to “walk after their own lusts.”
The scoffers would start by saying (4a), “Where is the promise of His coming?” They would know Jesus had promised to return and this continued to be taught by early Christians. They would, in effect, be asking, “Where is the ‘fulfillment’ of His promise? (The NIV says, “Where is this coming he promised?”) So they would ask why Christ hasn’t returned as He said He would.
The scoffers would contend, “For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” The word “fathers” was sometimes used by the Jews to refer to their ancestors such as Abraham or Moses. However, here it seems to be used to refer to the earlier generation of Christians. It has been around 30 years since the establishment of the church and many of the older Christians had already died. These people never saw the fulfillment of the promise of Christ’s return. The argument of the scoffers would be based on the stability of the laws of nature. They would say, “The sun continues to rise and set; the seasons follow each other as usual; one generation replaces another.” “There is no evidence,” they would say, “anything is going to change because the laws of nature continue as they always have.” According to them, Christ has not come yet so he is not going to come. It is possible the early Christians may have added fuel to this. It seems some felt Christ would return very soon, and perhaps some of these were involved in trying to “fix the date” as people sometimes do today. Paul wrote elsewhere to correct this error of the imminent return of Christ (I Thess. 2:1-9). Some apparently even stopped working feeling certain Christ would return at any time (II Thess. 3:10-12).
PETER’S FIRST RESPONSE
Peter gives his first response (vs. 5-7) to the scoffer’s argument by comparing the people of his day with those of Noah’s day. He said, “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” He is telling them they were ignoring the lessons of the flood.”
Peter points out they would “willfully” forget the lessons from the flood. (Other translations say “deliberately.”) So, they were forgetting the lessons of the flood intentionally which would indicate these “scoffers” were dishonest. Two people can disagree on some matter but both may be honest and sincere in their beliefs. However, there may be a point when a person comes to realize his position is false yet he persists in defending it. Perhaps, due to pride, he may simply not be willing to admit he is wrong. At this point, he has become dishonest.
These scoffers were using the same argument against the second coming of Christ and the destruction of the earth which could have been used by the people of Noah’s day. They might have said, “The earth has stood for a long time, and there are no natural causes at work which would seem to indicate any changes are going to take place.” They might have also asked, “Where would the immense amount of water to destroy the world come from?” The Scriptures do not indicate there were any signs of a coming flood except for Noah’s preaching, but God caused things to be changed from the usual order. Just as God destroyed the world by water, He will one day destroy the earth by fire. It will only take God speaking to initiate the second coming of Christ and the destruction of the earth.
There are other lessons which can be learned from the flood. First, the flood shows God will destroy what He has created (note Gen. 7:21-23). He did it once, and He will do it again (II Thess. 1:7-9). Second, we learn God’s love for man does not keep Him from carrying out justice. Some say, “God is a God of love so He will not punish mankind.” Misinformed, some people only look at one side of God. But, Hebrews 10:30-31 says, “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 12:29 points out, “For our God is a consuming fire.”
PETER’S SECOND RESPONSE
Again, the objectors seem to be saying, “Since so much time has passed and Christ has not returned, He is not going to return.” With this in mind, consider Peters second response in verse 8 which says, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This argument pertains to God’s position relative to time and eternity. God, who has eternity to carry out His Will, does not view time in the same way as we do on earth. It is very difficult for us to imagine the concept of eternity. Man is completely governed by the passing of time— by the rising and setting of the sun. Man has only a very limited time to live and to carry out tasks but it is different with God.
It is important to consider the following. With man, the more time passes between a promise made and the fulfillment of the promise, the less chance the promise will be kept. There are several reasons for this. First, a person may die and be unable to do what he has promised. Next, as time passes, a person may forget a promise he made. Also, as time goes on, a person may feel less of a need to fulfill a particular promise as circumstances may change. God, however, is not like man as the passing of time in no way affects His promises.
Consider the following examples. First, during the days of Noah, God said He would destroy the world with water. However, it took 120 years for that promise to be fulfilled. Next, in Genesis 12:1-3, God made the “land,” “nation,” and “seed” promise to Abraham which pertained to his descendants. It took several hundred years for the first two promises to be fulfilled. (This was accomplished by Israel acquiring the land of Canaan and the Jews becoming a great nation.) It took several thousand years for the “seed” promise to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3) where all nations of the earth were blessed. But, God promised and those promises were kept!
A promise made by God in 30 AD is just as valid now as it was when it was made. It will be just as certain to be fulfilled two thousand years from now as it was on the day it was given. These scoffers needed to heed the lessons from the flood and understand that the passing of time does not affect the promises of God.
THE REASON CHRIST HAD NOT RETURNED
In verse 9, Peter explains, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” From this we learn, it wasn’t true God was “slack,” or “slow” to keep His promise. Instead, Christ had not returned because God is long-suffering! Various passages refer to the mercy and long-suffering nature of God. Psalm 103:8 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” Exodus 34:6 reveals, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.’”
These people, as today, instead of mocking the concept of the Second Coming of Christ, should have been thankful Christ had not returned because if He had, they would have been lost. God does not want people to be lost! People should take advantage of the time they have and make themselves right with the Lord.
So, the scoffers were saying Christ has not come back yet, and He is not going to return. Peter points out: “you have ignored the lessons of the flood, the passing of time does not affect the promises of God; the fact that Christ has not returned is not a matter of God’s slowness in keeping His promises, but it is due to the fact He is long-suffering.”
THE SECOND COMING FURTHER EXPLAINED
Peter further explains in verse 10, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”
We learn here Christ will return as a “thief in the night.” How does a thief come? He comes suddenly and unexpectedly. It is certain Christ will return; the only uncertainty is when (I Thess. 5:2-3, Mt. 24:42-44). To no avail, various groups have tried to predict when Christ will return and their dates have come and gone. We don’t know when it will happen so we must always be prepared.
The later part of verse ten makes it clear there will be a complete destruction. The priceless works of art, the inventions of mankind, and every city will be destroyed. Not only will the works of men be destroyed, but the entire earth will be also! The earth and the works of the earth will burn up, melting with fervent heat.
IMPACT OF THE SECOND COMING
In the next section, Peter lists an “action” and “attitude” which should result in light of the fact Christ will return. Verses 11-14 say, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”
The action which should result is “holiness.” According to these verses, in light of the fact the earth will be destroyed (“dissolved”), we should live a holy life. Further, we should also work diligently to be found “without spot and blameless.” Many motivations can be cited for faithfully serving God. For example, we serve Him because we love Him (Rom. 5:8) and because He is our Creator. But, the Judgment also serves as a motivation. We realize one day Christ will return, the earth will be destroyed, and there will be a judgment (II Cor. 5:10). We want to go to heaven; we do not want to go to hell. Thus, we should be motivated to be holy. Notice a similar idea in Paul’s sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17:30-31 where he said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
The second impact is an attitude. In these verses, Peter points out we are to eagerly anticipate (with confidence) the return of Christ. It says we are to be, “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” The ASV says, “looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God.” The verse also says, “looking forward to these things.” Consider two other passages which express a similar idea. 1 John 2:28 says, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” I John 4:17 reveals, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.”
How can one eagerly anticipate the return of Christ and the Judgment? As noted, by being ready for it! Matthew 24:44 admonishes, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” If we are in a proper relationship with God, we not only have nothing to fear, but we can eagerly anticipate Christ’s return.
SOME CLOSING ADMONITIONS
Consider verses 15-17 which say, “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation — as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked.”
In this section, Peter presents three important admonitions. Consider them now.
(1) They needed to have the right perspective. Earlier, he pointed out Christ not having returned was evidence of the long-suffering of God. God wants everybody to be saved. Now, he is asking them to consider “that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” The NIV translates this, “our Lord’s patience means salvation.” As we discussed earlier, unsaved people can be happy Christ has not returned. If a person is not saved, he should take advantage of the fact that Christ has not returned and the Judgment has not taken place and should obey God.
(2) They needed to beware of false doctrine. Peter warned these Christians to “beware of something very serious.” He said certain “untaught” and “unstable” people would take what Paul (who had written to them earlier) and others taught and would “pervert” it. The word translated “pervert” (NKJV) involves the idea of twisting or changing. It was used to refer to torturing someone such as, in ancient times, would be done on a rack. Peter acknowledges that some of the things Paul wrote were hard to understand. (This is not meant as a reflection on Paul’s writing ability, but the idea is that Paul, as an inspired writer, wrote about some very deep subjects.) False teachers would take advantage of that, as today, and would pervert his teaching. Peter said they would do this to their “own destruction.” This shows the false teacher would be in jeopardy for his actions. Those who accepted the false doctrine would also be in danger. They would then, as Peter described it, fall away from their own “steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked.” We can conclude false doctrine is very serious both for the teacher and for those who accept the teaching. The idea, as some say, that it doesn’t matter what a person teaches or believes is incorrect. Many passages warn against false doctrine (Acts 20:26-28, Mt. 7:15-16, I Tim. 4:1-4, II Tim. 4:3-4). To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Everyone must be on guard!
(3) They needed to grow. In the last verse (18), Peter told them that instead of falling, they should, “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” This tells us growth is a commandment; it is necessary and is not optional. The new Christian starts out on the “milk” of the word, which is to be desired, and by it would be able to grow thereby (I Pet 2:2). In Hebrews 5:11-14, certain ones were spoken of as being “dull of hearing.” They were told they should, by a certain point, have been teachers, but they were still on the milk of the Word instead of the meat and needed to be taught the first principles again.
In conclusion, there are many important lessons to learn from II Peter 3. Peter skillfully answers arguments of some who were mocking the concept of the second coming of Christ. In the course of him doing this, we learn some very valuable information about God’s Promises, the Second Coming and how both should have an impact on our lives.