A Bible Lesson on 2Peter 3

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2Peter 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,

Peter is writing to “beloved”/dear friends. This is in stark contrast to the kind of words Peter has just had for heretics and false teachers. He is turning to directly address the faithful. And his concern is that they think and live right.

2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,

I want you to recall/remember the predictions and the commandment. This is in contrast to verse 21 of chapter 2, where the false teachers are described as having turned their backs on the sacred command. Peter is concerned with how his readers are going to think and live, and he therefore points them to the Word of God spoken by the prophets, by Christ Himself, and now by the apostles.

3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

Peter says, “first of all.” There’s not a list here that goes “first, second, and third in time.” Rather Peter is saying “Listen, this is important!” He says “in the last days.” This is not in some distant future time just before the end, but in the period where Peter was living and in which we now live, in the period between the first and second comings. The presence of scoffers is already a reality in Peter’s time. And cynicism goes hand in hand with bad living, the following of one’s own lusts. One feeds the other.

4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

There two charges/claims here that Peter will address in reverse order. The first masquerades as a question, but is not really a request for information. It is instead a flat denial of the truth of the promise that Christ made to return. And one of the heretics’ arguments for this position was the uniformity of the natural world. This is, of course, the position of our post-modern naturalists. These people basically say the so-called “physical laws” of the universe are what govern things. God (so the heretics Peter refutes say) cannot or will not suspend these natural laws and change anything.

It is ironic that even contained in the claim “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” is the seed of its forceful refutation. That is the word “creation.” Apparently these heretics didn’t deny that God created all. But if God did create, things have not always been the way they are now. Post-modern naturalists of course duck this by claiming that the physical universe is self-existent. Further, it’s simply bad reasoning to set the regularity/uniformity of nature up as evidence against the promises of God. It is, rather completely consistent with and testimony to the promises of God.

5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,

Peter says that this argument from the uniformity of nature is wrong and those that use it know that it is wrong. This deliberate ignoring of what we realize are the weaknesses of our arguments is one of fallen humanity’s favorite tricks.

Peter says that by His Word, God created all there is. He made the waters and from them He made His world.

6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

When Peter says “by means of these.” Probably we should hear “by His Word and by water.” God sent the flood in Noah’s time. God intervened in natural history in a supernatural way by His Word bringing judgment.

7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

The NIV wrongly omits “and”/”but” at the beginning here. The ESV has it right. The flow is that God by his Word and water intervened in Noah’s time in judgment. And by His Word and fire He will intervene in His world in final judgment. Christ will come, and one aspect of His coming will be judgment on the immorality that the heretics seem to sanction.

Note too that Peter sees God presently active in reserving/keeping until judgment day. The picture of the world just ticking along without any help from God is just a wrong one. The Jews had it right when they maintained that should God ever cease to sustain the world even for a second, it would cease to be.

Now Peter moves to his reply to the main issue of whether Christ will come again, especially if He hasn’t returned by now. Remember that this is probably the early 60’s AD.

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

The scoffer says, “Look He’s not coming back. He’s not done so by now, and He won’t in the future.” Peter says that God differs from us in both the perspective and the intensity with which He regards time. Part of verse 8 comes from Psalm 90.

Psalm 90:4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

God, unlike us, stands outside of time. We are finite creatures, locked in time. God is infinite, the very Creator of time. He is not constrained or pressured by our impatience. We think that the second coming should be at a certain point, but He’s not obligated by that. 1000 years against the backdrop of eternity is nothing. On the other hand, a single day with the Lord has the content of 1000 years. The point is that God is sovereign over time.

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The scoffer’s argument is that since God hasn’t acted in the matter of the second coming, He must have no power to act. Peter says, “No, you have it wrong. It is not powerlessness, but rather patience and mercy.” God was patient in Noah’s time, providing 100 years during the building of the ark when men could repent and be saved from the flood. He is patient now, providing opportunity time for men to repent and be saved from fire.

The plain meaning here is that though God is sovereign and genuinely desires all to be saved, He has ordered things in a way that gives man a will and that some will deliberately choose not to repent.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

God is patient, but we dare not presume upon His patience. Without warning, His patient waiting for the repentance of man will come to an end. That, Peter hopes we will see, is a terrifying prospect for those outside of God’s grace. Calvin points out that if God will purge the physical earth with fire to make it fit for the Kingdom of Christ, how much more necessary is the “renovation of men” as he terms it.

Isaiah saw the same thing coming.

Isaiah 34:4 All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.

In our time there has been a lot of silliness in talk about verse 10. People speak as if “Oh now we know about nuclear energy, so that authenticates the Word of God, and we see how this could come to be.” Peter’s picture here is far more than some small little nuclear holocaust on planet earth. “The elements” almost certainly refers to all heavenly bodies. The whole universe as we know it is going to be remade, beginning with purifying fire from the Holy One. Everything will be laid bare. Everything that every human being has ever done or been will be open and in plain view. If you and I are not standing in Christ at that time, the prospect of this day is truly and ultimately terrifying. And that knowledge ought to shape our living in the time before the second coming. Right Biblical doctrine ought to always issue in right living.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,

You ought to live holy lives. Why? There surely should be an element of holy fear here. But primarily this should be driven by gratitude for God’s great grace and patience. God’s patience COULD have come to an end 3 seconds before you and I bowed the knee. We could at this moment be facing the terrible and righteous judgment of our holy Creator. But we are not. In fact, says Peter, our attitude toward the second coming ought to be entirely other. Rather than shrinking back, we ought to be living lives of holiness and godliness looking forward to this day.

It’s interesting that the Greek for “godliness” here is plural. It’s literally “godlinesses” James-Fosset-Brown say, “…(or pieties towards God) in their manifold modes of manifestation” Calvin said, “… every part of conduct should be holy and every part of godliness should be attended to.”

12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

Not only are we to look forward to the final day, but amazingly enough, Peter says that we tiny frail human beings have the privilege of hastening/speeding its coming. Part of this is surely that we speed His coming as we live holy and consistent lives. Part of it is that we speed His coming as we do the work of missions and evangelism. Part of it is surely that we speed His coming as we pray in that direction. The phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is indeed “thy kingdom come.” That is a plea on our part for God to set all things right. That is a plea for the return of Christ and all it entails. The “waiting for” is no passive thing. It is patient and assured by the promises of God, but it is not just sitting idly around, rather being at work “hastening.”

Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost included this.

Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,

Acts 3:20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,

What we do, in some way has a part in how God will act in history. He is sovereign, He calls the shots, and yet you and I have a role to play.

13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Peter’s word “new” emphasizes both the radical change that creation will undergo and its continuation. The Greek word means new in nature or quality, not in time or origin. The teaching here is not of the emergence of a cosmos totally other than the present one, but the creation of a universe that is totally renewed in continuity with the present one. The Christian looks at the sure prospect of the purifying fire of God laying bare all things and says “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!” because with that fire will come a renewed and pure universe. We’re silly if we think we know details as to either the timing or the exact nature of this renewed creation. What we do know is that this is God’s sure promise.

Isaiah too saw the coming of a new heavens and earth.

Isaiah 65:17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

Peter says, “Therefore/as/since you are looking forward to these …” Peter comes again to where he started this letter, to the matters of purity of life and relationship with Christ. “knowledge” about the end times that doesn’t influence the way we live is no knowledge at all. We ought to live in humble gratitude for the patience of God that included even us. The delay in Christ’s return has meant that you and I will share in a glorious eternity.

15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,

16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Already in Peter’s time, people were trying to take Paul’s insistence that salvation is by faith plus nothing and twist it into license for ungodly behavior. Peter understands that for what it is: willful disobedience. And he has no problem at all declaring that such will bring God’s judgment. The apostles had no problem calling heresy heresy, and saying that it will bring damnation. Our soft/tolerant/inclusive 21st century ways don’t match well with the Biblical understanding that it is far better to warn people than to smile at them and let them go to destruction.

17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

Peter urges believers to “take care”/be vigilant. Peter has said in verse 10 of chapter 1 that “you will never fall.” He links that here with taking care/being on guard and growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior. No Christian stands still. We either grow in grace or we slide toward horrible loss.

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Indeed, to Him be glory both now and forever. May Christ be glorified in His church even now, and may His eternal visible and glorious reign come quickly.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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