Lesson 13 - 2 Peter 3:1-13, 17-18 - LIVING IN VIEW OF THE LAST DAYS
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in 2 Peter 2:1-3, we heard Peter issue a strong warning about how false teaching can wreck the stability of an otherwise strong church. He told us that we must constantly be on guard against false teachers who seek to infiltrate our church from within; then in Jude 17-23, we heard the half-brother of Jesus strongly push us to "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3) by protecting our respective churches from apostasy and doctrinal error by (1) being firmly grounded in the foundations of our faith (public and private Bible study) and (2) praying "in the Holy Spirit:" (focused and planned prayers that that ask for things consistent with God's will). Finally, Jude told us to make our best efforts to rescue believers who are struggling with false teaching. Peter and Jude's warning are very relevant to all Bible-believing Christians today because we are all living in a secular human era that is deeply disbelieving of anything that claims to be absolute truth.
This week, in 2 Peter 3:1-13, 17-18, in response to false teachers who deny the return of Jesus, the apostle is going to put us on the steepest slope of end-time prophecy-eschatology. In effect, these false teachers claim that there's no such thing as a New Testament, and that God's Creation will just keep on going as before. Peter will explain the complexities of God's timing and answer the hard question of why it hasn't happened yet.
Read 2 Peter 3:1-2 - THE UNDERLYING PURPOSE OF HIS SECOND EPISTLE
1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
vv. 1-2: Here, we see Peter turn from his burning denunciation of false teachers and their foul efforts to undermine the churches, to his pastoral concern aimed at girding-up his readers to stand firm against the dangerous heresy that denied the return of Christ. In these verses, he forcefully reminds them that the teachings of the apostles, men who walked and lived with Jesus Christ, holds spiritual authority as the inspired and inerrant Word of God that is in every way equal to that of OT Scripture. This spurious heresy essentially disputed the foundational truth of the Christian Faith.
Read 2 Peter 3:3-6 - THE DAY OF THE LORD IS DEFINITELY COMING!
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
v. 3: "Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts," - The preface, "first of all," means this information is of greatest importance and "last days" refer to the days before Christ's return. A "mocker" describes a person who ridicules and makes fun of things that should be taken seriously. Ironically, the mockers themselves were a fulfillment of OT prophecy (Isa. 5:18-19; Jer. 17:15). That they were "following after their own lusts" tells us that these mockers claimed an intellectual superiority that surpassed divine revelation. Does this seem similar to the humanistic intellectuals of our own time who now have permeated our society with the idea that evolution disproves creation and that the God of the Bible doesn't exist.
v. 4: "and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.'" - On the certainty of His return, Jesus had previously told His apostles in what is now known as the "Olivet Discourse," that, "immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, ADN TEH MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory." (Matt. 24:29-30; Mark 13:24-26; Luke 21:25-28). Do you affirm this is as the Word of God? Yes? By the time Peter was writing this second epistle, most of what we call the New Testament, including all three synoptic gospels, had been written. What the mockers in Peter's day were attempting to do was derail the witness of the apostles, in effect, to overrule the New Testament! According to them, Jesus would never return and God would never intervene in the world. And we Christians are fighting the same fight right now. The secular human intellectual elite may think they've won. But they haven't-not by a long shot.
v. 5: "For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water," - "they" refers to the mockers. What "escapes their notice"-what they've conveniently forgotten-is two events in the creation of the cosmos that show that God did intervene in the world in the past: (1) when God spoke the universe into existence (Gen. 1:6-8) and (2) when he spoke again and the dry land separated from the "water" (Gen. 1:9-10), and He will use two means, His word and fire, to destroy the present earth in the future (Jer. 7:18-20; Rev. 21-22).
v. 6: "through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water." - The third thing the mockers willfully overlooked was the flood in Noah's day (Gen. 6:9-9:17), when God spoke again and the earth was flooded. In this event, Peter makes it clear that God used the "waters" to intervene in history as a universal judgment on sinful men and women. Modern critics deny this, too, despite the historical evidence. As we move further into this lesson, we need to see that Peter is portraying world history in three periods, divided by two massive cataclysms: (1) the earth before the flood; (2) the present earth; and (3) the future earth that is yet to come.
APPLICATION 1: False teachers typically claim intellectual superiority that overrules divine revelation. The mockers in Peter's day were attempting to derail the witness of the apostles, in effect, to overrule the New Testament! According to them, Jesus would never return and God would never intervene in the world. Today we are fighting the same fight against an intellectual elite who claim that evolution disproves creation and that the God of the Bible doesn't exist.
Read 2 Peter 3:7-10 - THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL COME LIKE A THIEF
7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
v. 7: "But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." - Though Peter himself didn't understand this technically, he makes a scientifically accurate statement. From the beginning, when God created it, He seeded the earth with sufficient water to destroy it. Today, with nuclear physics, we understand that all matter is stored-up energy in which the splitting of its atoms can result in the fiery release of enormous quantities of energy. And in the next "reserved" cataclysm, God will destroy the earth (and heavens) by "fire." Bible experts predict this event will take place after the Great White Throne Judgments and will precede the creation of the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 10:11-14; 21:1).
v. 8: "But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day." - In this verse, we move to the big question of why God has delayed His judgment for so long. Using the figure of speech, "one day is like a thousand years," Peter explains that God's relationship to time is vastly different than ours, since He is eternal. He does not operate in the sphere that we do. For us, time-minutes, hours, days, months-is determined by the relationship of the sun to the earth, but God's isn't limited by this constraint. Yet, at the same time, God's use of time is extensive, so that He may use a thousands of years to accomplish something we think should be done in one day.
v. 9a: "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness," - The passage of time-even thousands of years-should never lead us to think that God will not fulfill what He has promised. God is always faithful to fulfill every promise He makes.
v. 9b: "but is patient toward you," - Humans, with our brief life spans, can't even begin to fathom God's concept of patient timing. He always acts at the 'perfect' time.
v. 9c: "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." - This phrase clearly means that God is waiting to fulfill His promise-extending the time of Grace-in order to give more people the time to repent. Even though the unbelievers left on earth will be able to repent after the Rapture, it's far better that they come now, before the end-times. Yes, we know that the unbelievers left on earth will be saved by the multitudes during the seven-year Tribulation (Rev. 7-14), however, the severe conditions of that period will make it far more difficult for them. So we wait.
v. 10: "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up." - The "day of the Lord" is an eschatological term that refers to a specific time that will take place in the future. The "day" refers to any period when God acts in judgment. In the NT context, it refers to (1) The 7-Year Tribulation period (1 Thess. 5:2); (2) The return of Jesus to earth to inflict retribution on those who don't obey the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-10); (3) The 1,000-year Millennial reign of Christ on earth (Acts 2:20); and (4) the final destruction of the universe as we know it (Rev. 21:1). That it will come "like a thief" means it will be sudden and unexpected. The stellar universe we see today will be completely incinerated and "pass away." The "earth and works" refer to this planet and everything that human civilization has built on it.
APPLICATION 2: God is patiently extending His time of grace in order to give people more time to repent. This is the reason why God has delayed His judgment so far. The passage of time-even thousands of years-should never lead us to doubt that God will fulfill his promises. The simple answer is that God is eternal and doesn't operate in our timeframe.
Read 2 Peter 3:11-13 - LIVING IN VIEW OF THE FUTURE
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
v. 11: "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness," - To paraphrase, why pin your hopes on the things of this world when all of will cease to exist? This is tough, but the truth is that everything we value on this planet is temporary. So, how, as Christians, do we live in the present with a focus on the future? Peter tells us to turn away from the attractions of the world in order to live in "holy conduct and godliness." It's a different mindset of living for eternity instead of earthbound time, putting your life's emphasis on things that are spiritual rather than material, and perceiving yourself as eternal rather than passing. I didn't say this was easy to do. It requires you to 'rewire' the way you think, to achieve a new level.
v. 12: "looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!" - The "day of God" refers to the eternal state, which follows the "day of the Lord." The Greek word translated "hastening" (speudontes)-you really need to hear this-literally means to speed-up towards something. What that tells us is that we believers can hasten-speed up-the return of Christ by witnessing for the gospel-i.e., saving more souls, by praying, and by living holy lives in real anticipation of this day.
v. 13: "But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth," - This passage supports the view that the "day of God" is the eternal state that follows the "day of the Lord." Eternity in heaven is the ultimate promise upon which our faith and hope journey rests. Yes?
v. 13b: "in which righteousness dwells." - Hang-on for a quick theology lesson: (1) In the present age, grace reigns through righteousness, thus, by grace we are saved, yes? (Rom. 5:21); (2) In the Millennial Kingdom righteousness will reign where Christ rules with a rod of iron to enforce it; and (3) in eternity, where Satan and evil are absent, righteousness will dwell-with no sin to despoil it.
APPLICATION 3: By living our lives with an eternal perspective, we can hasten the return of Christ. To do this, Peter says we should turn away from the attractions of the world and live with a new mindset the puts emphasis on spiritual rather than worldly things, and to perceive ourselves as eternal rather than passing away like this temporary world. We need to focus our minds on godly things like saving more souls, praying, and joyfully anticipating our perfect heavenly home.
Read 2 Peter 3:17-18 - BE ON YOUR GUARD
17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 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.
v. 17: "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness," - This is Peter's conclusion and closing: Christians and their churches must constantly guard themselves against the peril of error. Until Christ returns, there will always be false teachers who try to corrupt the truth. Where would we be today if the false teachers of Peter's time had succeeded in turning the NT message into just another myth? But the danger is far from over and error still abounds today: Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Scientology, Christian Scientists, Unitarianism, and Islam are just some of the major cults. There are many, many others that have deceived people from the truth. As Peter has demonstrated throughout this epistle, our defense against these threats is the truth-the gospel of Jesus Christ according to apostolic witness. It proves itself by showing how the OT points to Jesus Christ in the NT.
v. 18a: "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - To keep ourselves strong, Peter identifies two areas of the Christian life where we should continue to grow no matter how old we are. "Grace" in our lives is manifested in the practical demonstration of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). We also need to keep growing in "knowledge," which Peter defined a few weeks back in 2 Peter 1:6, as information acquired after salvation, specifically, learning all that a Christian needs to know through continuous study of the Bible, both OT and NT.
v. 18b: "both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." Finally, Peter ends with a note reminding us of the ultimate reason for our existence-to Glorify God. Amen. And so ends Peter's Second Epistle.
APPLICATION 4: We Christians need to keep growing in grace and knowledge as long as we live. While we can retire from our earthly occupations, God' only retirement plan is heaven. We grow in grace when we continue to live fruitful lives that consistently show virtues like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control towards people inside and outside of our church. And we grow in knowledge by keeping ourselves deeply rooted in the private and public study of God's Word and using it to guide all the decisions we need to make.