"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: AJBT. 2 Peter 3:1-12. Preparing for the Coming Day
Date: November 22nd 2016
Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter. All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
2 Peter 3:1-2. This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: 2That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
Chapter three demarks a clear break from Peter’s lengthy discussion concerning false teachers, turning his attention back to his readers. Peter uses a term that is rendered beloved that probably deserves some attention. The first-century Christians redefined the Greek term, agape, to refer to that unique unconditional love that characterizes God’s unconditional love for His creation and is to characterize Christian’s similar love for Him and for others. Peter takes this new word usage and adds a suffix, making the word, agapetoi, rendering it “one who is loved with God’s unconditional love.” This term came to be used by literally all of the New Testament writers, reminding us of the importance of loving one another in this unconditional way. Peter uses the term four times in this one chapter alone. Some translations render this word, “dear friends,” incorrectly implying that the basis of this word is phileo rather than agape.
Peter brings this reminder of love, “a reminder about the coming of the Lord and how believers are to live in light of that coming,” following the hard-hitting exposure of false teachers in the second chapter of this letter, probably bringing some encouragement to his readers as they are reminded of this love. Peter also describes a desired result of this reminder: that the minds of those to whom he writes would be purified. The term for pure refers to something that was previously impure and has had its impurities removed. The previous chapter was replete with examples of impurity, and Peter is reminding his readers that the truths that he presents can serve to “stir up” their minds and serve to remove those impurities much like the smelting process serves to separate out impurities from molten metal. An occasional reminder of the truth can serve to remove from our minds that which is impure and unholy and that which is not profitable to God’s kingdom purpose for the individual. Peter reminds his readers to remove from their minds that which is unholy, and replace it with holy patterns of thought.
One of the fruits of “right thinking” is a restoration of the truth by shedding the errors that they may have accumulated from these false teachers of chapter two. Peter reminds them to return to the teachings of the Old Testament prophets and to the commands that the LORD gave to His Apostles and has been shared with them through their visits and their letters. “Peter had been with the Lord on all of the occasions when the Lord spoke of His coming. He was with Him when the Lord delivered the Olivet Discourse. He was present at the Lord’s ascension and personally heard the angelic proclamation that the Lord will come again in the same way in which He went. Peter could speak as an eyewitness, as he did in 2 Peter 1. But repeatedly in his preaching and his teaching, Peter called attention to the Old Testament prophets.”
2 Peter 3:3-4a. Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4aAnd saying, Where is the promise of his coming?
It is apparent that one of the primary areas of false teaching that Peter was correcting is that of eschatology: beliefs concerning the end of the age. Peter’s second epistle “is almost universally regarded as evidence that the early Church was seriously disturbed by the delay of the Parousia.” We face a similar dilemma today with our most successful cults finding that success in a platform of well-defined eschatological beliefs. Referred to as “eschatological cults,” they include some of the fringe groups of the Seventh Day Adventists (e.g. Branch Davidians), the early World Wide Church of God, the People’s Temple of Jim Jones, and many others. Often these groups teach that the end is imminent and they lead their members to make unreasonable preparations, or even in the cases of the Branch Davidians, and the People’s Temple, they orchestrate their own violent deaths.
The distraction from the true gospel that characterizes these cults was as dangerous in the first century as it is today, and probably more-so among a fledgling Christian community that had little written doctrine to stabilize it. Peter refers to “their own lusts,” something we see in the leadership of these eschatological cults today. Their leaders invariably use their teachings to establish themselves as a form of savior, building their religion around themselves as one who is going to save the people from the dangers of these imminent last days. Peter describes the lust they have for their own power and worldly glorification among their followers.
Peter points out that, prior to the coming of the false teachers, the eschatological truths were already known. Furthermore, even the prophets argued that there would be scoffers in the last days. Peter sees these prophecies fulfilled in the appearance of these scoffers. “The problem is not with Jesus, or the apostles' memory or integrity. The problem is with the false teachers' depraved and "deliberate" ignorance of the ways and word of God.” The Apostles agreed that the “last days” refer to the period from Jesus’ ascension to His second coming. They believed that this time would be short, and would probably have been astonished had they known that we would still be awaiting His coming with a similar spirit of anticipation a full two millennia later.
The failure of Jesus to yet fulfill the prophecy of His return fueled the antagonists’ criticism of the teachings of the Apostles.
2 Peter 3:4b-5. for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
One argument that the false teachers used is similar to that still used today: little in this physical world has changed. They argue that there is no physical evidence of the promise His coming, so this promise may be dismissed and replaced by their own system of belief. The false teachers held that God clearly has not intervened in the world since its beginning, and so the Apostle’s teaching of any sudden change is reactionary, fanciful, or mythological.
Worldly minds are ignorant of spiritual things, and these whose minds are worldly simply do not perceive the dramatic work that God has been doing since the beginning of creation, a work that culminated on the Cross of Calvary. They do not understand or teach of the spiritual dynamic of sin and death. They cannot see the dynamics of God’s continual intervention in both the physical and spiritual dimensions of this universe.
2 Peter 3:5. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
Those who are leading their followers in ignorance are ignorant by choice. They have chosen to ignore some of the most obvious evidence of God’s presence and purpose that has been clearly seen by those whom He created. This is in full agreement of Paul’s similar argument that he made in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 1:18-20. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
Peter gives three arguments to refute the ignorant position of the mockers.
The first example of God’s intervention in the cosmos is the creation of the world itself in what was already an aged universe. The universe, created by the Word of God, was in chaos before God provided a place that is inhabitable by human life. Even the earth itself was formed with dry land emerging from the water. Peter’s description of the creation of the earth is consistent with the Genesis narrative.
2 Peter 3:6. Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
The second example describes the destruction of the world by flood, a reference to God’s judgment of man’s sin in the days of Noah. This event clearly shows the intervention of God within the time frame of man’s experience. The flood did not result in the destruction of the world: it resulted in the destruction of the sin that so came to characterize the “world that was.” This intervention of God was directly related to His interrelationship with mankind. Peter argues that, if God intervened in such a dramatic way specifically because of man’s presence, He can certainly do it again.
2 Peter 3:7. But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
Peter argues that the present stability of the universe can be traced back to God’s graceful intervention, allowing for God’s repeated intervention again at any point He wishes. Having been created by God’s intervention, and at least once disrupted by God’s intervention, the earth and heavens are now stable, “kept in store,” reserved in its present state until God intervenes again for the purpose of the final judgment, a judgment that will visit both the heavens and the earth. Peter reminds his readers that all of this is done by the power of God’s Word, a power that has authority over all of the universe, a power that is total, and has been exacted in this cosmos in a plan that does end with the judgment of sinful men. If the false teachers refuse to repent, they will find out too late that (1) the judgment is no myth, and that (2) God does intervene in the world.
2 Peter 3:8. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
The argument that is being made by the false teachers relates to what they perceive is an inordinate amount of time that has passed without experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promise. Peter has already argued that much of God’s promise has been unfolding since the creation of the universe, a time period that was unfathomable to ancient man’s sensibilities. Peter then makes an important point about the nature of that time, a point that has made this particular verse the most well-known in the chapter: God is timeless.
Though the concept of God’s eternal and timeless character was not well-understood in the first century, the concept did have its adherents, including many of the framers of early Christian thought such as Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine of Hippo. The understanding of God’s timelessness has become a basic and non-controversial doctrine in modern times because of our clearer understanding of the physical properties of the universe.
Peter understands this when he severs the connection between physical time as we experience it and the unknown chronological nature of an eternal heaven. We understand today that we experience the passing of time as a function of our moving through an expanding physical universe. If we travel at different rates of speed, we experience the passing of time at different rates. We also experience the passing of time at different rates when we are subject to differing amounts of gravity. Time, as we experience it is just one (very important!) dimension of the physical properties of this universe that was created by God’s Word.
If God created physical time when He created this physical universe we can better understand how He views this universe from His place in Eternity, a place that is entirely separated from the natural limitations of this physical universe. God is eternal, and is not limited by or bound to the passing of our moments, hours, and days. Consequently, as God observes all of creation from His position in Eternity, He does not have to remember our past or predict our future. All of the events that take place in this creation are in the “palm of his hands.”
When we understand that God is not limited by the passing of time that we experience, we can recognize that God’s promises also transcend any limitations of physical time, the very point that Peter is making. Peter effectively removes time as an issue, removing one of the primary arguments made by the false teachers who do not understand or even consider God’s timelessness. God created time and He is free to interact with it in any way that He pleases.
2 Peter 3:9. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
The miracle is not that God created time… the miracle is that YAHWEH stepped down from His position in Eternity and entered time as the Messiah, Jesus Christ to fulfill the promise that He made to mankind: that He would provide a means of salvation.
Peter, from his own understanding of God’s timelessness, recognizes that time itself is not an indicator of God’s faithfulness to His promises. Peter states that God’s patience for us transcends the character of time, and He can extend the period of physical time before the second coming of Christ to any length that He chooses without compromising His promise. Peter notes that as the days continue to pass, this is an opportunity for more people to come to the LORD, stating that it is clearly God’s will that all people would come to repentance and be saved.
Though the power of sin keeps most people from salvation, many thousands of people are still coming to Christ every day, and coming at a rate greater than any time in history, particularly in areas of the world that have been traditionally closed to the gospel in modern times such as India, China, and Russia, home to nearly half of the world’s population. Africa, once referred to as the “dark continent” has also experienced sweeping revivals that have seen the salvation of millions of souls.
2 Peter 3:10. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
So, how long will God continue to tarry before the end of the age? Peter repeats the metaphor of the “thief in the night” that was also used by Jesus and by Paul. The promise of the coming of the end of the age is not abrogated by the passing of time. The end will come with little warning, though the signs of the end are now and will continue to be apparent. Peter then adds his words to the prophesy of the nature of the end as one that is violent and ultimately destructive to both the heavens and the earth. God will end this age, and that end will involve the destruction of the universe itself, a prophecy that is in complete agreement with the violent end that is described in the latter chapters of the Revelation of John as well as many other biblical references. The voracity of Peter’s description of the end of the age is defended by its consistency with these other biblical sources.
2 Peter 3:11-12. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Certainly there has been no shortage of speculation as to the details of the prophesied end of the age. “In the process of erasing the stain of original sin, God must completely obliterate all physical substance, creating a new substance that is not tainted by decay and death.” There is little question that the exploration of such speculation is interesting, but it should not become distracting, and speculations surrounding end-of-the-world theories should not be considered authoritative, and should not be allowed to distract us from the sincere work of the Gospel. Rather than explore the cosmic, Peter brings us back home immediately, taking for granted the violent and imminent nature of the end, and turning attention to the need for the faithful to live lives that recognize the very sovereignty of God, an uncompromised sovereignty that empowers Him to end the age.
Peter does not in any way diminish the importance of the end-times prophecies. Eschatological cults tend to overemphasize end-time doctrines to the point that they become their most important focus. Because of this, many Christian groups tend to shy away from any eschatological focus, often rationalizing away the need to consider eschatology. However, Peter uses words that are translated, “looking for and hasting unto…” as he notes that the faithful are to be looking towards the coming of the promise, as well as working towards its end. “This discussion of the destruction of the cosmos is, in other words, a highly ethical matter for Peter. Eschatology is a thoroughly ethical doctrine in the New Testament and that is no exception here. Because the Lord will return in judgment, where even the heavenly bodies burn as his holy fire sifts through the wheat and the tares of both people and their works, his people, his body, ought to be pursuing Christlikeness.”
How does one work towards this end? A simple illustration might help us to understand: You are observing a gathering of children who are playing in the middle of a quiet, freshly paved, street. As they are playing, a huge street-wide steam-roller is slowly approaching them. The children are unaware of the approaching machine, and its driver is unaware of their presence. You have no way of communicating with the driver. What do you do? You communicate with the children with the sole intent of saving them from their impending doom.
This is what Peter is referring to as “hasting to the coming day.” We may not be able to save people from the impending doom of the coming judgment, but we can warn them. We would think that one who would fail to warn the children in this illustration would be less than despicable. However, those who are lost are like those children because they simply do not understand the nature and surety of their doom. It is the task of the faithful to communicate the good news of God’s saving grace to those who are in need of it. We do not know if the last days are imminent, or if they are many millennia away. However, as God tarries, people still have no assurance of tomorrow. “This should have a definite resulting effect on the lives of Christians both in their attitudes and their expectation of the Savior's consummating work.” The time for sharing the message of salvation is today, and that message is shared through godly living and sharing both the context and the message of God’s love with a lost world.
The most complete biblical narrative on eschatology is found in the Revelation of John, and is often overlooked because of the inability of many to understand how to read its apocalyptic literature style.
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