2 Peter 3 (ESV)
The apostle Peter was marked for death. He had been pursued and persecuted by his own Jewish brothers, and now the Roman government had put him on their hit list. He knew that his time was short. This letter (2 Peter) was probably his last chance to communicate with a group of believers and churches that he felt responsible for. He was not going to waste his words. Peter’s words were to be his legacy. He wanted his readers to recall them long after he was dead (1:14-15). He wanted them to live as people of the promise.
The whole chapter is about the second coming. He mentions the second coming of Christ six times:
•Skeptics are going to try to get people to believe that the promise will always be unfulfilled (4,9).
•He shows that it will be bad news for some because it will bring judgment and destruction on the ungodly (7).
•It will be the Day of the LORD that divides this age from the next (10).
•It will dissolve the temporary things to make room for the permanent (11).
•It is the day of God (not creation, incarnation, or even the resurrection of Christ) 12.
Now, look at how Peter frames his argument. He uses the same word each time he begins a new section. That word is beloved. Look at verses 1,8,14,17. I asked myself why he is breaking up his letter like that. I think the answer lies back in 2:1, where he warns of false teachers bringing in “destructive heresies.” Peter responds to four different destructive heresies that were going to be introduced to the church. We have to use our imaginations to discover which heresies he responds to, because we only have his responses. But it is clear that each heresy is about the second coming.
2 Peter 3:1-7 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, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 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.” 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, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 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.
Peter is responding to those who say that nothing ever changes in this world. They would probably argue that Jesus does not need to come because we can eventually figure out the world’s problems and take care of them. There is some truth in every heresy. Truth: the world is predictable. Truth: Christ has not yet come. Peter responded by pointing out that creation happened when God said GO. The flood happened when God said GO. Jesus is going to come again as soon as God says GO! We are people of the promise. We should focus on what will be, not what has been.
2 Peter 3:8-13 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. 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. 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. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 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! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Peter is responding to those who say that God is too good and kind and patient to ever make good on his threat to annihilate the universe. Once again, there is truth here. Psalm 136 celebrates the steadfast love of God which endures forever. But Peter says the purpose of God’s patience is to populate a new universe after he has destroyed the old one. We can actually hasten the coming by getting involved in that redemptive work. God’s justice will eventually prevail, so his mercy is not infinite.
2 Peter 3:14-16 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 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.
Peter is responding to those who say that when you look at all the isms and conflicting teachings about the second coming, the whole thing is too confusing and impossible to explain. Peter says, true, it is confusing, and people distort the truth just like they do Paul’s writings. We need good solid systematic teaching on these issues. But the most important thing is not being able to explain the second coming, but being ready for it when it comes.
2 Peter 3:17-18 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. 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.
Peter is responding to those who say that all those doctrines the church teaches are irrelevant: they don’t matter, and the second coming is one of those doctrines. True, good theology cannot save you, but bad theology can destroy you. It can make you lose your stability. Destructive heresies can destroy your walk and keep you from the coming kingdom. There are two eternal destinies: permanent life or permanent death. Peter warns against turning from this truth back to defilements of the world. To know the gospel and turn against it is worse that not knowing it at all.
This may be the last gospel message you ever hear. I challenge you to live in the reality of the promise of Christ’s second coming. Peter said it this way: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (11-12). Living in the light of the second coming is learning to live as we shall – not as we have, not as we are. God accepts us by grace, and sees us just as we will be. John says that when he appears we will be like him. Peter says be diligent to be found by him spotless.
LORD, we ask you to transform us now, and commit ourselves to living that transformation so that we hasten Christ’s coming. Make us people of the promise!