2 Peter 3:8-15a
Peter is writing to encourage Christians to live Godly lives (1:3) that they “may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust” (1:4). He encourages them to live according to a list of virtues that begins with faith, proceeds to moral excellence, and ends in brotherly affection and love (1:5-7). He assures them that if they will “do these things, (they) will never stumble” and will be “richly supplied with the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (1:10-11).
Peter has addressed the problem of false teachers who are denying Christ’s Second Coming (3:4-7) and are accusing the apostles of fomenting “cunningly devised fables” (1:16). They have been saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (3:4).
Undermining belief in the Second Coming would remove an important incentive for Christians to live moral and ethical lives. If Christ isn’t coming again, people would be less motivated to live holy lives as preparation for his coming. This is one of Peter’s primary concerns.
The problem, of course, was that it had been thirty years since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Christians had been expecting his return soon—but “soon” had come and gone. Some Christians had died in the intervening years, and their loved ones were concerned about their fate (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Some were even teaching that Jesus’ return had already taken place (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
So these false teachers have been sowing their malignant seed in fertile soil, and have succeeded in undermining the belief of some Christians in Christ’s Second Coming. Now Peter is writing to counter the influence of those false teachers—and to restore their faith in Jesus’ Second Coming.
Peter calls these Christians to look forward to “the day of the Lord, (which) will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (3:10). He calls them to prepare for that day by “holy living and godliness” (3:11).
Peter accuses his opponents of “having eyes full of adultery”—not being able to “cease from sin”—”enticing unsettled souls”—”having (hearts) trained in greed”—and being “children of cursing” (2:14-15). Peter characterizes them as “mockers”—”walking after their own lusts” (3:3).
2 PETER 3:8-9. ONE DAY IS AS A THOUSAND YEARS
8 But don’t forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
“But don’t forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). This is the first of two arguments that Peter raises to counter the claim of the false teachers regarding Christ’s Second Coming. He alludes to a psalm that says, “For a thousand years in your sight are just like yesterday when it is past, like a watch in the night ” (Psalm 90:4). His point is that, because God sees things from a different perspective, it is sometimes difficult for us to understand his timing.
Consider how Abraham and Sarah must have felt about God’s timing. God had promised Abraham, “Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them…. So shall your seed be.” (Genesis 15:5). God had said, “You will be the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4). However, at age ninety-nine, Abraham had as an heir only Ishmael, his son by his concubine Hagar. Sarah was also old, so it was apparent that they were no longer candidates for having a child. Abraham laughed when God told him that Sarah would bear a child (Genesis 17:17)—and Sarah laughed when she heard the news (Genesis 18:12). The idea was laughable, because God had missed his chance. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have another child. But God blessed them, and they did have a child—Isaac—the child of their old age. Abraham was one hundred years old when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:1-7).
People not only have difficulty understanding God’s sense of timing, but also it difficult to appreciate the time-frame of other people. Parents are familiar with the wail from the back seat asking, “Are we there yet?” The parent might try to encourage the child by saying, “We’re almost there!” However, the remaining hour that the parent sees as a short time is likely to seem like a very long time to the child. When our children were young, I decided that the most humane answer was, “No, it’s going to be quite a while before we get there.” While that answer disappointed, at least it didn’t raise false hopes.
“The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but is patient (Greek: makrothymeo) with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9). This is Peter’s second argument in favor of Christ’s Second Coming. The delay that these Christians have experienced is due to God’s makrothymeo—his patience—his forbearance. God has delayed the Second Coming to give people an opportunity to hear the Gospel—to repent—to be baptized—to be saved. The delay, then, has been due, not to God’s failure to fulfill his promise, but rather to God’s love.
The idea of God’s forbearance is rooted in the Old Testament. God is “ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17; see also Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; Joel 2:13).
The New Testament continues that theme. God “desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Jesus said, “Unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved; but for the sake of the chosen ones, whom he picked out, he shortened the days” (Mark 13:20). He said that it “is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in him, should have eternal life” (John 6:39).
But that doesn’t mean that God will stay his hand forever. The Day of Judgment will come. On that day, “God will judge the secrets of men” (Romans 2:16). The righteous will be saved, but the unrighteous will suffer eternal punishment.
2 PETER 3:10-13. THE DAY OF THE LORD
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 be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore since all these things will be destroyed like this, what kind of people ought you to be in holy living and godliness, 12 looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, which will cause the burning heavens to be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
“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 be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (v. 10). The idea of Christ’s Second Coming has its roots in the Old Testament understanding of “the Day of the Lord” (Isaiah 13:6, 9; 58:13; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7-8, 14, 18; 2:2-3; Malachi 4:5). It was to be a day when God would save the faithful and judge the wicked. In the New Testament, “the day of the Lord” came to mean the day when God would bring an end to the current age and institute the age to come (Ladd, 138-139).
The New Testament continues that emphasis:
• Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15). He said, “But in those days, after that oppression, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out his angels, and will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky” (Mark 13:24-27 ; see also Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:25-28).
• Paul appealed to the Thessalonians to live in readiness for that day, saying, “For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. For when they are saying, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction will come on them, like birth pains on a pregnant woman; and they will in no way escape. But you, brothers, aren’t in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief. You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6; see also Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; Philippians 1:6).
The purpose of these cataclysmic events will not be destruction, but purification. The fire will be that of a refiner—separating gold from dross (Malachi 3:3)—separating trees that bear good fruit from those that don’t (Matthew 7:17-19)—separating the fruit of good seed from that of bad seed (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)—separating the righteous from the unrighteous (Matthew 25:31-46)—so that, in the end, “the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).
Therefore, God’s people need not fear the coming of the Day of the Lord, but can look forward to it with joyful anticipation. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul used the Aramaic word marana’tha—”Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22; see also Philippians 4:5). When Jesus says, “Yes, I come quickly,” we should respond, “Yes, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
“Therefore since all these things will be destroyed like this, what kind of people ought you to be in holy living and godliness” (v. 11). Anticipation of the coming cataclysm should inform the believer’s manner of life. Knowing that the purpose of the cataclysm will be to separate the righteous from the unrighteous—the holy from the unholy—should motivate the believer to respond with “holy living and godliness.”
“looking for and earnestly desiring (Greek: speudo) the coming (Greek: parousia) of the day of God” (v. 12a). The phrase, “the day of God,” is found only here and in Revelation 16:14. The more common phrase is “the Day of the Lord,” as found in verse 10 (see the comments above on that verse). “Day of God” and “day of the Lord” are essentially synonymous.
Peter says that these Christians should be “looking for and earnestly desiring” (speudo) the day of God:
• The Greek word speudo can mean “earnestly desiring” when followed by a word in the accusative case (in this verse, “coming” is accusative, so “earnestly desiring” is a good translation).
• However, the more usual meaning of speudo is “urge on” or “hasten,” so the idea here could be that Peter is encouraging these Christians to engage in “holy living and godliness” (v. 11) as a way of persuading God to hasten “the coming of the day of God” (v. 12). After all, Jesus taught us to pray, “Let your Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). Presumably, he wouldn’t have done that if our prayers would have no effect on God’s actions. Also, in the book of Acts, Peter urged Christians to repent “that (God) may send Christ Jesus” (Acts 3:19-20).
It seems counter-intuitive that anyone would earnestly desire the coming of burning heavens and fervent heat that would cause the elements to melt. However, this is reminiscent of Isaiah’s prayer:
“Oh that you would tear the heavens,
that you would come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence,
as when fire kindles the brushwood,
and the fire causes the waters to boil;
to make your name known to your adversaries,
that the nations may tremble at your presence! (Isaiah 64:1-2).
That was a prayer that Yahweh would, by means of a refiner’s fire, set things right—that Yahweh would restore this ungodly world to the Godly state that he created it to be.
That is why Christians would earnestly desire the coming of the day of God. The purpose of that day won’t be destruction but purification. It will be a day when “the prince of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31)—when “The great dragon (will be) thrown down, the old serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He (will be) thrown down to the earth, and his angels (will be) thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9).
Just imagine what life will be like in a world free from Satanic power. It will be a world in which there will be no need for locks or passwords or police or armies. Barriers between wealth and poverty will fade into insignificance, because the rich will be glad to help the poor, and the poor will respond by making good use of that assistance. It will be a world in which there is no hunger or thirst or oppressive heat—a world in which “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17). It will be a world where:
“The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young ones will lie down together.
The lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play near a cobra’s hole,
and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt nor destroy
in all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
Once we catch a glimpse of that vision, we will be “looking for and earnestly desiring” the coming of that day. We will pray fervently, “Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22) and, “Yes, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
“which will cause the burning heavens to be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?” (v. 12b). Fire and smoke are often used as metaphors for God’s anger and judgment (Psalm 18:8ff; Isaiah 30:27; Jeremiah 4:4; Lamentations 2:3; Matthew 3:12; 13:30ff; 1 Corinthians 3:15; Revelation 8:7; 17:16; 18:8; 19:20; 21:8). These verses might frighten us, but not if we remember the redemptive purpose behind them.
“But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (Greek: katoikeo) (v. 13). “This alludes to two verses from Isaiah: “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17) and “‘For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me,’ says Yahweh, ‘so your seed and your name shall remain'” (Isaiah 66:22).
When scripture talks about “the heavens and the earth”, it is talking about the totality of the created order rather than two separate realms. “The heavens and the earth” constitute all of creation.
The book of Genesis began with the story of the creation of the first heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1). That was an idyllic place where God could say of each stage of creation that “it was good” (Genesis 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 20, 25, 31). In that paradise, there was no rainfall, but “a mist went up from the earth, and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Genesis 2:6). God gave the man and woman dominion over all living things, so there was no shortage of food (Genesis 1:28). The man and woman “were both naked, (but they) were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).
But the serpent planted a seed of doubt in the woman’s mind, with the result that she and the man ate of the one fruit that God had forbidden them (Genesis 3:1ff). Then their eyes were opened and they understood that they were naked (Genesis 3:7ff). Because of their disobedience, God cursed the serpent (crawl on belly—eat dust), the woman (pain in childbirth), and the man (ground yielding thorns and thistles) (Genesis 3:14ff). The creation was no longer idyllic.
“So (God) drove out the man; and he placed Cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” so that the man and woman could not re-enter the garden (Genesis 3:24).
In other words, the sin of the first man and woman corrupted the first heaven and earth. We now need for God to create “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (v. 13) so that we might once again enjoy the paradise of the original creation.
“in which righteousness dwells” (Greek: katoikeo) (v. 13). The new heavens and earth will be a place where righteousness dwells, not just occasionally, but always.
What is righteousness? In the Old Testament (especially in Isaiah), righteousness has more to do with right relationships than with adherence to Torah law. Obedience to the law is important, but only as it reflects true devotion to Yahweh—as it grows out of affection for Yahweh. If a person is in a right relationship to Yahweh, that person will establish caring relationships to other people as well, in particular to vulnerable people such as widows, orphans, and the poor. The law makes special provisions for the care of such people (Leviticus 22:13; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 16:10-11, 14; 24:17-22; Isaiah 1:17), but those who follow the law by rote rather than as an outgrowth of devotion to Yahweh are apt to sidestep their obligations to those who are less fortunate (Isaiah 1:23; Ezekiel 22:7; Job 22:9; 24:21; Psalm 94:6).
The Greek word katoikeo (“dwells”) combines kata (in this context meaning “a place where”) and oikeo(related to oikos, which means “house” or “home”). The sense we get, then, is that the new heavens and new earth that God has promised are a place where righteousness will feel at home—where righteousness will permeate every corner—where we can feel safe—where we can trust other people.
I remember a house like that. It was a farmhouse that had once been home to a half-dozen children—but they were grown and had established their own homes. That house was the home of Matie, an older woman with a heart of gold. On Sundays after church, I would join Matie’s children and grandchildren around her dinner table—usually twenty or more people. They were, as Jesus put it, “the salt of the earth”—people who embodied faith and decency and neighborliness and kindness. I was a young and unmarried pastor, and Matie and her family adopted me into their family circle. From that experience, I can assure you that being in a place “where righteousness dwells” is truly a blessing. I am looking forward to the time when Jesus comes to make our world a place “in which righteousness dwells.”
2 PETER 3:14-15a. BE DILIGENT TO BE FOUND WITHOUT BLEMISH
14 Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found in peace, without blemish and blameless in his sight. 15a Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
“Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things” (v. 14a). The word “therefore” connects verses 14-15 with Peter’s description of the coming “day of the Lord” (v. 10).
Peter has counseled these Christians to look forward to that day—and to prepare for it by “holy living and godliness” (v. 11). Now, in this verse, he assumes that they are doing that—that they are looking for Christ’s coming—that they are eagerly desiring the new world that his coming will usher in.
“be diligent (Greek: spoudazo) to be found in peace” (Greek: eirene) (v. 14b). The Greek word spoudazo means “to be diligent”—”to be eager”—”to make every effort to do their best.”
Peter calls these Christians “to be found in peace” (eirene). Peace (eirene) is a significant word, occurring nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. It has its roots in the Hebrew word shalom, which was used frequently in the Old Testament. The LXX (the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the Greek word eirene to translate the Hebrew word shalom nearly two hundred times.
Both eirene (Greek) and shalom (Hebrew) can refer to an inner kind of peace—the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God—the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by sin, restored in the believer.
But both eirene and shalom can also refer to an external kind of peace—the absence of rancor or violence among individuals or nations. It is important for Christians to live in harmony and tranquility with each other.
“without blemish and blameless (Greek: aspilos) in his sight” (v. 14c). The Greek word spilos means “spot,” and the “a” at the beginning of aspilos means “not”—so aspilos means “without spot” or “without blemish.”
The words “in his sight” are not found in the original Greek.
“Without blemish” refers back to the Old Testament sacrificial system, where people were required to sacrifice animals that were without blemish (Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; 3:1; etc.). God would not permit people to fulfill their sacrificial obligations by offering an animal of little value. They were to give God their very best as a symbol of their devotion. Even the priest making sacrifices had to be without blemish (Leviticus 21:17ff).
In his first letter to these Christians, Peter talked about Christ as “a faultless and pure lamb”—a perfect sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19).
Of course, Peter’s concern in this letter is spiritual rather than physical blemishes. Perfection is an impossibly high standard, so these Christians could only do their best. To get rid of every spot and blemish, we must depend on the grace of God.
“Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (v. 15a). As noted above, one of Peter’s chief concerns in this letter was the problem of false teachers who were denying Christ’s Second Coming (3:4-7) and were accusing the apostles of fomenting “cunningly devised fables” (1:16). They have been saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (3:4).
Peter has offered two arguments in favor of Christ’s Second Coming. The first was that God’s understanding is dramatically different from our human understanding. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). The second was that Christ’s delay is due to God’s makrothymeo—his patience (v. 9).
Now Peter reinforces that second argument by telling these Christians that they should regard the Lord’s patience (makrothymia) as an opportunity for salvation. They are on borrowed time, but they can use that time to proclaim the Gospel and win new people to faith in Christ—thus helping them to gain salvation—and providing them with the opportunity to help others do so as well.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible, a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the has updated.
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Copyright 2016, Richard Niell Donovan