2 Peter 3:1-10
How much thought do we give to the Second Coming of Christ? It’s often the slightly loopy or whacky Christian for whom it is the great, all-consuming concern. But Peter insists it is “wholesome” to think about it, and very dangerous to forget it (or deny it, as the false teachers were doing). And in this final chapter of the letter he wants to shore up our confidence in Christ’s promise, so that we live in the light of that hope – growing in our faith and in godliness.
In 1:12-21 Peter had similarly mentioned his concern to remind them of the apostolic and prophetic testimony (ie Old and New Testaments). The NIV doesn’t bring out the explicit link between the two verses – literally he writes to stimulate them to wholesome thinking so that they recall …ie wholesome thinking is thinking that goes back to the Scriptures and the promise of Christ’s return.
“words spoken by the prophets” – probably especially in view is the Old Testament teaching about the coming Day of the Lord.
“command given by our Lord and Saviour” – is less easy to unpack, but probably refers in general to Christ’s moral requirements on believers – to live holy lives.
“First of all…” – this is of first importance; we need to be aware of this.
“scoffing and following their own evil desires” – the two are undoubtedly linked: either one leads to the other. And very often it is sin, not intellectual sophistication, that leads to denial of coming judgment. If you want to live as if there is no tomorrow, you will convince yourself there is no tomorrow.
2000 years on this argument might seem to have even more weight, but Peter goes on to explain why they are wrong.
“They deliberately forget” two key events – creation and the flood. Creation is pretty powerful evidence that when God says something, it happens. “By God’s word” the heavens and earth were formed, and it is “the same word” that assures us there will a final day of judgment.
If the creation teaches the nature of God’s word, the flood teaches us the nature of God – that he does punish sin.
[“out of water and by water” in v.7 is a little strange, but presumably refers to the watery chaos that preceded God’s ordering and filling of the world, a state to which the world was symbolically returned to in the flood.]
He will surely keep his promise, Peter’s argued, but why then the delay? The eternal God sees time differently from us. the first half of the verse alludes to Psalm 90:4, a psalm which speaks of God’s eternal nature and our finite and fleeting life. The second half of the verse is a helpful reminder too, that (as Michael Green writes) “God sees time [not only] with a perspective we lack …[but] with an intensity we lack”.
If God’s different perspective on time is one reason not to charge him with slowness in keeping his promise, nor should we think he is dragging his feet. The reason for his delay is here made plain – not indifference, nor impotence, but mercy. He waits simply to give opportunity for more people to repent and be saved.
Against those who suppose that this verse teaches universalism (ie that all will be saved in the end), the context argues clearly against that (v.7), and rather the verse is teaching that it is precisely because the prospect of judgment is no empty threat that God patiently stays his hand. Theologians helpfully distinguish between God’s will in terms of what he desires (which is that all be saved, for he takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked), and his will in terms of what he sovereignly decrees (which plainly will include the destruction of the ungodly).
God is patient, but that patience will one day run out – “the day of the Lord will come”.
“like a thief” – as Jesus had taught (Matt.24:43; Luke 12:39), implying a time when he is unexpected. Constant vigilance and preparedness is called for, therefore.
“laid bare” for judgment – a judgment from which there will clearly be no place to hide.