January 21, 2009

The Promise of His Coming: 2 Peter 3:1-18

Just prior to today’s passage, Peter has told his readers that they can know what the prophets wrote is true because he himself had been with Christ and witnessed what the prophets had predicted about the coming and the power of Christ. He stated the principle that scripture resulted from the Holy Spirit directing the prophets what to say; that is, scripture is inspired by God and thus is authoritative, true, and reliable.

With that as his introduction, Peter also told them that there are false teachers seeking to lead them astray. We discussed his warning to expect false teachers and that these people would introduce destructive heresies “secretly”; that is, mixing false with true doctrines so it all seems to make sense. But in reality, he says, they will deny the Lord who bought us (atoned for our sin)

Peter added that many people will follow these false teachers, that they would exploit their followers, and, in the end, they would be judged.

Peter then goes on to write the remainder of chapter 2 about what to watch out for to recognize false teachers: they will be sinful, hate authority, be self-willed, speak evil of others, be corrupt, and even believe their own deceptions.

In chapter 3, Peter turns to some final thoughts and wants his readers to remember the promise of Jesus’ return.

1Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

More than 50 times in the New Testament, Christians are encouraged to be ready for the second coming. We find this promise in John 14:1-3. The apostles were confused and afraid, and Jesus told them not to be troubled: “1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

After Jesus rose into heaven, angels told His followers He would return (Acts 1:9-11): “9After he said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. 10They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven."

Paul assured the Thessalonians that Jesus will return (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17): “16For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

And today, we will take a look at the words of the Lord through Peter, as he assures his readers that though scoffers will deny it, Jesus will return. Peter discusses six aspects of His return in chapter 3.

The promise of His return (2)

The Old Testament prophets wrote of the Messiah’s advent, with both His first and second advent in view. The Old Testament prophets did not clearly see the distinction between the two advents of Jesus (His birth and His Second Coming). We see this in Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; and Zachariah 14:9.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14—the Messiah’s first advent).

“6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7—both advents in view).

“The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9—second advent in view)

Strictly speaking, the second coming of Jesus is when He returns in fulfillment of the prophecies to establish His kingdom on earth; the literal return of Jesus Christ to earth as King in power and glory to rule for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4):

“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Christ's first coming was to become the atonement for sin. His second coming will defeat sin for all eternity. And we differentiate between the coming of Christ to gather His people up with Him, which we call the rapture, and His second coming to conquer and rule the earth.

There are several positions on the rapture, but the second coming of Christ to defeat sin and reestablish the reign of God on earth in perfect justice and peace is a core doctrine for those who read the literal meaning of scripture.

There will be people who scoff at the idea of His return (3-4)

The word “scoffers” means “mockers”; not people who merely don’t buy the idea of His return, but who ridicule and mock those who do. Probably the root cause of their mocking is rejection of the existence of God. As one writer put it in defending the humanistic movement, “no deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”

Mockers deny the coming day of Judgement because they refuse to acknowledge that there is a price to be paid for their sin and unbelief. The belief expressed in verse 4 is called uniformitarianism: everything always has been and always will be as it is now. This is a basic humanistic position today. Everything evolved without any deity; what we are is the result not of a creative act, but natural processes that have always been the same and always will be. This attitude about Jesus’ return Christians still find hard to dispute in the face of the argument of unbelievers—“Okay, where is He? Show me evidence that he is returning. It hasn’t happened yet and there’s no sign it will.”

So why has it taken so long? Peter gives us the answer:

God is not bound by our idea of time (8-9)

The fact that Peter dealt with this question indicates it was an issue in the first-century church. People knew of the promise of Jesus’ return, and now, three decades later, they were asking why it is taking so long. From our viewpoint, it seems like Jesus’ return is a long time in coming. From God’s viewpoint, it won’t be long.

The important point, Peter says, is that the promise of His return is dependable: the Lord is not slow concerning His promise. So why does He seem to be slow to us? Peter gives the answer: God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance. “Patient” here is the term “longsuffering,” which means “to be patient in bearing the offenses of others” or “slow to anger” and “slow to punish.” If we sense Christ is delaying His return, it is for a good reason, Peter says: he is giving the world a chance to repent and trust in Him. His patience in delaying His coming is an act of mercy for those who have not yet believed.

Christ’s return will be when we don’t expect it (10)

The “day of the Lord” is a phrase used specifically throughout the Bible to indicate the future intervention of God in human history to deliver judgment; that is, the return of Christ to judge and establish His rule.

All of the events won’t happen in a literal single day. Rather, it begins with His surprise arrival to take believers away before the period of tribulation, to return in seven years with His people to establish His reign for 1,000 years, and then the judgment and establishment of the new heaven and new earth.

There are other beliefs about the sequence of events that are held by honest, devout Christians, and these are not points we choose to argue and part over.

Peter’s points are that His return is sure to happen, it will be a surprise, and any delay is the result of God’s mercy as He calls people to repentance.

Paul uses the same comparison in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

Jesus uses it in Matthew 24:42-44: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

His return will bring consequences (10, 13)

After the judgment, the heavens and the earth as we know them will be destroyed—the physical universe, the “elements” (created matter), and the earth “laid bare” (burned). Yet all is not lost. We look forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness. “New” means different from before.

We find related prophecies in the Old Testament:

Psalm 102:25-27: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Isaiah 65:17: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

In that new universe, righteousness will dwell:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” Revelation 21:1-7).

His return is important to us now (11-14)

Again we encounter what Jesus, Paul, and Peter all tell us is the important aspect of looking forward to His return: in light of His return at any time, what kind of people should we be? Peter answers the question: “You ought to live holy and godly lives,” (verse 11) and we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him” (verse 14).

Peter wraps all his points about the false teachers of chapter 2 and the promise of Christ’s return in chapter 3 together in verses 17-18:

“Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

No comments: