I’m thrilled to be jumping into 2nd Peter chapter 3 today. Today and next Sunday we will finish this letter. Peter’s been focusing a lot on calling out false teaching in the church. The last two Sundays we looked at some harsh words for false teachers, and sobering warnings for believers to be on their guard.
These false teachers were coming into the church telling believers that there was no “Day of the Lord” to come. In other words, Jesus was not going to return, and therefore Christians could live however they wanted to live. They were excusing themselves particularly for giving into their sexual desires and perversions. So, Peter turns now to give specific reasons that Christians can expect the Day of the Lord to come. Especially with this question about how long it was taking for Jesus to return.
That might surprise us to hear, 2000 years later, that there were already in the 1st and 2nd centuries people asking what was taking so long! Part of that is because some misunderstood Jesus’ teaching on the subject. Some thought He would return during their lifetimes. But these false teachers wanted to deny it because it meant being held accountable for their actions. Let’s read together 2nd Peter 3:1-13. If you’re able, join me in standing in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
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.
8 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.
This is the Word of the living God, amen? You may be seated. Peter starts this chapter by bringing up one of his main goals in writing them, not only in this letter, but in all correspondence with these Christians. His main goal was for them to remember what they’ve been taught. Especially in light of these false teachers coming in and twisting things for their own benefit, and to their own liking—Peter says, No! Remember what you’ve been taught, especially in regard to the coming Day of the Lord. Remember the predictions of the prophets of old, who told us a Messiah was coming for the first time. And remember what Christ taught, what he commanded and what he spoke through the apostles, which we find recorded here in the New Testament. And remember, of course, what Jesus and the apostles taught about the coming Day of the Lord, and day when Christ would return again.
So, for us this morning, we have four realities of the coming Day of the Lord. The first is pretty straightforward:
- The Day of the Lord is coming, there is no doubt (1-7).
It will come. There is no doubt about it. How do we know the Day of the Lord is coming? Well, he gives us several reasons here. These scoffers come along, and verse 4, they’ll 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.” In other words, “Look around! God’s not involved here.” This is actually what some people believe today. They’re called “deists.” They believe God created everything and then just let it go how it goes.
And Peter immediately points out their self-contradiction. Verse 5: “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, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.” In other words, yes, God created everything. But he certainly was not silent and uninvolved after that initial creation. Creation continued; it was a process!
If you’ve read the creation story lately, you might recall that the creation God spoke into existence was formless and void. Then he formed out of the water, in other words—separated the waters from the waters. He says, “and through water.” That probably refers to land coming up out of the water. And all of this happened “by the Word of God.”
And then Peter brings up another obvious example of God’s direct involvement with mankind, in fact, a time when he destroyed the earth—much like the destruction he will bring on the Day of the Lord. Verse 7- “and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.” That, church, is a direct reference to the flood in Noah’s day.
With water and by His Word, he created all things. And with water and by His Word, he destroyed all things. These scoffers are saying this can’t happen. But it’s already happened once! Peter is demolishing these false teachings. He’s saying, simply look at history! Look at what God has already done! Of course, it can and will happen again. Verse 7: “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.”
This is not difficult for God. These scoffers can scoff all day long, but all this takes is the will of God. There will be fire and judgment and destruction. It is coming, there is no doubt. In fact, he’s ready! That’s what we take from “stored up.” All He must do is say the word, and the Day of the Lord will be here.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt I had more in common with Noah than I do today. It’s a strange thing, extreme even, to say that the end is coming. To believe this, and to actually live according to it. And yet, there is no doubt: the Day of the Lord is coming. Naturally, the next question that comes to mind is, why has it not yet come? To begin answering that, let’s look at the second reality of the Day of the Lord:
2. God is not bound by time, like us (8).
It’s been 2000 years since Christ came. And even when these words were written, some were asking, why has it not yet come? And so, this is not an unfair question. I’d say it’s an understandable question. Because sometimes we get frustrated and impatient. Here’s the thing: that’s not new for God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the people of God expressing their impatience with God. Just one example is Jeremiah 17:14-15- “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. Behold, they say to me, ‘Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!”
So, the question: why has it not yet come, or what’s taking so long? Peter’s answer: verse 8- “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.” God’s experience of time is so different from ours; we can’t even fully comprehend it. God is not bound by time, like you and me.
I know this is something that is quite difficult for us to understand. To think about what it is to exist outside of time: What does that even mean? I ask you all to do this about once a year: I want all of you to do what you would do if you existed outside of time. Are you ready? I’ll count to three, and you do what you would do if you were not bound by time…One, Two, Three: ?! Anyone have any clue what that would even look like? We have no capacity for that, do we? No framework in which to understand fully what that means. What it is to exist outside of time!
Part of that is because we’ve always been bound by time. We’ve always experienced this succession of moments that will not stop. None of us are even able to slow time down, or speed it up. Maybe we can speed up our perception of time, by staying busy, or going to sleep. But we have no power to slow time down or speed time up, much less the power to stop time altogether, or work and act outside the bounds of time.
Here’s the truth of it: Even though we cannot fathom what it means that God exists outside of time, we shouldn’t leave this subject frustrated. Instead, we should leave in awe. His ways are truly higher. His character is truly beyond our ability to fully comprehend. His power and glory are infinite! Listen, if you’re looking for qualifications. Can Jesus really say what he is saying? Can Jesus really guarantee that we will never taste spiritual death?! Can he? This is his highest qualification. If Jesus is not bound by time, nor anything else, what in the universe could stop him from fulfilling his promises?
He is coming back. It will happen. But it will happen in his timing, not ours. And his perception of time is measures in millennia and in every passing moment. The third reality of the Day of the Lord:
3. God’s mercy is why he delays his judgment (9-10).
Verse 9 is a beautiful verse. Why is it taking so long, or why does God wait? Verse 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.” If you’ve ever wondered why God waits, well right here is one of the primary reasons! Think about this: we think we are waiting on God; have you ever considered that perhaps God is waiting on you?
Especially if you don’t yet know Christ, could it not be that God is giving you the time to hear and respond to the gospel even this very morning? Christ was born, lived a sinless life, and died a death he did not earn. He took our sin upon himself; he took our place. And then three days later he rose from the grave. The only saving response to the gospel is repentance and faith. Turning from being your own god, to the one and only true God, place your faith in Jesus alone to save you. His completed work on the Cross. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is the only saving response to the gospel.
Even in the first century, if God had brought about his final judgment then, his gospel would not have gone forth all over the world as it did over the coming decades and even centuries. And to this day, 2000 years later, one of the reasons Jesus had not yet returned is because he loves us. He loves the world! I mean this even gives us an answer for the so-called “problem of evil.” Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Because he is patient and merciful! To not allow evil and sin in the world would be to not allow us to exist!
Now, I know a natural question that comes up with this verse is how does this not contradict the truth that God chooses before the foundation of the world those who would come to know him? Ephesians 1:3-14 is one of several places we see that God, out of His pure mercy, chose some before the foundation of the world to be his children. If you’ve never read about that, or heard of that, you can read for yourself, again- Ephesians 1:3-14. That likely brings up more questions than we have time for here. But for now—in answer to all the questions that pop into your mind: do not forget what we just saw in verse 9. God is not bound by time. In the same way that we may never fully understand God’s existing outside of time, we will likely never fully understand God’s perfect will in his predestination of believers. And again, that’s not my word; that’s Paul’s word in Ephesians 1 and Romans 8. And we’re called “chosen” throughout the entire New Testament.
So, there are two ways to understand what Peter’s getting at here. Reading it in context, it’s either that God does not wish for any of his chosen to perish, but for all to come to repentance. He is addressing this letter to believers, so that certainly could be it. Or God is expressing his genuine love for the whole world, and that His command is for the whole world to repent and believe in Christ.
Here’s the thing: either way, God is patient. I think this is an important discussion, no doubt. But I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. Peter wants us to see God’s magnificent patience. Delay can be an expression of love. And certainly, with God, it always is. Why? Because look what he is delaying.
Verse 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.” That’s what’s coming! The heavens, in other words the skies, will pass away. The heavenly bodies, which could be the sun, moon, stars. It could also be the elements, like fire, water, air, and earth—either way they will be burned up and dissolved. And all sin and evil and hypocrisy will be exposed.
That means if you long for justice, meaning true, lasting justice: Well, it’s coming. And the reason he waits to bring it is because of his mercy. Maybe God is waiting for you…to repent. Or maybe he’s waiting for you to share the gospel with those in your life who don’t yet know Christ. So that they may repent. Reality number 4 of The Day of the Lord:
4. The coming judgment of God compels us toward Godly living (11-13).
We’re going to hit on this hard next week. But let me read verses 11-13 again: “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, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
How ought we to live in light of his coming Day of the Lord? He returns to his original plea. You remember back in chapter 1— “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge.” In other words, make every effort to grow in Christlikeness. This truth of the coming day of the Lord, when all deeds will be exposed, should compel us toward Godliness!
These false teachers are wrong! Jesus is coming back, and he is coming back to judge the living and the dead. Certainly, that involves a judgment of eternal life or eternal death. But it also includes a judgment for Christians. 2nd Corinthians 5:10, Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
We know that there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus. That’s Romans 8:1, but we will still answer for our good and evil deeds, even as Christians. And that must sober us. That’s part of what compels us toward godliness and holiness. We love Jesus, because he is so patient with us. Because he did not want us to perish, and so he saved us by his mercy. And now, we live holy lives as new creations, awaiting His return.
It’s a good thing to have a healthy, sobered anticipation of the Day of the Lord. But here’s the question: are we content with God’s good plan in God’s good time? Do we long for that Day, yes, but at the same time resting in His promise that it will come in His timing, not ours? And what are we doing while we wait? Are we sitting on the couch awaiting the sound of the trumpet? Or are we living lives of obedience and sharing with as many people as possible the good news of the gospel?
Some of you had literally been waiting 52 years for the Texas Rangers to win the world series. I know my wife, having grown up here in Arlington, was waiting. I grew up a Rangers fan, and so I was certainly waiting. Especially because that seemed more likely that another Cowboys Super Bowl win. But I digress.
If you looked forward to the day that the Rangers won, not knowing when it would come. How much more should we look forward to the Day of the Lord? That Rangers parade was great. My family is still basking in the glory of a world series championship. Imagine for a moment when God brings final justice and brings about a new heavens and a new earth “in which righteousness dwells.” That’s verse 13.
Here’s the truth of it: there was no guarantee that the Rangers were ever going to win. I’m glad they did. I hope it happens again. But there was no guarantee. The Day of the Lord is a guarantee. It will come. All of history is going somewhere. That’s part of the Christian view of time and of history. It is linear, and one day it will culminate. The Day of the Lord is that culmination. And you can be sure that day is coming. So, the question is: Are you ready? Is God waiting on you?