We Americans do not handle delays very well as we saw in the recent airline attendants’ strike. When numerous flights were canceled and many others were delayed, no one found the delays pleasant. Our culture simply does not like to wait. Yet we wait less today than men have ever waited. We travel at high speed waiting less to arrive at a distant place.
Communications which formerly took months now are completed in seconds. Meals which used to take hours to cook are now done in minutes in microwave ovens. People used to have to wait until they had cash to purchase a new car or home. Now these things are bought on credit. We do not have to wait. Fewer and fewer people are willing to wait until marriage to enjoy the pleasures of sex. We Americans are not accustomed to waiting.
Men do not enjoy waiting for anything, or anyone, including God. But the trust is men have been waiting on God all through history. Noah waited a good 100 years or so for the flood to come upon the earth (compare Genesis 5:32; 6:10; 7:6). Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for the birth of the son God had promised them (compare Genesis 12:4; 21:5).
Abraham did not even possess the promised land in his lifetime, and it was more than 400 years until his descendants took possession of it (compare Genesis 12:1-3; 15:12-16). Asaph felt for a time that he had waited too long for God’s promised blessings (Psalm 73).
From their constant questions about the coming of our Lord’s kingdom, it was evident the disciples were not excited about waiting either. When Jesus tarried three days before going to the place Lazarus had fallen sick and died, both Martha and Mary cautiously chided Jesus for coming too late (see John 11:21, 32).
God’s promises never come too late; in truth, they are never “late” at all. When the Scriptures indicate a time for God’s actions, the fulfillment is always precisely on time (see Exodus 12:40-41). When Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would be expelled from the land and held captive in Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), the fulfillment of this prophecy would take place precisely at the end of 70 years. Knowing this, Daniel prayed accordingly (Daniel 9:1-3ff.). Likewise, the birth of the Lord Jesus came about exactly on schedule (see Daniel 9:24-27; Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4-5; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).
God is never “late;” He is always “on time.” But there are mockers who seek to convince themselves and others that the promise of our Lord’s second coming is false based upon the passage of much time and compounded by no visible evidences that He will come at all. In the college classroom, students allow an instructor five minutes to arrive for class, and then they leave. A full professor, being more important, is given up to ten minutes to arrive after the bell has rung. Mockers believe they have given God plenty of time to fulfill His promise to return and thus have now concluded that His time is up. “If He hasn’t come by now,” they say, “He simply isn’t coming.”
In chapter 3 of his second epistle, Peter exposes these mockers, along with the folly of their denials. He does so by reiterating his commitment to remind his readers of the truths of the Scriptures as revealed through the Old Testament prophets, the Lord Jesus, and His apostles (3:1-2). Peter then describes the mockers of whom he warns his readers, both in terms of their lifestyle and their creed (3:3-4). Verses 5-7 he expose the folly of their thinking, especially as it relates to the role of the Word of God in Old Testament history and in prophecy.
Peter then turns his attention to the saints in verses 8-13. While mockers deny the Scriptures, true saints base their hope and their conduct on the promises of the Word of God. In verses 8 and 9, Peter gives a divine perspective of time and presents a very different explanation for the apparent delay of the Lord’s return. This he does by focusing on God’s attributes: His eternality, His omnipotence, and His mercy.
In verses 10-13, Peter explains why the nearness of the “day of the Lord” is not evident to unbelievers and how the Lord’s return should impact the saints who look forward to the “new heavens and a new earth.” Verses 14-18 conclude this chapter and the entire epistle with some final exhortations to the saints regarding their relationship to the Scriptures.
Peter’s Ministry of Stirring Up the Saints (3:1-2)
1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
In his first chapter, Peter exhorted his readers to diligently pursue holiness (verses 1-11) and then conveyed his resolve to remind his readers of the truths of the inspired Scriptures:
12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you [already] know [them], and have been established in the truth which is present with [you.] 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this [earthly] dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my [earthly] dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind (2 Peter 1:12-15).
Peter reminds us in verses 16-21 of his certainty in turning our attention to the inspired Word of God. Because of the Father’s testimony concerning the identity of His Son at the transfiguration, we have the “prophetic word made more sure,” a word “to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (1:19).
Now, once again, Peter speaks of his intention to remind his readers of the truth of God. Here it is not the certainty of that Word but the source which seems to be in view. Peter strongly implies that no longer is new revelation needed and that what God has revealed is entirely sufficient. There once were “false prophets,” but now there are only “false teachers” (2:1). These false teachers do not communicate new revelation from God; rather they seek to deny and distort the Scriptures which have once for all been revealed (see 2 Peter 3:4, 16).
The natural man is always more interested in something “new” than in being reminded of that which is “old” (see Acts 17:19-21). Our technological age sees “old” as inferior and “new” as better. When I recently tried to order a laptop computer to take with me to India, laptops rated as “best buys” three months earlier were already obsolete! The “new” laptops were indeed superior. But we not find this so with respect to truth. Here, the “old wine” is better, and the new is the first to be forgotten.
Peter has little “new” for his readers. Like the rest of the apostles, he continually turns his readers to the truths of the Scriptures. There is a continuity and a climax to Scripture because God has progressively revealed His truth to men in the course of history. This revelation culminated in Christ, God’s “final word,” which was communicated to us by the apostles (Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-4). The truth of God is therefore found in the writings of the “holy”62 Old Testament prophets, whose teachings are affirmed, clarified, and further explained by our Lord, whose teachings were recorded by the apostles. There is no need for any additional revelation (see Revelation 22:18-19).
Peter wants us to view the Scriptures as sufficient, as reliable, accurate, and true. He also wants us to see these Scriptures as authoritative. These are not merely words which claim to be true; they are the only absolute truth God has revealed. But they are not truths submitted to the bar of human judgment. They are not divine suggestions; they are divine “commands.” You will remember that in the so-called “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20) of our Lord, He instructed His disciples to teach “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). God spoke not just to inform us but to instruct us about what we are to believe, and thus how we are to behave. To disregard God’s word is to disobey Him.
Mockers: Their Lifestyle and Their Logic (3:3-4)
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
It should come as no surprise that men would arise who deny the second coming of our Lord. One of the most common falsehoods referred to in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2), this false teaching had an adverse affect on some of the saints (2 Timothy 2:18). To deny the second coming is not only to deny the Christian’s future hope but also to deny the judgment of sinners at the return of Christ. No wonder these “mockers” denied the second coming. These were those who were “following after their own lusts” (verse 3). How much more comfortable it was to practice sin with the false assurance that they would not give account to God.
How ironic are Peter’s words. In the last days, mockers will come with their mocking. Dominated by their own lusts, they will deny the second coming. Yet their very existence is a fulfillment of Scripture and confirmation that indeed we are living in the last days. These mockers point to the nearness of the day of judgment by mocking it. In the last days there will be mockers. There are mockers. These are the last days.
The term “mockers” is found elsewhere only in Jude 18. I understand these “mockers” as the equivalent of the “scoffers” referred to in Proverbs. Proverbs speaks of those who are simple, naive, and easily led astray due to their youth, thus a lack of knowledge and experience. Some are fools, who are more willfully ignorant and morally stupid. But the scoffer is a hard-core fool, a fool who vehemently opposes truth and wisdom.
Peter wants us to “know” something first of all: expect “mockers” in the last days. We see that he believes we are living in the last days. These mockers were compelled to deny the second coming of Christ, not by the weight of the evidence, but due to the guilt and deceit produced by their sin. They are led astray by their impure lusts, not by pure logic.
Peter summarizes their argument in verse 4. Like so many heretics, their doctrine is posed in the form of a question. This use of a question well suits their character as mockers.
Their logic appears to be:
(1) The “day of the Lord” will entail a cataclysmic change.
(2) There has been no such change since the death of the patriarchs (“the fathers”), and there is no indication that there will be.
(3) Since the Lord has not returned for such a long time, and since there is no indication that He will, we must conclude He is not coming.
(4) Since the Lord promised to come to establish His kingdom on earth and He has not, we must conclude His promises are not reliable, and His word cannot be trusted.
This kind of logical process is not new. We see the same reasoning in Asaph’s description of the wicked in Psalm 73:
3 For I was envious of the arrogant, [As] I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pains in their death; And their body is fat. 5 They are not in trouble [as other] men; Nor are they plagued like mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them. 7 Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of [their] heart run riot. 8 They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. 9 They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return to this place; And waters of abundance are drunk by them. 11 And they say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” 12 Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased [in] wealth (Psalm 73:3-12).
The wicked may have gone about their sinful ways tentatively at first, but when they perceived that no punishment was meted out to them, they became arrogant and blasphemous. They publicly sinned and mockingly declared that God either did not exist or He did not care.
Notice the apparent piety of the language of denial in verses 3 and 4 of our text. These mockers have used all the right theological buzz words. They deny the faith with stained glass words. They speak of the “fathers,” of the “promise,” of the creation of the world, and they even speak of death as “sleep.” They use orthodox terminology, but they have created a heretical theology.67 Truly these are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). These are those who wish to appear orthodox, who will “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).
Peter is about to show the fallacy of these mockers’ theology in the following verses. But before moving on to consider his rebuttal, notice a very subtle but important inference contained in the statement of the mockers’ theology. No direct reference is made to the Lord Jesus Christ here. These heretics make a sweeping statement covering a large expanse of history going all the way back to the “beginning of creation.” They insist there is no evidence to support the Lord’s promised “coming,” but there is not so much as one word about the first “coming” of the Lord Jesus. “Nothing of any significance has happened,” they maintain, “which would support the biblical promise of the Lord’s coming.” The first coming is not even given so much as an honorable mention. Yet it was during this first coming that Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration and beheld the glory and splendor of His second coming. It was at this time that the Father testified to the identity of the Lord Jesus as the promised Messiah (2 Peter 1:16-19).
When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels spoke these words to the disciples:
10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; 11 and they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11).
The worst form of insult is ignored: the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, His miraculous birth, His sinless life, His mighty miracles, His amazing teaching, His death and resurrection from the grave; none of these seem to have any significance to the scoffers. Jesus does not even merit an “honorable mention.”
These scoffers daringly said nothing of significance had happened since the time of the creation to lend credence to the promise of God to come and establish His kingdom on the earth. They looked back to the beginning of time. But in so doing, they overlooked the coming of Christ just a few short years before. What an amazing oversight. In the following verses, Peter points out a number of biblical truths which must be overlooked (see verses 5 and 8) if one doubts or denies the certainty of the second coming.
Leaks in the Logic of the Mockers (3:5-7)
5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men [emphasis mine].
If I understand Peter correctly, the false teachers of whom he wrote are unbelievers, whose fate is eternal destruction (2:1, 3-13, 17). While they represent themselves as true believers and even participate with the saints in worship (2:1, 13; Jude 12), they are not really believers. Jude tells us they are “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19). This being the case, false teachers lack saving faith.
The mockers’ lack of faith is evident in their response to our Lord’s apparent delay in coming to establish His kingdom on earth. If they had faith, they would believe not in what they see but in what God has said; they would believe God’s Word (see Hebrews 11:1-3). But lacking such faith, they live only on the basis of their interpretation of what they see and touch and smell. Worse yet, lacking experiential knowledge, they act purely on impulse, or as Peter says, “instinct” (2 Peter 2:12).
In contemporary terms, we might say these men do not live by faith but by the scientific method. Please do not misunderstand: I am not opposed to the scientific method as long as it is applied to scientific investigation. But I am opposed to the scientific method as the basis for one’s spiritual life. The Christian’s life is based solely on what God has said, on God’s Word. The scientific method looks only at what can be seen, analyzed, and tested. It is unwilling to take anything on faith.
We see much reliance today in Christian circles on the scientific method when dealing with the spiritual life. Their banner: “All truth is God’s truth.” “Christian experts,” whose training and experience is dominated by the secular world, speak with authority about matters of Christian living. All too often, they Christianize secular principles, using more spiritual labels and often sprinkling their words with a few biblical terms or concepts. Their listeners buy up their advice as though it came straight from God, when they might hear the same advice from an unsaved expert minus the spiritual verbiage.
Peter’s words in verses 5-7 dramatically demonstrate how different the Christian’s perspective is, based upon the Scriptures, from the perspective of the unbeliever who will believe only what he can see. In verses 5, 6, and 7, Peter concentrates on the “Word of God” in relation to creation and judgment.
Do these mockers doubt and even deny the Word of God? How can they claim to be orthodox in their doctrine and speak of the creation of the world without acknowledging that the world was created by the Word of God? In the seven-day creation account of Genesis 1, every step of the creation began with the spoken Word of God. Each day begins with the statement, “And God said … ” (see Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24), shortly followed by the statement, “And God called … ” (see Genesis 1:5, 8, 10).
The “beginning of creation” to which these apostate mockers refer was a dramatic demonstration of the power of God’s Word. When God spoke, He spoke creation into existence. God’s Word transformed the chaotic mass of land and water into a world that would sustain life. It is the same “Word of God” which reversed the process of creation at the flood so that the land was covered with water, destroying all life by those saved by the ark (2 Peter 3:6). The same expressions found in the creation account of Genesis 1 (“God said” and “God saw”) are now repeated in Genesis 6 (see Genesis 6:1-8). The Word of God which created all life was now the Word by which all life was destroyed.
Creation and the flood both involved “water.” The “promise of God’s coming,” which the scoffers deny, involves “fire.” In verse 7, Peter reminds us that the present heavens and earth are “being reserved for fire.” It will take but a word from God, and this judgment will take place. Until that time, it is the Word of God which sustains creation as it is.
Once again, scoffers miss the point the Word of God makes so clear. They point to the constancy of life on this planet as evidence of God’s lack of involvement and proof that His Word is not true. Peter points to this same continuity (sameness) as proof of the sustaining power of God’s Word. He is the living Word, who not only created this world but who also sustains it:
16 For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).
What we “see” should not cast doubt on our trust in the promises of God and our hope of His coming. What we see, when interpreted in the light of God’s Word, is further evidence of the power of God’s Word. By His Word, the world as we know it was created. By His Word, the world was destroyed by the flood. And by His Word, the present heavens and earth are being preserved for the day of judgment which God promised.
The “promise of His coming” is the promise of Scripture.69 The promise of His coming is the word of God. Peter’s rebuttal in verses 5-7 focuses on the power and reliability of the word of God. From the scoffers’ perspective, history provides ample evidence the Word of God is impotent. From the perspective of the Scriptures, history provides ample evidence the Word of God is certain, because God is omnipotent.
The Word of God and the Character of God (3:8-9)
8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, 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 about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Verses 8 and 9 continue Peter’s argument against the scoffers’ contention that the second coming will not come to pass and that God’s promise and His Word are not trustworthy. Peter continues also to remind his readers of things which may have escaped their notice. But there is a clear and important change beginning at verse 8. Verses 3-7 focused on the mockers and their mocking the second coming. Now, beginning at verse 8, Peter focuses more on the saints than the scoffers. He changes pronouns from “they” and “their” to “you.”
The scoffers have rejected and ridiculed the Word of God, the very Word which could deliver them from the wrath to come by pointing them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Since they have rejected the Word, there is nothing more that can be said to them or of them. And so Peter turns to the saints and to the Scriptures to explain biblically why the Lord’s return has taken so long and has not yet occurred.
In verses 8 and 9, Peter explains the Lord’s “delay” by reminding us of the character of God. Viewed from the divine perspective, what the scoffers see as a deficiency in God’s character is actually a display of His infinite wisdom, power, and grace. In verse 10, Peter refutes the error of the scoffers from the nature of divine judgment, especially the final judgment of the “day of the Lord.”
Peter challenges us in verse 8 to look at the “delay” in our Lord’s coming from a divine perspective rather than our very limited human perspective. From a human perspective, the mockers noted that considerable time had lapsed from the time of creation to their day, and yet the Lord had not come as promised. Worse yet, in their minds, there were no indications He would come. They thus concluded God was not coming and that His promises were untrue.
Peter challenges us to look at these same facts from a different perspective—the divine perspective. We must view the length of time God has tarried from the standpoint of who God is rather than from our own limited vantage point. God is eternal; we are mere mortals. God has no beginning and no end. If we live 70 years or perhaps a few more, we think we have had a full life. George Burns may make it to his 100th birthday, but what is 100 years compared to eternity?
Peter derives his theology from the Old Testament. Verse 8 draws heavily from the psalm written by Moses in which he meditates on the meaning of time and eternity:
1 (A Prayer of Moses the man of God.) Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. 3 Thou dost turn man back into dust, And dost say, “Return, O children of men.” 4 For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or [as] a watch in the night. 5 Thou hast swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes, and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades, and withers away. 7 For we have been consumed by Thine anger, And by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. 8 Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret [sins] in the light of Thy presence. 9 For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is [but] labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. 13 Do return, O LORD; how long [will it be]? And be sorry for Thy servants. 14 O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us, [And] the years we have seen evil. 16 Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, And Thy majesty to their children. 17 And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands (Psalms 90:1-17).
One cannot help but wonder at what point in the life of Moses this psalm was written. I am inclined to think it was later in his life, when the first generation of Israelites were dying off in the wilderness. What a time to ponder the finiteness of man in contrast to the eternality of God.
Peter draws upon the meaning of time to the eternal God as described in verse 4: “For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or [as] a watch in the night.”
To God, who is eternal, there is no hurry. We are in a hurry for God to establish His kingdom on the earth because our time is running out. Our days are numbered; His are not. We are in a hurry to see things happen; He is not. For one who lives less than 100 years, a thousand years is a long period of time. But to God, a thousand years is but a drop in the bucket.
Time does not limit God in any way. A long period of time in the eyes of men is nothing in the eyes of God. Conversely, a very short period of time in our sight is not short in God’s sight. This truth is based not only upon God’s eternality, but also on His great power, His omnipotence.
Time and ability are very much related. Few of us can buy a new house and pay for it in cash. But given enough time, we can buy a home far beyond our immediate ability to pay. What we are not able to do in a short time, we can do over a longer period of time. Conversely, we may be able to do some things for a short period of time that we cannot do for a longer time. For example, we cannot go on vacation for 11 months of the year because we cannot afford it. We have to work. God can take all the time He pleases, because His resources are unlimited.
God has no need to hurry, because He is not only eternal, He is omnipotent. He can do in a very short time that which would take us forever. For example, God was able to “compress” an eternity of judgment into those few hours our Lord suffered on the cross of Calvary. Yet, God was also able to delay the fulfillment of His promises to the patriarchs for thousands of years so we and they might experience the fulfillment of God’s promise at the same time (see Hebrews 11:39-40).
Peter challenges us to view the length of time our Lord has tarried in terms of just who God is rather than in terms of who we are. When viewed from the standpoint of who God is—His attributes—the time He has apparently delayed is inconsequential. Only from a human perspective can it be deemed “too long.”
In the mockers view, this length of time reflected badly on God’s ability or unwillingness to bring His kingdom about. In truth, the delay reflects the opposite as Peter moves in verse 9 to another of God’s attributes directly relating to His apparent “delay”—the patience of God. The length of the Lord’s delay in coming to establish His kingdom is directly proportionate to His patience and longsuffering toward sinful men.
9 The Lord is not slow71 about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
The patience of God is toward His elect. In Peter’s words, He is “patient toward you” (emphasis mine). God’s judgment will fall upon the wicked, but His grace is toward those hearts He opens, who therefore turn to Him in faith (see Acts 13:48; 16:14). The sovereignty of God in salvation may be difficult to accept for some, but it is certainly true, and it involves His longsuffering toward those who are doomed as well as toward the elect:
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:19-24; see also Romans 3:25).
Our response toward the patience of God should be to regard the delay in terms of salvation (verse 15). The delay of God in judging sinners has made possible our salvation. It also provides the opportunity for others to be saved and for us to be instruments in their salvation by proclaiming the gospel. How beautiful the “delay” of God’s kingdom now appears in light of God’s patience and the salvation of lost sinners, including us.
These words of Peter in verse 9 are sometimes misinterpreted:
9 … not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9b).
Does this mean that for God “wishes” do not come true? Does this mean that God wants all men to be saved, but He is not able to do so? Some sincere Christians say so, but I believe they are wrong. What God purposes will take place. Period. Neither man’s unbelief, his apathy, his rebellion, or his weakness will prevent it from happening. God causes all things to “work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Even when men sin against Him, they achieve His purposes (see Acts 2:22-23; Romans 11).
God does as He pleases:
3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalms 115:3).
6 Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps (Psalms 135:6).
35 “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And [among] the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ (Daniel 4:35).
Peter shows in this text that God does not delight or take pleasure in the suffering of men but in their salvation (see Isaiah 28:21; Lamentations 3:33). Our Lord, in one sense, did not take pleasure in His death at Calvary, but He submitted to it as the Father’s will (see Matthew 26:39, 42). The Father surely did not delight in the suffering and torment of His Son. God’s sovereign will includes that which gives Him pleasure as well as that which does not. Peter is simply telling us that God does not desire (as a pleasurable thing) that any should perish in their sin, but He does purpose it (see Romans 9:1-23; 1 Peter 2:8; Revelation 13:8; 17:8).
God’s pleasure would be the salvation of every sinner, but Peter knows full well His purpose is to save some. The delay in the return of the Lord Jesus to subdue His enemies and rule over His kingdom is not so that someone might come, but so that He might draw His elect to Himself (see John 6:44; Acts 13:48; 16:14). Specifically, Peter says the Lord’s delay is so we (literally, “you”) might be saved (verse 9). God is patient toward us (“you”). Our salvation is the result of His patience and longsuffering. The unsaved may attempt to explain God’s delay as a flaw in His character, but the Christian can only praise Him for withholding His wrath until we are brought to faith. The “delay” of our Lord is not a pretext for accusing Him but another occasion to adore Him.
6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6).
15 But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth (Psalm 86:15).
4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).
22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22).
20 Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through [the] water (1 Peter 3:20).
The Day of the Lord as a Day of Destruction (3:10-12)
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!
The coming day of judgment is now called by its Old Testament name: the “Day of the Lord.” The day of the Lord is a day when destruction is dramatic and intense:
“He uses one very vivid phrase. He says that the heavens will pass away with a crackling roar (roizedon). That word is used for the whirring of a bird’s wings in the air, for the sound a spear makes as it hurtles through the air, for the crackling of the flames of a forest fire.”
It is a dramatic destruction, a destruction by fire involving great heat so intense it literally melts the earth and the elements (verse 11). And the passing away of the heavens is accompanied by a noise, a roar.
The “Day of the Lord” is a day of destruction such as has never been seen before. At first, verse 12 appears to be a mere repetition of verse 10 at first, but it is more than this for it describes a destruction unlike any ever before. It is not all that difficult to imagine an entire city like Sodom, for example, being burned up. But Peter says that while the destruction of the Day of the Lord will be by fire, this “fire” will destroy things which do not appear to be flammable. The heavens will be destroyed by burning and so will the elements of the earth. Peter describes a fire so intense that seemingly indestructible matter is completely destroyed.
We have no way of likening this fiery destruction to any previous “fire” of judgment. It is beyond demonstration, let alone human comprehension. We have only one reason to believe it will happen, and that is because God has said it would. Our belief in the coming Day of the Lord is based solely upon our confidence in God and His Word. No wonder those who do not trust in God or His Word mock the possibility of such a day of divine judgment.
God’s judgment in the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly on a scale never before witnessed in the history of mankind. The flood destroyed all mankind (except those on the ark) and much of nature. But the earth remained, and when the waters subsided, life went on. Cities like Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, but life went on. But when the Day of the Lord comes, all God has created (as recorded in Genesis) will be destroyed. All of life, all of the elements, and even the heavens. Nothing will be spared. All previous judgments are examples of divine judgment, but none convey the magnitude of the judgment yet to come.
The Day of the Lord is a future day which will come upon an unsuspecting world “like a thief.”16 Life will be going on as usual with men going about their normal routines (see Matthew 24:37-39). Do mockers reject God’s Word because the world goes on as usual with no indications of impending doom? That is exactly as our Lord said it would be. Yet there is a warning message. Now, as in days of old, God has sent His messengers to proclaim a two-fold message of coming judgment and of salvation and deliverance. If men will be saved, they will be saved by believing in God’s Word, and not by signs and wonders (see Luke 16:27-31).
Peter’s words about the nature of the Day of the Lord are written to us, the saints. Apart from divine enlightenment, his words fall on deaf ears as far as the unsaved are concerned. But what do these words say to us? How can we apply them to our lives? Peter sums our responsibility in verses 11 and 12:
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!
The first application for believers is godliness. Early in Peter’s first epistle, we were called to holiness, a theme Peter never ceases to emphasize:
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe [them,] glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:9-12).
8 To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For, “LET HIM WHO MEANS TO LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING GUILE. 11 “AND LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. 12 “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL” (1 Peter 3:8-12).
1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).
5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in [your] knowledge, self-control, and in [your] self-control, perseverance, and in [your] perseverance, godliness; 7 and in [your] godliness, brotherly kindness, and in [your] brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7).
Peter points out in chapter 2 of 2 Peter the sharp contrast of the believer’s holiness to the fleshly indulgence of the false teachers. The one without hope beyond this life gives full indulgence to the flesh (see 1 Corinthians 15:32). But the one who lives in hope denies fleshly lusts, in light of the blessings God has promised in the life to come (1 Peter 2:11-12).
In verses 11 and 12, Peter is not talking about the blessings of the coming kingdom of God but the outpouring of God’s wrath upon sinners. He is speaking of the devastating consequences of sin and its corruption. Even though the Christian will not experience this judgment, he should learn from this. The Christian should be reminded of the holiness of God and His hatred of sin. If God deals with sin in His creation this way, how does God feel about sin in our lives? We must learn to hate what God hates. We must seek to be holy, as He is holy. We must flee from sin and its corruption and live godly and holy lives.
The horror of that day for sinners, and the finality of their judgment, should greatly motivate us to bear witness to our faith and seek to turn men from God’s wrath to His salvation:
22 And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23 And others save with fear, pulling [them] out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23).
9 Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences (2 Corinthians 5:9-11, emphasis mine).
A second application of the Day of the Lord should be “looking for and hastening” its coming. We believe that Day is coming because God’s Word tells us so. We need no “signs and wonders” to prove its imminence; we know because God’s description of the “last days” indicates the day is near. Let us not be caught by surprise when that great day arrives, for we know it is coming, and the time is near. Let us be watching for that great day, as our Lord and His apostles instructed us (Matthew 24:42-43; 25:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 3:2; 16:15).
We can more easily understand how we are to “look for” the “Day of the Lord,” but how do we “hasten its coming?” Before answering, let us also consider another question: “Why would the Christian want to hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord?” It is a horrible day for the wicked, a day of complete destruction. Why would we ever wish the hastening of this day?
The answer might best be found in the Psalms. That day is the day justice is accomplished on the earth, when wrongs will be made right, and evil-doers will receive just punishment.
1 O LORD, God of vengeance; God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 Rise up, O Judge of the earth; Render recompense to the proud. 3 How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked exult? 4 They pour forth [words], they speak arrogantly; All who do wickedness vaunt themselves. 5 They crush Thy people, O LORD, And afflict Thy heritage. 6 They slay the widow and the stranger, And murder the orphans. 7 And they have said, “The LORD does not see, Nor does the God of Jacob pay heed” (Psalms 94:1-7; see also 6:3; 13:1-6; 35:17; 74:4-11).
The Book of Proverbs also explains why the righteous rejoice at the thought of the coming of the Day of the Lord, the day when the wicked are punished and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Righteous King, rules over all creation:
10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, And when the wicked perish, there is glad shouting (Proverbs 11:10).
15 The execution of justice is joy for the righteous, But is terror to the workers of iniquity (Proverbs 21:15).2 When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan (Proverbs 29:2).
The New Testament Book of Revelation portrays the rejoicing of the righteous at the judgment of the wicked:
4 And the third [angel] poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it. “ 7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments” (Revelation 16:4-7).
1 After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER” (Revelation 19:1-2).
The saints rejoice at the thought of the coming Day of the Lord, for God will punish the wicked and establish His throne in righteousness. We may wish that day would come soon. Peter does not list how we may “hasten its coming,” but he expects us to know. Among the ways we can “hasten His coming” are these:
(1) By living righteously and suffering unjustly for doing so. The Lord hears and heeds the cries of His people, who suffer for living as saints.
4 Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 5 [This is] a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:4-9, see also 1 Peter 2:12).
(2) By proclaiming the gospel to lost sinners.
14 “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14).
(3) By praying. Our Lord Himself instructed us to pray in this way:
9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).
The Positive Side of the Day of the Lord (3:13)
13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Peter does not leave the subject of prophecy on the somewhat sour note of the destruction of creation. Instead, he turns once again in verse 13 to the “blessed hope” of the believer. We are not those who await judgment; we await God’s salvation. The destruction of this present creation is a necessary step in preparation for the “new heavens and a new earth” which are to come. The destruction of this creation in the Day of the Lord is like the demolition of an old building to make way for the construction of a new one in its place. Our hope is not just for God’s judgment but for the kingdom He will bring in which righteousness dwells. And since that kingdom is one characterized by righteousness, we should live in a manner consistent with our destiny (compare 1 Peter 3:8-12). We should live righteously.
Borrowing from the words of Francis Shaefer’s book, “How Then Shall We Live?”, how should the truths of this passage affect the way we think and the way we live out our lives on this earth? Consider how these implications might apply to your lives.
First, our text tells us a lot about false teachers so that we can more readily recognize them—and then avoid them. False teachers will certainly deny and distort the Scriptures. One doctrine they will attack is the believer’s future hope. They will emphasize the here and now, and minimize, if not deny, the hereafter. Rather than exhorting us to live now in the light of eternity, they will encourage us to live for the present, as though there were no eternity, and indulge the flesh. They will surely deny the Scriptural teaching of divine judgment. Their teaching is but a thinly veiled excuse for their own self-indulgent lifestyle. They are those who “follow after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).
These false teachers seem to have far more questions than answers. And the very things which should cause them to trust God and praise Him are the things for which they accurse Him. Turning reality upside-down, when the Lord tarries graciously, giving men the opportunity to repent, these mockers accuse God of forsaking or at least failing to fulfill His promises. And when the world (and the universe) continues to function in the way it has since creation, they do not praise the Lord for sustaining it (see Colossians 1:16-17) but condemn Him for not giving any spectacular indications that the end is near. Ironically, even the presence of these false teachers is one of the indications that we are in the “last days” (see 3:3).
This text has so much to teach the Christian. Peter not only instructs us about false teachers, he also repeatedly reminds us of the truth. To Peter, as should be so for us, the Scriptures are foundational and fundamental. In both of his epistles, he turns our attention to the truths of the Word of God, truths which have been consistently taught by the Old Testament prophets, the Lord Jesus, and His apostles (3:1-2). It is the Word of God which false teachers attack and deny (3:3-7); if they cannot do this, they will attempt to distort them (3:14-16).
To Peter, the Scriptures are absolutely vital to Christian growth and stability. They are the source of divine revelation. They are the standard to which all teaching and practice must conform. They are absolutely sufficient, providing the believer with “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” They are the basis for our faith and hope and the believer’s sole source of revelation concerning the future. They speak of the Lord’s return to judge the wicked and destroy the existing creation. They speak as well of the glorious kingdom He will establish after this.
As the basis for our faith and hope, the Scriptures also give us a perspective which enables us to see through the distortions and deceptions of this world. We do not view the truths of the Word of God through the cloudy eyes of our culture or of this age. Indeed not! We view this age through the clear-eyed perspective of the Scriptures. The world is not as it seems; reality is revealed through the light of the Scriptures.
The prophecies of Scripture play a significant role in the life of the believer. They reveal all that we can now know about the future and assure us the Lord will return to this earth to judge the wicked and to establish His kingdom. The Scriptures stimulate us to godliness, knowing how God will deal with sin and its effects. Prophecy should also motivate us to evangelize, knowing the time is short and that sinners will suffer the eternal wrath of God. Prophecy informs us that materialism is folly, for all the things of this world will be burned up. Only God’s Word and people will endure for eternity, and these must be our priorities. Prophecy enables us to deny ourselves and to endure persecution for the sake of the gospel, for these cannot compare to the glory which lies ahead.
Our text also shows us the relationship between time and eternity. A long time may have passed, but it is put into its proper perspective when seen in the light of eternity. Time is our opportunity to enter into eternal life and to invest our lives for eternity. It is also our opportunity to tell others of the salvation God has provided through Christ.
This passage underscores the importance of viewing life from the vantage point of the character of God. The attributes of God are not abstract theological assertions of truth; they are the ultimate basis for our faith and hope. Prophecies (the promises of God) are of little value if God is not sovereign and omnipotent (all-powerful) and able to bring them to pass. Promises made centuries ago would have little value unless they were made by an eternal God, who is not bound by the limits of time. And a delay of centuries would seem to be cause for concern unless we view it from the standpoint of God’s patience, His mercy, and His grace.
Indeed, the attributes of God are no mere propositions; they are the description of the nature and character of the God whom we worship and serve. When life brings difficulties which seem to have no answers (even clear, biblical ones), we may rest confidently in who God is and what He is like. We see this often in the Psalms where the psalmist frequently cries out to God, presenting his problems, and lamenting no solution. But in the final analysis, the psalmist finds comfort and consolation in who God is, and thus he trusts in God and worships Him even though his immediate problems may remain. The great question in life is, “Whom do you trust?” We see from the attributes of God that we can only trust God.
The psalmists were not reticent to ask God questions. But we know from the Psalms they did not always receive a quick answer. This is why they based their trust and hope in God’s character. But there are different kinds of questions, and some should not be asked. Scoffers ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” The godly ask, “How long, Lord, how long?” A world of difference exists between these two questions. One is a question rooted in sin and unbelief. The other is founded on faith and hope.
I dare not conclude, my friend, without asking you about your eternal future. Do you look forward in hope to the “new heavens and a new earth,” or is your destiny eternal destruction? The difference between these two destinies lies in your response to Jesus Christ. He came to the earth and died on the cross of Calvary to die for sinners, to bear the penalty of God’s eternal wrath. Those who trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins need not fear the coming “Day of the Lord,” but may look forward to it and even seek to hasten its coming. Those who have not received Jesus Christ as their Savior will face Him as their Judge when He comes to the earth again. Have you trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and as God’s provision for eternal life? I pray that you have. And if you have not, I pray that you will—even now.