Lesson Text:2 Peter 3:3-15a, 18
Background Scripture: 2 Peter 3
Devotional Reading: John 14:1-7
2 Peter 3:3-15a, 18 (KJV)
3Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
5For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
8But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
10But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
11Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
12Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
13Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
14Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
15aAnd account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.
18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
To understand that God has given us all the knowledge we need to stand firm “in the last days.” Most importantly, we must realize that the best part of God’s plan for us is yet to come… the return of Jesus and eternal life in His presence! (see 2 Peter 3:3, 14-15).
To be reminded that God loves the lost, and that His patience leads to salvation. His time is not our time (see John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:8-9, 15a).
To be on spiritual guard, while living holy and godly lives as we look forward to the day of the Lord.
Distance and Perspective
Judging distance is a tricky business. It is often a matter of perspective. For example, mountain peaks may appear to be very close together if viewed from a distance. But if we fly over the mountains in an airplane, we may see that they are, in fact, widely separated.
The passing of time can also be a matter of perspective. When we are young, time seems to drag on forever. Just a few weeks in school feels like an eternity. But as more time passes, the more quickly it seems to pass. Adults commonly ask themselves “Where did the time go?” as they think back across decades of their own plans.
An article on positive thinking asked "How to make God laugh: Tell Him your plans for the future." We can relate to that, can we not? God must get a real chuckle out of seeing some of the ideas that we come up with.
So how does timeappear from God’s perspective? That question underlies today’s study.
Today’s lesson brings us again to 2 Peter, the great apostle’s letter of final instructions before his impending death. By the time of the letter’s writing, a generation had passed since the resurrection of Jesus. The faith had spread widely. Churches had been established all over the eastern part of the Roman Empire, and the Christian movement had become controversial. Christianity was the object of curiosity, ridicule, and even persecution.
At the heart of the controversy was the declaration that Jesus, who had been crucified by the Romans, had not only risen from the dead but now reigned as king at God’s right hand. He would one day return to establish His rule fully and finally. That belief challenged the way that many Jewish people understood how God would send the promised king, whom they expected to appear as a military and political ruler. It challenged the Roman Empire’s claim to absolute authority, as a man crucified by the Romans as a criminal was declared to be king.
The idea that Jesus would return to establish His rule fully, ending this present age and ushering in a new Heaven and earth, disturbed the widely held notion that the world would continue forever.
Peter affirmed the certainty of Christ's coming in glory (2 Peter 1:16), a truth that scoffers questioned and denied. In fact, they were scoffing at the very idea of the return of the Lord, the judgment of the world, and the establishment of a glorious kingdom.
How important it is for us as Christians to understand God's truth! Today we are surrounded by scoffers, people who refuse to take the Bible seriously when it speaks about Christ's return and the certainty of judgment. In this second letter, Peter admonished his readers to understand three important facts about God and the promise of Christ's coming.
1. God's Word Is True (2 Peter 3:1-4)
2. God's Work Is Consistent (2 Peter 3:5-7)
3. God's Will Is Merciful (2 Peter 3:8-10)
Scoffers’ Perspective (2 Peter 3:3- 4)
1. Who are the scoffers that will come “in the last days” (2 Peter 3:3)?
Peter’s warning focuses on activity in the last days (Jude 18). While that may sound to us as if such a period of time still lies in the future, the context shows that Peter understands the problem he is describing to be present already. From the perspective of the New Testament, the last days began with the appearance of Jesus, especially with His death and resurrection (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus inaugurated the last days when He came as the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises.
Because the last days represent the climax of God’s saving activity, they also represent the climax of opposition to God’s plan (1 John 2:18). So in the last days the faithful can expect to experience intense opposition to their faith, as the forces of the enemy try to frustrate God’s program.
That is Peter’s implication here: the last-days battle is going on already. The opposition is led by people who are driven by their own selfish “lusts” instead of devotion to God (2 Peter 3:3). But why do these people scoff? They ridicule and mock revealed prophetic truth, hoping to discredit them so that they can remain free to do as they wish. If your lifestyle contradicts the Word of God, you must either change your lifestyle or change the Word of God. The scoffers choose the latter approach, so they scoff at the doctrines of judgment and the coming of the Lord, as we see next.
2. What was the thinking of the scoffers (v. 4)?
Here we clearly see that Peter is addressing a situation that is already present in his own time. A generation (30 years) has passed since Jesus arose and the gospel went forth. Peter focused with the greatest intensity on the Christian belief attacked by these scoffers, namely, Jesus’ promise of His second coming (see Matt. 10:23; 16:28; 24:3, 32-36; Mark 9:1; Acts 1:11). The early church believed that when Jesus returned, He would bring to fruition the work of salvation. Indeed, believers were characterized by an intense anticipation of the Savior’s return. Jesus had laid the groundwork with His teaching on end-time events in Matthew 24 (see Mark 13; Luke 21). The Christians in Peter’s day lived with the expectation of the Son’s advent, just as believers should do today.
However, the sarcastic rhetoric of the skeptics is captured here (in a round-about way). “Today is just like every other day since the beginning of time,” they say. “The ancient patriarchs, long dead, would see nothing different today from then. There is no change so far, so we should expect no change in the future.”
From the impatient perspective of selfish humanity, three decades seems to be more than enough time to show that the promise of Christ’s return is empty. Yet in holding this perspective, the skeptics are ignoring certain evidence, as we see next.
Past Examples of Divine Judgment (2 Peter 3:5-6)
3. What mistake did the scoffers make concerning the past examples of Divine events (v. 5)?
Peter will not allow the mockery of the scoffers to stand. When they affirm that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (v. 4), they should realize that the very fact of creation is itself a witness to change.
“The earth standing out of the water” echoes the description of God’s action in (Genesis 1:6-10). This demonstration of God’s power begins to make Peter’s case. Since the world exists because God called it into existence, then God has the power to call it out of existence as well. Since the world began in this way, it is not at all reasonable to assume that it will go on forever. Its continued existence is subject to the will of its Creator.
The account of the great flood in Genesis 6-8 is the illustration ready at hand that shows God’s power to destroy what He created (2 Peter 2:5). God can and will do with His creation what He chooses to do. This should give pause to anyone who mocks the idea of Christ’s return. This is also an additional challenge to the skeptics’ claim that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”
A Future Time of Divine Judgment (2 Peter 3:7)
Having looked back in biblical history, Peter now looks toward what we might call “future history.” God preserves the world presently for the judgment that He will bring in the future. God who “by the same word” in the past destroyed the earth with water will one day destroy both the existing “heavens and the earth” (2 Pet. 3:7) with fire. The account of the flood proved the inevitability of divine judgment and testified to God’s patience. Even more importantly, the biblical record was evidence of the reliability of Scripture.
This “reserved” fire event will mean God’s guilty verdict (judgment) and ruin (perdition) on all those who, like the scoffers of Peter’s day, reject Him to follow their own selfish lusts.
The Patience of God (2 Peter 3:8-9)
4. How is God’s timetable different from our own (v. 8)?
The perspective now shifts from past and future history to the throne room of the eternal God. God’s existence is not bound by time as is ours. Because He exists without beginning or ending, the passing of time is to God not the problem that it is for us. “Soon” on God’s calendar is not a matter of days, but of great epochs (eras).
The scoffers have failed to reckon with this reality. God’s timetable may be very different from our own. What seems like forever to us is insignificant to the God who has existed forever (Psalm 90:4).
The failure to grasp this perspective betrays human self-centeredness. We tend to judge everything by our own experience. In a human lifetime, 30 years is a long time. From God’s perspective, though, it is not. The same is true for 2,000 years or for any finite number of years we may imagine.
What Do You Think?
How has your perspective on time changed through the years? How has this affected the way you face various issues?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding financial issues | Regarding possessions | Regarding priorities
Regarding relationships | Regarding health concerns | Other
5. How has God been “longsuffering” toward us (v. 9)?
Granted that the passing of time is different from God’s perspective, the scoffer could still ask why God bothers to delay the return of Christ at all. Certainly, God may not find the time significant, but why bother at all to leave a period of time between Christ’s resurrection and the establishment of His full reign? Why not begin the final judgment immediately, if indeed there is to be such a thing?
Peter’s reply to such an objection is vital to our understanding of God’s dealings with the world. It expresses the implication of God’s essential nature. God is just; therefore, He must bring judgment on evil. But God is also merciful, wanting to forgive those who have committed evil. So in His mercy, God withholds judgment while He invites rebellious humans to accept His offer of forgiveness and be reconciled to Him. Without a delay between Christ’s resurrection and His return, no such opportunity would exist.
So, says Peter, God has in no way been late or neglectful in fulfilling His promises. In fact, He is faithfully fulfilling His promise to save by allowing sinful humans time to hear His gracious offer in the gospel and come to Jesus in repentance. This is an expression of God’s patience as He pursues His profound desire to bring all people to repentance and reconciliation, if only they are willing (1Timothy 2:4).
From God’s perspective, this is no delay at all (Habakkuk 2:3). He is working out His plan to bring as many people as possible into an eternal relationship with Him. From the beginning, God has advanced His plan by which His enemies can become His friends. The seeming postponement of Christ’s return is another step in that plan, allowing more rebellious humans to accept His terms of mercy.
It is worth noting that God revealed this same longsufferingin the years before the Flood (1 Peter 3:20). He saw the violence and wickedness of man and could have judged the world immediately; yet He held back His wrath and, instead, sent Noah as a "preacher of righteousness." In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, God patiently waited while Abraham interceded for the cities and He would have spared them had He found ten righteous people in Sodom.
The Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10-15a, 18)
6. When will “the day of the Lord” come (v. 10)?
Peter then reaffirmed the certainty of the coming of the Day of the Lord. When will it come? Nobody knows when, because it will come to the world “as a thief in the night.” Our Lord used this phrase (Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39) and so did the Apostle Paul (1 Thes. 5:2). For those who reject the gospel and do not expect Christ’s return, His coming will be a disastrous surprise.
The outcome will be different for believers. We expect Christ’s return, and we will welcome Him when He arrives. For the scoffer, He returns with judgment; for the believer, He returns with blessing.
We do not know when it will happen, but we are told what will happen (2 Peter 3:10b). The description now shifts to the fate of the universe as a whole: it “shall melt with fervent heat.” The world that the scoffer takes to be eternally unchanging, the place where the scoffer puts confidence and hope, will be destroyed. This includes “the works that are therein”—the things people have made, which they count as sources of security and power. Every pretension of humanity will come to nothing when Christ returns. For those who do not know Him as Savior, His coming means the destruction of what they think will save them.
The Importance of Maintaining a Godly, Holy Lifestyle (2 Peter 3:11-14)
7. Why should we feel an urgency to glorify the Father in our daily living (v. 11)?
For the believer, the knowledge that Christ will one day destroy this present existence has transformative power. We realize that there is no basis for security in the things of this present age. Relying on power or status on the world’s terms is foolish because the world has no staying power.
Instead, what matters is holy conversation and godliness. The word conversation means not just speech, but all kinds of proper interaction with others. A life of godliness speaks to proper devotion to the true, eternal God. Our confident hope for the future demands that we live with an eternal perspective every day.
8. What should the truth of Christ’s return inspire Christians to do, and look forward to (vs. 12-13)?
Unlike the scoffer, the Christian lives in expectation of Christ’s return. The expression “looking for” implies “watching expectantly.” We can compare this with children who look out the window waiting for a parent to arrive home after work.
The phrase “hasting unto the coming of the day of God” is difficult. Taken literally, Peter implies that we might be able to speed His coming by preparing ourselves and helping others get prepared (Matt. 24:14). Taken figuratively, the phrase carries the idea of “waiting eagerly” for that return. Such waiting is not passive, but involves applying energy and enthusiasm to obeying the Lord in anticipation of His return. As we do, we sit lightly on the things of this present age, knowing that such things are marked for destruction.
However, the Christian’s perspective is also to be defined by Christ’s promises (2 Peter 3:13). Thus importance is placed not on the world that is passing away, but on the one to come.
The description that Peter provides is important, and we ought to pay careful attention to the language. First, we must remember that the combination “heavens and earth” is based on Old Testament usage, as in Genesis 1:1. As such, “heavens and earth” refers to the entirety of God’s creation.
This causes us to realize that what Peter describes is not the destruction only of the earth so that the heavens remain. Rather, what is in view is the replacement of this present realm with a new one, new heavens and a new earth.
The “new heavens and a new earth” will be characterized by righteousness. In this new sphere, God’s will shall be done perfectly. This is the promise of the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22), renewed here and in the closing chapters of the New Testament (Revelation 21:1).
9. If our destination is a righteous world, how should we be found living in this present world (vs. 14-15a)? How is this accomplished?
Since a heavenly home is our goal, diligence must be exercised to reach this objective. Peter’s words are an encouragement to us to accept the glorious anticipation of a new heaven and earth as a challenge to live righteously before God. This is accomplished by following the ethical example of the Savior, who was “without blemish and without spot”(1 Peter 1:19). In turn, believers are to ensure that their lives are morally “spotless [and] blameless” (2 Pet. 3:14). A virtuous person is more likely to be a peaceful one. To emphasize this point, Peter referred again to the meaning of God’s patience as an invitation to “salvation” (v. 15a).
What Do You Think?
If you knew there was a 50/50 chance of Christ returning tomorrow, how would you change your approach to godliness today?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Dealing with unrepentant sin | Asking forgiveness from others |
Extending forgiveness to others | Other
2 Peter 3:15b-18
After a brief discussion regarding how the apostle Paul also affirms these truths (vs. 15b-17, not in today’s text), Peter turns to a closing word of encouragement. Knowing that Christ will indeed return compels that we continue in the gifts we have received from Him. We grow in grace as we respond consistently to God’s unmerited gift of salvation. We grow... in the knowledge as we put into practice what we have learned through the gospel. By these means Christ is glorified.
What Do You Think?
Where do you need to grow most in Christ as you await His return? How will you do so?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Growth in grace
John 1:14-17; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Ephesians 4:7; Hebrews 13:9; James 4:6; etc.
Growth in knowledge
Romans 1:28;Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 1:9;Colossians 1:10; etc.
POINTS TO PONDER
1.Christians should not be surprised to find that there are those who scoff at the idea of Jesus coming again. Peter reminds us that the scoffers will come (2 Peter 3:3-4).
2.Be concerned about God’s word and perception of the world, not man’s (2 Peter 3:5-7).
3.God’s patience leads to salvation. Are you being patient while showing love to the lost? (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:8-9,15a).
4.No man knows the day or the hour when the Lord will come (Mark 13:32; 2 Peter 3:10).
5.We are encouraged as Christians to live holy and godly lives in anticipation of Christ’s return and promise! (2 Peter 3:11-14).
6.God’s patience and grace leads to our growth as well as others to salvation! (2 Peter 3:15a, 18).
Skepticism, Proper and Improper
It seems that scoffers have always been with us. Almost every technological innovation has been met with skepticism at first. When John Ericsson first proposed the ironclad Monitor during America’s Civil War, many said it would not even float, much less be a useful warship. When the Wright brothers built their first airplane, many said it would never get off the ground. The list is endless.
Scoffers find it hard to accept anything that is not within their own experience. When I was a youngster in the 1950s, we spent Saturday mornings watching space travel with Buck Rogers on TV. We knew it was all science fiction—with a big emphasis on the fiction part. Little did we know that we eventually would put a man on the moon. No reasonable person scoffs about this now.
But it’s not always wrong to be a skeptic. Jesus teaches us to be skeptical of various claims concerning His return (Mark 13:32; Luke 17:22-24). William Miller predicted Jesus’ return for 1843; Charles Taze Russell predicted it for 1914; Edgar Whisenant wrote a pamphlet, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988”; Harold Camping predicted it twice for 2011. Skepticism of these predictions turned out to be well founded! Even so, we are confident that Christ will come again because that is what He promised.—J. B. N.
How do we respond to the reality of Christ’s expected return? Some may be unknowingly reluctant to ponder His return because we feel comfortable in this world; we may be anxious for His return when we are suffering. Whatever our circumstances, we need to recognize how important to our faith is the promise of His return to save and to judge. Remembering this promise will strengthen the patient endurance we need to stand firm and grow in our faith in a hostile world.
Father, may Your Son return quickly! But if He tarries, we know it is so that more may be saved. Make us the agents of that reconciliation as You give us the strength to wait. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
“The Lord… is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Next week - Isaiah 6, takes us to the throne room of heaven to teach us about true praise. Study Isaiah 6:1-8 “God’s People Worship.”