There is a wealth of exhortation to be found in the second epistle of Peter. It was written as a necessary sequel to the first letter in order: “to make your calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10 NKJ and all references). The target audience was fellow disciples, termed “beloved;” and, in common with the first letter, the intent was to prompt the believers’ memory and remind them of the certainty of God’s word, witnessed by past events.
Dispute about the second coming
Here we will review chapter 3 in particular. In the first two verses, the rationale for the exhortation is given which was to stimulate wholesome, sincere and pure thinking (free from error), by way of recalling the words spoken by the holy prophets, the Lord Jesus himself and the apostles. Sadly, false teachers were clouding the purity of the gospel message. There were scoffers present who were questioning and denying the most fundamental of doctrines: “the second coming.” They asked scornfully, “Where is the promise of his coming for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation?” (II Peter 3:4).
The problem was that the Lord Jesus had not yet returned, and this event was expected during the lifetime of the apostles. Consequently, when death and martyrdom was evidenced, the veracity of the teaching was called into question. Some also complained that those who had died would be at a disadvantage if the Lord did return. Incorrectly, they reasoned that the living would be given the gift of life to the exclusion of the dead. Paul had already addressed this concern: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep…for this we say to you, by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep” (I Thess. 4:15).
Evidence from scripture
Skillfully, Peter answers the challenge by drawing attention to the irrefutable evidence of the infallibility of God’s word. When He speaks, His words are always translated into action. Creation was the result of the word: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them…” (Psa. 33:6). Likewise, judgement of the ungodly came about through the flood: “And God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth…So he destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground… only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive” (Gen. 6:13, 7:23).
The scoffers, said Peter, not only: “willfully forget” (II Peter 3:5) these lessons from history, they ignore the signs of impending judgement on the nations of this era: “But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (v. 7).
It should be observed that although all flesh perished, the literal heavens and earth survived the flood. Consequently, the “heavens and earth” referred to by Peter must be a metaphor for elevated rulers, political and religious systems and their earthly subjects. Fire is to be the medium used by God to bring destruction and punishment upon these systems of wickedness.
Admittedly, for those who choose to ignore the direction and warnings of the Almighty, the future looks grim. If only they would listen and turn to Him for: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9).
God’s patience demonstrated
What was perceived as slackness by doubters was indeed a reflection of the compassion and mercy of God, waiting in patience for repentance. Nevertheless, the expected day will arrive, states Peter, who then describes the manner of the coming to be ‘thief-like.’
The certainty of the Lord’s return in judgement makes godliness an absolute necessity: “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…” (v. 11). The three parables of the Master on the requirements of daily living, given in Matthew 25, are very helpful in this respect. At the end of the discourse, Jesus predicts the consequences for both the faithful and unfaithful. For those who strive to follow him, the reward is eternal life, but to those who choose the dictates of their own hearts, the inevitable end is death.
Hastening the day
In common with the faithful of Peter’s day, we look forward to the return of the promised Savior. Verse 12 however, presents something of an enigma: “Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” At first glance, it seems incongruous that we can hasten or change God’s timetable, although careful analysis and thought provides the answer. An active faith, demonstrating zeal with earnest desire for the fulfillment of the promises, constant prayer to the Father urging him to bring about deliverance to a beleaguered world, may at some level influence the omniscient God to expedite his Son’s return.
For many of the early Christians, fervent prayer brought them deliverance from the holocaust of AD 70: “When the heavens will be dissolved being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (v. 12). The political order and the wicked of their day were destroyed. As we observe the wickedness and events of the present world, there is a strong possibility that the pattern will be re-enacted in ours.
We also look forward with longing for: “the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (vv. 13-14). Conviction of these things should be the incentive for choosing a life free from vice which leads to Messiah’s peace and salvation.
Interestingly, Peter cites Paul to add weight to his reasoning. Even though some of Paul’s writings were “hard to understand” (vv. 15-16) and were twisted by people to achieve their own purpose, nevertheless, these writings were as reliable as the rest of scripture. False teachers distort all hard-to-understand scriptures to their own eternal destruction. Here is a solemn warning to all of us as we seek deliverance from sin and this body of flesh.
Make recall a practice
The last two verses of this fascinating chapter bring it to a logical conclusion and exhortation: Since the return of Jesus is certain, beware of false teaching and do not be carried away by lawless men who have evil desires. Preserve yourself, do not fall from your secure position and be rejected. Grow in God’s grace and favor, becoming participants of his loving kindness. Work at increasing your knowledge and understanding of the things of the kingdom and translate them into positive action.
Peter was stirring up the minds of his brothers and sisters to remember the obvious things they had been taught. Due to the stresses and strains of every day living, the wonders of the gospel message can become a little blurred.
A great deal of our life in the Lord is made up of recalling things we have not really forgotten, they are ‘in storage’ someplace. But recalling makes them real to us again, even though we never really had doubts. Peter wrote the letter to remind his brothers and sisters of the great matters of life and death. He delivered his appeal and warning by drawing upon the word of God from the prophets, the Lord Jesus and his apostles. The same word has been preserved for us in the scriptures. It is a good exercise to take time away from our busyness to relax and deliberately bring the gospel message and the “hope of Israel” to the forefront of our minds for re-examination and confirmation.
In his infinite wisdom, the Lord Jesus instituted the memorial feast for this very reason. His command was: “Do this in remembrance of me.” It was not that his disciples could forget him and his redemptive work; but Jesus understood that the impact of these truths could gradually diminish as the believer struggles with the stresses of life.
Our Lord made the marvelous provision of bread and wine that are emblems of his suffering body and shed blood, enabling us to focus upon his work of salvation. In so doing, we recall the fact that he gave his life for us while we were yet sinners. This knowledge should invigorate and stimulate us to live our lives as though we really believe it. We also need to remember to actively prepare for his return, looking forward to the event with joyous anticipation, for this will be the day when, in his mercy, he will give us the full benefit of his sacrifice, even the gift of eternal life.
Let us echo the last words of Peter’s letter: “To him be the glory both now and forever” and collectively add our own heartfelt, ‘AMEN!’