20-3 Is There A Delay In Christ's Return?
And so Peter presses
home the point: " The Lord (Jesus- v.15,18) is not slack concerning
his promise (to return- of Jn.14:3,18,28), as some men (in the ecclesia)
count slackness" , but is longsuffering (v.9). The Greek for "
slack" here means 'delay'; this is assurance that God is not 'delaying'
as men dilly-dally in the execution of their plans, but is rather postponing
this for a good reason. Because this was a major feature of God's dealings
with natural Israel previously, it is not surprising that there are a
number of instructive Old Testament allusions here.
how Israel would suffer for their sins, but then God would wait for a
certain time until they cried to Him in repentance, before bringing about
a time of blessing on the earth based around the Lord's presence in Jerusalem.
" One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one (Deut.28 language)...till
ye be left as a tree bereft of branches (how Paul describes what happened
to Israel in the first century, Rom.11)...and therefore (i.e. because
you are such sinners) will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto
you, and therefore will He be exalted (through your repentance), that
He may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed
are all they that wait for Him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at
Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more (the language of Is.65:17-25, quoted
in 2 Pet.3:13): He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy
cry (of repentance): when He shall hear it, He will answer thee"
. Not only is God delaying the Kingdom until there is repentance in Israel,
but such is His mercy that He will not bring it about until such
repentance. His purpose should not be seen, therefore, just in terms of
the cold equation 'Repentance in Israel= second coming', but the supreme
mercy and love which this arrangement shows should be appreciated.
" And therefore will He be exalted" Isaiah comments-
by those who understand these things. Rom.11:32-36 is a marvellous example
Wait and watch
Peter's stress on how
the word of God would bring about the day of the Lord shows his realization
of how the false teachers were really trying to say that the word of God
was untrue, and that it was delaying. Perhaps he had Hab.2:3 in
mind: " The vision (of the word) is yet for an appointed time, but
at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it;
because it will surely come, it will not tarry" . The context is
a prophecy concerning the coming Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem. Evidently
there were some in Israel who felt that the fulfilment of these words
of God was 'tarrying' so long that it would never come. The next verse
continues " But the just shall live by his faith" , i.e. in
the eventual fulfilment of the word of God. This is twice quoted in the
New Testament concerning the first century believers (Rom.1:17; Heb.10:38).
It is therefore in order that verse 3 concerning the coming 'day of the
Lord' in the Babylonian invasion should have relevance to the same period.
If 2 Peter 3 refers here, then this is indeed the case. It is noteworthy
that prophecies like Jer.17:27 speak of this Babylonian invasion as a
" fire" in both literal and spiritual terms- as 2 Peter 3 also
employs " fire" . Reading between the lines of the New Testament
epistles, it is evident that Paul often phrased things in such a way as
to warn against what was presumably a common temptation- in this case,
to think that the day of the Lord had been delayed so long that effectively
the brethren felt that it would never come. Thus Heb.10:37 quotes Hab.2:3
which we have been considering with reference to the second coming: "
He that shall come will come (cp. 'I am that I am'), and will not
tarry" . Rom.13:11,12 makes the same point- " knowing
the time...now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed"
The key to overcoming
this temptation was to remember that the delay in the Lord's coming was
a sign of God's mercy in granting sinners time to repent. Rather than
leading to slackness of service, the delay should lead to greater diligence.
" The Lord...is longsuffering to us-ward" . This longsuffering
of Jesus suggests the parable of the persistent widow, whose continued
requests should match our prayers for the second coming (the vengeance
of our adversaries which she requested will only come then). " Though
he bear long" (s.w. 'longsuffering') with us, " God shall avenge
His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him" (Lk.18:7). The "
us" whom Peter refers to as experiencing the Lord's longsuffering
('bearing long') are therefore to be equated with " the elect"
in their fervent prayers for the second coming. The days being shortened-
a strong idea in 2 Peter 3- for the elect's sake therefore refers to the
hastening of the second coming on account of the elect's prayers (Mt.24:22).
In view of the later references to Matt.24, it is not unreasonable to
think that Peter is consciously alluding to Mt.24:22 concerning the shortening
of the days for the sake of the elect's prayers, through his allusion
to the parable of the persistent widow of Lk.18:7.
A Patient Father
This " longsuffering"
is because God is " not willing that any should perish, but that
all should come to repentance" (v.9). The " any" and "
all" here evidently refer to those whom God has called- the responsible.
The fact that millions of people throughout history have lived and died
with no chance of repenting or avoiding 'perishing' through response to
the Gospel, is proof enough that God is perfectly willing that many should
perish and not come to repentance, as far as the world in general is concerned.
But such is His desire for the responsible to live up to their
spiritual potential, that He has delayed the coming of the Lord. Doubtless
Israel deserved immediate punishment for their crucifixion of Christ-
a human 'God' would certainly have reacted straight away- but judgment
was deferred until AD70 in order to give them every opportunity to repent.
God's judgments in the OT were often deferred because people repented
(e.g. Is. 48:9; Nineveh); yet such is His supreme grace to Israel that
when they unrepentantly crucified His Son, He still deferred judgment.
The same is true in our days. What pain it must give our Father to see
this time which has been allowed as extra opportunity being used irresponsibly!
The bridegroom of the parable " tarried" , the same Greek word
translated " delay" in " my Lord delayeth his coming"
. Tragically, this resulted in the spiritual slumbering of all of the
virgins rather than their greater eagerness and expectancy.
That this passage is
indeed concerning the responsible is confirmed by the allusion it makes
to Ez.18:23: " Have I any pleasure (Heb. " will" ) at all
that the wicked should die...and not that He should return from His ways,
and live?" . The context is concerning a Jew (i.e. responsible) who
had been wicked but now had repented. The 'perishing' of 2 Peter 3:9 must
refer to destruction at the judgment, God is not willing that any of us
(" longsuffering to usward" ) should be condemned then,
therefore that day is delayed. Perhaps we can infer that it is because
of God's particular love for our very last generation of believers that
the day is delayed- perhaps by 40 years, as in the case of Israel in AD70?
It is possible that there may be a " generation" of 40 years
after the blossoming of the fig tree- i.e. the first signs of Jewish repentance
(cp. the Jews for Jesus movement?).
Space To Repent
The way this worked
out in the first century is demonstrated by the judgment of the false
teachers in the Thyatira ecclesia. " I gave her space to repent of
her fornication; and she repented not. Behold...I will cast her into great
tribulation...I will give unto every one of you according to your works"
(Rev.2:21-23). This latter phrase clearly refers to the second coming
(Mt.16:27; Rev.20:12; 22:12); but in addition to their judgment then,
they were also punished in the " great tribulation" of AD70
referred to in Mt.24:21,29. As explained in 2 Pet.3, these people were
'given space to repent', but did not. Therefore judgment came. Sadly,
there must be similarities with the last days. But it must ever be appreciated
that God is doing all things possible to bring about that repentance;
and we should likewise help these people to repent, so that the Lord's
coming will be hastened. The idea of God being unwilling that any should
perish but that all should repent must have some connection with the parable
of the lost sheep. The efforts of the good shepherd should be replicated,
so the context of the parable indicates, by the believers. Thus the parable
is summarized: " It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven,
that one of these little ones should perish" (Mt.18:17 cp. 2 Pet.3:9).
The fact that there is/ will be a delay in the second coming indicates
that there will be a distinct stubbornness by some to repent in the last
days- perhaps the last Christian generation is the lost sheep generation,
whose repentance will bring the Lord's return? " When the
fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because
the harvest is come" (Mk.4:29).
Coming To Repentance
But what exactly does
'coming to repentance' imply? " Longsuffering" on the Lord's
part takes us back to 1 Pet.3:20, where we learn that God's longsuffering
resulted in a delay in the flood coming, so that people had the maximum
opportunity to repent and enter the ark, representing entry into Christ
by baptism. The Greek for " come to" repentance has the idea
of entering into a country- a one off act. A glance down a concordance
under " repentance" shows that this word is associated with
only two things- baptism, or a major repentance by a completely apostate
believer. The delay in the second coming is for these two reasons- so
that a seriously apostate group within the ecclesia can repent, and so
that there can be the maximum possible allowance of time for the encouragement
of people to be baptized. In addition to our prayers being able to speed
the Lord's return, these two reasons for the delay involve our own effort
speeding it. By repentance and encouragement of our weak brethren to repent,
this really will happen; and the quicker we spread the Gospel world-wide,
" baptizing all nations" , the quicker the delay will end and
the Lord will come (Mt.24:14). The latter day Elijah ministry will presumably
be after the pattern of John the Baptist- with an emphasis, therefore,
on the baptism of Jesus as a means of preparing them for Christ's coming.
Our argument that God
being unwilling " that any should perish" only applies to the
responsible, may seem to contradict 1 Tim.2:4: " God...will have
all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth"
. The same argument applies as used above- that this is just not true
of " all men" literally. Note that in repentance after
baptism, we can come to " the knowledge of the truth" - i.e.
a real appreciation of the wonder of Christ. 1 Tim.2:5 continues: "
For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus"
. Our Lord only mediates between God and the believers- called here "
men" . Most conclusively, the preceding verses speak of praying for
rulers, " that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all Godliness...for
this is good...in the sight of God, who will have all men to be saved"
. " We" and " all men" are parallelled as if to say
'We know God wants us to be saved, but we must live a spiritual life in
response to this. So pray that we will be given rulers that enable us
to do this without excessive temptation, which may result in our falling
from God's great salvation'.
Having explained the
reason for the delay, v.10 continues the description of the judgment to
come: " The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night"
. This is an evident reference to another part of the Olivet prophecy,
which has reference to both AD70 and the second coming. The Jewish "
house" was " broken up" by the thief-like coming of the
Lord. 1 Thess.5 refers to this same passage, interpreting it as a description
of how Christ will come unexpectedly to the spiritually weak within the
ecclesia. It will be a time when they think they are in " peace and
safety" spiritually, and will publicly teach this (" When they
shall say peace and safety" ). This is exactly the theme of
2 Peter 3- the false teachers within the ecclesia of the last days will
preach that the second coming is far off; that in fact all is in peace
and spiritual safety within the household. But as the thief would break
the house up, so 2 Peter 3 graphically describes the total dissolution
of the Jewish system (" heavens and earth" ). Mt.24:43 indicates
that the Lord comes as a thief to those who would be watching over the
house- i.e. to the leaders of the ecclesia. The false teachers will therefore
be in the leadership of the body- otherwise it would be hard for their
ideas to gain the following which these prophecies indicate they did and
" The heavens shall
pass away with a great noise" (v.10) may therefore refer to the destruction
of this class of leaders, the 'heavens' of the ecclesia. " A great
noise" in Greek implies a whirring- perhaps referring to there being
a manifestation of the cherubim at the second coming (" the sign
of the son of man in Heaven" ?). Jer. 30:23,24, in a decidedly latter
day context, speaks of God's judgments coming as a mighty whirlwind, associated
as it is with the cherubim (Ez. 1:4). " The elements shall melt with
fervent heat" provides impressive evidence for the AD70 application
of this chapter when it is realized that most of the occurrences of the
Greek word for " elements" are concerning the Mosaic ordinances
(Gal.4:3; 5:21; Col.2:8,20). " Melt" can mean 'to unloose',
conjuring up the idea of the law as a burden which was now being unstrapped.
The relevance of v.10 to both AD70 and the last days is evidence that
just as there were false teachers then, so there must also be in the last
days. " The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned
up" (v.10) may refer specifically to the judgments coming on the
land (" earth" ) of Israel, and the ending of the works of the
Law through the destruction of the temple in AD70. As Noah's world was
destroyed with literal water, so it is not unreasonable to expect a literal
aspect to the " fire" here mentioned, although this is not to
question the symbolic reference of fire to the anger of God. The temple
was destroyed with fire, although interestingly Dan.9:26 speaks of its
end coming with a flood; fitting in perfectly with Peter's connection
of the AD70 judgments on Israel with the flood.
The passing away of
heaven and earth suggests another link with the Olivet prophecy: "
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away"
(Mt.24:34). The physical heavens and earth being permanent (Ecc.1:4; Is.45:18;
Ps.78:69), our Lord must have been referring to the order of things which
would end in both AD70 and the last days. The faithful who came through
the figurative 'fire' of those times would do so through their clinging
to the Lord's words. We have earlier commented that this is a theme in
2 Peter 3- by God's word the natural and spiritual creation came about,
and by it too sinners can be destroyed if they fail to let it act upon
The detailed description
of all the elements of heaven and earth being destroyed is embedded, as
we have seen, in allusions to the Olivet prophecy. It is therefore to
be expected that our Lord's talking there about the sun and moon being
darkened, the stars falling etc. (Mt.24:29) should also have some connection
with 2 Pet.3. The Olivet prophecy speaks of these things being obscured
and affected- but 2 Peter 3 describes their complete and fundamental destruction.
Sun, moon and stars have several associations with Israel (e.g. in Joseph's
dream), and 'Heavens and earth' have also been symbolic of the Jews (e.g.
Dt.32:1). Mt.24:29,30 describe how there will be signs in these things,
and then the Lord would come with the clouds of heaven. 2 Peter 3 shows
how this refers to the lead up to AD70, and that then the Jewish system
was totally destroyed. This means that the son of man coming with the
clouds of heaven to replace the previous sun, moon etc. would have a limited
reference to the system of things based around Christ and his word (Mt.24:34)
which was firmly established in AD70. But most importantly, the dissolution
of these 'heavens' refers to the second coming, with the destruction it
will bring upon both the Jewish and Gentile worlds, and also upon the
unworthy in the ecclesia. This shows that the signs in the heavens which
warn of the second coming are not just in the Jewish and Gentile world-
but (even clearer) in the state of the wicked within the " heavens"
of the ecclesia, who will meet their judgment in this horrendous destruction
of all that is evil.
Slow To Anger
A number of images found
in 2 Pet.3 also occur together in Nahum 1:4-8: " He (God) rebuketh
the sea, and maketh it dry (cp. the earth standing out of the water in
2 Pet.3)...the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence ("
the elements shall melt...the earth shall be burned up" , 2 Pet.3:10),
yea, the world, and all that dwell therein (" the earth and the works
that are therein" )...His fury is poured out like fire...with an
overrunning flood (cp. 2 Pet.3:6) He will make an utter end" . But
all this is prefaced by Nah.1:3: " The Lord is slow to anger"
. As God always gave ample time for repentance in His dealings with both
Israel and the nations in the Old Testament, so He would with spiritual
Israel (and even more so?). All God's past dealings with men, as at the
flood, with Israel at the Babylonian and Assyrian invasions, in His judgments
of the nations, all these will find their summation in how God will deal
with us in the last days. In this fact lies the value of following up
the Old Testament allusions which Peter makes. That an appreciation of
all this must have a fundamentally practical effect upon our lives is
something which cannot be over-emphasized. " Seeing then that all
these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be
in all holy conversation and Godliness" (v.11). The logic is irresistible;
all things of the world as we know it are to be dissolved; only our Godly
character will survive the fire; the word which develops this will also
last beyond the destruction of the heavens and earth, seeing that it is
through the word that they will be destroyed (cp. Mt.24:34). By developing
such a word-formed character, we are " looking for and hasting the
coming of the day of God" (v.12)- a fair summary of what we have
read between the lines of this chapter.
The earth being dissolved
connects with Is.24:19: " The earth is utterly broken down, the earth
is clean dissolved" . The previous verse alludes to the flood, as
2 Pet.3 does: " The windows from on high are open (cp. Gen.7:11)
and the foundations of the earth do shake" (Is.24:18). Other writers
have made the point that Is.24, especially in the Septuagint, appears
to have been very much in our Lord's mind during his Olivet prophecy.
2 Pet.3 being based on the Olivet prophecy, it is to be expected that
it will have connections with the same source passages. " The earth"
in Is.24 meaning 'the land' (of Israel) indicates that 2 Pet.3 is also
primarily concerning the troubles that came upon the land in AD70.
Loving His Appearing
The fact that "
holy conversation and Godliness" is " looking for" the
second coming drives home the point that all true spirituality is associated
with and leads to an enthusiasm for the Lord's return. Unless we have
a fervent desire for that day, a longing for the presence of our Lord,
a burning eagerness to behold him in his beauty, then our spirituality
is but moral nicety, similar to that shown by Orthodox 'Christians'. So
all consuming is a true love of the second coming that any who really
" love his appearing" - something shown by both doctrine and
practice- are assured of acceptance then (2 Tim.4:8). We can only love
Christ's return in this sense if we have a truly dynamic relationship
with him now, rather than a cold, legalistic obedience to the 'Commandments
of Christ', in our hearts only hoping for the best as far as judgment
day goes, coldly indifferent to the real spirit of Christ, carefully covering
over the child of faith which is deep within us.
Exactly what the Lord's
return means to us personally, and the degree to which our spirituality
stands directly related to it, must surely give rise to self-examination.
Frequently the Greek word translated " look for" here is used
in the context of the second coming, often translated " waiting"
(Jude 21; 1 Cor.1:7; Rom.8:19; Phil.3:20; Heb.9:28; Tit.2:13; 1 Thess.
1:10). Our 'waiting' for the Lord is not therefore a passive thing- it
is shown by our " holy conversation" , something which needs
our constant active attention. All too often the impression is given that
our 'waiting' is a grim, passive clinging on to a set of doctrines received
at baptism. This is certainly part of it- but the quicker we take a dynamic
approach to considering " what manner of persons" we ought to
be, the sooner the Lord's coming will be hastened. That our spiritual
effort, especially in prayer, preaching and pastoral work mentioned earlier,
should hasten the coming of that great day should never cease to
be a source of wonder and inspiration to us. But do we really want to
see the day of Christ? Pleasures of family life, the challenge of careers,
personal ambition in preaching work, a desire for a few more years to
work on our character- these and many other factors lead us away from
an all consuming desire to see the day of the Lord. And if we lack that,
then there will be little true motivation for developing a spiritual character
and doing the preaching and pastoral work, which we know between them
will hasten the day.
The End Of All Things
As if to provide motivation
in all this, verse 12 repeats verbatim the language of v.10 and 11 concerning
the totality of destruction which awaits the present world order: "
The day of God , wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved
(= v.11)...and the elements shall melt with fervent heat (= v.10)"
. This repetition underlines the fact that every element of the present
system will be destroyed- the only common link between this life and the
future world order is the spirituality which we now develop. We came into
this world with nothing, a naked baby; and all we can leave it with is
God's record of our spiritual character. Thus it will be by our real spiritual
character that we recognize and relate to each other in the Kingdom, rather
than by our present physical characteristics. For this reason even the
rejected will be able to recognize (in this sense) giants of faith such
as Abraham entering into the Kingdom.
Appreciating this, "
We according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein
dwelleth righteousness" (v.13), as opposed to the present earth,
where " the works that are therein shall be burnt up"
(v.10). For Peter, therefore, the vision of the Kingdom was centred around
the fact that goodness and righteous principles would so evidently abound,
being almost physically manifested in this planet; it will be a "
new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" . Psalm 72 stresses
the abundance of righteousness in that time, showing that David's picture
of that time was similar. Likewise if we truly love righteousness,
this is how we will perceive the Kingdom- rather than as a glorified tropical
" According to
His promise" shows that Peter is referring to a specific Scripture-
surely Is.65:17, where a picture of the Millenium is titled " the
new heavens and earth" . " We, according to His promise, look
for new heavens..." contrasts with the words of the mockers: "
Where is the promise of his coming?" (v.4). This indicates that "
the promise of his coming" was not just the simple statement of Jesus
that he would return (Jn.14:3), but it included the details of the Kingdom
which he would establish, as outlined in the promise of Is.65:17-25. Thus
the doctrines of the literal second coming and the future Kingdom on earth
are inseparable. Thus the slippery slope ran: The Lord is delaying longer
than I thought; maybe it isn't important that he comes: therefore the
Kingdom on earth is a pipe dream. So " the faith" was lost.
There is also a connection
with Is.66:22-24: " The new heavens and the new earth which I will
make...it shall come to pass that...they shall go forth and look upon
the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm
shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched" . These last
phrases are quoted in Mk.9:44 concerning the punishment of the wicked
at the judgment seat. The reference to fire fits the 2 Pet.3 context,
again showing that the 'heavens and earth' which are to be destroyed with
fire include the wicked believers who will be punished in Gehenna. Note
that the idea of the ecclesia being ultimately purged of false teachers
is presented by Peter as a comfort to the faithful remnant.
" Be diligent"
" Wherefore, beloved,
seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found
of him in peace, without spot, and blameless" (v.14)- i.e. with sins
covered through the blood of Christ. Such a condition, even for these
" pure minds" (v.1), can only be achieved and maintained through
much diligence. If it is our desire to be found acceptable by our bridegroom,
our awareness of how near we are to meeting him will motivate us to constant
self-examination so that we can be presented to him spotless.
The " things"
which the beloved look for are those spoken of in v.17: " Beloved,
seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being
led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness"
. " These things" are therefore not just concerning the coming
Kingdom, but also the warnings of the uprise of false teaching, the prophecies
of their success, and the fact that the apparent delay of the Lord's return
was to give the opportunity for repentance. Peter's double warning is
because he knew how prone we are to forget such warnings, and to lose
the reality of our love for the Lord's coming. It is as if Peter is speaking
to us personally, as the last (?) generation before the full " day
of the Lord" . " Seeing ye know these things before"
(v.17) is yet another Olivet allusion- " False prophets shall rise...take
ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things" (Mk.13:22,23)
about this apostacy. " Take ye heed" is matched by " beware
lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked" (2 Pet.3:17).
" The wicked" are the false teachers within the ecclesia, referred
to in 2:14,18 as " beguiling unstable souls" (= 3:16) and 'alluring'.
It follows therefore that the false Christs and prophets which our Lord
warned of, would come, in whatever form, from within the ecclesia. The
bizarre claims of the few bogus Messiahs that have appeared are hardly
much temptation to us- but how different if they are to come from within
The fact that we are
living through a period of delay should never slip our minds- " account
that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation (i.e. the opportunity
for our last generation to gain salvation) : as our beloved brother Paul...hath
written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them
of these things" (v.15,16). This sounds as if Peter had in mind a
particular passage of Paul, the tenor of which is repeated in all his
letters. It may well be that he is referring to the idea of there being
a delay in the second coming to allow repentance; however, if " these
things" is the repeated warning against the false teachers of the
last days, and advice on how to live in those times, then this is quite
easily discernible. Moreover, there is a connection back to v.2,3 where
Peter reminds us how warnings against false teachers were a major theme
of all the inspired writings of the New Testament. Surely there can be
no excuse, in the light of all this emphasis, to disregard such warnings?
However, Peter writes
as if he is referring to a particular passage in Paul's writings. A likely
candidate is Rom.2:3-5, which addresses the weak (Jewish) members of the
Rome ecclesia, warning them that there will be a day of judgment, and
that they should not despise God's love in delaying that day so that they
could repent. " Thinkest thou...that thou shalt escape the judgment
of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and
longsuffering (cp. 2 Pet.3:15): not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth
thee to repentance (2 Pet.3:9)? But after thy...impenitent heart treasurest
up unto thyself (cp. " kept in store" , 2 Pet.3:7) wrath against
the day of wrath (cp. fire) and...righteous judgment of God" (cp.
2 Pet. 3:7).
is Eph.5:15,16: " Walk circumspectly...redeeming the time, because
the days are evil" . By 'buying up' the opportunities for spiritual
development in the daily round of life, we are effectively " redeeming
the time" in the sense of hastening the Lord's return. Paul pleads
with us to see the urgency of this principle: " Wherefore be ye not
unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (v.17). Seeing
that they could redeem the time to the second coming in this way,
the exhortation is driven home: " Awake! Thou that sleepest!...and
Christ shall give thee light" by His early return.
We have shown how an
underlying theme of Peter's argument is the supremacy of the word of God,
and how through understanding of and obedience to it, a character can
be developed which will pass through the judgments which that word will
bring upon the world. Those who are to be destroyed at that time, such
as the false teachers, will have failed to understand these things of
which Peter and Paul spoke- they found them " things hard to be understood,
which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest" (v.16). The Greek
for " unlearned" means those 'not understanding' or 'ignorant'.
But they were not unaware of Paul's epistles- they 'wrested' them through
their wilful misunderstanding of them (v.5). The beginnings of this sad
situation are found in Heb.5:11, where the Jewish believers are called
" dull of hearing" God's word, and therefore found the exposition
of Melchizedek " hard" to understand. It is to these same Jewish
believers that Peter's letters are addressed. Thus a lack of sensitivity
in Bible study, a laziness to work out typology and derive lessons from
it, resulted eventually in a wilful misunderstanding of basic teaching
concerning fundamental doctrine, e.g. the second coming. It takes real
faith in the teaching of God's word here to accept that this really can
happen, and has done so. The example of the first century is there for
Such wresting of the
Scripture was done " unto their own destruction" (v.16), using
the same word translated as " perdition" in v.7, as if their
judgment was already workingitself out in this life. That verse speaks
of how the " ungodly" would meet their perdition in the day
when the heavens and earth were destroyed by fire. thus those within the
ecclesia who were so wresting the Scriptures are the same group as those
of v.3-7 who would be destroyed at " the day of judgment and perdition
(s.w. " destruction" ) of ungodly men" . Jude likewise
talks of " ungodly men" who had crept into the ecclesia (v.4).
The evident similarities between 2 Pet.2 and Jude are for a reason. 2
Pet.2 and 3 are a prophecy of what would happen in the ecclesia,
whilst Jude is the record of their fulfilment; hence his use of the present
tense " there are crept in...ungodly men" . It is not
difficult to imagine Peter's letter and his verbal expression of these
ideas being branded 'unloving', trouble mongering, divisive etc. But within
a few years Jude's letter proved the truth of his words. A glance around
the latter day ecclesias indicates that there are many " pure minds"
(v.2) of the type Peter wrote to; it may therefore seem out of order to
suggest that soon the ecclesial situation of just before AD70 will be
seen among us. But time and again in this study we have seen the dual
application of 2 Pet.3 to both AD70 and our last days. Many other New
Testament prophecies could be expounded likewise.
The corrective is hinted
at throughout all these prophecies: " Remember...be mindful of the
words which were spoken before" (v.1,2), meditating on the power
of God's word in the past, in creation and at the flood, correctly understanding
the teachings of Paul and Peter about the last days (v.15,16), bringing
our way of life into conformity with our great hope of the second coming
(v.11,12), and so by all this growing " in grace and in the knowledge
of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v.18).
As an appendix to this
study, it ought to be instructive to list the characteristics of the false
teachers which arose in the 'last days' of AD70, and which we have suggested
must be seen in our last days too:
- Poking fun at those
who had a fundamentalist approach to the teaching of God's word
- Enjoying the good
life of the world, which led them to be cold in their hearts to the Lord's
- Showing aggression
to some within the ecclesia
- A disinterest in prophecy
- Initially expressing
their false ideas in the form of questions about basic principles
- Senior brethren, leaders
of the ecclesia, who had been waiting for Christ for some time
- They had failed to
grow in Biblical knowledge and appreciation, having for some time been
lazy to work out Bible typology
- Retained the external
trappings of the faith
- Their false teaching
was expressing ideas which they had held quietly for some time
- Complex arguments
were used, but not appreciating the real power of God's word
- Questioning whether
the word of prophecy will be fulfilled, implying that the 'spiritual graces'
of the life in Christ are so wonderful that the idea of a future Kingdom
- Teaching that there
is peace and spiritual safety within the ecclesia- that there is nothing
to be alarmed about concerning the state of the ecclesia
- Influencing many brethren
This list is yielded
from 2 Peter 3 alone. Only the " willingly ignorant" would deny
that there are far too many of these characteristics developing in the
ecclesia today. A witch hunt will be pointless; indeed, each of us may
have some of the above tendencies. " Beware, lest ye also..."
(v.17). The Greek for " beware" means 'to be isolated'; indicating
that this general trend will take some standing up to. However, it cannot
be stressed too highly that our duty is not to physically isolate ourselves
from the problems, seeking some kind of splendid spiritual isolation,
but rather through the power of the word to encourage others within the
ecclesia to develop with us that " holy conversation and Godliness"
which hasten " the coming of the day of God" (v.11,12).