THE ECCLESIA IN THE
CHAPTER 20: " THE PROMISE OF HIS COMING"
-A Study Of 2 Peter 3
20-1 2 Peter Chapter 3: An Exposition
This study is based
on the understanding that 2 Peter 3 concerns the coming of the 'day of
the Lord' both in AD70 and more importantly in our last days. The allusions
to the Olivet prophecy, which is similar in this respect, and the use
of the word 'parousia' to describe this 'coming' of the Lord confirm this
approach (see studies on these topics elsewhere). This chapter contains
warnings of a major apostacy that would arise within the latter day ecclesia,
and urgent exhortations as to how we should live in the last days. It
is not an exaggeration to say, in the light of this, that these words
were fundamentally written for our generation, living just prior to the
second coming, notwithstanding any other application to earlier generations.
The purpose of this
chapter, in common with the whole second epistle, was to " stir up
(the Greek implies suddenly, with force) your pure minds...that ye may
be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy (Christian?)
prophets (e.g. Paul, v.15), and of the commandment of us the apostles"
(v.1,2). " Pure minds" clearly indicates that Peter's intended
audience were those strong in the faith (cp. 2 Tim.3:8), the faithful
remnant of the 'last days' of first and twentieth centuries, whose understanding
(A.V. " minds" is the Greek for the deep intellectual element
of the mind) needed to be enlarged and stirred up through the word. This
would make them appreciate the reality of the responsibilities they faced
in the last days. Hopefully the readers of this exposition are in exactly
The " first"
or most important (Greek) thing they were to understand when it
came to Bible teaching about the last days was " that there
shall come in the last days scoffers" (v.3). The presence of
false teachers within the ecclesia would be one of the clearest
signs of the second coming. The Lord " began" his Olivet
prophecy with a warning about false teachers, as if this would be
the first main sign (Mk. 13:5). Likewise Paul says that it was needless
for him to write to the Thessalonians about the " times and
seasons" of Christ's return. " For yourselves know perfectly
(clearly) that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night"
(1 Thess.5:1,2); i.e. it would be when there were unready elements
within the ecclesia, to whom Christ's return would be thief-like.
In similar vein, John taught that the believers could be certain
they were in the 'last days' of AD70 because of the presence of
false teaching (1 Jn.2:18). Connecting this with our comment on
1 Thess.5:1,2, it may well be that the 'false teaching' is not so
much in terms of basic abstract doctrine, but in the encouragement
of a way of life that is not alert for the second coming. As we
progress through 2 Peter 3, and indeed the entire New Testament,
it becomes painfully obvious that this class of people were to arise
within the ecclesia. As there were false teachers among natural
Israel, so there must be within the New Israel (2 Pet.2:1). Peter
implies that this fact is a major theme in the teaching of all the
apostles and Spirit-guided brethren. There are a number of connections
between the descriptions of these people in 2 Pet.2, and the language
of 2 Pet.3.
These " scoffers"
(Gk. 'those who poke fun at') would " walk after their own
lusts...saying, Where is the promise of His coming?" (2 Pet.3:3,4).
This links up with the false teachers of 2 Pet.2 being styled " them
that walk after the flesh in...lust" (2:10). Thus, as always, the
motivation for the questioning of true doctrine, in this case that of
the second coming, was in order to justify a fleshly way of life. There
seems a connection of thought here with the Lord's reflection that the
servant who felt the Lord's coming was extensively delayed would start
to " eat and drink with the drunken" and beat the fellow-servants.
Peter's later reference to the Lord's thief-like coming for such brethren
(v.10) indicates that there is a connection here. This would show that
Peter is interpreting the Lord's description of the man who thought that
the Master was delaying His coming, as meaning that in reality he was
questioning whether his Master would ever come. This must surely be where
a disinterest in prophecy ultimately leads- in a man's heart, anyway.
Note how the false teaching was expressed in the form of a question. This
common characteristic of false teachers dates right back to the serpent
in Eden, showing that they have the family likeness of the beast (see
But then came the thrust
of their argument: " For since the fathers fell asleep, all things
continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (v.4).
If " the fathers" here refers to the ecclesial elders who had
known Christ in the flesh (as the phrase is used in 1 Cor.4:15; 1 Jn.2:13,14),
it would appear that these dishonest doubters of the first century were
middle aged believers who had themselves been waiting some time for the
Lord's return. Christ's parable of the wicked servant getting tired of
waiting would indicate the same. In any case, a group of high-folluting
youngsters would be unlikely to have the impact on the ecclesia which
2 Pet.2 and 3:17 indicate that these false teachers would have.
This idea that Christ
would not literally return was doubtless wrapped up in very respectable
terms. We cannot overemphasize that the motivation for this false doctrine
was in order to justify a fleshly lifestyle. Apostacy from the truth always
has this motive. Conversely, true enthusiasm for the Lord's return is
invariably associated with a spiritual way of life (cp. Rom. 13:12). 2
Thess.2:2 says that the deceiving brethren taught that " the day
of Christ is here" (R.V.)- presumably through the idea that the believers
now are fully the Kingdom of God, that Christ's mystical presence amongst
us is in fact His real and only form of existence and 'coming' to be with
us, and that therefore there was no need for a doctrine of a second coming.
In such an hour as the unworthy " think not" , Christ will return
(Mt.24:44). The Greek translated " think not" implies a very
strong level of conviction that he will not return; it doesn't just imply
that they will be expecting him but not very eagerly. Yet doubtless all
latter day believers will claim some belief in a second coming- but in
God's eyes, in their hearts they are absolutely persuaded he will never
come. In like manner the Lord saw the half-committed believer as a person
who actively hates God- although that isn't how that weak believer
sees it all (Mt. 6:24). In reality, they will have convinced themselves
that he will not return- either by their way of life, or their specific
doctrinal beliefs. It may be in this way that there is a claim of "
peace and safety" within the latter day ecclesia, seeing that "
peace and safety" is very much the Old Testament language of the
Kingdom (1 Chron. 22:10; Ez. 28:26; 34:25,28; 39:26; Zech.14:11). It is
very difficult to achieve a balance between appreciating our high spiritual
status now, and realizing that we are not yet the fullness of God's Kingdom.
A true appreciation of our position should lead us to value the second
coming more, to personally yearn for it, and see its vital necessity.
Never will that be a dry doctrine which we just assent to.
" Where is the
promise of his coming" (v. 4) has an extraordinary number of allusions
to other Scriptures, which all confirm a uniform interpretation.
The desolation of Israel
by the Assyrian invasion was repeatedly foretold by the prophets. The
message was continually mocked by the false prophets, who claimed inspiration
from God to claim that the day of judgment had been endlessly delayed.
They also belittled the predictions made by the true prophets, spreading
their ideas until it became a common joke that Yahweh's prophets kept
speaking of a coming day of the Lord that never came. But God's reply
was clear: " What is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel,
saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?...I will make
this proverb to cease...say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect
(fulfilment) of every vision...I will speak, and the word that I shall
speak shall come to pass; it shall no more be prolonged" (Ez.12:22-25).
The similarities with the last days leading up to AD70 are clear. The
true word of God regarding the coming day of the Lord was mocked; a belief
that " the days are prolonged" led to the conclusion that "
every vision faileth" , as the thought that " my Lord delayeth
his coming" resulted in a lack of faith in the word of promise. Our
Lord's statement that " all shall be fulfilled" at His coming
(Lk.21:32) matches the assurance given here that " every vision"
would be fulfilled when the day came. Those within the ecclesia
of Israel at Ezekiel's time who were expressing such doubt, were matched
by those within the ecclesia of spiritual Israel (perhaps also Jews?)
in the first century. Clearly they must have their latter day counterparts.
Set against the background
of the imminent Assyrian invasion, this denunciation of Israel also has
marked similarities with the words of 2 Pet.3. " My people...have
no knowledge...that say, Let Him make speed, and hasten His work, that
we may see it...therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame
consumeth the stubble...(so) is the anger of the Lord kindled against
His people" (Is.5:13,19,24,25). Peter implies that the false teachers
he is referring to should have " grown in knowledge" (3:18),
and that because of their mocking request for God to speed up His purpose
they also would have a fiery destruction. The irony was, of course, that
the apparent delay was due to God's mercy in providing them time to repent
As our study proceeds
we will see that there are several allusions in 2 Peter 3 to the Olivet
prophecy. The attitude Peter is speaking of here in v.4 is related to
that of the elder servant who decides that his Lord is delaying his return,
and therefore he can act in a fleshly way as if the Lord will never come
(Mt.24:48). The person Jesus describes did not throw off the external
trappings of his faith. " My Lord delayeth his coming"
indicates that he still spoke of Jesus as his lord, and we are therefore
left to conclude that he did not say these things in a spirit of public,
gross abandon to the ways of the flesh, but rather deep in his heart,
or perhap as a new form of doctrine. Our Lord spoke of the man thinking
this " in his heart" ; but because our thoughts always find
reflection in our words (Mt.12:34), it is inevitable that Peter should
speak of these people now actually saying those words. Thus the words
of these false teachers had long been gestating.
The following verses
speak of how God's word was present in the initial creation and His subsequent
re-ordering of it. In just the same way, the word of God would have a
part to play in the judgment of these false teachers. This would suggest
that their claim that " all things continue as they were from the
beginning of the creation" refers back to that of Gen.1. However,
we can expect to see in the reasoning of these men a fair degree of complexity.
It is just possible that the concept of a new creation in Christ was so
common in the thinking of the early believers (Rev.3:14; 2 Cor.5:17; Col.1:15,16;
3:10; Rom.8; Eph.2:10; 3:9; 4:24 etc.), that they were saying 'Since the
apostles (" fathers" ) died, everything is going on fine since
the new creation began on the cross. The spiritual graces we experience
now as part of the new creation are such that there doesn't seem any need
for this second coming doctrine'. Erroneous notions of the Holy Spirit
have led apostate Christianity to question the true doctrine of a future
Kingdom, and thereby the Biblical concept of the second coming. Emphasis
is placed upon 'Christian service' in this life, rather than the hope
of the future Kingdom. And yet the bottom line is that the latter day
brotherhood will shy away from the second coming in their hearts,
and doubtless each will articulate this in different ways: doctrinally,
practically or simply in the attitude of their hearts.