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The Last Days Duncan Heaster  
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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 that category.

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 Appendix 1).

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.

Ezekiel 12

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.

Isaiah 5

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 (vv.9-12).

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.