Now if you would please open your Bibles to the second letter of the apostle Peter, 2 Peter chapter 3; if you’re using one of our church Bibles you can turn to page 1019.
We have been working our way through 2 Peter on Sunday mornings and we come today to Peter’s engagement with one specific error that was being pushed by the false teachers who had begun to trouble the churches. They were arguing that Jesus would not return bodily to the earth and Christians really ought not expect Him to do so. And Peter is going to deal with that mistake head on. And as he does he weaves together once again several of the key themes that we’ve already begun to see in the letter so far. In particular, he renews his insistence upon the reliability of the whole Bible. The reliability of the whole Bible. As you’ll see from your bulletins, this morning we are considering the first ten verses of 2 Peter chapter 3, so do look there with me just for a moment. I want you to see the three big ideas in these ten verses before us. First of all, in verses 1 through 3, Peter teaches us that the reliable Word should shape our expectations. The reliable Word shapes our expectations. Secondly, verses 4 through 7, he teaches us that the reliable Word governs history’s progress. So the reliable Word shapes our expectations, the reliable Word governs history’s progress, and then 8 through 10, the reliable Word reveals God’s design. The reliable Word reveals God’s design.
Now before we read the passage together and begin to deal with those themes, let’s pause once again and pray and ask for the Lord to help us. Let us pray.
O God, how prone we are to ignore the truth, to distort the truth, to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, to bend the truth to suit our preferences. We pray instead, O God, that You would so grip us by the truth, arrest us by the truth, that instead of trying to make the truth what we prefer, we would be remade by the truth. For we ask it all in Jesus’ name, amen.
2 Peter chapter 3, beginning at verse 1. This is the Word of God:
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy and inerrant Word.
The Reliable Word Shapes Our Expectations
Tony Doggett, who serves as my intern here, Tony and I were recently returning from a pastor’s conference in Pennsylvania and we found ourselves stuck in the terminal in Atlanta because of weather delays. Our flight – it was one of those horrible evenings you know where you watch the screen and every 40 minutes or so the flight gets punted another hour, later and later and later into the night. Soon, all the stores in the terminal had shut, all the restaurants were closed, you couldn’t get anything to eat or drink, and just to add to the fun, the air conditioning in the terminal was out! It was stiflingly hot! The area around our gate was crowded with noisy, sweaty, exhausted, frustrated travelers, all of us trying to get home. I think we finally boarded the plane – it was supposed to be like a 10:30 flight, something like that – we finally boarded the plane after midnight. And it really did wonders for my typically sunny disposition! Delays. Delays. Everybody hates delays.
Apparently, for some people in the New Testament church, the fact that Jesus had not yet returned during the lifetime of the first generation of believers after His resurrection, it was becoming a source of similar frustration. It was seen as a delay. And as the perceived delay stretched on, and the first generation began to die, they began to say what I began to say that night in the terminal in Atlanta – “Maybe this is never going to happen at all. Maybe we got this wrong. Maybe Jesus isn’t actually coming back. Where is the so-called promise of His coming?” That’s what they were saying. And Peter is responding to that situation.
He does it, first of all in verses 1 through 3, with a word of reassurance for the faithful believers in the churches. Would you look at verses 1 to 3? Notice how, according to Peter, the reliable Word of God ought to shape our expectations. The reliable Word shapes our expectations. Verses 1 through 3. “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” Now we said before, you may recall, this theme of stirring the believers up by way of reminder actually articulates the central reason that Peter is writing his epistle. This is the purpose of 2 Peter. It’s about remembering what really matters the most.
And in verse 2 you get to see what it is here he wants them to remember in particular. He’s writing, “that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” “The prediction of the holy prophets” – clearly a reference to the Old Testament scriptures. “The commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” – that’s obviously a reference to what would become the New Testament scriptures. So this is where Peter wants to fix our attention as we engage in theological controversy and try to navigate the claims made by these false teachers. It’s not a question of who said what. It’s not about following the lead of your favorite rock star personalities or defending your tribe. That’s not what is to determine our convictions, Peter says. Peter wants us to remember the reliable Word of God preserved exclusively for us now in the Old and New Testaments. It alone is the rule of faith and life.
And one of the things that he says happens when we are thoroughly steeped in and shaped by the reliable Word of God is that our expectations will be realistic about theological controversies like the ones facing the church in Peter’s day. You won’t be at all surprised when false teachers show up to trouble the churches. When you remember the reliable Word, verse 3, you will notice first of all that “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” Sometimes we can be shocked to discover that the church ever has to deal with internal strife. And to be sure, internal strife can be distasteful and unsettling and ugly and we can quickly weary of infighting and disputes and feel quite rightly that this isn’t the way things are supposed to be among the people of God. But if we are not careful, that feeling can leave us disillusioned with the church and in real danger of washing our hands of it all together. And we all know people for whom that is precisely what has happened. They have walked away from the church, disgusted at the infighting and the backbiting.
And Peter certainly is not condoning or justifying any of that, neither is he condoning or justifying leaving the church. What he is doing is calling us actually to Biblical realism about human nature. The reliable Word, the Scriptures, are incredibly realistic about the capacity even for the people of God to misunderstand one another or to get things wrong or to wound one another or even sometimes to go astray and to teach error. In this case, he says, if you really knew the Word you would know to expect false teachers, scoffers he calls them, skeptics about central Gospel truth. This is par for the course in the last days, Peter says. By “the last days” he means all the days between the resurrection of Jesus and the return of Jesus. These are the last days that we live in right now and they have been the last days since the stone rolled away and the Lord Jesus rose. And they will remain the last days until the same Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. And during that time, these scoffers that Peter mentions, these skeptics, these false teachers, they’re just going to be part of the scene. It’s going to be the way it is, so get your expectations right. Don’t be so quickly disappointed and disillusioned by such controversies. Don’t think that this side of heaven there ever will be a perfect church where everyone will always agree and everything will always be just fine and we’ll all always get along. That’s not realistic and it’s not what the Bible actually leads us to expect. “So church,” Peter says, “let me push you back to the Bible and invite you to adjust your expectations of life accordingly. Of course there will be scoffers who will come in the last days, scoffing, following their sinful desires.” The reliable Word needs to shape our expectations. It is far more realistic about the continued depravity and wickedness that remains even in believing hearts that we often are inclined to be. The reliable Word shapes our expectations.
The Reliable Word Governs History’s Progress
But then, after that word of reassurance and calling the people back to the Scriptures, for the church, Peter turns to deal with the arguments of the false teachers themselves more directly. You’ll notice what they are saying in verse 4. Look at verse 4 please. “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” “Jesus hasn’t come back yet, nothing has changed since the ancient fathers died, indeed since the very dawn of time. Life goes on as it always has. So much for His promised return! Nothing has changed, and so far as we can tell, nothing ever will.” That’s what they were saying. But look at what Peter says in response. “These guys,” he says, “these guys have deliberately overlooked the pattern of history.” Verses 4 through 7 – do you see that phrase? “They have deliberately overlooked this fact,” which brings us to our second point – they have deliberately overlooked. They have forgotten that the reliable Word governs history’s progress. The reliable Word shapes our convictions and the reliable Word actually governs the progress of history.
First in verses 5 and 6, Peter points back, notice, once again to Noah and the flood. We’ve seen him do this already back in chapter 2 verse 5. Now he does it all over again, this time to demonstrate a pattern that God has built into the progress of human history. The world, he says, existed out of water and through water. That’s really just a reference to the language of the Genesis creation account where God’s Spirit hovered over the surface of the primordial, chaotic waters to bring order and to separate the water and to create the dry land and so on. And notice what Peter says about how God did all of that. How did He do it? He did it, “by the Word of God,” verse 5. He spoke and said, “Let there be,” and there was.
Now the clause at the beginning of verse 6 – would you look at verse 6? The clause translated at the beginning of verse 6, “by means of these,” that’s an unhelpful translation because it translates the Greek with a plural when there’s actually a singular. “By means of these” – not by means of the water, waters, plural, but “by means of this.” That is, by means of this same Word that all things were created, through which all things were created, He now brought judgment in the ancient world. The world was deluged with water and perished. The sovereign decree and Word of God that made the world is the same Word and decree that judged the world. The Word rules the world, governs the world.
And that primordial, that ancient pattern of history, of creation and judgment, becomes a pattern for the future as well. Verse 7, “by the same word, the heavens and the earth that now exist are stored up for fire being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” Remember, the accusation is that “Jesus is not coming back. He has vacated His promise. He had betrayed His Word. You can’t trust it. Things are never going to change. There is no Judgment Day.” That’s what they were saying. That’s why they felt so free, presumably, to promote open immorality in their teaching. “There is no Judgment Day. Everything will go on as it always has, so eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. What difference does it make?” But if only you know how mighty the degree and the Word of God really is, you would never dare dismiss the promise of Jesus Christ so glibly. This is the Word that made the world and flooded the world and preserves the world and will one day bring it to decisive judgment in the final conflagration at the end of the age. The cosmos is kept by the Word “for fire, until the day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly.” The Word of God governs history’s progress, do you see. By the Word, the world was made. By the Word, it was flooded. By the Word, it is now being kept. And by the Word and decree of God, it will one day certainly be judged.
So when Jesus says, “I’m coming back,” do not be so quick to dismiss His promise. Do not be so casual about the Scriptures. Do not shrug in indifference at the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. The reliable Word ought to shape our expectations, but remember, it also governs the progress of history. All things fall out according to the plan and decree and revealed will of our sovereign God.
The Reliable Word Reveals God’s Design
And then look at verses 8 through 10 with me please. If the false teachers deliberately overlook the way the Word of God governs and orders history, we, by contrast, Peter says we must be careful “not to overlook this one fact.” Do you see that phrase in verse 8? “Do not overlook this one fact.” Peter is going to show us what the false teachers just don’t get. The reliable Word that shapes our expectations and governs history, in the end actually, ultimately reveals God’s design. If they only understood the Word they would know what God was doing and why this apparent delay. The reliable Word reveals God’s design.
Peter highlights three things about God here that are revealed in His reliable Word. He talks to us about God’s perspective, God’s patience, and God’s plan. God’s perspective, God’s patience, and God’s plan. He mentions God’s perspective in verse 8. Do you see it in verse 8? “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” He’s quoting the Old Testament scriptures, the reliable Word. Psalm 90 verse 4, “For a thousand years in Your sight are as but yesterday when it is passed.” The reliable Word of God teaches us that God does not look at time the way we do. He stands outside of time, above time. He’s not subject to time. So you can’t say to God that He is somehow slow in fulfilling the promise of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ arrival is not delayed, you know, because of inclement weather. There’s no trouble with the engine on His 737. It’s not that God is so busy that He somehow let the return of Jesus slip off His to-do list. He just doesn’t operate with our perception of time and we mustn’t demand that He act according to our timetable.
And actually, that’s such a helpful principle to remember, not just when it comes to understanding the return of Jesus, but in all of God’s dealings with us every moment of every day. Isn’t it? Don’t we want God to answer our prayers in our time on our timetable? We think we know what needs to happen, in what order, and at what pace. And when it doesn’t, we wonder, “Has God been asleep at the wheel?” Wouldn’t it help cultivate godly patience in us in just about every area of life, frankly, to remember that, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day? The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise, as some account slowness.” He is working according to His perfect plan in His perfect timing with your teenager, in your marriage, with your career, in your studies. He is in charge. You are not! And He does all things well. And He has ordered them all by His holy decree and His sovereign Word. Whatever He has promised, He will fulfill, but He will do it His way in His time and not in ours. That is especially the case with regard to the return of Jesus. God’s perspective. We need to try to see things from His perspective.
Secondly, God’s patience. Verse 9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” There is a reason Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Do you know what it is? He hasn’t come back yet because God doesn’t want you to go to hell. You haven’t repented of your sin and turned to Him for mercy yet. That’s why He hasn’t returned. He doesn’t want you to perish! That is what will happen, today, if Jesus were to come back now and you were not converted. So God is so patient with us, isn’t He? We offend against His holiness every day. We rebel against His rule, we thumb our noses at His Law, and still the sun rises and sets, still the stars shine, still the rain falls, still we draw breath. We live every day of our rebellious lives, you know, on borrowed time, presuming upon His patience. But that patience has an appointed end. Why hasn’t the end come already? Because God loves sinners, like me and you, and He is full of patience with us, even as we rebel against Him. Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, declares, the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back! Turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” He’s patient and He is pleading, while there is yet time to give up life on your own terms and come bend the knee to King Jesus.
The perspective of God. The patience of God. Finally, the reliable Word reveals the plan of God. Verse 10, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” In verse 8, we said that Peter was quoting from the Old Testament scriptures, Psalm 90 verse 4. Now in verse 10, when he says that “the Lord will come like a thief,” he is quoting from what will become the New Testament scriptures. He’s quoting the words of Jesus, Matthew 24:42-44 – “You do not know on what day your Lord is coming, but know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Peter is quoting Jesus. So is Paul, by the way. First Thessalonians 5:2 – “For you yourselves are fully aware, the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying there is peace and security” – that’s what the false prophets and false teachers in Peter’s churches were saying – “peace and security, then suddenly destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman and they will not escape.” It’s quoted by John in Revelation chapter 3 verse 3 where he hears the exalted Christ warn the church in Sardis, “Remember then what you received and heard, keep it and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”
The New Testament is unambiguous and unflinching in declaring that Jesus is coming and His coming will be a shock, like a burglary that wakes you with your heart racing from your secure slumber in the middle of the night. The world that we imagine so secure right now, the physical universe we take for granted now, will one day dissolve in a final conflagration and then, Peter says, “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” On the day Jesus comes, on that day, the sun will not rise and the stars will cease to shine and the rain will never fall again, and in that day, your life will be laid bare before the scrutiny of the Judge of all the earth. There will be no place to hide, no excuse to be made, no defense you can offer. Every second the clock ticks down toward that appointed hour. But every second it keeps ticking, speaks to you of the patience of God – another opportunity to get right with Him. Every stroke of the clock echoes the heartbeat of God that pounds with love and patience for you, longing that you would come back to Him. He takes no pleasure in the prospect of your condemnation. And look, there really is no need for you ever to face it. Everything is ready, you know. Every necessary provision has been made in the cross of Jesus Christ for you, so that you can come and find peace and mercy and pardon and get right with God. Right now. Today. Here. Jesus has obeyed for sinners like me and you who can’t obey the Law of God as He demands. He has died to satisfy the penalty of our transgressions, the penalty we’ve incurred. He’s done everything, everything, everything necessary. You’ve got nothing to do now but turn and live.
Why will you die? Turn back from your evil ways and go back to Jesus Christ who for now, for now is still Lord and Savior. Listen to Peter’s warning and don’t delay. Don’t say, “I have time yet.” Do not presume upon His patience. One day soon He is going to come and He will no longer come as Lord and Savior. On that day, He will come as Lord and Judge. Do you see God’s amazing patience toward you? He does not want you to perish. He wants you to come to repentance. But do not presume a second longer on His generous patience. Instead, will you cry to Him and turn, that you might live. His plan will be fulfilled. The Savior will come like a thief in the night. Are you ready? Are you ready?
Our Father, please forgive us for having expectations shaped by the priorities of the world and not by the Word, for forgetting that Your promise is as reliable as the Word that made the world, that flooded the world, that keeps the world, and will one day judge the world. And help us now to scrutinize our hearts and flee to Jesus, crying to Him, “Lord Jesus, I’m guilty. Forgive me. I’m dirty. Make me clean. I’m lost. You can find me. I’m helpless. Save me.” In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
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