The Day of the Lord (preaching resource for Advent 2, December 10, 2023)

This post exegetes 2 Peter 3, providing context for the RCL Epistle reading for 12/10/2023 (the second Sunday of Advent). It draws on commentary from from Warren Wiersbe ("Bible Expository Commentary") and David Wheaton ("New Bible Commentary").

Icon: Second Coming (via Wikimedia Commons)


Already in this second epistle of Peter, the apostle has characterized the false teachers troubling the churches in Asia Minor as “arrogant” (2Pet 2:10b) heretics (2Pet 2:1). They are an “accursed brood” (2Pet 2:14b) of blasphemers (2Pet 2:12a). They are also “unreasoning animals” (2Pet 2:12b); “blots and blemishes” (2 Pet 2:13b) who are “slaves of depravity” (2Pet 2:19). And now Peter adds another charge—they are “scoffers” who pursue “their own evil desires” (2Pet 3:3). In their scoffing, they “willingly forget” (2Pet 3:5) God’s word concerning the judgment that will accompany Jesus’ return (2Pet 1:16, 3:13). Peter scoffs right back at them, reminding us all of three foundational precepts of the Christian faith: God’s word is truth, God’s work is consistent, and God’s will is merciful. 

God’s word is truth 

2 Peter 3:1–4

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. 3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."

Because God’s word is truth (and that truth is found in Jesus), we must heed it carefully. Indeed, it is vital that all Christians be firmly established in this truth, which includes the doctrine of Jesus’ return which will bring judgment upon the whole earth. Apparently the false teachers of Peter’s day scoffed at these truths. Peter counters by reminding us that the testimony of God’s word is consistent on these matters. The prophets and Jesus both taught that a judgment was coming at the Lord’s return at the end of the age. When scoffers deny these truths, they deny the truthfulness of the prophetic books, the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels, and the writing of the Apostles. The Holy Scriptures constitute a unified whole that points to Jesus who, himself, is God’s Word and God’s Truth, and as mankind’s Savior humankind’s Judge. This judgment should be viewed not as condemnation, but as decisive intervention on Jesus’ part to convey visibly and conclusively the truth of all truths—who he truly is. But the “unveiling” of Jesus also means the exposing (judging) of humankind’s darkness. And thus it will be a cataclysmic, universe-shattering event.

Scriptures which predict Jesus’ return and the judgment it brings to earth, also predict the appearance of those who scoff at such ideas. What’s behind this scoffing?  Peter says it’s a desire to continue living according to “evil desires” (2Pet 3:3). The scoffers are slaves to “corrupt” and “lustful” desires emanating from the “sinful nature” (2Pet 2:10, 18).  

If one’s lifestyle contradicts the word of God, you must either change your lifestyle or change God’s word. The scoffers choose the latter, arguing for uniformitarianism—the idea that things continue as they always have. They reason that because God has not intervened decisively in human affairs before, he won’t in the future. But in this brash assertion, the scoffers are willfully ignorant of scriptural evidence to the contrary. God has indeed intervened before, and his word says he will do so again—and in cataclysmic and decisive ways. A final judgment is indeed coming at Jesus’ return. We may not know the details, but rest assured (and scoffers be silenced!), God’s word is truth! And it is also consistent…

God’s work is consistent 

2 Peter 3:5–7

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

The scoffers argue that because God has not interrupted the operation of his stable creation, the promise of Jesus’ return must be false. But Peter refutes their argument citing evidence that the false teachers deliberately ignore: the work of God at creation (2Pet 3:5), and the flood in Noah’s day (2Pet 3:6).

1) Creation

God created the heavens and the earth by his word. The phrase “and God said” occurs nine times in Genesis 1. Not only was creation made by the word of God, but it was held together by that word. Kenneth Wuest translates 2Pet 3:5 to bring out this meaning: “For concerning this they willfully forget that heavens existed from ancient times, and land [standing] out of water, and by means of water cohering by the word of God.” Peter’s argument is clear: the same God who created the world by his word can also intervene in his world and do whatever he says he will do. It is his word that made it and that holds it together, and his word is all-powerful and conclusive.

2) Noah’s flood

Peter has already referred to the Flood as an illustration of divine judgment (2Pet 2:5). The Flood was a cataclysmic event; in fact, the Greek word translated “deluged” gives us our English word cataclysm. The people living on earth had probably never seen anything comparable, but these events happened just the same. They could have argued as the scoffers argued, “Everything goes on as it did from the beginning. Life is uniform so nothing unusual can happen.” But it happened! God has the power to “break in” at any time and accomplish his will. He can send rain from heaven or fire from heaven. “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psa 115:3); and of course, what pleases him and what he works toward is the day when the whole universe (heavens and earth) are brought together in Christ.

Having established the fact that God has in the past “interrupted” the course of history, Peter is now ready for his application in 2Pet 2:7. The same word that created and sustains the world is now holding it together, stored with fire, being preserved and reserved for that future judgment. God promised that there would be no more floods to destroy the world (Gen 9:8–17). The next judgment will be one involving cleansing fire. The phrase “reserved for fire” (NIV) is translated “reserved with fire” by Kenneth Wuest. This encapsulated “fire” will, itself, be unleashed by God as he burns up the false ways of mankind to make way for the undiminished glory of new heavens and a new earth.

Yes, God’s judgment is coming. But that stark truth is tempered by the truth of Peter’s third precept: God’s will is merciful…

God’s will is merciful 

2 Peter 3:8–10

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Once again, Peter exposes the willing ignorance of the scoffers. Not only are they ignorant of what God had done in the past (2Pet 3:5), but they are also ignorant of what God is like. They make God in their own image and ignore the fact of God’s eternality. God has neither beginning nor ending. God’s eternity is not just “extended time.” Rather, it is existence above and apart from time. Here Peter is quoting Ps 90:4—“For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” 

Since a thousand years are as one day to the Lord, we cannot accuse him of delayed fulfillment of his promises. In God’s sight, the whole universe is only a few days old! He is not limited by time the way we are, nor does he measure it according to our standards. When we study the works of God, especially in the Old Testament, we see that he is never in a hurry, but he is never late. God could have created the entire universe in an instant, yet he preferred to do it over a period of time. He could have delivered Israel from Egypt in a moment, yet he preferred to invest eighty years in training Moses. For that matter, he could have sent the Savior much sooner, but he waited for “the fullness of the time” (Gal 4:4). 

The scoffers did not understand God’s eternality nor did they understand his mercy. Why is God delaying the return of Christ and other yet-coming aspects of the Day of the Lord? It is not because he is unable or unwilling to act. He is not tardy or off schedule! Nobody on earth has the right to decide when God must act. God is sovereign in all things and does not need prodding from us. Rather God “delays” the return (parousia) of Jesus and the judgment that brings because he is merciful—long-suffering—wanting to give lost sinners the opportunity to awaken to and embrace the salvation that is theirs in Christ. “Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation” (2Pet 3:15).

There should be no question in anybody’s mind about God’s desire for every person: God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2Pet 3:9). This is the only place where Peter uses the word repentance in either of his letters, but that does not minimize its importance. To repent simply means “to change one’s mind.” It is not “regret,” which usually means “being sorry I got caught.” Nor is it “remorse,” which is a hopeless attitude that can lead to despair. Rather repentance is a change of mind that results in action of the will. The sinner who honestly changes their mind (repents) about God and his will and work for us, turns to God in faith (trust), receiving with an open, receptive mind what God has already secured for them in Jesus. 

As we review these three precepts of Peters, we find irrefutable, Christ-centered logic. But the scoffers willfully reject this evidence in order to continue in their sins and scoffing. Peter scoffs at their scoffing by demonstrating from Scripture that God has indeed intervened in past history, and has the power and plan to do so again. He shows that the scoffers have a low view of God’s character because they think he delays keeping his promises just as men do. Finally, he shows that what God does is not bound by human time, and that his so-called “delay” is intended to gives more time and opportunity for lost sinners to repent and in faith receive the salvation that is theirs in Christ.

Having refuted the false claims of the scoffers, Peter reaffirms the certainty of Jesus return and the judgment that comes with it. When will this occur? Nobody knows, because it will come unexpectedly “like a thief” (2Pet. 3:10. Moreover, he shows that the coming of Jesus and judgment will be earth-shattering. Kenneth Wuest gives an accurate and graphic translation: “The heavens with a rushing noise will be dissolved, and the elements being scorched will be dissolved, and the earth also and the works in it will be burned up” (2Pet 3:10).  It will be a time of unparalleled transformation of the entire cosmos, making room for a new heavens and new earth (2Pet 3:13). 

Be diligent (applying this truth to daily living)

In the remaining verses of this letter, Peter applies the truth of the life we have in Jesus to our daily living. But it is wise for us to pause now and consider an important question: What is my relationship with Jesus, God’s Truth? Is my life grounded on him—the Solid Rock of my existence?  Or is my life grounded on the sinking sand of human ideas and achievement—all which are destined for the ash heap that gives way to a new heaven and new earth?  Let us all rejoice and live fully in Jesus now. He is God’s Truth; he is our Life. Peter’s concluding admonition to the churches in Asia Minor comes on the heels of his discussion concerning Jesus’ return and the judgment this will bring to the earth. His admonition to Christians in light of the hope and expectancy engendered by these prophecies is this: “Be diligent!” 

The call to diligence is prevalent in this letter. Peter has already told us to “make every effort [“applying all diligence” NASB] to add to your faith….” (2Pet 1:5) and to “be all the more eager [“be all the more diligent” NASB] to make your calling and election sure” (2Pet 1:10).  Then he says of himself, “I will make every effort” [“I will also be diligent” NASB] (2Pet 1:15). And now he concludes, telling us to “make every effort [“be diligent” NASB] to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with [God]” (2Pet 3:14). This diligence is not about self-effort motivated by fear or superstition. Rather it’s joy-filled participation in Jesus’ own diligence, which is expressed in the hope and expectancy of his life and message (the gospel).  

Peter ends his letter with three admonitions to this gospel-centered diligence: be diligent to live the gospel, be diligent to share the gospel, be diligent to grow in the gospel.

Be diligent to live the gospel 

2 Peter 3:11–14

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort [“be diligent” NASB] to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
A key word in this paragraph is look (or looking). This looking is not about physical sight, but spiritual sight—a hope and expectancy grounded in the truths of the gospel including the promise of Jesus’ return. Because we realize that the world and its works will be “destroyed”, we fix our hope not on the things of this world, but on Jesus and his enduring, ever-expanding kingdom.

Those followers of Jesus who hope in the things of this world rather than in their Lord develop a worldly orientation that leads to an unfaithful life. Like the false teachers, they may even begin to scoff at the very idea of Jesus’ return as they pursue their own desires. But a gospel-centered attitude of hope and expectancy yields positive changes in personal conduct (2 Pet 3:11). These changes don’t come from self-effort as though we could change our own nature. Rather, changes come because in union with Jesus we “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2Pet 1:4). Through this participation in Jesus’ relationship with the Father in the Spirit, we are transformed from the inside out and thus begin to live differently from the people whose lives are not centered in this hope. 

Peter says that a Jesus-follower lives a “holy and godly” life (2Pet 3:11b). In his first letter, Peter wrote: “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1Pet 1:15-16). God’s holiness, which we share with him by grace in union with Jesus, is grounded in God’s being—his relational “wholeness” as an eternal triune communion of love. As we participate in God’s triune nature, we participate in his communion of love. And this communion transforms our lives—conforms us to God’s own relational wholeness (holiness). Through this transformation, we become vessels of God’s self-giving love toward others.

Sadly, many define God’s holiness only on the basis of being separated from the world. This negative perspective on holiness takes a merely legal viewpoint, emphasizing the rules of what a Christian does and doesn’t do. But a gospel-centered view of God’s holiness says we are separated not merely from the world, but separated unto God—sharing fully his relational goodness, which sends us into the world bearing the mind of Christ who loves sinners, and reaches out in love to all to share his love and life. 

Thus we understand that to be holy and godly is not merely about our legal position in Christ, it’s about our participation—our sharing in the outpouring of Jesus’ love and life in the world he loves. And this participation with Jesus involves our active engagement—our diligence. This is a life of hope and expectancy—grounded not in prophetic charts and secret knowledge, but in the real and dynamic sharing of Jesus’ heart and mind for the world which he is rescuing. 

Amazingly, Peter says that this hope-filled, expectant view looking “forward to the day of God” will, in some way, “speed its coming” (2Pet 3:12a). How might this be? Considering that a focus of God’s work in the world today is to call out a people for his name (Acts 15:14), then the work of the church in the world may have something to do with the timing of the final consummation (see Acts 3:19–21). We may not know how all this works, but Peter’s point is clear: Jesus includes us in his ministry in the world and our participation has a real impact on how his ministry proceeds and when it culminates. The same God who ordains the end also ordains the means to that end, and we, by his grace, are part of that means. Our task is not to speculate but to participate—and to do so with diligence.  

How do we maintain eager expectancy that motivates holy living? A key element is keeping “his promise” of a “new heaven and new earth” clearly in our view (2Pet 3:13). The promise of Jesus’ coming is a light of hope that shines in an often dark world (2Pet 1:19). We must be sure that “the morning star” is brightly aglow in our hearts as we continue to eagerly await his appearing at the end of the age. Let us be diligent to live in the hope of this gospel. And let us also be diligent to share  that hope with others…

Be diligent to share the gospel 

2 Peter 3:15–16

15 Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Verse 15 ties in with verse 9, where Peter explains why the Lord has not yet returned in judgment to usher in the new heaven and new earth. God had every reason long ago to judge the world and burn up its works, but in his mercy he is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  And God continues patiently to give opportunity for the human race to embrace the salvation it has in Jesus—to repent, to trust, and to follow Jesus. And Peter’s inference here is that we, as Jesus-followers, need to share his heart for those walking in darkness and join him with diligence in sharing with them the good news of God’s redeeming love in Jesus. Thus our motivation for sharing the gospel with others is God’s love and our participation in his love which is reaching out to all humanity.

Peter here refers to Paul’s writings, perhaps because Paul, more than any other New Testament writer, addresses the outworking of God’s plan for salvation which is in Jesus and by grace alone. But, as Peter notes, some “ignorant and unstable people distort” Paul’s teachings. A common accusation against Paul was that his teaching about grace encouraged people to sin. But this was a false accusation, as Paul himself asserted (Rom 3:8). Others accused Paul of being against the Law of Moses because he taught the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church (Gal 3:28) and their equal liberty in Christ. In all these accusations Paul’s teachings were taken out of context, and his words (which you will note that Peter calls Scripture) were twisted. This twisting of Scripture is a common tactic of false teachers and this they do “to their own destruction.”

So let us stay away from teachers who pervert the gospel, and be faithful to the Holy Scriptures for they testify to Jesus and to the salvation that is ours in union with him. And let us be diligent to join Jesus in sharing his gospel with all humanity—one person at a time. And then, let us be diligent to grow within the sphere of that gospel…

Be diligent to grow in the gospel 

2 Peter 3:17–18

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
There are four “dear friends” statements in 2 Peter 3. They summarize what Peter wants to get across as he brings this second letter to a close:
  • “Dear friends...recall” (2Pet 3:1–2)
  • “Dear friends…do not forget” (2Pet 3:8)
  • “Dear friends...make every effort” (2Pet 3:14)
  • “Dear on your guard” (2Pet 3:17)
Peter’s readers knew the truth, but he warned them that knowledge alone is not sufficient protection. They had to be on their guard. What special danger did Peter see? That believers would be “led away together with the error of the wicked” (literal translation). The false teachers and their followers “live in error” (2Pet 2:18) rather than within the sphere of the truth (2 John 1–2). These false teachers are “lawless men” (2Pet 3:17). The word “lawless” is translated “unprincipled” in the NASB. The false teachers use unprincipled (deceitful and devious) tactics to turn people away from the truth that is in Jesus. Beware! And note that the danger addressed here is not losing one’s salvation but falling from one’s “secure position” or “steadfastness” (NASB) in Jesus. Believers are vulnerable to becoming unstable when they believe untruths. And thus Peter urges us all to be “firmly established in the truth” (2Pet 1:12). 

Our stability as followers of Jesus is directly related to our grounding in the truth and our confidence (trust) in that truth. To embrace lies rather than truth has devastating consequences. This danger is particularly great for young believers, “just escaping from those who live in error (2Pet 2:18). New believers need to be taught the basic biblical doctrines of the Christian faith so that they will not be “carried away by the error of lawless men.”

How can we as believers maintain our secure position and avoid being among the unstable ones who are easily led astray? Peter’s answer is that we must continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ“ (2Pet 3:18). “Be constantly growing” is the literal translation. It’s about a lifetime of growth—constant, steady development--within the sphere of the grace and truth that is in Jesus.


False teachers are at work! They are seducing immature Christians! So be on guard and be diligent in living the gospel, sharing the gospel and growing in the gospel. In these ways we participate more and more in Jesus’ own life and love which he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. To and with this Jesus, our Savior and Lord, be all glory both now and forever! Amen.