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).
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!”
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.
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.
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.
- “Dear friends...recall” (2Pet 3:1–2)
- “Dear friends…do not forget” (2Pet 3:8)
- “Dear friends...make every effort” (2Pet 3:14)
- “Dear friends...be on your guard” (2Pet 3:17)