God is Not Slow (II Peter 3:1-13)
Passage: 2 Peter 3:1–3:13
2012: The End is Near?
I. Is This THE Year?
What does the rest of 2012 have in store for you? I bet you were asking that question last month as we welcomed in the New Year. Listen to this excerpt from a recent newspaper article about how some people are responding to speculations that the ancient Mayans believed the world would end on December 21st, 2012. The article reads:
“David Morrison, senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said he had been receiving about ten emails a day from worried members of the public who are ‘seriously, seriously upset’. [one e-mailer wrote]…‘I am so scared. My only friend is my little dog. When should I put her to sleep so she won’t suffer when the Earth is destroyed?’ Worried Americans are rushing to buy everything from survival guides to bunkers that are marketed as being both nuclear bomb and asteroid-proof. Robert Vicino is a Californian businessman who is building the luxury bunkers in secret locations. His website asks: ‘What if the prophecies are true? Which side of the door do you want to be on?’”
So…is this THE year? Is 2012 the last year in human history? Well, if we turn to a reliable source, God’s word, we discover that this question is met with a very definite…“maybe”.
This morning we wrap up a three-part series in which we’ve been talking about one of the central themes of the Bible: the return or “second coming” of Jesus Christ. And as we’ll see this morning, when we talk about the coming again of Jesus, we’re also talking about the end of the world as we know it; about the coming of both judgment and re-creation.
In past weeks we have looked at the teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of Paul. This morning, we bring our questions about “the end” to the Apostle Peter. Turn over to II Peter 3:1-13. Let’s listen as Peter talks with his readers about the return of Christ and some of the struggles they were facing in light of this topic.
II. Text: The Promise of His Coming (3:1-13)
A. The Promise Mocked (3:1-4)
[Listen to what Peter tells them here:] 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, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 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.”
Now let’s stop there. Right from the start, Peter tells his readers that what he’s trying do is “stir them up” by reminding them of things they already know. As we see here (v. 2), what they’ve learned comes from both the prophets of the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus; those are the two sources Peter’s already pointed to in 1:16-21.
But his encouragement to remember is set in the context of a warning. Peter is saying, “Remember what you’ve been taught because…scoffers will come and try to ruin your faith.”
How would these scoffers attempt to discourage followers of Christ? As we see in verse 4, they will try to inspire doubt about the reality of Christ’s return. “Where is the promise of his coming?”
Now to understand why this question has any teeth, to understand why this question was discouraging many in this church, we need to look at the second half of this question: “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.”
Now in most cases in the New Testament, the term “the fathers” or “our fathers” refers to the Patriarchs or the righteous of the OT, men like Abraham or Moses or David. But that interpretation wouldn’t make much sense here. Let me explain why.
What’s being questioned here is the promise of the coming of Jesus. If that promise was being talked about in connection with the promises given to the Patriarchs then, no, everything had not continued as it had been from the beginning of creation because Jesus had already come once to fulfill God’s promises. (New life…Holy Spirit…the Church)
I believe the best way to understand this term “fathers” here is as a reference to the first generation of Christians. If you recall from our first study in Matthew 24, Jesus said this,
“Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (v. 34)
Now, in the context of Matthew 24, “all these things” are those events that point to the nearness of Christ’s coming, as Matthew 24:33 indicates.
So in light of this, it was not uncommon for Christians in the second half of the first century to believe that the return of Jesus was very close, especially as older believers began to pass away. We saw this same expectation at work last week in I Thessalonians 4; and you can find throughout the New Testament, questions and answers indicating confusion about the timing of Jesus’ return.
So the scoffers that Peter is contending with here, in his day, (notice the present tense in verse 5), these scoffers were just the beginning of more to come. As the years went on, and that first generation of believers died, this kind of mockery would intensify with many saying, “Look, nothing has happened! There is no judgment. Let’s do what we want, when we want, and how we want.” This is the mindset that chapter 2 of this letter addresses.
So how does Peter respond to this? If that generation does pass away, and Christ does not return as he seemed to indicate, won’t that undermine everything?
B. The Promise Defended (3:5-10)
Well, look at verses 5-10. Here we find Peter giving two responses to the scoffing of these scoffers. Look at verse 5:
5 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, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 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.
As Peter points out here, those who believed that everything was always going to be just like it always had been since creation, they were deliberately ignoring the reality of a previous judgment. Just as Jesus had done in Matthew 24, Peter goes back to the flood in Noah’s time to show them that God’s judgment can come at anytime, especially when it is least expected. If God already judged the world once through a flood, why would it be so hard to believe that the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire (v.7).
But look at verse 8. He accuses the mockers of intentionally overlooking the fact of the flood, but he warns his readers about overlooking another critical Old Testament truth… (v. 8…)
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. 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. 10 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.
Did you notice again the same image that Jesus and Paul used? “The day of the Lord will come like a thief”, that is, it will come unexpectedly.
But this repeated point about the “thief” is connected with another important truth: God does not necessarily look at time the way we look at time. Using Psalm 90:4 as his basis, Peter tells his readers that if there is seemingly a delay in the coming of Christ, then it’s all part of God’ s timing. For even if a thousand years were to pass beyond that first generation, it would only be like one day in God’s eyes.
But…but, every day that does pass is like a thousand years to God. In what sense? Well, in the sense that God is patient. Could you be patient for a thousand years? We can’t even be patient for a thousand seconds. But God is patiently waiting. For what? Well as Peter tells them in verse 9: He is patient toward you.
Throughout this letter Peter has been warning his readers about the influence of certain false prophets in their midst. And from these warnings, it seems that some in the church had been led away or were being led away be this deception, by these lies. Listen to how Peter both warns and encourages in the first two chapter of this letter (look at 1:9, 10):
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (1:9, 10)
(Look at 2:20, 21) For if, after they [those deceived] have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
What seems clear here is that some who had confessed faith in Christ were being led away by these false prophets. And it’s this reason that leads Peter to warn them here in chapter 3 about the influence of such scoffers.
What Peter is telling them here is that every day that passes without seeing the return of Jesus Christ should not be viewed as evidence confirming their doubts; such days should be viewed as evidence confirming God’s mercy.
The fact that Jesus had not returned according to their timetable did not mean that God was slow or sluggish or distracted or forgetful or unable to act. Any so-called ‘delay’ should have pointed them back to the incredibly important fact that God is patient…God is patient.
Some were teaching that God’s slowness, as they counted slowness, was reason to kick back and relax; reason to indulge. And the sense we get is that some, maybe many in this church were buying into this very idea. It was these people, “all” of these people (as verse 9 indicates), and other like them, that God was waiting patiently for; waiting for each to repent and come to a genuine faith in Jesus Christ.
And Peter’s encouragement here was probably drawn from a general principle. In one sense, every day that Jesus does not come back is another day of suffering for our world. But in another sense, every day that Jesus does not come back is another day of hope for “all” who do not know Christ, another opportunity for “all” to turn and trust.
What should our response be in light of the “promise of His coming”? Look at verse 11.
C. The Promise Applied (3:11-13)
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved [in judgment], what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Because of this coming devastation, as a result of God’s judgment, none of Peter’s listeners should continue in a state of unrepentance, in a state of rebellion and unfaithfulness. Instead all of them ought to be people of holiness, that is people living lives that are set apart, lives shaped by God and His word.
As we heard from Jesus two weeks ago, we should be like faithful servants who are ready for our Master’s return; faithful to Him, and faithful to the work He’s entrusted to us. As we see in verses 12 and 13, Peter describes Christians as those waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Are you waiting?
As we do this, we will, in some sense, be bringing that “day of God” closer. As more and more reach repentance, God’s patience is, in HIS timing, accomplishing His purposes.
III. Trusting in God’s Timing
This morning, it’s not difficult to see why Peter was writing to this church. It’s not hard to see
the end to which Peter taught about “the end”.
Peter is very clear about the one thing he wants them to understand: 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.
Why is that important? Because it means that 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.
Peter wanted them to understand this because if they accepted the scoffing of the scoffers, if they accepted that God’s promise was somehow unreliable, then they would slip into doubt, which could lead to despair, which might inspire disobedience, which would ultimately lead to destruction. Doubt…Despair…Disobedience…Destruction.
Brothers and sisters, all of us can find ourselves in a similar position. All of us will be, if not already, confronted with the question of the scoffers: “Where is the promise of his coming?” Where is it?
It’s been almost two thousand years since Jesus talked about the promise of His coming. It’s been almost two thousand years since Jesus left this world and returned to the Father’s side. Where is He? Are we foolish to think He’s really coming back?
Didn’t Jesus say that after the tribulation of the first century, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 24:29 that “immediately” after those things… He was coming back? Have you ever found yourself wondering about all this?
If you have, and when you do, please…do not overlook this one fact…that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
We could say that according to God’s clock, Jesus has only been gone for about…two days.
You see, we can talk about signs all around us, we can talk about global events fulfilling biblical prophecy, we can talk about important developments in world evangelism, but the simple fact of the matter is that God will send Jesus whenever…He…so…pleases.
That “generation” that Jesus spoke about did NOT pass away without seeing signs fulfilled. And it would have been reasonable for Christians to conclude that Jesus was coming in just a matter of years, if not months.
But what they did not keep in mind is that God does not necessarily look at time the way we look at time, AND…AND, they did not consider in that context that God is patient and wants men and women, boys and girls to turn and trust Him.
Listen, the reality is that, if we are followers of Jesus Christ, most of us do not consciously question the idea of Jesus coming back. But, how easy is it for us to live like God is slow…slow to fulfill His promise, as we count slowness. That somehow He’s delayed.
How easy it is for us to live like all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation with no real change to be expected any time soon.
Do you realize how many decisions you make right now in light of your thoughts about the future? “We need to set aside some money in light of retirement. I need to take this job transfer if I want to get to this level in the coming years. We need to be teaching our kids this or that if they want to be on track for college. We need to enjoy life now, because some day, it will all be over. We’re planning on this…we’re hoping for that…we’re expecting to be…”
But where does the return of Jesus fit into all of that? How does it fit into your decision-making process? Are we saying “O, the promise of His coming!” (exclamation point), or are we saying “Where is the promise of His coming?” (question mark)
It’s not a bad idea to plan for the future, but it’s a very bad idea to leave “the end of the world” out of that planning process. We can plan, but we should do so as those prepared for the return of Jesus. What have we heard that every single week? He will come “like a thief”, which means, he will come when we do not expect Him.
But remember, Peter is not simply trying to alleviate their doubts about an apparent delay in the return of Christ. He is doing that in response to the scoffers. But he’s also telling them the reason for God’s timetable: He is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Yes, we need to be ready for Jesus Christ; we need to be the people we ought to be, living lives of holiness and godliness (v.11). But this “one fact” should also mean we see every day as a day of grace, as a day in which the door of mercy is open wide, held open by the perfect patience of God.
Are you in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ? If you are not, then I’m pleased to tell you that today is a day of grace, that God is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Come to Him. Trust Him. Turn from trying to live as the ruler of your life. Let God be God. Receive His forgiveness and love.
Judgment will come. And when it does, 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.
That is not the future predicted by the Mayans. But it is also not the future any one of us wants to face without Jesus Christ.
Jesus died for sinners, in their place, in order that we might live in God’s place, with Him forever. And Jesus rose again to confirm that He is the only way; that His death is the only path to life. Do you trust that He is your only hope? God is calling you so simply believe, to trust that all you can do is believe that Jesus did it all.
He is patient toward you…but we don’t know when that patience will come to an end.
If you are in a right relationship with Him, if you are a follower of Jesus, then we need to remember that we are called to call others. We need to let each and every new day of grace remind us that God wants to use us as messengers of mercy, as proclaimers of God’ s patience.
I know how easy it is to think about the ”coming of Jesus” in terms of what it will mean for our lives, or in terms of systems and interpretations. But how often does the return of Jesus Christ motivate us to reach out to others? Do you have a sense of urgency about sharing God’s patience with others?
Peter was appealing to his readers in light of God’s gracious timing. He was saying, “There’s still time. There’s still time.” There is nothing left that has to take place. That’s how we should understand the “immediately” of Matthew 24:29. The VERY NEXT thing in God’s plan is the return of Jesus. God has simply chosen to insert a “parentheses of patience” between Matthew 24:28 and 24:29.
Brothers and sisters, we will continue to be bombarded by books and seminars and teachers focused on the “end times”. The world will continue to scoff at or be terrified by predictions of the end of the world. I have no doubt about that. We will continue to see people use “the end” to sell page-turners and safety bunkers. We will continue to see people use “the end” to inspire fear about the future, or rationalize their disengagement from the culture.
But we…we need to remember what God’s word has shown us about the end of “the end”, the reasons why Jesus and Paul and Peter taught us about these things. They wanted to cultivate faithfulness, provide comfort, inspire hope, and encourage perseverance in every follower of Jesus Christ. (2x)
Whatever else you may believe about the return of Jesus, this is the ultimate end to which God has revealed these things about “the end”. Let’s ask God to change our lives in light of this.
More in 2012-The End Is Near?
February 12, 2012Encourage One Another with These Words (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
February 5, 2012Stay Awake...Be Ready (Matthew 24:36-51)