One of the more interesting aspects of Peter’s second letter is a prophetic message he must already have delivered to his audience (probably in person, before his arrest). About midway down, in the first chapter, Peter spoke of this, and he made several points.
- Because Jesus had confirmed to Peter that his death was imminent, Peter was redoubling his efforts to get all his teaching on paper, so those he taught and shepherded would have it after he had gone.
- The prophetic message he had given them was more fully confirmed, and they needed to be attentive to it.
- And the prophecy he delivered had come from God through God’s Holy Spirit—unlike the lies false prophets were feeding them.
Now, Peter would conclude with that prophecy
Command of Christ
Peter had given them all the teaching he could, in shorthand, the equivalent of bullet-points in antiquity. His first letter was densely packed with doctrine and theology, exhortation and life application. The first chapter of his second letter was much the same, his second chapter a passionate censure of false prophets, drawing up one gruesome illustration after another from the Hebrew scriptures.
And now, finally, he would remind them of the prophecy God had given him for them.
I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember
* The words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and
* The commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles.2 Peter 3:1-2 (NRSV)
This was Peter’s preamble. What he was about to give them was huge. It came from God down through the centuries, oracles on the lips of their prophets, then given as a command through their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as taught by the apostles.
Peter had already explained he knew he was repeating everything he had already given them. But there were reasons. His coming execution, and the importance of the oracle God had given him, warranted his redoubled effort in making sure they had all the teaching Jesus had commissioned him to deliver.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.Jesus to his disciples, Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV)
Capacity of Christ
Knowing this, first of all, Peter began,
that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!”2 Peter 3:3-4 (NRSV)
These scoffers would base their arguments against the second coming of Christ on the fact that all things have continued as they were since the beginning of creation. This is a stable universe, they will say, nothing ever happens out of the ordinary.
You and I are actually pretty familiar with the scientific approach to all phenomena. There is no such thing as supernatural intrusions into this universe. Aliens are a lot easier to believe in than some sort of divine power operating in our world.
But, wrote Peter, they are going to be wrong. Such deriders have been wrong in the past, and they will be wrong in the future. They deliberately ignore the facts, Peter asserted.
They deliberately ignore this fact,
1. that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water,
2. that through [the word of God] the world of that time was deluged with water and perished.
[And now], by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.2 Peter 3:5-7 (NRSV)
In Peter’s mind, the creation of the world and the judgment of the Flood acted as proofs of God’s impending judgment by fire. Almighty God sustains the world by God’s word, and will judge the world by God word, destroying all evil by God’s word.
Context of Christ’s Course
Possibly in response to a growing number of Christians who had become anxious that Jesus’s return seemed delayed, Peter drew eyes upward to the heavenly perspective.
And do not let this escape your notice, beloved, that one day with the Lord is a thousand years, and a thousand years is one day.2 Peter 3:8 (my translation)
Peter was not giving new revelation, here, but rather reminding his readers of truth they had grown up knowing, for they had sung it every year, a famous verse in a famous Psalm written by the most famous of all their leaders,
For a thousand years in your sightMoses, Psalm 90:4 (NRSV)
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
The Lord is not being slow in keeping God’s promise, Peter reassured them.
. . . as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.2 Peter 3:9 (NRSV)
I am wondering if, for some of you, you just heard a needle wipe across a vinyl record?
I mean, we took all week, last week, talking about election. Peter seemed strong on election! How could he now be talking about God’s desire that all would be saved?
In fact, ironically, this verse is often used as a proof text to show God does intend to save everyone. I say ironically, because Peter already established in both of his letters how he understood predestination.
Nevertheless, Peter was saying God has a purpose in delaying. Once God begins judgment, everyone will be included. The Lord delays that Day of Judgment in order to give every person a chance to think over what life is all about, and come to the realization of their need for God’s restoration.
Repentance means to think again, to take a good square look at the facts about God, about humanity’s failures, and indeed, our own failures and faults and what Jesus has done for us. God is actively holding back this devastation, in order that all people will have a chance to think things over, change their course away from God, and reorient their lives back towards God.
Christ’s Certain Coming
Peter then repeated what Jesus had told all of them years before: the day of the Lord will come like a thief. I wonder if Peter got goosebumps every time he wrote that, or said it. Among those seasoned in the faith, this was a watchword used between them, and it showed up in Paul’s letters as well.
It had been towards the end of his ministry that Jesus had begun giving them prophetic glimpses into the far future, but also the near, so it had been hard to tell when the things Jesus spoke of would happen. Every now and then Jesus was asked when these events would come to pass. On one of those occasions, the Lord had cautioned watchfulness.
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what dayyour Lord is coming.
But understand this: if the owner 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 unexpected hour.Jesus, Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)
The timing of Jesus’ return is being kept under deep cover so the “owner,” of the world will be caught off-guard. It is such a -huge- metaphor!