By BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR
This week’s passage from 1 Peter needs to be kept in the context of that which we studied last week. Peter was then addressing the doubts voiced by the scoffers, and he now turns to the believers who may be asking the same things, though from faith and not unbelief. “It is not only the scoffers who are concerned about these questions… The New Testament epistles were written in order to strengthen the faith of God’s people and comfort them.” He once again addresses with tenderness these believers who, as many of us might, are wondering when our Lord will return.
“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.” (2 Peter 3:8)
Peter begins by reminding these beloved ones that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a one day” (8). He wants us to remember that God views and experiences time differently from us, because we live within time as created beings and he stands outside of time as the Creator of all things—including time. “In a single sentence, [Peter] discloses the relativity of time. He teaches … that they should keep one thing in mind: God views time from a perspective that differs with man.”
We are live in a sequence of moments, unable to see past the moment we are in, able to look back at was has already occurred, yet still limited in what we can understand. Our creaturely perspective hampers us, confines us, if you will, so that our view is distorted and incomplete. God’s view, from eternity, outside of time, is unimpeded by the sequence of moments. He has decreed, and therefore knows and sees, every nanosecond as the Omnipotent, Omniscient Creator. Therefore, a thousand years are like a day for God because of this exalted perspective from which he views time.
On the other hand, as Peter points out, a day is like a thousand years for God. Our study asks us to consider this in terms of intensity. One of the comforts of the believer is knowing that our God is intimately involved in our lives, every moment superintended by his wise and loving care. Psalm 139 gives us a glimpse into the nearness and intimacy of the Lord:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. (vv. 1-6)
God is not only that close to me, and at the same time, that close to you, but he is that close—100% of him, mind you—to every single one of his children, every moment. God doesn’t attend to my needs, then zoom across town to attend to your needs, then zoom to South America to care for another child’s needs. No, he is right with all his children simultaneously. Our Omnipresent God is searching out paths and the knowing unspoken words of each redeemed child right now and every moment of the day (not to mention that he is working all things among the unredeemed and holding all creation together as well). It would take us a thousand years to accomplish what God does in a day—and even that would be insufficient.
As a mother of four in the Tuesday class observed, we get stressed out when more than one child has an issue at a time. God doesn’t get stressed out. When, from our perspective, it appears that everything is whirling out of control, God is working everything according to his perfect, pre-ordained plan, for our good and for his own glory. When your needs are overwhelming you, God is not only not overwhelmed, but he is 100% in sovereign control of the situation, and he is with you, caring for you, hemming you in behind and before, and laying his hand upon you in a way that is too high and wonderful for you to understand. Even if you aren’t feeling it—if you are his child he is with you.
To the degree that we grasp this, our own perspective of other people, events and things around us will change. Realizing our own limitations and God’s lack of them is always a good thing. As we remember that God is at work, even when we can’t perceive it, we learn patience. When we wonder, “How long, O Lord?” John Calvin advises us to look upward, and thereby remove our own unreasonable limits and wishes from God’s appointed time.
“For waiting seems very long on this account, because we have our eyes fixed on the shortness of the present life… But when the eternity of God’s kingdom comes to our minds, many ages vanish away like so many moments… do ye then ascend in your minds to heaven, and thus time will be to you neither long nor short.”
The scoffers thought that because Christ’s return was delayed he wasn’t returning at all. Peter’s reminder of God’s perspective on time, that to him a thousand years are as one day, encourages us to wait with a humility which the scoffers lacked. “Let us then submit unto God and His absolute wisdom, and especially to His love and mercy, his long-suffering and compassion. The ways of God are certain and sure. We cannot understand them now, but in His own good time we shall understand all things.”
Even if we learn patience to wait for Christ’s return, we still may wonder why he (seemingly) delays. Peter tells us 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” (9). Our Lord is not delaying his return out of indifference or inattentiveness, but out of his own great mercy toward sinners who have yet to repent, as he declares through the prophet Ezekiel, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, 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?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
Jesus also spoke of his forbearance in a parable: “‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?” And he answered him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’ (Luke 13:6-9) Martin Lloyd-Jones sees in our passage “the amazing patience and long-suffering of God.”
Kistemaker speaks in more depth, breaking down the difference between God “not wishing that any should perish,” and wanting all to “reach repentance.”
“Not wanting anyone to perish.” Peter is not teaching universalism in this sentence. In his epistle, he clearly states that the false teachers and the scoffers are condemned and face destruction (see 2:3; 3:7; Rom. 9:22). Does not God want to be saved? Yes, but they disregard God’s patience toward them, they employ their knowledge of Jesus Christ against him, and they willfully reject God’s offer of salvation. They, then, bear full responsibility for their own condemnation.
“[God wants] everyone to come to repentance.” God provides time for man to repent, but repentance is an act that man must perform. Take the case of Esau, who led a godless life and sold his inheritance rights to his brother Jacob. When he wanted to receive the blessing, Esau was rejected… Likewise, the scoffers in Peter’s day refuse to come to repentance, even though God is granting them a period of grace.”
So, while at first reading it may appear that there is an element of helplessness or wishful thinking in God’s waiting for sinners to repent, it is his divine forbearance as he awaits all the elect to come to repentance in his perfectly foreordained time. As Kistemaker concludes, “God extends his mercy to sinful man. However, when man repudiates God’s grace, divine condemnation hangs over him (II Peter 2:3) and he faces the inevitable day of judgement.”
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, (v. 10a)
After explaining why the Lord delays his coming, Peter next tells us in no uncertain terms that when Jesus does return it will be unexpected and sudden. Comparing his return to a thief, Peter is echoing the way Jesus himself described it:
“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.” (Matt. 24:43-44)
Years ago, my daughter, Kate, was visiting friends who lived in Rome. After a day of sightseeing, the family settled down in front of their TV, as did everyone in Rome, to watch a highly anticipated soccer match. Soccer—football in Europe—is voraciously followed in Italy, and when the game is on, everyone stops what they do to watch. Everyone, that is, except for the thieves. While my daughter and our friends were cheering for their team, burglars crept into an upstairs room via the balcony and stole everything they could find of value, including my friend Kathy’s family-heirloom engagement ring. The thieves knew the best time to strike, because all of Rome was occupied, distracted, entertained by their favorite pastime. Where will your focus be when the Lord returns?
While his return will be as surprising as a thief, it won’t be as quiet as one. Peter next describes the scene in terrifyingly dazzling terms:
“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… the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (vv. 10b, 12b)
Peter is here using figurative, apocalyptic language, as has been used to describe the second coming of Christ and the judgement day in both the Old and New Testaments. When we read of these future events it is tempting to analyze the clues to figure out exactly what they mean. These are unclear passages of Scripture, and as such they are puzzling to us. The timing and means of Christ’s return are a mystery to us. The fact that it will be unmistakable is certainly clear from our passage, but the rest remains a puzzle.
Remember that Peter taught us in his first epistle that the Old Testament prophets were also puzzled by their own prophecies of the Messiah. They looked at what they had spoken or written by the moving of the Holy Spirit and were just as baffled as we are looking at these as-yet unfulfilled prophecies. We stand on this side of the cross and can look back over the fulfilled events of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ and see it all so plainly. Of course it makes sense—we have all the pieces of the puzzle!
When we read these end-times, return of Christ, and judgement day prophecies, let us tread carefully, with humility acknowledging what we do not know, holding loosely what we do not see clearly, and holding tightly to what is clear. Here’s what is clear: Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again.
In the meantime, how we are to live, knowing that the end my come at any time, is very clear:
“Christ could return at any moment: eat dessert first.”
(Sorry, couldn’t resist) Seriously, though, Peter asks the same question, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” (v. 11). Paul also addresses this in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica:
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:1-9)
Remember, the scoffers, in their unbelief, lived lives of wanton sin and debauchery, since they foresaw no consequences for their disobedience. In contrast, we who believe obey the biblical commands to holy living, because we are “children of the light,” destined to “obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Kistemaker observes that “a divine obligation rests upon the readers; they are to be holy in all they do (1 Peter 1:15-16). Peter exhorts them to live in the sphere of God’s holiness, so that when that great and awful day appears they continue to live in the presence of God… Christians must cultivate holy living in full awareness of God’s sacred presence.”
Peter writes that while we live “lives of holiness and godliness,” we are, “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (12a). In saying that we are hastening the day of God, Peter does not mean that any activity of ours moves that date closer on our calendars. Kistemaker explains what Peter is getting at, using a broad scope of Scripture to help us understand.
“This is a startling statement indeed. Peter is saying that we have a vital part in shortening the time set for the coming of God’s day. This saying corresponds with the ancient prayer the church has prayed since the first century: Maranatha, “Come, O Lord!” (1 Cor. 16:22; also see Rev. 22:20). Furthermore, it harmonizes with the petition your kingdom come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). In his discourse on the last day Jesus instructs his followers to proclaim the gospel to all nations, “and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). And last, Peter exhorts Christians “to live holy and godly lives” to speed the coming of God’s day. When Peter addresses a crowd of people after healing a crippled beggar at the temple, he tells the people to repent in order to hasten the coming of Christ (Acts 3:19-21).
God decrees the ends, but also the means. Somehow, in his mysterious providence, he allows us to participate in his redemption story. He has already determined the time of his return and all his elect are known to him since before the creation of the universe, but he gives us a hand in bringing in the harvest of the redeemed. This is a staggering thought and should spur us on to greater zeal for evangelism and obedience.
I also wonder though, as we have already explored the relativity of time, if our activity—keeping busy doing the Lord’s work—doesn’t result, from our perspective, in making time “fly” as we await the final day. We have only just had a sizeable women’s conference at our church, for which much planning and effort was required. As we worked to prepare everything that was needed for the conference it seemed that the months, weeks, and days were flying by. In the final week, we had so much to do each day that we would sit down to a task and only five minutes later look up to see that two hours had passed. As our excitement grew, our minds were full, and our hands were busy, the days disappeared and before we knew it we were welcoming a church full of women to our annual conference. Perhaps this is another way in which the day of the Lord will be hastened by our living lives of holiness and godliness.
The second half of verse 12 returns to the events of the great and terrible day of the Lord, reminding us that “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” (12b) before describing the promise of the new heavens and new earth. Without wandering into eschatological speculations, it seems safe to say that whereas God used water to destroy and renew the world in Noah’s day, the means by which he will destroy and renew the earth on the final day will be fire. Kistemaker reads in these prophecies another parallel to Noah’s deluge:
“Peter stresses the adjective new in his wording. Literally he says, “new heavens and earth new.” With the word new Peter teaches that this new creation comes forth out of the old creation. That is, the old has given birth to the new. The flood did not annihilate the earth, but changed it; and as the new earth was the consequence of the flood, so the final new heavens and earth shall be of fire.”
This means that God is not so utterly destroying the universe that he will need to begin all over again with another Big Bang and entirely new matter created ex nihilo: out of nothing. With the waters of the flood it is easier to imagine the renewal of the earth after being washed; fire is a different matter.
Or is it? Living in South Florida for a number of years taught me that in order to keep the Everglades healthy, a fire now and then is a good thing (hello, lightning capitol of the world). It’s messy, and dangerous, but it removes the invasive vegetation, leaving room for the native plants to grow back stronger. The Sequoia trees in Northern California are the largest living organisms on planet earth, but their tiny pinecones don’t open to release their seeds unless they have been burned in a fire—which will also have cleared the underbrush, allowing sunlight to reach the baby seedlings.
Why does a goldsmith use fire to refine gold? To burn away the impurities and remove the dross. Fire purifies. In his first epistle, Peter compared the trials that purify our faith to the fires that refine gold. Paul spoke of the agony of the environment as the world awaits the recreation: “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22). I’m don’t want to make connections that aren’t there, I’m only trying to understand. Whatever it is the Lord means when he speaks of the fire that will burn away the old to make way for the new heavens and new earth will be clearly understood on that day.
Until then, Christians must trust and obey, believing God’s promises: in this case the promise that Christ will return; and hastening the day by obedient activity: “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). And what has God promised?
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (v. 13)
In his new creation righteousness will permanently dwell with us. “God banishes sin from the new heavens and new earth and thus liberates creation from its bondage.” Righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth because of Who also dwells there: our Holy, highly-exalted God and the Lamb Who died to take away the sins of the world. In the following glimpses of glory, note what is present and what is absent:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:1-4, 8, 27)
No more death. No more sin. No more tears of grief or pain. No more barriers to the fullness of joyful fellowship with the Father and our Savior Jesus Christ! Oh, Sisters, don’t you long for this day?
Curiously, though, it says the sea will be no more. Why won’t the sea be there? One of my ladies confessed that the beach is her favorite place to be, with the warm sand underfoot and the waves gently lapping the shore. I can’t place my finger on a reference for it, but I’ve been taught that for the ancient Israelites the sea was not a comforting place. They were land-dwelling people, and the sea represented to them the great unknown, fear, and chaos. The ocean depths were terrifying to them, with power to destroy that couldn’t be resisted by any human means. Shadows of the Flood, perhaps? Turn with me again to Psalm 139, where the psalmist is rehearsing the extremities to which he might flee, and yet still find the comforting presence of his Lord is with him:
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (vv. 7-12)
Here we find David taking comfort in the knowledge that no matter where he goes, to heaven, Sheol (the grave), or even dwelling in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there, God’s hand shall lead him and his right hand shall hold him. We don’t need to reach the new heavens and new earth to know God’s presence with us—whether we feel it or not. No matter where we go, from the extremes of happiness to the depths of dark despair, even to the terrors of the unknown, even there, God’s hand will lead us, for the darkness is not dark to him; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with him.
Yet in Peter’s epistles, indeed, in all of Scripture, we see all history leading to the day when there will be no more darkness, no more grief, no more terror. On that day those who are in Christ will dwell with God as his people, his Bride, embraced finally and forever by our Bridegroom. How can we be confident that the new heaven and the new earth will come to pass? Our Jesus has promised that it will, his words are trustworthy and true, and “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (1 Cor. 1:20a).
‘No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true.”
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:3-6a; 16-17; 20)
 D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 175-176.
 Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 332.
 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: Commentary on the Second Epistle of Peter, translated by the Rev. William Pringle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, reprinted 2009), 418.
 Lloyd-Jones, 183.
 Ibid., 182
 Kistemaker, 334.
 Ibid., 335.
 Robert Godfrey, spoken in jest at a Ligonier conference.
 Kistemaker, 338.
 Ibid., 338.
 Ibid., 340.
 Ibid., 340.