When General Douglas MacArthur left the Philippines in the early months of World War II, he fled Corregidor in apparent defeat. Upon reaching Australia, he sent back his now famous declaration, “I shall return.” And he kept his promise, for three years later he stood on Philippine soil and proclaimed his second historic statement, “I have returned.”
This historic account suggests another statement of promise—a promise of far greater significance for the human family. Just before Christ went to the Cross and suffered what appeared to be a tragic end to His brief life, He said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again . . . ” But nearly two thousand years have passed since that promise was given, and it still remains unfulfilled.
The Apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, knew that people in the last days would use the seeming delay of our Lord’s return as a means by which they might scoff at the Biblical teaching of coming judgment. And thus, in the third chapter of his second epistle, Peter felt the necessity of writing to warn Christians not to be deceived by scoffers. After revealing the fallacies in their arguments and clearly emphasizing the certainty of the Lord’s return and coming judgment, Peter concluded the chapter by admonishing Christians that these end-time events should be an incentive for holy living. The chapter naturally divides into three parts.
1. The Denial of the Lord’s Return (2 Peter 3:3-4)
In 2 Peter 3:3, we read that “There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.” A scoffer is someone who treats lightly that which ought to be taken seriously. The people in Noah’s day scoffed at the idea of a Flood, and the citizens of Sodom scoffed at the possibility of fire and brimstone destroying their sinful city. In this verse, the scoffers referred to by Peter are those people who refuse to take the Bible seriously when it speaks about Christ’s return and the certainty of judgment. It is apparent that there are many scoffers in the world today—not only those who openly deny the end-time events, but also those who by their ungodly life-styles imply that the Biblical teaching concerning our Lord’s return and coming judgment should not be taken seriously.
The reason why there is scoffing today is given by the Apostle Peter in verse 3: They are “walking after their own lusts.” Because people want to continue living in their sins, they scoff at the idea of judgment. Verse 5 goes on to describe them as “willingly ignorant.” In other words, they don’t want to believe what is revealed by the prophets and the apostles concerning coming judgment, because they want to continue in sin without the threat of judgment hanging over them. And so they dismiss it from their minds (“willingly ignorant”), and in addition, come up with their own arguments to console themselves, essentially saying that judgment is not coming.
Their arguments are contained in verse 4. Their first argument has to do with the delay in Christ’s coming. “Where is the promise of his coming?” They don’t want Christ to come because it will mean judgment for them, and thus they argue that because the promise of Christ’s coming has not been fulfilled, there is little reason to believe that it will ever take place.
Their second argument has to do with the stability of the laws of nature and the uniformity of the processes of nature. “For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” They maintain that nothing catastrophic has happened in the past, so there is no reason to believe it will happen in the future. They argue that the laws of nature are fixed and settled. The sun rises and sets, the tides ebb and flow, and the seasons follow each other in their usual order. Thus it is impossible for an upheaval (such as the prophesied fiery judgment) to take place in a universe with such highly fixed laws. And then, after presenting the arguments of the scoffers, Peter goes on to affirm the certainty of the Lord’s return and coming judgment.
2. The Certainty of the Lord’s Return (2 Peter 3:5-10)
In these verses, Peter reveals the fallacies contained in the arguments of the scoffers. First of all, in verses 5-7, he deals with the argument which claims that this is a stable universe and thus there is no reason to believe that it will be interrupted by such a catastrophic event as the judgment which will be associated with the second coming of Christ. In refuting this argument, Peter simply presents evidence which the scoffers willfully ignore. He mentions two events in history to prove his point:
a) The work of God in creation (verse 5). The gist of Peter’s argument is that the same God who created the world by His word, and holds it together by His word, is able also to intervene in the world and do whatever He wishes to do, no matter how impossible it may seem to us.
b) The Flood in Noah’s day (verse 6). The Flood was a catastrophe which was impossible to predict from the laws of nature. People in Noah’s day had never seen it rain before, and thus the people scoffed when Noah warned that God was going to destroy the world by a Flood. But the unusual happened and the ungodly perished. Psalm 115:3 states, “But our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”
Having established the fact that God has in the past interrupted the course of nature, Peter in verse 7 goes on to state the application. The same word which created the world and which brought judgment by a Flood, is the very word by which the world will some day be judged with fire. Just as surely as the Flood came in Noah’s day, so will come the prophesied “day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”
In verses 8-9, Peter deals with the other argument which claims that the delay in the Lord’s coming is reason to believe that it will never be fulfilled. The prophecy of Christ’s coming and the judgment has been around for centuries, and it is yet to be fulfilled. Has God changed His mind? In verse 8, Peter again exposes the ignorance of the scoffers. Not only are they ignorant of what God has done in the past, but they are also ignorant of what God is like. They make God in their own image and ignore the fact that God is eternal. “One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” God is not limited by time the same way we are, nor does He measure it according to our standards. That which may seem like a long time to us is a brief period with God. Therefore the wicked cannot infer that they will escape punishment because it is delayed, nor should the righteous fear that the divine promises will fail because they have not been accomplished.
In verse 9, Peter goes on to stated that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness.” When men after a considerable lapse of time fail to fulfill their promises, we infer that it is because they have changed their plans or have forgotten about it. But it is not so with God. The seeming delay of the Lord’s return is not because God has forgotten about it, or that He has changed His plans. Rather, God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The scoffers do not understand the eternal nature of God nor do they understand His mercy. Ezekiel 33:11 says, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
As we review Peter’s arguments, we can see that his evidence is incontestable. First of all, he proves from Scripture that God has interrupted the stable nature of the universe in past history, and that He has the power to do it today. And secondly, he maintains that God is not slack concerning His promise, but that the seeming delay in the Lord’s return is because “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Having refuted the false claims of the scoffers, Peter in verse 10, goes on to reaffirm the certainty of the Lord’s return and of coming judgment. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” This old world is destined for judgment. One of these days, God will say, “It is enough,” and usher in the end-time events which will include judgment against all ungodliness. If our hearts are not right with God, we must not presume upon God’s longsuffering, but use it as an opportunity to repent and to escape the judgment which is coming. Procrastination is “soul-suicide” on the installment plan.
Having instructed us in the certainty of the Lord’s return and of coming judgment, Peter goes on to declare the effect this should have upon the lives of Christians.
3. The Incentive of the Lord’s Return (2 Peter 3:11-18)
Throughout the Word of God, one thing stands out very clearly in the area of prophetic truth: Whenever the Holy Spirit sets forth some great prophecy, He joins it with a practical exhortation as to what we are to do about it. Such is the case in 2 Peter 3, when Peter says, “Seeing then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be?” The purpose of prophetic truth is not speculation but motivation. It is interesting to study prophecy, but if it does not result in practical holiness and obedience, it does us little good. Diligence is the admonition which best summarizes the concluding remarks of Peter in this chapter.
a) Be diligent in expectation: In verse 12, we find the phrase, “Looking for the coming of the day of God.” It means to await eagerly. The word that is here translated “looking” is also translated “expecting” in Acts 3:5, where it is recorded that the lame man at the gate of the temple was expecting to receive something from Peter and John. As used by Peter in this verse, it describes an attitude of excitement and expectation which should characterize the child of God as he waits for the Lord’s return. It is one thing to wait for someone, but it is another thing to eagerly await and expect someone. If you grew up at home with a sister, I am sure you recall how that when an ordinary friend was coming, she waited, but was not particularly excited about it. But when the one of her heart’s desire was expected, she waited eagerly and you could tell the difference several hours ahead of time. This is the type of waiting that should characterize the child of God as he waits for the glorious appearing of the Lord. To be lacking in the eager expectation of our Lord’s return, is to lose the most powerful force and inspiration for holy living.
b) Be diligent in purification: Eagerly expecting our Lord’s return ought to make a difference in our personal conduct. In verse 11, Peter states, “What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness . . . ?” The word translated “manner” literally means “from what country.” Since we are strangers and pilgrims headed for a better world, the eternal City of God, we are called to take on the character of that kingdom in all holy conversation and godliness.
In verses 13 and 14, after stating that according to His promise we are looking “for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” Peter writes, “Wherefore beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”
A gentleman visiting a certain school gave out the information that he would give a prize to the student whose desk he found in the best order when he returned. “But when will you come?” some of them asked. “That I cannot tell,” was the answer. A little girl, who had been noted for her disorderly habits, announced that she meant to win the prize. “You,” her schoolmates laughed; “Why your desk is always out of order.” “Oh! but I mean to clean it the first of every week.” “But suppose he should come at the end of the week?” someone asked. “Then I will clean it every morning.” “But he may come at the end of the day.” For a moment, the little girl was silent. “I know what I will do,” she said decidedly. “I’ll just keep it clean all the time.” So should it be with our conduct in relation to the promised return of our Lord. One of the great certainties taught in the Bible is that Christ is coming again, but we don’t know the exact time when it will take place. And thus it is important that we keep our lives clean, so that we “may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”
c) Be diligent in evangelization: In verse 12, we read that we are to hasten the coming of the day of God. In the other five places in the New Testament where this word is used, it means to hurry or hasten and there is no reason to believe that it doesn’t mean the same thing in this verse. But how are we to hasten the coming of the day of God? In Acts 15:14, we read that God’s work today is calling out a people for His name. We hasten the coming of the day of God by evangelization.
In verse 15, Peter writes, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” This is the day of salvation. To believe the solemn truths of prophecy concerning those who die without Christ as their Savior, and then to make our way complacently through a world of sin and shame is a gross mark of inconsistency.
It is related that during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, the government ran out of silver coinage. Cromwell sent his men to a cathedral to see if they could find any silver. They reported, “The only silver we can find is in the statues of the saints standing in the corners.” “Good,” he replied, “We’ll melt down the saints and put them in circulation.” The great need of today is that the church, the saints, be melted down in revival fires and put into circulation, winning the lost. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matthew 12:30).
d) Be diligent in progression: In verse 17, Peter warns against falling from our own steadfastness, by being deceived with the teaching of false teachers. And thus Peter concludes the chapter by writing, “But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Peter is implying that unless we progress in the Christian life, we are in real danger of falling. It is like riding a bicycle—you either keep moving or you fall down. C. H. Spurgeon once said that conversion is only 5% of the Christian life; the other 95% is continuing on.
Christ is coming again. We don’t know exactly when, but the Bible gives us certain signs to indicate His coming is near.
The account is given of a father whose business took him away from home for weeks and months at a time. One day, as he was leaving his little boy asked him, “When are you coming back, daddy?” The father replied, “When you see the green leaves of the trees turning yellow and red and brown, you may know that I am coming soon.” The little boy couldn’t understand dates, but he could see the change in the color of the leaves. When he saw the trees put on their dresses of yellow and red and brown, he was very happy, for he knew his daddy’s coming was near. In a similar fashion, the Bible speaks of a number of conditions which will exist on earth preceding the return of the Lord, and surely these conditions are becoming more and more prevalent today. “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).