Commentary on 2 Peter: Chapter Three

by Ray C. Stedman

Wait For the Lord's Coming

3:1 THIS SECOND EPISTLE: Peter now returns to his exhortations to the believers, addressing them as beloved or "dear friends" as some versions translate. He uses the same affectionate title in 3:8, 14 and 17. It is a sharp contrast to the sternness which he employed concerning the heretical teachers. It is natural to take the first epistle which he refers to here as designating I Peter. However 1 Peter is not really a letter of reminder as he suggests here, and it is sent to a wide range of readers living in five different provinces of the Empire (see 1 Peter 1:1) while this letter seems addressed to a single church (or closely situated churches) whose people and circumstances Peter knows well. For these reasons many take the first letter to be a letter written to the same readers but which is now lost to us. It would be similar to the reference Paul makes in 1 Corinthians. 5:9 to a previous letter which is also lost. In both of Peter's letters to this congregation he sought to awaken their pure minds, (i.e. sincere, uncluttered minds) to the dangers they face from the phony leaders in their midst who claim to be Christian.

3:2 WORDS. . .SPOKEN BEFORE: The only way these readers could recognize the errors of the heretics would be by comparing their teaching with the teaching of the holy prophets and apostles, i.e. the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This is always the test of error and the ground of confidence for believers. As Peter has already reminded them in 1:21 the holy prophets spoke words given to them by the Holy Spirit, which were, therefore, utterly reliable. The commandment of the apostles (lit., "your apostles" NKJV margin) probably refers to the new commandment which Jesus gave, that believers should love one another (John 13:34-35). As the apostles developed that in their writings it is clear that such love was to be pure and clean, free from sexual wrongdoing (see e.g. 1 Timothy. 1:5).

3:3 SCOFFERS WILL COME: A primary motivation for clean living was always the expectation of the return of Jesus to earth (see 1 John 3:2-3). But the unforeseen delay in that coming would soon produce scoffers who would mock the coming because they desired to live self-indulgent lives. This suggests that the scoffers and the heretical teachers of chapter two are one and the same. The apostles had predicted such scoffing would occur (see 2 Timothy. 3:1f, James 5:3, Jude 18), so that this denial of the parousia ("presence" of Christ) was itself a proof of its certainty. The last days designates the present age (Hebrews 1:2), and it has proved true through the centuries that scoffers have denied the second coming whenever hedonism and humanism have prevailed in the churches.

3:4 ALL THINGS CONTINUE: The philosophy of uniformitarianism has gripped both the scientific world and the scholastic world for a long time. The basis of denying a supernatural reappearance of Jesus is that nothing of that nature has occurred in the past. Several Christian and even secular documents of the first two centuries report the dismay that spread among Christians when the promise of Jesus about coming soon seemed unfulfilled. The fathers who fell asleep refer to the Old Testament patriarchs, as every other use of this term in the N.T. indicates.

3:5-6 THEY WILLFULLY FORGET: Peter rebuts the uniformitarian argument by recalling the very Old Testament event that would disprove their claims. The Flood was a supernatural event which came suddenly and unexpectedly upon the world, just as the parousia will come. The scoffing teachers chose to overlook this event, just as many today choose to overlook the evidences for the Flood which still exist today. They do not want to recognize that it is the word of God which sustains the earth and that it was by His word that God called the world into existence out of a watery waste (Genesis. 1:2); that the land emerged from the water by means of that same word (Genesis. 1:9); and that it was by water that the world of Noah's day perished, at the same word of God (Genesis. l7:23).

3:7 BY THE SAME WORD: Peter expands his prophetic look from the world that then existed to the heavens and the earth which now exist. Water was the chief element in the world before the Flood; fire is the destructive force in the present universe. But as the water of the preflood world was under the control of God, so the fire of the present age is kept in store (in restraint) by that same word. The fire is just as literal as the water was in v. 5. Since the explosion of the hydrogen bomb men have little reason to doubt this prediction. We cannot take for granted that our environment will continue to support human life forever. Everywhere scripture predicts a coming day of judgment when the ungodly will be made to submit forever to the horror they have chosen of existence without God.

3:8 ONE DAY. . .THOUSAND YEARS: Again Peter reminds his readers that there is something they must keep in mind when thinking of the parousia of Christ. First, vv. 1-7 have assured them that the scoffing unbelief they hear is itself proof of the fact; now, second, vv. 8-9 recall to them the nature of God as different from men. Time and Eternity are two quite different entities, and since God is eternal and man finite, they look at time in different ways. The quote is from Psalm 90:4 where man is pictured as "numbering his days" while God is "from everlasting to everlasting." In eternity there is no time, i.e. past or future, but only the present. Thus "time" and "delay" are virtually meaningless to God, and man must learn to adjust to that. This should help us greatly in facing the centuries that have passed since New Testament times.

3:9 LONGSUFFERING TOWARD US: Peter's opponents explained the seeming delay in the parousia as proof that God is untrustworthy in fulfilling his promises. Many today take the same position. But Peter's answer is that it is not faithlessness or even slowness which delays the coming of the end, but patience! The word is makrothumos, "that quality by which God bears with sinners, holds back his wrath, refrains from intervening in judgment as soon as the sinner's deeds deserve it, though not indefinitely" (Bauckham). His mercy moves Him to prolong the day of salvation. Behind His apparent delay is a heart that is not willing that any should perish. Many scriptures establish that fact, notably 1 Timothy. 2:4, Romans. 11:32, 2 Corinthians. 5:19, and Ezekiel. 18:23. He has made provision for all to come to repentance, but if they exercise their God-given free will to refuse He cannot prevent it, for it is that free will which marks us out as men and not animals or robots.

3:10 THE DAY OF THE LORD: But despite the merciful patience of God, the Day of the Lord will come! Having just been reminded that with the Lord "one day is as a thousand years" (v. 8), it is clearly possible to think of that Day as covering a lengthy period of time, and not a few brief days. Here Peter telescopes together events that other scriptures indicate cover perhaps as long as 1000 years, as he does also in Acts. 2:14-21. The coming as a thief in the night is used by both Jesus and Paul to refer to the initial appearance of the Lord to take the church to be with himself (see Matthew. 24:36-43, 1 Thessalonians. 4:13-5:5, Revelation. 3:3). As a thief removes treasure from a house without the knowledge of its inhabitants, so the Lord will remove his church from the world. His presence (parousia) then continues on earth behind the scenes of judgment until his unveiling (apokalupsis) in power and great glory, when every eye will see him (Matthew. 24:29-30, Revelation. 1:7). During that time the terrible predictions of the prophets concerning the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, will be fulfilled. This is followed, according to many, by a thousand years of the righteous rule of Christ over the earth (judging evil with a rod of iron), and then occurs the event which Peter now describes---the destruction of the present heavens and earth. It would be as previously stated, by fire. The structure (Gk. stoichea) of the universe would melt and the present civilization of men would disappear. This would complete the predictions of the prophets concerning the Day of the Lord.

3:11 WHAT MANNER OF PERSONS: With striking incisiveness Peter returns to his exhortation to godly living, set against the fearful background of the Day of the Lord. Personal character is all that will be left after the destruction of the heavens and the earth. His appeal is to the desire in each of us to live worthwhile, meaningful lives. Holy behavior toward others and genuine worship toward God are the two qualities that will survive and be honored beyond the conflicts of time.

3:12 -13 THE DAY OF GOD: This is not the same as the Day of the Lord of v. 10. It is what believers wait for and even, by godly living, hasten in its coming; and it is the reason why the present heavens and earth must be destroyed (Gk. di hen "because of which"), but it is described as the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is, therefore, the eternal state, pictured in vivid imagery in the New Jerusalem of Revelation. 21 and 22. In the present age, righteousness is under constant attack; in the millennium righteousness will be the dominant lifestyle, though evil is present; in the new heavens and earth, righteousness will dwell, i.e. be at home, in its natural environment, without having to struggle with sin or weakness.

3:14 BE DILIGENT: Peter now returns to his word of 1:5 and 1:10 "be diligent," to urge a practical result of their forward-looking hope. Jesus is coming again, it could occur at any moment, what will you be like when He returns? That is his question. Jesus himself had raised the question: "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8). He left the question hanging in the air, waiting for each hearer to answer in his own heart. Peter suggests a diligent response that seeks to avoid the shame of the false teachers ("spots" and "blemishes"), has dealt biblically and honestly with any personal failure and therefore has found peace that passes understanding. Peace is the heritage of Christians and its presence indicates one whose expectation of the return of Christ has given a sense of balance and proportion despite whatever chaos the world may present.

3:15 OUR BELOVED BROTHER PAUL: Peter here returns to the theme of v. 9, the reason for the delay of the parousia. It is to permit greater opportunity for salvation among men, as the gospel spreads throughout the earth (see Romans. 2:4). Paul, too, had written of this salvation and its effect upon the behavior of those who find it. That Peter speaks of Paul with great affection confirms the dating of this letter in the late sixties of the first century when tradition places them together in Rome. Probably several of Paul's letters had reached Peter's readers and they were well aware of both his wisdom, and as v. 15 indicates, something of the difficulty experienced in understanding his penetrating insights.

3:16 THINGS HARD TO UNDERSTAND: How many of Paul's epistles Peter had read it is impossible to know. Certainly there was nothing unusual in the apostle's reading of one another's letters, for after the meeting of Paul with James, Peter, and John, described in Galatians. 2:9, there was full acceptance of Paul's apostleship among the Twelve. What he here calls things hard to understand probably describes Paul's discussion of justification by faith (See Romans. 3:5-8, 6:1 and Galatians. 3:10) for Paul himself admits that his teaching of freedom from the law was often twisted to condone license to sin. This was exactly what the heretical teachers of 2 Peter were doing. He has already said that their abuse of Christian teaching was leading to their own destruction (2:12). Not only did they twist Paul's teaching, but also the rest of the Scriptures. This phrase puts Paul's epistles on a par with the writings of the prophets, calling them equally Scripture. All the apostles were aware that what they taught was inspired by God (see 1 Thessalonians. 2:13).

3:17 BEWARE: The knowledge of the truth which Peter has shared with his readers puts the responsibility on them to watch themselves carefully so they do not fall away from Christ. He speaks with great affection (beloved) and yet once again reminds them that it is possible for even stable Christians to be led astray if they listen to the teaching of those whose lives do not measure up.

3:18 GROW IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE: On the other hand, the purpose of salvation, of scripture, and of Christian teaching is to bring one into deeper and more intimate experience of Christ. Knowledge of Christ and knowledge about Christ are not the same thing, though the latter is necessary to achieve the former. It is fitting that Peter should end his letter with an acknowledgment that glory belongs to Jesus, for he had seen Him in shining glory on the Mt. of Transfiguration. To worship, praise and obey Him is to give Him the glory due to His name in this present life. It should continue to the day of the age, translated here forever. What Peter means is till the parousia of Christ, when believers will see His face and be with Him forever. That was Peter's great expectation and desire, and one he seeks to bring his readers to share. Let us say Amen with him!

Text of 2 Peter, RSV and NIV Versions
Chapter One
Chapter Two