Coming Again

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 2 Peter 3:3-13

As Christians we believe that we are moving towards a future that is glorious beyond imagining, and every passing day brings us that much closer to it. The key to this future is the personal return of Jesus Christ to earth at the end of history.

One quiet morning, I found myself alone in our house. Silence wrapped around me like a blanket. Completely relaxed, with my mind beginning to wander off, I became aware of a soft, persistent sound. For a moment it was there on the edge of my consciousness as a noise without an identity. Then I recognized it — regular, measured, insistent — and I could give it a name. It was the sound of a clock ticking, the sound of unstoppable time moving on its way like the water between a river’s banks. It was the sound of my life being spent, its seconds marked off one after another.

Only rarely do we notice the sound of the clock ticking. Most of the time we live as if we had all the time in the world. But as we grow older we begin to wake up to the fact that time is the most precious commodity we have. The ancient psalmist prayed for the wisdom to see this truth: “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

The Day of the Lord

There is another sense, however, in which time is passing, another way to “number our days.” The sound of the clock ticking is the sound of time running out, like sand trickling through an hourglass. But it can also be understood as time counting down, like the launch sequence of a space flight. The Christian faith is grounded in hope. As Christians we believe that we are moving towards a future that is glorious beyond imagining, and every passing day brings us that much closer to it. The key to this future is the personal return of Jesus Christ to earth at the end of history. Our creed teaches us to confess our faith in Christ the Cosmic Lord, risen from the dead and ruling over the universe. The same Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate, who rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven, who is now “seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” that same Jesus is coming back to earth one day. “From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Jesus is coming again.

This great climax of history, the physical return of Jesus Christ in glory, is called in the Bible “The Day of the Lord.” Here’s how it’s described in 2 Peter 3:

. . . scoffers will come in the last days . . . . They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” . . . . 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. 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. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief . . . Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? . . . But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:3-13

A Note About Scoffers

“In the last days scoffers will come,” says Peter (verse 3). Immediately we are introduced to the biblical view of time by that phrase “the last days.” Much of eastern philosophy views time as cyclical, a never-ending repetition of the cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. Long before it was a TV game show, the “Wheel of Fortune” was a world view. The goal of each person in this view was to break the cycle of existence by escaping: the soul escaping from the body, the spiritual from the physical, the individual from the world. But the biblical view of time is radically different. Time is linear; it has a beginning and it progresses to an end. Time is like a road that’s going someplace in particular, someplace real and definite. Decisive events have happened with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born in the fullness of time and who died for sinners at the right time and who is coming again with the end of time.

Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection have inaugurated the period that the New Testament calls “the last days,” a period that will continue until his return in glory. Now, observes Peter, there will be those who scoff at the notion of a God who will bring time to its end by his personal appearing. There are always scoffers. I remember years ago as a boy hearing the news reports of the space flight of the first man to orbit the earth, the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In a news conference afterwards Gagarin, who as a model Soviet man was expected to be a “scientific” atheist, rather pompously announced that he had flown out into space but had seen no sign of God or heaven. Of course, today God could say, “I went to earth but I saw no sign of Yuri Gagarin, or, for that matter, of the Soviet Union.”

Peter’s response to the taunt “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” is to give a little history lesson. Remember what happened in the days of Noah. God decreed judgment upon the world, and his word released the flood-waters so that the world of that time was effectively destroyed. No doubt Noah’s contemporaries scoffed too at the idea that their world would be brought to a sudden end, but they learned just how wrong they were.

A Timely Reminder

The apostle next offers his readers a “timely” reminder: “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” (v. 8). Here is a profound truth about the nature of time as God relates to it. Notice that Peter does not say one day equals a thousand years for God. Some curious Bible students have tried to find in this statement a clue for discovering the age of the world or the date of Christ’s return. No, what Peter says is that one day is the same as a thousand years to God, and a thousand years are like a day. In other words, God is outside of time. Time doesn’t pass for him as it passes for us. He is independent of it, working out his purposes in time but not ruled by time.

The problem for the first generation Christians was the apparent delay of Christ’s Second Coming. As excited as these believers were by the promise that Jesus would come again, and by the apparent indications that this would be very soon — perhaps within their lifetimes — so they were troubled by the fact that their generation was coming to its end with no sign of the Lord’s appearing. Peter’s reminder to them is that we must not jump to conclusions because what seems like a long time to us may not be at all long to God.

And then comes a wonderful expression of the present purposes of God (v. 9). The Lord isn’t slow about what he intends to do, says Peter. He hasn’t forgotten his plans for the world or changed his mind about when the end will come. No, the delay in the arrival of the end has a specific purpose. It’s due neither to carelessness nor oversight, but rather to mercy. “He is patient with you,” writes Peter, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The period of what the New Testament calls “the last days” is also what the Bible calls elsewhere “the day of salvation.” It is the gospel era when any and all can be saved by coming to Christ in faith.

A Prophecy About the Day

But make no mistake: this time of opportunity, this day of salvation, won’t last forever. The Day of the Lord will come, and it will be sudden and unexpected, like a thief in the night, and despite all the warnings, people will still be taken by surprise. The end itself is described by Peter in this passage with apocalyptic imagery, the language of fire and dissolution. But this language is symbolic not of pure destruction but of cleansing and re-creation; it is impossible to say or even imagine what the day of the Lord will actually look like. We’ll just have to wait and see. But we know that when it comes, it will bring new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

In the meantime, we’ve been given something to do right now. The apostle asks, “Since all things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be?” That’s a good, practical question. If it is true that Jesus is coming again some day, then how should we live this day? The answer is not to panic, to sell all our possessions and don white robes and go out and sit on a hilltop looking up to the sky for a glimpse of Jesus. Rather, says Peter, we should devote ourselves to living lives of simple goodness, marked by holiness and godliness.

But, there is one other thing we can do as well. Peter mentions not only looking forward to Christ’s return but also hastening its coming (v. 12). If we recall the purpose of God’s delay — so that people may come to repentance and turn to the Lord Jesus in faith and be saved — then it becomes obvious how we can hasten the day of his coming. We can do that by preaching the gospel to all peoples, and thus speed the day!

Think back once more to that ticking clock. When you are in the closing minutes of a tense game, what the clock is doing depends on whether your side is winning or losing. For those of us who love Jesus Christ and are looking for his return, time isn’t running out on us; it is counting down — to victory!