READ : 2 Peter 3:3-14
So, what’s the truth? Are we living in the last days? Yes, definitely; and we have been for the past two thousand years. Now here’s what you should do about it.
Baby-boomers, which happens to be my generation, are beginning to wake up to the fact that time is passing and that we’re starting to run short of it. In fact, some say that time is becoming the new currency. Already we increasingly are willing to trade money for time. Have you noticed how so many supermarkets are carrying more and more pre-cooked foods or devoting increasing space to marketing ready-to-eat gourmet meals? People are willing to spend more in order to work less, and still enjoy the good things. Experts are saying that as our lives become even more crowded and hectic, many people will seek to be compensated with more time rather than more money. The lesson that time is the most limited resource we have is not a new one. In fact, the ancient psalmist prayed: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).
There is another sense, however, in which time is passing, another way to “number our days.” The sound of a clock ticking may be the sound of time running out, like sand trickling through an hourglass. But the ticking clock can also be heard as time counting down, like the launch sequence of a rocket flight. As Christians we believe that we are moving towards a future that is glorious beyond our imagining, and every passing day brings us one step closer to it. That is how Peter invites us to think of time in the closing chapter of his second epistle.
In the Last Days
“In the last days scoffers will come,” Peter writes (v. 3). We are introduced to the biblical view of time by this phrase “the last days.” Much of ancient as well as 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 was to break the cycle by escaping the soul from the body, the spiritual from the physical, the individual from the world. The characteristic belief of this Eastern, cyclical view of the world is reincarnation, and its symbol is a circle. Even if you think you have escaped, you’re still trapped, and doomed to repeat the whole painful cycle again and again and again. The wheel just keeps spinning endlessly.
The Christian view of time is radically different. Time in the Bible is linear. It has a beginning (“in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”), and it progresses to an end. History is like a road in that it is going someplace in particular, someplace real and definite. Decisive new events have happened with the coming of the Lord Jesus, who was born in the fullness of time and who died for sinners at the right time and who is coming again at the end of time. The characteristic Christian belief is resurrection, a single, dramatic beginning of glorified life in a remade Creation. The Christian symbol is a cross an intersection of two straight lines, marking the spot where the old life died and the new life begins, pointing the way into God’s great future.
Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection have inaugurated the period that the New Testament calls “the last days,” an era that will continue until his return in glory. As Peter points out, there will always be people who scoff at the notion of a personal God who is going to bring the world and its history to an end by his direct intervention.
Peter’s response to the taunt “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” is to point to a historical precedent for divine judgment (vv. 5-7). The world and everything in it, Peter reminds his readers, was originally created by the word of God. But remember what happened in the days of Noah. God punished the terrible wickedness of humanity, and the world was destroyed by a flood, or nearly so. No doubt Noah’s contemporaries also scoffed at the idea their world would be brought to a sudden end, but they learned how wrong they were. And just as it happened then, so it will happen at the last day. God will bring the world to a sudden end in judgment.
A Note About Time
But before we jump to the conclusion that the end of the world is just around the corner, Peter offers 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 an important truth about the nature of time, at least 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 Peter’s 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 exists outside of time. Time simply does not pass for him the way it passes for us, for he is independent of it, working out his purposes in time but not controlled or ruled by time. The problem for the first generation Christians to whom Peter is writing was the apparent delay of the Parousia (Christ’s Second Coming). These early believers were excited by the promise that Jesus would come again. By the apparent indications and statements that this would be soon, within their lifetime even, they became greatly troubled by the fact that their generation was coming to its end (they were beginning to die off) with no sign of the Lord’s appearing. So Peter’s reminder to them is that we must not jump to conclusions. What seems like a long time to us may not be at all long to God. We must leave the timing up to him.
That’s a good lesson to remember if you’re tempted to become a bit obsessed about the end of the world. As I noted earlier, the apostles taught that “the last days” of world history began when Jesus rose from the dead. The “end times” or “last days” refer to the entire period between Christ’s resurrection and his return. Could Jesus come back today? Absolutely! Could the world go on for another thousand years? Of course it could! Only God knows when the end will come. We’re living in “extra time” right now, but only the Lord knows how much is left on the clock.
A Word About the Lord
Next Peter offers us a wonderful reminder about the present purposes of God. Why has so much time elapsed since Jesus rose again? Why does the world go on? Why does God permit evil to continue? Why hasn’t the end come yet? Well, here is the reason,
“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.” (v. 9)
The Lord isn’t slow. He isn’t delaying 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. He hasn’t grown careless or slack with the passing years, as though he has to be reminded of his promises and held to them. No, the delay in the arrival of the end has a reason for it. It has a purpose. It is due neither to accident nor oversight, but to mercy. “He is patient with you,” that is, the Lord is holding off the judgment which his return will inaugurate, because he “doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The period between Christ’s first and second comings is not just “the last days.” According to the Bible, it is also the day of salvation. In biblical terms, the gospel era is when any and all can be saved by coming to Christ in faith. This day will be brought to its close with the Lord’s return, but that won’t happen until God draws to himself every last person who will be saved.
A Prophecy About the Day
So the end will come. It will be sudden and unexpected, says Peter, “like a thief in the night” and despite all the warnings in the Bible, people will still be taken by surprise. The end itself is described by Peter with apocalyptic imagery that suggests an unimaginable cataclysm which will purify and transform the whole universe.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then 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.
v. 10, esv
As the first judgment in Noah’s time came by water, so the last judgment will come with fire which won’t necessarily obliterate everything but will purify, expose and bring to light all that God wants revealed. And then the heavens and the earth will be made over again to a new creation in which righteousness dwells.
In the meantime, we are given something to do right now. Here is a good practical way to apply the truth of the Lord’s coming. Answer Peter’s question: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” (v. 11, niv). The answer is not to panic, to sell all our possessions, don white robes, and go out to sit on a hilltop looking up to the sky for a glimpse of Jesus’ descent. No, Peter says, “You ought to live holy and godly lives . . . make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:11, 14). We should devote ourselves to living lives of simple goodness, marked by holiness, filled with love, devoted to service.
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’s obvious how we can hasten his coming it’s by sharing the gospel with everyone everywhere!
Think back once more to that clock ticking. You know, when you are watching the closing minutes of a tense contest, that what the clock is doing depends on which side you are on. If your team is losing, then time is running out; but if you’re on the winning side, then time is counting down to victory. Everyone who belongs to Christ is sure what time it is.