Vol. 10 — No. 48 December 7, 1969
2 Peter 3:3-14
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 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. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
In Christ Jesus, who has assured us: “Surely I come quickly,” Fellow Redeemed:
Secular historians are accustomed to speak of the pre-historic era and then the historic era, which is usually divided into ancient, medieval, and modern history. Many sub-divisions are made which may be based on geographic areas, ethnic group stages of civilization, and so on. So it is that man looks at history.
But how does God look at history? God sees in history two climactic events—one of which is in the past and the other of which lies in the future. The great climactic event in the past was the first coming of God’s Son in the flesh. All history was geared to lead up to that point. All Old Testament prophecy pointed to it. And when the fulness of time was come, when the stage of world’s history was set, then God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman. Then the miracle of the incarnation occurred, God was made flesh and dwelt among men, the virgin gave birth to that Child, whose name was Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
With the completion of His work of redemption and with His return to heaven on the day of His ascension the second great era of world’s history began, which the Scripture calls “the latter days.” What great event will bring this present era to a close? Scripture is very clear on this point: the return of God’s Son in glory at the end of time! Old Testament prophecy was given without a time perspective and so leaped over the first coming to the second coming of the Lord. We who live two thousand years after the first coming are aware of the time interval. New Testament prophecy is also without a time perspective, but it is unanimous in focusing the attention of the reader upon the great event to come—the second coming, the second event, the return of the Lord Jesus to this earth. Jesus spoke of His own return in His Olivet address. Peter speaks of it in the words of our text, so also St. Paul in his letters, and St. John in the book of Revelation. Let us this morning study the words of St. Peter which present—
We shall proceed by asking questions which Peter shall answer in the words of our text. First—
St. Peter wrote the words of our text almost two thousand years ago. The Spirit of God moved him to write of things that lay ahead of him. We are studying his words after an interval of two millennia. It should be natural for us to ask: What part, if any, of his prophecy has been fulfilled up to this present date?
Permit me to read again, and you will have the answer: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” Peter speaks of scoffers to come who shall ridicule the idea of the Lord’s return on the basis of their observation that the world just keeps on rolling along, day after day.
We have these scoffers both among the scientific elite of the country and among the uneducated people. Much of our scientific community assumes that the world originated by evolutionary processes that have been rolling along for millions and billions of years without either help or hindrance of God. These people now tear the destruction of civilization and of the world by scientific man through thermonuclear warfare. Man is to be feared, not God—for according to them God doesn’t exist at all or if He does, He has no power over the so-called forces of nature. The cocktail party crowd, the “pot” party enthusiasts, the barroom gang of scoffers are such complete slaves of their petty little vices that they just move along from martini to martini, from reefer to hashish, bar to bar in blissful unconcern or light-hearted scoffing at the thought that every tick of the clock brings this world one tick close to that coming last tick.
Are we among the scoffers? Don’t justify yourself without first examining yourself. If we become so thoroughly involved in the monotonous routine of life and in our attempts to find relief from that monotony that we become unmindful of proper care for our own souls, we are in fact acting as though we think that the Lord will never interrupt our living by death or by His coming again in judgment. Let us be constantly on our guard lest we fall in with and become one of the scoffers.
The prophecy of the scoffers has been fulfilled. We ask:
The scoffers, who mock the prophecy of the Lord’s return for judgment, ignore or explain away one great past fact of history—the destruction of the first world by the flood. Peter wrote of them: “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old—not by any atheistic evolutionary process—and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” Scientific research has added its testimony that world conditions once were different from what we now find them to be. Scientific theory tries to explain these changes by a theory of uniform change over a period of billions of years. Scripture testifies and much scientific evidence adds support that a catastrophic change occurred in the history of the world when God once in times past opened the windows of heaven and the foundations of the deep and destroyed the first world in the days of Noah. The scoffers—in scientific circles, among the common people, and within the churches—never cease trying to debunk, discredit, and explain otherwise that judgment of the world by water. The child of God knows that that judgment did occur and that it is in fact a type of the final judgment to come.
The same God who created the world originally by His word, preserved it unto the days of Noah, and then destroyed it by water, is preserving this present world until He shall one day destroy it by fire. “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” This world shall be destroyed one day—by fire. That is as certain, and more so, than your sitting here this morning. The scoffers who are described as “walking after their own lusts,” who make the indulgence of their flesh their way of life, are like children whistling in the dark to keep up their spirits. Let us never be numbered among them, “for the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.”
But is not the Lord discrediting His own prophecy by delaying His coming so long? May we not ask:
The Lord created time, but He does not stand in the same relation to time as do we. We’re slaves of time; He stands above time. Peter put it this way: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” A child thinks someone twenty or thirty years old is ancient. People in middle age think of people in their seventies and eighties as old, while people in that age bracket may resent being considered old. But a thousand years seems to us to he endless. God figures differently. We may think His delay in coming these past two thousand years means that He will never or can’t come in judgment. But that’s not the reason for His delay. Peter explains: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promises, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The Lord wants to save, not damn. He is longsuffering; we are impatient. If judgment were in our hands, we would let many a person have it—especially those we don’t happen to like. The Lord keeps giving the individual and the mass of people more and more time—to come to repentance, to turn from their sins to Him, their Savior. “Today, His mercy calls you.” “Delay not, delay hot, O sinner, draw near.” “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
When the Lord comes, it will be sudden and unexpected. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” A thief gives no advance notice of his coming. The signs of the Lord’s coming are general and will past unnoticed by most, who will continue eating and drinking, business and social life as per usual—until suddenly the day of the Lord will have come. There will be no time for a last minute repentance.
What will happen? “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.” When we realize that we are living on an earth which is made up of solid forms of energy that need but be released by someone who has the power to set off a chain reaction, we can begin to think of how it may well be—but that final destruction of the world defies our imagination.
St. Peter speaks of “the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.” What then? Or what next? “Nevertheless we, according to his promise look for new heavens and a new earth, where dwelleth righteousness.” The key word in this promise is “new,” which in the Greek means new over against the old, rather than new in the sense of never having existed before and so called into existence by a creative act of God. The big argument at this point is whether the earth at the end of time will be completely annihilated and then that God will start from nothing and create a new heaven and a new earth or whether the earth shall through destruction by fire be renovated, renewed, purified, made perfect. The language of Scripture in this passage and elsewhere indicates the latter. Even as the First world was changed by sin and further changed by the judgment of the flood, so the final judgment of the world by fire will effect a purifying change, purging the world of the effects of sin and preparing a place for the redeemed to spend eternity with their Lord.
Scripture is very practical. So also is this prophecy of the second advent of our Lord for judgment. So we ask:
Peter writes, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.” Peter asks a rhetorical question—which each reader and each hearer is to answer. The Lord is coming again. When He comes, He shall come in judgment. This earth shall be destroyed. We don’t know when He shall come, but we do know that He shall come suddenly and unexpectedly—today yet, before morning, tomorrow, who knows? How should we be living?
Peter gives the answer: a holy way of life and a godly one. That doesn’t mean a superficial, hypocritical religious gushiness. Not at all. It means rather to live in daily repentance and faith, in daily realization and acknowledgment that we are sinners who daily need the forgiveness of our sins which is available only through faith in Christ Jesus. Such a faith is then to motivate our lives in living according to His commandments, in walking soberly and righteously in our daily routine of life, in forgiving those who unintentionally or intentionally sin against us, in showing forth love unto all by responding to their respective needs, in admonishing one another with all longsuffering, in constant exercising of our faith by love. This is it! All that remains is that we, by the grace of God, convert what we have heard into reality in our live. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.