The Certain Coming of Christ and Its Lessons. 2 Pet. 3, 1-18.

A warning against scoffers: V.1. This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, v.2. that ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior; v.3. knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts v.4. 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. The apostle here, in his usual manner, opens a new section of his letter, and the tone employed by him shows that he desires to impress the truths now following with special solemnity: This letter, beloved, I now write you as the second, in which I rouse your pure mind by way of remembrance. Both letters of Peter had had the same aim, in a way, his purpose being to teach his readers, to remind them of the fundamental truths of Christianity once more, to give them practical hints as to the performance of Christian obligations, to arouse and encourage them in their Christian duties. He says that he wants to stir up their pure, their sincere Christian mind, that mind which is always open to instruction and admonition from the Word of God.

Of this aim Peter writes: That you may be reminded of the words spoken before by the holy prophets and of the commandment of your apostles, of the Lord and Savior. That is the chief function of the teacher in the Christian Church, to put the souls entrusted to him in remembrance of all the truths which were revealed to us by both the prophets and the apostles. There is no discrepancy between the Word of God in the Old and that in the New Testament, no contradiction. The chief content of both is Jesus Christ the Savior, the Hope of the believers in the time before His incarnation and the Trust of the believers ever since. The commandment of the apostles briefly characterizes the entire content of the Christian doctrine, for it is given to us for obedience in faith and in holiness, 1 John 3, 23. 24; 1 Tim. 6, 14. What the apostles taught was, at the same time, the commandment of our Lord and Savior; for it was He that called them as the teachers of mankind to the end of time; it was He whose Spirit inspired them to write the great truths that are to make us wise unto salvation.

The apostle now singles out one great truth with the purpose of warning his readers: Knowing this first of all, that there will come in the last days mockers with their scoffing, going on according to their own desires and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the time that the fathers fell asleep all things remain just as they have been from the beginning of creation. His readers, the Christians of all times, should know this, in order not to be surprised at its coming. There would be mockers, or scoffers, at the end of the days, just before the Day of Judgment. These men, many of them highly intelligent, learned men, are noted for their scoffing denial of the coming of Judgment. In books, articles, and lectures such men calmly and with a great show of wisdom, demonstrate that it is against science, against reason, to believe in the corning of the Judgment Day; they treat the very idea of a possible truth of the Bible-account with scorn and derision. The nearer the last day comes, the more rapidly the number of these scoffers increases, and the bolder they grow in their assertions. There is a real source of danger here, especially for inexperienced young people that are overawed by the show of learning displayed by the mockers. But the Christian should note the reason for this attitude, namely, the fact that such people go on, walk, conduct themselves, according to their own desires and lusts. Of God and of His holy will they want to know nothing; their one object in life is to enjoy to the full the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. And it is because of the fact that the thought of the Lord’s return to Judgment disturbs them in their life of sin and shame that they attempt to ridicule the idea of the last day. Their conscience tells them that, no matter what form their selfishness assumes, they will have to render an account to the Lord. Hence their mockery, the outflow of a bad conscience: “Where is that promised coming of the Lord in whom you Christians profess to believe? The laws of nature are unchangeable; matter is eternal; and this world will remain forever. The believers of the Old Testament that hoped in the coming of the Lord died without having seen the fulfillment of their hopes, and thus it will be always.”

The answer of St. Peter, showing the certainty of the Lord’s return: V.5. 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; v.6. whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. V.7. 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. V.8. 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. V.9. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. V.10. 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. St. Peter’s rejoinder charges the scoffers with malicious ignorance: For this escapes their notice of their own purpose, that the heavens were originally and the earth out of water and through water was formed by the word of the Lord. Peter maintains that there are certain facts connected with the creation of the world which are evident even to the casual observer, the denial of which, therefore, reveals the tendency which governs the mind of the scoffers. It escapes them, it is hidden from them, because they willfully shut their eyes to the evidence presented. From the beginning the heavens were there; they were made by the Lord at the very beginning of His creative labors, Gen. 1, 1. And the earth, the dry land, was set up, being formed by the separation of the earth and the water, just as it is to this day kept fruitful through water, Gen. 2, 6. Thus the earth did not come into existence by itself, it was not developed in the course of eons, or millions of years, out of some original atoms, but it was created by the word of God, called into being by the word of His almighty power.

Upon this world descended the destroying wrath of God: Through which the world then existing, being submerged by water, was destroyed. By the word of the Lord the world was created, through the agency of water it maintained its existence. But again by the word of God and through water as a destroying agency, the world, as then existing, perished. The waters that had receded at the almighty word of God arose again at His command, and the dry land was submerged, and all creatures that had the breath of life in them perished with - the exception of the few that were placed into the ark at God’s command. Here is an answer to the scoffers that things did not always remain as they were in the beginning.

The apostle now, in contrast to this vain jangling, sets forth the truth: But the present heavens and earth are treasured up by the same word, set apart for fire for the Day of Judgment and destruction of the godless men. The sky, or heaven, as it now appears over our heads, and this earth, as its various forms blossomed forth to new life after the Deluge, are now being kept like a treasure, held together, not through eternal and blind forces of nature, but through the word of the Lord. But the purpose of this careful watch of the Lord is not to have the world last forever. It is being kept, rather, for destruction by fire. The world, as the men from Adam to Noah knew it, was destroyed by water; the world, as it was peopled by the descendants of Noah, is being saved for the fire which will attend the last Judgment. The scoffers may now jeer and ridicule, but the day will come when the patience of God will have an end. Then He will hold judgment; then every sinful thought, word, and deed will have to be accounted for; then the godless, the scoffers, the unbelievers, will be condemned to everlasting destruction,

To his first argument concerning the coming of the Day of Judgment the apostle now adds another to explain the apparent delay: But this one thing should not be hidden from you, beloved, that one day before the Lord is as thousand years and thousand years as one day. There is always danger that the ridicule of the unbelievers may leave just a little doubt in the heart of the Christians, especially since so many of the signs which were to precede the Lord’s coming have been fulfilled. But Christians should not permit themselves to be led astray. They should not forget, should not lose sight of the fact, that their Lord is the eternal God, before whom a thousand years of human reckoning are as a day and a single day like a thousand years. Time does not exist for the eternal God, Ps. 90, 4. What seems long to us is to the Lord only as the day that has just passed. If to our finite minds the return of the Lord seems to be unduly delayed, we still know that His Word and promise stand safe and sure.

Moreover, it is not a mere caprice on the Lord’s part to delay His coming: The Lord does not delay with the promise, as some consider it a delay, but He is long-suffering on your account, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance. To speak of the Lord’s delaying, of His being slack in the fulfillment of His promise, is not right, does not square with the facts. He is the true and faithful God, who keeps His promises and fulfills them at the time when He believes the fulfillment should come. The reason why He has not yet permitted the Day of Judgment to dawn is rather one which again opens to our view the wonderful love toward sinners which fills His heart. He is patient, He is long-suffering; He is still sending out His servants into every part of the world because He does not desire the death of a single sinner. He wants all men to turn to Him in true repentance and faith; He wants them all to accept His grace and mercy in Jesus Christ the Savior. His loving-kindness and tender mercy is adding one year after another to the time of grace, as it were, in order that as many men as possible will hear the message of salvation and come to the Lord.

All these considerations, however, do not change one fact: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a crackling noise, and the elements, being burned, will be dissolved, and the earth and the works in it will be burned. Every word of this verse emphasizes the inevitable certainty of the Lord’s coming. The day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment, is corning beyond the shadow of a doubt. Moreover, the believers should keep in mind that this day is coming like a thief, Matt. 24, 43; 1 Thess. 5, 2; Rev. 3, 3; 16, 15, that is, its coming will be sudden unexpected, its actual coming a surprise to all. The coming of the Lord on that day will inaugurate the end of the world. The firmament of the heavens will quake and break and vanish, with a crackling noise and roar as of a devouring flame. The elements of which the earth is composed will be dissolved in their present form by burning, and the earth itself and all the works in the world, all the mighty and magnificent structures of man’s hands, the immense cities with their proud sky-scrapers, the great ships and all conveyances which the ingenuity of man has devised for use in the sea, on land, in the air, all the wonderful works of art which are exhibited with such self-satisfaction: they all will perish by fire in the destruction of the last day. Of this fact the Christians must never lose sight; it must, in a way, be a norm controlling all their actions in this world.

The attitude of the Christians: V.11. Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, v.12. 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? V.13. Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. The apostle here applies the lesson of the facts adduced by him to the situation of the believers: Since, then, all these things are to be dissolved, what kind of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, waiting for, and hastening toward, the coming of God’s day, in which the heavens will be dissolved with fire and the elements in burning will melt. The thoughts and minds of the Christians are under no circumstances to cling to the things of this world, to the riches of this earth, for they know that this world with all it contains will not remain forever, but will certainly be destroyed. In view of this certainty the minds of the Christians are, on the other hand, ever busy with the question as to what effect their knowledge of the coming catastrophe should have on their whole moral and religious life. The apostle gives the answer, telling us that our conduct should be holy and unblamable, that our behavior at all times should express true godliness and reverence of His holy will. In this state of mind we should eagerly await the coming of God’s great day, be concerned about being acceptable to the Lord in His Judgment, bend every effort to keep the simple faith and trust in Jesus in our hearts and to show the fruits of this faith in a life of love toward Him and our neighbor. Ever and again we Christians repeat to ourselves the fact that this world is not our home, that all the things in which men trust at the present time will be dissolved in fire and reduced to a condition where the elements themselves will be in a fluid state, having not the slightest resemblance to their present form. The present heavens and the present earth will pass away, not in utter destruction, but to be changed into a new form of existence.

That is what the apostle now proceeds to show for our consolation: But new heavens and a new earth we expect according to His promises, in which righteousness will have its abode. After this old earth has passed away according to the apostle’s description, there will be new heavens and a new earth. That is not a vain hope, a mere day-dream on the part of the Christians, but our faith is based upon God’s promises, Is. 65, 17; 66, 22. Since our expectation is founded on the Word of God, therefore we shall not be ashamed. This old earth is filled with sin and unrighteousness, the very creatures, the dumb animals groaning with the pain of the curse of sin, Rom. 8, 22. But after the last day there will be no more sin; in the new earth there will live only righteousness and joy and peace. That is our hope, our comfort and consolation. We know that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us and to us, Rom. 8, 18.

An admonition to steadfastness: V.14. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. V.15. And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation, even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you, v.16. as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction. V.17. Ye, therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. V.18. But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen. In the fact that the new earth will be the abode of righteousness there is included a solemn warning to all believers: Therefore, beloved, because you are expecting these things, use all diligence to be found spotless and blameless in His sight. We Christians know that a life of sanctification, in which we avoid sin and earnestly strive to fulfill the will of God in every respect, will not merit salvation. But as children of God our one desire is to please our heavenly Father by leading such lives as conform to His will. Having been made partakers of the redemption of Christ, we have also received His complete fulfillment of the Law of God, His righteousness has been imputed to us. For this reason it is possible for Christians at least to make a beginning in a life of sanctification. 4)

Of one thing the Christians must never lose sight: And consider the long-suffering of our Lord as salvation. The fact that the Lord has so much patience with the people of the world, also with us, that He does not send punishment as often as we deserve it and in the measure that we deserve it, means salvation for us. The present time is still a time of grace for us, and we should, be earnestly concerned about making the best of this time, knowing that God's reward of grace will come upon us, be given us, in the end.

St. Peter now refers to the letters of Paul to substantiate his words: Just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, has written you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them concerning these things, in which are some difficult passages, which the unlearned and unsteady distort, as also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Two points are here evident, the inspiration of the letters of Paul and the agreement between the doctrine as taught by the various apostles. Peter says of Paul that he is a beloved brother, a teacher of the Church with himself, that Paul did not write his own philosophy, but wrote what the Wisdom from on high prompted him to say. Peter may have in mind especially the letters of Paul to the Galatians and to the Ephesians. In these letters, as well as in others which Paul sent to various congregations, he treated of the same doctrines, the same fundamental truths of Christianity; which Peter had here discussed, and taught the same facts. But with a note of sadness the apostle continues, stating that some people who were uneducated, that lacked both mental training and balanced judgment, and some that were unsteady, that were not yet fully and soundly established in Christian doctrine, had distorted or twisted his words and sayings. They had done the same thing also with the other Scriptures, with the writings of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists, and that to their own damnation. It seems strange that the Holy Scriptures, containing, as they do, the fundamental truths of salvation in such simple, unmistakable passages, should yet give a great many people, usually such as lack the training for intensive explanation of the Bible, occasion to teach the greatest heresies. It is but necessary to glance over a few pages in the books published by the most modern sectarians in order to be convinced of the truth of this statement. What Paul and Peter and all the apostles taught of Christian liberty, of sin and grace, of the corruption of man’s nature, of salvation by grace only, all these doctrines are garbled and twisted and modified until it is impossible for the readers to get any satisfaction out of the presentation. And the authors, unless the belief of their heart differs from the belief of their pen, will receive to themselves damnation. We simply follow Luther’s rule and explain the difficult passages in the light of those that are absolutely clear. And where a solution is not possible, we cheerfully teach our hearts patience, knowing that everything shall be made plain to us when we reach our home above.

Incidentally, we heed the warning of the apostle: You, then, beloved, knowing this before, be careful, lest, carried away by the error of lawless men, (you) fall away from your own foundation. It is by means of warnings such as these that Christians are enabled to be on the lookout for sectarians that pervert the gracious Gospel of Jesus Christ. They know what they may expect, and they conduct themselves accordingly. They will not permit the false interpretations of godless and impious men to swamp them, to carry them off their feet, to lose their foundation. They have the trustworthy, the solid basis of the Gospel, and they will not risk the shifting sands of man’s interpretation of the Word. The Word interprets itself, and we should be satisfied with the explanation thus offered, and not seek interpretations which are intended to satisfy human reason.

With this thought in mind the apostle concludes: But grow in the grace and in-the understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is the Christian’s happiness: to increase in grace, in the conviction founded on the Gospel that we possess the grace of God in Christ Jesus, that His merits have been imputed to us, and that our inheritance is awaiting us above. By becoming more firmly established in this conviction day after day, we also grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; for those facts are the essential facts for this life and for the world to come. Therefore we join the apostle in his fervent doxology in praise of Christ the Savior: To Him be glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Summary. In speaking of the certain corning of the day of the Lord, the apostle warns against the scoffers that ridicule the idea, emphasizes the certainty of the Lord's return, shows what attitude the Christians should assume, and admonishes them to show all steadfastness in faith.