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2 Peter 3

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Verses 1-4

Scoffers at the Final Coming and the Judgment (3:1-4)

In addition to "denying the Master who bought them" (2:1) and so "the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2:20), the false teachers also are found to be "scoffers" at the thought of the final coming of Jesus Christ as the Judge and Savior of men (vss. 3-4) . It is this hostile attitude toward the Church’s eschatological teaching with which the author deals in the closing chapter of his letter. He opens his discussion of this problem with references to the two major sources upon which he has been relying — namely, to First Peter (vs. 1), and to Jude, which he follows closely in 3:2-3 (Judges 1:17-18). And as before (see 1:12-15), he remarks that his own task is merely to arouse "your sincere mind by way of reminder" (vs. 1) of both "the predictions of the holy prophets" and "the commandment of the Lord and Savior through, .. [their] apostles" (vs. 2).

It is important to notice the exact way in which the problem is phrased by the "scoffers" whom the author wishes to answer. They refer to "the promise of his coming" (vs. 4), and they set this promise in the context of the fact that they are second or third generation Christians. The letter was quite evidently written at a day when it could be said that "the fathers" had fallen "asleep"; that is to say, the first generation had all died. The way in which the problem is stated implies that there was a group in the contemporary Christian community who believed that Jesus had predicted his "coming" as to be fulfilled within the lifetime of "the fathers." This manner of stating the problem, therefore, raises a twofold question: first, whether Jesus made any prediction at all with reference to his "coming"; and second, if he did, whether it was intended to have a specific time reference pertaining to the generation of "the fathers." Second Peter accepts by implication the contention that Jesus had made a general promise of his coming. However, he appears equally to imply in his answer that Jesus had never made any stipulation as to the time of the promise’s fulfillment.

Verses 5-13

Second Peter’s Reply to the Scoffers (3:5-13)

The first answer of our author to the scoffers is of a logical nature. And it is based upon two assumptions which underlie the teaching of the prophetic Scriptures with regard to the relation of God to his universe — namely, first, the thought that God is Sovereign over his world, and second, that as the beginning of the world was with "water," its end will be with "fire."

The first of these assumptions (that God is Sovereign over his universe) may be said to be the most fundamental postulate of the Scriptures with regard to God. "God is Lord" is as surely the basic statement of the Old Testament as "Jesus is Lord" is that of the New Testament (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Because God is Sovereign, therefore, he is also at once Creator and Judge. This is Second Peter’s meaning as he writes that the scoffers "deliberately ignore" the fact that "by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water" (vs. 5) — that is, God is Creator; and similarly, the fact that "by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (vs. 7) — that is, God is Judge of all the creation which he has made.

The second postulate, which is equally prophetic with the first, is to the effect that the earth was formed out of "water," that is, was in a liquid state at the beginning, but that this water was not sufficient finally to destroy creation. It is true that "the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished" (vs. 6), but this perishing was merely a passing phase and not the end of creation (for this reference to the Flood see Genesis 8:20-22). For out of the creation there were preserved "the heavens and earth that now exist," and these are subject to God’s ultimate judgment by "fire."

This prophetic conception of "water" as the material employed by the "word of God" at creation, and of "fire" as the destructive agency by which the "heavens and earth" will eventually be judged, is carried through extensively in the apocalyptic literature. In the New Testament itself the Revelation to John provides many examples of the place of water over against fire. Thus, for example, "the river of the water of life" plays a leading part in the creation of the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 22:1-2); while fire (Revelation 16:8; Revelation 17:16), or "the lake of fire" (Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10), or even the "sea of glass mingled with fire" before the throne of God (Revelation 15:2), stands for the destructive force resident in God’s creation. No doubt, too, the contrast between the baptisms of John and of Jesus as being, on the one hand, with "water," and on the other, with "fire," reflects this type of prophetic-apocalyptic contrast between the two elements (see Matthew 3:11).

On the basis of these two prophetic postulates, then, Second Peter argues that the sovereign God of the universe will, of course, judge and destroy all of his creation (including "ungodly men") that he finds to be unworthy of his salvation (vs. 7).

Second Peter’s second argument against the "scoffers" and their views with regard to the Final Coming and the Judgment represents his most original contribution to this subject. He derives it from Psalms 90:4, though he does not quote the Psalm as it appears in either the Hebrew or the Greek. In both those languages the psalmist speaks of "yesterday" as being comparable to "a thousand years" in the Lord’s sight. It is, however, not hindsight with which Second Peter is dealing but rather foresight. Consequently, he alters the Psalm to read, "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (vs. 8). And his argument assumes that Jesus’ promise of his "coming" was of the most general sort, in line with the prophetic teaching regarding "the day of the Lord," which began, so far as our information leads us to believe, with Amos (see Amos 5:18). This "day," argues our author on the basis of Psalms 90:4, is not to be reckoned with any yardstick known to man. It is God’s day and is to be calculated only by such method of reckoning as he employs.

Consequently, it is fallacious to argue that, inasmuch as "the fathers . . . [have fallen] asleep," the promise has failed. This could only be true if Jesus in making the promise had stated it in terms of man’s chronological reckoning, and our author assumes that he never did any such thing. Instead, we should assume that the apparent "slowness" about the promise’s fulfillment is due to the fact that the Lord "is forbearing" and "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (vs. 9). We should rather "count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation" (vs. 15; compare Luke 13:8; Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 12:5-8; 1 Peter 3:20; Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 9:20-21).

The author now concludes his second argument, adding to his own original formulation of it a thought which must have become by his day a commonplace in Christian thinking — namely, that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief (vs. 10). According to the Gospel writers, Jesus himself had taught this (see Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; and compare Mark 13:35-36); it was also the teaching of the Apostle Paul (see 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6); and it is found also in the Revelation to John (3:3; 16:15). The description of the end which follows (vs. 10) is a repetition in slightly different terms of what we have already seen (vs. 7; see also vss. 11-13).

But the end of God’s purpose for mankind is not destruction. The author adds to his twofold reply to the scoffers the assurance, which is common to the Scriptures first and last, that God is more than Judge; he is also Savior and Re-creator. It is true that "the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire" (vs. 12) . This is by no means all that "the coming of the day of God" will mean for mankind, for "his promise" includes the coming of "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (vs. 13). And it is because Christians look for this re-creation that they realize that they should order their lives in "holiness and godliness" (vs. 11).

This teaching with regard to "new heavens and a new earth" goes back to Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22. And it is a major theme in the Revelation to John (see chs. 21 and 22) as of other apocalyptic writings. The thought is fundamental to the prophetic conception of the nature of God as a God of righteousness, grace, and truth. Second Peter does not explain how Christians may further the "hastening" of the "coming of the day of God" (vs. 12). But, in the context of his thought, we may perhaps conclude that "lives of holiness and godliness" are the instruments which God has placed at man’s disposal for furthering this end (vs. 11).

Verses 14-18


2 Peter 3:14-18

The author devotes the last section of his sermon and letter to an exhortation to his Christian readers to live "lives of holiness and godliness" (see vs. 11), or as he now says, "be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (vs. 14). This is to say that the Final Coming and the Judgment, together with the thought of "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (vs. 13), are to serve as the Christian’s motive for right living. The motive of fear, it should be observed, is not suggested. Nor is there anything morbid about the motive which he does suggest. The point is the one found everywhere throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments: that God is both Judge and Savior of mankind, and that man is always to live his life in righteousness and peace, in love and truth, because God is a God of holiness and righteousness who demands that man shall so live his life (see 1 Peter 1:15-16). Man is not taught to live in terror of this holy God, but rather simply to "count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation" (vs. 15; see vs. 9 above). In closing, accordingly, the author returns to the first theme of the letter, suggesting that it is the function of Christians to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (vs. 18; see 1:2, 5-11). Such growth will lead to a deepening understanding of the nature of God and at the same time induce in us a like nature.

In the midst of his exhortation Second Peter again warns his readers against "the error of lawless men," that is, presumably, the scoffers of whom he has been speaking (vs. 17; see 2:17-22; 3:3-7). And again identifying himself with the Apostle Peter, he refers to the manner in which his "beloved brother Paul" wrote. He declares that there are "some things" in Paul’s letters which are "hard to understand" (vs. 16) — presumably, in the present context, a doctrine like Paul’s "glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). Such a doctrine, says the author, "the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction" (converting liberty into licentiousness), and it is clear from Paul’s own writing that this statement is in accordance with the facts (see his argument at Romans 6:1-23).

Second Peter ends his letter with a benediction: "To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." The term "glory" stands alone as in Romans 16:27 and Hebrews 13:21, a phenomenon, however, which is in accordance with the general thought of Second Peter that man is to reflect the glory of God (see 1:3, 17). The expression "the day of eternity" is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It is clearly intended to refer to the total extent of the eternal order and no doubt is a reflection of the teaching in verses 8-9.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Peter 3". "Layman's Bible Commentary".