October 18, 2020
Last week, I began by suggesting there are some extremes we need to avoid concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ. You may remember, first I said we should avoid trying to figure it all out and set dates. Prognosticators have erroneously set dates through the centuries, and as those dates have come and gone, they have damaged the credibility of the Gospel. Where is His coming you promised? Don’t get caught up in that – Jesus said, know one knows the time.
Of course, second, we should also avoid the extreme of the false teachers Peter is addressing in II Peter. You see, since it had been some time since Jesus had gone back to heaven, promising to return – they were denying the second coming altogether. Where is the promise of His coming, they mocked. He’s not coming – everything remains just as it has since the beginning of creation.
I hardly know a more important chapter for our apologetics – our defense of the faith concerning the return of Christ – than this one. Peter answers their accusations definitively. He reminded them God has been intimately involved in His creation. For example, they conveniently forget it is His creation, and further, He once judged the planet by a worldwide flood, and He will judge it again in the future – this time by fire.
And then, very significantly, we saw last week Peter answered their timing concern. He reminded them, time is not relevant with God – God is eternal. A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day. Time is not relevant. But, there is a relevance to this misperceived delay; that is, there is purpose – God is patient, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. And so, don’t count the delay as slowness – no, He’s patiently waiting for all those who will be saved, to be saved. You don’t want to be found on the other side of His return without Christ. Because, Peter reminds us, the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and the present heavens and earth will be destroyed by intense heat.
So the extremes: don’t try to determine the day, don’t deny the day, and of course, there is a third extreme that is particularly challenging and therefore most applicable for believers. You see, we say we believe it, but many don’t live like it. It’s so easy to become distracted – forgetful – after all, it has been two thousand years. Where indeed is the promise of His coming? And so, many do not look to and prepare for the return of Christ.
The fact is, if we were honest, many would say, could you not come back right now? I have the tee shirt – life is good. I’m getting a good education, graduation is close, I’m getting married, we’re having a baby. I love my family and my job and standard of living. I have great kids to raise – grandkids are on the way. It’s not perfect of course, but it’s good. Retirement is right around the corner. Could you wait? And so, many live in ways which say, we don’t actually hope His return will happen in our lifetime. I’m living my best life now.
And so some Christians want to ignore biblical prophecy – it’s just too confusing, or too difficult to understand. Let’s just stick our heads in the sand and be blissfully ignorant. In his introduction to a study of the book of Revelation, Pastor John Ortberg pointed out that many avoid that book altogether. They say, what, with “bizarre images, strange creatures, beasts and blood and bowls of sulfur and people eating scrolls, and bottomless pits, the whore of Babylon, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, war, pestilence, famine and death – it just doesn’t seem like a very happy book.”
And we’ve joked about ignoring it around here. But we will study it one day – it is, after all, in the Bible. And as Ortberg went on to say, you might meet the Apostle John in heaven one day, and he might ask, “how’d you like my book?” And it would not be good to say, “I never read it – it was just too weird.”
There are some extremes to avoid concerning the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. So here we are, as committed believers, how should we approach the promise of His coming? Why do so many verses in the Bible – especially the NT – promise the return of Christ? Why do biblical authors keep it before us? If we are not supposed to become so intrigued that we attend every prophecy conference available, and start setting dates; if we are not to deny it altogether; and if we’re not to ignore it – just living our own lives, seldom giving thought to His return – what is to be our response to the promise of His return – and further, why? This is what Peter tells us in our text today – II Peter 3 – I’d like to start back in verse 10 and read through verse 13.
Peter keeps telling us, over and over – Jesus is coming back. The Day of the Lord will come, because he wants us to be ready. Now, there are a couple ideas I want us to know in verse 10. First, what is this Day of the Lord? It obviously refers to end times cataclysmic events. You see, typically when the Bible speaks of the Day of the Lord, it speaks of judgment and wrath. Consider these passages:
Isaiah 13:9, “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it.”
Ezekiel 30:3 “For the day is near, Even the day of the LORD is near; It will be a day of clouds, A time of doom for the nations.”
Joel 1:15, “Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.”
Joel 2:1,2, “Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Surely it is near, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness…; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it…”
Zephaniah 1:14,15, “Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness…”
And then our text, II Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
Do you see, the Day of the Lord will be a time of future judgment, wrath, and great destruction. I do believe Revelation chapters 6 to19, while full of figurative and symbolic language, does describe in detail what the great and terrible day of the Lord will be like – known as the tribulation. Regardless, our passage says when the day of the Lord comes, it will bring sudden and inescapable destruction – the heavens and earth will pass away with a roar.
This should cause great concern. Unless, of course, we deny it or ignore it. But supposing we don’t, what about this Day of the Lord for believers? Will we escape this destruction, this wrath to come? Know this – the Day of the Lord is completely different for believers. It will not be a day of wrath and judgment, but a day of deliverance and salvation. Look at I Thessalonians 5 where Paul talks of the Day of the Lord:
1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you.
2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;
5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness;
6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.
8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
Please notice – while the Day of the Lord will bring judgment and wrath for unbelievers, those unprepared – God has not destined us for wrath – but rather for salvation through Jesus. Such that, we can actually look forward to the coming of Christ. Not ignore it, not deny it – eagerly look forward to it.
Now, the second idea we need to consider is Jesus coming like a thief. Paul said a thief in the night. There’s a lot of confusion about what the Scripture means when it says Jesus will come as a thief. The question is, to whom will the coming of the Lord appear as a thief? Let’s take a look at some other “thief” passages:
- The first is found in Matthew 24:42-44, where Jesus Himself says, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason, you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”
The idea there seems to be preparedness – the coming of the Lord will be like a thief to those who are unprepared – those who are not ready, who are not alert. Since we don’t know the day or the hour, Jesus says we must be prepared, alert, ready, so His coming will not take us by surprise. That doesn’t mean we know the day – it means we’re ready for the day.
- Another is found in Revelation 3:3. Again, Jesus speaking, says, “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore, if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” The warning there to the church at Sardis is that Jesus will come as a thief if they didn’t wake up – the implication is, if they did wake up, they would be prepared for His coming.
- Still another is in Revelation 16:15, “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.” Again, we see the idea of preparedness.
- Our passage, II Peter 3:10-12, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away…elements will be destroyed with intense heat….Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” It’s a very strong passage which tells us, since the coming of Christ is at an unknown time, like a thief, we should live holy and godly lives in preparation for His coming, and in some way, actually hasten His return.
Look again at I Thessalonians 5. In verse 2, Paul says, “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.” He goes on in verse 3 to identify those people of whom it is said, His coming will be like a thief. “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’” Who are they? Unbelievers, because destruction will come on them suddenly. Destruction does not come on believers – verse 9 says God has not destined us for wrath, but for salvation through Jesus. The point I want you to understand is this – there are three groups of people in this world:
- The first is unbelievers – and the coming of Christ will be like a thief in the night to them – and it will be unpleasant, because it will mean sudden destruction that cannot be escaped. Listen – some of you here this morning are playing Russian Roulette with your eternal souls. You’ve heard the gospel many times – you’ve heard Jesus is coming back. But you have not yet given your life to Christ – you think you still have time. After all, things seem to be going so well – you have your whole life ahead of you. You have what you think is an inward peace, and an outward safety. You’ll make a decision to repent and believe, when you’re good and ready. But may I tell you that you are in danger – your peace and safety is an illusion. Living in prosperous, comfortable America may be a curse for you. The day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectantly, like a thief in the night. There will be no warning, and no escape. You have no assurance Jesus will not come tonight – you have no assurance you will even be alive tomorrow. I plead with you – if Peter and Paul taught that Jesus could come in their lifetimes, how much closer is His coming today? Call on the name of the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.
- The second group of people in the world is unprepared believers – and the coming of the Lord will be like a thief in the night to them. Oh, they’ve put their hope in Christ – they’ve believed the gospel. But there so much life to live – what, with education and marriage and career and children and recreation and vacations and toys and travel and retirement – who has time to really contemplate the coming of Christ. All that prophecy stuff is just confusing anyway. Do you really think Jesus could come tomorrow? Well sure, but I hope not – I’ve got too much living to do. There are all kinds of warnings in the Scripture for you. Wake up – be alert – be prepared. Don’t let His coming take you by surprise.
- The third group of people in the world is the prepared believer – and the coming of the Lord will not be like a thief to them. I’m not saying we can know the day or the hour – we’re told we can’t. But we can be prepared. That’s what Peter tells us in this passage. I’ve already almost preached it, but here’s the outline:
- Prepared Believers are Holy and Godly (11)
- Prepared Believers are Looking and Hastening (12) (the Day of the Lord)
- Prepared Believers are Looking (13) – (specifically, for His Promised Return, the New Heavens and the New Earth, where righteousness dwells)
Very quickly – Prepared Believers are Holy and Godly. You see, since this is all true, and the day of the Lord is coming which will bring destruction, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness. One of my commentaries points out, holy conduct is external, and godliness is internal. As God’s children, we should seek to be holy as He is holy – in our conduct and even in our attitudes.
To be clear, it is not our conduct which keeps us from destruction – we have been saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. And through His grace in our lives, we live differently, proving ourselves to be God’s children. How do we live? Like citizens of the new heaven and the new earth – not like citizens of the present heavens and earth, which are reserved for destruction. We don’t belong here – we are looking forward to – he uses that phrase three times in verses 12 to 14. We are to be prepared, because we long for, we are looking for the city to come. Because it’s infinitely better. We don’t get distracted by the things of this fallen world. We long for, expectantly, the world to come – and we live like citizens of that world. I’ll come back to that.
You see, point 2, we are looking for the Day of the Lord – that is the return of Christ in what Peter now calls the Day of God. That’s an unusual phrase and probably refers not just to the return of Christ, but all that brings – judgment for the wicked, salvation for the godly – and the new heavens and new earth. So, we actually look for – the idea is we eagerly look forward to all that God has for us. We don’t have an attitude that says, don’t come now – could you wait just a bit. No – we eagerly long for all to be made right – for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. Even cursed creation is waiting for that, Romans 8 says.
What is interesting here is the way Peter says that prepared believers are looking for and even hastening the day of God. What in the world does that mean – can we as believers actually hasten or speed up the return of Christ? Peter implies so, and Scripture seems to indicate we can in the following three ways:
- First, in our holy conduct and godliness, we are looking for and hastening the Day. The implication seems to be that as we live lives of repentance and pursue holy, godly lives, we speed His coming. There was a general, widespread understanding among the Jews at this time that their repentance would bring the Messiah. Of course, they didn’t understand the first and second comings of the Messiah – they just thought if they could bring about national repentance and godly living, the Messiah would appear. And there is a sense in which that it true, Peter says.
This idea seems to be adopted by Peter. In Acts 3 in his second sermon – this one at the Temple – he says, “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” The implication is, by repentance and faith, the time of the fulness of the kingdom – times of refreshing – may be ushered in.
- Second, some suggest we can actually speed His coming by praying for it. What? you say. Well, how did Jesus teach us to pray? Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom to come. Besides reciting the Lord’s Prayer, when is the last time you prayed, we prayed – Maranatha – O Lord, come.
- A third way we can hasten His coming is by preaching the gospel. We’ve seen God is patient, seemingly delaying His coming, not wishing any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. I have suggested then, when the last one to be saved is saved, then the end will come. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 24, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come.” Faithful evangelism and missions speed the coming of Christ.
Quickly, our last point and conclusion. Peter reminds us at the end of verse 12 – the Day of God will bring destruction – heavens destroyed by fire, elements melting. As I said last week – there is lots of discussion among scholars as to whether that means total destruction of the universe, and God starts over, or whether He purifies the heavens and the earth with purifying fire. But this we know – verse 13. According to His promise – and in the context – that is the promise to return in the Day of the Lord and all that brings – we are looking forward to new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Why do we live holy lives? I said earlier, we are to pursue holiness and godliness, not to earn our salvation, but to prove we have been saved. But let me take it a step further. We pursue holiness and godliness because that’s who we are. We are citizens of another country – in fact, another universe. We don’t belong here. The world – even the present universe – is temporary. New heavens and new earth are coming – and they are ours. And unlike the present creation where ungodliness and unrighteousness dwell securely – the new creation is where righteousness dwells. Why do we pursue holy conduct and godliness? Because that’s who we are, and a new heaven and new earth are coming – and we belong there. This is all just OJT – a rehearsal for the main act to come. My brothers and sisters – we have been born again, into a new and infinitely better reality – where Christ is King. Let’s look forward together to the promise – and live righteously now – because the kingdom that awaits us is where righteousness dwells.