October 11, 2020
There are a couple of extremes we should avoid concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ. First is to try to figure it all out and start setting dates. I suppose within that extreme is a healthy focus on, even longing for the return of Christ. But it is also forgetting that Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour of My return – not Me, not the angels in heaven – only My Father knows. Forgetting that when His disciples asked Him, is it now time for you to set up the kingdom, Jesus responded, “It is not for you to know times or (even) epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” Forgetting that Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:
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.
That is, when people don’t expect it. And yet, through the centuries, especially the last 50 years or so, people have become obsessed with figuring it out and setting dates. Lots of prophecy conferences filled with timelines, charts and speculations. At the end of the last century – which was actually the end of the millennium, date-setting and speculation became all the rage. Would Y2K bring the end of the world as we know it? Would the new millennium be the millennial reign of Christ? That was widely suggested. Guess not.
Some of you remember back in the late 80’s, a book written entitled, Eighty-eight Reasons for the Rapture in ’88. It was the author’s premise that while we may not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, we can know the month and the year. So, when he wrote the book, he narrowed the return of Christ to a three-day period in September. As I understand it, the Trinity Broadcasting Network pre-recorded three programs on the subject of the rapture to be run during those three days just in case no one was there to run them. The subject of the programs was, “What to do in case all your Christian friends disappeared.”
Now, we can poke fun at that, but I am not poking fun at the return of Christ. I believe there is coming a day when all Christians will disappear, and it will be no laughing matter for those left behind. But when you start setting dates, you set yourself up for my poking fun, and the ridicule of the world.
There are other people who reason that while we might not know the month or the year, we can know the generation – and it’s always within their generation. For example, one author wrote, “desolating earthquakes, sweeping fires, distressing poverty, political profligacy, private bankruptcy and widespread immorality which abound in these last days obviously indicate that the Lord is returning immediately.” While it sounds like those words were written yesterday, they were actually written by Baptist Pastor William Miller in 1843 as he predicted the return of Christ to be in 1844. He was only off by 176 years and counting.
Think about all this a minute. With all this speculation about the coming of Christ one generation after another, what happens to the credibility of the gospel? You remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? Eventually people stopped listening. The world thinks we’re nothing but a bunch of lunatics, and the words of Peter ring true – they are mocking, saying, “Where is this coming He promised.” The truth is, while He promised His coming – He didn’t promise when He was coming. In fact, we’re told over and over, no one knows the time.
We do know Jesus will return to this earth. We believe, and must believe in the literal, visible, personal, bodily return of Jesus Christ – He promised it. All of us who know Christ hang our hope on this truth – it’s what the Apostle Paul calls the blessed hope. It is the truth which sustains us – that this sorry old earth is going to be set right one day. Notice, however, Jesus never said, I’m coming back, so speculate about when. No, rather, He said, my Father wants it to be a surprise. When He comes back, and He is coming back, Jesus will not be looking for a when and where committee – people on rooftops wearing white rapture robes as they did in 1844 – He will be looking for a welcoming committee. For followers who longed for His return and were ready. They were busy until He came. He doesn’t find them waiting, He finds them working.
Well, that’s one extreme to avoid. The other is the extreme we are encountering in our study of II Peter – and that is to deny His coming altogether. Indeed, “Where is the promise of His coming?” Everything goes on just as it has since the beginning – nothing has changed, and they maintain things will continue just as they always have. Time to kiss this pie-in-the-sky hope goodbye. And since Jesus is not coming back, there will be no judgment. So, we can live however we want – pursuing sinful lusts. Now, we may not actually think that way – believe what these false teachers were saying. We may think Jesus is coming back – here’s our challenge, we just don’t think it will be today. It’s been two thousand years.
You’ll remember Peter addressed this issue with the following argument. First, it conveniently escapes the notice of these false teachers that God has been involved in His creation in the past. After all, He created the heavens and the earth by the word of His power. He spoke it into existence. He said, let there be, and there was. And second, they conveniently forget – it escapes their notice – that God judged the world in the past through a worldwide flood. The implication being, if He did it before, He can and will do it again.
In fact, the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and the destruction of ungodly people. That ought to grieve us. You can stick your head in the sand – ignore God’s clear involvement in the past. You can deny the return of Christ and the coming judgment – you can live however you want in sinful rebellion – but judgment is coming. This is Peter’s point.
But there is a third thing that Peter says, and it isn’t about or to these false teachers. Oh no – while there were some things they conveniently forgot – that have escaped their notice – don’t let this one fact escape your notice. Now he’s talking to us. Yes, it has been two thousand years since Jesus ascended – went back to heaven. It’s been two thousand years since He promised to come back. And you may be wondering, where is the promise of His coming? Is this all true? Peter addresses us and that thought in the text today – II Peter 3:8-10.
Peter says three very important things to us, which form our outline:
- God’s “Time” is not Relevant (8) – Timing is not the issue.
- God’s Patience is Relevant (9) – His mercy is the issue.
- God’s Judgment is Coming (10)
Do not let the apparent delay in the return of Christ disturb you. God is faithfully fulfilling all His purposes and promises – they are good, they are right, they are gracious, they are merciful, and they are right on time.
Listen, I want Jesus to come in my lifetime. But He may not. He didn’t come in the days Peter and Paul, James and John – even though they looked for Him. He didn’t come in the days of the church fathers – of Clement or Chrysostom or Tertullian or Ignatius or Irenaeus or Augustine. He didn’t come in the days of the Reformers – Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. He didn’t come in the days of revival – Whitfield and Edwards and Wesley. He didn’t come in the days of Billy Sunday or Billy Graham. And He may not come in our lifetimes – does it make it any less true?
Look at verse 8 and God’s timing. Do not let this one fact escape your notice – what a great writer Peter was. The false teachers had some important things escape their notice. Don’t you do it, beloved. He used that word, beloved, back in verse 1 to signify a new focus. He does it again now, and will do it again in verses 14 and 17. You are beloved – by me and by God – so don’t forget. I’ll remind you till I die, my loved ones.
What is the one fact? That God is eternal, and so His timing should not be reduced to ours. You see, with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day.
That’s a reference to Psalm 90, which reads:
1 Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
3 You turn man back into dust
And say, “Return, O children of men.”
4 For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.
If you go on in the Psalm you find the point is the eternality of God as compared to the brevity of humanity. He has always been, and always will be. We, however, created beings, have not always been, and are dependent upon Him for life and breath and everything. True, He created us to be eternal – we will live on forever. But we will never be eternal like Him. As the Creator of time, He is above time. This is what we mean by the eternality of God. It means He sees time, His creation, in one moment. He is as much in tomorrow as today. He, alone, is eternal.
By the way – this is an aspect of His omniscience. One of the ways He knows everything, to include the future, is He is above time. He sees it all in one mere glance.
So, when Peter says, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day, it means time is not relevant with God. He is eternal. It is not that one day is a thousand years, and vice versa – don’t miss the word, like. One day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like one day. The point is, so what it’s been a couple thousand years since Jesus went back to heaven promising His return. With God, that’s that – a couple of days? Time is not relevant with God – and we should not think for a moment He has forgotten His promises, or even delayed the coming of His Son for one moment.
Which brings us to our second point, verse 9. There is a purpose for His perceived delay. Since a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day, the Lord is not slow – or slack or loitering or untrustworthy to His promise, as some count slowness. Who are the some who are counting Him to be slow or unfaithful? The false teachers who were asking the question, where is the promise of His coming? Jesus isn’t coming back. No, Peter says, the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise. Time is not relevant to Him, and there is a reason for the misperceived delay.
You see, He is patient toward you. Stop right there – patient toward whom? Toward you – to these to whom Peter is writing, which we saw in the first verse of the letter – to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours. In other words – the you are believers to whom Peter is writing. God is not slow to come back to get you, as He promised. But He is patient. One author suggests, just as Peter is contrasting the eternal God with finite humans, he is also contrasting the patience of God with the impatience of humans. God is patient. Why? He is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Don’t miss it. God’s perceived delay is not a matter of slowness, of indifference, but rather, it is a matter of mercy. He is a merciful God. You remember in Exodus 34 when Moses received the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone. God descended to the top of Mt. Sinai, and passed by in front of Moses. And the LORD proclaimed of Himself:
6 The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;
7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
As God Himself proclaimed His attributes, He says He will not leave the guilty unpunished. He is a just God, so judgment is coming. But, the first thing He says of Himself is this, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” He is a merciful God. Is He being merciful to you, today? Patient, wishing, calling you to repent?
He is not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. You see, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, Ezekiel 18 says. He wants the wicked to repent. He is not wishing that any perish – and that word speaks of eternal punishment – eternal perishing because of sinful rebellion. He wants people to come to repentance – to turn from their sin and find forgiveness and salvation in Christ. In fact, don’t miss this, Paul says in Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
God is patient. He has not vented His full wrath against His ungodly creation, yet. Rather, He sent His Son to bear our sins and die for us, so that by grace through faith in His death and resurrection, our sins could be forgiven. He is patiently waiting for all who will be saved, to be saved, and then the end will come. Listen carefully – you do not want to be found on the other side of His coming, without Him.
Now, this is a challenging verse. What does it mean when we read God doesn’t wish for any to be lost – for all to be saved, for all to repent? The typical Reformed response is that God has two wills – His will of desire, and His will of decree. Certainly, in this will of desire, God loves His creation, especially those created in His image, and grieves their rebellion. He wishes or desires all would come to repentance. But, He has decreed by His secret will that only some will be saved – those chosen. So, we must understand that while He indeed loves the world, even wishes that all would be saved, only some will. Who? Those who respond in faith? Yes – but further, they respond in faith because of God’s predetermined will for them to do so.
I suppose that’s a fine argument, but it does sort of leave God with two kind opposing wills – like God wishes something that actually doesn’t come to pass. I would rather suggest we see it this way. Notice, God is patient toward you – Peter’s saved readers. God is patient, not wanting any of you to perish, but for all of you to come to repentance. That is, God is patient, wishing for all those chosen to be saved. This is how I and many others read the text – trying to be consistent with the idea of God’s predestination of those who will be saved.
Again, I say it this way, as I said it last week – when the last one to be saved is saved, then Jesus will come back. Until then, God is patient toward His elect, awaiting their response of faith – granted by Him. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Bringing us quickly to our third point, God’s Judgment is coming in verse 10. He is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance, but…judgment will come nonetheless. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief – that is, unexpectedly – in which the heavens will pass away with a roar. It’s the only time this word is used – it speaks of the buzzing of an arrow or the roaring of a fire. The heavens and earth – God’s creation which fell into sin will pass away and the elements – that is, the building blocks of creation – will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
There is some discussion among scholars today as to whether this fire destroys everything completely and God starts over with the New Heaven and the New Earth, or rather God purifies everything as He is in the process of redemption – He redeems that which was broken by purifying fire, and therefore New Heavens and New Earth.
Regardless, the point is, judgment by fire is coming. And this rebellious earth and even the heavens in which the fallen angels rebelled will be consumed/purified by intense heat. Until then, God patiently waits.
I want you to hear that this morning. God is patiently waiting for you to come to repentance. Repentance means to turn from your sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. God loved you so much, He sent His Son to die in your place, bearing your sins in His perfect life and body on the cross. And by faith in Jesus and His death and resurrection for sinners, you can be saved. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He is patiently waiting for you to respond in faith. Would you do that today?
By the way, at the beginning I suggested there are two extremes we need to avoid – being obsessed with the return of Christ, trying to figure it all out and setting dates on the one hand – and denying the return of Christ on the other. There is another – and that is, saying we believe Christ is coming back, but not really living like it. Can I encourage us to live like we believe it?
It’s very interesting – on the Mount of Olives that day, when the disciples asked, is it now – are You going to set up the kingdom today? Jesus responded, it’s not now – and it’s not for you to know the times or the epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to say this, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
In essence, Jesus said, it’s not for you to know the Father’s business. It’s not for you to know when I’m coming back. Leave that to Him. But in the meantime, be My witnesses. That’s your job. You see, as God patiently waits for sinners to repent, He has ordained the means by which they hear the gospel is through you and me. Saving faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. It is our job, not to set dates, nor to deny it. We are to live like we actually believe it. It is our job to proclaim the truth about Jesus.