Description / Transcription
Our Father in heaven, we trust the words that we have just sung have not been uttered in vain, but they come from the depth of our hearts. Speak, O Lord. Renew our minds. Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us, truths unchanged from the dawn of time that will echo down through eternity. So we pray, Lord, that by grace we would stand on Your promises, by faith we would walk with You as You walk with us, and with ask that You would speak, O Lord, that Your church, that this church, would be built up and the whole earth would be filled with Your glory. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We come this morning to 2 Peter chapter 3, toward the very end of your Bibles, before you get to the three letters to John, Jude, and Revelation, we have 1 and 2 Peter. This morning chapter 3, verses 8 through 13.
2 Peter 3, beginning at verse 8:
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
It is the season of the year when many of us think about our days and our calendars, many of us perhaps making resolutions and it’s just a turn of a calendar from December to January in one sense, but it marks the beginning of a new year so many of us think about new habits or new disciplines or exercise or new eating habits. I did see one person put on social media yesterday, “I don’t mean to brag, but I’m only one day behind in my Bible reading plan.” So that may be where you are at.
One of the differences between the Christian view of the world and many Eastern religions is how they view time, how they look at history. In many Eastern religions, history is basically cyclical and it just repeats itself and you have a process of reincarnation, and the goal perhaps with karma is to live such a good life that you can come back instead of a cat, a dog, or a dog a cat, whichever one you think is better. And the goal in many of these systems is to have final release from this endless cycle of death and rebirth, to escape this cycle.
By contrast, the Christian view of history has a definite starting point and a definite ending point. The fancy word is “teleology,” which has to do with the study of how things finish, or how things end. In the Christian view, history is going somewhere. It had a beginning, time as we know it, Genesis 1:1, and history will have an ending point, where the age to come will become this age, and the new heavens and the new earth will come down.
The day that marks that transition is often called, in Scripture, the day of the Lord. One author describes it as God’s decisive and final intervention in history to judge His enemies and to save His own people. The prophets looked forward to it, and we have it often in the New Testament, especially here in 2 Peter.
One of the things that the false teachers in Peter’s midst were saying was that the day of the Lord would not come, that there would not be this cataclysmic ending to history, and because of that they gave great license to live a life of sexual immorality and defying authority and so one of the burdens in this epistle is to reinforce the coming of the day of the Lord.
And it leads to questions. Maybe you have questions about this day of the Lord.
Here are three questions that are addressed in these verses. Maybe these are three questions you have about the day of the Lord.
Number one: Why has it not yet come?
Number two: What will happen when the day of the Lord does come?
And number three: How are we to live in view of its coming?
So let’s look at those three questions.
Number one: Why has the day of the Lord not yet come?
Two reasons given in this text. The first reason: God does not look at time the same way we do. Look at verse 8, “With the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
If you’ve been following along with the sermon series on Sunday night, you know that the false teachers have been saying nothing will ever change, the world will keep on going as it always has been, Christ is not coming back, the day of the Lord will not come. Maybe they thought we’ve been waiting for centuries and it’s not here. Or it’s been decades since Jesus went up into heaven and we are wasting our time.
And Peter reminds them, and us, well, the Lord’s measuring of time is a little bit different. This is an analogy. It’s not an exact mathematical formula. It’s not like when you try to tell how old your dog is and it’s seven years, so how many in dog years. It’s not like there’s God-years and one day equals a thousand years. Some people try to read that back into Genesis and say, well, those creation days must have been a thousand years. No, it’s not a mathematical equation, it’s simply an expression to indicate that God’s timetable is different than our timetable.
Psalm 90: Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations, before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
Typically, a watch in the night was a three-hour shift to watch your tent or your city. Psalm 90 says a thousand years for the Lord is like watching the tent for part of one night, or here Peter says a thousand years is like a day, a day is like a thousand years. God is from everlasting to everlasting.
Think about that, and it really stretches our mental capacity. God is not very, very, very, very old. Don’t think of God like that. Old is not even the right way to speak about a divine being. There is no “old” because that indicates that He experiences time in successive moments like we do, but He doesn’t. He existed before time, He created time, He exists in many ways outside of time. There never was when He was not. You can’t even conceive barely of this eternality, everlasting to everlasting.
So of course for God time is going to be a little different. He doesn’t have to think in terms of minutes and hours, or even days and years. But He can think of centuries and millennia.
If you’re a parent and you’ve ever had to drive somewhere across country with your children, you understand this, that parents and children have a different conception of time. This has happened. This has literally happened: Driving from North Carolina to Michigan, on our very same street on which we live here in Mint Hill, a child was wont to say, “Are we there yet?” No, we had barely left yet. It is a 12-hour drive back to Michigan. So it’s a very long way, and it does feel like a thousand years.
And as much as a parent as you try to tell your children, no, don’t ask, because they ask after 20 minutes and ask after 45 minutes, and you try to say, “No, no, no, it’s going to be all day, it’s after breakfast, it’s after lunch, it’s after dinner, you should look out the window, you should take a nap, you should be thankful because you have an iPad and we never had iPads, we just looked at our fingers all day, that’s all we did. Play the alphabet game, do something. It’s going to be a very long time.”
Of course, as adults we learn to look at time differently. For a child, you think about minutes, and maybe as you get older you can think about days or weeks, but as adults we learn how quickly even years go by. Where did those months or years… And perhaps you get to an anniversary, or we’ve just gotten past Christmas and I was already this morning thinking about, hmm, should make some reservations for summer vacation, planning six months ahead. Or your planning years. When I have to look at my calendar sometimes, and especially if I’m going to speak somewhere, planning out into 2022 or maybe into 2023, and that’s not strange for us as adults to be thinking about six months or a year or two or three ahead, or to make a five-year plan.
But of course when you’re younger, it’s all way out there. If you would have asked me when I was a junior in college, tell me about all your college plans, well, that’s a long ways away. Of course, when you’re a parent, you realize, no, that’s right around the corner. We see time differently as you get older.
And so, of course, God, who is from everlasting to everlasting, is going to experience time insofar as He does, and is going to conceive of it differently than we do. You cannot exaggerate how important this is, that the Lord’s watch is different than your watch.
I have a watch up here. It counts the seconds and the minutes. It’s to help me try to preach on time, and you may say, “Pastor, your watch one day is like a thousand years.” Yes, I understand that. But it’s at least a help and it counts down seconds.
The Lord’s watch is very different than that. He sees the end from the beginning. And even though you may be here at the beginning of this year, you may be thinking, “Oh, Lord, when are You going to give me the job?” “Well, why can’t I have kids?” “Why am I still single?” “What am I going to do with this diagnosis?” “How am I going to get treatment?” “When are things going to be better with my parents, with my kids?” “Why do I have these burdens that no one else has?” “Why won’t you answer me?”
If you live long enough, every one of us, no matter how strong our faith, will have those occasions where we struggle to trust in God’s providence, to really believe that He is up to something good in our lives, especially when it does not seem to be doing according to our timetable.
Maybe you think, “Okay, God, I can wait a few days, maybe I could even wait six months,” but what if we have to wait six years? Or 60? Or what if we never see what God has been up to in our lives until we get to the other side of life, and then in some wonderful, heavenly explanation God will show us exactly what He was doing.
His watch is different.
There’s a wonderful story of George Mueller, that great man of faith, who prayed for some of his non-Christian friends over five decades, and some of them didn’t come to know the Lord until after he had passed away.
When we finally see what God was doing on His timetable, maybe you see it this year, maybe you don’t see it until heaven, when we see it we may feel like I can’t believe it took so long, and according to God’s time, He says, “Long? That was two days?”
Just like when your kids fall out of the car, tired and complaining, “I can’t believe we finally made it” and you were just driving to Gastonia. Yes, you understand that’s not a long trip, but it sure felt long to them.
God’s timetable is not like our timetable. That’s the first reason that the day of the Lord has not come.
Here’s the second reason. Look at verse 9: Because God is waiting for people to repent. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient, not wishing that any should perish.
Sometimes people stumble on that. Well, isn’t God sovereign? Hasn’t He decreed who the elect are? So why does it say here He’s not wishing that they should perish?
Well, we have to understand that God’s desire, His true desire, is for all people to come to know Him. There is a free offer of the Gospel. Even though at the same time, mysteriously to us, He has decreed from eternity who should believe, and who are the elect and who are not.
But this statement in verse 9 may be more than just a general statement about God’s free offer of the Gospel, it may be a specific word to Peter’s audience. You see there He is patient toward you, or the footnote, on your account. That may be a generic “you” or it may be a very specific you; that’s what I tend to think. That he’s saying some of you are caught up with these false teachers, and the irony is the false teachers are saying there’s no day of the Lord and God says, “No, actually, the reason you haven’t seen the day of the Lord yet is because I’m patient and I’m waiting for you to extricate yourselves from these false teachers and to repent of believing their lies and to come back to me.”
Whether it’s a statement simply of God’s mercy toward all or more narrowly is a statement about God’s patience for Peter’s audience. Either way, the fact remains God is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. His kindness leads us toward repentance. One of the reasons He has not returned is because He loves the world.
Doesn’t it make a difference, wives, if your husband is late in coming home from work if you know the reason he has delayed in coming home from work? If, for example, he’s an hour late and you find out later he was watching YouTube videos about cats at work and finalizing a Fantasy Football trade and he stopped to play nine holes of golf somewhere and that’s why he’s late, well, then that’s one thing. But what if he comes late and he arrives and he’s gotten you a dozen roses and he’s planned for a date out and made reservations and he’s brought a nice bottle of wine, or you’re my wife, sweet tea, then you realize, oh, your delay was not wasted, your delay was a beautiful of expression of your love for me.
Have you ever stopped to consider one of the reasons God has not yet sent Christ to return is because He is waiting for repentance?
About Paul, in Acts 18, the Lord tells him “I still have people yet in this city. Don’t go yet, there are some of My people who will believe and repent.”
God doesn’t have to wait, but in mercy He does. Have you ever thought perhaps He is waiting for you to repent? Maybe 2021 is meant to be the year when you turn from your sin? Maybe you thing, “Well, I’ve been a Christian my whole life.” But perhaps there’s a secret sin that you have been nurturing, you have been hiding, you haven’t turned from it. Or perhaps this is the year your eyes are open to realize you know what? I really wasn’t a true believer. Yeah, I was pro Jesus, I had nothing bad to say about Jesus, but the Gospel message is not just think good thoughts about Jesus; it’s believe and repent. Maybe 2021 is the year where you turn from your sin and you repent.
Or maybe it’s the year where you are instrument of someone else repenting. Perhaps God’s waiting for those in your life to have the opportunity. There may be people in your life, on your campus, in your family, in your office, in your school, and they would believe and they would repent if you and I would speak to them of the Gospel. God is waiting for people to repent, giving more time.
So He delays because His time is different and because of His mercy.
Second question: What will happen when the day of the Lord comes? This cataclysmic day.
Look at verse 10. There are three things that are mentioned, and it’s hard to know with this language, which was very much Old Testament, prophetic, apocalyptic language, how much is to be taken in exactly literal fashion and how much is a poetic, sort of description of the end of the world as we know it. But you’ll see these three things.
First, the heavens will pass away with a roar. Somehow the sky rolls up, disappears.
Second, the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved. You may see a little footnote there in the ESV, or elements, also verse 12, that Greek word “stoicheia,” it’s translated in the ESV as “heavenly bodies.” It’s a different word from the one earlier in the verse translated as “heavens,” the heavens there is likely the sky, and then heavenly bodies, “stoicheia,” can either refer to the elements, not the periodic elements but to the classic elements of fire, water, air, and earth, or translated here “heavenly bodies” would mean sun, moon, stars, planets. Burnt up, dissolved.
Isaiah 34 speaks of the host of heaven rotting away, the skies being rolled up.
And then the third thing we see on the day of the Lord in verse 10 is the earth and the words that are done on it will be exposed as everything will be laid bare. Everything will be seen for what it is. What is done in secret will be made manifest. What was conducted behind closed doors will be laid bare. What secrets have been told and hidden will finally be exposed. All the frauds and hypocrites and fakes will be shown for what they are.
If you’ve ever cried out in your heart for this sense of justice, if only the world could know what they’re really like, these people who have mistreated me, or people who seem to have gotten everything their way and yet they’re fakes, they’re phonies, will they be exposed? Well, that day is coming. Take comfort.
But also let it be a warning because that day is coming not just for them, but for us. When our deeds will be laid bare, when a giant spotlight will be shown on our lives.
Now the takeaway from this is not, well, you better have lived a near unto perfect life. None of us will do that. But there ought to be some matching of the life that we have lived with the profession that we have made.
There ought to be a sense of our faith and repentance so that when those works are exposed, rock of ages cleft for me, let us find ourselves hidden away in thee, that’s our hope.
A question that comes out of something like verse 10 is how much continuity and how much discontinuity will there be with the new heavens and the new earth? Will this planet be annihilated Death Star style? Just blown up into billions of sparkly atoms, just floating out into the universe. Or is there a sense in which this planet we inhabit will be renewed such that this will be our heavenly dwelling?
Well, Scripture doesn’t give us every answer, but we do see there’s both elements of continuity and discontinuity. Think about those elements of discontinuity: Psalm 102, the heavens will perish, you will remain, they will all wear out like a garment, you will change them like a robe, they will pass away.
Isaiah 51:6: The heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment.
Matthew 5:18: Jesus says heaven and earth will pass away.
Revelation 6: I looked and behold there was a great earthquake, the sun became black as sackcloth, the moon became like blood, the stars of the sky fell to the earth, the sky vanished like a scroll, every mountain and island was removed.
These are scenes of cataclysmic judgment where the earth as we know it is being utterly changed.
Revelation 21: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.
So clearly there is a strong sense in which the world as we know it passes away. It’s different. It’s going to be different.
And yet, there are other passages which sound very much like a renewal more than a complete annihilation. Think of the analogy with the resurrection body. Jesus was given a new body, but it still bore some resemblance to His old body.
Romans 8 says we long to be set free from bondage to decay. That makes it sound like a process of renewal is coming.
Or here’s an important text: Matthew 19:28. Jesus is talking about the age to come and he says in the new world where the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, and he goes on to describe it, that phrase there “in the new world” is the Greek word “palingenesia,” “palin” means again, and “genesia” is the word genesis, a new beginning. It’s translated elsewhere in the New Testament as regeneration. In fact, you can see in the ESV there’s a little footnote you can translate that word, regeneration, born again.
So creation is going to have a regeneration, a new birth.
Acts 3:21: The apostles say heaven received Jesus until the time for restoring all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.
So these passages speak to some level of continuity, that it’s not a complete annihilation, but a type of rebirth, purification.
So on the one hand we must see the points of discontinuity. Some people when they want to emphasize the importance of work or of creating culture or stewarding the environment, well-meaning people sometimes say, “Well, those things are going to sort of make it into the new heavens and the new earth.” Well, the emphasis here is actually quite the opposite. It’s on all of this passing away, all of this dissolving.
And yet, it never says exactly that the whole earth melts or dissolves, and that description in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21 is of the new heaven and the new earth coming down to us. Have you ever thought about that? That the final scene in the last chapters of the Bible is not all of us zooming up there, but that coming down here, that this new creation is in some way going to exist on this very world. Not the same world, but not entirely obliterated, either.
Maybe the best way to think about it is according to what Peter said a few verses earlier. He likened the destruction to come with the destruction that already was, the flood. Now the flood was surely cataclysmic. It was global. You could truly say it destroyed the whole world and yet it was not an annihilation of the cosmos. It was a cleansing, it was a purification, it was a new, reborn, re-cleansed world. That’s what we are waiting for, that’s what we are expecting, that’s what is coming on the great day of the Lord.
Finally, then, how are to live in view of this coming day?
We’ll come back to some of this this evening, see verse 14, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting,” but we see the same theme here in verse 11: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be?”
Let me give you three suggestions.
Number one: In view of it’s coming, we ought to be ready. You see verse 10 says it will come like a thief. That’s a common theme in the Gospels.
Now what is it about a thief? You don’t know, the thief doesn’t announce. It’s a very bad thief: “I’ll be coming for my thievery two weeks from next Saturday.” They don’t do that. They surprise you, you don’t know. There is not going to be an announcement that says “the day of the Lord is coming in six weeks and three days.”
No, listen, this is your announcement. This is your warning. That the day will come and so we must be ready. Do you believe it could come tonight? The thief could come. It doesn’t mean you stop your life and do nothing but look out the window. But it means you are prepared, you lock the doors, you turn on the alarm, you have a plan, you are ready. Are you ready?
Here’s the second thing we do in view of it’s coming: We wait. We wait for it with patience, we wait for it with longing. Do you see verse 13? We’re believing the promise, we’re waiting according to the promise for what? For new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Isn’t that good news? In which righteousness dwells?
Aren’t you looking forward to the end of the pandemic? Whether it’s right around the corner and the vaccine’s going to obliterate this and we’re going to be worshiping altogether by Easter or whether it’s summer is normal or some people say 2022. Some people who I really want to believe are wrong say 2023 or 24.
Whatever it is, aren’t you looking forward to that? To have this room filled again? To have your masks off? To maybe shake hands if we ever do that again? Or hug? Or have a stadium full? Or not have to think about how many people are over at your home? Aren’t you waiting for that? That’s good news.
You know what’s even better news than the pandemic being over? Sin being over. Death being over. Cancer, loneliness, disappointment, heartache being over. A new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness and righteousness alone dwells.
So we wait patiently but we wait eagerly. It’s coming.
And then finally, what do we do in view of its coming? We hasten it’s coming.
Well, how can we hasten its coming? In one sense you can’t; it’s already decreed. You can’t change what God has planned from eternity, and yet from our perspective here’s what you can do: You can repent. Isn’t that what we saw? God is waiting for people to repent.
The great line of demarcation between those who experience the joy of God forever and those who experience torment forever is whether or not they have repented.
Revelation 9: The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Revelation 16:9: They were scorched by the fierce heat yet they did not repent and give Him glory.
Revelation 16:11: People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores yet they did not repent of their deeds.
That is the dividing line.
Sometimes we believe and proclaim to others a half Gospel, which is really a false Gospel. And we basically think that the Gospel is Jesus really likes you, would you really like Jesus?
There’s not a lot of scandal in that message. Most everyone in this country has a basic yeah, I like Jesus. Oh, God really is crazy in love with me, cool. I’ll try to be a good person.
The message from John the Baptist to Jesus to the apostles was repent and believe, faith and repentance. To turn to God in Christ and turn from our old life of sin.
You can hasten the day of His coming when you repent and when you and I call others to repent. Would you pray toward this end? Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
Don’t you want that day when we will live as perfect people in a perfect place with our perfect God? And we will finally enjoy as believing people, penitent people, a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
The Good News of the Gospel is that even though all of our works will be exposed, we can hide ourselves in One whose works were entirely perfect, and when we believe in Him, and when we repent and turn from our sins and run to Him and to the cross, we can be assured that when that day comes, it will be a day of rejoicing for us.
Let’s pray. Gracious heavenly Father, surely none of us would do well to have all of our deeds exposed. I think, Lord, of all my speech should be exposed. If all that I have done, let alone all that I have thought or uttered and the secrets of my heart, O Lord, what a shameful day it would be for each of us. Have mercy. We repent and we turn to You. We pray that this year might be a year of great repentance and joy, that this might be the year when we are the instrument of bringing others to that repentance and joy. And maybe even, Lord, this would be the year when You would return. Let us be ready. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.