September 27, 2020
2 Peter 3:3-9
(2 Peter 3:3-9) Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The return of Jesus and the end of the age has been a source of endless fascination.Vocal fanatics have set dates; cults have devised bizarre interpretations of the Bible; countless leaflets, brochures, booklets, and magazines have been handed out by energetic cranks.
A few years ago, Harold Camping set dates in 2011 for the return of Jesus. This prophecy electrified the world. Some people sold all they had and spent the money on billboards. Others gave up jobs. Some churches and families were divided. But of course Jesus didn’t return in 2011.
Long ago, the disciples asked Jesus about his return. The questions they asked are questions that are still being asked. They said: (Mark 13:4) “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” When are you coming again? What are the signs? If Harold Camping and Miller had listened to the Master, they would not have been shown as fools.
For the first principle that Jesus taught his disciples; the principle he stressed over and over again in his parables is that the day of his return is unknown. He said (Mark 13:32) “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”.
In fact, Jesus tells us, the majority of people won’t even be looking for him when he returns. He told his disciples (Matthew 24:42-44) “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come… the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”. In other words, Jesus’ return will be so unexpected the only safeguard is to always be alert.
Jesus reinforces the fact that his return will not only surprise Christians, but also shock the whole world. He says (Matthew 24:36-37) “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man”. Men won’t live in anticipation; they won’t expect it; they won’t see it coming. Why? Because there’ll be so little faith on the earth.
On the day that Jesus returns, his glory will fill the sky. Jesus said (Matthew 24:26-27) “as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” On that day every car will stop on the highway. Every person will rush outside. The world will stand open mouthed as he appears as Ruler and King in the sky. Many will despair; some will flee; and some will worship with tears of joy. And all will stand there before the great white throne.
One might think that this event will happen when the world is full of Jesus’ followers. Surely Jesus will come back when God is worshipped throughout the earth; when the gospel saturates civilisation; and many have embraced the Saviour. Jesus says no. In fact, the reverse will be true.
Prior to the Lord’s return there’ll be an avalanche of religious fakery and many people will be deceived by false teaching. Jesus warns (Matthew 24:4-5) “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name,claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” Paul says to Timothy, (2 Timothy 3:13) “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived”.
It’s worth noting that in the last century there have been at least twenty-eight people who have claimed to be Christ, more false Christs than any point in the last two-thousand years. These include an electrical engineer from the United States, a former police officer in Siberia who has 10,000 followers, and a man in Sydney who talks to whales. This doesn’t include the endless parade of cult leaders, false prophets and gurus.
Not only will the earth be full of religious deceit, the Lord tells us it’ll be so full of evil that Christian love will be smothered. Godlessness will squeeze us on every side, and it will cause many believers to fall away. Jesus says (Matthew 24:12-13), “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved”. In other words, the numbers of committed, faithful, diligent,watchful, prayerful believers will be few. The number of lukewarm, half-hearted, half-baked, half-interested, unorthodox, and deceived will be many.
When we see crowds of people drawn to false churches and prosperity teaching; when we see crowds of people embracing all manner of sin and error; when we worry that the flock of faithful are so few; and we feel like asking God, “Why do the wicked prosper?” God’s word tells us not to be alarmed. There will be an increase in wickedness and many will forsake the true Jesus. Be ready for it.
Paul writes to Timothy and says, (2 Timothy 3:1–5) “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” tough times are coming Timothy, says Paul! Why? Because “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”. Paul doesn’t provide a timetable. He doesn’t provide a list of wars to look out for or the serial number on Palestinian rockets. What Paul provides is a list of sins that have been known throughout the ages.
When we see these things grow in strength; when they become mainstream; when these sins are celebrated; when we see a concentration of evil greater than ever in history – as God is blasphemed and the faith is slandered – then we should know the hour of Christ’s return is close.
Paul tells us that prior to the return of Christ there will be a great moral and spiritual rebellion against God. He writes, (2 Thessalonians 2:3) “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” Before Jesus comes, Paul says we should expect a devilish leader to appear. He’ll lead the world into an uprising against God and God’s truth. Whoever this leader is,he will create a powerful, false religion; he’ll preach a different morality;and he’ll demand God’s glory for himself. One may almost see in this prediction the empty religion of secularism that preaches abortion, sexual perversion, confusion on the issue of gender, open dissemination of drugs, teaches women to forsake childbearing, attacks male leadership, and all sorts of other allied ungodliness.
Given these predictions, we may ask, “What comfort is there as I face an unbelieving world?” In the text before us today, the Apostle Peter offers us comfort. He tells us that the spiritual darkness; the great falling away; the closing up of men’s hearts; was all foretold long ago. Nothing is taking place that God hasn’t foreseen. Everything happens according to the Book.
When Peter wrote his epistle, the first Christians expected Jesus to return in their lifetime. Even the apostle Paul thought this. Paul writes to the Thessalonians,(1 Thessalonians 4:17) “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds”. “We”, says Paul,“who are still alive”. But as the years rolled by without the Lord’s return; as the apostles were martyred, and as the first believers grew old, scoffers arrived.
Peter writes: (2 Peter 3:3) “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires”.
“In the days before the Lord’s return,” Peter says, “be ready for ridicule”. Be prepared for the fact that God’s word will be treated with contempt. A few years ago I was putting Bible tracts into letterboxes just on the other side of town. I watched as a car pulled up to a house I’d already passed. I’ll never forget. The driver got out, checked his letterbox, took one look at the tract, tore it savagely to pieces and threw it into a bin. There was such palpable scorn in his action. That’s now normal today.
If we find ourselves in a world that thinks the second coming of Jesus is ridiculous; if we find ourselves living in an age when the culture around us thinks the day of judgement is a joke; if we find ourselves in a nation that has no fear of God before its eyes; then we can be sure that the Lord’s return is nearer than ever before.
Why do people scoff at the gospel? Peter tells us, they follow their own evil desires. Oh, unbelievers will tell us something different. They’ll tell us they despise the gospel because it’s a tool of the white male patriarchy; or its misogynist and denies women abortion rights; or that it’s an old book written by ancient people who didn’t have a clue. They’ll tell us they need sophisticated philosophy, and the gospel? Well the gospel’s just too simple. They’ll tell us that they’re terribly intellectual you see, and intellectual people know that truth isn’t found in God’s revealed word.
But it’s not scholarship that makes them scoff. It’s not brains. Ultimately, there’s only one reason that men reject the gospel, and despise the Lord Jesus Christ. They do so, says Peter, because they want to follow their evil desires. At the heart of all atheism; at the centre of every blasphemous utterance; underneath the veneer of every mocking word sits evil desire which the sinner longs to pursue.
I remember one young woman who blamed the church for everything in her life. She hated the idea of judgement; she hated Christians who believed the Bible. And she was not a nice lady. But at some point in the discussion I had with her, she admitted to having a string of sinful relationships. But she didn’t want to repent. And she didn’t want the gospel to be true. So she scoffed.
Peter goes on, (2 Peter 3:4) “They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
Here the Apostle Peter sets before us the argument of the scoffers. The arguments of scoffers have never changed. They may use new language; they may use new presentation; but it’s still same old argument, unchanged for thousands of years.
The scoffers look at history and the world around them, and they say, “Look! There’s been no divine interruption. The system chugs along. Nothing messes with the flow. The earth turns; the seasons change; the years pass and there’s been no divine judgement. God has never taken action. So therefore he never will. Why should we think Christ is going to come again?
The scoffers ask, “Where is his coming? How long is it going to take?” I checked one of the most popular atheist websites and looked up their article on the second coming of Jesus. The first line of the article said exactly this. “If the second coming is true, why is it taking so long?”
This is the philosophy of naturalism that says there’s no eternity. There’s no new heaven and earth. There’s no second coming of Jesus. All we have is now, so eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. But this isn’t a new philosophy. We haven’t been overtaken by a new belief. It’s an old belief that has returned. It just wears a different costume.
Peter answers them (2 Peter 3:5-6): “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished."
They deliberately forget, says Peter. Literally, “they desire it to be so in their forgetting”. They don’t want to know. So they suppress the truth. Paul says, (Romans 1:18) “They suppress the truth in their wickedness”. Wicked hearts find so many ways to shut out God’s unwelcome truth.
Suppressing God’s truth is like pushing a ball under water. I’m sure we’ve all done it. In the pool, taken a ball, and pushed it as far as we can under the water. So long as we keep pushing it down, it stays under. But the moment we let go, it flies to the surface like a cannonball.
God’s truth is like that, says Paul. It’s pushed down by rebel sinners, and that requires a lot of work. They need to push it down with ideology; they need to dodge logical moral conclusions; they retreat to irrationality. It’s hard work disbelieving the truth, because God’s truth is all around us, and it’s within us, written on the conscience and the heart.
The two truths that man wants to suppress the most, as Peter tells us, is number one: that God’s word created the heavens and earth, and number two: that God sent the first global judgement of the Flood. There’s no faster way to get the label of hillbillies and simpletons today than to declare that God created the heavens and earth and judged the world in a great flood.
But this isn’t new. When man refuses to see God in creation, we do not witness some new phenomenon. It’s been around for ever. Paul tells us (Romans 1:20), “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse”. You only have to look at the creation, says Paul, to find the clear evidence of God. It’s so plain, men have no excuses.
When people want to see, they will find the fingerprints of God all over creation. In fact,the more knowledge we gain the more obvious it is that all things have been made by a great intelligence. So much so, that a quiet revolution is taking place in the academy. More and more scientists, though not Christian, are recognising that evolution is inadequate to explain life.
In the last few decades, scientists have discovered that all life on this planet is literally written in chemical code. Life has a language; an incredibly precise language. But the most remarkable thing is that this genetic code is universal. All life from plants, to animals, to fungi is coded in the same language. This is one of the reasons that scientists like Francis Collins who helped to decode the human genome, says that unbelief is simply not reasonable.
How could a blind, clunky, crude, linear process produce a language that is obeyed by all living things? The short answer is that it can’t. Language only comes from a mind. Just as the scriptures tell us, in the beginning was the Word. And long ago, God spoke. He used words; he used language, and when God spoke, the heavens and earth came into existence. Life itself bears witness.
A properly reasoning intellect looks at a sunset; or wasp building a complex nest out of drops of mud, a newborn baby in all its vulnerable smallness – and it sees something of its Creator. Natural revelation gives us knowledge of God. Not the full gospel, but enough so that we are without excuse.
But scoffers don’t want to see. That’s the problem. The scoffers want to forget. They’re in the business of truth suppression. Why? Because creation reminds us that we are subject to another; we are not free to do whatever we want. God is God and we are not.
The other thing Peter tells us the scoffers forget is the watery judgement. My, people love to ridicule the story of Noah and the Flood. The story is sanitised; tamed; it’s turned into a source of humour, and cute little illustrations; it’s turned into bizarre movies.
But the story of the Flood is horrific. Imagine what it must have been like to step off the ark that day. The world covered in debris; mud everywhere; every city washed away; with who knows how many rotting corpses spread around. The stench of death must have been off the radar screen. That little family of eight people must have been profoundly aware that they were alone on the earth. All the people; the comforts; literature; entertainment; everything they’d ever known had been swept away. They alone had been saved.
Scoffers don’t want to remember, and they don’t want to see the abundant evidence of a global catastrophe. Why? Because the Flood reveals the terror of God’s judgement and reminds them that the Flood is a prototype of a judgement that is yet to come.
Peter goes on: “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly”.
Here’s the answer to the philosopher’s question, “What is it all here for?” Here’s the answer to the environmentalist’s question, “What’s going to happen to our planet?” Peter says, “It’s going to be burned. It’s kept for the flames at the end of time”.
There are beautiful and lovely things about this creation. But Peter reminds us that it’s temporary. Respect creation; yes. Enjoy creation; yes. Be responsible with creation, yes. Obsess over creation; no. But pagans can’t do that. Pagans either panic about creation, or they worship it. It’s an unavoidable spiritual law. If a person doesn’t worship the true God, they’ll end up worshipping the creature and the creation. That’s exactly what we see today. The world isn’t becoming less pagan. It’s becoming more pagan.
But we can be sure that God’s word will keep things going until time is up. We don’t need to panic about the climate; nuclear waste; icebergs or anything else. It’s all temporary. And it’s wearing out.
But Peter doesn’t just stop at creation, he also tells us about people. There’s a fiery judgement coming, says Peter. The first judgement was with water; the second will be with fire. And the ungodly, great and small will be dealt with.
Every year when I teach senior history, when I cover American slavery or the Holocaust, I experience trauma. I burn with anger at the injustice and cruelty of men. I long that they should be punished. There have been times when I’ve wept; and other times when I couldn’t sleep. Being a history teacher means you know horrible stories. Who can deal with the fact that men could pack a room with human beings and pump gas into it? It fills me with grief and rage. To make matters worse; to ignite a greater rage, most wicked people in history who did such evil got away with it.
“Ah,” says Peter, “but don’t you worry. Don’t you worry! They think they got away. But they haven’t got away with anything”. You see, says Peter, there’s a judgement coming. Scoffers and evildoers think they evaded justice. But a day will dawn when a fearful, terrible, eternal justice will be done. As Abraham said in Genesis (Genesis 18:25), “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” He sure will. Every cruel, ungodly, evil person who hates our Lord will be removed forever.
We see in the world today what happens when people have no doctrine of final judgement. On the streets of America and around the world, great forces have been unleashed. There’s constant talk of slavery. Statues are torn down. Old pain is dug up. Forgotten victims are publicised. There’s talk of reparations. Curriculums at colleges and schools are being edited. Much of this is because people can’t bear the thought of the past. History as a subject struggles to find students these days. Why? Because people can’t handle the great injustices of history. People can’t even face the evil around us.
To believe in judgement is freedom. Judgement is a liberating doctrine. It’s not depressing. It sets us free. How do we face our news stream each day in a world of injustice? Many people can’t. They go to pieces. How do we live in the knowledge that people suffer every day? How do we deal with something like the Holocaust? Again, many people simply can’t. But as Christians we are liberated in the certain knowledge that the Judge of all the earth will do right.
Peter goes on: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Our God is not a slow God, says Peter. Sometimes people think that God is a slow God. They think God doesn’t answer prayers quickly; doesn’t do anything speedily; that’s why people give up praying; and searching; and looking for his coming again. “God is slow,” they say, “He does all things at glacial pace.” But Peter says, no. Our God is not a slow God.
God is always working out his purposes; every second and every minute. Sometimes, says Peter, God works out his purposes quietly over a thousand years and nobody even sees it. Great changes in our time started a thousand years ago. At other times, God works out his purposes quickly and achieves a thousand years’ worth of change in a single day. One of my history professors used to say that the First World War hammered the nails into the old world. Five years of war brought a thousand years of change. God is always working in time and history and space to bring his promises to fulfilment.
“The Lord”, says Peter, “is not slow in keeping his promise”. God is hastening this world to its end. God doesn’t want this sinful system to last any more than we do. The only reason it’s taken longer than many Christians had hoped, is that God is patient so that the full number of the elect will come to repentance and be saved. Yet Peter urges us to speed the coming of the Lord. How do we speed Christ’s return? How do we shorten the delay? By evangelising, so that the lost will be saved. By living holy and godly lives. The manner in which we live, says Peter, speeds Christ’s return.
Jesus Christ came to earth in humility two-thousand years ago, but he will return in glory riding on the great white horse. When Jesus’ ascended to heaven he was seen by a handful of witnesses; when he comes back he will be seen by the whole world. The first time, he came to earth to die at the hands of sinners; when he returns his robe is dipped in the blood of his enemies and he comes to conquer and to judge. The first time he came he offered grace; the next time he comes he’ll bring justice.
Look forward to that day, says Peter. Because when he comes again, he will take his faithful people to be with him in a new heaven and a new earth.
The question is: do I, as Peter says, look forward to the day of the Lord? Do I hope for that day; find comfort in that day; and do all I can to speed its coming? Most assuredly, if we love our Master, we’ll live in expectation of his coming. If we’re faithful, we’ll be listening for the trumpet blast that heralds his return. We’ll be watchful, praying for his return; always hopeful that maybe this will be the great year of the Lord! If we cultivate such a spiritual life, then it will not matter what time of night or day he comes. For as scripture tells us, if we live in such way, we will not need to be ashamed at his appearing.