I don’t know which film it was, but I am sure it was in a very old cowboy movie that I first heard the hero say to the baddie, “Get ready to meet your Maker”. People nowadays don’t like to think about the inevitability of their death but there was a time when everybody recognised that when people die we will all face the judgment seat of God. That is, unless our Lord Jesus Christ returns sooner than that. Like many other passages of the New Testament, 2 Peter chapter 3 wants everybody to be ready for the certain events in all our futures – judgment day and the return of the Lord.
Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.
In chapter 2 Peter warned his readers to be on their guard for the dangers of false teachers. Chapter 3 points them back to wholesome thinking in the basic truths of the gospel as they were revealed by Jesus and passed on by all the apostles. And the most important truth Peter wants to highlight is simply this.
JESUS GOING TO RETURN
3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?
People laugh at Christians when we say we believe that Jesus Christ is going to come back. People mock us because we are living for the future when they are living in the present. Even in the Early Church there were scoffers rejecting the promise Jesus made that he would return in glory. There are even more scoffers and mockers today making fun of the truth and sadly some of them are theologians and preachers. We should recognise that denying the return of Jesus is not a new problem. Peter suggests those wrong ideas have a number of roots.
Wrong ideas about the world.
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.’
This is the mistaken presupposition that everything goes on the same forever. Nothing has changed, nothing is changing, nothing is going to change, nothing ever changes. It’s the basic assumption which underlies our materialistic post-modern world. It’s a necessary presupposition if you want to do science but it leads people to wrongly believe that miracles can’t happen, that the incarnation could not have happened, and equally that it would be impossible for Jesus to return. It’s the wrong assumption which underpins secular humanism and liberal theology and the theory of evolution. Things don’t change – that’s the incorrect presupposition which most people live their lives by, and it goes alongside
Wrong ideas about how the Creation happened
5 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.
People who scoff at the idea that Jesus is going to return tend to be the same people who reject the idea that God created the world in the first place. The act of Creation demonstrates that things do change. God spoke into the darkness and there was light. Things do change. And once you recognize that God is Creator then there is no problem with the idea that God could at any time break in and transform this creation. Jesus can return and Jesus will return.
Rejecting the historic events of the flood.
6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.
The events of the flood are the obvious example of a time when God broke into his Creation in judgment. So people who want to deny that God will bring judgment in the future pretty much have to also deny that God has acted in judgment in the past. Otherwise they would have to accept the reality that the world actually doesn’t carry on like it always has. At times God has broken in, and there is nothing to stop God breaking in again.
Rejecting the word of God
7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
The same word of God which had created the world will one day declare judgment. We have heard about this word from the prophets, from the mouth of Jesus himself, and in the teaching of all the apostles. The truth so many people want to ignore is that the day judgment is certainly coming. Heaven and earth will be destroyed by fire and the ungodly will be destroyed. These are the certain events in the future of humankind. People also deny these truths because they have
Wrong ideas about God
8 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.
So many people forget that God is not a human being – God is eternal. Peter is contrasting God’s perspective of eternity with the impatience of human expectations. He is quoting Psalm 90
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’
4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Humans view life and events from the perspective of time. But God is God from everlasting to everlasting. God views the world from the perspective of eternity.
Human beings were saying that God was being slow in the return of Jesus. But that is incorrect.
9 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 delay in the return of Jesus is not a sign that God is asleep, or out to lunch. Rather it is a sign of God’s mercy and patience, giving people opportunities to return to him in repentance. It might appear that God is being slow in keeping his promise. But the promise of Jesus’s return is no less certain for that. Jesus had taught about the coming day of Judgment. Even the Old Testament prophets had foretold it in language remarkably similar to the words Peter uses.
Isaiah 13 9 See, the day of the LORD is coming
—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.
Many people have wrong ideas about the world, wrong ideas about Creation, wrong ideas about the flood and wrong ideas about God. These lead them to deny the truth that Jesus is going to return. On the contrary, Peter says, the words of the prophets and the promises of Jesus himself assure us that the day of the Lord is certain to come.
2 Peter 3 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
“Like a thief in the night.” Jesus himself used this striking image and it became central in the expectations which the Early Church held regarding the return of Jesus. We find it in 1 Thessalonians 5 and also Revelation chapters 3 and 16. We cannot know when Jesus is going to return, so like faithful servants we should always be ready and prepared. So Peter goes on to explain
WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN JESUS RETURNS
Judgment by fire
2 Peter 3:10 …. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
God will bring cleansing purifying fire.
12 … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
The fires of judgment will burn away everything which is not acceptable to God. And then when Christ returns there will be a new creation.
13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
This is our Christian hope – that we will have an eternal home in the new heavens and the new earth.
Revelation 21:1 Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
Rightousness will dwell in this new heaven and new earth, and there will be no sin there. This is our Christian hope. So what kind of lives should we be living now?
WE SHOULD BE GETTING READY TO MEET OUR MAKER.
2 Peter 3 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness. So we should live holy and godly lives, to get ourselves ready for heaven. I am sure you know the story of Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club. “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” And if heaven was full of people like me, like I am now, I wouldn’t want to go there either. Heaven is perfect, unspoiled by greed or pride or any kind of sin. If we are honest we would admit that none of us is ready for heaven. None of us would fit in there. We would stick out like skunks in a perfume factory! We need to live as people who belong to the world which is to come, not this present world. God calls us to live godly and holy lives, both to prepare us for heaven and so that we will escape the fire and destruction of the day of judgment.
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
Pure and faultless and at peace with God. Exactly the opposite of the spots and blemishes of the false teachers we met in chapter 2 last week who were disfiguring the church. That’s why God has given us everything we could ever need for life and godliness.
We need to make every effort at becoming holy, with our lives set apart for God and devoted to him. We must do our best to be godly, with our lives centred on God. Half-heartedness won’t do. In the light of all that will happen when Jesus returns, we won’t want to waste our time and energy on things which don’t matter. We will want to make sure we are ready for when Jesus returns. And all the time we need to be on our guard for sin and false teaching.
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.
Instead we need to keep on getting to know God better and better all the time.
18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen.
Growing in grace and in our relationship with God and with Jesus our Lord and Saviour. As long as we keep on growing, we won’t be caught by surprise. We know that Jesus is coming back. We can be certain that one day Christ will return and on that day EVERY eye will see and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. We know that the day of judgment is coming. We know that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And these things could happen any day, even tonight. The day of the Lord will be good news for some but very bad news for others. Everyone needs to make sure we are ready to meet our maker.