From the earliest days of Christianity anyone who has said that Jesus Christ will return one day has been considered crazy. Certainly, the idea of Christ bursting through the skies in a blazing display of power and glory, is not an idea that is easily accepted. And now centuries have passed and nothing has happened.
In his Second Letter the Apostle Peter warns, scoffers will come. Scoffers describes contemptuous mockery. ‘Jesus’ return isn’t just unlikely,’ they say. ‘It’s pure science fiction.’
What is Peter’s response? Consider the opening words of chapter three: This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken through your apostles.
Prophets and apostles are shorthand for the Old and the New Testaments. He’s saying that the prophets and the apostles are unanimous in what they say about God’s King and his ultimate reign.
And indeed, when we scan chapter 3, we find that Peter points to significant events in God’s story – creation; the flood in Noah’s day; and Jesus’ warning about his return one day as a thief in the night. Peter also quotes from Isaiah 65 which speaks of a new heaven and a new earth.
From cover to cover the Bible tells us that the world is going somewhere and that a day will come when God’s king returns to establish his just rule in all power and glory. Eternity will become a reality.
We need to understand that God is Lord of his creation. He exists outside of time. He also has a lively interest in all of us.
God is Lord of his Creation. Let me read verse 5: They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world at that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.
Noah’s flood is historical evidence that God did what the false teachers and scoffers say he won’t do — step into history as judge. ‘If God did it once, why shouldn’t he do it again?’ Peter asks. ‘You choose to ignore what the Bible so clearly says. You act this way because you do not like what it implies.’ God has judged his creation once and warns that he plans to do it a second time – through fire.
God exists beyond time. In verse 8 we read: But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
To us Jesus’ life, death and resurrection seem so long ago. For God, these events are like the day before yesterday. When we understand God’s perspective of time, our common complaints about the delay in Jesus’ coming seem rather petty. We’re treating God as if he exists in time. He doesn’t.
God has a lively interest in us. This is what Peter says in verse 9: The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance…
We must not confuse God’s lack of intervention with insensitivity or indifference. He could, if he chose, burst upon the world now. Peter wants us to understand the beauty of God’s compassion. God wants to give people like you and me time to turn back to him.
Jesus himself taught that he would rather leave the ninety-nine on the hill in the wind and rain to make sure that the one who is lost is safe. Yes, it does feel cold and uncomfortable while we wait, but he’s being patient.
But this same Jesus also says, ‘The day of the Lord will come like a thief.’ In the same way that a thief acts when we least expect it, so will Jesus’ return come at an unexpected hour.
It’s true that many in the first century expected God’s king to return soon. It’s equally true today that most people don’t think it will happen. Yes, we live in a nuclear capable age; yes, we understand the power of seismic forces; and yes, we live in an age of unpredictable brutality. But most people don’t really think the end of the world will happen. The reality is, two thousand years have come and gone. It could happen at any time.
It’s easy for us to let the voice of scoffers lead us to doubt the return of the Christ, and so leave us unprepared. We shouldn’t forget Jesus’ own warning in his story about the foolish bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13).
The day of the Lord will come like a thief, Peter writes. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,…?
‘What kind of people should we be?’ Peter asks.
False teachers will always tell us to ignore the idea of Jesus’ return because they want to retain and teach their own selfish and licentious lifestyle. The last thing they want to think about is the return of God’s king.
Only one thing will stand when God’s king returns: our relationship with him. We cannot afford the luxury of idleness or apathy in spiritual or moral matters.
Scepticism about the second coming is dangerous because it can lead to laziness. The Day is fixed. Soon we shall find while travelling on, time gone.