In the interim between Christ’s ascension and return, God has granted humanity the opportunity to repent.
In his second epistle, Peter explains the apparent “delay” in the return of Jesus from heaven. God is characterized by mercy and has no desire for anyone to perish. But the apostle even contends that the conduct of the church may “hasten” that day’s arrival. The relationship of men with God is dynamic, not static, and He responds eagerly to repentance.
Peter was reacting to lies about the return of Jesus, claiming either that his “coming” was delayed or will never come. That hope was a fervent expectation in the early church. But as time progressed, the surrounding world remained the same.
Wars, earthquakes, and other disasters continued to occur, but the earth remained intact. Rome did not fall, and the stars and planets continued in their respective courses. Thus, it was easy to assume that Christ’s return had been delayed. And this caused “scoffers to scoff, saying, where is the promise of his coming?” – (2 Peter 3:1-4).
In defending his position, Peter explained why Jesus has not yet appeared in glory. Rather than “delay” or failure, the apparent “postponement” in accord with God’s plan and mercy, His desire for all men and women to repent and receive salvation.
- (2 Peter 3:5-7) – “For this, they willfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of the water and amidst water, by the word of God; by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
Deceivers “scoff” at the idea of the return of Jesus and final judgment on the disobedient, and they often point to normalcy, the routines and regular rituals of human society that continue daily, as solid evidence that God is not about to judge the world. Did not the apostles promise the soon return of the Lord, a claim now falsified by the passage of time and history?
But the deceivers “willfully forgot” that God previously destroyed society “by His word” in the Great Flood. Rather than prove that life simply continues as before, history demonstrates the opposite. Not only have natural and manmade catastrophes occurred, but God has also intervened more than once to bring destruction on sinful nations. And by that same “word of God,” the universe is being kept for the “day of judgment and destruction” yet to come.
- (2 Peter 3:8-10) – “But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which, the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”
Peter quotes the ninetieth Psalm to demonstrate that what men consider “delay” is no such thing. God does not account for the passage of time in the same manner that men do. He is not subject to human timetables and expectations – (Psalm 90:4).
Moreover, the non-arrival of Jesus is not due to delay, but to the mercy of God. Peter gives the rational reason for the present situation – God’s desire that all men repent and become saved. In the end, His “delay” will mean salvation for many.
Men must not deceive themselves and take advantage of His patience. The “Day of the Lord” will arrive at the appointed time, and “like a thief in the night.”
The simile of the “thief” is borrowed from a saying of Jesus that stresses the inability of men to know when the Lord will arrive – (Matthew 24:42-43, Luke 12:39, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, Revelation 2:2, 16:15).
Peter links the return of Jesus to the “Day of the Lord,” a belief found elsewhere in the New Testament. When that day does “arrive,” the heavens and earth will “pass away and be dissolved” to make way for the New Creation in which “righteousness is to dwell.”
Thus, the “Day of the Lord” will mean the destruction for the disobedient, but also vindication for the obedient. Considering this, “what manner of persons ought you all to be in the interim in holy ways of behavior and acts of godliness?”
HASTENING THAT DAY
- (2 Peter 3:11-14) – “Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? But according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight.”
Not only should Christians live holy lives in this expectation, but doing so may “hasten” its arrival.
“Hasten” translates the Greek verb speudō (Strong’s – G4692), used here as a present tense participle. It means to “urge on, hurry along, quicken, cause to happen soon, act quickly; to accelerate” something. And the present tense stresses this as an ongoing process.
The implications of this are profound but easily overlooked. Not only does Peter state why Jesus has not yet returned, he indicates that Christian action can advance that day’s arrival. But this also suggests that wrong action and inaction by the saints may delay it.
Thus, the arrival of Jesus on the appointed day is certain, and there has been no “delay.” Things have not continued as they did in the past, and normalcy has not characterized human history. Instead, it has been punctuated by disasters, catastrophes, destruction, and divine judgments on sin. That record ought to caution us not to assume things will continue as they always have.
And Peter has introduced a revolutionary idea that ought to change how we live. Christian action, for better or worse, will impact the timing of the end, our conduct will hasten or delay it.
Likewise, Jesus linked the timing of the “end” to the completion of the church’s mission to proclaim the gospel to the “whole habitable earth.” The church’s failure to complete that task very likely explains just why Jesus has not yet appeared “on the clouds.”