by Mike Ratliff
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! (2 Peter 3:10-12 ESV)
I fell asleep during the local evening news tonight. I slept right up to the time when the NBC evening news came on. Their lead-in woke me up. As I heard the gloomy economic news, I found myself wondering where all of this was going. I actually had to force myself to turn the TV off and get alone with God for a bit. It was tough to make myself do that because there was a voice inside me demanding that I despair, worry, and doubt. However, during my evening devotional I read the following from Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening.
“And ye shall be witnesses unto Me.”-Acts 1:8
In order to learn how to discharge your duty as a witness for Christ, look at His example. He is always witnessing: by the well of Samaria, or in the Temple of Jerusalem: by the lake of Gennesaret, or on the mountain’s brow. He is witnessing night and day; His mighty prayers are as vocal to God as His daily services. He witnesses under all circumstances; Scribes and Pharisees cannot shut His mouth; even before Pilate He witnesses a good confession. He witnesses so clearly, and distinctly that there is no mistake in Him. Christian, make your life a clear testimony. Be you as the brook wherein you may see every stone at the bottom-not as the muddy creek, of which you only see the surface-but clear and transparent, so that your heart’s love to God and man may be visible to all. You need not say, “I am true:” be true. Boast not of integrity, but be upright. So shall your testimony be such that men cannot help seeing it. Never, for fear of feeble man, restrain your witness. Your lips have been warmed with a coal from off the altar; let them speak as like heaven-touched lips should do. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand.” Watch not the clouds, consult not the wind-in season and out of season witness for the Saviour, and if it shall come to pass that for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s you shall endure suffering in any shape, shrink not, but rejoice in the honour thus conferred upon you, that you are counted worthy to suffer with your Lord; and joy also in this-that your sufferings, your losses, and persecutions shall make you a platform, from which the more vigorously and with greater power you shall witness for Christ Jesus. Study your great Exemplar, and be filled with His Spirit. Remember that you need much teaching, much upholding, much grace, and much humility, if your witnessing is to be to your Master’s glory.
After I prayed and sought God’s peace and guidance, I found myself full of joy and determination. The focus of that determination was to write a piece dealing with our duty to our Saviour to be His witnesses to the world regardless of our circumstances. I did some scriptural cross-references for Acts 1:8 and found a wonderful passage in Isaiah.
I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 43:11-13 ESV)
Then I decided to build the article around this passage, but I struggled with the opening paragraph. Then I remembered a passage from 2 Peter 3 that spoke of the skeptical response to the coming of the Day of the Lord. I wanted to use it to lead into the fact that Jesus is coming back and we need to be about what we are called to do by God Himself regardless of the pressures we are under. However, as I read 2 Peter 3, I realized that I was being led to exegete this passage tonight instead. The way God works with me in this never fails to amaze me. I made a pot of coffee, put on some very comfortable clothes, and prepared my heart to listen to the Spirit as I opened Sacred Scripture for the teaching of God’s people.
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 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. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV)
My own experience has been that there are a great number of professing Christians who fall into this role of ‘scoffer.’ They may not intentionally do it, but they still have the mindset that ‘all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ The Greek word Peter used here that is translated ‘scoffers’ is ἐμπαίκτης or empaiktēs. This word describes one who derides and is by implication a false teacher. He or she is a mocker and a scoffer. Think of those so-called Bible scholars in our time who do all they can to cast doubt on the inerrancy of scripture and the deity of Christ. Think of men like Bart Ehrman author of the book Misquoting Jesus. Peter qualifies his description of these scoffers by telling us that they do this as they follow their own sinful desires. These scoffers desire is to live in sin with impunity. This drives them to deride biblical truth as well as those who are bound to it and believe it. The ‘last days’ that Peter refers to started at Pentecost and continue through our day. We are in ‘this age’ and await the ‘age to come.’
Notice that all that exists in ‘this age,’ the heavens and earth that now exist’ are stored up for fire. This is referring to the time at the end of ‘this age’ when the ungodly will be judged. This will be the day of reckoning for these scoffers. The Day of the Lord is coming.
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. (2 Peter 3:8-10 ESV)
The Day of the Lord is God’s final judgment. The delay in its coming is not a long time from God’s perspective. God is patient. This Greek word is μακροθυμέω or makrothumeō. This word literally means to be long spirited. It is often translated as ‘longsuffering’ or ‘forbearing.’ It is the opposite of being hasty to anger. This is a good thing my brethren. If you are in Christ, it is because God was patient towards you. None of us deserve salvation. What does it mean that God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance? Is this referring to all people? It is clear in scripture that not all people believe. Also, Romans 9 clearly shows that some are elected and called and others are not. We must approach this from the perspective that the Gospel must be freely offered to all people. We should pray for all people to be converted by God unto eternal life. We do not know who the elect are so we should obediently make disciples wherever we are from whomever we are around. God will effectually call His people to Himself. These are the ‘all’ referred to in v9.
Peter explains why God is patient with us then says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief. What does that mean? God’s judgment will not be delayed forever. When Christ returns it will be sudden, without warning like a the strike of a thief. If you have ever been a victim of thief then you know that they do not announce to you what they are going to do and then do it publicly with fanfare. No, they sneak around and strike when they think no one is seeing. It is always a great surprise. My son had his vehicle stolen from the front of his house in Washington, D.C. He knew nothing about it until the Police called to tell him that they had found it in the median of the Beltway. It has also been broken into several times. Each of these crimes cost my son a great deal of money to replace the broken windows and ignition, et cetera. These thieves always do their dirty deeds when they think no one is watching.
The day of the Lord will come upon this world as a complete surprise. This will happen at the end of ‘this age.’ Notice that the day of the Lord will be marked by some cataclysmic events that appear to be the destruction of all that we associate with ‘this age.’ However, notice what is not destroyed. The works that are done on it will be exposed. What does that mean? Some translations (KJV for example) render this as ‘will be burned up.’ The earliest manuscripts render this as ‘will be found’ using a Greek word that is a ‘divine passive meaning “found by God” to God’s judgment’ If this is ‘found’ or ‘exposed’ instead of ‘burned up’ then it looks like the earth is not totally annihilated at the day of the Lord. On the other hand, if it is ‘burned up’ then it does look like that will happen. I am leaning towards this being translated correctly as ‘exposed’ or ‘found’ because it fits better with how God always seems to renew, not destroy and recreate those parts of His creation that are marred by sin. In other words, I believe God will transform the earth rather than burn it up completely. We will know the truth when God reveals it to us.
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. (2 Peter 3:11-13 ESV)
The Christian’s focus should be on the eternal rather than the temporal. All of the things associated with ‘this age’ will be dissolved. This is the Greek word λύω or luō. This word describes the process of breaking up an object into small pieces or melting it. What we see now in ‘this age’ will not be what we will have or see ‘in the age to come.’ What we see now is marred by sin. Our focus needs to be on what is not marred by sin and that is God. We are to live lives of holiness and godliness. When the day of the Lord comes all we know now will be remade through the process God will use to create the New Heavens and the New Earth where perfect righteousness dwells. This is the ‘age to come.’
The Day of the Lord awaits the salvation of the last of the elect to believe and repent. This is why we should be diligent in being the witnesses we are commanded to be by our Lord. The sooner we finish this task, the sooner our Lord returns.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:16-23 ESV)
Come soon Lord Jesus!
Soli Deo Gloria!