The false teachers have been swaying Christians into believing that the second coming of Jesus is simply a myth and there will not be a final judgment. Peter has systematically destroyed these teachings showing that judgment is certainly coming and that Jesus is going to return. The apostles did not follow cleverly devised myths when they taught these events. Peter has explained that these scoffers deliberately overlook that the world was previously destroyed by water. Now, the heavens and earth are now reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. Now Peter continues by explaining why earth has continued on as long as it has.
8 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. 9 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.
Verse 8 is perhaps one of the top ten verses lifted out of its context and misused in a number of ways. First, we need to recognize that this statement borrows from the Old Testament, the words of Moses in Psalm 90, speaking about God.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:3-4; ESV)
Notice that the psalmist is comparing the eternal nature of God with the brevity of the life of humans. Peter uses this point: these scoffers are overlooking God’s perspective of time. God is eternal! God is not bound by time. God is not bound by our schedules. What is perceived by humans to be a long time is not a long time to God. We cannot bind God to our time constraints, or by when we think the Lord should return. Two thousand years seems like a long time to us. But this is not a long time for God. The illustration of a thousand years is like one day is simply to help us understand the concept of eternity. We cannot fully wrap our minds around eternity because everything in life is finite and comes to an end. But not so with God. So Peter is using a thousand years being like one day to help us see that, to an eternal being, our thousands is not long to God.
Before we can leave verse 8 we also need to take care of a fallacy. Peter is not offering a new definition of time. Too often this verse is misused to distort clear Bible teachings. Some have said that the six days of creation could be thousands of years because “one day is like a thousand years” to God. Some will examine passages that say that something will quickly take place (like judgment or like the book of Revelation) and say that to God it is quickly, even though thousands of years have passed.
Peter is not teaching that we cannot trust God when he tells us a period of time. Peter is not saying that we have no idea what God means when he says that something lasts a day, a month, or a year. First, Peter’s letter was not written until the mid-60s A.D. Nearly all the scriptures had been written by this point. Peter is not teaching to go back all the way to Genesis and change days to thousands of years. Second, if we play fast and loose with days and years like this, then what we are saying is that God is incapable of speaking to humans. God does not know how to relate time to his creation. This will not work. God knows what a day is to us. God knows what a year is to us. God knows what a thousand years is to us. God knows what it means to us to say that something will happen quickly or will take a long time. Peter is not saying that we have no idea what the timeline is if God says something will happen quickly.
Christians must stop using this verse to keep their false interpretations about the end times or apocalyptic texts. If God said something would happen quickly, that is what he meant for us to understand. If God said he created the world in six days, then six days is what he wanted us to understand. Peter is saying that people overlook that God has a different perspective of time than humans. What seems long to us is short to God. But when God tells us something will happen shortly, then that is what he means.
Now, in verse 9 Peter continues to explain why so much time has gone by. It is not that God is being slow. Time is not a consequence to eternal beings. Rather, there is a reason for this so called “delay.” God does not want any person to perish. This is the reason why thousands of years have passed by since the time Jesus first came to the earth. God wants all people to reach repentance. God is longsuffering and patient. God is being gracious, not indifferent about the coming of Jesus and final judgment. The great length of time does not show that judgment is not coming. Rather, it shows the great patience of God. He wants to give more time so that one more person can receive God’s grace and be granted eternal life. God wants every person to repent. Repentance is to change your life purpose to no longer be living for yourself, but to put God first in your life and decisions. It is the mind that decides to turn away from sin and turn toward God. Amazingly, we turn God’s love for us into a reason to think he does not exist or is not returning. God loves every person and is patient, wanting all to repent rather than perish. We would do well to implement the same attitude of patience. If God loves every person and is patient with them, so must we.
10 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.
I believe this verse ought to be read with the emphasis on the words “will come.” Even though God is patient and does not want anyone to perish, do not think that Jesus is not returning. The day of the Lord will come. Notice in this verse that Peter says the word “will” four times. The Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will pass away with a roar. The heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved. The earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. These things will happen. Do not mistake God’s patience as inaction.
Further, the day will come like a thief, that is, suddenly and unexpectedly. We have crackpots running around trying to predict when the end of the world will come. They write books, scaring people about being left behind, drawing charts and graphs, and combining Daniel, Revelation, and today’s newspaper. Every little thing that happens in this world is frequently seen as the beginning of the end. Friends, that day is coming like a thief comes. A thief gives no warning. There are not signs of when a thief is going to strike. The element of surprise is required. To try to predict when the day of the Lord will come is as ridiculous as trying to predict what day the thief is going to rob your house.
Peter goes on to explain what is going to happen on that day. Basically, everything is going to be burned up. Back in verse 7 Peter said that the earth is reserved for fire. Peter now declares that when the day of the Lord arrives, everything about this creation is going to be burned up and dissolved. So why do we invest in this present world? It is all going to burn up! Why put your hope and happiness in your house? It is going to burn. Why put your joy in new cars and trucks? It is going to burn. Why put your hope in accumulating wealth? It is going to burn. Why put your hope in anything on this earth? It is all going to burn! Yet we foolishly continue place our happiness and hope in the physical things of this world, ignoring the fact that it is all going to be burned up and dissolved. What a terrible investment! You are putting all your time and effort into something that will not last.
Further, everything done on earth is going to be exposed. This same idea is brought out in the book of Revelation.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12; ESV)
Judgment is definitely coming and we will be judged according to our actions while we were alive on the earth. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10; ESV). It is this thought that leads into the next few verses.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 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! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Since all of these things are going to happen this way, how do you think we ought to live our lives knowing that this world is not going to last? Clearly our lives need to full of holiness and godliness. We need live our lives in devotion to God since all these things are going to be dissolved. We cannot live with our eyes blind to the fact that a judgment is coming. The time until his return continues because God is patient, not wanting any to perish. But do not forget that all these things are going to be burned up. Do not live for this world. Live a life of holiness. Do not live for the weekend. Live for God. Do not live for your job. Live for Jesus. We need to be fully devoted to the Lord knowing that it is all going to be burned up. The second coming and impending judgment should motivate us to live a holy life.
Verse 12 brings out an interesting thought. Not only are we to be waiting for the day of the Lord to arrive, but we are also hastening the day’s arrival. These are words that cause me to raise my eyebrow: we are speeding the day’s arrival. The point seems to be rather natural: God is waiting before bringing the day of judgment because he wants all to repent. Therefore, we not only wait for the day to come, but speed the day along by living holy lives and teaching others to repent. We often think of God’s judgment coming quickly as the world grows more evil. We should also consider that God’s judgment will come quickly as more come to Jesus. At some point judgment will come. But since God desires all to repent, it is up to us bring that to reality by preaching and teachings our friends and neighbors. Everything is going to burn. We must share this message to everyone that we have opportunity to speak to.
New Heavens and New Earth
Peter ends this section of thought by saying that we are waiting for a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells. What is this new heavens and new earth that we are awaiting, given according to God’s promise? This text has often been the cause of the teaching that the earth is going to be renovated, not destroyed, and we will live in paradise on the earth. But I think this misses how the new heavens and new earth are used in the scriptures.
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17; ESV)
The context is describing the new order and system that will arrive when the Messiah comes and brings his kingdom. God is pictured as being with his people and pouring blessings upon them (65:18-20). Notice the peace in God’s kingdom being pictured as the wolf and the lamb lying together (65:25). I believe this is prophesying about the new covenant and restored kingdom and blessings that will come to the people when the Messiah comes.
For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22; ESV)
The context is the same as in Isaiah 65. There is going to be a new order coming. A new system will arrive and things will be different with the Messiah arrives.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Revelation 21:1-3; ESV)
Again, this image pictures a new system and new order. God is going to dwell with his people. I think we need to apply the same meaning to what Peter is saying. Peter is not saying that we are going to live on a renovated earth or that paradise will be on earth. Rather, Peter is saying that we are not looking forward to this physical world. It will all be burned up. We are looking forward to the new order and arrangement, our new lives, when Jesus comes a second time. This fits the theme of this chapter and the theme of the letter. We are awaiting the return of Jesus. Things are going to be different when he comes. We will not have the same life or same world when he comes. We are looking forward to new lives and a new arrangement, a place where righteousness dwells. That is not on the earth, but in eternal life.
- Do not invest in this present world. It will not last
- Do not listen to crackpots concerning the end of the world. The day of the Lord will come like a thief.
- Live your life knowing that everything will be exposed. We should live in holiness and devotion to God, looking forward to and speeding up his coming.