Israel lived by the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus lived by the Word of God (Matthew 4:4). The church should live by the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). In many ways the little epistle of 2 Peter is about living by the Word of God. It is in the written Word of God that we learn of his promises which help us to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). One of the strongest passages in the Word of God for its inspiration is in 2 Peter (1:20, 21). And the false teachers obviously did not live by the Word of God (2:1-22). Peter told in this second letter (3:1) that the church should remember the predictions of the prophets and the commandment of Jesus “through the apostles” (found in the written Word of God) about the last days (3:2). The church should marvel at the Word of God.
The Doubting of God’s Word
2 Peter 3:3-7
The father of lies always tries to get God’s people to doubt God’s Word (Genesis 3:1). His minions, the scoffers (people who make fun of or deceive) do the same thing. Following their own evil desires (passions), they taunt the promise of the Word of God concerning the return of Christ. They cried out, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” In their humanism the false teachers had no room for a God who would be involved in his own creation.
Their doubt in God’s Word caused them to whiz right by the place of that Word in creation, the flood, and final judgment. These three interventions of God in the world are linked by three words: creation, water, and judgment. God spoke creation into existence by his Word (Genesis 1:3). Water was an essential element in that original creation (v. 2). (By the way, water is also an essential element in people being new creations—John 3:5; Titus 3:5.) Water made Peter think about the judgment of water in the flood of Noah (Genesis 6–9; 1 Peter 3:20, 21), and that earlier judgment through water made Peter think about the future judgment of God through fire. For sure, things went belly up in Eden when people doubted God’s Word.
The Timing of God’s Coming
2 Peter 3:8-10
Doubting God’s Word will ultimately lead to unbelief. Unbelief is part of spiritual amnesia. These false teachers forgot that God’s seeming lack of involvement was due to how he looks at time and to his quality of patience. God created time (Genesis 8:22), entered time (John 1:14), but exists outside of time. One day to God is the same as a thousand years. (Besides Revelation 20:2, 3, this is the only time in the New Testament that the phrase “thousand years” appears, and clearly it is used figuratively. See also Psalm 90:4.)
The reason for the delayed parousia (coming) is due to God’s patience (longsuffering). God does not want people to perish (see John 3:16). He wants them to come to repentance. More time equals more opportunity to respond to the gospel. But false teachers should not mistake God’s patience for God’s lack of keeping his Word. God’s delay is not a denial of his coming. In fact, his coming will be sudden, like a thief coming into the house—totally unexpected. In addition to the suddenness of his coming there will be evidence of the cosmic nature of his coming. The heavens (cosmic atmosphere) will disappear with a roar (very loud noise)—similar language to the account of Noah’s flood. The elements (basic foundational things of the universe) will be destroyed by fire—see 2 Peter 3:12, and the earth as we know it will be laid bare (or as the textual variant might have it, “burned up.”) God is coming in his time. The Word of God declares it.
The Holiness of God’s People
2 Peter 3:11-15
This is where the rubber meets the road. The Word of God declares that he is the maker of Heaven and earth, that he judged the world through a flood, and that he is coming back suddenly like the coming of a thief. Since those things are true, what kind of lives should we live? Peter answered his own question. We should live holy and godly lives so that we will be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Living this way affirms the salvation that Paul wrote about, even though some of what he wrote may have seemed hard to understand (3:16).
The text began and ended with promise. The false teachers ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” But those who live by the Word of God actually seek a new heaven and a new earth and in doing so speed (hasten) the coming of that promise.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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