The end of the world is a subject that fascinates many people – how might it happen, when will it come? In unsettled times, times of conflict, the end of the world does not seem to be a remote prospect. People can offer all kinds of theories and speculations, but only the sovereign Lord can tell us what he has decreed for the future. We now consider 2 Peter 3:1-13 The Day of the Lord.
1. The ridicule of unbelievers
What Peter says may well be related to the activity of false teachers already described. ‘First of all you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come’ (v3). The last days began with the first coming of Christ (Hebrews 1:2). Error is again related to immoral conduct – ‘following their own evil desires’. The nature of the scoffing is questioning the reality of Christ’s return – ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?’ (v4). A problem in the early church was that some Christians misunderstood Jesus’ teaching and thought he would come back almost at once (see Mark 9:1). When he did not come back, they became distressed and open to the attacks of scoffers – ‘everything goes on as it has’ (v4). The challenge that believers often have to face is that unbelievers refuse to believe what their senses cannot detect and Christian faith becomes an object of ridicule.
2. The reply of Peter
Peter is undeterred and offers his readers a twofold answer:
- Things do not go on unchanged (v5-7). Creation has once before undergone dramatic change at the Flood (Genesis 7). This is a token that the Lord can do the same again, this time by fire – ‘reserved for fire’ (v7). Scoffers are wilfully blind to the truth.
- It is folly to believe that God is subject to our timescale – time is irrelevant to God. He ‘is not slow in keeping his promise’ (v7). The ‘delay’ is to allow time for repentance.
3. The renewal of creation
Peter uses dramatic language to describe the final events. The focus is on God’s action. There will be ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (v11) – renewal, not annihilation. This is also taught in Romans 8:22. The cosmic transformation is bound up with the completion of our salvation, our adoption. There will be a perfect creation as a result of God’s sovereign work. The ravages of sin will be removed from believers and the creation
4. The response of believers
The description of the final cosmic renewal is not given to inspire fear in believers – they have nothing to fear as they meet their Saviour. We ‘are looking forward’ (v13) in anticipation. There is, however, to be a practical response in the present – ‘what kind of people ought you to be? (v11). The prospect of the passing away of the temporal order should be a spur to a life of obedience. God uses our efforts to prepare the way (v12).
Nobody wants to give unnecessary offence. We want to avoid hurting others. These are right and proper concerns. They can however lead us to refuse to disagree with opinions that we believe to be seriously wrong and harmful. One of the highly regarded virtues of our society is tolerance, but when it comes to issues of truth there have to be limits to tolerance. Those who teach error regarding the basics of the gospel cannot be ignored. We now consider 2 Peter 2:10b – 21 Beware false teachers.
1. A wicked life
Peter knows that false teaching and those who spread it can have a fatal attraction. It appears that something more exciting than the old orthodoxy is on offer. Hence Peter’s lengthy indictment. There seems to be a spiritual arrogance in these teachers – ‘Bold and arrogant…not afraid to slander celestial beings’ (v10b). The ‘celestial beings’ are fallen angels (v11) – the teachers seem to have a casual attitude to spiritual dangers. They fail to recognise their own smallness. ‘They ‘blaspheme in matters they do not understand’. There is a moral laxity (v14), with their whole life infected by this outlook. Even the company of Christians is not a restraint. Also ‘they are experts in greed’ (v14). False teachers seem to offer much but in fact deliver nothing – ‘springs without water’ (v17).
2. A destructive influence
False teachers can enjoy a measure of success, but are also one of the ways God chastens and awakens a sleepy church. They make an impressive sound that can have an effect on the spiritually immature. Even true believers can be led astray for a time. In particular danger are ‘those who are just escaping from those who live in error’ (v18). Old sins can exert a strong pull and knowledge of the truth can be limited, and so they are vulnerable. False teachers ‘promise them freedom’ – freedom from any restraint, even of God’s law. They are told they can live as they please. In fact such a life is bondage – false teachers are ‘slaves of depravity’ v19). The danger is real. Many follow false ways to their cost. True believers can be influenced by them if they are not on their guard. The greatest danger is to those not well-grounded in the truth. That is why the church must be so careful to instruct the Lord’s people well. Truth protects.
3. A lost opportunity
Sadly, these false teachers had a knowledge of the truth that could have led to a heart commitment to Christ (v20). They know the way of salvation and it has had some effect, but Peter is not saying they were ever truly saved. Some can go a long way in understanding the gospel yet never actually believe. To go back instead of forward spiritually is a very serious matter – ‘they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning’ (v20). Remember Jesus’ story of the man from whom a demon was exorcised, but nothing good was put in its place (Matthew 12:45). Peter offers two unflattering illustrations (v22). Some knowledge of the truth and some moral renovation are not enough – our only hope is in Christ, made ours by repentance and saving faith.
Rev. Blair McFarland
Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the closest he came to a systematic presentation of his theology – the theology given by the Holy Spirit. Both doctrine and the resulting practice are set out. Romans 8 is an outstandingly majestic chapter, with some of the most profound teaching in the letter. After a ringing affirmation of the Christian’s freedom from condemnation (v1-2), Paul turns to consider the plight in which sinners find themselves and the way in which God has brought us to new life. Consider Romans 8:3-4 God’s work of grace.
1. Our miserable failure
It may seem Paul is speaking not about our failure, but that of the law – ‘what the law was powerless to do’. The law is God’s standard for our moral conduct, but it is unable to provide the basis for freedom from sin and condemnation. The real failure is in human beings. The law ‘was weakened by the sinful nature (the ‘flesh’)’. Here ‘flesh’ refers to the whole of sinful human nature, the corrupt spring of life. It is in a state of warfare with God (Galatians 5:17). Our corrupt nature results in sinful acts of all kinds (Galatians 5:19). We are all born with such a nature. The law could not break that slavery in our lives. The path of salvation by efforts to keep the law is doomed to failure (Hebrews 7:19).
2. God’s gracious answer
God could justly have condemned every sinner, but instead he decreed that many would be saved – ‘what the law was powerless to do…God did’ – a twofold answer:
- ‘Sending his own Son’. He took the gracious initiative in coming to seek sinners. It is love beyond our comprehension (John 3:16). Salvation is entirely by grace. In view is the incarnation of the Son – ‘in the likeness of sinful man’. Christ took our nature, subject to weakness and temptation, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), taking a servant role (Philippians 2:7). He came ‘to be a sin offering (lit. ‘for sin’)’.
- ‘Condemned sin in the flesh’. God the Judge passed sentence on sin and executed condemnation through the death of his Son. What appeared to be defeat was in fact the greatest victory (Colossians 2:15). Sin has been dealt with at the cross where Christ took the place of his people (Isaiah 53:5). The Substitute is the perfect answer to our need.
3. Our obedient response
When we come in repentance and faith to Christ, we receive a share in his victory. We have new life, no longer in bondage to sin. Ahead is a whole life, with the goal of holiness. Note the description in v4 ‘that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us’ (v4). For the Christian the law is now our guide for life, pointing us to the right way to live. Keeping God’s law is now a response of love and gratitude – ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15). If love is real, it will be shown in action. We still need divine help to enjoy victory – we ‘do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit’. Obedience has become a delight and a means to glorify God.