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).