“Destined for greatness … pacing myself” says one of Sarah’s favourite T-shirts. Personally, I’m not good at the whole pacing thing. I don’t like to be at events on time, I like to be there early and I like to see people involved there in good time too. The closer we get to the start time, the more anxious I become.
In our last study, we saw that the false teachers were using the absence of Jesus’ second coming to scoff and cast doubt on the Gospel. A lengthy period between Christ’s first and second coming particularly with the suffering and persecution that accompanied it caused complacency amongst the false teachers. However, for the Christians it would no doubt have been a cause of anxiety. So, Peter is taking time in the last chapter to re-assure his readers that Christ will return.
Don’t mistake God’s patience for slowness (8-9)
So, Peter shows the recipients of his letter that they can keep confidence in Christ’s confidence by pointing to aspects of God’s character. From verses 1-7, we saw this in his imminence through his intimate involvement in creation, in his work of creation and in his faithfulness through history. In verse 8 we see it in his eternal nature.
V8 quotes Psalm 90:4 which declares that in God’s sight, a thousand years are like a day. The point in the original Psalm is to highlight the frailty of human nature and life on earth which goes so quickly. Here Peter adds that the converse is true, for God, a day is also like a thousand years. In other words, God is not subject to the processes of time.
Doctrinally, we talk about the eternity of God. We say that he is beyond time, that he transcends time. I want to emphasise two points here. First of all, we distinguish “beyond and transcending time” from “outside of time”. The latter might suggest that God is unable to be involved within time itself, which as we saw last week is untrue. In fact a God who is timeless in terms of being outside of time may well fit closer with the alternative concept of a distant, impersonal, uninvolved God. Secondly we distinguish “eternal” from “everlasting”. When we talk about God as everlasting, it is possible to think of that in terms of God being infinitely old, that he has been experiencing his existence for an infinite period of time which stretches back into eternity prior to creation. That view would mean that God changes with his experience of time as he receives new experiences.
This is not what we are saying about God. Rather, God is the one who has the vantage point of eternity so that like someone in a helicopter above the traffic able to see the start, finish and middle of the route all at once, God knows the beginning from the end. So, we say that God experiences all of his time at once. There is not an unfolding process. This means God knows everything, past, present and future. This arises because God is the Lord of Time, the one who created time and space.
So, to God, time isn’t dragging on like it seems to for us. As Lord of Time, everything is happening at exactly the time that he has planned and his timing is perfect. Just as people might have become impatient for his first coming after centuries had passed, so too, today we may become impatient and think the 2nd Coming is not going to happen. Yet, it will do, in his perfect time and way.
This means (v9) that God is not slow in meeting his promises. A few weeks back there was some debate about the timing of the UK’s lockdown due to coronavirus. Now, I’m not going to get into the debate about whether or not the Government’s timing was wrong (there are arguments both ways on this) but when people accused Boris Johnson of delaying lockdown, they miss a crucial point, that the Government didn’t delay lockdown. This would imply that they had a set date and then postponed it. This was not the case, the Government were clear that they were seeking to go into lockdown at just the right point, not too early, not too late. Governments are finite and it remains to be seen whether they got their timing right. However, with God, we know that his timing is just right, it is in the Goldilocks Zone, not too early not too late. It is not that God is having to reschedule because things are not working out.
Rather, God has allowed the right amount of time to fulfil his purposes. We are told that
The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you,[ not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
What does it mean to say that God does not wish or desire “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”? This does appear to create a tension because on the one hand, we are told that God is sovereign and therefore we can expect his will to be fulfilled but on the other, it appears here that God does not get something that he desires. Some find this contradictory.
A number of solutions have been offered to this conundrum including
- That God wants all to be save but because of human free -will, he cannot make people be saved.
- That on the one hand, the desire to see no-one perish is his declared or decretive will whereas his secret will is that he has chosen who will be saved.
- That God’s desire for all to be saved is an important priority. However, God chooses to prioritise other things over that.
There is a risk with how we word these propositions that we can diminish the character of God. The idea that He cannot save us because our free-will wins out puts him in a subservient position to Him. We become the judge at the trial and God is in the dock. However, on the other hand, if God is unable to fulfil all of his good desires and so has to prioritise, then this also suggests that he is limited.
Similarly, whilst I think there is something in the suggestion that God can declare something morally good whilst choosing not to pursue it for something better, I’m not completely sure that the idea of God revealing one plan publicly which having a secret agenda up his sleeve is particularly helpful.
So, here are two further options. First of all, I believe that when we read through the Bible, we see a pattern. In Matthew 3:1-12, we see that when John starts to teach, that the crowds flock to him so that the description tells us that all of Jerusalem and Judea re coming out to him, we recognise that it is unlikely that every single person came. Therefore we distinguish “everyone without exception” with “everyone without distinction.” There were no barriers to people coming from each and every background. It is likely to be in the later sense that.
The option, and the one I lean to is that the letter is context specific. So, Peter is saying that God’s particular concern here is for the immediate readers and his desire is that they be kept safe and know
Be ready because final judgement will come when we are least expecting it (v10)
In the next few verses, Peter shows how readiness for the long-haul needs to be matched with a sense of alertness and immanence. Christ’s return when it happens will be sudden, unannounced and for many unsuspected.
Peter follows the trend of both Paul and Jesus of likening it to the visit of a thief (v10a). Of course, it is not that Christ’s arrival is negative but the key thing we are to draw from the imagery is that people are usually not prepared for thieves to come because burglars do not tend to call ahead. To protect your home against burglary, you need to be constantly vigilant, alert to danger and have all the security measures in place.
So too, a believer needs to live and act as though Christ could return at any moment. There is no place for complacency. We cannot assume that those we are witnessing to will get another opportunity or that will have time to repent at leisure from sinful behaviour. So, we live each day not just as though it could be our last but as though it could be interrupted at any point. Not out of fear but out of a genuine desire to please and honour God, we should do those things we would be happy for him to find us doing.
Indeed, this applies not just to his second coming. We should be ready to meet Jesus whether because he returns or calls us home to be with him living each day as though this is the only one we have.
Peter continues in the verse to describe the way in which the Day of the Lord will unfold. He describes the burning up of the elements and the exposing of the earth. Now, I believe in Christ’s literal return and the promise of a physical New Creation. Therefore, I believe that Peter is describing the literal, physical end. However, I want you to notice that in doing so, he is at the same time using a metaphorical or rhetorical device here to show the purpose of that act.
The point is that the whole of Creation will be laid bare, exposed so that nothing can be hidden. Whilst it is humans who will be judged, earth is the venue, arena or context in which they have either acted sinfully or in a godly way. There will be no hiding from God at this time.
This should be a warning to the False Teachers who love to act in secret under the cover of darkness, manipulating and using half-truths and little white lies to get their way. Their deceit is going to be shown up. It is a warning too to everyone of us that we will all have to give account. However it should also be a glorious encouragement to believers for a number of reasons. The first reason is that it reminds us that one day Jesus will come and deal with evil. Truth and goodness will be vindicated and those who seek harm will be made to face a final reckoning. Justice is coming. Secondly, if the world is about to be exposed, then we already have the assurance that we are covered in robes of righteousness that will last undamaged through the scrutiny of judgement day. So we can face that day with confidence and without fear. First of all, it will highlight not sin but the righteousness we have in Christ. Secondly it will also show up the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying us and the fruit we have borne. We look forward to the words “well done, good and faithful servant.”