Hastening Christ’s Coming

Why do we get so frustrated when we see people breaking the lockdown rules? It’s the same reason that we used to get frustrated at school when the teacher said that we would be kept behind longer if people kept messing about. We just wanted everyone to behave so that the detention would end and we could all go out to play.

It’s the belief that following the lockdown advice will speed up the day when COVID-19 is beaten and we can get back to normal that keeps us going. Hope about the future affects decisions and actions now.

Peter has been talking about the last day, when Christ will return. Knowing that Christ is returning should affect our life on earth now. It should give us hope to live differently

Live a godly life because Christ is returning

(v11) In the previous verse, we were told that the elements of the heavens were going to be dissolved or burnt up with fire and this is part of the basis for what is to  come. It is worth mentioning here that there has been some discussion over the years about what exactly is mean tin verse 10 -11 about the fate of the world. Some versions suggest that the burning up applies to the earth itself. Under that view, this earth is completely destroyed and then we are taking from it to the New Creation, sometimes equated with Heaven.[1]

However, verse 10 may be taken to refer not to the burning up of the earth itself, but as we read it last time to refer to the earth being laid bare and exposed to judgement. From this perspective, the coming fire is not so much about bringing this world to an end in judgement as causing it to be refined and purified so that the good things from it will continue but evil will be removed. For what it is worth, I take that position. However, in the end I don’t think there is too much to worry about here.

All sides should be able to agree that there is continuity between the old creation and the new. Continuity includes that our life in eternity will be physical with resurrection bodies and minds that remember our life now.  At the same time, we can see discontinuity because there is a distinctive newness to what comes next. Our resurrection bodies will be qualitatively different from our bodies now, consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 or Jesus’ ability to enter rooms through locked doors after his resurrection.

Whilst this is not a major point in the passage, it is also helpful to note that this tension between continuity and discontinuity  enables us to think carefully about the relationship between the Old and New Testament too. There is both continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenant. Discontinuity means an end to sacrifices and to ceremonial rules, continuity means that circumcision continues but of the heart, not the outer part.

Our response to the reality of coming judgement is that we are to live holy and godly lives. There are two words here, the first focuses on our conduct, the other is a simple description of godliness and goodness, perhaps emphasising character more. I don’t think we are meant to split hairs here and work out the different function of each word in our lives. ~Rather, the whole sense is that in thought, words and deed, we should be different to the world around us.

This is about sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are justified by faith alone which means that God declares us righteous. This is about having the status of being right with him. It means we have a new identity. However, this is meant to result ni a new way of living. It is not that we suddenly will be perfect. We are to grow in godliness. We do this through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

We seek to live godly lives because if things are going to be exposed, then our desire is that the good things of our life, the fruit of the Spirit are what will be discovered.  There will be no hiding behind the faith of others, our own excuses or anything else when Christ returns.

Live a life of hope looking forward to Christ’s Return

In verse 12 we come back to the illustration I used earlier about seeking to speed up or hasten the day.  Peter says that how we live hastens the day of Christ’s return. How does this work? Well, one thing we cannot read it to mean is that God is going to change the date based on how we are doing with our evangelism, that would go against his sovereignty. Rather, I think two things are in view here.

First of all, if God’s purpose is to bring people into his kingdom, then part of our godly conduct must be about telling others about Jesus.  As people come into the kingdom, there is a sense in which that brings forward the day because God has allowed this time for that purpose. So, if we are spreading the good news then in a sense the day is coming up quicker, not because God changes his plans and purposes but because he chooses to accomplish them through us.

Secondly, think of things this way.  Have you noticed how time can drag by so slowly when we are sitting with nothing to do. This leads to boredom but also impatience if we are looking forward to something specific. How different, if we are busy with other things. We don’t notice time going past and suddenly today is over and then tomorrow and we are much closer to the time and day we are looking forward to.

I think these two points come together. God uses us for his purpose to bring people into his kingdom preparing for the day when more Christ will return. At the same time, because our focus is on the work, it means that the days go past quicker. It also means that the signposts of his return are more visible.  Think of it a bit like the road signs we go past that say 100 miles to Birmingham, 50 miles to Birmingham, 10 miles to Birmingham as we return home. It is as though each person who puts their trust in Jesus and every opportunity that we get to show his faithfulness in our lives is like one of those signposts telling us that Jesus is nearer than ever before.

Once again, we are reminded that this coming day when Christ returns will be marked by and result in the destruction of this present creation. However that is not all that is going on.

V13 goes on to tell us that whilst destruction and judgement is coming to this present world, we are waiting for the promised new heavens and new earth. There will be a new creation. This is the hope that we have.  The story of the Bible has always been about the movement from first creation through fall and restoration to this new creation.

Notice that the important thing about this new creation is not just the removal of suffering, pain, decay, chaos and death from it but the presence of something. This is the place where righteousness dwells.

This means

  1. That only the righteous will be there. This will be a place free from sin.
  2. This means that justice will happen to enable righteousness to be present.  Those who continue to do evil, to harm and hurt without repentance will be held to account.
  3. It means that we must be righteous to be there. Only those who have been justified by faith can be in it.

However, I want to push this a little further. We are told that Christ himself is our righteousness, that he is the righteousness of God revealed. Therefore, this is not just about a quality, it is about a person. The New Creation is where Jesus dwells. It is where we find ourselves in his presence and discover that he has kept his promise, to go and prepare a place for us and to bring us to that place so that we might be with him.

Implications and Application

There are a number of things that we can take away from this passage. First of all, it reminds us about the solid hope we have resting in Christ’s return. We are looking forward to a new creation and resurrection bodies. We don’t float away into the clouds.

I think that this cuts to the heart of the problem with a lot of contemporary eschatology.[2] Last time, I mentioned that there are three different views of the last days, pre-millennialism, post-millennialism and a-millennialism.  I think that the first two highlight our problem. We live as though the time after Christ’s final judgement will be a shadowy, pale reflection of life now. Life now is solid and wonderful so we seek to invent ways to cling on to it for a bit longer.

“Just another thousand years of our current experience Lord please.”

Yet when we recognise that eternity in his presence is going to be perfect, then there is no need for delay. Our desire is simply to see the opportunity given for as many as possible to hear and respond to the good news.

Secondly, we see that what we believe about the future is important to life now. Do you remember the old saying that someone is “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use.” We know that this refers to the idealist or dreamer with their head in the clouds. However, we may be tempted to say that it is only if we are heavenly minded that we can be of earthly use.

It is because we know that Christ is returning and that our works will be exposed that we want to live well now. This should not be about fear for the believer but about wanting to hear the praise of our Lord as we are able to show him what we have done with our time and talents.

Further, if the focus is more on exposure and refinement and less on the destruction of everything, then what we do now should have lasting value.

Lou Fellingham sings

For unless You build this house,
I am building it in vain.
Unless the work is Yours,
There is nothing to be gained.
I want something that will stand
When Your holy fire comes;
Something that will last,
And to hear You say ‘well done’,
Giving glory to You, Lord,
Glory to You, Lord.[3]

Am I investing my life in what matters and what has value. I don’t just think that this is about sharing the Gospel. Obviously evangelism is vital and an investment in something that will last. However, we also want to see all of our work if done to God’s glory as having value that will last into eternity. This includes the work of artists, medics, teachers, engineers, builders, cleaners, florists etc. It means that a concern to obey God in being wise stewards and caring for our environment matters too.

The important thing is that whatever we so should be motivated by the hope we have and done to bring glory to God.

[1] This is based on a textual variant in some manuscripts.

[2] Theology or study of the end times.

[3] Lou Fellingham, Build This House.

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