First of all, you must understand that in the last days, scoffers will come scoffing and following their own evil desires (2 Peter 1:3).
Peter is describing the environment in which God calls us to live in this world. When the New Testament refers to the “last days,” it’s more than simply the generation immediately before the return of Christ. The “last days” includes all the days between the first and the second coming of Christ.
In Acts 2:17, Peter quotes the prophet Joel: “In the last days… [God] will pour out [His] Spirit on all peoples.” Then Peter goes on to tell us that this is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost. So, from Pentecost on wards the church has been in the last days.
In every generation
When Peter says that, in these last days, “scoffers will come scoffing and following their own evil desires” (v3), he is referring to the normal experience of the church in every generation. This is what the first Christians experienced in the early church. It is what we experience today; and it will be the experience of the church until Christ comes.
Don’t be surprised by antagonism towards the Gospel. The world never changes. The human heart is always the same. By nature we do not seek God, we do not love God, and we cannot please God. In the last days, scoffers will come scoffing and following their own evil desires.
Notice how rejecting God’s Word (scoffing) and choosing your own way go together? If you want to follow your own desires, you have to reject God. You have to put yourself, your own vision, and your own agenda on the throne of your life. The easiest way to do that is to reject God by saying that you do not believe in him.
Unbelief has its reasons. The sinner would prefer a world without God, because he wants to be his own god. Paul says, “Men suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18).
Unbelief and rebellion are the default position of the human heart. “The sinful mind (i.e. the nature we are born with) is hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7). “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires” (Rom. 8:5). The idea that sinners really love God and are seeking after him, if only they could find him, is completely false.
Following Christ in a Christ-rejecting world isn’t easy. We’re going to be in the same position as “Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men… day after day he was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:7-8). The Apostle Peter is preparing us to face the same difficulties.
Peter has been telling us that in Christ we have “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). That means we need to find in Christ the strength, patience, wisdom, and grace to live in a world that does not see his glory, does not believe his Word, and does not follow his way.
Our culture today
We all experience this. Think about the world we have lived in over the last 100 years. We have seen evolutionism, which said “There is no Creator!” We are seeing the decline of postmodernism, which said “There is no Truth!” And now, we are seeing the rise of a new atheism, which says “There is no God!”
If you are a Christian, this is tough to handle. I walked through a bookshop the other day and saw a table piled high with copies of a book called “God is Not Great.” I felt distressed by that.
Some of you work with people who are cynical about your faith. Their language distresses you. Sometimes they may torment you by despising the things of God that are precious to you. How are you going to handle that?
I find that I can easily become frustrated and even angry when people are cynical or skeptical towards God. I need to deal with that because Christianity that is angry with the world never gets us anywhere, (James 1:20). How can I live in a way that is authentically Christian in a world that is often cynical about my faith? We need some help here, and that is precisely what Peter offers.
Closer to home
The pressures of living with unbelief come much closer to home for many of us than living in a secular world. What do you do when your son or daughter turns away from following Christ? They don’t believe. And you see a hardness coming over their soul. They show no interest in spiritual things. Eyes roll when you talk about going to church.
That’s tough! What starts going on inside of you is very predictable. You feel frustrated. “What can I do? What can the church do?” You feel helpless. And when you feel helpless, frustration grows, and with it comes anger. And anger won’t do much to bring him closer to the Lord!
One of the hardest things in the world is to see someone you love wasting his or her life, following their own desires. The most natural thing in the world is for you to feel defeated, perplexed, frustrated, embattled, helpless, angry, tense, afraid, and ashamed.
So how can we develop patience with unbelieving kids, or unbelieving relatives, or hard-bitten colleagues, so that what comes out of us reflects the Spirit of Jesus rather than the spirit of the Pharisees?
What Peter offers is not a quick fix, but a new attitude: “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (v1). This is Paul’s aim too: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1). Fill your mind with the truth about who God is, and you will have everything you need for patience in this cynical and unbelieving world.
God is Eternal
Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (v8).
God is eternal. He is outside of time. He takes action in time, but he is not limited by time. What’s happening in your life and in the world looks very different to God from the way it looks to you.
Life on earth is very short
With the Lord… a thousand years are like a day (v8)
In other words, as God sees life on this earth—Abraham was born on Wednesday. King David was born on Thursday. Our Lord Jesus was born on Friday. The middle ages flashed by yesterday, and our generation will have passed before this service is done today. If God should let the world continue, another 30 generations will have passed by tomorrow morning.
On that scale a life of 70 years would pass in about 100 minutes. So here is a person who does not believe God and does not obey God. He is making his mark in the world. He thinks that his life is important. But God looks down and says, “He’ll be gone in an hour and a half.”
Look at all the attention that is being paid to the election of the next president of our country. With the Lord, a thousand years is like a day. As far as God is concerned, the next President of the United States will be in office for about 5 minutes; 10 if he or she is elected for two terms. Scarcely a blip on God’s eternal screen!
God speaks to us about the brevity of life repeatedly in Scripture: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:24). “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
God is not worried about his enemies
When we get anxious about the state of the world, let’s remember that to the Almighty, the whole of human history is very short. So, “When the kings of the earth take their stand against the Lord and his anointed…” What does the Lord do? “The Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4). God laughs. He is not worried about his enemies, so you needn’t worry about them either.
This is an important truth because it cuts the root of our self-importance. Your life on earth is very short. So what really matters? You think that what matters is your education, your career, your opportunities, your investments, your health, your travel, your quality of life. But, as far as God is concerned, all of us will be in his presence in an hour and half.
Once you see that, you will have a very different idea of what matters in your life. Psalm 90 (where Peter takes the quote about one day and a thousand years) says: “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v12).
Life in heaven is very long
With the Lord a day is like a thousand years (v8).
With the Lord one day is like a thousand years. God has all the time in the world. If one day is like a thousand years with the Lord, then a human life up to the age of 70 would run 25 million years. That’s a long time!!
I have a lot of stuff to get done next week. I feel under a bit of pressure. But, if I had 7000 years to do next week’s work, I could get it all done easily!
Monday is usually my day off, so I would start with 1000 years of rest, knowing that there is easily enough time for me to accomplish everything that has been trusted to me. Just think how relaxed you could be if one day was like a thousand years to you. That is how it is with God.
Think about your loved ones who do not believe. You have been calling on the Lord. You have been praying and crying out: “How long, O Lord?” You feel you have been waiting forever to see God move. Be encouraged! God can do more in your loved one’s life in a moment than Satan can do in 20 years!
God is eternal: With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. God is never rushed, never overwhelmed, never taken by surprise. He has all the time in the world to accomplish everything he has planned to do. If we can take in these great truths, we will have less fear and more peace.
You will also find a new freedom. If you know Christ, you have eternal life. That’s a lot of life! 25 million years in heaven is like opening day. You can afford to give your life away in service and in ministry.
When you are in Christ, you don’t need to go through life counting how much you have left and worrying about whether you will accomplish all your plans. You do not need to fret over opportunities that did not open up as you had hoped. Life on earth is short but life in heaven is long. That life is yours in Christ. And in Christ you have more life than you know what to do with.
God is Patient
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you… (2 Peter 3:9).
Peter is making a connection between the eternity of God and the patience of God: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise…” (v9). Which promise is he talking about? God has promised to judge the earth with fire, just as he once judged the earth with water.
You would expect the verse to say, “God is not slow in keeping his promise… he is patient with the unbelieving world.” But that’s not what he says. Instead, he says “God is not slow in keeping his promise… he is patient with you” (v9).
He is writing to Christian believers. Think about this: God is not slow in keeping his promise (of judgment). He is patient with you. Why has Christ not yet come? God has held back his judgment long enough to bring you into his kingdom. That’s the love of God for you in Jesus Christ.
It’s not just that God has been patient with you. Peter says “God is patient with you…” (v9). If one day with the Lord is like a thousand years, then God has indeed been very patient with all of us. Our sins have gone on a long time on heavens clock.
Week by week we come back here—casting ourselves on his mercy, trusting the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, and Peter says “He is patient with you…” Don’t you find it amazing that God does not look down at you and say, “I’m done with him!”?
Since God has shown you this kind of patience on heaven’s timescale, you can be patient in real time with that unbelieving loved one, or that hard-bitten cynic at the office.
God is Merciful
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (v9).
What a marvelous statement of the mercy of God! He does not want anyone to perish! This does not mean that everyone will be saved. Peter also says, “the heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (v7).
We have to interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture. God does not contradict himself. When Peter says God does not want anyone to perish, he is not saying that everybody will be saved.
What is he saying? “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ez. 18:23, 32, 33:11). Judgment is God’s strange work. “He is slow to anger and abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8). “His anger lasts for a moment and his love for a lifetime” (Psalm 30:5).
The Bible says, “God is love” (I John 4:16). It never says, “God is wrath.” God’s wrath is his holy and righteous response to sin. God’s love is not a response to anything. It is his nature. God’s love is the bursting out of all that is within him.
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, so we should find no pleasure in the prospect of future judgment either. When you really see the mercy of God towards you in Jesus Christ, you will begin to desire mercy and to show mercy for those who hate God and for those who hate you.
A flood of mercy
Back in the book of Genesis, the Bible records a great story about the mercy of God. It’s the story of Noah. This story provides the backdrop for what Peter has written here.
God had promised a great judgment on the world, and he told Noah to build a boat. “God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built” (1 Peter 3:20). All throughout the time that God waited for the ark to be completed, Noah preached (2 Peter 2:5).
Then one day God told Noah: “Go into the ark” (Gen. 7:1). Noah went into the ark. The flood came. The waters rose and Noah, with seven others, was lifted through the judgment and saved for a new world.
A long patience followed by decisive action
You are living in the day of God’s long patience. The eternal God is patient and merciful towards you in Jesus Christ. He has no desire to see you destroyed in judgment. Jesus Christ did not come to bring condemnation, but so that through him you might be saved. Consider the kindness, mercy, and patience of God towards you.
“He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (v9). Some of you have seen a brand of religion that is not patient. It is not kind, and it is not merciful. It turned you off. That is not what God is like.
If you want to know what God is like, look at the cross. See the eternal Son of God in time. See his patience as he bears the cross, as he stretches out his hands. See the mercy of God as Christ holds back judgment from sinners: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This is your God! Now, let the patience and mercy of God in Jesus Christ draw you to him.
© Colin S. Smith
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