Faithlife Sermons

2 Peter 3:1-10

2 Peter  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  25:17
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Everybody is ignorant,” said Will Rogers, “only on different subjects.”
How true, and yet that is not the whole story, because there is more than one kind of ignorance. Some people are ignorant because of lack of opportunity to learn, or perhaps lack of ability to learn; others are (to use Peter’s phrase in 2 Peter 3:5) “willingly … ignorant.” “Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge,” said a famous philosopher, and he is right.
Peter has dealt with the character and conduct of the apostates in 2 Peter 2, and now he deals with their false teaching.
How important it is for us as Christians to understand God’s truth! Today we are surrounded by scoffers, people who refuse to take the Bible seriously when it speaks about Christ’s return and the certainty of judgment.
2 Peter 3:1–4 CSB
1 Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to stir up your sincere understanding by way of reminder, 2 so that you recall the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles. 3 Above all, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days scoffing and following their own evil desires, 4 saying, “Where is his ‘coming’ that he promised? Ever since our ancestors fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.”
1. GOD’S WORD IS TRUE (3:1–4)
It is possible to have a pure and sincere mind and yet have a bad memory!
Peter wrote this second letter primarily to awaken and arouse his readers (2 Peter 1:12–15). It is easy for Christians to “get accustomed to God’s truth.” Eutychus went to sleep listening to Paul preach (Acts 20:7–10)! Our heavenly Father sacrificed so that we might have the truth of the Word and the freedom to practice it, but too often we take this for granted and become complacent. The church needs to be aroused regularly lest the enemy find us asleep and take advantage of our spiritual lethargy.
Because God’s Word is true, we must pay attention to it and take its message seriously. New converts must be taught the Word and established in the doctrines of the faith, for new Christians are the apostate teacher’s primary targets.
But older Christians must also be reminded of the importance of Bible doctrine and, in particular, the doctrines that relate to the return of Christ. Prophetic teaching must not lull us to sleep. Rather, it must awaken us to live godly lives and to seek to win the lost (Rom. 13:11–14).
What the Bible teaches about the day of the Lord was not invented by the apostles. The prophets taught it and so did our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:2). Peter emphasized the unity of the Word of God. When the scoffers denied “the power and coming” of Jesus Christ, they were denying the truth of the prophetic books, the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels, and the writing of the apostles! Like our Lord’s seamless garment, the Scriptures cannot be cut apart without ruining the whole.
As far back as the days of Enoch, God warned that judgment was coming (Jude 14–15). Many of the Hebrew prophets announced the day of the Lord and warned that the world would be judged (Isa. 2:10–22; 13:6–16; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; Joel; Amos 5:18–20; Zeph.; Zech. 12:1–14:3). This period of judgment is also known as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) and the tribulation.
Our Lord taught about this day of judgment in His sermon on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24—25). Paul discussed it in 1 Thessalonians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 1—2. The apostle John described this terrible day in Revelation 6—19. It will be a time when God’s wrath will be poured out on the nations, and when Satan will be free to give vent to his anger and malice. It will culminate with the return of Jesus Christ in glory and victory.
A scoffer is someone who treats lightly that which ought to be taken seriously. The people in Noah’s day scoffed at the idea of a judgment, and the citizens of Sodom scoffed at the possibility of fire and brimstone destroying their sinful city. If you have tried at all to witness for Jesus Christ, you have no doubt met people who scoff at the idea of hell or a future day of judgment for this world.
Why do these apostates scoff? Because they want to continue living in their sins. Peter made it clear that false teachers cultivate “the lust of uncleanness” (2 Peter 2:10) and allure weak people by means of “the lusts of the flesh” (v. 18). If your lifestyle contradicts the Word of God, you must either change your lifestyle or change the Word of God. The apostates choose the latter approach, so they scoff at the doctrines of judgment and the coming of the Lord.
What is their argument? The uniformity of the world.
2 Peter 3:5–7 CSB
5 They deliberately overlook this: By the word of God the heavens came into being long ago and the earth was brought about from water and through water. 6 Through these the world of that time perished when it was flooded. 7 By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
How did Peter refute the foolish argument of the apostate scoffers? All Peter did was remind them of what God had done in the past and thus prove that His work is consistent throughout the ages. Peter simply presented evidence that the false teachers deliberately ignored. It is amazing how so-called thinkers (scientists, liberal theologians, philosophers) will be selective and deliberately refuse to consider certain data.
Peter cited two events in history to prove his point: the work of God at creation (2 Peter 3:5), and the flood in Noah’s day (v. 6).
God created the heavens and the earth by His word. The phrase and God said occurs nine times in Genesis 1. “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9). Not only was creation made by the word of God, but it was held together by that same word. Kenneth Wuest translated 2 Peter 3:5 to bring out this subtle meaning: “For concerning this they willfully forget that heavens existed from ancient times, and land [standing] out of water, and by means of water cohering by the word of God.”
Peter’s argument is obvious: The same God who created the world by His word can also intervene in His world and do whatever He wishes to do! It is His word that made it and that holds it together, and His word is all-powerful.
The second event Peter cited was Noah’s flood (2 Peter 3:6). He had already referred to the flood as an illustration of divine judgment (2 Peter 2:5), so there was no need to go into detail. The flood was a cataclysmic event; in fact, the Greek word translated “overflowed” gives us our English word cataclysm. The people living on earth had probably never seen a rainstorm or the fountains of the deep broken up, but these events happened just the same. Their “scientists” could have argued as the scoffers argued, “Everything goes on as it did from the beginning. Life is uniform, so nothing unusual can happen.” But it happened!
God has the power to “break in” at any time and accomplish His will. He can
send rain from heaven or fire from heaven. “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3).
Having established the fact that God has in the past “interrupted” the course of history, Peter was then ready for his application in 2 Peter 3:7. The same word that created and sustains the world is now holding it together, stored with fire, being preserved and reserved for that future day of judgment. God promised that there would be no more floods to destroy the world (Gen. 9:8–17). The next judgment will be a judgment of fire.
The phrase stored with fire used by Kenneth Wuest (“reserved unto fire” KJV) sounds very modern. Modern atomic science has revealed that the elements that make up the world are stored with power. There is enough atomic energy in a glass of water to run a huge ocean liner. Man has discovered this great power, and as a result, the world seems to teeter on the brink of atomic destruction. However, Peter seems to indicate that man will not destroy the world by his sinful abuse of atomic energy. It is God who will “push the button” at the right time and burn up the old creation and all the works of sinful man with it; then He will usher in the new heavens and earth and reign in glory.
Everything in God’s original creation was good. It is man’s sin that has turned a good creation into a groaning creation (Rom. 8:18–22). God could not permit sinful man to live in a perfect environment, so He had to curse the ground because of man (Gen. 3:14–19). Since that time, man has been busy polluting and destroying God’s creation. For years, it appeared that this exploitation would not cause too much trouble, but now we are changing our minds. The balance of nature has been upset; valuable resources have been wasted; the supply of energy is running down; and civilization is facing a crisis. The prophets of doom today are not only preachers and evangelists, but also sociologists, ecologists, and atomic scientists.
Peter proved his point: God is able to intervene in the course of history. He did it in the past and He is able to do it again. The day of the Lord that was promised by the prophets and apostles, as well as by Jesus Christ, will come just as surely as the flood came in Noah’s day and the fire and brimstone came to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
But the scoffers had their argument ready: “Then why the delay?” The promise of Christ’s coming and the judgment of the world has been around for centuries, and it is yet to be fulfilled. Has God changed His mind? The world today is certainly ripe for judgment! Thus, Peter’s third fact.
2 Peter 3:8–10 CSB
8 Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.
Once again, Peter exposed the ignorance of the scoffers. Not only were they ignorant of what God had done in the past (2 Peter 3:5), but they were also ignorant of what God was like. They were making God in their own image and ignoring the fact that God is eternal. This means that He has neither beginning nor ending. Man is immortal: he has a beginning but not an ending. He will live forever in either heaven or hell. But God is eternal, without beginning or ending, and He dwells in eternity. Eternity is not just extended time. Rather, it is existence above and apart from time.
Peter was certainly referring to Psalm 90:4—“For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” Isaac Watts used Psalm 90 as the basis for the familiar hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”
A thousand ages, in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night,
Before the rising sun.
Since a thousand years are as one day to the Lord, we cannot accuse Him of delayed fulfillment of His promises. In God’s sight, the whole universe is only a few days old! He is not limited by time the way we are, nor does He measure it according to man’s standards. When you study the works of God, especially in the Old Testament, you can see that He is never in a hurry, but He is never late.
He could have created the entire universe in an instant, yet He preferred to do it over a period of six days. He could have delivered Israel from Egypt in a moment, yet He preferred to invest eighty years in training Moses. For that matter, He could have sent the Savior much sooner, but He waited until “the fullness of the time was come” (Gal. 4:4). While God works in time, He is not limited by time.
To God, a thousand years is as one day, and one day as a thousand years. God can accomplish in one day what it would take others a millennium to accomplish! He waits to work, but once He begins to work, He gets things done!
The scoffers did not understand God’s eternality nor did they understand His mercy. Why was God delaying the return of Christ and the coming of the day of the Lord? It was not because He was unable to act or unwilling to act. He was not tardy or off schedule! Nobody on earth has the right to decide when God must act. God is sovereign in all things and does not need prodding or even counsel from sinful man (Rom. 11:33–36).
God delays the coming of Christ and the great day of fiery judgment because He is longsuffering and wants to give lost sinners the opportunity to be saved. “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).
God’s “delay” is actually an indication that He has a plan for this world and that He is working His plan. There should be no question in anybody’s mind whether God wants sinners to be saved. God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). First Timothy 2:4 affirms that God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” These verses give both the negative and the positive, and together they assure us that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11). He shows His mercy to all (Rom. 11:32), even though not all will be saved.
It is worth noting that God revealed this same longsuffering in the years before the flood (1 Peter 3:20). He saw the violence and wickedness of man and could have judged the world immediately; yet He held back His wrath and, instead, sent Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, God patiently waited while Abraham interceded for the cities, and He would have spared them had He found ten righteous people in Sodom.
If God is longsuffering toward lost sinners, why did Peter write, “The Lord
… is longsuffering to us-ward”? Who is meant by “us-ward”? It would appear that God is longsuffering to His own people!
Perhaps Peter was using the word us in a general way, meaning “mankind.” But it is more likely that he was referring to his readers as the elect of God (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:10). God is longsuffering toward lost sinners because some of them will believe and become a part of God’s elect people. We do not know who God’s elect are among the unsaved people of the world, nor are we supposed to know. Our task is to make our own “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10; cf. Luke 13:23–30). The fact that God has His elect people is an encouragement to us to share the good news and seek to win others to Christ.
God was even longsuffering toward the scoffers of that day! They needed to repent and He was willing to save them. This is the only place where Peter used the word repentance in either of his letters, but that does not minimize its importance. To repent simply means “to change one’s mind.” It is not “regret,” which usually means “being sorry I got caught.” Nor is it “remorse,” which is a hopeless attitude that can lead to despair.
Repentance is a change of mind that results in an action of the will. If the sinner honestly changes his mind about sin, he will turn from it. If he sincerely changes his mind about Jesus Christ, he will turn to Him, trust Him, and be saved. “Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts
20:21) is God’s formula for salvation.
The word translated “come” at the end of 2 Peter 3:9 carries the meaning of “make room for.” It is translated “contain” in John 2:6 and 21:25. The lost sinner needs to “make room” for repentance in his heart by putting away his pride and meekly receiving the Word of God. Repentance is a gift from God (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25), but the unbeliever must make room for the gift.
As you review Peter’s arguments, you can see that his evidence is irrefutable. He pointed out that the scoffers willfully rejected evidence in order that they might continue in their sins and scoffing. He proved from the Scriptures that God has intervened in past history and that He has the power to do it today. He showed that the scoffers had a very low view of God’s character because they thought He delayed in keeping His promises just as men do. Finally, he explained that God does not live in the realm of human time, and that His so-called delay only gives more opportunity for lost sinners to repent and be saved.
Having refuted their false claims, Peter then reaffirmed the certainty of the coming of the day of the Lord. When will it come? Nobody knows when, because it will come to the world “as a thief in the night.” Our Lord used a similar phrase (Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39) and so did the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:2ff). When the world is feeling secure, then God’s judgment will fall. The thief does not warn his victims that he is coming! “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Thess. 5:3).
We do not know when it will happen, but we are told what will happen. Kenneth Wuest gave an accurate and graphic translation of these words: “In which the heavens with a rushing noise will be dissolved, and the elements being scorched will be dissolved, and the earth also and the works in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
Many Bible students believe that Peter here described the action of atomic energy being released by God. The word translated “a great noise” in the King James Version means “with a hissing and a crackling sound.” When the atomic bomb was tested in the Nevada desert, more than one reporter said that the explosion gave forth “a whirring sound,” or a “crackling sound.” The Greek word Peter used was commonly used by the people for the whirring of a bird’s wings or the hissing of a snake.
The word melt in 2 Peter 3:10 means “to disintegrate, to be dissolved.” It carries the idea of something being broken down into its basic elements, and that is what happens when atomic energy is released. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” said our Lord (Matt. 24:35), and it appears that this may happen by the release of the atomic power stored in the elements that make up the world. The
heavens and earth are “stored with fire” (2 Peter 3:7 WUEST), and only God can release it.
For this reason, I do not personally believe that God will permit sinful men to engage in an earth-destroying atomic war. He will, I believe, overrule the ignorance and foolishness of men, including well-meaning but unbelieving diplomats and politicians, so that He alone will have the privilege of “pushing the button” and dissolving the elements to make way for a new heaven and a new earth. Peter no doubt had in mind Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 13:10–11; 24:19; 34:4; and 64:1–4 when he wrote these words. The first passage is especially emphatic that God will bring judgment and not sinful man. “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity,” says the Lord. It does not sound as though He will give this task to some nervous military leader or angry politician.
Of course, this great explosion and conflagration will not touch the “heaven of heavens,” where God dwells. It will destroy the earth and the atmospheric heavens around it, the universe as we know it; this will make room for the new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1ff.).
Man’s great works will also be burned up! All of the things that man boasts about—his great cities, his great buildings, his inventions, his achievements— will be destroyed in a moment of time. When sinners stand before the throne of God, they will have nothing to point to as evidence of their greatness. It will all be gone.
This is certainly a solemn truth, and we dare not study it in cavalier fashion. In the remaining verses of this letter, Peter will apply this truth to our daily living. But it would be wise for us to pause now and consider: Where will I be when God destroys the world? Is what I am living for only destined to go up in an atomic cloud, to vanish forever? Or am I doing the will of God so that my works will glorify Him forever?
Make your decision now—before it is too late.
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