8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. – 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV
The false teachers Peter has been exposing were guilty of denying the promise of Jesus’ second coming. Because it hadn’t happened yet, they assumed it wasn’t going to happen at all. And they had been purposefully contradicting the teaching of Peter and the other apostles, trying to persuade the believers to whom Peter was writing that waiting for Christ to return was pointless. He wasn’t coming back. Which is what led Peter to point out that God’s seeming delays are not to be interpreted as proof that His lack of involvement in the lives of men. Just because God had allowed sin to run rampant on the earth during the days of Noah, didn’t mean He was approving of it or indifferent to it. Because He eventually brought judgment in the form of a devastating, world-wide flood. To deny that “the day of the Lord”, as Peter refers to it, even exists, is a risky proposition. Jesus return is going to be associated with judgment. The apostle John, in his Book of the Revelation, gives a powerful description of Jesus as He appears at His second coming.
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV
He is coming again. And this time, He won’t be coming in the form of a helpless baby, born in obscurity in some backwater village in the land of Israel. No, He will be coming in might and power, and as a powerful, conquering King. He will come as the Judge of the world. And just because it hasn’t happened yet does not mean it is never going to happen. God has His timing and He has not divulged it to anyone, including His own Son. Jesus made this point clear when speaking to the disciples regarding His return for the church.
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” – Matthew 24:36 NLT
Even after His resurrection, on one of the numerous occasions when He had appeared to His disciples, they asked Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT). They were thinking that this must be the day. He had been murdered, but had come back to life. Surely, this was a significant sign that He was truly the Messiah and was going to set up His Kingdom on earth. But Jesus simply replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT). They were worrying about things that were above their pay grade. So, Jesus told them to set their minds on what was going to happen next. He wanted them to know that they had work to do. Rather than worry about when He was coming back, they needed to prepare themselves for what was about to take place. So He told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).
God has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. There are things that must happen and they must take place in the order God has established for them. Jesus was soon to leave and the Holy Spirit was to come in His place. And it was the coming of the Spirit that empowered the apostles to become the men who radically changed the world through their spreading of the gospel “to the ends of the earth”.
The coming of the Holy Spirit inaugurated the beginning of the church age. We are living in the last days, as Peter and the apostles referred to them. How long will they last? We have no idea. Peter and his compatriots lived as though Christ could return at any moment. So should we. But the longer time goes on and we don’t see Him coming back, it becomes easy to doubt whether He is ever going to do so. And there will always be those who will try to convince us that His return is neither eminent or relevant. They will present this life as the only life. They will try to sell ideas like “Your Best Life Now” when Jesus talked about the abundant life to come, life everlasting.
Peter pointed out an aspect concerning God that we must never fail to remember. God is not bound by space and time. He is eternal. So, time as we know it, means nothing to Him. Which is why Peter states: “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8 NLT). What appears to us as a lengthy delay, is nothing more than the blink of an eye to God. This lengthy timeline on which we track the decades and centuries of mankind’s existence and see no sign of His Son’s return, is meaningless to God. He sees tomorrow just as we see today. Past, present and future are all one and the same to Him. In Psalm 90:4, Moses penned a prayer to God in which he too acknowledged God’s timelessness.
For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.
And Moses goes on in that same Psalm and expresses His desire that God would end what appears to be His delay.
13 O Lord, come back to us!
How long will you delay?
Take pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
Replace the evil years with good.
16 Let us, your servants, see you work again;
let our children see your glory.
17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval
and make our efforts successful.
Yes, make our efforts successful! – Psalm 90:13-17 NLT
But Peter would tell Moses to stop worrying about when God is going to come back and start concentrating on how God would have him live in the meantime. God has left His people here for a reason. He has a divine purpose behind the seeming delay of His Son’s the return. And here it is.
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT
What appears to us as a delay is really a sign of God’s mercy. He is providing time for all those who are going to come to faith to do so. He is not going to send His Son back until all those who have been chosen by Him for salvation are gathered in. There seems to be two returns of the Lord mentioned in these verses. The first concerns Jesus’ return for the church, which is referred to as the Rapture. This event will bring an end to the church age and usher in the period of the Tribulation. In his letter to the Romans, Paul states, “Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25 NLT). Notice that it says, “the full number”. There is evidently a quota or number of those who are going to come to faith and only God knows what that number is. In other words, there is a fixed number of individuals who will come to faith in Christ. And when that number is reached, Jesus will return for His bride, the church. Paul describes this day in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NLT
But there is a second coming of Christ. Peter refers to it in verse 10.
But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.
This coming will take place at the end of the seven-year long period of the Tribulation. This return will be associated with judgment. But it will also involve Jesus gathering His chosen ones, the people of Israel, who have come to faith in Him during the days of the tribulation. He spoke of this day to His disciples.
30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. – Matthew 24:30-31 NLT
Then will come to final judgment of the world. “On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames” (2 Peter 3:12 NLT). But Peter tells his readers to not worry about all that. Instead, he encourages them, “But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. We have no idea when the Rapture will be. We have no clue when His second coming will take place. And we don’t need to worry about either. We just need to trust God and rest in His promises. And in the meantime, keep our minds focused on what sort of people we ought to be.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.