Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

2 Peter 3

Chapter 3. These False Teachers Also Deny That The Lord Has Come At All, But All Should Recognise That He Has Come and His Final Manifestation Is Sure And Will Usher In A New Heaven And A New Earth.

Peter now calls on his readers to remember the teaching of the prophets, which pointed forward to His coming, and the teaching of their Lord and Saviour as given through him and his fellow Apostles, which is evidence both that He has come, and that He will yet return again to judge the world.

They are to recognise at the same time that false teachers will arise who will mock at the idea that He has both come and will come (that is at the idea of the ‘manifested presence’ of God’s Saviour in history - His Parousia). And they will do it on the grounds that what people have expected has been so long delayed. For what they have been awaiting is His powerful and glorious intervention in history, with the result that His initial coming (which was in veiled glory) has passed them by.

And yet let them not doubt that the final phase of that will come when He arrives to sum up all things. It may have been delayed because of God’s mercy, but it will surely come. For what these people forget is that the Flood appeared to be delayed, but then it suddenly came and the whole world perished. And they should take note that in the same way God is now storing up the present world for destruction by fire.

For the truth is that the reason for the delay is the longsuffering and mercy of God. However, let all be sure of this. The Day of the Lord will come, and it will steal up on them like a thief in the night. And then everything will be burned up with fire. In view of this, therefore, what holy lives they should be living as they await that day and keep in mind that everything earthly will be destroyed. It should make them look rather therefore for the new heaven and the new earth which is the dwellingplace of righteousness, and therefore only accessible to those who have been made righteous.

Verses 1-2

‘This is now, beloved, the second letter that I write to you, and in both of them I stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance, that you should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles,’

Peter now refers them back to his first letter. There are no good grounds for not seeing this as referring to 1 Peter. In that letter also he had reminded them of the words of the prophets (1 Peter 1:10-12; compare 2 Peter 1:19-21), and of the teaching of Jesus Christ (given throughout the letter). Thus his great concern in both letters is seen to be to bring home to them the teachings of the prophets, and the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself, the latter as revealed through the Apostles who had been eyewitnesses and hearers of all that He did and said (1 Peter 5:1). Now he is reminding them of it again.

‘The commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles,’ might be referring to what Peter and his fellow-Apostles is now teaching them or it may be seen as pointing to a body of tradition established by the Apostles which provided basic details of Jesus’ life and teaching. Such a tradition appears to underlie the Gospels. This may even have been in written form (see Luke 1:2). We can compare parallel references to ‘The Testimony of Jesus’ (Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 19:10; compare 1 Timothy 1:8).

‘To your sincere mind.’ The word sincere means ‘judged by the sun’. In other words their minds have been brought into the light of the sun in order to demonstrate their genuineness. They are walking in God’s light (1 John 1:5-7).

‘Through your Apostles.’ Either the whole band as those appointed by Jesus Christ to be the source of His truth to His people as promised in John 14-16, or the particular members of that band who have been working among the recipients. This is in contrast to the false prophets who were leading many astray. He wants them to recognise where the true authority lay. They themselves enjoyed the blessing of being guided by the true Apostles of Christ, who were ‘their’ Apostles because they themselves were the true people of God. It could even be that some of the false teachers were claiming to be Apostles (compare 2 Corinthians 11:12-13), something that Peter is rejecting here.

‘Putting you in remembrance.’ It has been pointed out by sceptics that there is no mention in 1 Peter of ‘remembering’, and it is true that the actual word is not found there. But it really cannot be doubted that much of his exhortatory material in 1 Peter 2:11 to 1 Peter 3:17; 1 Peter 4:1 to 1 Peter 5:10 is based on general Apostolic teaching which looked back to Jesus Christ Himself, which they already knew and which he is calling to their remembrance. So he is certainly ‘bringing it to their remembrance’ there. There can be little doubt, therefore, that he would have seen himself as having ‘put them in remembrance’ in both letters.

Note the double emphasis on remembrance here, ‘putting you in remembrance that you should remember’. Compare 2 Peter 1:12-13; 2 Peter 1:15 for similar repetition. For the connecting of the Prophets and the Apostles compare Luke 11:49; Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5.

The method of address, ‘beloved’, parallels 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 4:12. For ‘holy prophets’ compare Peter’s words in 2 Peter 1:21; and see his words in Acts 3:21. But see also Luke 1:70.

Verse 3

The Promise of His Coming (2 Peter 3:3-7 ).

‘Knowing this first, that in the last days mockers will come with mockery, walking after their own lusts,’

Compare here Jude 1:17-18, ‘remember the words which have been spoken before by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that they said to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, walking after their own ungodly desires”.’ Both agree that it was an emphasis of the Apostles that ‘mockers’ would arise (see 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 1 John 2:18-20; 1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 4:1-6). And the reason that they mock is because they are following their own evil desires. They are caught up in sin. Thus they mock what they see as not offering them what they want. They do not want their adherents to be disturbed by the thought of the actual coming in history of the Christ. They want to live their lives in the flesh as though He had not come, while enjoying what they see as heavenly experiences in their spirits. It is a salutary warning that those who followed the desires of the world did not like to think of either His coming or His second coming.

Note how Peter clearly considers that he is already in ‘the last days’, for he sees the mockers as already present. Compare Acts 2:17; 1Pe 1:20 ; 1 Peter 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 9:26-28 where the same idea is found. To all the Apostles the last days had begun with the coming of Jesus and the days following Pentecost were continuing ‘the last days’ prior to His return.

Note on ‘In the last days.’

If Peter has taken his ideas from Jude, which is a good possibility, then he has deliberately changed ep eschatou chronou (upon the last time) into ep eschatown town hemerown (upon the last of the last days). And we then have to ask why he has changed ‘time’ to ‘days’, especially as in 1 Peter 1:5 we have en kairow eschatow (in the last time), and in 1 Peter 1:20 we have ep eschatou town chronown (upon the last of the times).

It may partly have been because he had in mind Joel 2:28 as cited in Acts 2:17, although there we have en tais eschatais hemerais (in the last days). However, that rendering may have come from the Greek source of his citation. The alteration here may therefore be Peter’s representation of the same idea (many years had passed since Acts 2:0).

On the other hand Hebrews 1:2 has ep eschatou town hemerown toutown, which is the closest to here, and he may have taken it from there. For we have seen how 1 and 2 Peter sometimes reflect a similar pattern of thought to Hebrews, and indeed Peter may well have read Hebrews. The slight difference from Hebrews may partly reflect the preference of his amanuensis.

However, probably the best reason for the change to ‘days’ is that he was about to speak in 2 Peter 3:8 about ‘a day’ being to the Lord ‘as a thousand years’, and a thousand years as a day. That would indicate that he wanted it recognised that the mocking might well go on for a long time.

End of note.

Verse 4

‘And saying, “Where is the promise of his coming (parousia - presence)? For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” ’

Unlike Jude Peter spells out one aspect of their mockery. It lies in the fact that they jeer at what to them is the non-appearance of ‘the Christ’ in open glory to transform the world. They say mockingly, ‘when is this supposed historical Messiah coming?’ In other words, where is the fulfilment of all the promises about the Messiah? And they stress that everything just goes on like it has from the beginning of creation. How then can people claim that the Messiah has come or will come?

The promises about the Messiah as popularly held were of a great and powerful figure who would come and transform the world in one great act. It was the non-appearance of this figure that they were emphasising. As far as they were concerned all still went on as it had from the beginning of time. Their view was that God had not interfered in history at all. They were totally oblivious of Jesus Christ and His real intervention in history, which had resulted in His death and resurrection and would culminate in His second coming, the coming of which Peter was an actual eyewitness as he had pointed out in 2 Peter 1:16-18. They were blind as to the presence of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

It should be noted that that is precisely how Jesus said it would be. They would be ‘eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage’ (Matthew 24:38), just as they had since the beginning of creation. They would be working in the fields and grinding at the mill (Matthew 24:40-41) as they always had. And then unexpectedly He would come. Thus the unexpectedness of His coming was actually to be expected.

‘From the day that the fathers fell asleep.’ In view of the reference back to the beginning of creation this must mean ‘the fathers’ from the beginning, that is, from Adam onwards. This is illuminating. It emphasises how these teachers saw Jesus. They did not see His birth, life and death, together with the resurrection, as an earth shattering event that had changed the course of history. To them ‘All things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’. And to them Jesus Christ was simply part of a myth which could produce mystical experiences. They were far from Palestine, and at that distance the historicity of His coming could grow dim. It could become just an idea. We can see now why Peter had emphasised that He had been an eyewitness of His heavenly glory revealed in history on earth (2 Peter 1:16-18; compare 1 Peter 5:1). They denied His ‘Parousia’. They did not believe that God had manifested Himself on earth, or indeed would do so. But Peter had seen His power and Parousia (2 Peter 1:16). And he knew that that Parousia had been revealed and would be finally manifested in glory.

Thus the beliefs of these false teachers are such that they have not seen how earth shattering the coming of Jesus has been. Peter is amazed by it. After all he had himself seen the ‘power and coming (parousia) of the One Who came as God’s beloved Son (2 Peter 1:16-18), as a foretaste of what was to come. And he cannot conceive how, if they believed in Him at all, they can have failed to see that, His glory having been revealed in history, it has broken up history into before and after. Their words make clear that they have not seen the glory of His cross and resurrection (for they say ‘all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’). That is why earlier he had said that they denied the Master Who bought them (2 Peter 2:1). They have not realised that One Who was both truly God and truly man has been among men, has truly died for them and has divided up history. They simply see Him as a semi-mythical figure in their proto-Gnostic ritual. They simply see history continuing as it always has, as if He had not appeared in the flesh. For them there was no BC and AD.

So to them the Christian message is only a cunningly devised myth (2 Peter 1:16) which is simply a part of the creation history, while all the talk about His personal coming, especially in judgment, is a load of nonsense. And they mock because it has not happened. As far as they are concerned there has been no break in history at all, and all this talk of Christ’s literal power and presence (parousia) is redundant. For they are blind to the true break that has taken place in history in the coming of Jesus. And thus they are self-satisfied in their complacency. And their belief is that things will continue on as they always have.

We can note here that the Messiah’s ‘Parousia’ is seen by Peter as one event, firstly in His coming to this world as man, revealing His glory and dying and rising again, and then in His final coming when He comes to judge and restore. We can compare a similar uniting of the two events in Hebrews 9:26-28, ‘but now once at the end of the ages has He been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and inasmuch as it has been appointed unto men once to die, and after this judgment, so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, apart from sin, to those who wait for Him unto salvation’. So to both writers the ‘two’ comings are seen as one Parousia, in a similar way to that in which the High Priest at the Day of Atonement first enters the Holy Place having offered the sacrifices, and then enters the Holy of Holies and returns with final atonement having been accomplished, all part of one ceremony.

Verses 5-6

‘For this they wilfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth having been brought together out of water and amidst water, by the word of God. By which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.’

Furthermore one thing that these false teachers were overlooking was that the world did not continue on as it was from the beginning of creation. They had a false view of the eternal nature of creation. They were, for example, deliberately overlooking the cataclysm of the Flood, after which there had had to be the equivalent of a new creation. (Peter has drawn attention to it twice, once in 2 Peter 2:5, and once in 1 Peter 3:19-21). They were deliberately forgetting that by the word of God the heavens were made from of old, and that the earth was brought together out of water and through or amidst water. For it appeared out of the primeval water, and was surrounded by water and had water above it, and was maintained by water. And they are forgetting that it had only been in this state because of God’s word. And that once He had withdrawn His word the earth was suddenly overflowed with water, and the world of men perished.

His continual inclusion of ‘the heavens’ suggests that as well as sinners on earth he has in mind the heavenly beings that were involved in the judgment of the Flood (2 Peter 2:4; Genesis 6:1-2), and those which were at present the enemies of God’s people (Ephesians 6:12).

Verse 7

‘But the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.’

And he wants all to realise that in the same way as that Flood arrived and took the world that then was by surprise, so in the future will God’s fiery judgment come and take men by surprise, once His restraining word is again removed. It is His word that is keeping back the world’s fiery end (He is ‘upholding all things by His word of power’ - Hebrews 1:3). And it is that same word which will bring it on both the heavens and the earth when it finally comes. For the earth is stored up for fire, being reserved by God for that very purpose, that is, for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

It is probable that Peter has in mind here God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah as a forerunner of what is to come. In 2 Peter 2:5-6 he had spoken first of the Flood and then of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire. And now here we have the destruction by the Flood, followed by destruction by fire. So he clearly sees that prior destruction by fire of Sodom and Gomorrah as being a kind of foretaste of what is to happen at the end of the world when all men of lust will also be consumed by fire, as they were then in microcosm (compare Ezekiel 38:22, ‘I will rain upon him (Gog), and on his hordes, and on the many peoples who are with him, an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone’).

He had good reason to do so. The Scriptures regularly depict the coming end in those terms. Joel, for example, foresaw a time when God would visit the world with blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke (Joel 2:30; compare 2 Peter 1:19-20; 2 Peter 2:3), words which were brought to mind by Peter himself at Pentecost (Acts 2:17). The Psalmist depicts God as coming with a devouring fire preceding Him at the time when He comes to judge (Psalms 50:3). Isaiah speaks of ‘the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning’ when God purifies the world at the last day (Isaiah 4:4), and of a flame of devouring fire when He brings about His judgments (Isaiah 29:6). Indeed he declares that the LORD is to come with fire, to render His rebuke by flames of fire, so that by fire and by his sword He will plead with all flesh (Isaiah 66:15-16). Ezekiel declares, speaking of the last days, ‘I will send a fire on Magog, and on those who dwell securely in the coastlands, and they will know that I am YHWH’ (Ezekiel 39:6). And Malachi says that the Day of the LORD will burn as an oven (Malachi 4:1). Compare also Amos 1:4 to Amos 2:2. Furthermore Paul had revealed in his letters the fiery nature of the judgment that was coming (2 Thessalonians 1:8). So with Sodom and Gomorrah already in mind Peter had good Scriptural grounds for considering that the final destruction must be by fire, as it had been for Sodom and Gomorrah. He did not need to look elsewhere for his ideas, although it was in fact supported by both Jewish tradition and Greek tradition.

Verse 8

‘But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.’

Note again the use of ‘beloved’. His heart yearns for these saints of God who are resisting the false teachers. And he calls on them not to forget that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. In other words with God there is no limit to His thinking as regards time. A ‘day’ and ‘a thousand years’ are both the same to Him. Time is almost irrelevant, because both a thousand years and one day are to Him simply brief periods of time in a much vaster time-scale, that of eternity.

But there is no justification for applying this principle mechanically (an error later made in the Epistle of Barnabas and by Irenaeus). This use here does not mean that we can take other places where prophetic days are mentioned and make them each mean a thousand years. It does, however, suggest that we would be justified in using the principle of boundlessness if we were specifically dealing with ‘days of God’. Some would argue that this is the case in Genesis 1:0. It is particularly appropriate there as the days are clearly not ordinary days (the lengths of days are not fixed until day 4).

In fact in Scripture generally ‘a thousand years’ is simply indicative of a long period of time. The nearest example to its use here is found in Psalms 90:4, ‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night’. There also the idea is that a thousand years is to God as but the passing of a brief period of time, the third of a night (the night was split into three watches). But such a use of ‘a thousand’ in Scripture to indicate ‘a great many’ is common.

Thus we have the following:

· ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as you are, and bless you, as He has promised you!’ (Deuteronomy 1:11). Here it is simply the equivalent of our saying, ‘I have a thousand things to do.’ It simply means, ‘many times’.

· ‘And the man said to Joab, ‘Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in my hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom’ (2 Samuel 18:12). This is similar to the first case and simply means a large round number.

· ‘For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalms 50:10). We can assume that no one asks who the cattle on the other hills belong to.

· ‘Your neck is like the tower of David built for an armoury, on which there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men’ (Song of Solomon 4:4). Again the significance is of a large number.

· ‘And it shall come about in that day, that every place, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, shall even be for briars and thorns (Isaiah 7:23). Again the significance is a large number.

· ‘Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand’ (Daniel 5:1). It is doubtful if this is intended to indicate an actual number. It rather means a large number of lords.

2). More significant in this context are the examples where ‘a thousand’ is used with a time word indicating the passage of time:

· ‘Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, Who keeps covenant and mercy with those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations’ (Deuteronomy 7:9). We suspect here that no one would suggest here that God’s mercy would fail once the thousand generations were past, nor that it bound God specifically to a thousand generations. It simply means a great many generations.

· ‘For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of My God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness’ (Psalms 84:10). Again the significance of ‘a thousand’ is ‘many’, and once more in a time context.

· ‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night’ (Psalms 90:4). Here the idea is of a large number, (he could have used any large round number). It is important here because it refers both to how God sees time, and to a time context.

· ‘He has remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations’ (Psalms 105:8). Here again we have a reference to God’s view of time and it is related specifically to the passing of time and to a time word, ‘generations’. No one would suggest that here the idea is that after a thousand generation He would forget His covenant, nor that He is indicating that a thousand generations will actually be achieved.

· ‘Yes, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet has he seen no good. Do not all go to one place?’ (Ecclesiastes 6:6). Here ‘a thousand years’ signifies a long time, and interestingly it can without difficulty be seen as two thousand.

· ‘And he laid hold on the monster, the old Serpent who is the Devil, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the Abyss, --- that he should deceive the nations no more until the thousand years be finished’ (Revelation 20:5). There are no Scriptures anywhere else that suggest any other than that this is simply referring to a long period of time.

· ‘And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years should be finished --- they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years’ (Revelation 20:4-6). Again there are no Scriptures anywhere else that suggest that the thousand here is to be taken literally.

All this would seem to stress the fact that when God says ‘a thousand years’ it simply means a long extent of time, although not a long time to God. And this is especially so as his statement is not just that a day can be seen as a thousand years, but that a thousand years is also to God the equivalent of one day. A thousand years is but a blink of His eye.

Verses 8-13

The Reason For Delay And The Final Fulfilment (2 Peter 3:8-13 ).

Verse 9

‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’

So in view of the fact that what appears to be a large extent of time to us is in fact to God but the passing of a mere day, while in one day He can accomplish what to us would seem to require a thousand years, we need not be surprised that the final anticipated part of His Parousia in openly revealed glory has not taken place. It is not due to any slackness on the part of God. It is in fact due to His compassion and longsuffering. He is longsuffering towards men because He does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, that is, should come to a turning to God, and a change of mind about God and about sin (compare 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

‘As some count slackness.’ The ‘some’ are those who are arguing against the final Parousia because of its non-appearance, and those who are subscribing to their teaching. For the idea of the delay that lies behind this compare Hebrews 10:37, and see the fears in 1 Thessalonians 4:13.

‘But is longsuffering towards you.’ We must never underestimate or understate the greatness of God’s longsuffering. For two thousand year He has endured the insults of atheists and scoffers, the challenges of foolish men, and the apathy of the great majority, and has granted them the opportunity to repent. And His love has constantly reached out through the cross. ‘God commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). But still they have not heard.

‘Not wishing that any should perish.’ And that love is revealed in the fact that ‘God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’. In the words of Paul, ‘He would have all men saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). This does not mean that all men will be saved. It is rather an indication that if it were possible this is how God would have it to be. He takes no delight in the death of the sinful, but would rather that they turned from their wickedness and lived (Ezekiel 33:11). It is thus man who is responsible for his own rejection.

‘But that all should come to repentance.’ The idea of repentance as the way back to God for the unbeliever is rare in Paul’s letters, only occurring in Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25. But in Acts the idea is found regularly on the lips of Peter (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 5:31; Acts 8:22), and indeed on Paul’s (Acts 17:30; Acts 20:21; Acts 26:20). It is seen as ‘repentance unto life’ (Acts 11:18). It was, of course, an important part of the message of Jesus (Mark 1:15 and parallels) and of His commission to His Apostles (Luke 24:47). The main idea behind it was of ‘turning to God’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9 b).

‘The Lord.’ It is an open question whether this indicates Jesus Christ or God, Indeed by this time both may have been in mind when it was used, for Christ was seen as God.

Verse 10

‘But the day of the Lord will come as a thief, in the which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (or ‘will be laid bare’).’

However, even though the Lord is merciful and longsuffering, that does not mean that ‘His Day’ will be delayed for ever. And they would therefore do well to recognise that, as Jesus Himself had emphasised, His Day will come suddenly like a thief. The idea of Jesus coming ‘like a thief’ is found in Jesus’ own words in Matthew 24:23; Luke 12:39 (compare Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:3). Compare also 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4 for a parallel of the coming of the Day of the Lord like a thief. The stress on the idea of the Day of the Lord coming like a thief is of suddenness, stealth and catastrophe.

This Day of the Lord is the time of the Lord’s final judgment. It is the time when the Lord ‘has His day’, and is in contrast to ‘man’s day’ (1 Corinthians 4:3). It was a Day regularly spoken of by the prophets.

Note on The Day of the Lord.

The term was used in Isaiah 13:9 of God’s visitation in judgment. Firstly judgment would come on His faithless people through Babylon, and then through the Medes God would bring judgment on Babylon (Isaiah 13:17). The whole is depicted in apocalyptic language (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 13:13) and is described as the wrath of the Lord (Isaiah 13:13). It also has a far view for it depicts the final desolation of Babylon (Isaiah 13:19-22). In the judgments of God near and far were part of one whole, especially as regards Babylon which was the symbol from the beginning of rebellion against God (Genesis 10:9-12; Genesis 11:1-9). The earlier judgment was a foretaste of the later one.

Again the day of the Lord was to come on Edom and its allies, its surrounding nations (Isaiah 34:4; Isaiah 34:8). ‘All the nations’ refers to these for other nations are called on to witness the event (Isaiah 34:1). But it is on Edom that the main judgment comes (Isaiah 34:6). Again it is represented in apocalyptic language (Isaiah 34:9-10), and such judgment did finally come upon them.

Jeremiah also prophesied a day of the Lord on Egypt and Pharaoh Neco (Jeremiah 46:2, repeated in Jeremiah 46:13), this time at the hands of Babylon (Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 46:26). Thus ‘the day of the Lord’ began to indicate the day of the Lord’s judgments whenever they were.

It could be called ‘the day of the Lord of hosts’ (Isaiah 2:12), ‘the day of the Lord’s vengeance’ (Isaiah 34:8 - on Edom), ‘the day of the Lord, the Lord of hosts, a day of vengeance’ (on Egypt - Jeremiah 46:10), ‘the day of the Lord’s anger’ ( on Judah - Lamentations 2:22; on Judah and surrounding nations - Zephaniah 1:18; Zephaniah 2:2-3), ‘the day of the Lord’s sacrifice’ (on Judah - Zephaniah 1:8), ‘the great day of the Lord’ (on Judah - Zephaniah 1:14), ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord’ (Malachi 4:5), which referred to the first coming of Jesus as the beginning of ‘the end days’ (Matthew 11:14 with Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7).

But the basic term behind it all was ‘the day of the Lord’, the time when God had His day. In Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:9 - it was on Babylon through the Medes; in Ezekiel 13:5 - it was on Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; in Ezekiel 30:3 - it was on Egypt through Nebuchadnezzar; in Joel 1:15 - it was on Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; in Joel 2:1; Joel 2:11 - it was on Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; Joel 2:31; in Joel 3:14 - it was in the end days at the time of restoration; in Amos 5:18; Amos 5:20 - it was on Israel through Assyria; in Obadiah 1:15 - it was on Edom and their allies (for ‘all the nations’ compare Isaiah 34:1); in Zephaniah 1:7 - it was on Judah; in Zechariah 14:1 - it was in the end days at the time of restoration, and as the prophets began to look forward to the day when God would set all things right, establish His people and deal with their enemies, it began to be applied especially to that day (Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14; Zechariah 14:1).

In the New Testament the phrase appears four times (Acts 2:20 quoting Joel 2:31, fulfilled, partially at least, at the resurrection and Pentecost; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2. Here it is quite definitive. It is the time when ‘the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works in it will be discovered’ (or in some manuscripts ‘burned up’), that is the time when it will be revealed in God’s eyes and judged. It thus refers to God’s final judgments in the end days including the final Judgment itself.

End of Note.

Interestingly we can see how, by combining this verse with the first half of 2 Peter 3:8 (and ignoring the second half), and by connecting it with Revelation 20:0, the idea could be obtained of a one thousand year Day of the Lord, a view which became part of the heresy of Chiliasm in the second century AD. (They believed that history was split into seven epochs of a thousand years each, of which the seventh was yet to come). This is not, however what Peter was saying. He is simply saying, ‘recognise that to God time-scales are not as we see them’.

This would, however, explain why anti-Chiliasts might have frowned on 2 Peter, thus for them casting doubts on its authorship and thus preventing it coming into prominence. On the other hand it might also have been cited by anti-Chiliasts as an antidote to Chiliastic teaching. Thus both sides may have been set against it, with both parties therefore being suspicious of 2 Peter on doctrinal grounds it would be thrust into the background. But clearly the strength of testimony to its having been written by Peter was sufficient for it to finally survive as an Apostolic writing.

“In the which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (or ‘will be laid bare’ - in Aleph, B, K).” Here is Peter’s description of the Day of the Lord. In his eyes it clearly refers to the final consummation before the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:13).

The description is vivid and awesome. The ‘heavens’ need only signify the sky (Genesis 1:8), but it may also be intended to include heavenly bodies which are regularly connected with the idea of the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15-16). Furthermore, in view of his continual stress on ‘the heavens and the earth’, it is very probable that Peter also intended it to indicate that at the same time as earth was to be judged, so were spiritual beings in heavenly places (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6; Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16).

‘Will pass away.’ Compare here Revelation 6:14; compare Isaiah 34:4.

‘A great noise’ can indicate the crackling of a forest fire. ‘The elements’ (which parallel ‘the works’ of earth) may indicate the atmosphere of air and clouds of water, or may indicate the heavenly bodies, or may simply indicate ‘what the heavens contain’. It would be foolish to be dogmatic. Peter is simply indicating everything to do with the heavens as man sees them. What is central is the destructive heat. In recent days men’s thoughts have turned towards hydrogen bombs and global warming. It might even result from a massive explosion in space, or the arrival of a huge asteroid. But only the future will reveal the truth.

The equally certain destruction of the earth and the works that are in it (which as in Noah’s day are the cause of its downfall) will be accomplished by it being ‘laid bare’ (the reading of the best MSS). But fire lays bare which may explain why the copyist changed the text to ‘burned up’ in order to tie in with the context. The meaning of the whole is the total destruction of the heavens and the earth as man knows it by fire.

‘Laid bare.’ While this could refer to the effects of fire (see 2 Peter 3:11) some see this as referring to the fact that man’s works will be laid bare at the judgment. Compare Revelation 20:11-15. Both will, of course, be true. And thus the false teachers who have proclaimed that nothing of the kind will happen will be rather dramatically proved wrong.

Verse 11

‘Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy manner of living and godliness,’

And what should be the response of believers to these facts? They are to live in the light of its reality by concentrating all their efforts on holy living and godliness. For holy living and godliness are things which will not be part of the heavens and the earth and the works, which will be ‘dissolved’ (luow - ‘set free, break down, demolish, destroy’). They will survive the holocaust. But the works of earth will be ‘laid bare’ or ‘burned up’ (2 Peter 3:12). They will no longer be found in their original environment on earth. They will await the judgment. That is why we are to lay up our treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6:19-21).

‘In holy manner of living and godliness.’ Compare 1 Peter 1:15-16. Here the idea is of a life devoted to God and to eternal things:

1) In terms of the excellencies that he has described in 2 Peter 1:5-8; compare also 1 Peter 5:5..

2) In terms of good works which will bring glory to the Father (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 4:8-9; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 6:19-21), which are in contrast with the works which will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).

3) In terms of constant prayer (1 Peter 3:12; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Peter 5:7; Luke 18:7-8; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and feeding on the word (1 Peter 2:2; Eph 5:26 ; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:12-14).

4) In terms of faithful testimony to Christ (1 Peter 3:15).

Verse 12

‘Looking for and hastening (or ‘earnestly desiring’) the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?’

They are to live their lives as those who are looking for and seeking to speed up the coming of the Day of God. We can probably see the Day of God as the Day that finalises ‘the Day of the Lord’. It is the final day of Judgment. But we may ask, how can they hasten it? And the answer is by ensuring the fulfilment of all the requirements that lead up to it. That would include constant prayer for God to work out His purposes (Luke 18:8; Matthew 6:9-10); the reaching out of the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 24:14), and the making up of the number of God’s elect (Revelation 6:11).

Note how this is described as ‘the parousia of the Day of God’, linking it with the parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ in 2 Peter 1:16 and 2 Peter 3:4. All are linked together.

And when that Day comes then the divine fire will burn up the whole creation. The heavens will dissolve with fire, and the powerful heat will melt all that is. Like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah it will be total and complete. Only those whom God has delivered (as He delivered Lot) will remain to form the new heaven and the new earth.

This day of the Lord’s judgment is pictured in many ways in Scripture. Its different aspects are found for example in Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28; 1 Corinthians 15:52-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 6:12-17; Revelation 14:14-20; Revelation 16:20-21; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:11-15.

‘Looking for.’ Note Peter’s typical threefold use of the verb here and in 2 Peter 3:13-14. Here they are to look for the coming of the Day of God. In 2 Peter 3:13 they are to look for the new heavens and the new earth. And in 2 Peter 3:14 they are to look for these things.

Verse 13

‘But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness.’

They are to look for the new heavens and the new earth. For that is God’s promise, the formation of a new heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness, that is the righteousness that is the result of fulfilling all God’s requirements in the Scriptures. All that is false or unrighteous will be done away. For the concept of a new heaven and a new earth compare Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 66:6-24; Revelation 21-22. These are symbolic pictures of a far greater glory.

In this new heavens and new earth will be fulfilled all God’s promises to Abraham, (it was this that Abraham and his seed were looking for - Hebrews 11:10-16), all the promises of the prophets, and all the final promises of the New Testament, all summed up in the word ‘promise’. Both the heavens and the earth will have been totally renewed. It is vain to speculate on the question of how the new relates to the old. It is, however, interesting to recapitulate Peter’s references to heaven and earth.

· ‘There were heavens from of old, and an earth having been brought together out of water and amidst water, by the word of God (2 Peter 3:5) - CREATION.

· ‘By which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished’ (2 Peter 3:6) - THE FLOOD.

· ‘But the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men --- but the day of the Lord will come as a thief, in the which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (or ‘will be laid bare’) --- looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the Day of God’ (2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10-11) - THE COMING CONFLAGRATION.

· ‘But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness’ (2 Peter 3:13) - THE NEW CREATION.

The is Peter’s reply to the suggestion that ‘all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’ (2 Peter 3:4). But it is noteworthy that that the emphasis is on God acting in judgment and renewal. He himself makes no reference to Christ’s second coming. His emphasis is on ‘the Day of the Lord’ and the ‘coming (parousia) of the Day of God’. But that it inclused His coming we can have no doubt in view of the question in 2 Peter 3:4.

The Parousia of the Lord.

This brings us face to face with the question at to what the question ‘where is now the promise of His coming (parousia)?’ (2 Peter 3:3) was asking. And especially so as the only other mention of His parousia has been in 2 Peter 1:16, where it undoubtedly indicated the revealing of His glory at His first coming (parousia). There Peter was saying, ‘We know He has come because we have seen His power and His parousia (presence)’.

It would appear from this that the doubts expressed by the false teachers were doubts not so much about the second coming, but as to whether the Christ had actually come in the flesh at all, and indeed as to whether God did ever interfere in His creation sufficiently to bring judgment upon it. And Peter’s assurance to the believers is therefore that THE CHRIST HAS come and has been seen by eyewitnesses of His glory (2 Peter 1:16-17), and that the manifestation of that coming will be made known in the events he has described (2 Peter 3:3-13), events which, having already once been demonstrated in the Flood, will be demonstrated further, indicating that God does ‘interfere’ with His creation and is active with regard to it.

We are not of course suggesting for one moment that Peter did not believe in the second coming (for which see 1 Peter), only that it is not on its own his prime emphasis here. His prime emphasis here is on the total fact that the Christ (as ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’) has come in the flesh in the last days, and that that coming in its entirety, as seen in both the first and second coming, will finally issue in the God’s final judgment and the new creation.

Note on ‘Where Is The Promise Of His Coming?

It is always difficult to work out the details of false teaching when all we have are the defences against that false teaching put, not to the false teachers, but to the people who were in danger of being deceived.

The main doctrinal clues are that they ‘denied the Master Who bought them’ (2 Peter 2:1) and that they asked,’ Where is the promise of His coming’? (2 Peter 3:4), not in the light of His first coming but in the light of creation (2 Peter 3:4). The main ethical clues are that they engaged in lascivious living.

The whole basis of their teaching appears thus to have been that God does not interfere in this material world, and never has done, with the consequence that we can behave as we like without any fear of repercussions. But in view of the fact that they clearly made some profession to be teaching ‘Christ’ we must assume that it was as a heavenly figure Who did not interfere in this world, the benefits from Whom were obtained by ecstatic rites, bringing ‘releases of their spirits’ while they themselves were indulging in their revelry (compare Revelation 2:20). It would appear that they saw Him as in conflict with other heavenly figures, whom they themselves felt safe to abuse (2 Peter 2:10-12). Such a mixing of Christian teaching with hellenistic ideas was inevitable once the Gospel became of interest to people steeped in hellenistic ideas. The recognition that God had truly become man was not easy for them to grasp, and was contrary to their ideas.

Peter’s reply is that the Christ has come in the flesh as ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’, as is evidenced by the fact that he with others had seen His power and His glory manifested on earth and testified to by God (2 Peter 1:16-18) as was promised by the prophets (2 Peter 1:19). And that God does step in to ‘interfere with’ and judge His creation as is evidenced by the fact that He did once judge the world at the Flood.

And in both cases what God has done will unravel into what He will do when the coming (parousia) of Christ is manifested in the parousia of the Day of God, in the Day when His final judgment on the world will come about. These will issue in the new heavens and the new earth, when all that opposes God both in heaven and on earth will have been done away.

End of Note.

Note the threefold reference to ‘promise’ in 2 Peter 3:4; 2 Peter 3:9 and now here. ‘Where is the promise of His Presence?’ (2 Peter 3:4). ‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise’ (2 Peter 3:9). ‘According to that promise we look for new heavens and a new earth’. This is the ultimate fulfilment of what Christ has and will come to do.

And it is because we have been brought to God through the Righteous One (1 Peter 3:18), and have been sanctified by the Spirit into the obedience of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2), so that we have become the righteous (2 Peter 2:21; 2 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 4:18), that we will be fitted for the righteous new heavens and new earth.

So ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (2 Peter 3:4-5; Genesis 1:1), after the Flood God brought forth ‘the heavens that now are, and the earth’ (2 Peter 3:7), and after the destruction by fire He will bring forth ‘the new heavens and the new earth’ (2 Peter 3:13). So will His work be brought to completion.

Verses 14-15

‘Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, give diligence that you may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight, and account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.’

Note again Peter’s reference to them as ‘beloved’. His heart was filled with unfeigned love for his brothers, and he yearned for their growth and spiritual advancement.

So in view of their looking for the Day of God, and the new heavens and the new earth, he calls on them to put all diligence into living as he has laid out in 2 Peter 1:4-8; and in 1 Peter 1:13 to 1 Peter 5:11. And his aim is that they may be found ‘in peace’, and might be without spot and blameless in His sight. They have their example in the One Who Himself was without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19), following in the steps of the One Who did no sin neither was guile found in His mouth (1 Peter 2:21-22), and indeed was ‘the Righteous One’ (1 Peter 3:18). This is in complete contrast to those whose activities resulted in continual spots and blemishes (2 Peter 2:13).

To be ‘found in peace’ is a reminder that it is through being accounted as righteous by faith that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). And it by walking with Him that we continually enjoy that peace, as we put our confidence in His faithfulness, pray with thanksgiving, and bring our requests to God (Philippians 4:6-7).

And at the same time they are to wait patiently ‘accounting that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation’. The change to ‘Lord’ is a reminder of Jesus’ part in this salvation, although also including the Father within it. The Lord’s longsuffering results in salvation for all His own, when the fullness of the elect are gathered in.

Verses 14-16

The Christian’s Response To What Is Coming (2 Peter 3:14-16 ).

Verse 15

‘Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote to you,’

The thought of the fullness of that salvation then turns his thoughts to the outstanding descriptions of that salvation in Paul’s letters. Note that he assumes that they will have read his own first letter (2 Peter 3:1). His description of the inspiration that Paul had as ‘the wisdom given to him’ probably arose because he remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 16:17). Compare also Matthew 11:25-27; Luke 7:35; Luke 11:49; Luke 21:15).

Peter’s heart of love is again revealed in the way that he describes Paul. Only those who know the love that arises among fellow-workers for Christ working in harmony in the Lord’s service can fully understand his greeting. They had preached together and they had no doubt suffered together. This description is in complete contrast with how Paul was spoken of by later writers, e.g. ‘the blessed and glorious Paul’ (Polycarp); ‘the blessed Paul’ (1 Clment; Polycarp); ‘the sanctified Paul -- right blessed’ (Ignatius), but it is typical of descriptions between fellow-workers who mutually appreciate each other, confirming Peter’s relationship with Paul.

Verse 16

‘As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unsteadfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.’

However, he acknowledges that some of what Paul says is ‘hard to understand’, being open to false manipulation. This may well have been referring to his doctrine of justification by faith alone without works as especially found in Romans and Galatians. Such teaching in unwise and unscrupulous hands could be twisted to mean that men could live as they liked. This may well have been what these false teachers were doing.

Some twist God’s word because they are ‘ignorant’. They are ill-taught. Others do it because they are unscrupulous. But they should all beware, for it could result in their own destruction. The word ‘wrest’ is very vivid and means to ‘subject to torture’.

The comparison of Paul’s letters (such as had come to Peter’s attention at the time) with ‘the other Scriptures’ (the word graphai always means the Scriptures) demonstrates in what high regard apostolic letters were held. They were seen as Scripture (compare 2 Peter 3:1-2 above where the teaching of the prophets and the Apostles is spoken of in the same breath). This is not surprising. Paul had made quite clear when he was writing that his letters were of great authority, and that he expected his readers to recognise the fact (2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1Co 7:17 ; 1 Corinthians 14:37-39; see also Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). And Jesus had Himself emphasised that His Apostles would be guided into all truth (John 16:13). These Apostolic men were the founders of the new teaching. That was why the later church sought to separate their writings off from all others.

Verse 17

‘You therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware (or ‘guard yourselves’) lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked (or ‘the lawless’), you fall from your own steadfastness.’

With a final ‘beloved’ Peter makes his final appeal before his death (2 Peter 1:13-14). He points out that now they have been forewarned of what the situation is, and what it will be (compare Acts 20:29-31). Thus they are to ‘guard themselves’, because they are under God’s protection (1 Peter 1:4), lest they be carried away by the erroneous teaching and behaviour of ‘lawless men’ (compare 2 Peter 2:7). They are to be firm in their own steadfastness so that they do not fall. Compare Paul’s similar vivid call to steadfastness in Ephesians 6:10-18. It is a call to put on the armour of God.

Verses 17-18

Final Summary (2 Peter 3:17-18 ).

Peter now sums up what he has said, firstly with a warning and then with an appeal. They are to beware lest they be carried away by false teaching, and they are to grow in the true knowledge of ‘our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’.

Verse 18

‘But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen.’

And the way in which they are to ensure their own steadfastness is by ‘growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’. It is by ever learning more and more of Him, both of His gracious and powerful activity on their behalf as their true Saviour, and of His supreme and continual authority as their Lord. This is the true knowledge. And knowing of His power and presence, and the future manifestation of His presence yet to come, as the false teachers had failed to do, they are to have total confidence in Him, and to continually learn more about Him day by day.

For it is in knowing and experiencing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour that we will find the total solution to all our spiritual need. Thus their eyes are to be fixed on the One to Whom will be the glory for ever and ever. None other can share His glory. Amen.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Peter 3". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.