An “end times” error, both ancient and modern, has been predicting the final parousia of the Lord Jesus. It is a horse from which riders fall from the saddle on both sides. Either way, it is gambling with the Word of God, which cannot end well. Gainsayers, that is those who deny the coming of the Lord on the Last Day, prognosticate in the negative just like in 2 Peter 2-3. They sneer, “Where is the promise of His coming” (2 Peter 3:4). Others, claiming esoteric insights, think Jesus’ coming “at any time” means they need only “discern the signs of the times” to tell which “today or tomorrow” it might be and, holding the keys to the last days, that we should follow them. Both errors lead into a ditch that damages personal faith and defames the true faith.
Both errors arise from things which Jesus did say in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, that certain apocalyptic things would happen, forebodingly, “within a generation” (Matthew 24:34). The gainsayers point to this and say, see, “For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). Gnostics, on the other hand, busy themselves decoding Scripture and divining geopolitical events, number-crunching to give us the date. Jesus’ prophesies in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, however, were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. For the Jews, this was a veritable end-of-the-world scenario. Judaism and the Sinaitic Covenant, already supplanted by the person and work of Jesus, came crashing down along with “every stone standing upon another” when General Titus and his engineers razed the Temple structures to the ground, leaving them as an enduring heap for every subsequent generation to heed the words of Jesus. The crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of Man inaugurated a new state of affairs for the cosmos which began to manifest when the Temple was obliterated. The old creation was judged, and the new creation was dawning. The Final Parousia would bring it to completion. This is biblical eschatology in a nutshell.
Significantly, the destruction of the Temple and the apocalyptic end of Old Covenant Judaism occurred in AD 70, after Peter wrote his first and second epistles. The gainsayers of his day looked around and said: “See, the Temple still stands and so does the priesthood and the sacrifices. Caesar even remains the king of the world! So, tell me you Christians, where is the promise of His coming?” But Peter says these mockers are themselves witnesses to the trustworthiness of the Word of the Lord, for both the prophets and Apostles spoke of them in advance. This foreknowledge further indicates Christ’s control over the world’s situation and the nearness of His final parousia. Thus, the arrival of opposition, the very presence of the gainsayers, can actually bring hope to the baptized. In the meantime, then as now, the virtues of patience and faith are to be exercised, especially when Gnostics sound the alarm, engendering hysteria and pessimism concerning the fate of the world. Look to Jesus because the story ends well for those found to be “in Christ”:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).
The arrival of opposition, the very presence of the gainsayers, can actually bring hope to the baptized
Patience was extolled as a virtue in the ancient pagan world by the likes of Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca. However, Peter and Paul elevate it beyond human spirit to that of the Holy Spirit, indeed, constitutive of the “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). The baptized were to exercise the divine gift of patience in good old fashioned waiting; God’s καιρός in their Χρόνος (God’s perfect timing in their time). In this way, patience is tethered to faith in Jesus. Patience and faith hallmark believers who abide in the Spirit and look to Christ as the final arbiter of what the Last Days will bring: Judgment upon the gainsayers, vindication to the faithful, and the resurrection of all flesh, in fact the rebirth of the world itself.
Heretical belief is always commingled with truth. It is no different for gainsayers, be they old or new. They might admit there is a Creator, but a lot of people are content to confess belief in “god.” That seems safe enough, and certainly it is not demanding. But this “god” is the divine watchmaker in the sky; a noninterventionist, non-providential Sky-God. With this flimsy belief in a being or power utterly detached from human affairs, they coerce alignment with their moral agenda: Licentiousness, a loose morality with no greater consequences than what temporal affairs may bring. With an open-ended eschaton, apostates are at liberty not only to believe what they want, but to also do as they please.
As in chapter 2, Peter’s response is God has indeed judged the world in the past. The reason things continue as they have from the beginning, in the sense of chronological progression and human sinfulness, is only because God’s Word sustains everything. Christ is that word: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17; see also Hebrews 1:3, “He sustains all things by His powerful Word”). Through the same determinative Christology, Peter concludes: “By the same Word the present heavens and earth have been preserved for fire” (verse 7). Time, then, consists of three major epochs: Before the Flood (2 Peter 3:6), the present (3:7), and the world to come (3:13). There are no more covenants. There is no pre- or post-millennialism, or a rapture with pre- or post-tribulation implications.
When is the Day of the Lord, the final parousia? It is in the Lord’s Word of promise that it will occur, having already given Himself as a pledge in the: “As often as two or three of you gather in My name, there I am in your midst,” in other words, enfleshed in the Eucharist. It is in the assurance of the continual coming where the instantaneous global manifestation of His final parousia will occur: “The Day of the Lord will come like a thief.”
What happens in that moment? Cosmic Renewal: “The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise and the elements, by being burned, will be destroyed, and the earth and works (that are) in it will be disclosed” (2 Peter 3:10). Scripture teaches that the resurrection and judgment of “the living and the dead” will occur at the same time, thus eliminating the possibility of an earthly millennial age to dawn after the Lord’s final parousia. The Scriptures also teach the last advent of Christ Jesus will be the time of cosmic renewal/purgation/purification when the heavens and the earth, which are both literally and spiritually polluted by humanity, will in fact undergo thoroughgoing purification “by fire,” which is the biblical element (paralleling water) for divine purification, refinement, and judgment. “This too,” writes Kim Riddlebarger, “strikes a telling blow against most forms of postmillennialism, which assign the creation of the new heavens and earth to after the resurrection and judgment of the wicked at the end of the millennial age.”
Peter taught that this cosmic event will occur when Christ returns on the Last Day, the Day of the Lord/Judgment, making this renewal a concomitant event with both the resurrection and the judgment (2 Peter 3:3-15). The Apostle Peter wrote: “The Day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (verse 10). How else will underground tanks, landfills, concrete, aluminum, and steel dystopian cityscapes, and chaotic highways be purged? How else will the countless tons of refuse strewn about the ocean and submerged to its bottom be lustrated? How else will 1.4 million bits of space debris be eliminated? The ancient elements of water, earth and air must succumb to the fourth element, fire, and be purified. Unless the seed dies, it cannot bear fruit. What happened to the body of Jesus (death and resurrection) is the paradigm for creation itself.
Unless the seed dies, it cannot bear fruit. What happened to the body of Jesus (death and resurrection) is the paradigm for creation itself.
The Delayed Final Parousia — Receive it as Gospel, too.
As a capstone to his argument, Peter explains the deepest reason for the divine delay in judgment in verse 9: “But He is patient toward you, not willing for anyone to perish but all to come to repentance.” The delay in judgment does not argue against its reality, but is further evidence that God “is patient toward you.” Although perplexing, God’s patience must not be understood as weakness but the glory of the Gospel, which is God’s mercy toward us in Christ, who upholds all things by the power of His Word.
Jesus’ delay in coming to judge and simultaneously renew the creation is an act of forbearing grace, even though His gracious delay gives occasion for some to scoff. To encourage the baptized (those who have received the mark of Christ), Peter paints a vision of the eschatological judgment to come upon the earth. Christians should not take the delay in the final parousia as an indication that Jesus is indifferent to their plight or impotent to do anything about their distresses. This delay in His return is because the Lord’s timing is not ours and, further, Christ extends the opportunity for justifying salvation before the final day. In the meantime, the Word upholds all creation, preserving it until that day. And it is not merely by way of divine will, that is, the divine say-so, but the Word made manifest in the Eucharist (Jesus Christ bodily present in Holy Communion) which prevents the world from undergoing immediate and devastating judgment but also serves as a pledge that the time-space continuum will be altered by the suffusive presence of Christ, akin to the ontological alteration of water, bread, wine, and human bodies indwelt by the reality of the God-man’s being. Christ saves the world even now from judgment and preserves it moment-by-moment for the potential salvation of many and, ultimately, the created order itself.
Therefore, when Peter assigned the renewal of the heavens and earth to the Day of the Lord, he did so to make the point that the Day of Judgment will be the day of wrath and renewal and those who are asleep will be caught completely unawares. Having this hope, he says we are to purify ourselves in anticipation. Such pure doctrine purges any distracting idea of “rapture” out of this world.
At the end of this exhortation, Peter mentions Paul’s teaching regarding God’s patience with humanity. The reference is likely to Romans 8, where the Apostle Paul also spoke of cosmic renewal and God’s forbearance:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:18-25).
According to Paul, creation will be liberated from its bondage when the sons of God are revealed, demonstrating Jesus Christ will not only deliver His people from eschatological wrath, but will also deliver the created order as well. This is because not only has His blood (the atonement and eternal life is in His blood) been poured over (baptism!) and into His people (Holy Communion!), but during His Passion, Jesus’ blood seeped into the Earth itself. As sinful men and woman are transformed into the image of Christ, creation will also realize its final purpose, resurrection and new creation. For the “destiny of the creation and of the ‘children of God,’ whom Jesus gathers around Him, belong intrinsically together.” This is because humanity itself has been formed from the dust of the earth (Genesis 1-2) and even the Son of Man’s own body was formed of a woman, a daughter of Adam, the virgin Mary. Therefore, all things, including physicality itself, must be reconciled to God.
Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 137.
Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1983), 321ff.
Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1994), 134.
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