Preachers have significant points of overlap between 2 Peter 3:8-14 and our contemporary culture, especially as it relates to time. We bore easily. We are impatient, we all are. With the promise of consumerism, you can have it now, instantly, shipped with next-day or even same-day delivery. So, compared to that, waiting on the Word of the Lord to come to fruition can seem like, well, living in an agrarian society where soil is turned, fertilized, seeds planted, tended during a long growing season, and at last harvested but still not ready to be consumed. It must be washed, prepared, baked and then you finally get a taste. What a backward way of thinking, especially when we have microwaves, Swanson’s Hungry-Man Dinners, and UberEATS. Time is our topic and Peter is going to help us understand God’s timeline and our experience of time as they overlap and are redefined for the Christian in Christ Jesus.
Christ promised to return in judgment upon those who remain in their treasonous rebellion to His inviting, gracious lordship. That judgment also includes a very public vindication of all those who are “in Christ Jesus,” as Paul puts it. But time is dragging on. What bolsters Christ’s promises, so we do not sag in faith and service? The word of promise? Unbelievers and sometimes even the Church hear that word and say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (3:4-5).
But Peter writes that this is not all there is. In fact, the Word of promise is only the half of it. There is more, a lot more. There is a reality which has already broken into our midst. Grapple with the reality constantly in our presence. Contend with the certainty of the public resurrection which happened in actual, human history, amidst people whose ancestor’s dwell among us to this day, from a nation still with us. I know, writes Peter, I was there when it broke in. My eyes have seen, my ears have heard, and my hands have handled the future of the world in the here and now.
The sneak-peek vision of the world to come, a preview of the Last Day, the Day of the Lord, has already been revealed, declares Peter. We have already had a disclosure of what is to come with the transformation of Jesus of Nazareth that took place through the resurrection on the first Easter Sunday. In the transfiguration of the Messiah Jesus is a world in which the past is never simply gone, and the future is never simply beyond. Ours is not a world enslaved to an inevitable evolutionary process, crushing and discarding everything and everyone in its wake. The natural process has been disrupted with the future crashing into the past through the resurrection of Jesus. Now, this reality is ever present with us through the Sacraments; where God’s time and our time overlap, where His spirit and physical matter commingle, where the invisible and the visible are manifest, where grace invades and permeates nature. The world is not exclusively constituted by the fixed laws of Newtonian Physics or the evolutionary processes of Darwinism. Rather, the world is constituted by this: “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (3:8). The future has come, and the future comes in the resurrected Christ who is present with His real voice and His real Presence in His holy Word and blessed Sacraments. Time, space, matter, and spirit all find discontinuity and continuity in the resurrected Christ.
The natural process has been disrupted with the future crashing into the past through the resurrection of Jesus.
Time’s surface (past, present, and future) is fantastically interrupted, invaded, and gloriously illuminated by eternity’s light and opens to something infinitely more than what merely appears in ordinary time. Peter calls us to understand how all bets concerning the old order of things are off. The ordinary order of the world where death always has the last word is over. Those physics are broken, and this fact should have an impact on our understanding and appreciation of time. God is not slow to keep His Word. In fact, the return of Christ could happen at any moment, like the clandestine arrival of a thief in the night.
Peter is saying, there is more than mere promise. There is the crucifixion. There is the resurrection. There is the sacramental presence of Christ dispensing grace, grace over law, grace over karma, and grace over death. Christ’s incarnational, scriptural, and sacramental presence is the guarantee of such things. The preview, the sampling, the foretaste, the appetizer to the full-course reality of the Day of the Lord abides in real, human history like a five-alarm signal exclaiming this present ordering of the world is not the end all, be all. There is a reality coming and we know it to be so because it already was in Christ, was again in us who have been recreated in Christ, and now continues to be in God’s Word and Sacraments. It is not confined to Heaven and not obscurely and subjectively present in your hearts, though these aspects also ring true to some degree. Rather, it is objectively outside of us in the space-time reality in which we live. Christ is there for real. Christ is truly in the here-and-now, not just the there-and-then, and much less the up-there-and-when. That is Peter’s point.
Again, we are in the season of Advent, of God coming in the person of His King, the Messiah, who is at the same time Emmanuel. So, the truth that connects the first advent (the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the virgin Mary) and the last advent (when Christ comes in judgment) needs to be proclaimed. The connection happens to be what God is doing to redeem creation itself. A new creation dawned when the last Adam, Jesus, arrived on the scene. It was furthered when that same Jesus, following His crucifixion unto death, emerged from the tomb as the new creation Himself. His body was resurrected. Creation would be resurrected. Recreation begins with our spirits, continues with our bodies on the Last Day, and finds consummation with the comprehensive renewal of the Earth. That is the picture we get in Revelation 21:1-2 when the old, despoiled creation gives way to the new.
The reason this needs to be proclaimed has to do with the pessimistic and speculative interpretations of verses 10 and 14: “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... the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” Dispensationalists, especially, would do well to continue into verse 15 and cede to Scripture interpreting Scripture: “But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new Earth in which righteousness dwells.” The picture, then, is one of purification, of sanctification, so that Heaven may fully integrate with earth, on Earth.
Clearly, the symbolic language of the images describing this event cannot be interpreted literally. We will not waste a moment speculating about black helicopters, sign-of-the-beast microchip implants, and supercomputers in Brussels. The point of such language, harkening back to the Old Testament, expresses the fundamental idea that the world will undergo a catastrophic transformation. The world will experience its own transfiguration. On the one hand it will perish in a cosmic fire and on the other hand it will be transformed inwardly. The world that is becomes the world anew, a “new Heaven and new Earth,” better understood and appreciated as the renewed Heaven and Earth. Earth will be renewed and like brand-new when Heaven is fully and visibly fused with it, as the British theologian N.T. Wright likes to say. It began with Heaven and Earth overlapping and becoming normative in the body of Jesus Christ and it continues with the Eucharist and our own selves becoming indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and it will in fact continue with the elements, with time and space themselves.
The present time is never simply dead time or metered time, as a historicist would have it. Instead, it is pregnant with the patience of God: “He is patience with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (3:9). We live not in a time of empty waiting, with time to burn, killing time. We live in the fullness of God’s gracious patience, a time given to us to repent, to acknowledge, to accept, and to honor His merciful and loving, longsuffering rule. This is the time for the entire world to wake up to the reality of the bondage of all things to corruption and perishability through death and desire. This is the moment to wake up to the reality of the destruction we bring upon ourselves, even seek out, through our treason and transgressions. Peter calls us to open our eyes to the blind, merciless forces of law and karma, and awaken to the reality of the purifying trial to which God will put us on the Day of Judgment. The time has come to be vindicated in Christ, or (as Peter warns) not.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you preaching 2 Peter 3:8-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Peter 3:8-14.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!