2 Peter 3:1-10
This second letter, beloved, I now write to you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:…
I. AIM OF THE EPISTLE.
1. To stir them up by reminding them. "This is now, beloved, the second Epistle that I write unto you; and in both of them I stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance." There is here the first of four designations of them as beloved in this chapter. It was already a second Epistle that he was writing to the same circle; not much time had elapsed since the writing of the First Epistle, which in all probability is that which has come down to us under that title. The aim of both Epistles was the same. It is expressed in accordance with language used in the first chapter of this Epistle. lie did not profess to be revealing to them new truths, but only to put them in remembrance of old truths. They had a sincere mind, i.e., open to the light. They would not therefore object to truths because they were old, or to their being re-stated, but would rather welcome being reminded of them, that they might be stirred up to a deeper sense of their importance.
2. To stir them up by reminding them of certain holy words. "That ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles." He first refers them to the words of the holy prophets, i.e., who wrote on holy themes, and under holy inspiration. He has specially in view the holy theme of the second coming. Their words spoken before had received striking, yet partial, fulfillment in the first coming; they would receive their complete fulfillment in the second coming. He also refers them to the commandment of the Lord and Saviour, than which surely nothing could be more binding. Christ first saves, and then commands: where is the teacher who is in that commanding position? He first teaches the fact of his second coming, and then he commands the corresponding life. "Watch therefore," says Christ: "for ye know not on what day your Lord cometh. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through. Therefore be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh." This commandment, having the highest authority, was delivered to them through their apostles, i.e., the apostles that had laboured among them. The chief of these thus echoed his Lord. "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night:... so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober" (1 Thessalonians 5:2-7).
II. THE MOCKERS.
1. The time of their appearance. "Knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery." Peter refers to the advent of the mockers as of primary importance in its bearings. They were to come in the last of the days, by which we cannot understand simply the time immediately preceding the second advent. The last period is to be regarded as extending from the first advent to the second advent. During this period, as time went on, they were to come, and to come in character. In Hebrew style, it is said that the mockers were to come "with mockery" - with their mocking at holy things.
2. What they were to mock at. "Walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming?" What they were to say was to be determined, not by truth, nor by fact, but by prejudice, and by prejudice founded on their walking after their own lusts, i.e., their loose mode of life. In the first psalm those that "walk in the counsel of the ungodly" are next represented as "standing in the way of sinners," and then as "sitting in the seat of the scornful." So here those whose life cannot bear looking into, disliking the coming because it meant a check to them, are represented as saying, with an air of mocking triumph, "Where is the promise of his coming?" i.e., it has turned out to be vain and mendacious.
3. How they were to argue.
(1) Fact on which they were to base their argument. "For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep." By "the fathers" we are probably to understand the men of the first Christian generation. The promise was made to them, and they lived in hope of its being fulfilled in their day. But the day came when, without its being fulfilled, they fell asleep. There is an example here of the use of language from which there has been receding. Christians speak of their friends in Christ as falling asleep. The sentiment comes out in the word cemetery, which means "sleeping-place," with which we associate an awaking. The mockers, no longer in accord with Christianity, use Christian language. The fact on which they base their argument is not to be denied: the use which they made of it is taken up at verse 8.
(2) Argument drawn from uniformity. "All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." We are warranted in proceeding on the uniformity of nature - on the sun rising tomorrow as it has done today, and in days past. Nor is it surprising that scientific men should be more than ordinarily impressed with the fact of uniformity, by their researches into nature. Peter here prophesies that in the last days mockers would seek to turn the fact of uniformity against Christianity, and it has remarkably turned out as he prophesied. This is really the line that has been followed by many skeptics. They have said, "All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." On this ground Hume argued against miracles. "A miracle," he said, "is a violation of a law of nature: but the universal experience of ourselves, and of the whole human family, proves that the laws of nature are uniform, without exception." Strauss and his school have sought to establish, not merely the incredibility, but the impossibility, of miracles. Their argument bears against such a subversion of the present order of things as is connected with the second coming. They have thus unconsciously fulfilled prophecy.
III. CATASTROPHISM IS THE PAST. "For this they willfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the Word of God; by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." Peter, in putting his finger on catastrophism, refers to it as what they willfully forgot. It required an effort of their will to shut it out. The impression of the event, though it had taken place centuries before, had not died out. His reference to the Flood is introduced by a statement bearing on the way in which it was brought about. This is founded on the Mosaic account of creation. The first part of the statement refers to the bringing of the heavens into existence. There were heavens from of old, by the Word of God. This is the first thought of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven." It did not exist from eternity, but was brought into existence by the creative word of God. The second part of the statement refers, not to the bringing of the earth into existence, but to its receiving its present form. An earth was compacted out of water, i.e., as material. The reference seems to be to the waters of chaos in the Mosaic record (Genesis 1:2). It was also compacted, not "amidst water," as it is unwarrantably in the Revised Version, but "by means of water," i.e., as the instrumental element. The reference seems to be to the gathering together of the waters into one place. Behind the water as material and instrumental element was the directing and potent Word of God. Having made this statement, Peter introduces the Flood as his answer to the mockers. The connecting words are," by which means." The use of the plural creates a difficulty. The most probable solution is that the reference is to the water and the Word of God. This is favoured by the latter being carried forward in the next verse. Water, let loose by God, flooded the then world, i.e., not the earth simply, but the earth as supporting its then inhabitants. There was catastrophism of the most impressive nature. There was (let the mockers note it) a mighty disturbance of uniformity. The world that then was perished.
IV. CATASTROPHISM IN THE FUTURE. "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." There is suggestion, not of their ceasing to be heavens and earth, but rather of there being still heavens and earth, only not such as we now see them. The Word of God has fixed the destiny of the new heavens and earth. There is catastrophism in store for them. They are here represented as stored up for fire. The agency is not far to seek, being in the heart of the earth. There is suggestion of the fire being needed for the new heavens and earth on account of the ungodly men that have defiled them. For their God-forgetting, God-defying life, they - when the appointed day comes - are to be adjudged to destruction. The heavens and earth that they have defiled are to be subjected, not to water (which is forbidden by promise), but to an agency more penetrative and subduing. The same Word that carried out the catastrophism of water is to carry out the catastrophism of fire.
V. THE DIVINE MODE OF RECKONING. "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." This is Peter's answer to the suggestion in the argument of the mockers, "From the day that the fathers fell asleep." By addressing his readers as "beloved," he bespeaks their attention. He bespeaks their attention to a thing which they were in danger of forgetting. He bespeaks their attention to a thing which was principally to be considered. "Forget not this one thing." The language in which this one thing is expressed is an extension of what is found in Psalm 90:4, both sides being presented here. Peter teaches that our ideas of short and long in time are not to be applied to God's mode of reckoning. A day is what is short with us. We think of there being many, many days of life. But a day may be long with God. If we think of the days of creation, how much was crowded into each of them! If we think of the day on which the Flood came, how much characterized it! If we think of the last day of our Lord's Passion, how much affecting human history, and affecting angelic history, and affecting even God himself, was crowded into it! We are taught to think of a nation being born in a day. So we do not need to think of more than a day as required for the events that are to be included in the second coming. On the other hand, a thousand years is what is long with us. Men used to think of that as the limit of human life. But we cannot now think of our living a hundred years. But a thousand years may be a short time with God. "A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night." There was a waiting for thousands of years before the arrival of man on the earth; and if thousands of years have to elapse before the winding up of human history, in the sure and effectual evolving of his purpose that may not be long to God.
VI. EXPLANATION OF SEEMING DELAY. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." When a promise is made for a specified time, and is not fulfilled at that time, there is real delay there, the explanation of which may be found to be slackness. Such slackness cannot be attributed to God. There is apparent delay, and some, in the disappointment of their expectation, and in the working of unbelief, may say it is slackness; but that cannot be justified. It is said that "the Judge is before the door," which may be construed as an immediate coming. But the real meaning is that Christ is ready for judgment. Why, then, does he not come? The answer is that things are not ready for his coming. Christ's people are charged with making things ready for his coming, so far as they themselves are concerned, and so far as others are concerned; and they have not things in sufficient readiness. It is not, then, that God is slack concerning his promise, as though he were not sufficiently interested; it is, says Peter, that he is long-suffering to you-ward. He is bearing with Christian people in their dereliction of duty, in their slackness in performing their part. And not merely they, hat others, arc thought of by God. He does not wish that any should perish. It is not according to his heart that even one whom he has created, and for whom Christ has died, should remain in misery. This is a thought Which comes out strongly in the prophecy of Ezekiel. "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God." "Say unto them [that pine away in their sins], As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." The positive side of the Divine wish is that all should come to repentance. He has not an interest merely in some, but in all. None can be happy in sin; it can only be pining away, as the prophet puts it. None can be happy without repentance, i.e., change of mind; but this change of mind he wishes for all. And it is not a mere wish, but it is a wish that has been manifested in the cross of Christ; and, in the operations of the Spirit, and in the workings of Providence, this is the end which is sought. Let us all respond, then, to the Divine wish which accompanies the Divine long-suffering.
VII. THE COMING CHARACTERIZED. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up." By "the day of the Lord" we are to understand the day of Christ's glorious manifestation. The interest of that day will all center round his appearance and judicial action. The coming of the day is regarded with certainty. In the original "will come" has the emphatic position: "Will come the day of the Lord." Whether our thoughts are contrary to it, or whether we have not thoughts about it at all, it will come. Peter touches on the suddenness of the coming, in this echoing the Master, as Paul also did: "Will come the day of the Lord as a thief." He more than touches on an awe-inspiring association of the coming. There will be a general conflagration. It was said in prophecy that the heavens shall vanish away like smoke. Here it is said that they shall pass away with a great noise. This is to be explained by the clause which follows, which is to be taken with it. The elements, i.e., of which the heavens are composed, shall be dissolved with fire. The noise, then, is the rushing sound of the destroying fire, or the consequent crash. The conflagration is to embrace the earth: "The earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up." The works must be understood as including man's works. Some works long outlive the workers. It is hoped that some works of art may survive for centuries. But, however long they survive, they will at last be burnt up. That teaches us that there is what is higher than art. And we need not wonder at this being the destiny of man's works on earth, when it is to be the destiny of even God's works on earth. Lift up your eyes to the heavens in the stillness of night, or look upon the earth beneath bathed in the sun-light of a summer day: can it be that catastrophism shall reign wherever your eyes rest? can it be that the wild, all-devouring element of fire shall lay hold on all this material fabric? So prophecy tells us that it will be. It will come, the day of general conflagration. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: