Read the Passage: 2 Peter 3:1-18
Peter begins this chapter by referring to his first letter to the churches of Asia Minor, which we know as 1 Peter. That epistle, along with the current one, was written in order to “stir up your pure minds by way of reminder” (2 Pet. 3:1; cf. 1:13; 2 Tim. 1:6; Heb. 10:24). That which Peter wanted to remind his readers of was “the words which were spoken by the holy prophets” (2 Pet. 3:2). Recall that Peter had earlier mentioned the prophecies written by “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Reminders and encouragement are an essential part of spiritual growth and are even the spiritual gifts of some. Note Peter’s reference to “your . . . minds” and “be mindful” in 2 Pet. 3:1–2. This is a continuing part of Peter’s emphasis on knowledge in this epistle, as knowledge is essential for defense against false teaching.
In 2 Pet. 3:3–7 Peter discusses a specific heresy being propagated by the false teachers, which is called the error of uniformitarianism. This false teaching is the idea that all things will remain as they currently stand and that all things have been as they currently are. Peter observes, as he had previously, that this false teaching was rooted in the heretics “own lusts” (2 Pet. 3:3; cf. 2:10). Peter’s response to this heresy in 2 Pet. 3:5–6 is to draw a parallel between the world in Noah’s time and the present. Peter notes that in Noah’s time the world seemed to be uniform, until God judged it with water (cf. Matt. 24:36–39). Likewise, in 2 Pet. 3:7 Peter notes that the present world seems to be uniform, but it will eventually be judged by God through fire. Just as God judged the scoffers in Noah’s day, so will He judge the false teachers in the church age.
In 2 Pet. 3:8–9 Peter notes the reason why it may seem like the Lord is delayed in His return and in the judgment of scoffers—that is, because of His long-suffering. Indeed, God does not count time as man does (cf. Ps. 90:4) and is delayed in His judgment “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9; cf. Ezek. 18:32; 1 Tim. 2:4). Given that all men will not be saved, this verse appears to be problematic, for it seems to imply that God cannot save all whom He desires. Theologians have avoided this difficulty by distinguishing between God’s will of desire (i.e., His moral will) and God’s will of decree (i.e., His sovereign will). In other words, while God genuinely desires that all men be saved, for purposes that have not been fully disclosed, within God’s sovereign will only some men will be saved (cf. Rom. 9:22–24).
This passage, 2 Pet. 3:10–13, is probably one of the most misunderstood passages in the entire Bible. It is oftentimes cited to support the notion that everything will be destroyed in the end times, with redeemed humanity allegedly spending eternity–perhaps in a spiritual state–in heaven. A problem with this notion, however, is that the rest of Scripture describes redeemed humanity as residing upon a renewed earth—that is, a new heavens and a new earth (cf. Ps. 102:25–26; Isa. 65:17; 66:22; Rom. 8:19–21; Rev. 21:1–22:5). While different translators have rendered 2 Pet. 3:10 in various ways, I suggest the following rendering of 2 Pet. 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will be transformed with a great noise, and immorality will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be exposed.”
As Peter had previously stated in 2 Pet. 3:11–12, the fact of our Lord’s imminent return ought to prompt believers to be watching and to be ready for Him. Indeed, the language and illustrations that Peter uses here are reminiscent of Jesus’ own words in the Olivet Discourse, which was surely heard by Peter when Christ gave this teaching (cf. Matt. 24:36–44). Additionally, as he closes out his epistle, Peter refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16) and notes that there are some things in Paul’s writings that are difficult to understand. Note that it is the most difficult things in Scripture that are most often attacked. Such doctrines include, the reality of creation, the nature Scripture, the person of Jesus, the Trinity, the return of Christ, and justification by faith alone. Note that exhortations to godly living almost always accompany teachings on Jesus’ return.
- What types of things have most encouraged you in your Christian walk? Do you know anyone who has the spiritual gift of encouragement?
- When you see the wicked flourish and false teachers have material success, are you ever tempted to believe in their message?
- Given that all men will not be saved, how do you explain Peter’s claim that God desires all men to be saved (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9)?
- In light of the Bible’s teaching of a new heavens and new earth, how ought we to understand 2 Pet. 3:10?
- How can we distinguish between doctrines over which believers may have a legitimate disagreement and false teaching (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15)?