Eschatology is the doctrine of ‘Last Things’. If we want to know what sort of things are included under that heading, 2 Peter 3 is a good chapter to read.
In this passage the apostle Peter speaks about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 4), the destruction of this present world (vv. 10, 12), the judgment (v. 7) and a new heavens and earth (v. 13).
The Lord and his day
One thing is very clear as we read this passage — the Lord will come. Actually, the apostle’s focus is on the day of the Lord rather than the Lord’s coming, but it amounts to the same thing. It is good to be reminded that the Lord is coming.
We get so taken up with the things of this world, even legitimate things, that we lose sight of the fact that this world as we know it, will not go on for ever. Christ will return — physically, but gloriously. He will take his own people to be with himself eternally.
There will also be the judgment, when all will stand before him to give account of their lives. The present world will be destroyed by fire, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
Desiring the day
In speaking of this day (also called the ‘day of God’ and simply ‘that day’), Peter says that we should look forward to it (v.12). We have no doubt that it will come.
When we look forward to something, it occupies our thoughts a great deal. A child looks forward to a birthday party or a visit to the seaside. He keeps asking, ‘How much longer?’ ‘Is it next week?’ Christ’s return should occupy our thoughts in the same way.
There are things associated with Christ’s coming that should fill our hearts with joy — this present evil world will come to an end; there will be no more pain, suffering or sorrow; we will have a new body without sin; we will be reunited with believing loved ones; there will be a new heaven and earth.
Best of all, we shall see our blessed Saviour. Do you look forward to these things?
Imagine — seeing Jesus face to face and being in his presence without interruption! Being free from sin. How glorious that will be! It will make all the struggles of this life worthwhile.
Fixing the day
Not only should we look forward to that day, but we should also speed its coming. Some Bible versions use the word ‘hasten’. It is an interesting expression, and the more one thinks about it, the more interesting it becomes. How can we hasten that day?
On the surface it seems contrary to what we believe about God. If God is sovereign, he sets dates and orders the events of this world. How, then, can we make him change his timetable?
If God has planned that Christ should return at a certain date, can we do something that will cause him to bring that date forward?
That sounds very much like a false doctrine we are hearing about these days. There are people who are teaching that while God knows the past and the present, he doesn’t know what will happen in the future.
They say that there are so many variables that even God doesn’t know what will happen until it occurs. We call this erroneous teaching ‘Open Theism’.
Is that what Peter is saying? Certainly not. Let us establish clearly that God is indeed a sovereign God who knows and determines all things.
Listen to these words: ‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all I please.
‘From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfil my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do’ (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Hastening the day
That does not seem to leave any doubt that God makes plans and fulfils them. So how can we hasten the day of the Lord? There is an amazing truth here.
God not only determines the end, that is, what will happen, but he also determines the means, that is, how things will happen. We could give many examples; let us take one from Exodus 32.
While Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days receiving the laws for Israel, the Israelites persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf, and they worshipped it. The Lord told Moses what had happened and said that he was going to destroy the Israelites and build a new nation through Moses’ descendants (v.10).
Moses prayed to the Lord, saying that such an act would spoil God’s reputation among the nations, and would also break his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God listened to Moses and relented (v.14).
Did God actually change his mind? Surely he had promised to bring Israel to the promised land, but here he used the threat of destruction and Moses’ prayer to forward his purposes.
God determines who will be saved, but he also determines the many factors that can contribute to an individual’s conversion, such as preaching, a tract, prayer. So it is that God has determined the fact and the date of Christ’s return, but he uses many things to bring about that event.
Preparing for the day
What, then, are some of the things that can ‘speed’ the day of Christ’s return? Let me suggest three.
The first is holiness of life. Peter says we ought to live holy and godly lives as we look forward to that day and speed its coming (v.12).
How will holiness speed the coming of the Lord? God is preparing his people for glory. John uses the picture of a bride preparing herself for a wedding (Revelation 19:7). The bride is the church, and she is making herself ready for the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now we must understand that our readiness for heaven is only achieved by the work of Christ. By faith in his finished work at Calvary we are declared righteous by God — we are justified.
But there is something else here — the bride is making herself ready. Note that the fine linen with which she is clothed is the righteous acts of the saints (v. 8). This is not imputed righteousness, but practical righteousness or holiness.
Not ashamed on that day
Christians need to show the reality of their faith by godliness. In that sense we are making ourselves ready. When we are ready, the bridegroom will come for us. The holier we are, the more we speed the day of his coming, when he returns to claim his bride.
Of course, we cannot say how holy we have to be for Christ to return — this passage is looking at the church as a whole. But in practical terms it ought to be our great desire to be holy and pleasing to the Lord.
Our goal in this life is not happiness but holiness, and that is God’s will for us too (1 Thessalonians 4:3). As a bride likes to look her best for her bridegroom on her wedding day, so we should want to look our best inwardly for Christ when he comes.
We do not want to be ashamed before him (1 John 2:28). Like Paul, in the light of the resurrection, we should strive to maintain a clear conscience, before God and man (Acts 24:15-16).
Spreading the gospel till that day
In verse nine of this chapter, Peter is explaining the reason for the delay in Christ’s return — it is God’s patience as he waits for people to come to repentance. This verse is interpreted in two different ways.
Some believe God is waiting for all the elect to be converted before Christ comes. Others see it as a general statement of God’s longing for people to be saved.
Either way, the delay in the great day is due to God’s patient waiting for people to repent. So the sooner people are brought to repentance, the sooner Christ will return.
That means we ought to be urgent in presenting the gospel to sinners. There is an urgency because of their danger, but there is also an urgency in terms of hastening Christ’s coming.
Praying for the day
Peter does not specifically speak of that here, but elsewhere we find prayers for the coming of the Lord: ‘Come, O Lord’ (1 Corinthians 16:22); ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Revelation 22:20); and we could probably add, ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10).
How often do we hear prayers for the coming of the Lord? Just as the Lord uses the holiness of his people and the spreading of the gospel to bring about the planned return of Christ, so he uses the prayers of his people.
May God give us a longing and urgency to seek the coming of the Lord. Let us hasten that day!