At the very core of the gospel message is the assurance that Jesus Christ will return and establish His Kingdom on earth. Our hope is in His second coming because we recognize that we need His merciful intervention before humanity wipes itself out. As things continue to deteriorate, we keep returning to this confident expectation that there is a solution to the problems that mankind faces, but that solution is still just over the horizon. However, it seems like His return has been “just over the horizon” our entire lives, and we may wonder at times why the end has not yet come.
In this regard, II Peter 3 is invaluable for keeping the right perspective on Christ's return, and especially its timing. The apostle Peter helps us to focus on the right things in anticipation of that day.
Peter begins the chapter with a reminder of all the things the prophets and apostles had been inspired to preach. The timing of Christ's return was the source of quite a bit of confusion in the first century, and so Peter reminds his audience that a tremendous amount of God's Word has to do with that very topic. The Bible contains a solid foundation for at least a general understanding of the end times, even though the exact timing is not spelled out.
In these verses, Peter addresses the prevailing notion that “life goes on” and the public's scoffing at the idea that the Creator would return and intervene in human affairs. In the previous chapter, he paid considerable attention to false prophets, false teachers, and false doctrines that were troubling the church from the inside. In chapter 3, Peter draws attention to all that the true prophets and apostles had written because their writings needed to be the basis of evaluating what the contemporary teachers were saying. Along the same lines, Paul says in I Timothy 4:1 that “the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. . . .”
A picture emerges of people who had “the faith”—a specific faith—at one time, but whose natural desires have overshadowed it. They had regressed to the place where they scoff at the idea that there is anything more to life than what they can discern with their senses. As their faith deteriorates, they conclude that nothing has really changed in the millennia of (accepted) human history, so it is doubtful that this world will ever end. So Peter writes to those who have not departed from the faith, pointing out that God's Word is filled with examples of His intervention, so that they—and we—might be bolstered in the face of the scoffing.
David C. Grabbe
How Much Longer Do We Have?
Things are not continuing as they were, and the reason we know this is because God has given us discernment of the times and seasons in which we are living. Life is not going to continue the way it is: It will get worse before it gets better. So Peter is reminding us.
By the time Peter wrote this (scholars date II Peter in 64 AD), the world is in real turmoil. The world seems to be falling apart. Jerusalem, especially, is a powderkeg. Christians are being blamed for the trouble being incited in Rome.
However, the New Testament writers reveal to us that they saw the church going to sleep. We can imagine such a thing because many of us have experienced this in our own time. At the most critical juncture of history for the church, the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25 shows the church asleep—all ten were asleep, not just five of them. The parable specifically spotlights the virgins slumbering and sleeping at the time of the end, and it happened in the first century too, just before the destruction of the Temple, which was "an end."
It is an incongruity that seems almost impossible to believe. With all this excitement going on, instead of being stirred up to press on toward the Kingdom of God, the church instead—much of it, anyway—was doing what the Thessalonians were doing, just waiting it out. Not everybody did that, and it is a good thing or Christianity would have died out.
The apostles were certainly stirred up. There is no doubt about it because they wrote about it. These people were doing exactly what the apostles were warning them of: They were walking after their own lusts or desires.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic
II Peter 3:1-6 contains vivid illustrations of God ruling and overruling to bring His purpose to a successful conclusion in spite of men. Because the Creator God truly is sovereign, He is constantly moving His creation, including us, toward the conclusion of the purpose He determined from the beginning. All things do not continue as they were. God is working and intervening, making adjustments in the course of international, national, and personal events, as the incidents of the Flood and the Tower of Babel vividly illustrate. Peter could have added many more examples, such as freeing Israel from Egypt, guiding Israel to power and destroying it, and scattering the Israelites over the face of the earth. God has done this so completely that most have no idea where Israel is or that they themselves might be Israelites.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six
In our day, such scoffers have indeed arisen, both inside and outside the church, spreading their ideas that the return of Jesus Christ as King of kings is many decades away. As happened in the first century, members who hear these prognostications begin to wonder if they are true, and sadly, some come to believe them, put down their guard, and begin to drift away. Agreement with any form of "the Lord delays His coming" will take a heavy, spiritual toll on those who accept it as true, as it eliminates their motivation to overcome their sinful human nature and to prepare for God's Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Promise of His Coming?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Peter 3:4: