The overall subject is the return of Jesus Christ. When Peter wrote this, there were stirrings within the church that the second coming had already occurred.
The apostles thought the return of Jesus Christ would happen within their lifetimes because they did not fully understand God's timeframe. Undoubtedly, people were becoming discouraged because they felt that matters were going awry in their world. They were frightened, anxious, and in pain, crying out, "How long, O Lord?" They were becoming impatient, and it seemed that everything was continuing as it had, and nothing was changing except for the worse. Some were becoming so discouraged that they were leaving the church.
So Peter writes that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise. God does not lie; He will send His Son to this earth. However, He is being very patient, and this is Peter's emphasis.
What kind of a plan could God devise that would produce the best in terms of character and the most in terms of the number of children who inherit His Kingdom? How could He be merciful and forgiving without being merely indulgent? What could He use as points of reference that would motivate people to continue to strive toward the conclusion of His purpose once He had mercifully forgiven them?
"That with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" indicates that God does not look at time as we do. To us, time is very pressing because we realize we will live only about seventy years. As we get older, the fact of death becomes an increasingly clearer reality. When we are twenty, we hardly ever think about death unless somebody close dies. But as we age, we think about death more frequently. Our bodies start running down. We do not have the vigor, energy, vitality, or strength we used to have. We are aware of these things because we begin to feel them slip away. It becomes easier for us to become impatient because we have so many things we want to do and accomplish, yet time keeps flying by.
With God, though, time is not so critical. If a thousand years with God is as a day, how much is seventy years, the life of a human being? Nothing more than the blink of an eye. How many blinks of an eye—human lifetimes—end every day? Tens of thousands of them! Blink—they are gone, but they experienced every second of their lives. They were born and played through childhood. They went to school. They became adult men and women. They married and raised families. They watched their children grow up. They fought wars. They endured droughts and famines, diseases, and depressions. They watched death approaching, and they died. All this—a blink of an eye to God.
We cannot begin to grasp the enormity of what God is doing until we begin to consider the scope of the thousands of years that have already passed and the billions of lives that have been lived. We must begin to look at the much bigger picture yet retain a human perspective of time and life, understanding that, to God, time means almost nothing because He has power over life and death. Vast and awesome is the scope of what God is working out, but we need to look at what is going on through the understanding God has given us of Himself.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation
Peter teaches that we do not look at time in the same way that God does. We are finite beings, bound by time, but God is not. As a result, our perspective is naturally short-sighted, while God keeps a long-range view beyond our ability to comprehend. Remember, these verses appear in the context of Christ's return, so what the Father and the Son consider to be a short time before the Kingdom is established can seem like an eternity to us—or as if He delays His coming.
The apostle also indicates Christ's longsuffering as a reason that the end has not yet come. In our opinion, He should have returned already and put a stop to all the world's wrongs. However, His longsuffering is not due to slowness or tardiness, as the carnally-minded think. Rather, His longsuffering is a gift to us, so that we do not have to perish in His judgment.
Our focus tends to be on how bad the world is getting, yet Peter subtly draws us back to our own spiritual condition. Jesus is longsuffering toward us so that we have ample time to repent, not in the sense of initial conversion, but to turn fully and have our hearts completely changed. In its fullest sense, repentance is not complete until we are finally in His image.
Even though we may be frustrated that we do not see more end-time prophecies coming to pass, Peter explains it as a blessing to us because it means that Christ will not wrap things up before we have had a full and complete opportunity to repent. We can be thankful for God's timetable, not because it means we have more time to flirt with this world, but because He is providing everything we need to follow our salvation to its conclusion, including the time.
David C. Grabbe
How Much Longer Do We Have?
Three times in four brief verses (I Timothy 2:1, 3-4, 6), God states He has planned for the salvation of all. Since He desires to save all men, they must all be given an opportunity for it. It is very obvious from human experience that very few among all mankind have ever heard the gospel or come to the knowledge of the truth.
Verse 6 also says that Christ is a ransom for all, and this will be testified or witnessed of in due time. The way Paul wrote this shows that the testifying is still future. In other words, many had not heard of Christ's ransom for sin, and Paul indicates that he expected many then living and many yet unborn would also die without hearing of it. But it would be witnessed to all in due time because Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which men can be saved.
God's plan, humanly speaking, covers a long time. Like Paul, Peter clearly says that God does not desire anyone to perish. Other scriptures indicate that some will, but it is not God's will that they do so.
The critical factor in these verses is repentance. How can a person repent if he does not have knowledge of the truth, if he does not know the purpose God is working out, of what he should repent, why he should repent, or by what means his sins are forgiven? The overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived on earth fit into this category! These things remain untestified to them.
I Corinthians 15:21-23 adds another important revelation to this mystery. "For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming."
Simply put, God is proceeding according to a plan. All die, but that same all will also be made alive, resurrected in a certain order according to God's plan. Verse 26 reads, "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death"—it has not yet been destroyed! This means that God's plan is still continuing, and in due time the opportunity for salvation will come to all, even though God must resurrect many to that opportunity. Most churches exclude most of this world from salvation because they are not part of their group. Why do people scoff when we point out that God will give all mankind the chance to conform to His image?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Final Harvest
Isaiah says that God "inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15), so time to God takes on different dimensions. He can function outside of time if He so desires. These verses, however, give us a rough guide that a thousand years equal one day in God's prophetic revelation to man.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Master Plan
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Peter 3:8:
1 Corinthians 1:7-8