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II Peter 3:1-18 – The Certainty of Judgment Day – Pastor Joshua Stevens

The Wednesday evening youth Bible study from December 16, 2020, by Pastor Joshua Stevens.

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WE now come to the end of our brief series in the book of II Peter, and here we see Peter’s final words to the church—his swan song, if you will. Last week, we saw Peter address an issue of lasting importance in the church: the issue of false teachers—the greatest threat to the church down through the ages. But now, as we come to chapter 3, Peter gives us a vivid picture of final judgment. He already alluded to God’s prominent historical acts of judgment in the previous chapter: God’s judgment upon fallen angels, God’s judgment upon world in the flood, and God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet now, Peter gives us a glimpse of the last judgment–the judgment that will take place when Jesus returns. And here we will see Peter give us final words of instruction as well as encouragement as we approach that day.

And his final words are sobering words.

In Peter’s final address to the church, he warns us that there will be a day of reckoning, in which all men will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and will face final judgment. At that time, the righteous will enter into eternal joy; but the wicked will suffer the punishment of eternal fire. Yet there are those who would downplay or deny the reality of this last judgment. In the first century, you had, of course, the Sadducees, that sect of Judaism which denied any prospect of the afterlife or of final judgment. Later on, you had also the Gnostics, who denied the last judgment as well. Today, skeptics deny God altogether, and will teach that you simply cease to exist upon death.

Nonetheless, the sobering reality of II Peter 3 is that judgment day is certain. At the same time, the encouraging reality of II Peter 3 is that God delays judgment day to offer us repentance and salvation.

You can divide chapter 3 into three parts: first of all, in verses 1-7, Peter shows us the certainty of judgment day. Second of all, in verses 8-13, Peter describes the unexpected timing of judgment day. And then last of all, Peter teaches us how to prepare for judgment day.

I. The Certainty of Judgment Day (vv. 1-7)

1 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: 2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:

II Peter 3:1-2

Wake Up!

Peter wrote this letter, as well as his first one, in order to stir up the pure minds of believers. The word stir that he uses has the idea of stirring someone from their slumber. In other words, Peter is saying to us, “Wake up!” It’s so easy for us to become complacent in our service to God. There is a constant danger of being lulled to sleep spiritually, thinking that all is well and all is at peace, without being aware of the constant onslaught of Satan against churches corrupt our doctrine and to render us ineffective. So, Peter writes this epistle to stir us from our slumber. And the primary way that we stay awake and alert spiritually, is to be reminded of what the prophets and apostles have written to us in the Scriptures (verse 2). As Peter said before back in chapter 1, the Scriptures are the lamp which shines in the darkness as the dawn approaches. When Jesus returns to this world, that day will dawn, but in the meantime, we must look to the Scriptures as our guide on how to prepare for that day.

The Coming of Mockers

3 that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, 4 Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

II Peter 3:3-7

Peter warns us that there will be no lack of scoffers who mock and scorn the idea of the Second Advent of Christ, and of final judgment. They, of course, do so because they walk after their own lusts. They do not wish to part ways with their sin, and so their method of dealing with their guilt, is to deny the prospect of judgment altogether. “Where is the promise of his coming?” they say. Their main argument is that nothing ever happens. The world will just keep on spinning as it always has. Besides, Jesus hasn’t returned yet! What’s taking him so long?

But Peter states that their ignorance is willful (verse 5). People who passionately deny the existence of God and of coming judgment, do so because they do not want to deal with their own sin and guilt. But Peter points us, once again, to the flood as a guarantee of judgment day. When God created all things in Genesis 1, if you’ll recall, he commanded dry land to appear out of the water on the third day. God also divided the waters above the firmament from the waters below, on day two. Yet God used those waters to flood the world in judgment. The world that existed before the flood, was destroyed (verse 6). Peter is simply reminding us that the world ended once before. And the world as we know it will end once again. But this time, the world will end in fire.

In verse 7, Peter calls that day, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. The word perdition simply means, complete ruin. The wicked will perish eternally. Perdition does not mean that they will be annihilated from existence. It’s far worse. They will be consigned to a place of eternal punishment. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in Matthew 25:46, that “the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment.” And Peter tells us that this day is certain. You may deny it. You may scoff or mock at it, but that won’t stop it from coming. As we look at verses 8-13, Peter shows us the unexpected timing of judgment day.

II. The Unexpected Timing of Judgment Day (vv. 8-10)

8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

II Peter 3:8-10

There is a Day Appointed, Known Only to God

This is Peter’s answer to the objection, “Where is the promise of his coming?” The coming refers to Christ’s Second Advent. And as the objection goes, people find it incredible that Jesus will return to this world, because he has delayed so long. Yet here, Peter warns these believers in the first century that it may be thousands of years before the Lord’s return. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” In other words, God is not in a hurry. The passing of time has no effect on God whatsoever. To him, the passing of one day may as well be a thousand years. And at the same time, the passing of a thousand years might as well be one day. God is not affected by the passing of time. This is because God, in his being, is transcendent in his relationship to time. He is not subject to or bound by time like we as creatures are. In God’s consciousness, he sees all of time equally and vividly. He’s not waiting for things to happen, because he is the transcendent author of this thing that we call time. And there is a day appointed by God in which he will judge the world. In Acts 17:30-31, the Apostle Paul says to the people of Athens:

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”

Acts 17:30-31

God is not moving the day of judgment around on his calendar. He’s not constantly pushing it back. Nor is he slack concerning the promise of the Second Coming.

God Delays Judgment for the Sake of His Own

The reason why judgment day tarries, Peter tells us, is because God is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. God patiently waits for those who will repent and believe the gospel. This does not mean that God is ignorant of how many people will repent, or that he keeps pushing back the date on the calendar to give us more time. Again, God inhabits eternity. He transcends time. He already knows and sees everyone who belongs to him, past, present, and future. Listen to what Jesus says about this in John 10:15-16:

15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

John 10:15-16

In this metaphor, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and Christians are his sheep. But here, Jesus says that he has other sheep who are yet to be gathered, who are not of the fold of the Jews. Jesus, of course, is speaking of the salvation of the Gentiles. Yet Jesus already lays claim to the sheep who are not yet gathered. He says, “other sheep I have… them also I must bring.” And so, God already knows and lays claim to all of his sheep, past, present, or future. They shall hear his voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd. So, Peter is not painting us a picture of a God who is just pining away, and anxiously waiting for people to accept his Son, and constantly moving the date of judgment day around on his calendar. Not at all.

Instead, Peter shows us that Jesus has not yet returned because he has other sheep that he must bring. When Peter says that God is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, he’s talking about his sheep specifically. Judgment day tarries for the sake of God’s elect. I am glad that Jesus did not return to earth before I was born, or before I was saved. Or else I would have perished. Jesus did not return before, because he was waiting for me specifically. Jesus is waiting for all of his sheep to be born, and to come to him in repentance. And because he is the Good Shepherd, not one shall be lost. Jesus says in John 6:37-39:

“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”

John 6:37-39

There is absolute certainty in Jesus’ words. Not one person whom the Father has given him shall be lost. And this includes many, many souls who have yet to be born. So, when Peter says that God is not willing that any should perish, and that he’s longsuffering to us, he’s specifically referring to Christians. God is not slack concerning his promise. He’s waiting for all of his sheep to be gathered.

Like a Thief in the Night

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” The judgment day will come as unexpectedly as a burglar who breaks into your house in the middle of the night. No one will see it coming. It could happen tomorrow, or it could happen 30,000 years from now. But one thing is for certain: no one will ever see it coming. And on this day of judgment, Peter tells us, the heavens shall pass away, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. This is a vivid and terrifying picture. Everything is on fire—not just the earth, but everything else in space. All the elements shall melt. All of the works of men on earth–cities, towns, houses, works of art–shall all be burned up. All of the things that people think are stable and secure—all the structures in which people take shelter will be destroyed. There won’t be any place left to hide. Every person will stand exposed before the Lord Jesus on that day. All the scoffers will be caught completely by surprise. Judgment day will be unexpected

So, in light of the certainty of the judgment day, and in light of the unexpected timing of Judgment Day, what should we do in preparation for that day?

III. How to Prepare for Judgment Day (vv. 11-18)

11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

II Peter 3:11-13

Spend your life in Service to Jesus

Peter asks a pointed question and answers it for us: seeing that the earth and all its works shall be dissolved, what kind of person should you be? But the answer is part of the question: “in all holy conversation and godliness.” The word conversation is simply an old King James word referring to your behavior. So, in light of the fact that earthly treasures and monuments will not last, we as Christians are to live as pilgrims here with holy behavior and godliness. And the good news is that God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness.

When Peter says that we are looking for and hasting unto the coming day of God, this has the idea of eager anticipation. We want that day to make haste. So, if you’re the type of person who isn’t looking forward to Christ’s return, then that reveals a lot about your priorities in life. It says a lot about where your true treasure lies. Seeing that all true earthly treasure shall be dissolved, we should be about the business of laying up heavenly treasure, investing in eternity.

Most people in our culture, and even in our churches in America, have mixed up priorities. They prioritize the pursuit of wealth and earthly comfort, over the pursuit of God, and his kingdom. And Peter is here to expose that folly. It is foolish to invest in things that aren’t going to last. We should pursue holiness, and godliness, and pursue the spread of God’s kingdom and righteousness in this world. Because those are the only things that will survive judgment day. The only way to live a life without regrets and to leave a legacy that lasts is to spend your life in service to Jesus. Something wonderful lies beyond the day of judgment.

What Lies Beyond Judgment Day

Although this world and all its works shall burn, Peter tells us: “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” We look forward to judgment day because after God cleanses and purifies the world by fire, he will resurrect and renew it into an eternal and incorruptible paradise, beyond anything we could fathom. The best that this world has to offer us can’t even compare to the glory that is to come. In this new heaven and new earth, John tells us in Revelation that:

God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Revelation 21:4

This is what we are looking for and hasting towards. So, in light of what is coming, Peter leaves us with five final instructions.

Five Final Instructions

1. Again, Make your calling and election sure.

Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.

II Peter 3:14

Peter returns to where he started in the letter. We are to give all diligence to make our relationship with the Lord priority number 1. Of course, our relationship with God is initiated at salvation. But as we said before, that initial step of salvation is only the beginning of the Christian life. Peter is addressing believers here, and telling them to be diligent that we might be found by him in peace, without spot, and blameless. In other words, when Jesus returns we don’t want him to find in a backslidden state, living knee-deep in sin. Though we might be saved, that will be a shameful and regretful experience for us.

2. Wait Patiently for Christ’s Return.

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

II Peter 3:15

In other words, do not become discouraged or disillusioned by the apparent delay in Lord’s return. As Peter said before, God is not slack concerning his promise, but is longsuffering toward us. God’s longsuffering and patience in this regard is for the sake of our salvation. Again, God has appointed a day of judgment; and he’s not moving it around on the calendar. But he is waiting for all of his lost sheep come home. When he has finished gathering all the lost sheep into his fold, then the end will come.

3. Beware of those who twist the Scriptures.

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

II Peter 3:16

This word wrest has the idea of twisting and struggling like a wrestler. Peter here warns us that there will be those who treat the Scriptures that way. They will twist Scripture, attempting to subject the Scriptures to their own warped teachings. They will do this with Paul’s writings, as well as the other Scriptures. The people that do this, Peter says, are unlearned and unstable. In other words, they are ignorant. They should have learned more before they stood up before a crowd to teach. Sadly, many churches have people who rush into teaching positions with very little learning of their own. Also, they are unstable. They aren’t settled in what they believe. They are tossed about with every new wind of doctrine.

Peter mentions Paul here specifically, because Paul’s letters contain extensive information about the events leading up to, and surrounding the return of Christ. And many people throughout church history, especially in the last couple of centuries, have misunderstood Paul’s teachings about the Lord’s return. Yet Peter warns us about that ahead of time. We need to be aware, and beware, of those who distort the Scriptures to their own destruction.

4. Beware of Falling from Steadfastness.

Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.

II Peter 3:17

Peter again warns us of the error of these wicked false teachers. And he’s warning us not to be deceived. The word steadfastness has the idea of stability, whether that be doctrinal stability or stability in your service to the Lord. Although it’s not possible for true believers to be lost, and fall away from faith, it is possible for us to be lead into error and to become unfruitful for the Lord. Beware of that.

5. Pass your Time on Earth Growing in Grace and in the Knowledge of Christ.

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

II Peter 3:18

These final words from our brother, are virtually synonymous with what he taught us at the beginning of this letter. We are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, by adding to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance and so forth. Whether or not Jesus returns during our lifetimes, our time in this world is short either way. It might not seem that way when you are young, but as you grow older, your perception of time speeds up—especially once you hit 30. And so, seeing that time is short, we must make good use of our time here, growing in the Lord, and being fruitful in his service. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

I Corinthians 15:58

A life that is spent in service to the Lord is a life that is not spent in vain. These are Peter’s final words to the church before his death.

Judgment day is certain.

Judgment day will come unexpectedly.

Let us make sure that we are prepared for that day.