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STUDY EIGHTEEN: 2PETER 3

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

Peter’s third chapter again draws our attention to the reliability of God’s word, and of God’s promises.

Read chapter 3. Answer these questions by studying the verses indicated.
Why did Peter write both of his letters? [3:1].

How did he refer to the Old Testament and to the New Testament? [3:2]

 

What warning did Peter give about what would happen ‘in the last days’? [3:3]

 

What argument was used by these people to justify their scepticism? [3:4]

 

What reason did Peter give for their unbelief? [3:5]

 

From Genesis, what was Peter referring to in verses 6 and 7?

 

What power and significance does Peter give to God’s word in verses 5 and 7?

 

Suggest why Peter emphasized the power and authority of God’s word. [3:5-7]

 

How does Peter explain the fact that several decades have elapsed since Jesus promised to return? [3:8]

 

What reason does Peter give for the Lord’s ‘slowness’ in keeping his promise to return? [3:9]

 

Because God’s word about these things is certain (Christ’s return, the judgement and the new heaven and earth) how should we live? [3:10-14].

 

Rather than a indication of unreliability of God’s promises, what is the reason and result of the Lord’s patience in delaying the return of Christ and the judgement? [3:15]

 

What is Peter’s opinion of Paul’s writing? [3:15-16]

 

What impact should our knowledge of God’s truth have on us? [3:17,18].

 

 

A. THE COMPLETENESS OF GOD’S WORD

In 2Peter 1, we saw the critical significance of our knowledge of Jesus Christ. This raises, or should raise, serious questions – ‘Where do we get this knowledge?’ and ‘What is this knowledge?’ and ‘How do we know if our knowledge is accurate?’

In a secular sense, we get our knowledge from a wide range of sources – our parents, our environment, our schooling, our experiences, our culture, our companions, the media. And even from these sources we get some of our spiritual knowledge – our perception of who God is, what God does, and what God expects of us.

In themselves these sources are untrustworthy. The knowledge we gain from them is relative – it varies from person to person, family to family, culture to culture, place to place, nation to nation and generation to generation. This ‘knowledge’ does not give us a final, absolute definition of spiritual ‘truth’ that is true and relevant for all people from every culture, race or nation in every generation.

When Peter wrote of this critical significance of the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ he was not speaking of this relative, variable, limited kind of knowledge. While our personal understanding, our personal knowledge of Christ, is something that continually increases as we learn more and more of the truth about him, the body of truth is fixed and final. It is complete. It is absolute. All that God wants us to know of himself he has already made known, he has already revealed.

God has spoken through the prophets (the Old Testament), and God has spoken through the apostles (the New Testament). This body of knowledge, revealed by God himself, is once-for-all.

Check these verses. How do they indicate the completeness of God’s word given through the Old Testament (the prophets) and the New Testament (the apostles)?
Hebrews 1:1,2

1Peter 1:10,12

2Peter 1:16

2Peter 1:21

2Peter 3:1

Jude 3

 

By the time Peter and the other apostles wrote their letters false teachers, false apostles and false prophets were in the churches interfering with this body of truth given by God through the biblical prophets and apostles. They were changing the message – adding, subtracting, altering. They were discarding God’s truth and replacing it with lies.

These foundational apostles, appointed by Christ, knew that there is no such thing as further revelation beyond that which was entrusted to them by Christ, because they knew that in Christ the fullness of truth is revealed.

How do these references to Jesus Christ rule out the possibility of further authoritative revelation?
John 8:12

John 14:6

John 14:7-9

Colossians 1:19; 2:9

Colossians 2:3

The ‘wholesome thinking’ that Peter wants to stimulate in us knows that Jesus Christ is God’s final self-revelation. Wholesome thinking will never look beyond or beside Jesus Christ for additional truth about God. Wholesome thinking knows that any ‘knowledge’ gained from any source other than Christ is spurious ‘knowledge’. Rather than being ‘more’ knowledge, it actually generates less true knowledge. Added to Christ, this spurious ‘knowledge’ waters down and corrupts the pure and powerful truth given to us in Christ.

The Reformation catch-cries of ‘Christ alone’ and ‘Scripture alone’ are important principles to grasp here.

B. THE DANGERS OF TAMPERING WITH GOD’S TRUTH

Peter said of the false teachers: ‘... they exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them ...’ [2Peter 2:3].

Of those who presume to add to or alter God’s final self-revelation in Christ Paul said: ‘... if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned’ [Galatians 1:8].

And Jude, similarly: ‘... certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They ... change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign Lord’ [Jude 4].

We have seen in the previous study the seriousness with which God views any interference with his revealed truth. It was interference with God’s truth in Genesis 3 that precipitated the whole world into catastrophic judgement.

Read Genesis 3:1-6. How was God’s revealed truth interfered with in these verses?

 

 

 

 

 

Interference with God’s word occurs in several ways. For example:

Adding to God’s word
Subtracting from God’s word
Altering God’s word
Casting doubt on God’s word
Mocking or belittling God’s word
Suggesting a flaw in God’s character or in God’s purpose
Deliberately putting God’s word aside

In 2Peter 3:3-5 Peter describes people who have in some way interfered with God’s word. They have scoffed at God’s word. They have followed their own ways instead of God’s word. They question and cast doubt on God’s word. They have deliberately forgotten the truth revealed in God’s word.

Discussion point: What are people doing today that parallels the interference with God’s word in Genesis 3 and 2Peter 3:3-5?

 

 

 

 

 

C. THE CERTAINTY OF THE JUDGEMENT DEFINED IN GOD’S WORD

The word of God in Genesis 2:17 had clearly stated the consequence of disobeying God’s word: ‘you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’. When Satan tempted Eve in Genesis 3 he denied that this would happen – ‘you will not surely die’ [verse 4]. He was, in fact, saying that God’s word was not true, that what God said would happen would not happen.

The people in 2Peter 3 were suggesting, and doubtless counting on, a similar supposed non-event, a similar presumed failure of God’s word. So much time had passed since Christ made his promise to return in glory and in judgement, and nothing had happened yet.

Check out these texts. What do they clearly state will happen?
Matthew 16:27

Matthew 24:30-31

 

Matthew 25:31-33

 

Matthew 26:64

1Thessalonians 4:16-18

Now read the texts below and compare:
(1) The unbelief and scepticism expressed in them with the attitude of the people Peter wrote about in 2Peter 3:3-5.
(2) The danger of their position (2Peter 3:5-9) with the dangerous position of the people in these texts.
Matthew 24:36-51

 

Matthew 24:1-14

 

1Thessalonians 5:1-4

 

D. THE POWER OF GOD’S WORD

It is obvious that the ‘scoffers’ do not know Jesus Christ. They have no accurate concept of who he is. They assume that both his word and his power are fallible. Yes. They have heard the truth – they have heard about him, but they do not believe the truth, and they therefore neither know him nor believe him.

Any excuse is good enough for their disbelief, and the excuse they are focusing on is time. The time that has elapsed between the promise and the fulfilment, and the ordinariness of life during that time. Just as in the days of Noah.

In the context of their scepticism and derision Peter reminds his readers, which include us, of the power of God’s word [verses 5-10].

The heavens came into existence by God’s word.
The earth was formed out of water by God’s word.
By that same water (controlled by God’s word), God’s judgement fell on the world.
By that same word the present heavens and earth are being kept for judgement.

God’s word has proved itself powerful in the past. It is powerful in the present. It will prove itself similarly powerful in the future.

The people of whom Peter wrote have put themselves in a very precarious position. They are risking their eternal destiny on the assumption that God’s word is both powerless and untrue. They have looked at the years that have passed since the word was spoken and, because they wanted an excuse not to believe it, concluded that the predicted return of Christ in glory and judgement would not happen.

But the past has proved that God’s word is powerful and dependable. So powerful and dependable that any rejection of that word can only be a deliberate choice.

From your knowledge of the Bible, make a list of evidence of the power and/or the dependability of the word of God:
Evidence in the creation narrative:

 

 

Evidence in the history of Israel:

 

 

Evidence in Jesus Christ:

 

 

E. THE PATIENCE OF GOD

Rather than the delay in the return of Christ being proof of the weakness of his promise, this delay is actually evidence of the power and persistence of his grace.

Peter makes the following points:

E.1 God’s relationship with time is different from ours – verse 8
Peter’s statement in verse 8 is not meant to be understood in a strict literal manner. The statement itself excludes a literal interpretation. Peter’s point is that time – days, years – doesn’t mean the same to God as it does to us.

God, the great ‘I AM’ of Exodus 3, is eternal and infinite. Unlike us, he is not limited or determined by either time or space. In fact he created ‘time’ when he established the physical and mechanistic aspects of the universe:

The rotation of the earth on its axis defines time – one day of time.
The full cycle of daily orbits of the moon around the earth defines time – one lunar month of time
The orbit of the earth around the sun defines time – one year of time.

Although God’s self-revelation has occurred in the context of time – in the history of Israel and in the incarnation of Christ – God himself exists outside of time. He is eternal – the ever-living one, undefined by time and unmeasured by time. Without beginning. Without ending.

Study these texts. How do their references to God help us to understand God’s relationship to time?
Genesis 1:1

Proverbs 8:23 (about God’s wisdom)

John 1:1-4

2Timothy 1:9

Titus 1:2

Hebrews 1:10

Revelation 1:8

Revelation 21:6

Revelation 22:13

 

The people Peter wrote about had looked at time, and interpreted and judged God on the basis of time, concluding that time had proved Christ’s promise to be rather doubtful. What we should do is look at God, and interpret the passing of time from God’s perspective. Time does not determine what God is able or not able to do. Rather God determines what he will do with time.

E.2 God’s purpose in delaying the return of Christ – verses 9, 15
God is incredibly patient, far more patient than we can ever imagine. Time and again biblical history has demonstrated this patience of God.

Check these extended texts. Note how God did not immediately exact the full punishment that he could justly have implemented, but rather, in his grace, permitted human survival (individual, national or global), allowing time (opportunity) for repentance and restoration.
Genesis 2:17 & 3:1-24

 

Genesis 6:1-13; 1Peter 3:18-20a & 2Peter 2:5

 

Genesis 15:12-16; Deuteronomy 9:4-6

 

1Kings 11:1-13

 

2Kings 8:16-19

 

Isaiah 1:2-9

 

As God revealed himself to Moses:

‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished ...’ [Exodus 34:6-7].

Christ’s apparent slackness in keeping his promise to return is not slackness at all: it is his patience. And in that patience is his deep compassion, his longing, his waiting, for our repentance.

He is giving us time to repent. The judgement must come. The judgement will come. But God does not want us to fall under the judgement. So he gives us time. [Consider: where would you be now if Christ had returned the day before the date you first believed in him! Are you not incredibly glad that he delayed his coming ... delayed it for you?]

E.3 God, by this patience, puts himself at risk of misunderstanding
So great is God’s desire to have people come to repentance that he leaves himself open to gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation. He has both the physical power and the legal authority to implement his just judgement and exact the defined penalty. He could, at any moment, terminate all sin and all suffering. But he does not do so. Not yet.

And because of this ‘not yet’, inaccurate accusatory questions are raised against him:

How could a loving God allow all of this suffering!
Why doesn’t God do something about it!
Why do the wicked go unpunished!

And, as those of whom Peter wrote asked:

‘Where is this “coming” he promised?’

God is seen to be uncaring, unreliable and unable.

And he bears with this. In his great compassion and patience he allows himself to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Just as he did in the incarnation. It is an amazing action on God’s part, an awesome demonstration of his redeeming love. He, in giving us time to repent, allows himself to be vilified.

Study these texts. How do they express this supreme and purposeful action of God in which, for our sake, he subjects himself to human slander?
Isaiah 42:1-2

Isaiah 50:5-8

Isaiah 52:13-53:4

Mark 15:27-32

John 12:23-27

John 19:8-11a

2Corinthians 5:21

2Corinthians 8:9

Philippians 2:6-8

F. THE INEVITABLE JUDGEMENT

The promise of Christ’s return includes the certainty of the final judgement. The return of the King is also of necessity the coming of the Judge. Because the King is also the Judge. When he returns he will implement the judgement.

Jesus made this clear in a number of his parables. For example:

The Parable of the Weeds [Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43].
The Parable of the Net [Matthew 13:47-50].
The Parable of the Talents [Matthew 25:14-30].
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats [Matthew 25:31-46].

The One whom Revelation acknowledges as ‘the King of kings and Lord of lords’ is the same One who ‘with justice judges’ and applies ‘the fury of the wrath of God Almighty’ [Revelation 19:16,11,15].

Those who scoff at his non-return have no idea how vulnerable they are. They have no idea that he whom they so deride could at any moment appear, ridding the world of all that entered the world in Genesis 3.

Because of the absolute certainty of the return of Christ in glory, power and judgement, Peter gives his readers, including us, a number of exhortations.

Study these verses in 2Peter 3. What does Peter say to help us to live courageously and faithfully for Jesus Christ in the time before his coming?
Verse 10a

Verse 11-12

Verse 13

Verse 14

Verse 17

Verse 18

 

PERSONAL AFFIRMATION AND COMMITMENT

In 1Peter Peter’s purpose was to encourage us to live for Jesus in the context of suffering. In 2Peter his purpose is to equip us to live for Jesus in the context of wrong belief and scepticism.

On the basis of what Peter has said in these two letters, write out a personal statement of affirmation of the truths that Peter has emphasised, and of commitment to, with his help, stand strong in the presence of suffering and in the presence of wrong belief and unbelief.