Date: 25 Sep 2016
Text: 2 Peter 3:11-18
Throughout this Epistle, all three chapters of it, Peter’s intention has been to offer guidance to believers everywhere on how to live their lives in Christ. The Apostle provides this guidance because he is anxious for believers to avoid the pitfalls that he knows will be strewn on the path of faith of a believer’s daily walk with Jesus. Peter has already warned that all those who believe in Jesus Christ will from time to time meet false teachers who should to be avoided at all costs. It is an unfortunate fact that even today we will meet these people and consequently we too need to be able to discern the truth, thereby exposing these false teachers as well as the scoffers who are sadly active within the church. Last week we looked at 3:10 which talks of the Day of the Lord itself; that glorious day when Jesus will return and which will be great for some and terrifying for others. Now in these final verses, 3:11-18, as we await the return of our Lord and Saviour in all His glory, Peter gives a final warning relating to that glorious Day and reminds us all of how we should live in the meantime.
What & When
Last week we spent some time looking at 3:10 by trying to understand just when Jesus will return. We learned from that verse that the Lord’s return will be sudden, unannounced and at a time we least expect. Peter’s wish now is to prepare his readers for that great day by urging everyone to be ready. That doesn’t mean being idle and sitting with bags packed on the off chance that it could be today, but rather being in a state of spiritual readiness.
He begins this section, as many preachers do, with a rhetorical question, knowing what is to come, “what kind of people ought [we] you to be?” (3:11b). Peter has already told us in 3:10 that Jesus will return at the least expected moment and everything, absolutely everything will be destroyed. Given that, we need to examine ourselves very carefully to see what sort of people we should be as we await His return. In his question Peter issues a reminder, lest we have forgotten already, of what will happen, “everything will be destroyed in this way [that is as described in 3:10]” (3:11a).
We should of course, as Peter points out, be looking forward to Jesus’ return and the Apostle even goes so far as to suggest that we can “speed its coming” (3:12a). How can we speed the second coming of Jesus? Surely it is God’s decision and only He knows when it will be? Well, the answer to that question may already be available to us. You may recall that Matthew quoted Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14 when the Lord said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”. Whilst we may not know the exact date that all this will happen we can certainly help to “speed its coming” by helping to spread and share the good news of Jesus Christ. The problem is of course just as Paul told the believers in Rome in Romans 11:25, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved”. By talking of Israel Paul was of course referring to God’s chosen people, and what Paul meant was that many of them had become spiritually insensitive; they had ignored the gospel of Jesus and they doubted that He was the Messiah. As a result of this God intended that the gospel should be shared with Gentiles the world over, and it is that task that we can help with, even if only in a small way. We can also help ourselves and in doing so help to speed Jesus’ return. We can pray more, read God’s word more, draw nearer to Him on a daily basis, share the gospel more, get more involved in the local church by doing those things that need to be done. All of these may sound minor but when added together they can help us all to grow in our faith and be more prepared for the Day of the Lord.
Having told us how we can help bring that glorious day nearer, Peter moves on to remind us yet again of the terrible destruction that God will reap on His creation. This day isn’t just about the return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, but also about God passing judgement on everything He created. That judgement will “bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (3:12b). Repetition is a great form of teaching and Peter tells us all this again as he wants us to be absolutely sure that we never forget just what the Day of the Lord truly means. We’ve been warned and reminded about the destruction that is to come, but to keep all believers positive and looking forward to the day to come, Peter also reminds us that all believers “are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (3:13). I mentioned last week that the Bible begins in Genesis with the creation of the heavens and earth, and it closes in Revelation with the creation of the new heavens and the new earth in Revelation. In Revelation 21:1, John tells us that, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”, and in Revelation 21:5 He quotes God Himself Who says, “I am making everything new!” That is what we have to look forward to; that is what is to come. Peter added at the end of 3:13 that the new heaven and the new earth is where “righteousness dwells”. John, unknowingly perhaps, expands on that when he tells us in Revelation 21:4, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. In Revelation 21:27 he adds, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.” That sounds to me like the place to be, and it is the place that all those who have placed their faith in Jesus will be when the Day of the Lord comes.
How to Behave
In the middle of 3:11 Peter asks that rhetorical question, “What kind of people ought you [that is we] to be?” and at the end of the verse he urges us to “live holy and godly lives” (3:11c). Given what is to come, it seems reasonable to suggest that we do live the right kind of lives, and I don’t think means living like monks! I’m sure that God wants us to enjoy life and to not lock ourselves away as if we were religious hermits. What He also wants us to do though is to live lives worthy of our being followers of Jesus Christ. Peter expands a little on how we should behave in 3:14 and then again in 3:17-18a. First of all, just notice that once again in 3:14 Peter refers to his readers as “dear friends”. He may never have met them and yet he regards them and anyone who also believes in Christ as their Saviour as being a friend; I’m sure we can learn from that. He also suggests that we ought to be looking forward to the day of Jesus’ return. If we truly accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour then we should be looking to the day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. If that doesn’t motivate us to live in the right way then nothing ever will!
Towards the end of 3:14 Peter goes on to tell us that we should “make every effort to be found spotless and blameless and at peace with Him”. What does Peter mean by that comment “spotless and blameless”? We know from the Old Testament that the sacrificial animals had to be perfect, without any blemish whatsoever; the thought being that anything that was devoted to God had to be absolutely perfect. That word “spotless” isn’t actually an Old Testament word although the two words used together become a natural pair. In 1 Peter 1:19 the Apostle describes Jesus as being, “a lamb without blemish or defect”. We too are to be presented to God on that Day of the Lord as “spotless and blameless”. By way of contrast to that, Peter describes the false teachers who were active in the community as “blots and blemishes” (2 Peter 2:13). People such as that will have no place in our new home of righteousness.
At the end of 3:14 Peter also expresses the wish for believers to be “at peace with Him”. I’ve mentioned on previous occasions that I believe this to be a special kind of peace that only believers in Christ can truly know and experience. We may have “peace with God” as discussed by Paul in Romans 5:1; and we can have the “peace of God” that Paul talks of in Philippians 4:7. The peace with God comes as a result of our having come to faith in Jesus and therefore no longer being enemies of God. The peace of God is an inner peace, a peace in the heart that brings with it calmness but not complacency; an understanding that God is always there no matter what happens and a knowledge that He loves us and gave His Son for us.
When we get to 3:17 Peter reminds us that we have been “forewarned” about the “error of the lawless”. He is talking here about the false teachers who were still present and active in the local churches and leading people astray. Peter has done his best throughout this Epistle to warn against such people and he has made frequent reference to them. In 1:16 he refers to “cleverly devised stories” that have come from the “false teachers” who “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2:1). In 2:10 Peter reminds us that such people may be “bold and arrogant” and they “blaspheme in matters they do not understand” (2:12) and therefore do untold “harm” (2:13) to those who believe and follow them. In 2:18 Peter tells us that “They mouth empty, boastful words” and then in 3:3 he calls them “scoffers” who he later describes in 3:16 as being “ignorant and unstable”. Peter certainly doesn’t beat about the bush when it comes to warning us against these false teachers whose sole purpose in life seems to be to lead us away from faith in Christ. We can however combat such false teachers by increasing our knowledge of basic Christian doctrines and by constantly remembering what Christ has done for us. Only by learning more about our faith and being confident in that faith can we deal with such opposition. In that way we can avoid being carried away and falling from our “secure position” (3:17b).
Peter & Paul
Sandwiched between his comments on behaviour in 3:14 and 3:17, almost in parentheses, come some comments from Peter about Paul. In 3:15 Peter refers to him as “dear brother Paul” and that despite the fact that they were involved in a slight contretemps when Paul admonished Peter for being inconsistent in his dealings with Jews and Gentiles something we can read about in Galatians 2:11-14. That disagreement came despite the fact that in Galatians 2:7-9 Paul had just acknowledged Peter’s help in recognising Paul’s ministry as an Apostle of Christ. They may have come from different backgrounds but even so Peter was happy to regard Paul as a brother and fellow Christian and Apostle. We can gauge from Peter’s comments later in this passage that they were obviously reconciled at some stage. As they both served Christ in their different spheres, the main difference between them was their approach; Paul taught salvation by grace whilst Peter concentrated on talking about Christian life and service.
As Peter wrote this Epistle, Paul’s letters were obviously in circulation and well known and it seems fairly obvious that Peter had read some if not all of those that were available. Peter actually says that “Paul also wrote to you” although it isn’t clear which letter that comment refers to or if it was just a general remark indicating that Peter’s readers may possibly have seen some of Paul’s letters. Peter points out quite reasonably that some of Paul’s teaching is “hard to understand” and that “he writes the same way in all his letters”. I think it is true to say even today, and as I’m sure we all know, how hard some of Paul’s letters can be to read, understand and fully appreciate. However, at the time Peter was writing this some were proving so difficult that the false teachers were using them to support their false teachings in their efforts to lead people astray. Notice though, that in 3:16 Peter refers to these false teachers as “ignorant and unstable people”. It is also interesting to see amongst all this that Peter regards Paul’s letters as being Scripture and not just any old writings. He obviously sees them as being on a par with what we know as the Old Testament even though it wasn’t fully established at the time. What Peter was thinking of as being Scripture may well have been more a combination of the Prophets and the Law.
Peter had already mentioned in 3:9a that God is patient and he now reminds us that “our Lord’s patience means salvation”. He wasn’t alone in thinking that since he adds or implies that that is something that Paul also wrote about.
Whilst I somehow doubt that Peter and Paul were bosom buddies; I suspect that there was a great deal of mutual respect given that they were both answering God’s call and were serving the Lord in their respective fields of endeavour.
Many of the Epistles in the New Testament open in the same way and this one is no different since Peter opened this second letter with the words “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2). Now at the end of this wonderful letter, and by way of being a final reminder, Peter gives a benediction when he urges us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (3:18a)
Throughout this letter Peter has been offering guidance on how we should behave as Christians. He has warned his readers to be wary of the false teachers; false teachers who are still active today. He has warned us against the scoffers who totally deny that Jesus will ever return. He has warned us to be constantly on our guard and to avoid following the lawless whose sole aim is to lead us astray and away from Jesus Christ. Most of all, at the very end of the letter, Peter wants us to grow in grace. That is the only way that we can combat the false teachers and scoffers who will continually attempt to undermine our faith.
Most importantly of all Peter has reminded us that Jesus will return on the Day of the Lord and therefore we need to be on our guard at all times and be ready for the Lord’s glorious return.