The Second Coming of Christ (2 Peter)

When it comes to our faith in Christ, there are several things that are essential for us to believe.  For example, we must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  We believe that Jesus was crucified, that he was buried and that he rose from the dead on the third day.  We also believe that Jesus is returning someday, just as the angels promised in Acts chapter 1, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11).

            All of that seems pretty basic, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw a survey ( Pew Research, 2006) which shows that only 79% of Christians in the United States believe in the second coming of Christ.  That’s not 79% of the total population.  It’s 79% of people who claim to be Christians.  Which means that more than 1 out of 5 people who claim to be Christians do not believe that Jesus is returning someday.

            As shocking as that might be, it turns out that there were some Christians in the first century who their doubts as well.  In 2 Peter, the apostle Peter is dealing with some false teachers in the church.  And he says in chapter 3, “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

            In other words, these false teachers rejected the reality of the second coming of Christ.  And one of the reasons they didn’t believe it was going to happen was because they knew that the coming of the Lord was supposed to change this world in a very dramatic way.  And they had trouble believing that.  Because for thousands and thousands of years, this world has gone on just the way it has from the beginning.  

            The sun goes up, the sun goes down, it gets hot in the summer, it gets cold in the winter, the rain falls down, it goes to the sea.  And that’s the way it’s always been.  Nature is very steady and constant.  And the thought that the Son of God would come into this world and disrupt the natural order of things just seemed unimaginable.

            And so, Peter addresses this topic of the second coming of Christ.  And he will focus in this letter on what’s going to happen to this world when Jesus comes back.  Now, Peter doesn’t go into a lot of specifics regarding the second coming of Christ.  In other parts of the New Testament, we can read about how the dead will be raised up on that day, and those whose are alive at that time will have their bodies changed, and on that day, the trumpet will sound and everyone will stand before the judgment seat of God.

            But Peter doesn’t talk about any of that.  He focuses on one thing and one thing only.  When Jesus Christ returns, this earth as we know it is going to be destroyed, and there will be a new one in its place.  That’s what these false teachers needed to hear.  And it’s what the Christians who were being taught by those false teachers needed to hear – this world is not going to last.

            Because if you believe that it is, then you begin to pour everything you have into this world.  And that’s what these false teachers were doing.  They were devoted to this world.  They were devoted to accumulating money.  In their greed, they were lining their pockets with money from their new converts.  They were devoted to sexual immorality, satisfying every passion and desire that they had.  They were devoted to receiving the praise of men. 

            And so, it only makes sense that Peter would say, “Don’t pour everything you have into this world because this world is not going to last.  It’s all going to come to nothing.  And once you truly believe that, it will change who you are and how you live.

            There will always be folks who scoff at the idea that this world is going to come to an end someday.  They will laugh at the idea and ridicule the notion that Jesus is coming back again.  And the reason they’ll do that is because, as Peter says, they are “following their own sinful desires.”

            And when you think about that, it makes sense.  Ask yourself the ques­tion, “If you wanted to be free to do whatever you want to do, to pursue a self-indulgent lifestyle, to ignore every restriction that God has set forth, how would you go about doing that?”  And the most logical course would be to get rid of the concept of the second coming.  Because if you could succeed in convincing people that Christ is not going to come back again, then you would feel free to live however you want to live.

            As Paul said in I Corinthians 15, “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” (I Corinthians 15:32).  If Christ isn’t coming back and there’s not going to be a resurrection and there’s no life in the hereafter, then just go ahead and do whatever you want to do to enjoy life, because after all, what difference does it make?

            So, Peter is describing here a group of people who have become so caught up in their own lusts and desires, that they have no respect for spiritual truth nor any desire to obey God.  Their only focus is living for the moment.  They want to grab all the “gusto” they can get in life and they could care less about tomorrow.

            In verse 5, Peter says, “For they deliberately overlook this fact…”  Notice the significance of that phrase.  These false teachers didn’t just forget what God said.  They “deliberately” overlooked what God said.  These men attacked and ridiculed the second coming of Christ because they wanted to live differently than how God wanted them to live.

            But then they went a step further.  They basically said that God’s promise of the second coming was a bold-faced lie.  They probably said things like, “What do you suppose happened to Jesus?  He promised he would return ‘quickly’.  So where is he?  Obviously, he’s not going to keep his promise.  He’s not really coming back or he would have done it by now.”

            Peter tells us that they looked at the past as a gauge of the future.  They said, “Everything has been going on just as it has since the beginning of creation.” But Peter reminds that things haven’t always stayed the same.  He points to the great flood in Genesis as proof of that.  The people in the days of Noah could have made the same argument as these false teachers.  “Well, it’s never flooded before, so it’s not going to flood now.  In fact, it’s never even rained before.”  But the likelihood of any event is not determined by whether or not it’s ever happened before, but by what God says is going to happen.

            And the truth is that this world is headed for destruction just as surely the world was in the days of Noah.  So, let’s take a look at this overview of 2 Peter and then I’ll be back to see what Peter has to say about what’s going to happen when Jesus Christ comes back.

            Play VIDEO (2 Peter)

            Picking up in chapter 3, verse 10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:10)

            Peter says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief.”  In the Greek language, if you want to emphasize a particular word or phrase, you often put it at the very beginning of the sentence.  And if you read this verse literally from the Greek, it says, “It will come!  The day of the Lord like a thief.”  There’s an emphasis here on the idea that it will come.  The second coming of Christ is an absolute certain­ty.  Not even the slightest bit of doubt exists concerning it.

            And Peter says that when Christ comes again, his coming will be like a thief.  No alarms will sound; no newspaper headlines will announce it ahead of time.  There will be no signs of his coming; there will be no way we will be able to wake up that morning and be able to say, “Today is the day.”  The day of the Lord will come upon us suddenly and unexpectedly.

            In Matthew 24, Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”  (Matthew 24:36).  After giving his disciples sign after sign to watch for to warn them about the fall of Jerusalem, Jesus went on to say that there would be no such warnings in regard to his second coming and the end of time.  “The day of the Lord will come like a thief.”

            In the Old Testament, this idea of “the day of the Lord” is a very common theme.  And what it meant was, sometime in the future — it might be not very far off or it could be hundreds of years away — but, sometime in the future, the Lord will come and he will vindicate his holy name, he will bring destruction upon his enemies who refuse to repent, and he will gather his people together and bless them.

            For example, Zephaniah said,

“The great day of the Lord is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
    the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
(Zephaniah 1:14-15)

            This was a day of wrath that would come against all of God’s enemies.  At various times in the Old Testament, the Day of the Lord referred to God’s judgment upon Babylon, Edom, Egypt and the Philistines.  Anyone who was familiar with the Old Testament understood that the coming Day of the Lord meant the pouring out of divine wrath on God’s enemies, and a pouring out of divine blessing on God’s people.

            So, Peter’s not really saying anything new here.  This expectation that the wrath of God would one day be poured out on this earth, and destroy all the ungodly was a very familiar concept. 

            The thing that seems strange about what Peter says, though, is that when this Day of the Lord comes, the earth will be destroyed.  “The heavens will pass away with a roar.”  By heavens, he means the sky.  “…and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved!”

            And it’s seems strange — at least, to me — that God made this world and he looked at it and he said, “This is good.  This is very good,” and then he says he’s going to burn it up and destroy it.  That’s a very difficult thing to understand for a person who looks out over this world and sees all the beauty in it.

            There are a few things, though, that make me believe that this world won’t be annihilated, but rather re-created.  First of all, there’s Paul’s statement in Romans 8:21 (NLT) where he said that “the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” Which seems to suggest that this creation will receive a new body just like those of us who are God’s children will receive a new body.  It will be a new creation, without death or decay, which is prominent in the world we live in right now.

            The second thing that leads me to that conclusion is the fact the Peter is drawing his imagery from the book of Isaiah.  In Isaiah 34:4 (NIV), Isaiah said, “All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.”  But, if you look at the context of that passage, Isaiah is talking there about the destruction of Edom.  Edom was destroyed a long time ago and the last time I checked, the stars are still up in the sky.  But we understand that this is figurative language that is describing a world where everything’s going to be turned on its head.  And I think Peter is using that same kind of language.

            But the third thing that leads me to the conclusion that this is not a total annihilation of the earth is what Peter himself said a few verses earlier.  If you go back up to verse 6 and 7, you see that Peter compares the destruction of the world by fire at the coming of Christ with the destruction of the world by water at the flood in Genesis.  But the waters of the flood didn’t annihilate the world, they cleansed the world.  It purged the world.  And, after the flood, the world was made new. 

            And I think that’s Peter’s emphasis here.  When Jesus comes back, this world is going to be cleansed and it’s going to be made new.  And like Isaiah, we are all waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

            When Peter emphasizes the fact that this new world will be a world in which righteousness dwells, he’s telling us that the reason the old world was destroyed was because of unrighteousness — sin.   That was true in the days of Noah, and it’s going to be true when Jesus comes back.  And Peter is warning us that in this upcoming new world, those who forsake the way of righteousness are not going to be included.

            So, Peter uses this to motivates his readers.  In verse 11, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved,” that is, the world as you know it, the sky, the earth and everything on it, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?”  Now, the question I ask is this — how is the destruction of this world a motivation for holiness and godliness?

            And the answer is this.  Most people today — and I think this was true in Peter’s day as well — most people try to find meaning in life by building something that’s not just here today and gone tomorrow.  We talk about the importance of having a legacy.

            Most people try to overcome a sense of feeling small and insignificant by trying to do something significant, something that lasts. Some people try to build equity in their home, and they gain a sense of success by looking at their house and saying, “I own that, and I can pass that down to my kids.” Or flipping through their portfolio and thinking how wise they were when they invested when it was low and sold what it was high.

            Others build a professional legacy through working hard, long hours, and they gain a sense of power and success by thinking about how many people are dependent on them for leadership.  Other people try to build meaning into their lives with artistic expressions and creativity, and they gain a sense of fulfillment by looking at the things they’ve written or painted or shaped.  

            We want to make. We want to build. We want to have something significant in our lives that lasts.  And the false teachers here in 2 Peter were doing that, but here’s a list of the things that they thought gave meaning to their lives.  They lined their pockets with money. They despised authority and elevated themselves above the apostles. They gave themselves over to sexual immorality. And Peter says to them, in effect: everything you’re doing is all going to burn up.

            The implication of 2 Peter 3:11 is this: the only things that are going to survive the fiery judgment of God at the end of this age are expressions of holiness and godliness. There’s a saying that says, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”  And that’s so true. 

            There’s an interesting phrase that appears in verse 12.  Peter says that we ought to be “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”  We hasten the day of the Lord.  The NIV says we speed its coming.  The New Living Translation says we “hurry it along”.  But how do we make the Day of the Lord get here faster?

            I think the answer is found back in verse 9 where Peter says that God is holding back the Day of the Lord because he wants all men to repent. That would mean that if you do repent and you do lead a life of godliness, you have removed one of the reasons for God’s delay. And so, if you are living a life of holiness and godliness, in a sense, you are hastening the day of the Lord.

            And our motivation for living a godly life is found in verse 13, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13).  It’s significant to me that Peter doesn’t just say, “Be careful for what you might lose in the age to come when things are burned up.” Here, he says: “Look at what you can gain in the new heavens and the new earth.”  There is something so much better that lies ahead for God’s children.

            There’s an old saying that tells us, “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.”  I suppose that’s right.  But it also stands to reason that a sure and certain knowledge that the cat is coming back at any moment will tend to keep the mice from becoming too frisky. 

            Maybe the reason that so many of us have trouble living holy and blame­less lives is because we tend to forget that Jesus Christ is coming back.  So, Peter reminds us of this truth.  And he also reminds us of the important connection that this truth has to our everyday lives.  “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by him in peace, without spot and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:14).

            Yes, Jesus ascended into the heavens nearly 2000 years ago.  While we realize that he’s always with us, it can suppose appear that he’s far, far away.  And that gulf that seems to separate us makes it hard at times to truly live for him.  But we must always remember that Jesus will be back.  As he said to his apostles, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3).

            A number of years ago, Alexander Campbell had a conversation with Robert Owen who was a prominent atheist.  Mr. Owen said, “There is one advantage I have over the Christian.  I am not afraid to die.  Most Christians have fear in death, but if some few items of my business were settled, I should be perfectly willing to die at any moment.”

            Campbell’s response was this, “You say you have no fear in death.  Do you have any hope?”  After a moment, Mr. Owen answered, “No.”  Campbell pointed to an ox standing at a distance and said, “Then you are on a level with that brute.  He feeds until he is satisfied, and stands in the shade, whisking off the flies, and has neither hope nor fear in death.”

            For those who are ready for the second coming of Christ, there is hope and that day will be a great day.  But for those who are not ready, that day will be a sad day.  Since we don’t know exactly when that day will come, the only way to be ready for that day is to be ready all the time.  This morning, are you ready for Jesus to return?

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