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17 April 2019

Hastening the Return of Jesus

Dusk over mountain range - courtesy Unsplash.com
Peter explains the apparent “delay” in Christ’s return and coordinates that event with the final judgment and the new creation, and he contends the church’s conduct can “hasten” that day’s arrival.
God is characterized by mercy; He responds to repentance. Jesus was no Calvinist. His Father’s relationship with mankind is dynamic, not static. The second epistle of Peter deals with deceptions about the coming of Jesus propagated among believers by false teachers, deceivers claiming either that his coming is delayed or may not occur at all.
(2 Peter 2:1-2) - “There arose false prophets also among the people as among you also there will be false teachers, men who stealthily bring in destructive heresies” (cp. 2 Peter 3:3).
This letter was most likely written near the end of Peter’s life, virtually a generation after the death of Jesus (late 60s A.D. - 2 Peter 1:12-13). He probably wrote to the same churches in the Roman provinces of "Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Pontus and Bithynia" addressed in his previous epistle (1 Peter 1:1).
The hope of his return was a fervent one in the early years of Christian preaching, but as time progressed the surrounding world remained the same. Wars and disasters occurred occasionally but the earth was still intact, Rome did not fall, and the heavens remained undisturbed. It would be easy to assume there had been a “delay” in the parousia of Jesus.  Apparently, false teachers did exactly that. Peter's letter was sent to refute such claims.
In defending his position, Peter provides a theological explanation for why Jesus has not yet returned.  Rather than “delay” or failure, the “postponement” of his coming is according to God’s plan and mercy, His desire for all men and women to repent and receive salvation.
Peter provides biographical information to identify the false claims of the deceivers and to prepare his congregations for his indictments and refutations detailed in the body of the letter (1:12-212:1-3:13).
In contrast to the “cleverly devised myths” of the false teachers, Peter was an eyewitness of the Transfiguration, which he links with the “coming” or parousia of Jesus (“we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”), a reality attested by God Himself on the “holy mount”). His display of glory then foreshadowed that of his future arrival.
Peter assures his audience that they have a “more firm prophetic word” based in Scripture and the apostolic teachings, not in myths or the whims and conceits of deceivers. The two primary issues are the false claims about the “coming” of Jesus and deviations from the apostolic tradition.
The false teachers are of the same ilk as the false prophets of the past. They deceived “many” and thereby “the way of truth is defamed.” They are motivated by greed.  But regardless of how things appear, their “sentence” of final destruction “is not idle.”  Just as God judged rebellious angels, the world of Noah’s day, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, so these false teachers are “kept for a day of judgment to be punished.” This explanation is followed by denunciations of their moral practices and apostate condition (2 Peter 2:10-22).
Peter gets to the central point, citing a charge of his opponents: “Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep all things thus remain from the beginning of creation?” (2 Peter 3:1-4). Christians must heed the warnings already delivered by the Apostles and Jesus.  In “the last days,” deceivers will arise to propagate false information about the “coming” of Jesus. The accuracy of this prediction is evidenced by the presence of these very false teachers among Peter’s congregants (Mark 13:21-22, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 2 Timothy 3:1, 1 John 2:18, Jude 18).
Like other New Testament authors, Peter sees the last days as a state of affairs already in motion by the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus (e.g.Acts 2:17, Galatians 4:4, 2 Timothy 3:1, Hebrews 1:2, 9:26, 1 Peter 1:201 John 2:18). Thus, 2 Peter 3:3 is not a prophecy concerning events yet to unfold, but one well underway in Peter’s day. The lies of the false teachers constituted irrefutable proof that the “last days” had have begun.
The false teachers “scoff” at the notion of a future coming of Jesus that will bring judgment on the disobedient. They point to normalcy, the routines and rituals of human society that continue daily without interruption, as evidence that Jesus will not come and God will not judge the world.  Had not the apostles promised that the Lord would return soon, a claim falsified by the passage of time and history?
Peter refutes such charges. The deceivers “willfully forget” that God once judged and destroyed the world “by His word.”  Rather than prove life goes on in relative normalcy, history demonstrates the opposite. Not only do natural and manmade catastrophes occur, on more than one occasion God intervened to bring destruction on sinful men. By that same “word of God,” the universe is at present being kept for “the day of judgment and destruction.”
Regarding the supposed “delay,” Peter cites Psalm 90:4 to demonstrate that what man considers delay is no such thing (“one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day”). Peter does not intend this citation to be a prophetic “clock” by which men can calculate the end or divide it into distinct “dispensations.” Instead, it emphasizes that God does not account for time as man does, He is not subject to the timetables and expectations of humanity. 
Not only is the non-arrival of Jesus not due to delay or failure, but it is also because of God’s mercy. Peter gives a rational reason for the “delay”:  God’s desire that all men be saved.  He “is not slack concerning his promise…but long-suffering, not minded that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God’s “delay” in the end means salvation for many.
Men should not deceive themselves and take advantage of God’s patience.  The “day of the Lord” certainly will arrive at the appointed time, “just like a thief in the night.” This last phrase reproduced a saying of Jesus used to compare his coming with the unexpected arrival of a thief that strikes in the dark of night (Matthew 24:42-43Luke 12:391 Thessalonians 5:1-3Revelation 2:216:15). The illustration emphasized the suddenness and unexpectedness of his coming.
It is noteworthy that Peter in this passage identifies the parousia with the “Day of the Lord,” a term often associated with Yahweh’s act of judgment in the Old Testament (cp. 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). On that day, the creation will “pass away and be dissolved” to make way for the arrival of the New Creation in which “righteousness is to dwell.”
Thus, the arrival of Jesus will mean judgment and destruction for the disobedient, but vindication and life for the obedient.  Considering all this, “what manner of persons ought ye all to be in the interim in holy ways of behavior and acts of godliness?
Not only ought Christians to live holy lives in expectation of his coming, by doing so they may “hasten” it. “Hasten” translates the Greek verb speudō, here a present tense participle. Used transitively, speudō means, to “urge on, hurry along, quicken, cause to happen soon, act quickly; to accelerate.” The present tense participle stresses an ongoing process: “hastening.”
This Greek word is used in the same sense in Acts 20:16, “Paul decided to sail past Ephesus so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.” Luke uses it similarly to “make haste” (Luke 2:1619:5-6Acts 22:18).
The implications of this participle are profound but usually overlooked. Not only does Peter state why Jesus has not yet come, he indicates Christian action can advance that day’s arrival (and by implication wrong action or inaction may delay it).
Finally, Peter ties the destruction of the old order and the inauguration of the New Creation to the “coming” of Jesus. This has implications for several popular interpretations, especially those categorized as ‘pre-millennial.’
The arrival of Jesus on the day of the Lord is certain. It will arrive “like a thief” on the day determined by God. His promise has not failed; there has been no “delay.”  Things have not continued as they did in the past; normalcy has characterized human history. Instead, it has been punctuated by disasters, catastrophes, destruction and Divine judgment on sin. This record ought to caution us not to assume things will always continue as they have in the past.
In his refutation, Peter introduced a revolutionary idea that ought to impact how we live:  Christian action can affect the timing of the parousia; it can hasten or delay that day.  Christian “behavior and acts of godliness” will speed it along. God put off the day of reckoning to allow space for mankind to repent. Elsewhere Jesus linked “the end” to the completion of the gospel mission (Matthew 24:14Luke 24:47Acts 1:8Romans 11:15-26). Almost certainly, gospel proclamation is included among Peter’s “godly acts.” The completion of this task is pivotal in determining when the Son of Man will come in power and glory to gather his elect.
We live at a time when many voices have fanned the flames of apocalyptic expectations. Christians are convinced Jesus will appear momentarily or, at least, within a few years.  Some preachers assure believers that they constitute the “last generation” and Jesus will undoubtedly arrive before it ends.  This expectation may have set up millions of Christians for disappointment and apostasy when it fails to materialize. Today’s church is not the first generation of believers to be sold this bill of goods.
The New Testament is clear:  no one knows the timing of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:3625:13Mark 13:321 Thessalonians 5:2).  Christ will come “in a season when you least expect him” (Mark 13:33).  Only the Father knows the “times and seasons” (Matthew 24:36Acts 1:6-8). But while God alone determines the “times and seasons”, it does not automatically follow that He has predetermined that date, set it in concrete, so to speak, regardless of human behavior. More than once in the Old Testament, Yahweh called off His announced judgment on Israel when the nation repented.
Jesus certainly could come in this generation, but that fact will remain unknown until he does arrive. If he does not come in a few short years, many Christians may become discouraged and falter when their hopes are dashed, creating an opportunity for voices to raise the challenge once more:  “where is the promise of his coming, for all things continue as they were?”
Peter’s defense raises obstacles to the Pre-millennial position.  The belief in a thousand-year interim period following Christ’s glorious return during which sin and death still occur is incompatible with Peter’s picture of a decisive event that results in final judgment and new creation. In his scenario, the day of the Lord means the termination of the old order.
       This leaves no room for any interim period between the coming of Jesus and the New Creation. Between now and the day of the Lord, the focus of the church must be on fulfilling the mission given to it by its king and savior, namely, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all nations. Whether we can “hasten” that day’s arrival, it will not come until this task is finished.

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