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17 April 2019

Hastening the Day of the Lord

SYNOPSIS - Prophecy teachers who have presumed to know what God alone knows have prepared Christians for discouragement and even apostasy - 2 Peter 3:3-13.

Mountain Dawn - Photo by Jayesh Patil on Unsplash
Jayesh Patil on Unsplash
Peter explained the apparent “delay” in the arrival of Jesus and the “Day of the Lord.” In doing so, he coordinated that day with the final judgment and the new creation. Furthermore, argued that the conduct of the church could “hasten” that day’s arrival. According to Peter, God is characterized by mercy and responds positively to repentance. Peter was no Calvinist. The Father’s relationship with men and women is dynamic, not static.

The second epistle of Peter dealt with deceptions about the coming of Jesus that were propagated among believers by false teachers, deceivers who claimed either that his coming was delayed or would not occur at all.
  • (2 Peter 2:1-2) - “But there arose false-prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false-teachers — men who will stealthily bring in destructive parties, even the Master that bought them, denying, bringing upon themselves speedy destruction; And many will follow out their wanton ways — by reason of whom the way of truth will be defamed” (The Emphasized Bible. Compare - 2 Peter 3:3).
This letter was written most probably near the end of Peter’s life in the late 60s A.D., virtually a generation after the death of Jesus. Most likely, he wrote to the same churches in the Roman provinces of "Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Pontus and Bithynia" addressed in his first epistle (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:12).

The hope of the return of Jesus was a fervent one in the early years of Christian preaching; however, as time progressed, the surrounding world remained the same. Wars, earthquakes, and other disasters continued to occur but the earth remained intact. Rome did not fall and the stars and planets continued in their expected courses. It was easy to assume there had been a “delay” in the parousia of Jesus.  Apparently, false teachers claimed exactly that, and this letter was sent to refute them.
In defending his position, Peter provides a theological explanation for why Jesus has not yet returned. Rather than “delay” or failure, the “postponement” of that day is according to the plan and mercy of God, to His desire for all men and women to repent and receive salvation.
Peter provided 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 (2 Peter 2:1-21).

In contrast to the “cleverly devised myths” of the false teachers, the Apostle was an eyewitness of the Transfiguration of Christ, an event he linked with the “coming” or parousia of Jesus (“We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”), and a reality attested by God Himself on the “holy mount.” The display of his glory before the disciples foreshadowed the full glory that would be experienced at his arrival from heaven.

Peter assured his audience that they had received a “more firm prophetic word,” one based on Scripture and the apostolic teachings, not on myths or the conceits of deceivers. The two primary issues at play were the false claims about the “coming” of Jesus and the deviations from the body of traditions handed down by the Apostles.

The false teachers were of the same ilk as the false prophets described in the Hebrew scriptures. They had deceived “many” and, thus, the “way of truth is defamed.” But regardless of how things appeared, their “sentence” of destruction “is not idle.”  Just as God judged the rebellious angels, the world of Noah’s day, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, so also the false teachers were “kept for a day of judgment to be punished.” This explanation is followed by denunciations of the immoral practices and apostasy of the opponents of Peter (2 Peter 2:10-22).

Peter went straight to the main issue by citing a charge leveled by 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).

However, Christians must heed the warnings delivered to them by the Apostles and Jesus.  In “the last days,” deceivers would arise to propagate false information about the “coming” of Jesus. The accuracy of this prediction was evidenced by the very presence of these very false teachers (Mark 13:21-22, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 2 Timothy 3:1, 1 John 2:18).

Like other New Testament authors, Peter saw the “last days” as an era, a new and final state of affairs set in motion by the Death, Resurrection, and the Exaltation of Jesus (Acts 2:17, Galatians 4:4, 2 Timothy 3:1, Hebrews 1:2,  1 John 2:18).

Thus, the statement of Peter is not a prophecy concerning events yet to unfold, but one that was well underway in his day (“There will come, in the last of the days, with scoffing scoffers, after their own covetings going on”). The lies of the false teachers constituted irrefutable proof that the “last days” were underway.

Sun over the beach - Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash
Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

The false teachers “scoffed” at the notion of a future coming of Jesus that would bring judgment on the disobedient. They pointed to normalcy, the routines and rituals of human society that were continuing daily without interruption, solid evidence that Jesus would not come, and that God would not judge the world.  Had not the apostles promised that the Lord would return soon, a claim supposedly falsified by the passage of time and history?

Peter refuted such charges. The deceivers “willfully forget” that God once judged and destroyed the world “by His word.”  Rather than prove that life goes on in relative normalcy, history demonstrated the opposite. Not only have natural and manmade catastrophes occurred, on more than one occasion God intervened to bring destruction on sinful men. By that same “word of God,” the universe even now is being kept for the “day of judgment and destruction.”

Regarding the supposed “delay,” Peter cited Psalm 90:4 to demonstrate that what man considered "delay" was no such thing (“One day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day”). He did not intend this citation as a prophetic “stopwatch” by which men could calculate the end or divide it into distinct “dispensations.” Instead, the passage emphasizes that God does not account for the passage of time the same way man does - He is not subject to the timetables and expectations of humanity.
The non-arrival of Jesus was not due to delay or failure but because of the mercy of God. Peter gives a rational reason for the apparent “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” means salvation for many men and women.
Men should not deceive themselves and take advantage of Divine patience.  The “Day of the Lord” will arrive at the appointed time, “Just like a thief in the night.” This last phrase reproduces a saying used by Jesus 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).

Note well - Peter identified the parousia with the “Day of the Lord,” the latter a term often associated in the Old Testament with Yahweh’s act of judgment. This is not the first passage in which the New Testament identifies the “coming” of Jesus with the “Day of the Lord (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

On that day, the created order 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 in glory means the judgment and destruction of the disobedient, but also the vindication of 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 should Christians live holy lives in expectation of his coming, but they may also “hasten” it. “Hasten” translates the Greek verb speudō (Strong’s - G4692), 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; that is, “hastening” the object of the verb. This Greek word has 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” - (Compare - Luke 2:1619:5-6Acts 22:18).
The implications of the participle are profound but easily overlooked. Not only does Peter state why Jesus has not yet come, he indicates that Christian action can advance that day’s arrival, but also wrong action or inaction may delay it.

Finally, Peter linked the destruction of the old order and the inauguration of the New Creation to the “coming” of Jesus on the “Day of the Lord.” This has implications for several popular interpretations, especially those categorized as ‘pre-millennial.’

The arrival of Jesus on the appointed day is certain, and it will arrive “like a thief.”The promise has not failed - There has been no “delay.”  Things have not continued as they did in the past, and normalcy has not characterized human history. Instead, it has been punctuated by disasters, catastrophes, destruction, and Divine judgment on sin. That record ought to caution us not to assume things will always continue as they always have.

In his refutation, Peter introduced a revolutionary idea that should impact how we live -  Christian action or inaction can impact the timing of the parousia - It can hasten or delay it.  Our “behavior and acts of godliness” may very well speed it along. God has put off the day of reckoning to allow space for men and women to repent. Elsewhere, Jesus linked “the end” to the completion of the gospel mission (Matthew 24:14Luke 24:47Acts 1:8Romans 11:15-26).

We live at a time when many voices have fanned the flames of apocalyptic expectations. Christians are convinced that Jesus will appear momentarily or, at least, within only a few short years.  Some preachers assure us that we constitute the “last generation” prior to his arrival and, undoubtedly, Jesus will return before it ends.  This expectation may have set up millions of Christians for disappointment and apostasy when it fails to materialize within the alleged "last generation."

The New Testament is clear -  No one knows the timing of Christ’s return.  Christ will come “in a season when you least expect him.”  Only the Father knows the “times and seasons” (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32-33Acts 1:6-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:2).

While God alone determines the “times and seasons”, it does not automatically follow that He has predetermined the date of the "end" and set it in concrete 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?” Prophecy teachers who have presumed to know what God alone knows have set up Christians for discouragement and, possibly, apostasy.

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. We need to remember how God has held past individuals and groups accountable for their sins and live accordingly. Whether we can “hasten” that day’s arrival, it will not come until the fundamental task of the church is completed.

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