2 Peter 3:1-16

Sun, 01/10/2006 - 10:45 -- James Oakley

Here’s a question: What will happen at the end of time?

Will this world come to an end with a nuclear holocaust? That was the fear of many in the 1980s. Or will global warming one day make this planet uninhabitable? That is the fear of the present decade? Or will we ride out both of those, only to succumb to a meteor strike like that purported to have wiped out the dinosaurs? Or will the human race suffer none of these fates worse than death, but continue to evolve, adapt and survive forever?

You probably know that the Bible’s answer is that one day Jesus will return. But I wonder how many of us actually believe this. And if we do believe it, when will it happen? And how do we make sure we are totally ready for it? The Bible doesn’t answer all of the questions we might ask about the end of time, but it does tell us all we need to know, including how to be fully prepared ourselves.

2 Peter 3 Introduction

Let me recap where we are in 2 Peter. In chapter 1, Peter told us that if we know Christ we are truly secure – we have all we need, both now and for the future. But we need to build on that relationship and grow as Christians.

However, chapter 2 warned that false teachers will come, and will play on our perceived insecurity. We must not listen to them. God will judge them for their refusal to submit to authority, and for their brazenly immoral lifestyle.

So what should guide us through life? Well we learnt in the second half of chapter 1 that the apostle Peter’s days are numbered. And he wrote 2 Peter as a reminder, so that when he’s gone we know how to hold onto the authentic Christianity that gives us eternal security. And his answer is that we should let God guide us through life, as we pay careful attention to the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles – that is, the Bible.

This is where he picks up again in the first few verses of chapter 3. Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.

And in chapter 3 he tells us one thing that both prophets and apostles taught that we must remember. Yes, he’s really saying one thing in chapter 3. He’s saying that Jesus will return, but only after a delay. Jesus will return, but only after a delay.

And it’s that delay that causes Peter to give the detailed teaching that he does in this chapter.

3 details, then, about the delay in Jesus’ return.

Don’t mistake the delay for the cancellation of Jesus’ return.

First Don’t mistake the delay for the cancellation of Jesus’ return. Don’t mistake the delay for the cancellation of Jesus’ return.

Let me read verses 3 and 4 again. First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

The last days is now. We’ve been in the last days since Pentecost. And in these last days, people will scoff at the idea of Jesus coming back. Why? Because there’s been such a long delay. It hasn’t happened yet. In fact, nothing changes ever since the fathers died. “The fathers” is shorthand for the Old Testament believers. Since Jesus came, nothing has changed. It hasn’t happened. Isn’t it time you faced up to it? It’s not going to happen, is it? It’s a myth.

But there’s a big problem with this kind of thinking. Verse 5: But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.

The trouble is that they’ve got God wrong and they’ve got the world wrong. God made this world by his word. He simply spoke and it sprang into being. He then flooded it by his word – he simply gave the instruction and all life was destroyed. These scoffers have a different God from that one.

You see, once you say that God made the world out of nothing by speaking. Once you say that he holds it in existence only because he continues to think about it. Once you say that it was no effort for him to flood it once before. Once you say those things, you have a God who can do anything he wants with his world.

Which makes what Peter says totally reasonable. Verse 7: By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

In other words, it is a lie that everything has simply gone on as it has before. Nothing “simply goes on”. God keeps it going. If God hasn’t destroyed this world with fire already, that is only because he decided thus far to do something else with it. But it doesn’t follow it won’t happen one day.

So, says Peter: Don’t mistake the delay for the cancellation of Jesus’ return.


I wonder if we learn this kind of cynicism today on the railways. You know how it is. You’re on the platform, and you’re told the train is delayed. Then it’s delayed some more. And again. And invariably, the next announcement is that it’s not coming. That particular train is cancelled.

I used to live in North Devon, many years ago. On Torrington Common, every few years, a spectacular bonfire is arranged. The most recent one was last summer. An amazingly detailed half-sized replica of the ship HMS Victory was burnt. It took 2 years to build. The whole event raised over 72,000 pounds for local charities. As you waited for 27th August 2005, you could be forgiven for thinking the match was never going to be lit. 2 years is a long time to wait. But these people built it. They do a bonfire like this every few years. If it hasn’t been lit yet, that is only because they’ve decided it’s not the right day yet.

God made this world. He’s flooded it before. If he hasn’t wrapped it up in judgement yet, he has his reasons. But the day will come.


Let me ask: Do you believe that Jesus will come back one day? Most of us think that we will eventually die. If he returned today, 6 billion people would be alive. Indeed, the longer he waits, the more people will be alive, the more people won’t have died. Jesus will come back in person. And we will all appear before him personally to give an account for our lives. I think this challenges our view of God. The God of the Bible is one who will personally return to this world in the person of Jesus. Is that your God?

Or maybe it’s our view of the world that we need to have challenged. Do we believe that this world only continues to exist because God wants it to? Do we believe that God destroyed the world with water before, and will do so with fire again? Is that your view of the world? Do you feel secure here or insecure? Because the big ball of rock we stand on is not as solid as we think it is. It’s only as solid as God wants it to be on any given day.

There will be some people here who used to believe this, but have been gradually worn down. Worn down by the quiet mocking of this world that makes no mention of Jesus’ return. He’s been away so long, he’s probably forgotten. But make no mistake. Jesus is coming back, and don’t believe those who tell you he isn’t. He’s not forgotten – his Father has decided there should be a delay first, that’s all. This brings us all the way back to chapter 1. Peter doesn’t want us to lose the stability that we have.

Don’t mistake the delay for the cancellation of Jesus’ return.

Regard the delay as God’s patience, so repent.

Second, regard the delay as God’s patience, so repent. Regard the delay as God’s patience, so repent.

It won’t surprise us to see that Peter points to both the Old Testament and the New Testament to make this point for us.

His Old Testament text is Psalm 90, which he discusses in verses 8 and 9.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Psalm 90 reminds us of the curse God pronounced when the human race first fell – to go back to the dust we came from, to die. In the light of this curse, the Psalm invites us to enter into the wonderful truth that we can acknowledge our mortality and find refuge in God. You see, the wonderful thing about the fall is that God did not kill Adam and Eve the moment they ate the fruit. God gave them time. Psalm 90 warns us to remember that this time is limited – 70 or at most 80 years.

You see what Peter says? God is a God who delays sentence. That is because he is kind. He is patient. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to repent.

Two wills

Now, if we are going to understand these verses correctly, we need to appreciate that the Bible speaks of God’s will, of what God wants, in two different ways. This is so important.

God can want something in the sense that it pleases him, he commands it. God wants us not to commit murder. God is pleased when there is no murder.

Or, God can want something in the sense of bringing it about. It won’t have escaped your attention that this world is in a bit of a mess. Now if God brought everything about that pleased him, the world would be a perfect place. But he doesn’t. Some things he wills, in the sense of delights in, that he doesn’t will, in the sense of bringing to pass.

The ultimate example is the death of Jesus. Was it God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross? Well Isaiah 53 tells us that it was the Lord’s will, and Acts chapter 4 verse 28 tells us that it was what God’s power and will had decided beforehand. Yes, it was God’s will. But this was the murder of an innocent man, a judge blinded his own political prospects, and a cruel disproportionate brutality. And in the Old Testament law God forbade all those things over and over again – he does not will them. So yes the death of Christ was God’s will, in the sense of what he purposes to bring about. No the death of Christ was not God’s will, in the sense of what is morally pleasing to him.

Let me illustrate. I want a cup of coffee. If I could have a really good quality cup of coffee now, I would be delighted. But much though that is my will, it is not what I’m going to do. It’s not what I actually want. What I want to do is to finish this sermon.

Let’s look again at 2 Peter 3. Peter is saying that God does not want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. What does Peter mean? Well clearly not that God will bring it about that no-one perishes and everyone repents. We’re told that the false teachers can expect blackest darkness. They won’t repent. And Peter says that God is patient with you, with his readers. God hates it when people refuse to repent. So he delays sending Jesus back to give more and more people time to repent. And that included waiting long enough for Peter’s readers to find God’s mercy. He’s an incredibly patient God, who longs for people to repent, and so delays Jesus’ return.

Regard the delay as God’s patience, so repent.

NT Witness

That’s Psalm 90. He gets it from the New Testament as well. Let me read verses 15 and 16: Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

The New Testament, and Paul in particular, agrees with Psalm 90. The delay is an expression of Gods’ patience.

To be sure, we need to work hard to understand what Paul is saying. It’s reassuring that even Peter found him hard to understand at points. But that doesn’t mean you can make him say what you want him to mean. It is the ignorant and unstable people who deliberately twist him and distort him. And yet again, Peter says we mustn’t let such people destabilise us. Instead we must pay attention to what the prophets and apostles both say: we are to regard the delay as God’s patience, and so repent.


One of the difficult things about being a parent is disciplining our children. No-one wants to do it. But we know we need to. You know the scene: “Come inside now, or there’s no tea for you.” “OK, I’ll give you 5 minutes, then there’s no tea.” 5 minutes later: “Right, I’ll count to ten. One Two Three Eight Nine, Nine and quarter, Nine and a half, Nine and three quarters, Eleven, Ten. Sorry – no tea for you.” We don’t want to give our children no tea. So we drag it out and drag it out – but not forever.


God has been immensely patient. He’s waited 2000 years so far before judging this guilty world. I for one an immensely grateful for that. If he had returned 5 years ago, I could name friends who would have gone to hell. Instead, because of God’s patience, their future is in the new creation. And God has given every one of us enough time to repent. The question is: Will you take it? Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if God gave us so much extra time and still some of us were caught unprepared.

God isn’t only patient with us here. He’s also patient with those who are not here. Those we work with, live near, socialise with and are related to, have also experienced God’s immense patience. Most of them don’t know it. Part of regarding the delay as God’s patience is telling others of the need to repent. We cannot be content to be the church we are here. We have to use all the energy God sends to bring others to hear about Jesus so that they might repent. After all, we don’t know how long God’s patience will last.

Regard the delay as God’s patience, so repent.

Use the delay to be ready, so live for God now.

And third, use the delay to be ready, so live for God now. Use the delay to be ready, so live for God now.

Again, Peter learns what he’s saying from the Old Testament and from the New Testament.

This time the New Testament comes first, as he quotes and applies Jesus in verse 10. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.


We get the point of the thief, don’t we? Jesus says in Luke 12 that if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. So every time we go out, we lock the door.

Peter is saying that if we collapse into immoral living as Christians. Or equally if we never repent, it is like going out and leaving the door wide open. Jesus could return at any point. It’s far too risky.


How do you feel about the return of Jesus? How do you feel about his personal judgement of you? You see, when Jesus comes everything will be exposed and destroyed. So we shouldn’t feel too secure in this world. Our lives will be laid bare as vividly as if displayed on a big screen. That ought to make us tremble.

So we must make sure that we aren’t in the habit of leaving our house unlocked, because we never know when he’s coming. How do we make sure the house is secure? Peter told us in chapter 1. If we know Jesus, we have everything we need, now and for the future, but we confirm where we stand as we build on that relationship and grow as Christians. In other words, we need to know Jesus. And we need to continue to get to know Jesus.

Use the delay to be ready, so live for God now.

Old Testament

So much for the words of Jesus in the New Testament. Peter also teaches us this from the Old Testament. He refers to Isaiah chapter 65. Let me read verses 13 and 14 again: But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

We’ve said that the Christian shouldn’t feel too at home here. So where is our home? Where are we heading? Where do we belong? Peter’s answer is simply wonderful. We are heading to the new heavens and the new earth. We’re heading to the home of righteousness.

You see we’re not going to heaven. The Bible nowhere describes where we go when Jesus returns as “heaven”. That’s far too vague to be useful. It’s far too unattractive. No, we’re heading to the new heavens and the new earth. God will make a brand new world that has no flaws. We will live on a new earth – one that is like this one, but has never been spoilt and never will be spoilt. And that means we won’t spoil it – in other words we will be perfectly righteous too. It’s an absolutely glorious future.

And Peter is saying that if that is where we are going, we can start to live the life now.


When we choose holiday locations, we often go somewhere we’ve never been before. There are so many lovely places to explore, it’s always nice to go somewhere new. But there’s something very settling about returning somewhere you have been. You feel at home almost right away, and relax far more quickly. And before you go, you can get excited because you can picture it. And you know what to take – is there an iron, or do we need to take one? No problem – you know.

Peter is telling us where we’re heading. Which means we can be excited about what is coming up. And it means we know what to take and how to prepare.


So, if you’re a Christian, I hope Peter is making you feel really excited about where you’re going. It would be well worth chewing over what he has to say this week until the excitement starts to build.

But also, as Christians we need to start to prepare. You see, we know where we’re heading, so we can start to become as much like where we’re going as we can. Or, to put it in Peter’s language in verse 14: spotless, blameless and at peace with him.


Let’s draw things together. In two weeks time, Shayne will preach on the last two verses of this chapter, which is Peter’s own summary of the whole letter. That will wrap the sermon series up for us. For today, let’s summarise what the rest of chapter 3 has to say.

Jesus will return. There will be some delay first, but he will return. So we must not make the mistake of confusing delayed with cancelled. He is coming back.

Why the delay? Because God is incredibly patient, and is giving us more time to repent.

But he will come. When he does, it will be sudden. And on that day, those who are prepared, those who know the Lord Jesus Christ, will go to live in the new creation. And what a future that will be!

The question is: How are you handling this delay? There are two basic responses. You might gradually stop believing anything is ever going to happen. Basically, you take the delay for granted, and assume it will go on forever.

Or you realise that the delay is to give us a chance to repent and to be forgiven. Which means – you repent. You know Jesus. And then you use the time there is to tell others, and to get ready for our new home.

Website Section: 
Sermon Series: 
Additional Terms