(Peter writes: )This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that 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.”For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 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.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3 (ESV)
Eschatology (the study of end times) is not a major focus for Lutherans as a general rule. Yet at the end of the church year we look with hope to what Jesus has promised us beyond this life. He will return again. He will remake the heavens and the earth. There will be a day when the earthly kingdom is no more and we will live fully and completely in God’s heavenly kingdom. The paradox of living in “now but not yet” will end. Until that day we live in that promise that Jesus will return and establish that “not yet” kingdom.
This chapter is a bit frightening. Peter tells us that when Jesus returns the universe as we know it is going to be destroyed by fire and remade. Nothing of this “now” world is going to be left. Then Peter tells us that in order to be part of the new creation, we need to be holy. On the surface Peter’s warning sounds like an admonition for us to “straighten up and fly right.” However, if we are honest with ourselves we know that we are definitely not holy. We are definitely not capable, by our own strength or reason, to “straighten up and fly right” by our own power.
Peter is not telling us to put on the window dressing and go into full blown holier-than-thou Pharisee mode. He redirects us outside of ourselves, to count the patience of our Lord as salvation. True holiness and sanctification are to be found in Christ alone. Rather than despair about how wicked and terrible we are, we only need to confess our sins to Jesus, cling to the Cross and know that He has already won our forgiveness and salvation.
Christians have always faced ridicule and persecution for believing in Christ. The Man of Sorrows isn’t all that popular among those who worship the gods of power or money or self. One doesn’t have to look very far to find the scoffers and critics of Christian faith that Peter warns us about. In the greater culture, believers are presented as being intolerant of others, or ignorant and uneducated because we stand for Christ and believe in the One True God. We are scorned because we believe that truth is not a matter of opinion.
In some places Christians are put in jail or even killed for the sake of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus (Satan the adversary, our own sinful selves, and those who have not been transformed by the Gospel) fight hard to convince us to surrender to the enchantments of the world. We are all tempted by the invitation to hedonism, to serve the god of self rather than to take up the Cross of Christ. We sin constantly, every day. Even so, the Good News is we belong to Christ. We can’t make ourselves good or earn our way in. We are only justified through the grace of God, by faith in Christ. Through the water and the Word in our baptism, and through the hearing of the Gospel, He has named us, claimed us, and is coming back for us no matter what misery or what valleys of shadow we walk through in this world. He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, and delivers us from sin, death and evil.
We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but He is coming back. It might be tomorrow or thousands of years from now. We might face Him at any time at the hour of our death. Even so, our faith- which is a gift from God- is counted to us as righteousness. We can look forward to Jesus’ return and the remaking of the world with hope and confidence. We know the world is getting crazier and scarier as time goes on, but we are not alone. Our hope is in Jesus.