Peter is writing what is to be his last sermon to the churches. In this letter, he reviews some key ideas that he hopes they will remember and practice after he is gone. While they were alive, the Apostles were the source of God's Word for Christians. In a way they were living, breathing Bibles. After their death, however, the church was left with God's Word in written form to provide the way of salvation, growth and encouragement.
Peter's letter summarizes what Christians need to observe if they wish to remain faithful to Christ and thus guarantee their entry into heaven. So far we've studied three important teachings that Peter left for the disciples of Jesus to understand and practice:
1. You must continue to grow and develop as a Christian or you will die spiritually
This, he said, is accomplished by deliberately cultivating the Christian virtues of knowledge, purity, self-control, patience, kindness and love. He doesn't explain how to do this, just that they needed to do this in order to grow. We know that Christian virtues are cultivated through obedience to the Word, service to others, prayer and praise to God, evangelism, study and fellowship. These are the things that we, as members of the church, participate in and practice week in and week out. The purpose of "church life" is to cultivate the very things that Peter talks about so we can continue our growth and thus assure our entry into heaven. If we understood how local church life fits into the "big picture" of Christian development that Peter describes in his letters, we would be motivated to make a greater effort to follow his instructions.
Christian life is not just about coming to church or fixing a meal for a person who is sick or avoiding bad habits. These are the exercises that help develop the spiritual growth necessary for knowing God in this life, and guaranteeing our transfer into the next life when Jesus returns to bring all the faithful to be with Him in heaven eternally.
2. The Scriptures are inspired
Peter encouraged his readers to remain faithful to God's Word. He was addressing two groups who needed convincing of this:
- Jews who had become Christians considered the "Scriptures" to be what Moses and the prophets had written.
- Gentiles who had become Christians had no "Scriptures" as part of their former religious experience.
Peter reminds them that he and the other Apostles had actually seen the miracles, the resurrection of Jesus and had actually heard words spoken by God Himself:
- For the Jews, this meant that God was now speaking through Jesus and His Apostles who provided written records of Jesus' teachings.
- For the Gentiles, the fact that God spoke through these Apostles was a new phenomenon confirmed by powerful signs.
Peter instructs both groups that a new standard had been established through himself and the other Apostles. A standard and authority that superseded Moses and the prophets for the Jews, and the content of the former pagan religions practiced by the Gentiles.
The new standard was God's Word contained in the Apostolic writings. This was to be their guide from now on.
3. Be careful of false teachers
Because the church had been led exclusively by inspired teachers relaying God's Word to them, they would be especially vulnerable to uninspired teachers who would come in and preach false doctrine to them. While the Apostles were alive, they could discern who was true from who was fake, but now they had to be careful to compare and judge their teachers and their teachings according to:
- The accuracy of their teaching in comparison to the Scriptures
- Obvious discrepancies between their lifestyle and their teaching
- The presence of spiritual motivation or worldly motivation
This was important because God would not only punish the false teachers, but would also punish those who became unfaithful to the Lord because of false teachers. In the last chapter, Peter provides them with a final word of advice and encouragement.
Don't Be Discouraged, Be Ready
- Chapter 3
These Christians lived at a time when Christianity was being publicly persecuted and their leaders were being jailed and executed. In addition to this, there were false teachers infiltrating the church and trying to destroy it from within. In response to these problems Peter says, "Don't be discouraged, be ready." As far as Peter was concerned, being ready meant two things:
1. Being Faithful Until the End
Their detractors mocked these Christians' hope of Jesus' return, but Peter encourages them not to lose the hope of His coming again at the end of the world.
1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
He himself has written twice to encourage and motivate them by remembering what the prophets and Jesus (through the Apostles) have told them. The "commandment" that they all spoke of was to remain faithful. The prophets continually reminded the Israelites to remain true to God and not fall into idolatry (this was the first of the Ten Commandments). In the same way, Jesus told His disciples that they needed to be faithful until the end in order to receive the crown (Matthew 10:22).
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
He tells them not to be discouraged on account of the persecution they suffered because of their beliefs. Some mocked their belief in the return of Jesus and the end of the world. Those who did this, however, forgot that at one time others mocked Noah as he prepared for the end of life on earth, and at God's Word the great flood came and destroyed them all. He continues to say that by God's Word there will once again be the destruction of heaven and earth. However, this time it will be destroyed by intense heat. The judgment promised by God ultimately came to pass during Noah's time, and just as certainly the final judgment will come again when Jesus returns. This is certain because God has said so.
8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Here Peter is providing an answer to those who challenge them by saying that the return of Christ (and by implication His resurrection) is not true because nothing is happening. In many cases people today think this as well. They point to the evil, injustice, illness and tragedy in the world, and say that if a loving God existed, He would not let these things happen. They reason that this must mean that God is not there or if He is, He doesn't care or His promise of justice and relief are not true.
Peter says two things about this:
- God's time frame is different from ours. He is eternal, we are temporal. Taking ten human years or one hundred human years to accomplish His purpose seems like a lot to us but is inconsequential to Him. Everything God does is with an eternal (i.e. the number 1000 represents eternity) view and purpose, and so it is difficult for us who live a mere century at most to understand or imagine all that He plans or does. Much of what we do now may only bear fruit in one hundred or five hundred years. Only God knows the time frame and final purpose. This is why we must live and serve by faith.
- God is patient and the slowness of judgment is not out of indifference but out of love. God is willing to wait decades for repentance because He knows that the punishment will be eternal, and He doesn't want anyone to suffer eternally. Only a fool, however, will tempt God and make Him wait when he knows what he has to do.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
The recipients of Peter's letters are not to doubt that with time (God's own good time) the judgement will come and when it does, it will be:
- Sudden (no chance for repentance)
- Complete (everything will be destroyed by intense heat)
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Here Peter repeats his original exhortation by reminding them that since these things will happen, they should be faithful. Their faithfulness was demonstrated in holy conduct and godly character. Unlike the mockers and sinners, they should look forward to it (hasten doesn't mean that they can make it happen faster, it means be eager or anticipate this time). For disbelievers, sinners and the unfaithful, it will be a time of complete and terrible destruction, but for Christians it will mean a new beginning.
The old sinful world will be done away with and a new dimension or world that is in complete harmony with God will merge. God will reign with Christ and the Holy Spirit, and all those who are there will be equipped with glorified bodies that will be able to stand in the presence of God without fear or shame forever.
If these things are so, Peter's first admonition is that they should be ready by living faithfully until the end.
Being ready also meant...
2. Being Fruitful Until the End
You cannot be faithful unless you are fruitful. This was the idea he began with and ends with here. The way to remain faithful until the end is not just to wait until the end, but to grow until the end.
14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15a and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation;
Since they look forward to the end, they should therefore cultivate the qualities that will guarantee this outcome. Note: the word "diligent" again. You have to work at it:
- To be at peace with God and men
- To live in a pure and holy way
Not to give in to doubters and mockers, but to accept God's timetable and slowness of coming as an opportunity for salvation, not indifference.
15b just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 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.
These same things (that Peter writes to them about) have also been written about by Paul the Apostle. Peter encourages them to accept Paul's writings as authoritative and not be seduced by the false teachers who not only teach false doctrine, but also pervert the teachings of the Apostles. Being fruitful means growing in this kind of knowledge and the grace of the Lord.
Growth in the knowledge of God and His blessings guarantees a successful life as a Christian here on earth and entry into the new heavens and earth that God has promised.
Peter finishes his last sermon to an embattled church with a clear call to face opposition by being ready, not being discouraged. For Christians, then and now, being ready means two things: being faithful and being fruitful. 2000 years have gone by and still the Lord has not come:
- There are injustices and tragedies
- Sinners are bold in their practices
- Christianity is once again being discarded, mocked and even persecuted
And what shall our response be?
- We must be faithful with the attitude that, even if it takes 10,000 more years for Jesus to come, God is in charge and we are prepared to wait our entire lives and beyond.
- We must be fruitful in patience, knowledge, holy living, perseverance, godliness, kindness and love in order to maintain our faith until the end, and help others find faith so that they can be saved.
Have you become discouraged, unfaithful or unfruitful? Remember the warnings of God and be encouraged by His sure promises.