The Long Haul and 2 Peter 3

From He Shall Have Dominion, by Kenneth L Gentry, pages 310-305

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2 Peter 3

The key passage for the consummate new heavens and new earth is found in 2 Peter 3. Unfortunately, this passage has been the source of a good deal of confusion. Some dispensationalists hold that it refers to the earthly millennium, while others argue that it speaks of the consummate new creation.[1] Some postmillennialists hold that it refers to the present era introduced by the destruction of Jerusalem,[2] others apply it to the consummate new heavens and new earth.[3] Many amillennialists refer the new creation concept in all of Scripture solely to the final consummate order, using this passage as determinative of the others.[4]

A part of the problem with 2 Peter 3 lies in the fact that the passage employs terminology that is sometimes used to designate the spiritual new creation and at other times is used in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This pas- sage, however, does not speak either of the spiritual new creation (Isa. 65:17) or the conflagration of Jerusalem (Heb. 12:25-29). It points instead to the consummate order to follow the resurrection and final judgment, as is evident from the following considerations.

First, the thrust of the book seems to promote a spiritual perseverance in anticipation of the historical long run – a long run that ends up in the eternal new creation. Peter urges the perseverance of his readers (1 Pet. 1:6) and warns against short-sightedness (1:9). It is only through long-term perseverance that we may expect access to the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ (1:11). Peter himself expects to die soon (1:13-14; as did Paul, 2 Tim. 4:6-8). Consequently, he urges his readers to recall these things after he is gone (1:15), apparently not expecting a rapture of the Church in A.D. 70 (as per radical preterists[5]). Peter gives Noah and Lot as examples of those who persevered through hard times, like those facing the looming destruction of Jerusalem. They came out on the other end still upon the earth (2:5-9). The rescue of believers from the oncoming temptation (2:9a) associated with A.D. 70 (by preserving them in trial, Luke 21:18-22) is set in contrast to the reserving of the fallen angels and the ungodly until the (later) Judgment Day (2:4, 9b). While contemplating the judgment cleansing of the earth, we are urged to “holy livings” and “pieties” (Greek plurals of these words occur only here, 3:11), suggesting many acts of righteousness for the long term. The book ends with a call to perseverance, as well (3:15, 17).

Second, the mockers scoff at the promised second advent of Christ due to the long wait associated with it (2 Pet. 3:3-4, 9). Despite the trials to come soon (2:9), Peter even suggests it may be thousands of years before Christ’s return, in that the delay is based on God’s time rather than man’s: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (3:8). This fits well with Christ’s “now/not yet” teaching elsewhere, where He contrasts the short time until the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 23:36; 24:34) with that of the long wait for the second advent to end history (Matt. 25:5, 14).[6]

Third, the longsuffering of the Lord is due to a process that is necessarily age-long: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9 NKJV). “Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Pet. 3:15a). The process of calling the “all” to “repentance” unto salvation is one that spans the entire inter-advental era and is still continuing today. This “slowness” (bradutes, v. 9) of Christ’s second advent is so that the postmillennial kingdom victory might continue to grow unto full fruition.[7]

In verse 12a, Peter urges Christians to: “hasten (speudo, “speed up”) the coming of the day of God” (3:12). Vincent comments: “I am inclined to adopt, with Alford, Huther, Salmond, and Trench, the transitive meaning, hastening on; i.e., ‘causing the day of the Lord to come more quickly by helping to fulfil those conditions without which it cannot come; that day being no day inexorably fixed, but one the arrival of which it is free to the church to hasten on by faith and by prayer.’ “[8] This is in keeping with “the cumulative evidence from Scripture, inter-testamental literature, and Jewish sources” regarding the term speudo.[9]The way that we “hasten the coming of the day of God” (3:12) is by evangelistic endeavor. Hence, the earnest prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6: 10; cf. Acts 3: 19ft).

Fourth, the reference to the unraveling and conflagration of the heavens and the earth is expressly tied to the material creation. Hence, it seems clearly to refer to the consummation, and not to A.D. 70, despite certain similarities. Peter expressly refers to the material creation order: “from the beginning of creation” (3:4; cf. Gen. 1:1[10]); “by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water” (3:5; cf. Gen. 1:2, 9[11]); “the heavens and the earth which now exist” (2 Pet. 3:7). He seems clearly to be defining the “heavens and earth” to which he is referring. He is not contemplating the destruction of the old Jewish order, but the material heavens and the earth.

Fifth, the strong detailed language of the destruction of the heavens and the earth seems to go beyond apocalyptic imagery, referring to the actual consummation: “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). “The heavens will be dissolved being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (3:12). In the apocalyptic-symbolic passages thought to parallel 2 Peter 3, we find time frame factors[12] and cultural limitations.[13] Neither does this destruction terminology appear in Isaiah 65:17ff, where the phrase “new heavens and new earth” first appears.

In conjunction with “the promise” of His coming (3:4, 9), we are to await the ultimate “new heavens and new earth” (3:13). Peter obviously employs the terminology of Isaiah 65:17 (which speaks of a spiritual event, see Chapter 15). Yet as an inspired apostle he expands on that truth, looking to the ultimate out- come of the spiritual new heavens and earth in the eternal new creation.

The new creation, then, of 2 Peter 3 is the renovated material world that will succeed the present temporal order. It will be purified by fire and refashioned by the hand of God. It is on this new earth that the saints will dwell forever.

[1] See the brief discussion in Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, pp. 510- 513, 633.

[2] Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School Press, [1954] 1981), ch. 13. See also the amillennialist and preterist Cornelius Vanderwaal, Search the Scriptures (St. Catherines, Ontario: Paideia, 1979), pp. 52-53.

[3] See: John Calvin, Hebrews and I and II Peter (1549), Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), pp. 363-366. Dabney, Systematic Theology, pp. 850-852. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:665.

[4] See for example: Hoekema, Bible and the Future, ch. 20. Adams, Time Is at Hand, pp. 13ff. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Interpreting Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), pp. 131-135. G. C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), ch. 7. Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), p. 274.

[5] Russell, Parousia, Preface, and pp. 126, 137, 165, 168, 199, 445, 525.

[6] See Chapter 14, below.

[7] For a discussion on the gradualistic principle of the kingdom, see pp. 249-252, above.

[8] Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, [1887] 1985), 1:707.

[9] Simon Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (New Testament Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), p. 338. Cf. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Nashville: Broadman, 1933), 6:177.

[10] The Petrine phraseology (apo arches ktiseos) reflects that of the Lord’s when He spoke of the creation of the material universe. See: Mark 10:6 and 13:9.

[11] The phraseology is reminiscent of Psalm 33:6-7 [Psa. 32:6-7 in Hebrew], which speaks of the creative act of God in making the world.

[12] For example, see: Matt. 24:29, cr. v. 34; Rev. 6:13-14, cf. Rev. 1:1, 3; 6:10.

[13] For example, see: Isa. 13:10, cf. 1,14-21.

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From this passage, you can understand

First: Why we are expected to persevere in our faith in Christ, through good times and tough times. As opposed to the premil claim of a soon-to-come (almost here… almost here… you can just taste it… any moment now…) rapture from reality.

We are not going to escape reality. We are actually going to die, as we are nowhere near meeting the conditions needed for the second coming to occur.

To meet the conditions when death ends, we had better get to work.

Second: the mockers scoff because it takes a long time to prepare the earth for His second coming. We Christians have to keep at it, expanding our faith, training new believers, our families, and society in general (including the State) in obedience to God. This is not going to happen in a snap of the fingers.

Third: The process takes a long time because God is reluctant to condemn billions and billions into hellfire. Christ is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”.

But perish is exactly what they will do, until we get off our duffs and start propagating – and teaching – and living – the Gospel.

We are to speed up the day of His Appearing. From the human perspective, it is not a fixed day, but a day we can hasten by godly living & godly teaching.

Fourth & Fifth: Peter is actually speaking of the end of the material creation, as opposed to the old covenantal order, the “heavens and the earth” symbolized by the Temple that was destroyed in AD 70.

Similarly, the New Creation will be an actual New Heavens and New Earth. A new Creation Event, from the ground up, where the saints of God will dwell forever…

…and from which the wicked will be excluded. Forever.

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