A Commentary on 2 Peter 3

Monday, March 26, 2012

Over the weekend I was asked by a new pen pal to comment on 2 Peter chapter 3. My new friend was unfamiliar with postmillennial thought until I explained it to him last week. I think he was also unfamiliar with preterism, so I wrote about why I think Peter's prophecies in this chapter have already been fulfilled. Here's what I wrote:

Man, 2 Peter is a great letter to start with! And I know we can agree with chapter 1, verse 20, that "no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation," so that we are totally dependent on God for answers to all questions about who He is and what He is doing and is going to do. I am carefully and prayerfully considering all I have to think and say about this, and may His Spirit guide my heart and my words.

I always want to be sure I understand whom the author is writing to and when. In this case, it's to all Christians (chapter 1, verse 1). Since it is widely thought that Peter was killed by Nero, we can assume the letter was written before 70 AD, and therefore prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, which we postmillennialists consider the end of the Jewish age and the beginning of the church age:

"Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Mark 13:30-31).

I say this because much of what you futurists think is yet to come (as I used to) is what we consider to have been fulfilled in 70 AD. This view is called preterism, and most postmillennialists are also preterists. Mark 13:30 makes a strong case for the passage from the old age to a new kingdom age, from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, during the first century.

So this brings us to 2 Peter 3. What does he mean by "the last days" in verse 3? First we should note that Peter identified his own time as "these last times" in 1 Peter 1:20. And in 1 Peter 4:7 he said, "...the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers." Surely he said this to the Christians of his own time rather than to us who would live 2,000 years later. 

Throughout chapter 2 of 2 Peter, he warned first-century Christians to beware of false teachers and false doctrines. In chapter 3 he went on to warn them of things to come. Why would he warn them of things that wouldn't happen for millennia? Surely not just for the benefit of far-off future Christians. No, he was warning them of things they would soon experience themselves. For in verse 14 he told them, "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation."

Why would he write that to Christians of his own time who otherwise had nothing to look forward to but death at the hands of the Roman government? Peter was telling them that the end of that age was at hand, and it would be such a momentous event that only the kind of prophetic language used in the Old Testament would be fitting to describe it. Indeed, nothing was the same after that day in 70 AD when not one stone of the temple was left upon another. That's why Peter described it as the heavens passing away with great noise and the elements melting with fervent heat (verse 10). For indeed the earth as they knew it was burned up, along with the works that were in it (see Isaiah 51:6 and Jeremiah 4:23-26 for similar prophetic language). I'm not just speaking of physical destruction, of course. That old earth and its ways are totally gone, and Christ has ruled as king ever since then. The "elements" of the old religion that held men in bondage were done away with (Galatians 4:3 and 9), melted by the fervent heat of the Gospel.

As I said before, His kingdom has been growing since that time, as He said it would. So we still, as Peter said in verse 13, "look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells," according to His promise. We see this in the church now, and we expect to see it more and more as the yeast continues working through the dough, as the rock that crushed the kingdoms of the earth continues growing into a mountain that covers the whole earth.

Keep in mind that the "new heavens and a new earth" were first prophesied in Isaiah 65:17, and in the earth described there, children would survive infancy and live to be 100 (verse 20). This chapter describes exactly what God's righteous elect are headed for. This is not heaven where birth and death do not occur. This is our future glory in Christ's kingdom here, once it has grown to cover the whole earth.

Isaiah 66 continues this picture of the new earth and tells us about its beginnings:

"It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them; and those among them who escape I will send to the nations...And they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles" (verses 18-19).

"'And I will also take some of them for priests and Levites,' says the Lord.
 'For as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I will make shall remain before Me,' says the Lord,
'So shall your descendants and your name remain.
 And it shall come to pass
That from one New Moon to another,
And from one Sabbath to another,
All flesh shall come to worship before Me,' says the Lord" (verses 21-23).

If the Gospel is to cause all flesh to worship the Lord here on Earth, this must be prior to the final judgment, where all sheep and goats are separated eternally.

And consider Hebrews 12:25-29:

"See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, 'Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.' Now this, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire."

The Christians living on Earth when this was written are those who received this kingdom, a kingdom that was not burned up or shaken when God destroyed that old world in 70 AD. This is that new earth in which He has chosen Gentiles to be priests and Levites in His kingdom that continues to grow.

So when Peter said in 2 Peter 3:7 that the heavens and earth were "reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men," this is what I think he was talking about. The consuming fire of God's judgment utterly destroyed the old heavens and earth of the Jews, represented by the old Jerusalem, in both a physical and a figurative sense. History tells us that the walls of Jerusalem were set on fire during its siege, and that fire went out-of-control and burned up the temple, even though that was not the Romans' intention!

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts (1850).

Josephus described Jerusalem's utter physical destruction in this way: 

"Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind" (The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Book VII, Chapter 1.1).

"And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again" (The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Book VI, Chapter 1.1).

Surely this was the great "Day of the Lord" prophesied in both the Old and New Testaments. For in 75 AD, Josephus wrote of that day, 

"...Before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, 'Let us remove hence' (Jewish Wars, VI-V-3).

He also wrote,

“A supernatural apparition was seen, too amazing to be believed. What I am now to relate would, I imagine, be dismissed as imaginary, had this not been vouched for by eyewitnesses, then followed by subsequent disasters that deserved to be thus signalized. For before sunset chariots were seen in the air over the whole country, and armed battalions speeding through the clouds and encircling the cities” (rendered in Jerusalem Under Siege by David Chilton, 1987).

These chariots were prophesied in Jeremiah 4:13 and Isaiah 66:15. Later, in 115 AD, the historian Tacitus wrote,

"In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure. Few people placed a sinister interpretation upon this. The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world." (Histories, Book 5, v. 13).

Jesus said, "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). And He did it, not long after John wrote down what he had heard. For He came quickly, just as He promised (22:20). And He brought with Him the New Jerusalem, His bride the church (21:9), uncorrupted (verse 27), to replace that whore Babylon (18:2-3), the old Jerusalem with all its corruption and sin.

Hallelujah! Praise be to God. May He soon cause all to worship Him throughout the earth!