The Righteous Patience of God

2 Peter

Peter has established two realities to which the Christian must pay careful attention. One, the discernment of one’s status before God calls for consistent diligence. Some make a good start but turn aside, others linger on the fringes of true Christian character, and some give great clarity to the reality of their having been called and born again to a living hope. Across the spectrum of human experience, darkness, to murkiness, to brightness looms before us as we experience the spiritual permutations in others and ourselves. Two, in God’s view and by his determined purpose, there is truth and error, regenerate and unregenerate, elect and non-elect, life and death, heaven and hell. The passage under consideration in this lesson seeks to stir us up to grasp the seriousness of this reality. We should be stirred to lives of holiness and godliness and stability in the truth.

I. A reminder of the Christian’s Source of authority – 3:1, 2

A. After such a distressing description of false teachers Peter reminds them that they have a sure word. As opposed to the false teachers, now he, Peter, is writing them this second letter as a “servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” He remarks that his intent is the same in “both of them.” Both letters point to truth and its identification marks in order to be protected from destructive error. Both point to the traits of true faith in Christ in order to be godly, holy, and righteous. Both point to the sovereign purpose of God to redeem, protect, purify, and confirm to eternal life a specific group of people, the chosen or elected ones [1 Peter 1:1; 2:9 and 1 Peter 1:10].

1. Not only assuring intellectually, but to the affections “Stir up your sincere mind” heilikrine – to judge by sunlight, used in Phil 1:10 and used by Plato of ethical purity. A mind that is not “sincere” cannot be stirred up by holy truth, but will only rebel and seek reason to escape it or pervert it. The sincere mind has been called by a vision of God’s own “glory and excellence” [1:3].

2. We should be greatly encouraged in the complexity of the world’s ideas that a true word is before us. We are able to detect the counterfeits by thorough knowledge of what is genuine. That the mind is stirred up shows that knowledge is central to advancement in godliness and in coping with worldly deceit. Revisit the emphasis on knowledge in 1:2, 3, 5, 6, 8; 2: 2 (“way of truth”), 20, 21; 3:18

3. Peter again emphasizes that these instructions and admonitions are by way of “reminder.” He has dealt with it before, and knows that repetition of the truth is not in vain for those with a sincere mind.

B. Notice the claim to be at least on par with prophets – “the prediction of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” Peter had no doubt about the inspired character of his instruction. He would apply 1:21 to himself and the other apostles, even as he does in 3:15, 16. What comfort it would be to have an apostle helping us discern right from wrong and the truth from falsehood. But we do!

II. The Coming of hostile mockers – 3:3-7

A. The last group sought to pass themselves off as Christian; 2:1 “Among you;” 15 “forsaking the right way;” 20 “knowledge of the Lord and Savior;” 21”known the way . . . turned away.” These, however, are scoffers ridiculing that which is taught by the apostles about the certainty of the return of Christ and all the implications of those final events.

B. These mock at fundamental words of the Lord himself and straightforwardly oppose Christian teaching.

1. By calling into question the promise of his return, they intend to undermine the entire edifice of Christian claims. Christ’s time of humiliation will give way to the glorious display of his excellence at the time of his return. The manifestation of the glory of the Son is the chief means of God’s accomplishing his purpose for creation in the display of his glory. See 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 and Philippians 2:5-11 as two of the instances of this emphasis. His present position of victorious and sovereign authority (Ephesians 1:20-22) will be given clear manifestation. True believers do not scoff at his coming but “love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

2. These scoffers represent reality as uniformitarian, proceeding on the basis of purely natural operations without divine intervention – They justify their present fearlessness in pursuing evil by negating any evidence of the certainty of judgment. Besides the inner witness of conscience (Romans 1:32-2:11), they ignore the world-wide display of the judgment of God at the time of the flood. “All things are continuing as they were,” they say. Hiding behind philosophical agnosticism and naturalism is a deadly convenience.

3. Peter presents the alternative of a world created by an intelligent Being, God, formed at his word, [verse 5] and susceptible to his judgment; At creation, God divided water from water by an expanse (atmosphere) and then formed the land by pushing aside the water below the expanse and bringing the land up from it [Genesis 1:9, 10]. His first world-wide judgment came by re-establishing the waters above the dry land through rain (from the waters that were above the expanse, Genesis 1:7) and the breaking up of the water down in the depths of the earth.

C. By the same power vested at creation in the world, the means of the fulfillment of the promise of judgment are present within the fabric of the world itself and will be employed in accordance with his plan. The explosiveness of the composition of matter will be employed in the final judgment, the “destruction of the ungodly”, and renovation of the world [3:10, 12]

III. The Simplicity and certainty of God’s decree

A. Irrelevance of time to God

1. Chronology is not irrelevant – In the created order one event follows another. The fall of man precedes the incarnation of the redeemer; the righteous life of Christ precedes his sacrificial death; his sacrificial and satisfactory death precedes his resurrection; His reception back to heaven and his session of intercession precedes his coming again. These events are logically distributed in God’s plan and providential arrangement. God’s timelessness does not mean that he operates in time without chronology and cause and effect relationships.

2. God’s perfections, his immutability and the certainty of his decrees means that the passage of time in the created order does not frustrate even one of his purposes. Because there seems to be a “long” time between the events of redemptive history, one could be tempted to think that the promises have failed. God, however, has a purpose in every single event across the entire spectrum of every moment of history. For a respectable display of his wisdom and power in creation and providence, there must be an accumulation of virtually an infinite number of events and the discovery of a virtually infinite number of things. The events of redemptive history will tie together all other events in a breathtaking revelation of the glory of God, not only in power and wisdom, but in justice and mercy.

B. The reason for his delay as his redemptive patience 3:9 [cf. 3:15]

1. The apparent delay has nothing to do with any tardiness in his ability to fulfill his designs. No moment passes but that God is working to fulfill his purpose. Even as in the “fullness of time” [Galatians 4:4], Christ came born of a woman, born under the Law, so in the fullness of time he will return. As God worked all things throughout all nations for the predetermined moment of Christ’s redemptive mission, so he continues to work all things in preparation for the predetermined moment of Christ’s glorious appearance in judgment and consummation. Acts 1:7 speaks of these things as “fixed by his [the Father’s] own authority.”

2. “Not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” – It is directly related to his purpose to save all his people; Even as Noah was saved from the flood and Lot from Sodom, so God will save all his elect from the coming judgment on this present world order. He is working all things after the counsel of his will until the last of his chosen ones, the ones that he calls godly [2:9], come to repentance. His delay is not causing him to fail in more and more cases, as it would be if his patience were related simply to the world in general. More persons are going through the broad way that leads to death rather than the narrow way that leads to life in generation after generation. But not one elect of God shall perish, they are safe in his eternal hand. The Father gave them to Christ and he will lose none of them (John 10:27-30; 17:2). This fact encouraged Paul in his suffering for the gospel: “Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” 2 Timothy 2:10.

IV. Destruction of this present world and its spiritual implications

A. The Day of the Lord – Scriptural consistency: See Acts 2:20 for Peter’s use at Pentecost and how prophecy is compressed Cf. Joel 2:15; 2 Peter 2:9, 12; 3:7; 1 Peter 1: 13;2:12; 4:13; Paul’s use 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:2; See also Philippians 1:6, 10; 2:16; 3:20, 21; 2 Timothy 1:12, 18; 4:8. The Day of the Lord comes, therefore, with a brilliant glory beyond the possibility of human description in which the entire world as we presently see it, subjected to vanity, will be replaced by a habitation fit for the glorious presence of Christ and the unbound service to him from his elect. It will be a day of revelation of the righteous judgment of God in which the words and works of all men are set forth. “The earth and the works done on it will be exposed.” Unbelievers will justly bear the burden of their own evil deeds and consistent rebellion against God. Believers will see the wonder of their forgiveness displayed by the worthiness of Christ’s sacrifice. They will see that eternal life is bestowed because of the robe of Christ’s righteousness given them. As Paul states it, “Henceforth there is laid up for the me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day; and not only to me but also to all that have loved his appearing.” [2 Timothy 4:8]. Though already justified before God by faith, the manifestation of this before the world will give glory to the just and righteous judgment of God in both the affliction of some and the merciful reception of others. This ineffably glorious day of Christ also will transform all those that wait for him in hope, so that they will be like him for they shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2, 3).

B. Peter gives, by revelation, a description of these events.

1. The heavens pass away with a roar –onomotopoeia – The Greek word sounds like the sudden rush of a destructive force. The transformation of the world will be a dazzling sensate experience that transforms the world to be a fit place for divine glory and the people to be fit people for his eternal praise.

2. The elements melt – fundamental building blocks both of the material world and the false world view (cf. Col 2:8). The “stoicheia” are not just “heavenly bodies” as in ESV but refers also the attempts to explain the world and its ideas apart from God [go back to 3:4-7]. So indeed, not only will this fallen world be made new and its tumults tamed, vanity eliminated, but the “way of the wicked shall perish” (Psalm 1:6).

3. The world and its works, material and cultural, pass away, Isaiah 24 describes the scene: For some, “they lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the Lord they shout from the west . . . From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One.” At the same time, for others, “The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers. The highest people of the earth languish; the earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:14, 16, 3-5).

C. What kind of people should we be – 3:11 – “What sort of people ought you to be?”

1. Holy conduct and godliness: the nouns are plural pointing to a series of acts of holiness and sincere worship. Our lives should, in fact, be an unbroken stream of holiness unto the Lord. Romans 5 described Christ’s righteousness as “one act of obedience.” This means that his life consisted of an unbroken response of love and absolute submission to the will of God and in both heart and action nothing but godly worship characterized all that he did—in relationships and personal private life—as well as all that he thought and the manner in which he regarded his Father with the utmost of joyful love and awe-filled respect. In his human nature, Jesus lived out the kind of righteousness that is the perfect model for every rational creature. Since the world will be dissolved in preparation for the righteous world, we should even now seek to act as citizens of that new order.

2. “Looking for”- with eager anticipation used in 12, 13, 14. Christians anticipate the marvelous vision of the return of Christ and thus they are looking for it.

3. Hastening that day by vigorous efforts at sanctification – 1 Peter 2:2. Look at Phil. 3:12-20: we desire for this present world to pass away that the new may come.

V. Place of Righteousness and its spiritual implications

A. Your eagerness for the appearance of these things should make you zealous for peace – settled and assured, confident of reconciliation, not disturbed by envy of this world’s goods or reputations but rather zealous for a life that is spotless and blameless.

B. Realize the purpose of God’s delay though you are eager – We are to count the patience of God as salvation. This means that God’s delay is perfectly in accord with his eternal covenant to bring to salvation all whom he gave the Son, even those for whom the Son set himself apart unto death. Christ will not come until God’s purpose of election both for Jews and Gentiles is complete. That God has a fixed time should make us patient and count the patience of God as salvation. He will not bring the dissolution of the world to pass until all those he has chosen from every tribe, and tongue, and nation have come to embrace in saving faith the Christ who died for them.

C. Peter reminded his readers that Paul has witnessed to the same realities.

1. In Romans 6:1, 2, 15 – 23, Paul described the necessity of sanctification for those that are in Christ. If one knows Christ, then he will be zealous for sanctification and the teaching of the word will be the means for advancement in this grace. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 Paul summarized the task of the Christian to be always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that such labor is not in vain, but will always bear its proper fruit., In Romans 9:19 Paul indicates through an objector, that divine sovereignty is absolutely consistent with God’s finding fault in those that he has not chosen. – Sovereignty does not mitigate the reality of moral responsibility.

2. Those who are unstable and untaught distort this, to their destruction. Note that Peter gives Paul’s writing the status of Scripture. The entire Bible teaches both propositionally and by numerous historical incidents that divine sovereignty and purpose is perfectly compatible with human responsibility. Christ’s perfect righteousness was both predicted, making it necessarily accomplished, and intrinsically necessary because of the perfect holiness of his person, yet his obedience was true and real righteousness. Joseph’s brothers were sinful in their part of doing exactly what God had determined should happen [Genesis 50:20]. Herod and Pontius Pilate were guilty in their unjust treatment of Jesus, yet they did what God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge had determined would happen [Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28].

VI. Perversion of Divine truth and its spiritual implications

A. Since you know this beforehand, as a result of the instructions in this letter and in the other Scriptures, certain actions should follow.

1. Be on your guard not to be carried into error by the false teachers and the mockers that you have received warning about. Both of these are lawless, that is, they do not grasp the overarching authority of the Law of God as it relates to the gospel. They teach, from different perspectives, a freedom from God’s moral law and thus undermine the very nature of the gospel.

2. Continue to call to mind those things that Peter taught, and that Paul also has taught, and thus maintain your path to holiness in the hope of eternal life. Do not become unfruitful in your knowledge of the Lord Jesus and his truth. Both doctrinal heresy and immorality and lack of holiness in life show a fatal flaw in one’s profession

3. Grow in two ways

• In grace – How? Cf 1Peter 1:22 – The spiritual principle given in the new birth means that the Spirit operates immediately for increase of knowledge and holiness. This in the very nature of the Spirit’s fitting us for closer conformity to Christ, and means that He always causes advance in holiness commensurate with advance in the knowledge of truth. That is, of course, the function of the inspired word of God.

• Knowledge of our Lord and Savior – We grow in the knowledge by knowing more of the glorious mystery of his person—God and Man in that single personality. We grow by joyful approval of and submission to his lordship. We grow by an increasing knowledge of his redemptive work.

B. The benediction incorporates the present affection and the hope of the Christian “To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Note similar benedictions in 1 Peter 2:12, 4:11, 5:11.

IV. Application

A. Be encouraged that there is one certainty by which all other things may be evaluated cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14ff

B. Be encouraged that as long as his coming is delayed others will be saved; you still have opportunity to seek the Lord. Seek the Lord while he may be found. Knowledge of his secret purposes is none of your business as it relates to duty, but only his revealed commandments. Repent and believe.

C. Foster a love for eternity and its beauties and joys. Cf. Philippians 4:8, 9

D. Never seek to bypass the word in your knowledge of God and his will.

E. Pursue a personal lifestyle that will “hasten the day of the Lord.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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