We’re going to be in 2 Peter 3 today.
Today is the seventh Sunday in the season of Easter,
and we’re still talking about resurrection.
That’s what Christians have always done.
We’re the people who won’t shut up about resurrection—
who talk about resurrection ad nauseam.
is the good news
the church announces.
The good news is better than
how you can have nice existence after death.
Better than life after death
Better than going to heaven when you die.
The good news entrusted to the Church
is that the world has a king—a resurrected king—
and he’s going to share his resurrection with the entire world.
Even us, we’re invited to trust.
That’s the uniquely Christian—the historically Christian—hope.
God is not going to scrap this world—
this world is not a demolished car
that God is just going to total and replace.
No—the world’s future looks like Jesus’s resurrection.
God is going to bring the entire world
through something like death and resurrection.
Today I want to do some troubleshooting.
There’s a rather famous (or infamous) passage
towards the end of the New Testament
that seems at first glance—or second or third glance—
to paint a different picture of God’s plan for the world’s future.
So I want to address this passage head-on.
(2 Pet 3.1-13) Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
This is a passage that has shaped a lot of Christian’s mindsets.
Growing up in the church,
I remember a grown up pointing to this passage
and explaining that people concerned about
disappearing rainforests were silly and misguided.
Those crazy tree huggers.
The Bible clearly says that God is going to burn up this world—
so people who are concerned about preserving it—protecting it—
are mistaken at best and godless at worst.
In fact, growing up in church like I did, I would say that this passage
was more central to my understanding of the world’s future
than the resurrection of Jesus.
What does the end of the world look like?
it looks like God burning up everything.
That’s what it says in verse 11.
Everything will be destroyed.
One day in the future,
God is going to use fire
to destroy the world.
That’s one way of understanding this passage.
I don’t think it’s the best way,
but that’s the way some people have read it.
The trouble is that
this seems pretty incompatible
with the central hope of the church.
It seems pretty incompatible with the bodily resurrection.
With a resurrected king
with the rest of the world.
It sounds like somewhere in the future
Jesus might have to say:
“Dad! I was wanting to share my resurrection!
Why’d you go and burn up everything?”
What is Peter getting at here?
I don’t think Peter is describing something
that’s incompatible with resurrection.
I think he’s describing what’s got to take place
for resurrection to be a good thing.
The world needs judgment
for resurrection to be good news.
There’s a movement of people
who are having their bodies frozen
so they can be revived in the future.
Have you heard about these people?
I wonder about these people.
I mean, honestly, who wants to live forever
with things the way they are right now?
With selfishness still creeping around in our hearts,
with boredom or depression or bitterness corrupting us,
with people hurting and dying all over the world,
with war waging and disease spreading,
with ultimate meaning and purpose often hidden from our eyes.
Having my body revived
in the world as it is right now
sounds more like hell than heaven.
I want to live forever,
but not the way things are.
Something has got to change.
Something needs to happen
before resurrection is good news.
That something is judgment.
We need God—we need Jesus—
to make set the world right.
And this passage promises that it will.
The future is going to look similar to the ancient past.
God is going to purge the world of evil
like he did back there in Genesis 6-8,
in the story of Noah.
Right before the story of the flood at the beginning of the Bible,
there’s a rather bleak painting of the human race:
(Gen 6.5-6) The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
The earliest opening chapters of Genesis
are particularly tricky to interpret—
What are we to make of this story?
God was deeply troubled?
God regretted something?
Literally it says, God “repented”—
he “repented” of making the human race.
(What does all that mean?)
But what is clear from this story
is that evil and wickedness must be dealt with.
The Creator of a good world
cannot allow wickedness
to run amok forever.
It’s wild and sweeping language—
Not some inclinations of the human heart.
Not a little evil. Not only on Tuesdays.
Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart
had become only evil
all the time.
And so Genesis goes on
to tell the story of Noah
and an ark and a really big flood.
In our passage today,
Peter is tapping into this story.
He’s saying the future
is going to look similar
to the ancient past.
A good God must set the world right.
There is a day when that will happen.
A day of judgment (v7)
and the destruction of everything opposed to God—
everything incompatible with love.
But he’s also saying the future
is also going to look different
from the ancient past.
It’s not going to be like Genesis (v5-6)
where God spoke a word and water destroyed everything.
This time it’s going to be fire (v7).
“The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire.”
From fire on Mount Sinai to a pillar of fire to the words of the prophets,
in the Old Testament and the early Church
fire is a picture of God’s presence.
“Our God is a consuming fire,”
writes the author of Hebrews.
I think Peter is saying that
the presence of God—the fire of God—
will descend one day to transform the world.
He says one day (v10-12)
God will come crashing in
unexpected like a home invasion.
When God finally makes his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
it’s going to feel as sudden and surprising
as a thief breaking into your house.
The words and images in verse 10
are intense and rapid-fire:
They’re meant to overwhelm us a little.
Loud noises, flashes of light, intense heat.
The atmosphere—the blue sky, the heavens—
will vanish with loud roar.
The basic things that make the world run—
the elements—fire, air, water, earth—
are destroyed by another kind of fire.
And the earth and everything in it is lade bare.
Some translations—mostly older translations—sometimes have
“the earth and everything in it will be burned up.”
If you’ve got a King James Version,
that’s what it will say.
But almost no modern scholar thinks the original letter said that.
Based on the evidence, it looks like
In the long history of copying down the Bible by hand
some monks somewhere were wrestling with this letter
and changed the wording at the end of verse 10.
The oldest, most reliable copies of this letter
don’t say the earth and everything in it
will be “burned up.”
There’s almost universal consensus among scholars
the letter originally read that the earth and everything in it
will be laid bare, will be uncovered, will be exposed.
That’s kind of important.
It’s kind of important because that’s the only place
in this letter or in the entire Bible where it sounds like
the earth and everything will be burned up.
To be sure,
something is dissolving
and melting and getting burned up.
Verse 10 says the elements are destroyed.
the things that make the world run—
And in verse 12 the heavens are said to be destroyed.
But this isn’t a picture of God blowing a gasket and
burning down his good creation.
The heavens dissolve—they’re destroyed—by fire,
and the elements melt in the heat.
Peter’s letter sounds a lot like the ancient prophets of Israel:
(Isa 34.4) All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;
The prophets had talked like this for a long time.
But this kind of language is never
about God getting rid of the universe.
It’s more like stripping creation back
to its foundations to do some serious work.
God established the heavens—
the sky, the waters above—
on the second day of creation.
So dissolving those—rolling those up—
is like taking creation back to the beginning—
back to “day two” of creation.
We might think of this
like house with wallpaper issues.
The wallpaper was beautiful,
but over the years it’s just gotten bad.
There are stains and discolorations and it’s just awful.
Something’s got to be done.
But as you start to peel back the wallpaper
you realize that there are deeper problems.
The sheetrock beneath the wallpaper
has got water stains and some strange colorations
and it’s crumbling a little.
This is deeper than just a surface problem.
So you start to tear off the sheetrock,
exposing the wooden studs and the framing.
But then you realize that the very elements of the house—
the very stoichea of the house—the very things that run the house—
the plumbing, the electrical wiring—have become corrupted.
Those water stains
are actually from the plumbing.
Those strange colorations
are actually electrical burns.
You’ve got to destroy those elements to remake the house.
What started out as a wallpaper job,
now is going to require stripping the house back to “day two”
in order for it to actually be restored.
That’s what Peter is talking about here.
This passage isn’t about
God destroying his good creation.
This is God stripping creation back to its barest frame—
back to the studs, back to its foundations.
The situation is that bad—
the bad wallpaper was covering bad sheetrock
that was covering corrupted stoichea and plumbing and wiring—
that we’ve got to strip the house back to its beginning.
God is taking creation back to day two,
not because he wants to tear the house down,
but so he can make it ready for the residents.
That’s what God has promised.
Not a “no heavens and no earth.”
A “new heavens and new earth.”
God is going to restore everything—
to rebuild the house.
Another way to think about it
is less a picture scorched earth and napalm,
and more like all the lights being turned on
at an out-of-control frat party.
The music has been pumping,
the booze is being passed around,
someone is getting hurt out back,
and then suddenly the lights get thrown on.
The fuzz have arrived.
The cops are here.
Light is exposing the darkness.
In the ancient world—
in a world without electric lights and LED bulbs—
fire is what you need to pierce the darkness.
You need a torch or a bonfire at midnight.
And that’s the image here.
Everything is suddenly out in the open.
The earth and everything will be naked.
You can see what was going on in the dark—
in that corner of the house, under those covers.
If that’s not a picture of judgment,
I don’t know what is.
God is going to throw the lights on.
God is going to take creation back to its frame—to its foundation.
The fiery presence of God is going to descend
and dissolve whatever is incompatible with love.
There will a new house.
A new home.
A new heaven and a new earth (v13)
where righteousness dwells.
Where things are right.
Where things are as they should be.
Where resurrection is finally good news.
Well, that’s all well and good,
but what on earth does it have to do
with us today?
Peter isn’t writing all of this
so that people can write theology text books
or to give Bible students something to argue about.
He’s writing this to stimulate people to wholesome thinking (v1)—
to change the way people think.
And then to invite them to live a different kind of way.
As we’ve said a couple of weeks ago:
the coming day transforms this day.
He says in verse 11:
“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?“
If literally everything were to be destroyed,
it would probably be understandable to say:
“It doesn’t matter what kind of people we are!”
But that’s not what he’s saying.
Peter isn’t describing a future
incompatible with resurrection.
He said that the elements—the stoichea—will be destroyed.
All the corrupted plumping and wiring behind reality
that makes life goes off course—
that’s what will be destroyed.
And since all of that is going to be destroyed—
all of what takes life off course is going to be gone one day—
it jolly well matters how we live right now.
(v11) “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”
You ought to change your thinking—you ought to change your living—
because there’s something to look forward to.
A day better than Christmas morning.
The day of God.
We look forward to that day.
It’s like Christmas morning for the cosmos.
Two quick reflections,
and then we’ll come to the table.
First, this passage addresses
a question inside of all of us.
Sometimes we’re aware of it,
sometimes we’re not.
This passage addresses the question:
“Where is God?”
In the midst of these circumstances,
in the midst of this pain, this confusion, this loneliness—
Where is God?
Why is he slow in keeping his promises (v9)?
Is waiting on him worth it?
Is following him worth it?
Or should I just follow my own desires (v3)?
And Peter is saying:
God is not slow,
God is patient.
More patient than us.
God is patient to the point
we think it problematic.
Why doesn’t he strip it all back now?
Why doesn’t he restore everything now?
Why doesn’t throw the lights on now?
Why didn’t he do it before that thing happened?
And Peter is saying
God is waiting because
God wants everyone.
God doesn’t anyone to miss
the never-ending party he’s going to throw.
God wants everyone in the world
to be ready for his arrival.
How would our lives change if we realized
that God is present and God is patient.
The everyday moments of our lives—
the moments where we might wonder
where God is or what he’s doing or why he’s stalling—
those are moments pregnant with patience.
Maybe God isn’t missing from your life.
Maybe God is waiting.
On you. On others.
Some things just take time.
Evidently even for God.
Peter is saying
that God isn’t barging in,
because he’s more patient than he are.
Paul writes in Romans that
it’s God’s kindness that draws us to repentance.
God isn’t angry. God isn’t threatening.
This isn’t a passage about
God finally blowing a gasket
and burning down the world.
God is kind.
God is patient.
And what God is doing takes time.
God wants to bring everyone
into the new home he’s going to build.
Where is God?
He’s present and patient.
The second reflection really builds on the first:
We’re looking forward to a day coming
when the fiery presence of God
will descend and transform the world.
But we actually believe that the presence of God—
the fire of God—is already descending to transform the world.
It’s called the Church.
We celebrate it next week.
The birthday of the Church.
Next week we celebrate God descending in fire
to start transforming a group of people.
Peter was there that day.
And that’s what he invites us into today.
We are invited to live holy and godly lives,
and actually “speed the coming” of God’s great day.
I don’t think this makes any sense
if we think about it in terms of
changing God’s mind.
“Well, I had the end of the world penciled in for three years from next Tuesday—
but, well, would you look at those people in Colorado?—
I think we’ll move it up a year.”
That’s not what Peter is talking about.
Peter is saying that we can speed coming of fire
because we get to participate in that fire today.
That’s what the Church is.
Are there places in your life where—
“If I got really honest, I wouldn’t want to live forever like that?”
Maybe it’s a place of anger.
A place of despair.
A place of selfishness.
We are the people who are learning to welcome the fiery Spirit of God
to throw on the lights in our lives, to strip us down to the frame,
and remake us right now.
That happens in prayer. It happens at this table.
It happens in honest friendship with each other—with the Church.
We’re the people who speed the fire of God
because we’re learning to receive that fire today.
May we recognize that God is not absent.
God is present and patient.
And may we learn to receive
God’s healing fire today.