A reflection on 2 Peter 3:8-15a for Sunday, December 6, 2020.
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
2 Peter 3:8-15a (NRSVA)
So far we have been looking at the ‘coming’ of God in the incarnation.
The early church, however, remained a community still waiting. God had already come, lived, died, rose, and ascended by the time Peter wrote. Yet, this community clearly expected more.
Peter seems to write into a scenario of impatience for this ‘second coming’. He urges his readers to adopt the perspective of God. Here time seems to be relative – ‘…a thousand years are like one day.’ For Peter, this indicates God’s patience and desire for salvation for all.
Peter, however, remains expectant – and humble enough not to offer a date and time. In fact, he insists, this coming will be as surprising – and sudden – as a thief stealing the goods of a household.
Peter describes this in earth – and heaven – shattering language: a ‘loud noise’, earth ‘dissolved with fire’, ‘everything…disclosed’. To be sure, this is more like apocalyptic language than a literal description.
Yet, what Peter really wants his readers to know is that this second coming will be a time when the presence of God both destroys – and creates a ‘…new heavens and a new earth’. This dissolving and recreating of all that is amounts to a renewing of all that we know.
We may like more detail on all this. It is not here, however. Peter’s is a big and broad picture rather than a close detail.
What is clear, however, is that Peter expects the reality of this hope to impact the way these followers of Jesus live now. He expects the believers to live in ‘holiness and godliness’, ‘waiting for and hastening’ this day.
YHWH has made a promise. We are a people awaiting its fulfilment. This is a promise designed – in the spirit of Advent – to inspire hope.
Peter’s last sentence sums it all up perfectly: Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
True waiting looks – not so much like anticipating a date or delighting in the downfall of others – but the need to work toward peace, holiness, and a celebration of the patient salvation of God.
What frustrates you most about waiting? Are there times when you ‘patiently wait’? What is the difference between these two types of waiting?
How do you imagine ‘the day of the Lord’? Do Peter’s words cause you to alter this picture? What do they confirm? What do they challenge?
What do you think it looks like to both ‘wait’ and ‘hasten’ the day of the Lord? How do you do this?