"What Manner of Persons Ought We To Be!"
2 Peter 3:10-13
(Delivered Sunday, July 6, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
We look at a remarkable passage of Scripture this morning. It gives us God's own perspective with respect to this world and this universe in which we live.
This remarkable passage is found in 2 Peter 3:10-13. And in it, the apostle Peter writes;
Obviously, this passage gives us a perspective of things that is not embraced by the people of this world. It proposes something that is contrary to this world's beliefs and ambitions. Most people, whose entire focus is strictly life as it is lived in this present order of things, would tend to ignore these words and go right on living as if such a perspective didn't exist.
And yet, it would be hard to find a perspective that is more relevant to life in this world than the one Peter speaks of—especially in times such as ours! And you can put it this way, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; unless you and I embrace this perspective from God's word as our own, we will neither see things as they really are, nor live for our Lord in this world as we should.
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Peter wrote these words to encourage his fellow Christians who were living in the midst of an unbelieving culture very much like our own. These early Christians were easily pressured and pressed into the unbelieving world's perspective of the strictly "here and now". And they needed to be "reminded" of the things that had been taught them, and to be urged to hold on to them.
And among the things the apostle brings to the remembrance of these early Christians was a great promise they had received from God. Even though the very notion of it was being laughed at and rejected, and even though it stood in contradiction to the whole flow of the world around them, Peter—an eyewitness to the Lord Jesus' glorious majesty (2 Peter 1:16-19)—reminds them that "the day of the Lord" will indeed come.
When Peter speaks here of a "day", he speaks of more than merely a literal twenty-four hour cycle. He's speaking of a period of time—a series of events. The "day of the Lord" was simply another name for the great event of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth; and of the series of events that surround that return.
It's a "day" that is spoken of in many ways in Scripture. In the Old Testament (Zephaniah 1:14-18, for example), we're told that it's a day of terrible judgment for the sinful people of this unbelieving world. But for us who believe on Jesus, we're also told that this same day will be a day of great joy. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers that he thanked God for the testimony of their faith in Christ, "so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:7-8).
And so, in reminding his persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ about these things, Peter urges them to "know" this first:
The people of this world don't hold to the perspective Peter speaks of. They misread the nature of things; saying that this created universe is eternal and endless and constant in its form. "For this they willfully forget"; Peter goes on to say;
What's more, the unbelieving people of this world misinterpret the delay in the Lord's promised coming. Peter goes on to say;
This created order does have an end. It's end occurs on “the day of the Lord”. Our Lord stands above time; and thousands of years of time for us is no different than the passing of a few hours to Him. A delay of even thousands of years doesn't alter His plans. And what's more, if the Lord delays that “day” at all, it's because He is graciously giving people time to repent and trust in Him. When the time of His gracious patience is over, then "the day of the Lord" will finally come.
And it's in this context that Peter speaks of this remarkable perspective of things. The created order of things in which we now live will, in fact, come to an end. The day of the Lord, Peter affirms, will come—and with it will come the end of the created universe as we now know it!
So; think of what a remarkable passage this is! In it, God graciously gives us a perspective of this world that could not—in any way—have come to us from this world! In it, God graciously lets us in on His plan for the future! He lets us know that this fallen order of creation is only temporary—that it will be destroyed, and be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells! And He lets us know that, by virtue of our being “in Christ” by faith, it is our joyful destiny to live forever in that new heavens and new earth with Him!
And this isn't meant to be merely theoretical. The main purpose of Peter telling us all this is practical. It's meant to affect our daily lives. Look at what he says in verse 11; "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be . . .?" How you and I live our Christian lives on this earth is going to be determined by whether or not we rightly embrace this remarkable perspective of things!
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So then; let's look closer at Peter's words, and examine this perspective in greater detail. You can break it down into three very applicable propositions. And the first is that . . .
1. WE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT GOD HAS DESTINED THIS CREATED ORDER FOR DESTRUCTION (vv. 10, 12b).
As far as the people of this world may be concerned, it sounds like a horrible thing to believe—that it sounds like the kind of perspective that would make life on earth “gloomy” and “depressing”. But, it is nevertheless true—given the revealed promise of God from His word—that you cannot really even begin to live on this earth as God wants you to live, unless you learn to see everything in this created universe as destined to pass away. Based on what the Bible tells us, the only things of God's created universe that will endure forever are angelic beings and human beings. Everything else in His created universe is stamped with the words "scheduled for destruction".
Peter tells us, first of all, that "the heavens will pass away with a great noise". Think of that! The very heavens! Peter isn't speaking here of "heaven" in the singular—which is the glorious abode of God. Rather, he's speaking of "the heavens" in the plural. He is speaking of the very sky above us, and the very reaches of space around us—and of all the created things that they contain!
This is a revelation from God's word that is nothing less than staggering! One of the advantages we have of living in our time has been the invention of the Hubble Telescope. Because it orbits above earth's atmosphere, it has given astronomers a clearer picture of the universe than would have ever been possible before. And the images it has sent back to earth are beyond description! No one could have ever thought that the reaches of space were so vast, and so beautiful, and so full as they are! And yet, as marvelous and as vast as it all is, it is only a temporary showcase of God's creative glory. It is not meant to last forever.
The heavens are made to exist by our Father's providential hand. They are, as Psalm 8:3 tells us, 'the work of His fingers'. But one day, He will remove His hand; and with "a great noise", the heavens will pass away! In verse twelve, Peter says that, because of the coming of "the day of God", these very heavens will "dissolve" or "be destroyed"! Look up at the moon; and know that it's only temporary! Look up on a clear night and see the stars; and know that they, too, are only temporary. Look up on a clear afternoon and see the sun shining in the sky; and know that even it is temporary.
Second, Peter tells us that "the elements will melt with fervent heat". The word that it uses here means the basic fundamental principles of a thing. And though some translations of the Bible render this word “heavenly bodies”, it seems that, in this context, it refers to the foundational elements of the created universe. The Bible, of course, doesn't speak to us in the detailed language of modern atomic physics; but the idea seems clear.
On this future "day of the Lord", the most basic building blocks of the material universe will fly apart from one another and, and the elements will burn up "with fervent heat". In verse twelve, we're told that they will literally "melt" or "dissolve" or "liquefy". The structure that these basic elements had maintained in this created order will be gone—never to be seen again. If I may put it this way—hopefully without sounding irreverent—it will be as if all of creation had been a giant, cosmic "Etch-a-Sketch" drawing; and at the time of His choosing, God will have turned it all upside-down and shaken its present form away.
Third, Peter even says that "both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up". In some translations, it has it that the earth and its works will be "laid bare" (as in the New International Version), or "exposed" (as in the English Standard Version). This reflects the fact that, in some ancient manuscripts, a different Greek word is being used1. And if this is the correct word, than this would speak of the fact that, in that great day of the Lord, all things that are hidden in the works of men will be fully revealed. It would be the ultimate fulfillment of Hebrews 4:13; where it says, "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."
But if the word that is translated "burned up" is the correct one2, then this is saying something like what it says in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15;
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Taken all together, Peter is telling us—through the enabling of the Holy Spirit—that the day of the Lord will come. We're told that it will come “as a thief” upon the people of this world; that is, suddenly and unexpectedly—just when they think that they have this world structured and ordered the way they want it. As Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3;
And on that day, the universe, as it now is, will come to an end. All that is of this created order will dissolve and pass away with a great noise and in fervent heat. And you and I cannot even begin to live as we should in this temporal world until we embrace that fact.
Just think of how profoundly relevant this is to our own time! Think of how people today look to the things of this temporal world for ultimate happiness, security and fulfillment. They look to the governments, and politicians, and rulers of this world to make the things right for them. They hope to make themselves secure by having enough money or goods tucked away for the future. They keep pinning their hopes on something good that might happen in this world one year from now—or five—or ten! They hope that, maybe, science will one day invent a 'miracle pill' that will take away all sickness and disease. They hope that, maybe, our philosophers and sociologists will one day come up with a solution for world peace and to end hunger. And they hope that, perhaps, there's a solution in space; that maybe one great day, we'll be able to start all over again on another planet somewhere.
And yet, all of these things that men place their hopes in are marked with the divine words, "scheduled for destruction". In all their searching, people are looking for a solution apart from the only One who can give it; and in all their looking, they're hoping for some way to preserve what God Himself has said will not last. They did this in Peter's day; and we are two-thousand years closer today to the destruction of these things than they were!
Ultimate happiness and security can never be found in anything in this temporary created order. Only what is safe in our Lord Jesus Christ will endure forever. And you and I will only be happy and secure, in an ultimate sense, when we finally come to understand that all these created things are destined to be dissolved. You and I will only be happy when we finally realize that the only enduring place to have our hope and trust for happiness and security is in Him who is eternal.
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Now; all of this talk about destruction would indeed sound very gloomy if it weren't for another important thing that Peter points out to us . . .
2. WE SHOULD LOOK TO THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD'S PROMISE OF NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH (v. 13).
In the original language of verse thirteen, Peter puts the matter emphatically; "But new heavens and a new earth, according to the promise of God, we look for . . ." And again, what a staggering thing this is to think about!
Will it be "new"3 in the sense of something completely unconnected to the old? Will it be that God will completely wipe away all traces of the fundamental elements of the first creation and make a new one, as it were, "from scratch"? Some theologians have believed this is so. They have suggested that, because of the fall of Adam in sin, the whole of the created order has been spoiled and contaminated by the introduction of sin; and that it must now be done away with completely. But I don't believe this is so. To believe that would be to believe that the devil succeeded in so spoiling that which God, at the very beginning, declared to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31); and that our mighty God is now not capable of restoring that which was ruined.
Instead, I believe that a good analogy of what “new” would mean could be drawn from our Lord Jesus Himself. When He was born into the human family, He was made from the material of this present created order; being made, in His humanity, from the substance of His mother Mary. And He lived in that same body of this created order throughout His life on this earth. When He died on the cross, He also died in that same body. And when He rose in glory, He rose in the same body in which He had lived. He even bore, in His resurrected body, the prints of the nails in His hands (John 20:25-27). He ascended to the Father in that body. And He sits—even now—at the Father's right hand in the very same body that was made from the material substance of this present created order.
Jesus lives forever, in heavenly glory, in a body made from the substance of this created order. But it is a body that has been 'renewed' in glory. It has real continuity to the material body that died on the cross; but it is radically different in form. It has been raised in glory. And it will be in that same body that our Lord will return to this earth on "the day of the Lord"—a body composed of the same material substance taken from this created order of things; but that is in a glorified, eternally “renewed” form. And I believe that, in the same way, we are to look for new heavens and a new earth—not "new" in the sense of having no connection to the old whatsoever, but "new" in the sense of its material substance being gloriously "renewed".
We could consider our own salvation in Christ a good analogy too. The Bible says that, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). When you placed your trust in Jesus, God truly made you a new creation. But it's not that there's no connection to the old 'you'. You still have the same family. You still live in the same house. All your old clothes still fit. But the 'you' that 'was' has been 'renewed' into a brand new 'you'—possessing real continuity with the “old”, but radically different in glory.
And think, dear brothers and sisters, of what the Bible tells you and me of our future hope of resurrection because of our salvation in Christ. We're told that "The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). It's not with an entirely different body that we will be 'raised'. It's the same body in terms of its having material continuity with the substance of this old created order. But it's one that is dramatically different in form from what it was. The same body that is “sown” is also “raised” with real continuity with that which was “sown”, but as a wondrously glorified body that is fit to live eternally in God's presence. And in the same sense, the "new" creation will have real, material continuity with the "old" one—but as a created order that is "new" in complete and glorious renewal.
I believe that seeing the "new heavens" and "the new earth" in this way helps us understand more clearly the amazing words that the apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:19-22;
It is this created order—the one in which we now live—that eagerly awaits and groans after its renewal. And it will be so gloriously different from its present, fallen condition that it will be as "new" heavens and a "new" earth! And just think of what a greater glory this brings to our mighty God! He doesn't utterly scrap the old created order and make a new creation. He takes that which mankind, under the influence of the devil, ruined in a point of time with his sin, and "renews" it into a gloriously new created order!
As Peter tells us, this will be in accordance with God's own promise. Back in Isaiah 65:17—some seven and a half centuries before Peter wrote these words—God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said; “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind." The new will be so glorious that the old will not even come to rememberance.
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Now; I ask you to notice one of the great differences that will distinguish the new from the old. In verse thirteen, Peter tells us that we, according to God's promise, look for new heavens and a new earth "in which righteousness dwells". Righteousness does not characterize this present created order. Rather, what characterizes it is the damage our sin has brought upon it, and the consequence of death that permeates it.
But if I may, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; let me read the glorious description we're given of our life in this wonderful "new" heavens and "new" earth:
That's our prospect, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We live for a time in this present created order. It's our home for a season. It's the theater of His glory as we live in it; and we are to enjoy it, and use it honorably, and thank Him for it. We shouldn't mistreat this created order or despise it; because our wonderful Father made it "very good". What's more, it will be our glorious inheritance in the promised "renewal". "He who overcomes," our God promises, "shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7).
But though we live for a time in this present created order, we are to live in it with a perspective that is radically different from that of the unbelieving people of this world. We know, from God's own promise, that this created order is only temporary. Everything about it, and everything that we see in it—including the sin and death that sadly permeate it—is marked with the words "scheduled for destruction". We don't live for this world as it is now. We're not held captive to the present order of things—things that are doomed to pass away. Instead, we live for God's glorious renewal of this created order—and for our own renewal with it on His great day.
And that leads us to our last point—really, the main proposition of this whole passage . . .
3. WE SHOULD LIVE HOLY LIVES NOW IN THE LIGHT OF THESE FUTURE CERTAINTIES (v. 11-12a).
As Peter says, "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming day of God . . .?"
As he goes on to write;
May Peter's closing exhortation sink deeply into our hearts. And may it transform the way we live. How we live for Christ on this earth today is going to be determined by whether or not our hearts are captivated by the prospect of new heavens and a new earth yet to come!
1The third person singular future passive indicative of eurisko; to find; in the passive voice, to find out, discover, lay bare.
2The third person singular future passive indicative of katakaio; to burn up, to consume as with fire; in the passive, to be burned up.
3The word translated "new" in verse 13 is kainos; and this should be considered as distinct from the word neos. Anthony A. Hoekema writes; "The word neos means new in time or origin, whereas the word kainos means new in nature and quality" (The Bible and The Future [1979: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids], p. 280). He notes that the expression in this passage "means, therefore, not the emergence of a cosmos totally other than the present one, but the creation of a universe which, though it has been gloriously renewed, stands in continuity with the present one" (ibid.).
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