Dearly beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord, as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord of that promise is not slack (as some count slackness) but is patient toward us, and would have no man to perish, but would all men to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a noise, and the elements shall melt with heat, and the earth with the works that are therin shall be burnt up. Seeing therefore that all these things must be dissolved, what manner persons ought ye be in holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of that day of God, by the which the heavens being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with heat? (2 Peter 3:8-12 Geneva Bible )
Earlier this week, I took a few minutes and watched this modestly disturbing video on YouTube. Then I ate breakfast and went to work. Where I got to thinking about, of all things, the Gospel. Specifically, I was thinking about how urgent it is that we proclaim it. According to the text above, the Day of the Lord will come “as a thief in the night.” It could come at any day, at any time. No one is safe from it. When God returns for the final judgment, all of humanity will be effected by it in one way or another. No matter what your eschatological position teaches, they all agree on this point. The earth and everything in it will be impacted by Christ’s second coming.
But does this effect how we preach the Gospel?
For many of us, it doesn’t. Like the people Peter is writing to, we sort of have this delusion that since Jesus has waited this long to come back, he’s gonna wait a little while longer. Strangely enough, we take this comfort from this very passage of Scripture. Specifically, verse 9:
The Lord of that promise is not slack (as some count slackness) but is patient toward us, and would have no man to perish, but would all men to come to repentance.
Our study Bibles even promote this sort of lazyness. My (theologically) favorite study Bible has this to say:
Peter’s Christian readers must realize that the apparent delay of divine judgment is a sign of God’s forbearance and mercy toward them, particularly toward the believers in their midst who have been confused and misled by the false teachers. The repentance in view, for the sake of which God delays judgment, is that of God’s people rather than the world at large. God is not willing that any of His elect should perish.
The Arminian among us would take a slightly different approach. He would argue that the reason Jesus hasn’t come back yet and delays his judgment is because he is waiting for everyone who is going to come to him to do so.
But I think the Calvinist and the Arminian are missing it entirely. Interestingly enough, some dead guys from the 16th century get it. They state, in the Geneva Bible’s notes on the above quoted passage,
He requireth patience of us of us, yet such patience as is not slothful.
In trying to be consistent theologically, so many times, we ignore context to make our point. We see these phrases like “[He] would [have] all men come to repentance” and we latch on for dear life. We’ve found our proof text and no one can take it away. We have our little note at the bottom of the page that tells us how to view the verse. We need nothing else. The context dies, and with the death of context soon comes the death of orthodoxy.
Peter’s focus here is not on who’s getting to heaven or how long it is going to be until Jesus comes back. Peter is urging his readers to be vigilant. Jesus could come back at any time. He’s not being lazy or slack in keeping his promises. He’s not some celestial dead-beat dad who promises to be at his son’s baseball game only to get caught up in his work and miss it, like always. He could come at any time and will come when you least expect it. So be vigilant.
Or as Peter puts it,
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a noise, and the elements shall melt with heat, and the earth with the works that are therin shall be burnt up. Seeing therefore that all these things must be dissolved, what manner persons ought ye be in holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of that day of God, by the which the heavens being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with heat?
There is another interesting little bit of information here that further promotes the urgency of the Gospel: this idea of “hasting unto the coming of that day of God.” There is some sense in which we have a hand in bringing about the coming of Christ. Even ancient teachers felt that people were instrumental in the coming of divine judgment. Ben Sira prayed,
Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time, and let people recount your mighty deeds. (Sirach 36:10 NRSV)
Peter was telling his readers that they were part of the reason that Jesus hadn’t come back yet. In fact, earlier in this same letter, he wrote,
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure…(2 Peter 1:10a ESV)
The Gospel needs to be preached, and it is our responsibility to preach it. Maybe part of the reason that Jesus hasn’t returned is because we aren’t doing what we are supposed to be doing. We’ve lost the urgency that we once had. Like those crazy people who want “revolucion” in this country and an end to the evil capitalist society we’ve created and will stop at nothing to bring it about, so too do we need to be diligent in proclaiming the Gospel. We need to stop being distracted by abortion, gay marriage, and whatever else Focus on the Family tells us is the defining battle of our generation and start being totally consumed by the Gospel. So consumed, in fact, that our lives actually reflect it and that it brings about the second coming of Jesus.