Have you ever noticed how forgetful children are sometimes? As a lad of 10 or 11, I had difficulty remembering my chores. Mom would often ask, “Mark, have you made your bed?” or “Have you taken out the trash?”
My response was, “Oh! Sorry, Mom, I forgot.”
Smiling, she would say, “Mark, if you forget one more time, I will tie a red ribbon around your finger so you will remember.”
There are times we forget the obvious, and we, too, need symbolic red ribbons tied around our fingers to remember. That is precisely what the apostle Peter does in his last epistle. He ties a reminder ribbon around our fingers.
It was about AD 65. Peter was a prisoner in Rome, condemned to death by Emperor Nero. Knowing that his end was near, one thing was on his mind. One theme filled his thoughts. One truth swallowed up every other: the Christ who redeemed Him, the Savior who accepted him despite his failures and gave him the grace to continue in ministry—Jesus was coming again in power and glory.
Peter writes to believers scattered through Asia in the first century, but his words speak to our hearts at this moment of Earth’s history. The apostle writes, “Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:1, 2, NKJV).
The Greek philosophers had a saying that went something like this: “Time wipes out all things.” The passage of time makes us tend to forget. Peter is concerned about one thing—reminding believers that the second coming of Christ is a reality. He writes to remind us of the eternal truth of the return of our Lord. It is so easy to forget and become complacent, lackadaisical, and half-hearted. Peter says, “Listen to me; there is a divine certainty—Jesus is coming again.”
changed by four words
Many years ago, Lord Adelbert Cecil, son of the Marquess of Exeter, was converted to Christ. His life was dramatically changed. He now had a burning passion for sharing the Christ that had done so much for him. His one desire was to preach the gospel. He traveled to North America and spent much of his time in Canada. He shared the love of Christ everywhere he went—in large cities, in remote villages, among farmers, and in lumber camps and quiet seaside towns.
He told the story of one day passing the house of a man whom he knew was once a Christian but had seriously drifted away from Christ. He saw the man at his woodpile, laboriously chopping wood for his cookstove. He recognized this man and knew he once was a faithful witness for his Savior, but he no longer attended church. Lord Cecil paused and shouted to him, “The Lord is coming, brother, the Lord is coming!” He said no more and continued walking.
The admonition, “The Lord is coming,” burned its way into the man’s soul. Like a two-edged sword, those words pierced his heart. His conscience smote him. “The Lord is coming” echoed again and again in his mind. That urgent appeal that the coming of the Lord was real so impressed the man that he recommitted his life to Christ.
Living in the light of the second coming of Christ is powerful and changes your life. Christ’s second coming is one of the major themes of Scripture. It is mentioned over 1,500 times. One in every 25 verses in the New Testament speaks of the return of our Lord. Let’s consider a few examples.
Enoch, living seven generations from Adam, prophesied, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones” (Jude 14). David declared, “Our God comes / and will not be silent” (Psalm 50:3). Isaiah cried out, “Those the LORD has rescued will return. / They will enter Zion with singing; / everlasting joy will crown their heads” (Isaiah 35:10). Daniel added, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:44). Each of the Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—also foretold the return of our Lord.
The angels at Jesus’ ascension declared, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus Himself affirms this eternal truth echoed down through the ages by the prophets. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1–3).
Peter’s red ribbon
Two thousand years have passed, and Christ has not come. As Christ’s coming is delayed, there is a tendency to live as if His return makes little difference. Doubters will arise. Skeptics will scoff at the idea of Christ’s return.
One key reason for Peter’s epistle is to keep the return of our Lord fresh in our minds. With his reminder, he includes a scathing rebuke of the skeptics: “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’ ” (2 Peter 3:3, 4).
Notice first that Peter says the scoffers are following their own evil desires. Often, our lifestyle habits influence what we believe. What we believe impacts how we live, and how we live impacts what we believe. Many people reason away divine truth because of sin in their own lives. If you are struggling with some divine truth, ask yourself these questions: Is it because I do not understand? Do I need more knowledge? Or is there some cherished sin, some ingrained lifestyle practice, some questionable behavior, or some deep-seated selfish attitude that I am reluctant to give up?
two critical points
Peter answers the scoffers with powerful arguments: “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” (verses 5–8).
The scoffers fail to understand two critical points.
They fail to understand God’s view of time. His relation to time is dramatically different from ours. God is never in a hurry. He is dealing with the great controversy between good and evil in a way that His love, grace, and power will be most clearly revealed to the entire universe. His concern is for the security of the universe forever. Peter explains, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (verse 9, NKJV). The delay of the Advent is not because God is tardy. He is not merely slow to fulfill His promises. He is long-suffering. This long-suffering refers not only to God’s gracious mercy and His patient longing to save all humanity but also to His suffering caused by our planet in rebellion, which brings sorrow to His heart. Sin causes God to suffer.
He has endured the pain of sin for millennia because, in His great love, He does not want to see one person lost. His heart is broken over sin. His capacity to suffer is directly proportionate to His capacity to love. His suffering began the day that sin began and will not end until the day that sin ends. The greatest motivation to turn from sin and rebellion is that it brings pain to the One who loves us so much.
Peter’s primary thrust is that the scoffers “deliberately forget” that God acted in history when He created the world, and He acted again in history when He destroyed the world with water in the days of Noah at the time of the Flood.
With those thoughts in mind, the apostle focuses the laser beam of truth on his concluding appeal: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (verses 10, 11, NKJV).
Peter’s point is clear. The scoffers can scoff. The doubters can doubt. The skeptics can deny it, but that does not change the eternal truth one bit—Jesus is coming again. Peter’s urgent appeal in the blazing light of eternity is an appeal for absolute commitment to Christ that leads to godly living.
God’s ultimate remedy
The central issue in the great controversy between good and evil is over the character of God. Is God’s love more powerful than selfishness? Will there ever be a group of people in this world who love Jesus more than they love sin, whose hearts are more set on heaven than on the things of this world, whose minds are fixed on eternity, and who live totally dedicated, unselfish, and godly lives of service?
Sin reigns in the universe, and it reigns in our hearts. Is the grip of grace greater than the grasp of sin? What can break the hold of sin on our lives? What can deliver us from the chains of evil that bind us? What can release us from the habits that so often enslave us? There is only one thing that has that power—the power of God’s love revealed on the cross of Calvary.
Why is the cross God’s remedy for the sin problem? At the cross, we see love in action. At the cross, we see the divine, righteous Son of God suffering in agony, pouring out His life for us. At the cross, we see Jesus bearing our guilt and shame, dying in our place, and setting us free from sin’s condemnation. The power of that love breaks our hearts, and we desire to give our lives to the One that gave so much for us.
Peter’s appeal to holy living shakes us out of our spiritual complacency. His letter concludes with these powerful words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (verse 18, NKJV).
The promises of God are true. He really is coming again! Knowing that gives life meaning. Why not open your heart to His grace and love right now and ask Him to prepare you for that great day when He returns?
Mark A. Finley is a pastor, an international evangelist, and a former director and speaker for the It Is Written TV program.