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Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But, 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 is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

II Peter 3:8, 9

The year of our Lord 2000!

The beginning of the third millennium!

Are you surprised that the world is still here?

Doesn’t the Bible talk about the day of the Lord’s return and the destruction of this present creation? “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (II Pet. 3:10).

And doesn’t the New Testament, written shortly after Jesus’ departure into heaven, emphasize that this catastrophic end of the present creation was at hand? “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer” (I Pet. 4:7).

And here we are at the beginning of the third millennium. It has been 2,000 years since the birth of Christ (although Jesus was probably born 4 years earlier than the date commonly understood by the church for so long a time). It is well over 1900 years since the promise of His return was given. What do we make of this? Has the Lord forgotten?

The saints of the early church had the same questions. It was a time of persecution for them. They were eagerly awaiting the return of the Lord to judge their enemies and exalt them into glory. But the Lord didn’t come. Some wondered if the Lord had become slack concerning His promise, that is, whether He was slow to keep His promise because He was either reluctant or unconcerned. There were even those outside the church who began to scoff, “Where is the promise of His coming?”

In response Peter reminds the church that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

Sadly, some have missed the point Peter makes here. Some have taken this to mean that the six creation days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily literal 24-hour days. These days, they say, can be understood as long periods of time. For one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. So we are told that you can have it both ways: you can embrace the idea of an old earth as taught by evolution and still hold to the Bible. In a different vein, some in the early church used this passage to predict the duration of history. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. Since one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, there will be 6,000 years and then a thousand-year sabbatical millennium in which Christ shall reign.

The truth expressed here is rather that what for the Lord is a short time may for us be a long time; and what may be a long time for the Lord may appear to be only a short time for us. This is because the Lord is eternal and has the perspective of eternity, whereas we are creatures of time, who appear briefly on the stage of history and then are swept away in death. In keeping with this, God has perfect knowledge and understanding of all things. Did He not predetermine the course of history in His eternal counsel? In comparison, our knowledge of things is very limited. So it is that what appears to be a long time to us, a thousand years, may to the Lord appear to be only a short time, a mere day. And what to the Lord may be a long time may to us and our limited perspective be only a short time. We experience this even among ourselves. A young person may consider the time required to find a suitable marriage partner or to get a college degree to be a long time. But an older and wiser parent may see this as a relatively short time. In turn, a time of sin for a younger person may seem only a little while; whereas to a grieving parent the same time seems to be an eternity.

This principle is to be applied to the return of Christ and the final salvation of the church.

From our perspective it appears as though the Lord is in no hurry to return. He promised to return. He indicated that He was coming quickly (Rev. 22:12). But He has not returned yet. And now we begin the third millennium since His first coming. What a long time this is. Especially to the church in persecution this appears to be a long time.

But to the Lord this is not a long time at all.

For the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. What is a couple thousand years compared to God’s eternity? What to us is a long time is hardly any time at all to the Lord.

The Lord knows the beginning from the end. For He has predetermined all things that shall ever exist and take place. He has so ordered them that they will accomplish the salvation of the church and her final glory in the best possible way. From God’s all knowing perspective, the day of His coming is not far away. But we do not have such knowledge and insight. From our limited perspective, what is really near at hand seems far away.

But there is more. When we begin to wonder why the Lord hasn’t returned by this time, there is also God’s long-suffering to consider. God is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Long-suffering.

Long-suffering is to endure something for a long time, to exercise long patience with a difficult situation or person.

This is also God’s long-suffering.

God is long-suffering to us-ward. This us-ward is not the human race generally but the elect of God that form the heart of the human race. Peter’s two epistles were addressed to essentially the same churches, to the “strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (I Pet. 1:1). Peter is speaking of God’s long-suffering to that group of churches and the elect church that would follow them in history.

The elect church of God is under persecution and hardship. So she looks eagerly for the coming of the Lord, in order that she might be delivered from all woe and receive the fullness of salvation. And the divine heart of God goes out to His people. How He is filled with compassion with them in their suffering. How He longs to deliver them by destroying the world in judgment and receiving His church into glory. But it is not time for that yet. It is premature. Certain things must still be accomplished. So the Lord tarries. He is not standing idly by, waiting. No, as Lord of heaven and earth He is busy working to accomplish what must be done so that He can come in judgment to make all things new. In the meantime the people of God suffer here below. And the Lord bears with their suffering. He is long-suffering to us-ward.

That explains why the Lord has not yet come.

What is the Lord doing that must be completed before He returns? He is bringing His elect to repentance and salvation.

God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Many understand this desire and work of God to apply to everyone, without exception. This interpretation not only contradicts the clear testimony of Scripture that God does not intend the salvation of all; it is also in conflict with the main idea of God’s Word here. Peter is speaking of God’s long-suffering to “us-ward,” that is, to the elect. Consequently, when he then speaks of God’s not being willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, Peter obviously refers to the same group, to the elect of God. God is not willing that any of them should perish but that all of them should come to repentance.

So the situation is that God longs to come and deliver His saints from all their woes and burdens. However, He has elect that must be brought to repentance. Some are born but have not yetbeen saved. Others must still be born. God is not willing that any of them should perish. He will have them all in due time come to repentance and salvation. And so in His long-suffering He tarries, to give room for the repentance and salvation of all His elect church.

This makes clear our calling as we now enter this third millennium.

We must walk in true repentance before God.

We must be faithful as saints and church to proclaim the gospel of repentance and salvation in Christ Jesus. For this is what the Lord uses to bring others to Christ.

And we must be patient until the Lord returns, knowing that the long-suffering of the Lord is salvation (II Pet. 3:15).