Assuredly Told of the Lord’s Return

Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Chruch in Byron Center, Michigan.

“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.”

II Peter 1:16-18

The apostle Peter was inspired to write to young Christians who were being greatly troubled by false teachers (II Pet. 2:1, 2) and scoffers (II Pet. 3:3) who spoke evil of the way of truth. This occasioned doubts in the new Christians. Is Christianity true, or is it just the fabrication of men’s minds? Was Jesus truly the Savior?

Peter was seeking to assure them that the Christian faith is not merely a theological or philosophical abstraction. He wanted them to know that he and the other apostles did not follow fables, and neither did these new believers when they were converted to Christianity.

He began his letter by pointing out that they had the same faith that he and the other apostles had (1). He pointed out that God’s power had given to them everything they needed for life and godliness (3), so they were partakers of nothing less than the divine nature (4). Peter encouraged them to add to their faith, thus showing that their knowledge of Jesus was fruitful (5-9). He then admonished them to make sure to themselves their calling and election (10, 11). And Peter let them know that as long as he lived he would be committed to doing everything he could to keep them in the knowledge of this wonderful faith in Jesus Christ (12-15).

Christians (new and mature ones, young and old ones) find stability in the midst of all difficulties when they stand on the basis of what they know (not on the basis of what they feel or see). Remember that feelings are real, but they are not the source of truth! We live and walk by faith, not by sight!

Peter desires that these young Christians know and are assured of their own salvation (1, 10) and of the hope they have for the future (11). God-given faith consists first of knowledge—knowledge of what God has revealed in His Word. The knowledge held for truth by faith is crucial for having assurance of one’s own salvation. And faith’s knowledge provides answers (then and today) to the charges brought by false teachers against Christianity. (Remember that we need to be convinced, and we do not have to convince the false teachers.)

The heart of the knowledge held for truth by the Christian faith concerns Jesus Christ. Our text describes this as the knowledge of “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The central teaching of Christianity is that God sent the Messiah (therefore He is divine), and the Messiah came and is coming in victory. This expression sums up the gospel, for all truth is rooted in the deity of Jesus Christ and in His faithfulness to fulfill God’s purpose for Him. The whole of the Old Testament directed believers to look ahead to the coming of the promised Messiah. However, they did not realize that there would be two parts to the Lord’s coming: the first in Bethlehem and the second at the end of this world. We learn that we are not to separate the first and second comings of our Savior, but to see them as the one coming of our Savior and Lord with two aspects.

The central teaching of the early church (when Peter was inspired to write this epistle) was on the “exceeding great and precious promises” (4) of Jesus’ return. His people knew that He came, and they knew that He left promising that He would come again (Matt. 24:25ff.; John 14:1ff.; Acts 1:11). The apostle Paul preached Christ’s return (Acts 17:31) and wrote of it often (I Thess. 5:2, 23; I Cor. 1:7, 4:5; Phil. 3:20, 21; II Thess. 1:7, 8; Titus 2:13). So did James (James 5:8) and John (Rev. 3:11, 22:20) and the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 9:28, 10:37).

However, the believers of the early new dispensation expected Jesus’ return to be very soon—during their lifetime. As a result of this wrong expectation, they were greatly troubled. When He did not come (as soon as they expected), they began to doubt that He would ever come and that the gospel would conquer the world. To their consternation, they instead saw the wicked prospering and seemingly getting away with persecuting the church of Christ. So they asked, “Is this faith true, or has the gospel failed?”

Peter calls the young Christians to be assured of Jesus’ return in power and glory. He does that in three ways.

First, Peter rejects the allegation that the apostles taught and wrote lies. The charge of the false teachers was that Christianity was based on “cunningly devised fables,” that is, sophisticated (cleverly-made-up) myths, subtle inventions with the intent to deceive.

To the contrary, the Holy Spirit uses Peter to give them assurances that arise from what God Himself has said in His Word. Peter points out that Christ’s return in victory is assured by the fact that all God’s promises of His first coming were accurately fulfilled. Already Peter has urged them to remember, so that their knowledge would give them a peace and confidence. They can be reassured of God’s precious promises because they know from the Scriptures that “the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (II Pet. 2:9). God showed this to be true in the judgments that He already gave in the past: to the angels that sinned, to the old world in the flood, and to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (II Pet. 2:4-6). They may be assured, in spite of the scoffing of the false teachers, that the Lord Jesus will return in power to judge (II Pet. 3:10-12).

Second, Peter points out that the instruction he and other apostles made known to the converts was trustworthy and certain, for it was based on the Old Testament Scriptures. Peter knew what God had promised (II Pet. 1:4)—from the “scriptures” (II Pet. 3:2, 16). Peter knew from the Scriptures all the real, historical events of the fallen angels, the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Thus, what we now know as the Old Testament writings were obviously accepted as the true and authoritative writings of God, and were held (as they ought to be) as instructive for the believers and church of his day (and of ours).

Third, Peter, along with John and James, were “eyewitnesses,” that is, those who saw with their own eyes. They witnessed with ear and eye the real glory and majesty that God gave to Christ (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-14). In the transfiguration Jesus experienced spiritually and physically the glory that God said would be His in heaven. Also on the mount of transfiguration were Moses and Elijah, who spoke to Jesus of the Old Testament writings concerning the Messiah’s suffering and death. God showed in what He did to Jesus in the transfiguration what all believers can anticipate according to God’s promise. While on earth they will experience much tribulation, but the promises of the gospel are that they will partake of eternal glory.

These promises are true and not a myth. God revealed it concretely to Peter, James, and John. They were on the mount precisely in order to give to the church testimony of this historical event and of its future significance. Note well that Peter’s use of this event teaches us not to make a separation between the events recorded in the Scriptures and revelation. The Holy Spirit uses Peter to show us that God’s revelation is in the historical events recorded in Scripture. Today some do not want to listen to the testimony of Scripture concerning creation and the universal flood. They reject the voice of God in the historical events of creation and the universal flood. However, Peter’s inspired use of the historical event of the transfiguration shows how we must use also the historical events recorded in the Bible to hear God proclaim the power and coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We can and must trust the report of these eyewitnesses. The gospel is not made up of vague rumors. The apostles were authentic heralds of the things they had seen. Thus Christians (then and now) may be assured of the certainty of Christianity and of the final triumph of Christ and of His cause. Whatever is taking place in the world now or whatever may happen in the future, we may know that the Lord of lords will triumph and prevail.

This end is sure: Lord Jesus shall reign! Because we are one with Jesus in election, in the cross, and by faith, the end for us is sure and safe. Listen not to the false teachers and the scoffers. Hold for truth what God has revealed in His Word!