“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?”
Peter is writing to new Christians whose faith is being challenged by false teachers (II Peter 2:1, 3:3). One of the tenets of the Christian faith questioned by the false teachers and scoffers was the truth that Jesus is coming again to judge. Peter had just given a clear and biblical answer to that challenge. The young Christians need not doubt whether God’s promise would be fulfilled. God came once already to judge the world (5, 6), and Jesus is coming again to judge and to reward!
Jesus’ second coming will be with power and great glory. This coming again will bring the fullness of salvation to the whole of the elect church. And it will bring sudden and complete destruction to this present world. Our text considers this latter aspect of Jesus’ return.
Peter writes about this tremendous destruction in some detail. It is most interesting to note that Peter does so from the perspective of the present conduct of believers in light of such complete destruction of this present world. The knowledge of the coming great fire gives believers a calling: “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?”Let us observe with interest that the promise of Jesus’ return to this earth is identified as “the day of the Lord” (10) and “the day of God” (12). When Jesus comes again, He will be identified as “the Lord.” When He came the first time, it was in great humility. In fact, His lowly birth was the first step in His state of humiliation. But when He comes again, it will be very different. His return will be the final step in His state of exaltation. The exalted Jesus will be seen and known by all as Lord of lords. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:11). His return will be the culmination of all His work. He will be exalted as Lord of all!
And Jesus’ second coming will be known as “the day of God,” for then God will be justified before all. Jesus’ return will vindicate God and His promises before all false teachers and scoffers (blasphemers, atheists, agnostics, and all idolaters). God will show Himself to be the one and only God. Then all His promises and threatenings will be fulfilled. Then God will justify His elect before the eyes of all the world; and the ungodly will be convinced of their deserving eternal judgment.
The day of the Lord and of God is coming. It will come “as a thief in the night” (10), i.e., suddenly and unexpectedly. This is how it will be for the ungodly only. This is the nature of the Lord’s coming for those who think that everything will continue as it has been and talk only about peace and safety. They are children of the night and will most certainly be caught by surprise (cf. I Thess. 5:2, 3). But those who are children of the light and of the day (cf. I Thess. 5:4, 5) will not be surprised. They will be expecting His return, were praying for it, and saw Him coming in all the “signs of the times.”
The coming of that day will be marked with a great fire. This fire will be so great that it will completely burn the heavens and the earth. And it will be “with a great noise” (10)—a thunderous roar, as God shakes them prior to the fire (cf. Heb. 12:26, 27). The “heavens shall pass away,” i.e., be folded up as a coat is folded and laid aside. This metaphor was used to picture perishing or dying. The sun and moon shall be darkened. And the stars shall, as it were, fall from their places.
In this fire the earth “and the works that are therein” (10) shall be burned in the furnace of God’s judgment. Every work of man’s hands will be destroyed. Every product, every invention, every discovery will be gone as in a moment. Skyscrapers, complicated electronics, man’s art (symphonies, literature, paintings), and every accomplishment in science and medicine will be destroyed. Every dream of man for a better world will literally go up in smoke!
This will not be a natural fire. But it will be the real fire of God’s consuming, intensely furious wrath! Think of the devastating power of atomic and nuclear bombs in order to get a hint of the power of divine fury. It destroys utterly, so that this present creation as we know it will be no more. “Melt” (10) and “dissolved” (11) are translations of the same word, and mean: to undo, to overthrow, to break up what was together. The destruction will not be merely that of external forms. There will be also a loosening of the rudimentary elements. The elements (the first things) of which all things are composed will be destroyed. The physical particles that are arranged to form things will be no more. The destruction of this world will be complete!
The coming of the day of the Lord is what will introduce the new world—the new heavens and a new earth (13). The present world will be destroyed, not annihilated. For out of the ashes of the present world God will graciously produce the new. This is the way we receive a kingdom that cannot be moved (cf. Heb. 12:28, 29). This tremendous calamity will certainly take place. In light of this inevitable event, how ought we to respond? That is Peter’s question. “What manner of persons ought ye to be?”
What is required of believers when they know that things will not continue and last forever? When they know that all things in this world will come to a definite end? When they realize that any dream of a wonderful earthly world is false? What are the implications for Christians who realize that this great fire is divine judgment on a creation that is defiled by sin and has been under God’s curse ever since man’s fall into sin? What an interesting perspective of this present world: man considers it glorious and worthy of saving (as an end in itself), but God sees it worthy of the consuming fire of His wrath.
What manner of persons ought we to be? We ought to be “looking for” our Lord’s return (12). The word that is translated “looking for” has the idea of an expectation. Not only do we know He will return, but also we should eagerly anticipate it. We have a strong desire for Christ’s return because it will bring us into glory with Him and into the presence of Him whom we love with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We will then be able to see Him in all His dazzling glory and power, which sight will thrill us. This will mean that we too will partake of that glory, and we shall be delivered from all forms of sin and death. Is it any wonder then that we ought to be eagerly looking for our Lord’s return?
What manner of persons ought we to be? We ought to be “hasting unto,” that is, “hastening.” This does not mean, of course, that we can make the day come more quickly—it is fixed in God’s eternal plan. But there is something we do that hastens that day from our perspective. Consider the attitude of a believer who is praying for that day to come, especially when he is earnest in this prayer. When we pray earnestly, then we are thinking a lot about Him whom we love and we are ever eager for His glory to be revealed. When we pray this way, then we prepare ourselves for that day by living as those who are watching for His return. We are reading the signs of the times. We have our lamps ready and our lights burning.
If we are eager for our Lord’s return to bring judgment and glory, then we will be conducting ourselves in a holy manner: “all holy conversation and godliness” (11). This is a striving ever to serve God acceptably or pleasingly, with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28). This godliness is a living as before God’s face. Then we are faithful stewards, using all His gifts to us in anticipation of our Master’s “Well done!” This is what it means to live soberly, with clear and correct thinking. Such thinking tells us of the folly of seeking the things of this world, with its pleasures, for they will all burn up in the great fire! Such thinking prods us to seek that which is above where Jesus is. Then, like the patriarchs of old, we will ever be seeking the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
What manner of persons ought ye to be?!