by Warren Camp
2 Peter 3:8–9 . . .
“Peter’s Timely Two-Part Reminder”
Before we explore the purpose and importance of today’s two-verse reminder to his dear friends, we ought to appreciate the context of Peter’s second letter. He wrote it to encourage Christians to live godly lives (1:3) according to a list of virtues that begins with faith; proceeds to moral excellence; and ends in brotherly affection and love (vv. 5–7). If believers act faithfully, they’ll never stumble; they’ll “receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (vv. 10–11, as highlighted in Warren’s commentary on 1:3–11). In chapter 2, he begins to chide false teachers aggressively; in chapter 3, he addresses the problem of false teachers continually and intentionally denying Christ’s return (3:4–7) by asking, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?”
It’s easy to see the problem of the day: Thirty years had passed since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Christians had been expecting his return soon, but soon had come and gone. Some Christians died during their wait; their loved ones worried about their own destiny (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). Some even taught that Jesus’ return had already happened (2 Thess. 2:1–2). So, Peter was writing to counter the influence of these false teachings, and to redevelop for believers their faith in Christ’s second advent. Peter characterizes those scoffing false teachers as mockers “following their own evil desires” (v. 3).
There’s a clear and important change beginning with today’s opening verse. Verses 3–7 were directed toward mockers and their scoffing of the second coming. Beginning at v. 8, Peter focuses more on the saints than the scoffers. He changes pronouns from “they” and “their” to “you” in regard to his dear friends.
Our Time vs. God’s Time (3:8)
The scoffing false teachers’ objection was that the time that had been supposedly set for Jesus’ return had passed and nothing had happened for several years. But Apostle Peter’s reply insisted that no argument could be drawn from this passage of time, for that which may seem to be a long time to people is actually a brief period with Father God’s timetable. Man has a relatively short time to live; if he doesn’t accomplish his purposes in a brief, timely period, he never will.
Not so with God. If it’s his pleasure to accomplish a task in an hour or in a day, he can certainly do it; however, if he chooses to postpone the execution of such a task for a thousand years, or if he permits one thousand years to be spent executing that task, our sovereign God has the power and ability to activate any such mission through what seems to us to be a seemingly endless, interminable duration.
8But 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 (2 Pet. 3:8 NIV).
This is the first of two arguments that Peter raises to counter the claim of the false teachers regarding Christ’s second coming. He quoted a concept found in Psalm 90:4, which is a prayer of Moses… “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.” Therein we see a refutation of those mockers who took the Lord’s delay as alleged proof that God wouldn’t act. Peter makes the point that, because God sees things through a different perspective, it’s impossible for us to comprehend his timing. He has no need to hurry! He’s not only eternal, he’s omnipotent. In a very short time, he can accomplish that which would take us forever.
What seems like “forever” for us is, in reality, a short time in God’s timetable. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892, English fundamentalist Baptist minister) said this about where God is in time: “All things are equally near and present to his view; the distance of a thousand years before the occurrence of an event is no more to him than would be the interval of a day. With God, indeed, there is neither past, present, nor future. He takes for his name the ‘I AM.’ …He is the I AM in the present; the I AM in the past; the I AM in the future. Just as we say of God that he is everywhere, so we may say of him that he is always in space and in time.”
John Calvin makes it even clearer: “[Peter] now turns to speak to the godly; and he reminds them that when the coming of Christ is the subject, they were to raise upwards their eyes, for by so doing, they would not limit, by their unreasonable wishes, the time appointed by the Lord. For waiting seems very long on this account, because we have our eyes fixed on the shortness of the present life, and we also increase weariness by computing days, hours, and minutes. But when the eternity of God’s kingdom comes to our minds, many ages vanish away like so many moments. This then is what the apostle calls our attention to, so that we may know that the day of resurrection does not depend on the present flow of time, but on the hidden purpose of God, as though he had said, ‘Men wish to anticipate God for this reason, because they measure time according to the judgment of their own flesh; they are by nature inclined to impatience, so that celerity [swiftness of movement] is even delay to them: then ascend in your minds to heaven and, thus, time will be to you neither long nor short.’”
So, when Peter tells us, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day,” he declares wholeheartedly that God exists outside of our dimension of time. We find God’s initial time markers for us in Genesis 1: “There was evening and there was morning, the first day.” We’ll never be able to comprehend, even to a slight degree, how God’s time exists and how it can ever be measured by us.
As Peter will reveal in this chapter’s following verses, God will keep all of his promises, doing so in his perfect time while being motivated by his perfect love.
The Promise and Character of God (v. 9)
In v. 8, Peter urged his readers to remember that the Lord is never bound by human time. For God, a thousand years is like a day and vice versa. His point is that, contrary to humans, God doesn’t suffer from the limitations of time, nor is he confused about it. Here in v.9, Peter insists that we can’t apply our time demands to the promises of God. He’s not slow in keeping any of his promises. After all, because he’s the one who devised and created the schedule, he can’t be late! Instead, God keeps every promise he makes, doing so at the perfect time, to suit his plans, give him glory, and benefit those whom he loves. The context of v. 9 is a description of scoffers who doubt that Jesus will return to judge the world with fire (vv. 3–7).
9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
Herein, Christians should view the [perceived] delay in Christ’s return as evidence of Father God’s patience, not his presumed tardiness. Effectively using his love-driven patience, God prefers to allow more time so more people will repent. His plan, when followed, will allow more and more people the opportunity to fully trust in Christ as they begin to develop an eternal, personal relationship with him.
Peter advises us why the Spirit of God appears to be stalling, delaying, postponing the dreadful time at the end of the age. In v. 9, he says that God doesn’t want anyone to perish; instead, God is waiting to give more people the opportunity to repent. He’s holding back the ultimate day of evil to give unbelievers more time to come to him repentantly.
Pastor/teacher Bob Deffinbaugh explains Peter’s verse-9 reminder. “In the mockers’ view, this length of time reflected badly on God’s ability or unwillingness to bring His kingdom about. In truth, the delay reflects the opposite, as Peter moves in v. 9 to another of God’s attributes directly relating to His apparent ‘delay’ — the patience of God. The length of the Lord’s delay in coming to establish His kingdom is directly proportionate to His patience and longsuffering toward sinful men. The patience of God is toward His elect. In Peter’s words, He is ‘patient toward you’ (emphasis mine). God’s judgment will fall upon the wicked, but His grace is directed toward those hearts that He opens, who therefore turn to Him in faith.
“God’s pleasure would be the salvation of every sinner, but Peter knows full well His purpose is to save some. The delay in the return of the Lord Jesus to subdue His enemies and rule over His kingdom is not so that someone might come, but so that He might draw His elect to Himself (see John 6:44; Acts 13:48; 16:14). Specifically, Peter says the Lord’s delay is so we (literally, ‘you’) might be saved (v. 9). God is patient toward us (‘you’). Our salvation is the result of His patience and longsuffering. The unsaved may attempt to explain God’s delay as a flaw in His character, but the Christian can only praise Him for withholding His wrath until we are brought to faith. The ‘delay’ of our Lord is not a pretext for accusing Him but another occasion to adore Him.”
A Quick and Clear Summary of Verses 8 and 9
In his two attention-getting verses, Peter answers the mockers’ question asked in v. 4: “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” He wrote his second letter to churches in which false teachers had been scoffing at the promise of Christ’s return when he’d judge the world. Their theological error stemmed from lifestyles being filled with greed and lust. Despite their claiming to believe in Christ, they wouldn’t submit to him or acknowledge him as the Lord. And their evil views were ensnaring a number of professed Christian believers. Therefore, Peter wrote to refute mocker errors, contending that, if Jesus Christ is returning to judge the living and the dead, people had better live in submission to his lordship.
As we saw in vv. 1–7, Peter shows how God’s day of judgment is certain, despite the contentions of certain men. And in vv. 8–9, he presents two truths to help explain why God has apparently delayed Christ’s return when he’ll judge the world: (1) God has a different perspective on time and (2) he patiently waits for all to come to repentance. Indeed, what man regards as a long time is like a mere day in God’s reckoning. His clock doesn’t operate on the same basis as ours; it doesn’t depend on the earth’s rotating orbit around the sun.
The Lord isn’t slow about his promise, as some people count slowness. It’s nothing for God to reckon a thousand years as a single day. By his eternal clock, the assurance of Christ’s coming is just as likely as if he’d promised it last week. We can be confident that Christ’s second advent is always fresh in Father God’s mind. Jesus’s return to earth is right on schedule — according to God’s sovereign plan and timetable.
Instead, the Lord is patient with his saints, assuring Christians of God’s staying power. He doesn’t want anyone to die or be lost; instead, he wants everyone to come to repentance. Christ’s return is being scheduled according to Father God’s plan to gather all of his elect to him before the triumphal second advent comes about “with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess. 4:16–18).
Only God knows who the elect are. For that reason, we believers are to continually pray, teach, and preach as we collaborate with the Spirit of Jesus. We’re to encourage and invite people to meet Jesus personally; and we’re to entrust the New Testament’s doctrine of election to God. The elect will be saved, so long as they hear and believe the gospel message. We must, therefore, share the gospel clearly with people, even the elect; the results depend on God.
- Q. 1 What do vv. 8–9 reveal to you about God’s character?
- Q. 2 How is God’s patience a benefit to you?
- Q. 3 For what do believers need to be patient?
Intro Video: “Second Peter”
Warren’s New “Peter Masterpieces” Photo Album
† View several classic paintings of Saint Peter by art world masters: Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rubens, Goya, El Greco, Raphael, Masaccio, Giotto, Correggio, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Veneziano, Tissot, Duccio, Fra Angelico, Galle, Dürer, Palomino, Huret, Cranach, Crivelli, and many more.
2 Peter 3:8–9