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. (2 Peter 3.10)
What is meant by the day of the Lord? It is very clear that Peter is speaking about the very end of time, when the Lord will come, the skies will pass away, and the earth melt and be burned up.
In the Old Testament when we read about the day of the Lord, it points to the whole of the Gospel age, following the first coming of Christ, up to his second coming. But when we come to the New Testament (as here in 2 Peter), the day of the Lord is the final day, the appearing of Christ the Lord in glory, majesty and power. The one who came first to save his people, will finally come to claim his people, and to bring in the everlasting heavenly age.
All the elect will have been called and gathered into the kingdom of Christ, and the wicked one will be destroyed at the brightness of Christ’s coming. Then the great bridal supper of the Lamb will be convened. Evil will be no more, death itself will die, all believers will be raised in joy unspeakable, and the new heavens and the new earth will be revealed.
We all know about World War II, and what happened to the prisoner of war camps in Europe and the Far East when hostilities ceased. Guards suddenly seemed to disappear and imprisoned men realised that they were free. The final day will be a day like that, but on a much greater scale, for all who are persecuted for Christ’s sake will be carried up into the skies with an unimaginable sense of release and joy.
On a bride’s wedding day she will often be told, ‘this is your day.’ And the last day of this present world will be the special day of Christ, the day for which he came and suffered and died on Calvary to purchase eternal life for all his people. This will also be the day of victory over all rebellion and unbelief.
Says Peter, ‘The day of the Lord will come.’ There is no question or doubt about this. Here is one of the supreme certainties of life – the day of the Lord will come. Human plans and aspirations are constantly dashed and swept away, as we have seen in recent years. Regardless of all our political authorities there came an unexpected pandemic. In a moment how small the human race appeared! Then, as soon as the worst had subsided, the Russian war against Ukraine began, with worldwide economic injury. But this is human life, as Almighty God overrules, allowing developments that frustrate human pride and self-reliance. Nothing can ever be absolutely predictable, except the return of Jesus Christ our Lord.
At the beginning of the 20th century prominent thinkers were caught up in a tremendous wave of optimism. The human race was coming of age, so they thought. Civilisation was about to advance spectacularly. There would be an acceleration of education leading to the moral refinement of society. The industrial age had already brought greater prosperity to all ‘classes’. Soon we would deploy this to eradicate poverty and become a genteel, happy and successful world.
To crown it all advances in psychiatry promised to heal all the ills of the mind and to eliminate behavioural aberration. Progress was believed to be inevitable and spectacular, and religion would at last be humiliated and discarded.
What happened? Out of the blue came World War I with all its ugliness, suffering and death. With man’s hatred for man, violence and war crimes, the age of optimism died overnight.
All too soon, and World War II further punished human self-confidence and indifference to God. Overall, humanity inches forward so slowly in its journey to greater prosperity, suffering along the way major setbacks and calamities as the consequence of ignoring Almighty God. We repeat, the only certain event is that the day of the Lord will come, because God has said so in his revealed Word. There will be an ultimate day of the Lord, the day of judgement. On this day the earth will be destroyed, and reconstituted as a new heaven and a new earth ‘wherein dwelleth righteousness’.
The justice of God demands that it must come. We also have an instinct in the human heart to this effect. Then we look around us at the physical world, and we see that it is deteriorating in many ways. Things are changing. One moment we are told of future great shortages of food and especially of water. Currently the fear is of climate change. There seems to be a clear warning written into the fabric of this earth that it is ultimately subject to death. Romans 8.21-22 tells us: ‘The creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.’ The day will come when the earth will be no more, placed under judgement, and a new age will dawn – the day of the Lord.
How the Day of the Lord will come
‘The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night,’ says Peter, silently and unexpected. How does a thief get in? Does he somehow unlock and use a door? Does he break in through a window or a skylight? What does it matter? The sleeping householder is first stirred by an unexpected sound, then seized with apprehension and the realisation that an intruder is within. He has entered while all were asleep, and no one was watching.
When will Christ return? The answer is in the analogy. He will come when society is asleep. When there is no fear of his rule or his coming. He will surely come in an age of apostasy. But such a time is our age! There has never been such an apostasy as now. People have never been so spiritually asleep, indifferent or so antagonistic to Christ. Surely this is the night! Now is the very time that the ‘thief’ is likely to come. But the intruder will not be a thief. He will be the owner of the house, to whom the tenants have paid no rent, and he will have come to repossess. He may come in suddenly and quietly in the sense of his being unexpected, but the moment of his entry will be dramatic and triumphant as Peter reveals.
What Will the Day of the Lord be Like?
Peter says, when that great day comes – ‘The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.’ With Christ’s coming there will be astonishing, amazing cosmic changes as the permanent stars, observed and named for centuries, are swept away, together with the sun and the moon. Nothing like this is to be found in scientific predictions, but it is prominent in the Scriptures. It should not surprise us that the Lord will demonstrate his mighty power at his coming by such phenomena, because for generations men and women revered and worshipped the sun, moon and stars. These must all be seen to bow to the coming of Christ, that he may have the preeminence.
We are also told that ‘the heavens shall pass away with a great noise.’ This clarion call is described in other scriptures (possibly symbolically) as the sound of a trumpet, while in this passage it is a great noise, something never heard before, something to which all people throughout the world will be compelled to pay attention. Many will freeze in alarm and horror at a sound so deafening, so menacing, so commanding, and somehow all will know it signals the end of time. It will denote for them terrible and terrifying events.
But believers will hear a triumphant, glorious, heavenly sound, and their hearts will leap, and their expectations soar, for it seems to say, ‘The Lord is come!’
‘The elements shall be loosed,’ says the Greek text, translated as ‘melt’ in the King James Version. Imagine a melting of everything! The ‘everlasting’ mountains melt; the great buildings that stand as monuments to human achievement (and pride) collapse and liquify. The world’s tallest buildings will fall. The great transport systems, all global infrastructure, everything that humanity now vaunts and depends on, wither and perish, as men and women look on in terror or in ecstatic joy, knowing that the Lord has come.
We notice that Peter distinguishes between the collapse of the earth and the destruction of its works or activities. He refers specifically to, ‘the works that are therein’. All human accomplishments, systems, events and products will fall, including our homes, our cars, our manufactured goods and possessions, everything that we counted precious and important on earth. All mobile phones, all computers, everything will appear to melt and erupt into fierce flames. ‘And the works that are therein shall be burned up.’ We so often lose sight of the transient, unstable, weak, and destructible nature of all earthly things that rival the Lord for the attention and love of man.
The Believer’s Response to Christ’s Anticipated Return
‘Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.’ The text urges us to look at our earthly surroundings and possessions in the light of the Lord’s coming. If earthly things have become too important to us, and this world has become our chief home, and this life is what we now live for, and it is where our ambitions lie, how off the track we must be! All these things will be brought to an end.
As believers, we have to do our best in this present life. We have to properly maintain home and care for family. We have to work diligently, to live righteously, and put our effort into doing our best; but nothing is to eclipse our concern for the things of God, for the eternal purpose of life, and for the service of the Lord our Saviour.
When we see clearly and with conviction how all things are going to be dissolved, we look at these things differently. We no longer long for them, revel in them, vaunt them, boast of them, depend on them, or allow them to divert us from the work of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We take losses spiritually and we do not develop inordinate affection for the things that will pass away. ‘Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved,’ asks Peter, ‘what manner of persons ought ye to be?’
Look again at the end of Peter’s words in verse 10, ‘the earth also and the works that are therein’. The word translated works, is ‘toilings’ in the Greek. So while we have our duties, and must live responsibly and look after our loved ones and our homes, we ask ourselves, ‘Have we laboured in the interests of the next world, and for the kingdom of Christ? Are we seeking by his grace to count for him?’ These labours alone will last, as C T Studd expressed it so simply in his famous lines –
Two little lines I heard one day,
Travelling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
That from my mind would not depart –
Only one life, ’twill soon be passed,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
When we reflect on the last day, it becomes printed in our heart and in our mind, ‘What am I doing for him? What am I doing for my Lord and Saviour?’
‘Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be?’ What kind of person? A self-seeking person? A greedy person? An unapproachable person? An impatient person? The opposite of all these things will be our longing and aim. Peter sets the standard: ‘In all holy conversation’. Holy means sacred; conversation means behaviour. The Greek word translated conversation means: ‘comings and goings’. All our behaviour occurs in the sight of the Saviour who died for us, and is to be a sacred offering of thanksgiving and love to him.
Peter also says we should walk in ‘godliness’. Is this a duplication of ‘holy conversation’? We may not appreciate that this is quite a distinctive matter, because ‘godliness’ translates a Greek word which means reverence toward God. How much this exhortation is needed in these days of ultra-informal worship and entertainment-genre music in churches! Our God and Saviour is close and dear to us, but still almighty and holy and glorious, and we are to both love and revere him.
Holy behaviour and reverence to God go hand in hand and our lives should be characterised by these. They are the twin qualities of Christians waiting for the return of Christ.
‘Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God’ (verse 12) does not mean looking for as if searching for it. It means contemplating or thinking about it.
The apostle Peter was a thoughtful preacher, and he used words in a very purposeful way. Take the words, ‘looking for’, urging contemplation, thought and reflection. These are quiet operations of the mind which build up patience and endurance. But they must be coupled with zealous labour for the Lord, so Peter adds, ‘Looking for and hasting unto’. Both aspects are to be joined: reflection and service in witness and good works. We have to keep this balance of patience and fervour, because all too soon life will end or the Lord will come. The very thought of that astonishing day quickens the pulse of every child of God – ‘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’s treatment of the day of the Lord draws to conclusion with the words, ‘Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.’ ‘Nevertheless’ could easily be replaced with ‘but’. The end of the world will spell disaster for the unsaved, but for believers it will herald the glories of a new creation.
Over time many human ideas have been added to the simplicity of the biblical revelation of future events. Numerous Bible-believing teachers mistakenly proclaim ideas that cannot really be found in the Word. They will teach you all about a coming millennium, and two future comings of Christ, one before, one afterwards. They will describe complex schemes which they tend to ‘read into’ the Scriptures, some using elaborate visuals to convey the intricacies of imagined future things. By contrast, the Bible is much simpler.
When we read Peter’s inspired words we find he knows nothing about a millennium, and makes no space for it. The same is true of Jesus Christ. The Lord and his apostles refer to just one return of Christ, and at that time, when he comes, everything happens: the destruction of the world, the general resurrection of the dead, the day of judgement, the new heavens and new earth, and the bridal supper of the Lamb. All these things, wonderful beyond words, occur in sequence as the great final event.
Simplicity and directness
This is how Peter speaks here, with great simplicity and directness. So we do not add or take away, but marvel at the plain teaching of Scripture, not imposing fanciful ideas.
‘Nevertheless we,’ says Peter, ‘according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.’ The righteousness of love, kindness, truth, union with God and peace with one another will fill the glorified, heavenly earth. There will be no sin, no lie, no selfishness, no greed, no violence, no hurt, no pain, no suffering, no sickness, no loss, no separation, and no loneliness, but only perfection and happiness through the eternal ages. This is what has been purchased for us by the obedience that Christ our Saviour has rendered to the Father on our behalf, and by his atoning substitutionary death on Calvary.
We remember how the book of Revelation describes it in chapter 21. ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth,’ and these descend, and there is the wonderful description of the reconstituted earth combined with Heaven. We will have physical bodies, but gloriously reformed, and we will recognise and know and fellowship with each other for all eternity.
‘Wherefore, beloved [in the light of all this], seeing that ye look for such things’ – be diligent to examine yourselves, repent every day, pledge yourself to God, conform everything in your life to please him. ‘That ye may be found of him’ when he comes (or when he comes for you in your own death).
How will we be found, when the Lord returns? It is an obvious and searching question. As a Christian how will I be found? In a state or a place of compromise? In spiritual coldness? Lacking in trust? Swept away by my troubles, because I have not turned to him, and trusted him, and loved him?
‘Be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot.’ Of course, this is impossible, but not as an aim. It must be our aim to be found without spot. Peter takes this word ‘spot’ from the Old Testament sacrifices, particularly the lamb that must be offered up without spot or blemish. O, if my life could be a sacrifice without spot. Let us be diligent, all of us, to identify which spot we should be striving to eradicate, with the help of God, this very week.
‘Without spot, and blameless.’ If only this could be true! What a passage this is for dedication, to warn and to uplift and inspire. ‘The day of the Lord will come.’
Preached on Tabernacle Thanksgiving Day, October 2022