The Coming and the Day of the Lord

2 Peter 3  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
2 Peter 3.
IT may be felt by some to be strange that the Spirit of God, instead of entering upon the subject of the coming of the Lord, should at once turn from it to speak of His day. And I have no doubt at all that many readers of this, and other parts of the New Testament, have, through haste, been led to confound the two things together, because of that very circumstance. But we may be always sure that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, as the Apostle Paul says in writing to the Corinthians. They, too, were somewhat confident in their own knowledge. They were reasoning about the ways of God. Why could not God, they might have said, have redeemed and saved His people in a way less full of pain and shame than by the death of His Son? The sacrifice of Christ was required to atone. That cross, the apostle goes on to show, which seemed to some a foolish thing, as it always appears to the world, is the profound wisdom of God. Not merely did He accomplish redemption in the cross: He was putting His sentence upon all that is in man, and bringing out by His love the world's inveterate hatred against Himself.
Peter is writing to those who had been Jews formerly, and they would be, therefore, somewhat familiar with the thought of “the day of the Lord,” for it is much spoken of in the Old Testament as the tremendous day of Divine dealing with the habitable world. For that is the point. Not merely the time when men will be raised from the dead, to be judged before the great white throne. The day of the Lord is God dealing with the world as it is; stopping all its wheels; arresting men in the midst of all the busy scenes of life, and calling them to account. The Old Testament, as it deals with man upon the earth, naturally lays great importance upon “that day.” The great white throne judgment is outside the world altogether. Heaven and earth will then have disappeared; it will be a judgment not connected with time, but ushering into eternity.
Mark the wisdom of God here. These men do not scoff at the day of the Lord; even an unconverted Jew, with the Old Testament Scriptures in his hand, would have been afraid to appear to make light of that. But they were saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” You Christians are waiting for the coming of Christ to make you happy. You are the most miserable people in the world. You enjoy nothing. You separate yourselves from all our interests and pleasures. You find fault with everything, not only with our bad ways, but with our best endeavors; and, after all, He does not come. “Where is the promise of His coming?” This is just the place in which the coming of Christ puts the Christian. What says the Spirit of God to those who derided the hope of the saints? His answer in effect amounts to this, I think:—I will not talk to you about the hope of the Christian, a theme that you make light of. But I warn you of a terrible scene that you have forgotten. There is such a thing as “the day of the Lord” coming.1 That is, He drops the subject of the church's and Christian's hope, the coming of the Lord to receive us to Himself which will take us out of all this scene, bring us into heaven and put us in peace and blessedness before the Father. The Holy Ghost in 2 Peter does not enter into this. In Jude, he just gives us a little passing glimpse of the blessedness of the saints before God. “Unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” There you have a glance into the deep inner joy of God's saints that the world will know nothing about. It can never see what the Christian will enjoy best in the presence of God the Father; nor will they know anything of the coming of Christ which will introduce us into that scene. But the world is to see the day of the Lord, and when that day comes the Lord will have all His saints in heaven, in the full brightness and intimacy of enjoyment of the Father's house. Afterward He will bring them out and display them in His Father's glory and that of the angels' before the world, and then will come retributive judgment. The Lord will come from heaven and deal with men in the midst of their busy ways, and works, and plans here below. This is what we see taken up in 2 Peter 3. You mock, he says, at our hope, but I will remind you of your fear, and when you hear of it you may tremble. “Be not ignorant of this one thing (and let the beloved saints of God remember it well) that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years,” &c. The Lord can amazingly crowd up events that might have spanned a thousand years into a single day; while, on the other hand, he might linger out those of a day into the patience of a thousand years. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. He is unwilling to strike the terrible blow that is about to fall on the world. He “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” These words entirely set aside the horrid idea (technically called reprobation) that any man ever was made for the purpose of being cast into hell. God, on the contrary, desires to save. His heart yearns over men. He waits upon them, entreats them. sends the gospel to them that they may receive it. No doubt it is pure grace and only grace that awakens one soul to the love of God. But it is the sin, the unbelief of man (whatever be the judicial hardening in certain cases) that shuts them up in the rejection of His mercy.
Whether the delay be short or long, whether of a thousand years or one day, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. It will come suddenly, and be most unwelcome in this world. He makes the day of the Lord to comprehend the whole space from the coming of the Lord in judgment, through the millennium, till the great white throne. For all that is implied here. “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, &c.... The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up,” must take place before that day closes.
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” You may feel, and you ought to feel, what man is in his scoffings against the truth of God; but the best answer to it all is that of a godly conversation—the effect upon your souls and in your walk of the knowledge of that hope, and your sense of the dreadful doom that awaits those that despise not only the righteous will of God, but His mercy. The Lord here shows us the importance of it. “What manner of persons ought ye to be, &c... looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” That is, we do not want this day to be delayed for our own sakes, but we love the patience of God towards men, and that reconciles our hearts to the delay, while personally, we long for the Lord to come; because we know that when he has come and taken us away, the day of God must quickly close in upon the earth.
“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” That gives the key to Peter: righteousness is the thought in this epistle as well as in the first. The coming of the Lord for His people is not the display of righteousness but the unfolding of His grace. He has begun and He will end with us in full and heavenly grace, which has chosen us to be with Himself. But here I get the day of the Lord, which has an aspect of righteousness even for us. When that day comes we shall be manifested. “The day will reveal.” It is the time when we shall have rewards for special suffering or faithfulness of any kind: it is the time which will, therefore, detect where we have been unfaithful, and why we failed. The day of the Lord will not close till all evil has been banished and righteousness brought in and established, all enemies having disappeared. The day of the Lord is as emphatically righteousness as His coming is grace. The world is never said to see anything of the coming of the Lord for His saints. It will miss them, no doubt. The warning of grace will have closed, though there may be raised up a testimony of the coming kingdom and judgments, and some hearts may be opened to receive it. But not a word of hope does Scripture hold out for those who now refuse the gospel.