Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Monday, May 9, 2011
In The Last Days (2 Peter 3:1-7)
1 Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), 2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
Having spent a good deal of time warning his readers about false teachers, St. Peter now turns to a new topic. As is his custom, he opens this new section of his epistle by again addressing his audience as “beloved.” He then mentions that this is the second epistle that he has written them. Note again in passing that if someone other than St. Peter were composing this letter, the author is lying. This is one reason why (in my opinion, at least) we can accept Petrine authorship of the epistle. Again, too, he mentions that he is writing to “stir up” their minds by reminding them of important truths that they have already learned. There are some things so important that we simply cannot hear them enough!
The specific teachings that he wants them to be reminded of are the words spoken by the prophets of the OT, and the teachings of St. Peter and the other apostles. Note that although the NKJV simply says “the apostles,” the Greek text actually says “your apostles.” Why would St. Peter use this unusual wording? FF explains: “Peter here speaks of the apostles as ‘your apostles,’ referring to the particular apostles who reached his hearers, for different apostles reached different groups. The thought here is that the apostles can be trusted because they are your apostles (unlike the false teachers, who have no claim on your loyalty). Both the prophets (in the Scriptures) and the apostles (passing on Christ’s words) gave the same exhortation to godly living, and so it can be trusted—let them abide by it!” (132).
St. Peter then gets to his main point—that “scoffers” will come in the “last days.” Before we look closely at the scoffers and their message, let’s first talk about the phrase “last days.” The “last days,” in the minds of the NT writers, are not limited to today’s popular notion of the last days. In other words, the last days do not refer only to the time immediately prior to Christ’s second coming to earth. The last days actually began on the Day of Pentecost, and have continued since then to the present. They will, of course, continue on until Christ’s return. Some today argue that 2000 years plus is a long time for there to be “last days,” but God’s timing is very different than ours, as St. Peter will go on to argue.
The “scoffers” that St. Peter mentions are most likely a different group of people than the false teachers about whom he warned in the previous chapter. Whereas the false teachers were actively trying to promote a faith (albeit a warped, twisted one), the scoffers are skeptics, questioning the faith…or at least one very important tenet of it—the second coming. As FF writes, “In their view, nothing has ever changed in history since the beginning of the world—and so it never will. The world continues in unbroken stability and will never end. The thought is in keeping with paganism, which assumes the eternity of the cosmos” (132). [Sounds a little like Carl Sagan!!]
But like the false teachers of chapter two, the scoffers are “walking according to their own lusts;” that is, their main goal in life is to please their carnal appetites. And their message is simple: “Where is the promise of His coming?” In other words, they are in essence saying, “You Christians teach that Jesus will return. Now it’s been more than 30 years since he died. Where is he? If he hasn’t come back in 30 years, he’s not coming back at all!” As one reason for denying that Christ would come back, the scoffers appeal to the supposed eternality and unchangeableness of the creation.
But, as St. Peter points out, the creation is neither eternal nor unchangeable. God created the heavens and the earth, as Genesis 1:1 famously says. It is “by his word” that they came into existence at all. Creation had a definite beginning. And then God destroyed most of the world with the flood; this destruction flies in the face of any ideas of the unchangeability of the creation. Note how St. Peter repeatedly refers to water. Regarding this, FF says “St. Peter stresses this to show that water can only cause the destruction of the world through the intervention of God. Water in itself is not harmful to the world, for it is the agent of is creation. Rather, God intervened to disrupt the stability of the world after it was created, judging with a flood all those who lived on it. Thus, the scoffers cannot maintain that all continues as it has since the beginning of the world or that the world is subject only to natural causes” (133).
And it is not just that the creation has a definite beginning, nor that it has been destroyed and renewed in the past. It will once again be destroyed, or better, transformed, through judgment and fire. Therefore, the creation as we know it is far from eternal and unchanging. It has a definite beginning and an end, and it was undergone many changes (and will continue to do so).