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? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.—2 Peter 3:10-13
Few things have caused such a sense of anticipation and urgency amongst the followers of the Nazarene as has the expectancy of the second advent of Christ. The intense desire for the return of Christ had its roots in one of Jesus’ closing promises to his disciples, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).
It was intensified when, after ten days of miraculous sightings in their midst, he dramatically ascended into heavens, departing from their sight for the last time in their life. While gazing longingly upward, seeking one last glimpse, they heard the angelic words, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
The eloquent ministry of the apostles centered on this promise. Paul wrote to Titus that he was “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (2:13). In writing to Timothy he placed the possession of this intense desire as a requisite for their victory, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
Periodically, during the centuries that followed, prophecies of the second advent would be reviewed and they would spawn intense outbursts of religious fervor. The Reformation was one such period. From the great reformer, Martin Luther, to the noted scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, came intense speculation that the return of Christ was near.
The nineteenth century saw the most intense revival in prophetic research in the history of the church. The movement of William Miller in the United States was joined by Joseph Bengel in Europe and the missionary Thomas Wolfe in Asia, all with the same message—the imminent return of Jesus Christ.
If there was one keyword which Jesus used when discussing his return, it was the simple admonition: Watch (Matt. 24:42,43; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 21:36). In our theme text, Peter stresses the same theme by saying that the day of the Lord would come “as a thief in the night.” Ironically he describes the coming as being unostentatious—as a thief—and follows up with dramatic symbology—the heavens passing away “with a great noise,” the elements melting “with fervent heat,” and the earth and its works being “burnt up.”
The scene is reminiscent of the time when the disciples of Jesus were crossing the Galilee and were caught up in a turbulent storm. They faced almost certain shipwreck if Jesus had not come to them, walking on the water. There, too, he tested their powers of watchfulness and perception for “he would have passed by them” if they had not been alert to spotting his presence (Mark 6:48).
Elsewhere the second advent and the kingdom are described as introducing a thousand year reign of righteousness and peace but here the day of the Lord precipitates a period of trouble which symbolically melts the earth, the civil order of society, and causes the total destruction of the heavens, the religious elements. These two aspects are related to each other as cause to effect. As an contractor must remove an old structure to erect the new, so God removes the present heavens and earth of society to make way for his new heavens and new earth.
The church looks forward to both events with eager anticipation. While sorrowing with the necessity for the troubles which have come upon the earth, at the same time they rejoice in them because of their faith in the future society to be built upon their ruins.
What Manner of Persons?
Anticipation is not without apprehension. Noting the strictness of the Lord’s judgments should have a salutary effect upon the child of God. When judgment is laid to the line and righteousness is the plummet (Isa. 28:17), will we escape. Therefore we join with Peter in his question, “What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” The result of our eager anticipation of the transitional events leading into the kingdom of peace should redouble our vigilance in bringing our own lives into conformity with the strict dictates of righteousness. Thus we renew our efforts in the study of his word to determine what acts constitute true uprightness and seek to follow them. Godliness should be pursued to an extreme degree. Zeal should be redoubled. Love should be intensified. Patience needs extending. Prayer and meditation need to be constantly practiced.
Above all we need to maintain our sense of expectation and urgency, living each day as though it were the last before the culmination of our hopes.
Wait, As a Bride Waits!
One of the beautiful illustrations of Christ and his church is that of a bride and groom. The eagerness of a courting couple to be in each other’s presence is a delight to behold. Even while separated they are in constant contact but the letters and phone calls are a poor substitute for the personal presence of their beloved.
This is the illustration Jesus uses in John 14 when he promised his followers he would come and receive them after he had prepared a place for them. This is why there has been the intense expectation of that coming all through the age. It is for this reason that, though he had promised them, “lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20), they were eagerly looking for something more, for his personal presence at their side.
One of the beautiful Old Testament pictures of this relationship is that of Isaac and Rebecca. How eagerly Rebecca accepted Isaac’s proposal through his intermediary, Eleazar! How quickly she packed her belongings and started the long trip to be at his side! And when the long, hot, and dusty trek was finally over and “when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel” (Gen. 24:64).
The camels in this story have often been likened to doctrines. The study of these doctrinal truths of the Bible has been very essential to the Christian’s journey. Yet, their is a time for study and there is a time for activity. Rebecca had reached her destination and not she wanted to be actively busy with the one she loved. Like the virgin in the Song of Solomon, she desires the “kisses of his mouth, for [his] love is better than wine” (Cat. 1:2).
For two millennia Christ has been rather inactive in world affairs, letting mankind pursue on the course of their own charting. Peter foresaw a time when that would change. He saw a time when Christ would become again active in earth’s affairs—first tearing down, and then rebuilding a glorious future, a veritable Golden Age. His bride, anticipating these events, is overjoyed at the prospect of working side by side with him at his return to collect his church and prepare to bless all the families of the earth. What a prospect! What an incentive to joyful service!
Hasting That Day
Not only do we eagerly “look for” that day but Peter adds that we are to be “hasting” it. While we cannot actually hasten its arrival, we are to work in that spirit. That day cannot achieve its promise of blessing mankind until the church is completed. The faster and more zealously we work out our consecration vows, the quicker will the church be complete, and the sooner will come that blessed work of restitution.
Though the Greek word [speudo (Strong’s 4710)] is here used in the sense of intense desire, how can we better express that desire than to work for its quick accomplishment. And while we work to pray—pray more fervently than ever “Thy kingdom come.” And while we pray, to watch—watch for every sign that portends its ever-closening nearness.
The noted commentator Matthew Henry, phrases it thus: “The first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he appeared in the form of a servant, was what the people of God earnestly waited and looked for: that coming was for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). How much more should they wait with expectation and earnestness for his second coming, which will be the day of their complete redemption, and of his most glorious manifestation! Then he shall come to be admired in his saints, and glorified in all those that believe.”
Let us, dear brethren, be not faithless, but believing. May the signs of the times continue to whet our appetite for the glorious work that the Bible outlines for the future of Christ and his bride.