Aug 20 - Where's Jesus?

Where's Jesus?

August 20, 2017

2 Peter 3:1-12

 

WHERE’S JESUS?

2 Peter 3:1-12

August 20th, 2017

 

A man with a nagging secret was eaten up by guilt, so he went to see his pastor.  He admitted that for years he had been stealing building supplies from the lumberyard where he worked.  “Well, how much exactly did you take?” the pastor asked him.  “Enough to build my own home, my son’s house, houses for my two daughters and our cottage at the lake,” the man said. 

Wow, that’s quite serious,” the pastor said. “In order to reform your life, you really need to do something drastic.  Have you ever done a retreat?

No, pastor, I haven’t,” the man replied.  “But if you can get the plans, I can get the lumber.

 

Last Sunday we had a look at 2 Peter 2, when religion goes bad.  I pointed out what the false teachers of that day taught and emphasized, that their errors were significant enough to warrant their destruction, and that we need to have a bit of discernment when it comes, not only to assessing what religious leaders teach, but also to how we conduct our own lives as believers. 

 

In chapter 3 of his letter, Peter addresses the situation of Jesus’ return, particularly why he hasn’t returned already

 

By the way, if you were looking for Jesus in the picture, he’s behind the surfboarder, standing on the water.  You probably still can’t see him.  In fact, I don’t think anyone in the picture actually sees Jesus either, probably because they’re so busy doing their own thing.

 

But let’s get back to 2 Peter.  Peter tells his readers again the purpose of his letter.

 

Dear friends,[1] this is now my second letter to you.  In both of them I stimulate you to wholesome[2] thinking: Remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and your apostles, (the latter) with regard to the command given by our Lord and Saviour.                                                                                 2 Peter 3:1-2

 

So instead of following the destructive and unwholesome teaching of the false teachers, Peter’s readers are encouraged again to focus on the OT prophets who spoke of the coming Messiah, as well as on Jesus’ command as taught them by the apostles. 

 

But what was that command?  Peter might be referring to what Jesus said at the last supper after he had washed his disciples’ feet.

 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you’re my disciples, because of the love you have for one another.

                                                          John 13:34-35

 

Or, Peter may have commented about the time when Jesus was asked by a Pharisee regarding the most important commandments in the Mosaic Law and Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 with regard to how people are to treat others.

 

You are to love your neighbour as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:31

 

Or, Peter may have commented on Jesus’ teaching about how to treat people in general or even how to treat one’s enemies.

 

Treat others as you would want to be treated by them.  This summarizes (what is commanded in) the Law and the Prophets.                       Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31

 

I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be the children of your heavenly Father.                           Matthew 5:44-45

 

I want to encourage you to think about these passages as they encapsulate the essence of Jesus’ teaching when it comes to how his followers are to treat others:

 

Love one another as Jesus loved.

Love others as yourself.

Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Treat even your enemies with love. 

 

We sometimes miss out just how important this concept was to Jesus, and therefore, just how important it is to God because, as Jesus pointed out, it is a reflection of God’s character. 

 

Other NT writers realized just how important this is.  The apostle Paul writes that ...

 

... in Christ all that matters is faith expressing itself in love. ... Through love serve one another.  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one command: Love your neighbour as yourself.                              Galatians 5:6,13-14 

 

We read something similar in 1 John about God’s character, that God is love, and that only those who actually reflect that character can be considered to be born of God, that is, can be children of God.

 

Let us love one another for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves others is born of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God’s love was revealed to us.  God sent his one and only son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 

John 4:7-9

 

I think that many Christians don’t ever consider what this should mean for how they live their lives. 

 

Peter goes on:

 

Of first importance, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come and mock according to their own evil desires.  They will say: “Where is the fulfillment of his promise to return?  Since our ancestors died everything stays the same, even as it has since the beginning of creation.”                                           2 Peter 3:3-4

 

The reason why there were scoffers who said these things is that Jesus seemed to have said that he would return within the lifetime of his hearers.[3]  However, the generation who knew Jesus personally had nearly died off, and Jesus still had not come back.

 

Mark 13 records Jesus’ teaching about the signs of the end of the age.  These included: 

  • Various messianic claimants (false christs) will come and deceive many into following them;  

  • Christians will be persecuted even as the good news will be proclaimed to all nations;

  • the abomination of desolation will stand in the temple;[4]

  • there will be great distress (often referred to as the great tribulation);

  • and the sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars will fall from heaven. 

 

After listing all of these things, Jesus then goes on to speak about his return.

 

 

Mark 13:26-27

Daniel 7:13-14

4 Ezra 13:1-3,26

 

At that time, men will see the son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send his angels and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

I saw visions in the night and behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven.  And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that all races, nations and languages should serve him.  His reign is everlasting and will not pass away, and his kingdom will not be destroyed.

... I dreamed a dream in the night and behold, ... something like the figure of a man come up out of the heart of the sea.  And I looked, and behold, that man flew with the clouds of heaven ...This is he whom the Most High has kept for many ages, who himself will deliver his creation and direct those who are left.

 

Besides Jesus’ words as recorded in Mark 13, I’ve also listed the OT passage from where Jesus took the imagery of the son of man coming in the clouds, Daniel 7

 

You will also see a passage from a document called 4th Ezra, a Jewish document that was penned around the same time as 2 Peter.[5]  I’ve included it because it is another application of the passage from Daniel 7 to a coming Messiah - so Jesus wasn’t the only one at the time who saw Daniel 7 as referring to the Messiah. 

 

Also, Daniel and 4th Ezra both indicate that the Messiah would be someone who was more than just a simple human being. According to Daniel, the Messiah was only “like” a human being, a son of man.  According to the author of 4 Ezra he only had a figure “like” that of a man. 

 

In essence, he was something more than human.  He would have power and glory and he would rule over all people. 

 

So, according to Jesus, at what point would he return as this glorious and powerful Messiah?  The next three verses in Mark 13 tells us. 

 

Now learn this lesson from the fig tree:  As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.  Even so, when you see this things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things will take place.                 Mark 13:28-30[6]

 

C.S. Lewis commented on this passage as he speaks of what critics in his day would say to it.

 

[The words of critics]: Say what you like, ... the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false.  It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime.  And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing.  Their Master had told them so.  He shared, and indeed created, their delusion.  He said in so many words, “this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.”  And he was wrong.  He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.

 C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays[7]

 

So here was the rub for the believers of the first century.  They thought that Jesus’s words meant that he would come prior to the death of those who listened to him. 

 

However, when that didn’t take place, people started to ask questions. As a result, the apostle Paul needed to explain to the believers in Thessalonica, that Christians who died prior to Jesus’ return wouldn’t miss out on his return. 

 

Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him (i.e. at his return) those who have died.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have died.                         1 Thessalonians 4:14-15

 

So how do we deal with Jesus’ words?  Some think Jesus is referring to the generation that would actually witness the events as he described them.  That is a distinct possibility even though this is not what the earliest church thought.

 

Another option, as C.S. Lewis points out, is that Jesus really didn’t know the specific time of his return, which is actually what Jesus comments on immediately after stating that he would in fact return.[8] 

 

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.                                                  Mark 13:32-33

 

In the parallel passage in Matthew 24, Jesus adds that his return had something in common with a break-in.

 

If the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  Matthew 24:43-44

 

The thief breaks at the time of night when least expected, that is, when the owner of the house is in his deepest sleep. 

 

However, if someone gives the owner a heads up, “hey, what’s his name is planning to rob you tonight,” he would be prepared for it and foil the robber.    

 

A number of NT authors picked up on Jesus’ words.  The apostle Paul is one of them. 

 

Now concerning the times and seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you because you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. ... So then, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep away and be sober.                                                  1 Thessalonians 5:1-2,6

 

The author of the book of Revelation was also aware of Jesus’ teaching.   In a vision, the author hears Jesus say the following words to the church in Sardis

 

If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

                                                          Revelation 3:3

 

These words of Jesus are then repeated later on in Revelation.

 

Behold, I am coming like a thief.  Blessed is the one who stays awake ... .                                Revelation 16:15

 

So ultimately Jesus admits that he does not know the precise time of his return.  Here his humanity shows through.  He was, after all, fully man, in every respect like other human beings, as we’re told in the book of Hebrews.[9] 

 

Although he could often tell what people were thinking, Jesus in his humanity wasn’t all-knowing (or omniscient). 

 

  • When the woman touched the hem of his garment, Jesus looked around, but had to ask a number of times who it had been (Mark 5:30-32; Luke 8:46).[10]  

  • When he went to Bethany after his friend Lazarus had died, he had to ask where the man was buried (John 11:34). 

  • Prior to feeding the 5,000 (and the 4,000), Jesus had to ask his disciples how many loaves of bread they had (Mark 6:38; 8:5; Matt 15:34).[11]   

  • On the opposite side of the lake of Galilee from Capernaum, Jesus had to ask the name of the demon who possessed a man (Luke 8:30). 

     

You get the idea.  Think about it, with his human limitations, Jesus would have had no way of knowing when his followers would actually get around to proclaiming the good news to all nations (Mk 13:10).  It could take much longer than anticipated, particularly because in Jesus’ day, they had no idea just how many people groups existed across the ocean. 

 

Many Christians are mostly indifferent about the second coming of Christ. Ah, it won’t be now.  The temple in Jerusalem hasn’t been rebuilt. All people groups do not, as yet, have the NT in their own language.  The anti-Christ has not been revealed

 

But Christians in the first century didn’t think like this.  They believed that all of what Jesus predicted had already happened, so that nothing stood in the way of his return.[12]  The church has been living in the end times since the first century.  It’s been two thousand years. 

 

Today, as I’ve said, many Christians are indifferent.  Many other Christians use various schemes and programs to figure out exactly how the material in the book of Daniel, Jesus’ teaching about the end time, the letters of Paul, and the book of Revelation f fit together, all in an effort to discover when Jesus would return, usually in the very near future.

 

By the way, I believe much of this is wasted effort and energy because the whole point is just to be prepared for Christ’s return - regardless of the time.

 

It reminds me of the story about a man, let’s call him Bob, who is at the airport happens to spot this weight scale that promises to display a person’s weight and fortune for a dollar.  So he steps on the scale, throws in his Loonie and is astounded when the screen read, “You weigh 189 pounds, you are married, and you’re on your way to Toronto.”  He’s so dumbfounded that he decides to wait for another person to step on the scale and pay his dollar.  The screen read, “You weigh 155 pounds, you’re divorced, and you’re on your way to Calgary.”  The man told him the scale was right on.  So Bob rushes to the men’s room, changes his clothes, puts on some sunglasses and then steps on the scale again.  The screen read, “You still weigh 189 pounds, you’re still married, and you just missed your plane to Vancouver!

 

In other words, we have to be ready to meet our maker tomorrow or not at all during our lifetime, regardless.   

 

In my estimation, Christians should joyfully anticipate and look forward to Christ’s return, but leave the timing up to God, knowing it’s useless to try to figure it out. 

 

So how does the author of 2 Peter respond to the mocking of the scoffers?  He begins, by pointing out that things have not been exactly as always since the creation of the world. 

 

But they willfully ignore that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into existence and the earth was formed from water and through water.  Through these things the world was destroyed as it was covered with water.  And by that same word, the present heaven and earth are reserved for fire.  They are preserved for the Day of Judgement when the ungodly will be destroyed.                                                                           2 Peter 3:5-7

 

Here Peter is not attempting to diffuse the argument of the scoffers that Jesus’ return hasn’t happened as yet.  Peter is really only pointing out that since the beginning of creation things have not stayed the same.  God has intervened at least once when he judged the world at the time of Noah.  And things won’t stay the same either. God will intervene again in a similar way during the time of the last judgment. 

 

Note: Peter also comments on the destruction of the heavens a few verses later when he writes:

 

... The heavens will pass away with a roar and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the deeds that are done on it will be exposed. ... The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn.

                                                          2 Peter 3:10-12

 

So on the one hand, Peter is pointing out that things weren’t the same from the time of creation, and then he points forward to another time of destruction, the Judgment Day.

 

Remember, the scoffers were saying, “Things have always gone on the same way and they will always continue to be the same.  Jesus is not coming back.  Nothing’s going to change. Let’s just lay back and do what we want.” 

 

Here’s part of Peter’s answer:  The world you love so much will also be destroyed!

 

This just as an aside to what Peter has written.  I have a firm belief that the future destruction of heaven and earth at the Day of Judgment is NOT a reason for Christians to be indifferent about global warming or overfishing or habitat destruction or pollution or water contamination or radioactive waste or deforestation or species extinction (loss of bio-diversity) or soil degradation or overpopulation or desertification.

 

I have actually heard some Christians say that all these things don’t matter because in the relative near future Jesus will return and God will destroy the earth and make a new one. 

 

But what if Jesus doesn’t return for another 200 years, or, for that matter, for another 2,000 years?  Then what?  

 

What will happen to our kids and grandkids and those who follow them because we just didn’t care enough? Part of Jesus’ concept of loving others is to put ourselves in their shoes and think about what would be in their best interest.

 

If you or I were to be born 200 years from now, how would we have wanted the people in the 21st century to have lived, so that we are don’t have to live in a dessert with only a few other hardy species like rats and crows, fighting over drinkable water?

 

I am convinced that future generations are going to curse our generation because of our indifference and our lack of love or concern for them.

 

As the Genesis account makes clear, human beings have a God-given responsibility to care for this planet and the animals on it.[13]  So until Christ returns, we had better look after the planet for two simple reasons:

 

1. It’s our responsibility;

 

2. It will make life bearable for our children and grand-children, great-grand-children and those who follow them.

 

And what, if the actual judgement day won’t be for another 5 billion years when our sun will turn into a red giant that will first scorch the earth before destroying it completely ... including all the other planets in our solar system? 

 

For us, 5 billion years might as well be an eternity.  But for a being who is eternal that kind of time frame would be less than just a blink of an eye.  And it is this very point that Peter makes next.

 

And 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 [in other words, time is irrelevant].  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as those claim who think that he is.  Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.                                  2 Peter 3:8-9

 

Count the patience of our Lord as salvation.

                                                          2 Peter 3:15

 

So first Peter points out the way that God, an eternal being who stands outside of time, thinks about time is very differently from human beings who are bound within time and space.  In essence Peter is saying that any length of time, whether a day or a thousand years, or 10,000 years, or 100,000 years, is the same to God. 

 

For us time matters.  Time is our most valuable asset. Time is money.  Time flies by.  But not to God.  It’s not as if God is looking at some cosmic watch going, “Man, this is taking long.”

 

Second, Peter comments on the fact that while we may want to God to get on with it, God’s desire is for the salvation of humanity, even those who won’t be born yet ... as we now know, for millennia. 

 

If God had “got on with it” in the first century, if Jesus had returned within the lifetime of his hearers, you and I, our ancestors for generations back, our children, and our grandchildren ... none would have ever existed.  Billions and billions of individuals would never have been born.

 

This desire of God is not a theme that is unique to Peter in the Bible.  We find it reflected in both the OT and the NT.

 

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that all should turn [from their evil lifestyles - the whole idea of repentance] and be saved [or alternative translation: and will live].            Ezekiel 18:23,32; 33:11

 

God desires that all people come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.                            1 Timothy 2:4

 

I sometimes wish that God would just get rid of those who kill, rape and murder.  I wish that God stop dictators and potentates from ruining the lives of thousands.  I wish for it and at the same time I know that God does not work like that ... for the sake of free will and because he is patient, wishing all, to come to repentance.

 

And I think of someone who was responsible for the torture and death of tens of thousands in Cambodia, and his salvation.

 

I don’t know about you, but I am so dependent on God’s patience, it’s not even funny.  Peter is telling his readers that the history between the first and second coming of Jesus is, above all, a time when God’s patience is still supreme ... and therefore, it is an age of salvation.  This is more important than ...

 

The rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

The Byzantine Empire

The middle ages

The protestant reformation

The renaissance

The enlightenment

The age of exploration and discovery

The industrial revolution

The world wars

The cold war

The rise of Islam

The post-modern age

The information age or digital era

 

This age of salvation has been a part of all of these times and will only close when Christ returns.  The person who thinks properly, will see the present, as scary and dark as it sometimes seems, in light of God’s loving patience. 

 

Which means that our primary desire as Christians is to see men and women and children find their way to God through Jesus Christ. 

 

So Peter’s ultimate response to those who are mocking the lateness of Jesus’ return, is that this is actually a good thing.

 

I think that you and I, if we are sincere in our faith and belief, will in fact face some opposition in this world.  There will always be mockers and scoffers, in our day, the most vocal of which are the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. 

 

There will be those who think that Christians are all right wing bigots and racists. 

 

There will be those who think that Christians are mindless, indoctrinated, unthinking ignoramus’ who are unquestioningly stuck in their anti-scientific dogma.

 

There will be those who think that Christians are self-righteous, judgmental, negative, angry and unhappy clouts. 

 

There will be those who think that Christian’s don’t even know what’s in the Bible and so their beliefs are based solely on what they are told by others. 

 

Let’s prove them wrong.

 

WHAT TODAY HAS SPOKEN MOST TO ME?

 

Maybe you thought that you need to take more serious Jesus’ commandment.

 

Maybe you realized that should Jesus return today, you’re not at all ready to meet him ... maybe you’re not even sure if you would make it into heaven.  You’re one of those who are asleep instead of alert. 

 

Maybe you realized that you are careless about how you treat God’s creation, without concern for those who follow you.

 

Maybe you realize you need to become a lot more thankful for God’s patience and his desire to save all people, including you.

 

But whatever it may be that you sense God saying to you, it makes no difference, it is of no value to you or anyone else, not even a little tiny bit, if you’re not willing to change something.

 

I’m reminded of a doctor who prescribed a green pill with a large glass of water in the morning, a red pill with a large glass of water at noon, and a blue pill with a large glass of water in the evening.  When the patient asked him what was wrong, he responded, “You’re not drinking enough water.” 

 

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO, TO CHANGE, IN RESPONSE?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Gk. agapetoi, lit, “beloved”

[2] Gk. eilikrine, lit. “sincere”.  Also translated as “clear” or “pure”.  This is in opposition to the thinking of the false teachers, which is unwholesome, impure, and insincere - almost predatory in nature.  Maybe Peter was aware of Jesus’ warning:  Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits (Matt 7:15-16).

[3] Passages other than the one referred to in this sermon where Jesus seems to proclaim his return during the lifetime of his hearers include Mark 8:38-9:1; 14:62 (Matt 26:64; Luke 22:67-70); Matt 10:23; 23:35-36 (Luke 11:50-51); John 5:25

[4] The reference is to Daniel 11:31 (also Dan 9:27; 12:11).  Daniel refers, in a thinly veiled reference, to the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. I believe an image of Zeus was set up in the temple.  Jesus likely is speaking of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and possibly to the building of a temple dedicated to Jupiter during the reign of Hadrian in the early second century.

[5] The dating of 4 Ezra is a bit of guesswork, but it had to be after the fall of Jerusalem (70 AD), probably toward the end of the first century.

[6] Some have argued that “this generation” is in reference to the generation who will experience the great tribulation (or who would see these things happening).  Others have argued that it is in reference to the Jewish people who (or nation which) will not pass away until Christ’s return.  Both explanations seem forced.

[7] Originally published in 1960.  Lewis goes on, It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”  The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. ... Jesus professed himself (in some sense) ignorant, and within a moment 
showed that he really was so.

[8] The problem with this is that Jesus only speaks of the “day or hour.”  In fact he could be saying that he would return within the lifetime of his listeners, just not exactly when.

[9] Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb 2:17).

[10] In Matt 9:22, Jesus is said to have turned around and have seen her (the impression is, immediately), but that is not so in Mark and Luke.

[11] Luke omits the question in his account. 

[12] Passages that highlight that people in the first century thought that Jesus would return in their lifetime include: Rom 13:12; 16:20; Phil 4:5; 1 Thess 4:15-17; Heb 10:25,37-38; Jam 5:7-9; 1 Pet 4:7; 1 John 2:17-18; Rev 1:1,3; 3:11; 22:7,12,20; 22:10.

[13] Genesis 2:15: YHWH God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work (or: tend; cultivate; care for) it and take care of (or: keep; watch over; guard; maintain) it.