2 Peter 3:8-13 - Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Bible Comments


2 Peter 3:8. One day, etc.—The time-element gave opportunity to the scoffers. The time-measures of God must not be thought of as like those of men. It is to misrepresent this verse, to regard it as fixing God’s measure for a day as being a thousand years. To do so would make God’s judgment-day a thousand years long, and the day of Christ’s coming also a thousand years long. The Millennium is a day, if the last sentence of this verse be taken literally.

2 Peter 3:9. Not slack.—The apparent delay is arranged in Divine wisdom, and with due consideration of the saints. “God is long-suffering, because He is eternal” (Augustine). To us-ward.—“Toward you.”

2 Peter 3:10. Great noise.—Rushing noise. Elements.—Or “heavenly bodies.” Macknight says, “The electrical matter, the sulphurous vapours, the clouds, and whatsoever floats in the air, with the air itself.”

2 Peter 3:11. Shall be dissolved.—Lit. “are being dissolved.” All holy conversation, and godliness.—Both words are in the plural. All forms of holy living.

2 Peter 3:12. Hasting.—(Omit “unto”). Hasting the coming by holy lives. Wherein.—Or “on account of which.”

2 Peter 3:13. New heavens, etc.—See Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 21:1. The idea is fully expanded in the book of Enoch.


Long-suffering is not Indifference.

I. The Divine time-measures.— 2 Peter 3:8 contains the “second answer to the sceptical argument. Time is the condition of man’s thought and action, but not of God’s. His thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways; what seems delay to us is none to Him.” The figurative expression of this text has been much misrepresented and misused. It is when it is treated as a precise statement, and made the basis of minute calculations. The whole conception of a Millennium rests on a figurative expression. When it is said that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” it is simply meant to assert that God’s prophecies and promises must never be tested by human time-measures. If He says a thing will happen to-day we must always keep in mind that it is His “to-day,” not ours; and that His to-day may cover even what we should call a “thousand years.” As an argument against the scoffer this is effective enough. The force of his scoff is broken when he is compelled to reckon the fulfilment of promises by God’s time-measures.

II. The patience of Divine delay.—It needs to be clearly seen that, since God must always keep moral ends in view, He can never make an unconditional promise. The promise is a moral force. If that promise fulfils its end the promise can be made good at once. If that force is in any way hindered, the fulfilment must be left over until the moral force has duly affected its mission. And the Divine patience is seen in being willing even to be misunderstood and misrepresented, rather than to cease exerting the graciously redeeming moral force. There is no sublimer revelation of God than that which comes to us in the Divine delayings. He can wait and bear, in view of the ends of His infinite love for man. He is “not slack concerning His promise.” We never may think that He is indifferent—that “He has forgotten to be gracious.” That never can explain the Divine action. We may always find long-suffering patience. He is not willing that any should perish. He stretches opportunity of repentance to its utmost limit. He gives warning after warning, until the utter hopelessness of any further warning is made quite plain, and the cup of self-willedness and iniquity is quite full.

III. The certain ending of times of Divine delay.—“But the day of the Lord will come.” If judgment be threatened as a flood, the flood will come, unless men repent. A hundred and twenty years may pass, and men may grow bold in their impious self-security; they may laugh away all fears as they enjoy their sunny days; but the flood will come. The Flood came. God’s “word never returns to Him void.” It will certainly be the same in regard to the promise of Christ’s coming, whether that be viewed as the vindication of the saints, or as judgment on their persecutors. Divine delay in no sense indicates that the Divine purpose is abandoned. Let nobody for one moment think that. Christ will come. “The day of the Lord will come.” And if the scoffer persists in scoffing, let him remember that the sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar; there was every prospect of another splendid summer day; but that day the fire of God fell. Certain as death is judgment—is Christ’s coming to judgment.

IV. The certainty of Divine judgment is present blessing.—It is a constant and a gracious persuasion to virtue. This is its proper influence upon us. It makes us say, “What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” By the earnestness of our endeavours in cultivating the godly life, and growing in grace, we should be “looking for, and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.” Not “looking for” in any sense of idly watching at a window; but looking for, as Christ taught us the good servant looks for the return of his Master, by all devoted obediences, all earnest activities, all careful preparations. Christ is coming; then let us “be diligent, that we may be found of Him in peace.”


2 Peter 3:8. A Thousand Years as a Day.—The latter half of this saying is quite original, and has no equivalent in Psalms 90:4. The second half is only partially parallel to “a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, when it is past.” Consequently we cannot be sure that the apostle had this passage from the psalms in his mind, though it is probable enough that he had. That God can punish in one day the sins of a thousand years is a thought which is neither in the text nor in the context. What is insisted on is simply this: that distinctions of long and short time are nothing in the sight of God; delay is a purely human conception. Justin Martyr (about A. D. 145) gives “the day of the Lord is as a thousand years” as a quotation, and in this form it is closer to this verse than to Psalms 90:4. As another possible reference to our epistle follows in the next chapter, it may be regarded as not improbable that Justin knew the epistle. But the saying may have been a favourite one, especially with those who held Millenarian views. In the epistle of Barnabas (15:4) we read, “For a day means with Him a thousand years, and He Himself witnesseth, saying, Behold, to-day shall be as a thousand years,” where for “to-day” the Codex Sinaiticus reads the day of the Lord.” Irenseus has, “The day of the Lord is as a thousand years” twice. Hippolytus has it once, Methodius once. In no case, however, is the context at all similar to the verses before us.—A. Plummer, M.A.

The Brevity of God’s Delays.—No delay which occurs is long to God; as to a man of countless riches, a thousand guineas are as a single penny. God’s œnologe (eternal-ages measurer) differs wholly from man’s horologe (hour-glass). His gnomon (dial-pointer) shows all the hours at once in the greatest activity and in perfect repose. To Him the hours pass away, neither more slowly, nor more quickly, than befits His economy. There is nothing to make Him need either to hasten or delay the end.—Fausset.

2 Peter 3:11. What is a Holy Conversation?—The Revised Version reads “holy living,” but the word “conversation” may be taken as altogether more suggestive. It is a very searching thing to require a holy tone and character upon all the turning about, in and out, here and there, to and fro, with this man and that, in all the everyday and commonplace associations of life. And that is what is meant by the “holy conversation” of the text. It may seem at first sight as if “godliness” were very much the same thing as “holy conversation,” but we may distinguish between the actual conduct of life and the inspiring motive of it. The inspiring motive should be “godliness.” “Godliness” is the realisation of God’s abiding presence, the fruits of which are reverence and trust. But the argument by which a “holy conversation” is urged upon us by the apostle is certainly somewhat peculiar. Because all present material things are to be dissolved; because the heavens shall pass away with a great noise; because the elements shall melt with fervent heat; because the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up;—therefore, we ought to be supremely concerned about our “holy conversation and godliness.” If this stood alone it would be perplexing; but when St. Peter adds Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” we begin to understand him. A great testing time awaits God’s people; what it was to be could only be conceived under the forms of an overwhelming commotion of material things. In that time of testing nothing could possibly stand but steadfast goodness, an established “holy conversation and godliness.” Out of that time of testing will come a condition of confirmed holiness; there will be a “new heaven and a new earth,” whose supreme characteristic should be that in it “dwelleth,” “abideth,” “righteousness.” Only they who maintain the “holy conversation and godliness” can have any place in that “new earth”; but he who has persistently kept righteous during the testing time shall then be “righteous still.” That, then, is our work as the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to earnestly maintain our “holy conversation and godliness,” as our true preparation for every time of strain that may be coming, and as providing the only sure defence from the evil influences which that time may bring. And we are to maintain it because only those who are holding it fast can have any “entrance ministered unto them into the everlasting kingdom” of righteousness. It is very significant that the apostles, while anxious about right opinion, are so much more anxious about right conduct and right character. The two may go together, and always should, but conduct and character must come first, and be esteemed as of supreme importance. “Only let your conversation be such as becometh the gospel of Christ.” We do well, then, to try and understand what a “holy conversation” is; or, to put the same thing in other words, what actual and practical ordering and shaping of our human life and relationships is involved in our making a Christian profession. “What manner of persons ought we to be?”

I. A holy conversation is a daily life ordered by principle.—One Scripture writer earnestly counsels us not to let our life drift. But it is precisely that we are tempted to do. To let things go. To live on, day by day, simply responsive to the accidents of the day, and fitting our wisdom and skill, as well as we can, to the duties and emergencies of the day. It is but a butterfly kind of life, flitting lazily from flower to flower, and sipping what nectar we can. A “holy conversation” was never attained in that way. It is easy enough to drift into a low, careless kind of life, but no man ever yet put a stamp of character upon his conduct until he gained a clear meaning and purpose for his life. It is the greatest work of education to inspire the boy with a great resolve. He is not educated unless he has come to see a meaning in his life, to set before himself a noble purpose, and to recognise the law or principle by which all his efforts to attain are to be ruled. To start in life without a fixed principle is like starting a voyage on the unknown and wind-driven seas, without a guiding and controlling helm. Sometimes the principle chosen for the ordering of a life is not a good principle, but even then it has its power as a principle, and in the sway of it the man reaches altogether grander things than the man possibly can who drifts through life, anyhow and anywhere, without any guiding principle at all. But there is no reason against our choosing such a principle as will secure for us a “holy conversation.” We can resolve that life shall be ordered on the principle of always and simply doing what we know to be the will of God. For us that will is in part declared in the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in part witnessed every day afresh, in adaptation to the circumstances of life, by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And what we call “conversion” is precisely this: the dethroning of the old principle of seeking the interests of Self, and enthroning the principle of service to the holy will of God. Just in the measure in which a man’s life is ordered and toned by that principle will his daily life and association be described as a “holy conversation.” That is the first thing, and there is nothing more absolutely essential to right living. We can attain nothing unless we are purposed to attain it. We can attain no high thing unless our purpose be based on a principle, and that principle be the noblest that can give character to a life. It is but putting this in figurative form for the apostle to say, “I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice … which is your reasonable service.”

II. A “holy conversation” is a daily life shaped to a pattern.—We want help in finding befitting expression for our principle in the actual details of our daily association and duty and influence. We see this want very clearly in the case of the Christians connected with the early Gentile Churches. It was most difficult and perplexing work to get the new Christian principle, altering, re-moulding, and re-toning all the common, every-day thoughts, feelings, and relations of life; and we know how, in all the epistles, practical counsels for guidance were given, and how, in the epistles to the Corinthians, the more special cases of perplexity were carefully dealt with. Was this principle, which we have commended as the right, the highest, the most sanctifying principle that can order a human life, ever so worked out into the details of any one human career that such a man’s life-story can be taken as an absolutely satisfactory pattern? We can take any and every good man as an example of something; but then each ordinary good man is almost as much a warning as an example. Was there ever a case in which the pattern of the life-principle, worked into all details, was perfect? A case in which the life contains nothing whatever which we must be warned not to copy? That supremely important question has never yet received more than one answer. It never will receive more than one. That one is entirely satisfactory. The “Man, Christ Jesus” is the model life of details, in which the power of the controlling principle is seen; and whosoever takes that human life for his pattern increasingly finds himself satisfied with it, and inspired by it so as to attain a “holy conversation.” But we shall misuse that pattern if we merely slavishly imitate it; if we inconsiderately say, Jesus did and said such and such things, and we must say and do exactly the same. That is childish imitation, not intelligently using our pattern. What we require is to see that Christ’s pattern is simply but precisely this: the varying suggestion of ways in which the great life-principle finds befitting expression in the details of human conduct. What we have to ask, if we would follow the example of Christ aright, is this: How would Christ have expressed the great principle if He had been placed in just these particular circumstances in which I am placed? And we can get practical help from observing how Christ did act in circumstances that were similar. To “follow His steps” is to express principle as He did. Is it not quite plain that shaping life after the pattern which Christ has set will ensure a “holy conversation”? It did. No other terms are befitting as the description of the life of the Lord Jesus. Take what meanings you may please to attach to the term “holy,” they are all satisfied in the blessed life of Him who “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth”; “who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” And a “holy conversation” is possible to us in the measure in which we answer to the pattern, have the “mind that was in Christ Jesus,” and are made “like unto Him in all things”—changed into His image.

III. A “holy conversation” is a life sustained by consecrated energy.—It is necessary to dwell upon this, because Christ’s holy life may seem to us a far easier thing than we shall ever find a holy life to be; and we may readily get disheartened when we are impressed with the contrast between our Lord’s easy attainment and our ever difficult and doubtful struggle. It really should not be felt a surprising thing that we can but, at the best, come a long way behind Christ—a very long way indeed it will be unless we put consecrated energy into our endeavour. Such energy is demanded because the life-principle we have chosen is never so established and confirmed in us as to be beyond peril; and even more than that, it has a way of fading down in us and becoming ineffective if we do not perseveringly and persistently keep it well to the front, and make it have its say about everything. A true life-principle in a man must be everything or nothing, everywhere or nowhere. There is therefore constant demand for the consecrated energy which will keep power and vigour in the principle which makes a “holy conversation.” The holy life is a life in earnest, and it can be nothing else. The hair and fur of animals reveals at once lowered vitality. Keep up the energy of the soul’s life, and all the signs will be right; there will surely be the “holy conversation.” And the consecrated energy is further needed because the practical outworking of our life-principle in the details of conduct is never easy for us, if it was always easy for Christ. Our Lord expressed a truth which was applicable to more than the entrance into the kingdom when He said, “Strive” (agonise) “to enter in.” It is quite true that the effort for us will grow easier as years unfold, and will become easier in particular things, but it will never cease to make demands upon watchfulness, self-mastery, and consecrated energy. If we would attain the “holy conversation,” we must be prepared to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” and we must be constantly lifting ourselves afresh up to the holy enduring. What is wanted, always wanted, is earnestness put into the endeavour to live the holy life. We must mean it, and strive for it.

IV. A “holy conversation” is life toned by righteousness.—There are so many things in life that would be beautiful if they were polished. Things never do become lovely until they get their bloom. What marvellous improvements have been made in the paper of our books and magazines! Now it has its polish on and shines. It may be of first importance that a Christian’s conversation should be right—that it should be of sterling worth; the ring of it must be sound and true. But it does not answer to the description “holy conversation” until it gets its polish, until upon it lies the bloom. It must be beautiful and gracious. The fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness,” make up the bloom, and no man has gained the “holy conversation” until he is strong, true, and beautiful in Christ. Yes, in Christ. For there is a marvel about our Pattern. The Pattern proves to be a Person, a living Person, with whom we can have so real a fellowship that the glow of Him shall be reflected from us. Like Moses, when he saw God, the shine will be on our faces, the Christ-tone will be on all our intercourse. The Christ-bloom creeps all over us if we really come into soul-nearness to Him. Surely the question with which we started has been fully answered. What is a “holy conversation”? It is a human life ordered by the principle that ruled the human life of Christ. It is a human life in all its details shaped after the pattern of the “Man, Christ Jesus.” It is a human life into which is put the energy of a vigorous life and a consecrated purpose. It is a human life that is kept within the radiance of Christ, and shines out His light upon men. Seeing that the great strain-time, taking one form or another, must come to us all; and seeing that through the strain-time we may hope to come to the world where all is righteous;—“what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?”

2 Peter 3:13. Heaven: its Nature and Character.—There is great confusion, both in the language and the opinions of men, in regard to the final dwelling-place which is promised in Scripture to the righteous. We speak of heaven continually, yet have but a vague and unconnected notion of what it positively is. There is no perspicuous and definite idea impressed upon the mind: we are wandering in the regions of generality, or probability. It may be this, or it may be that. It is a speculation rather than an article of faith. With our very limited faculty of intelligence, and with our many imperfections and impurities clinging on all sides around us, we shall never be able entirely to penetrate those sacred mysteries of futurity which God has but partially disclosed. To be wise beyond the Scriptures would be the height of impiety; but, nevertheless, there is no reason why we should not strive to be wise up to the Scriptures.

I. Heaven is a place, a tangible, material locality.—Heaven, as a word, is used with various significations.

1. The region of air or atmosphere immediately surrounding the earth.
2. The firmament, or vast expanse of space which is beyond or above the atmosphere, wherein the stars appear.
3. As the place of God’s residence, and the dwelling of angels. Many persons have taken up the idea that heaven is nothing more than a sort of indefinite ethereal abode; that the grossness of materialism cannot enter there; that it is filled with nothing but certain mental and spiritual essences of glory and love, unallied to anything that savours of body or of matter; and so they attenuate and dwindle away all notion of it, till it disappears in nothing; and when pressed home, they find that their minds have been dwelling upon that which is purely imaginative, and has no foundation. The source of this is not difficult to detect. By our present connection with the world in which we dwell, our notion of materialism is inseparably connected with a notion of imperfection and sin; and by the exalted pictures which Scripture gives us of the joys of heaven, we are loth to admit, as within its comprehension, anything that appertains to our present state. The contemplative mind cannot think of heaven as constituted of any such material elements as here he sees around him. But there is a fallacy in such reasoning, and the fallacy is this: we look upon the material things of nature as they are now, and not as God made them originally; we look upon the human body as it is now, in sin, and not as the Almighty originally constituted it—in glory and holiness. Man was a sinless creature; there was naught for him but loveliness and beauty; there was no such thing as sorrow, no such thing as pain. The paradise in which Adam and Eve dwelt, we must consider to have been a perfect and blissful abode; and yet it was a local abode. It was not till Adam fell that materialism ceased to be holy. It was not till sin entered into the world that there was any drawback in the works of nature, as now looked upon by us. Then, indeed, the whole of the works of God were changed from their original destination. But who would say that, because this material state, in which we now are, cannot form such a place as heaven, that no material state shall? Then Scripture asserts the resurrection of the body, and the reunion of the body and soul, before entering the future abode of eternity. Christ, in His human nature, as a body, is in heaven, at God’s right hand. We cannot conceive this at all, unless we conceive of God’s right hand as a place. In all the descriptions of the blessedness of the righteous, that which describes their happiness infers that happiness as depending on organs of sensation, as seeing, conversing with, and listening to, other beings who shall there be associated with us. If there is material vision, material hearing, material recognition, there must be a material abode, and material objects on which they are to be exercised. The promised abode of righteous men, we may confidently say, is of a local and material character. It is materialism, purged indeed from sin, and cleansed of all those imperfections which attach to it here—but still materialism.

II. There is a certain character attached to the place without which character no man can attain unto its glories.—“Wherein dwelleth righteousness.” As some have theorised away the notion of heaven, by lifting it up beyond the cognisance of our senses altogether, so others, men of sensual and earthly affections, have so debased their notion of it as to represent it as a mere place of such corporeal pleasures as prevail in this world. But such an absurdity—let alone its profaneness—as that picture of Paradise which the Koran describes, can never for a moment be entertained by one who reads the Bible. The most perfect and hallowed goodness must of necessity belong to the saints in light. Harmony of views, identity of interests, unison of affections—in short, universal good—shall fill every bosom, and stimulate every heart. What must the character of the soul of man be, before he can become the fit inhabitant of such a heaven? Clearly, we human beings must be changed; we must be spiritualised; we must be lifted up to God, for God cannot be brought down to us. And when may this change be effected? Certainly not after death. If we attain not to holiness and spirituality of character while on this earth, we shall not attain unto the spirituality of the character which belongs to the new earth. What you are here, you will be hereafter. Heaven cannot but be a place of holiness. He therefore that is unholy can have no place therein. It appears, then, that as one part of heaven, the material part, cannot be commenced here, but must wait for the final restitution of all things, so, in proportion, the other part of heaven, the spiritual part, must be commenced here, otherwise the fruition of eternal joy never can be ours. The spiritual heaven, the temper of mind, the patience, the meekness, the purity, the love of heaven—that, unless we have a foretaste of it now, we shall not be in a capacity for enjoying hereafter.—William J. E. Bennett, M.A.

New Heavens and New Earth.—What is our conception of the new heaven and the new earth that we desire? Is it a mere absence of annoyances? Is it an egotism, expanded to infinitude? Is it a sensual Mohammedan paradise? Is it a selfish palace of art? Is it a city paved with gold, or a pagoda of jewels, like the Jerusalem of St. John, in its merely external aspect? Childish must we be indeed if we have not get beyond these symbols, if we do not know that man is, in his essence, a spiritual being, and that for a spiritual being there can be no felicity save in spiritual conditions—in communion with God, in serenity of mind, in purity of heart. We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Shall we ever enjoy that heaven hereafter? Yea, if we truly seek it now.—Dean Farrar.

Attainableness of Righteousness.—Is righteousness attainable by man? If it be, then the essence of God’s kingdom is not beyond man’s reach. If righteousness be attainable here and now, then here and now we may at least enter into the kingdom of heaven. Is our conception of happiness identified with righteousness? Is that the thing which we desire? Is that our ideal? Is that the one goal to which we are stretching forward in the heavenly race? If so, then for us, even here and now, “the path to heaven lies through heaven, and all the way to heaven is heaven.” What sort of a condition answers to the heaven of which you dream, for which you sigh? Is it a state of things which you vaguely call glory? Is it a starry crown—the symbol of supreme self-aggrandisement? Is it a golden throne, the summit of individual exaltation? Is it the rest of an untroubled indolence? If so, our heaven may prove to be indeed a chimera, both now and hereafter. Such notions of heaven betray the unsuspected fact that, after all, our high spiritual hopes resolve themselves into mere earthliness, into an ill-concealed amalgam of vanity and selfishness. The true conception of heaven is holiness.—Dean Farrar.


2 Peter 3:12. Ready for the Voyage.—The Christian, at his death, should not be like the child, who is forced by the rod to quit his play; but like one who is wearied of it, and willing to go to bed. Neither ought he to be like the mariner whose vessel is drifted by the violence of the tempest from the shore, tossed to and fro upon the ocean, and at last suffers wreck and destruction; but like one who is ready for the voyage, and, the moment the wind is favourable, cheerfully weighs anchor, and, full of hope and, joy, launches forth into the deep.—Gotthold’s “Emblems.”

Influence of Fire upon the Earth.—“What has fire done upon the earth? Fire has only re-constructed and destroyed. Nothing has found an origin in fire. Fire itself is an effect, and not a cause it is in the atmosphere, it is in the flint in the earth, it is in the water; in each it is a thing by itself, unseen or unfelt; certain conditions bring it into active existence, but it cannot be traced in either element as a matter of course; yet it is here, there, and everywhere: it has built up Cotopaxi to the height of 18,000 feet; Teneriffe has been shot up by its labours from an unknown depth beneath the sea to 12,000 feet above it; Etna is heaped up with lava, ashes, and scoriæ some 11,000 feet; Iceland has grown into a great island under its influence; and Vesuvius has grown to a height of 3,751 feet, from a reconstruction of earthy matter by force.”—Malet.

2 Peter 3:8-13

8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

10 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.

11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,

12 Looking for and hastinga 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?

13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.