“A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
I am a huge LOTR nerd. I have read through the four books (hobbit and 3 LOTR) ten times over. I scoff at the casual fans who watch the cinema cuts instead of the FAR superior two disc extended editions. In College, I had a tradition of watching all the Hobbit films (although they were not very good) and all the Extended LOTR films in one sitting, which is roughly 20 hours in total. So I say again, I am a HUGE LOTR nerd. So of course this quote from Gandalf the Grey is one of the first things that came into my mind after reading 2 Peter 3:8-15
While this quote touches on an important aspect of Peter’s argument in this passage, it certainly doesn’t cover the full complexity of what Peter is getting at. Peter, in this passage not only refutes the argument of scoffers seen earlier in the chapter, but sets forth an integral theology of holiness and God’s redemptive purposes.
As we dive deeply into the meaning and application of 2 Peter 3, I think it is important to have the same attitude as we should have when reading anything that smells apocalyptic (referring to the end of the world as we know it) or of the apocalyptic prophecy genre: we must define WHAT THIS PASSAGE IS NOT PRIMARILY ABOUT.
- It is not primarily about predicting the Parousia (Jesus’ second coming) Although many scholars use this passage and others to hazard guesses, the time of Jesus’ coming is not, and never was meant to be predicted. So when we read that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” We are not meant to scour the rest of scripture in order to compile some conflagrated Holy Algebra problem, we are simply to understand that God’s time is different than our time.
- This passage is not primarily about how we can know who IS and who IS NOT going to “MAKE IT” into heaven. In my experience, the protestant evangelical streams (and maybe others but I only know this context), we tend to spend way too much time picking apart, combining, and contorting passages like this one until they feel that they have biblical “proof” that we are the people who are going to heaven, and a clear picture of who WILL not be there with them. Don’t get me wrong, heaven and hell are both very real, and there will be a very real judgement of all persons living and dead. But we should not use this passage to pass our own fallible judgement on others based on our limited perception of their outward behavior or disposition.
With those two hot topics pushed to the side, let us proceed with open ears to what God has to say to us through the words of 2 Peter.
GOD IS NOT LATE, HE IS PATIENT
Peter, right before our passage does a few things: he First acknowledges that Jesus’ first advent marked the beginning of the “Last Days”, and that his second Advent will mark the end of this time of grace. Peter then predicts and acknowledges “scoffers” who will be self-indulgent cynics, asking “where is Jesus now? Didn’t he say he was coming back soon? It has been generations and he is still not returned!” And Finally, Peter reminds us to remember the words of the Holy prophets.
All this seems to culminate in Peters statement that:
“9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you,”
This is our first point: GOD IS NOT LATE, HE IS PATIENT
Not only is God being patient, he is being patient with US, THE CHURCH. Why? Why do we need his patience? Do we not cry out with all out heart, mind, body and soul, LORD COME BACK FOR US. God is patient Because there is a very real imminent day of judgement that is inextricably tied to Jesus’ second advent. It is on this day, according to Peter that everything that is done on the earth will be disclosed. And in the same breath that Peter tells us that everything that is done on the earth will be laid bare he reminds us to be holy, thus seemingly asking us “are you ready?”
This question feels most apparent when Peter describes the day of the Lord coming as a thief: it will be unexpected, it will catch us off guard, and it will change our lives.
It’s important at this point that we pause and acknowledge the context of our passage. You see, apocalyptic literature as a genre, and this letter in particular, are written to peoples who are experiencing oppression or persecution in various forms. It is likely that this epistle originated from Rome and was written to Christians in Asia minor between 60 and 160AD. For context, Nero’s persecution of Christians is thought to have begun around 64 AD, right around the time this letter was penned. So these people are likely experiencing very real and very scary forms of injustice. Peter writes as he does to remind them to hold fast, God is not late, he is patient. He will come, and when he does, all the injustice that we are experiencing will be exposed. All the evil we are experiencing will be laid bare and God will judge us and them fairly and accordingly. There is hope in Jesus’ Second coming for these Christians, they must only wait.
While waiting might seem to be the last thing that these Christians want to do in the face of violence and harm coming their way, Peter reframes God’s patience. God’s patience is NOT about the continuation of injustice, it is not going to be the end of Christianity; No, God’s patience is our salvation.
God’s Patience is our salvation
Peter transitions from doomsday discussions to a vibrant verbal painting of God’s redemptive purpose, the reality that God loves this world, and is determined to redeem anything or anyone who might fall from his presence. We have seen this all throughout the OT scriptures, GOD desires to redeem everyone and everything which has fallen from him.
Jesus has explained to us so often what I want to call “The Holy Dumpster Dive.” Where God sees everything that is wrong with us, knows our every sinful action, intention, and even our every temptation. He sees all that trash, and still jumps right in and starts inviting us to come home with him. He calls us his, and invites us to dig alongside him. We call this discipleship.
Not only does Peter Disclose God’s desire for redemption, he also speaks into our own desire for redemption by asking “what sort of people should we be?” If everything done on the earth is going to be made known then what should people see in our lives? How can we be active participants in redemption? This is the crux of Peter’s string of ideas that we have followed thus far.
Our duty in Patience is Peace
It is at this point that Peter invites us to Holiness and Godliness. But when he explains what it means to live in holiness and godliness some of us might be shocked to hear that the big finale, the amazing duty he calls us to is that we are to….. wait.
We are just made fully aware that at Jesus’ second advent “the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire,” and with all that information still in our heads we are told to WAIT?!
You see much like Isaiah and the prophets told the Jews to wait on the Messiah, Peter is calling upon us to wait on the same messiah. Jesus has been revealed to us, his victory has been secured, but it’s not over yet. And until that day that Jesus returns we are called to wait.
Verse 12 says:
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God
This is not a bitter or a fearful waiting, we are not waiting on an imminent judgement that will be the end to us all. No. Peter calls us into God’s compelling redemptive purpose and instructs us to wait in order to be found at peace. Because the patience of the LORD is salvation. This wait is not one of impending doom, nor is what happens between the two advents inconsequential, no. We are currently living out God’s redemptive purpose as we live our lives NOW, at peace. Right in the tension of the beginning of the end and the end of the end, instead of being overcome by anxiety we live in the peace of God, sharing in his patience, for that patience is our salvation.
Additionally, this peace, this hastening, is not simply about reaching the destination as fast as possible. It’s not about forcing God’s hand.
I have been thinking about us waiting on God’s Patience lately a lot like taking a road trip.
You see when I was a kid, I used to try and find anything I could that would make the road trip feel FASTER. I would try to sleep, we would watch movies, we would play games. The whole time the goal was to speed up the time we were in the car and get to our destination as soon as possible. But now that I’m older I think I am learning to enjoy the road trip for what it is: the drive is not just something to get through, it is a valuable aspect of every trip in and of itself
Waiting for and hastening the Day of God is like a road trip. Peace is enjoying the journey.
So what have we learned so far? (1) We have learned that after 2000+ years God is STILL not late, he is patient. (2) We have discovered God’s redemptive purpose and that he is inviting us into this journey as we wait for and hasten the day of the LORD. (3) And we have been told to live holy lives in order to be found at peace by God upon his second advent.
A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to. And between the time of KNOWING Jesus is coming someday, and SEEING him come in finality, we are to take advantage of God’s patience which is our Salvation to live out His ULTIMATE Redemptive purpose through discipling one another towards greater virtue, towards godliness, towards holiness, towards peace.