“… scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 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.” For this they wilfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 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” (2 Peter 3:4-7).
People welcome in a new year with spectacular displays of fireworks lighting up the sky. They expect 2023 to be little different than 2022. The war in the Ukraine will probably continue, there’ll be tensions between major world powers, the stock market will have its usual ups and downs, and so on; but generally life will go on as before. In the Apostle Peter’s days people said the same: everything continues the same since the beginning of the world. And you can understand that, if you go by what you see. Yet Peter calls the people who say this ‘scoffers’. He accuses them of ignoring the reality that God is steering the world to its demise. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that really they are sitting on the edge of an active volcano.
The disturbing thing is that the mockers in Peter’s days were church people. Remember how the Christians at Thessalonica were expecting the Lord’s return any day? But as days turned to weeks and years without the Lord returning there were those who said: who scoffed at the idea of the Lord’s return. They said, we shouldn’t expect His return; He’s not coming back. And therefore, they added, we shouldn’t expect a new heaven and new earth either. See for yourselves, they said: ever since the fathers were laid to rest, things have remained as they were! Things just continue on. We have the one New Year’s Eve after the other. So don’t make a big deal about the last judgement.
But Peter calls these people scoffers. Jesus’ ascension into heaven ushered in the last period of world history. And during that period, you can expect to hear such mockers. They follow their own lusts and say: things just continue on as they were year after year, so let’s eat and drink and enjoy ourselves; there’s no need to expect a coming Judgement Day.
Now we would be careful not to speak like those scoffers. But we need to be wary that we don’t succumb to that same mentality of thinking that everything just remains the same year after year, that we should make the most of this life by focusing on enjoyment, and that the Lord’s return is unlikely to be imminent. For that would be a lie.
Just look at what happened prior to the Flood, says Peter. The people in Noah’s days could say, “All things continue as they were from the beginning of creation”. And so they lived as they wanted and scoffed at Noah’s prophecy that God would destroy the world with a flood. But the scoffers of whom Peter is speaking forget how years ago the world had been covered with water and God had separated the water so that the dry land appeared and that therefore He could easily submerge everything again. And as we know, that’s what happened. All the cultural achievements, all that had been made or built, indeed all mankind except for Noah and his family was destroyed.
So let’s not say or think at the new year, nothing really changes, for that’s a lie. Just as every day, in that first era, was a day headed toward the judgement of the great Flood, so too every day is bringing us closer to the day when the earth will be destroyed by fire. Peter tells us that there is progression in world history. God maintains it; it’s all in His control and heading towards another Judgement Day.
Now today’s sceptics could say: sure, God destroyed the first world with a flood, but He promised that it wouldn’t happen again and gave us the rainbow as sign. There are so-called Christians, including theologians, who say this. But already back in Isaiah’s days (2:12) the LORD said He would come with a new judgement, and the prophet Joel said God would come with fire to destroy all. Malachi prophesied that the LORD would come with fire like that of a furnace to refine the world and Christ told His disciples God would come to separate the righteous from the ungodly. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers that everyone’s work would be tested by fire, and we read: “Yet once more I shall shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
Hence Peter can write that the present world lies under the judgement of God. He watches over this chaotic world as a gaoler watches over those awaiting judgement. He watches everyone as this present sin-sick world is being driven by Christ towards the great fire of the Last Day.
Remember how God used the water above the earth and the water under the earth in the Great Deluge of Noah’s days? He can likewise use the fire within the earth and the fire above the earth (lightning and the sun) to rain the fire of His judgement upon the earth. Just as the people from Adam to Noah’s days lived between the separation of the waters above the earth and those below the earth, under the constant threat of these two expanses of water, so too the people after the Flood live between two fires. We live on the edge of a volcano! God’s lightnings can strike down from above and the flames from below can shoot upwards. Both await the moment God determines.
So let’s not forget God’s threatening Word through Peter, and certainly not as we enter a new year of our Lord. Every day of our lives is to be lived aware of our earnest responsibility. And each unbeliever should repent and turn to the God of fire! May the godless yet turn from their ways and accept Christ as Saviour lest the devouring fire of God’s strikes on the day of God’s judgement.
The Lord destroys the world just twice. He did it first by water through the deluge and will do it second through fire. Every New Year’s Eve and every New Year’s Day, indeed every single day, we must be ready to expect the inevitable climactic end. Any moment the fire of God’s judgement can strike.
The scoffers skip in blissful ignorance through life. They don’t bother about the last judgement. Carefree and godless they believe that everything remains pretty-much as it was from the beginning. Just as they once scoffed at the water, so today they scoff at the fire.
But Peter, through the power of God’s Spirit, warns us: don’t scoff at the fire of God! For that fire, like the water in Noah’s days, will do two things: cleanse and purify the believers. It will purify the present heavens and earth of the filth of sin with fire, cleansing it for purified people. But the godless will be consumed by fire and face the eternal fire of hell.
Peter says: that will be God’s last retaliatory act towards the righteous and the godless. So take care: we stand in our lives each moment facing the inevitable last, determinative, critical day of God.
Only for those who fear the LORD and believe in His coming judgement, and who expect the new heaven and new earth, is there immense comfort. By faith we know that fortunately things won’t remain as they are today. If they did it would be terribly comfortless!
Instead we expect, according to God’s promise, a new heaven and a new earth. Consequently, we’re not afraid of the coming fire of God’s judgement. For thereby He will achieve His glorious goal: a new sinless wonderful world in glory!
Over the water and through the fire He comes to the revelation of His glory in the eternally existing, glorious, incomparably wonderful, paradise of God. Hallelujah, eternal thank and praise.
This article is based on a sermon by the late Rev Joh. Francke on 2 Peter 3:3-7. It was published in Waarheid en Recht sermon series 30:52 1974.