A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate
- the Human Condition
- God’s Revelation of His Plan
- God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
- Our Response (Current location of study)
“as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” – 2 Peter 3:16
Some of us (speaking specifically about myself here) have lost the art of letter writing. In my work for the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, Nevada, a large part of my time is spent reading the letters and diaries of the nineteenth century emigrants who crossed the western part of North America in search of a new life on the Pacific Coast. It is so fascinating to read their thoughts, adventures, and descriptions of life on the trail. Some of them are fairly simple and straight-forward, but some are quite deep and elegant in their prose.
This week we’re going to look at a letter written to the early church and preserved in the New Testament as part of God’s Word to us. This is the second epistle (letter) written to the early church by Peter the apostle. We looked at his first letter just a little over a month ago. The 3:16 verse from this letter occurs in the closing paragraph of the letter. However, this paragraph begins with the word “therefore“, and as I’ve said before, to better understand context you should always ask yourself, “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?”. (I’ve heard others use that statement but I like it so I’m using it too!) Peter says, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these …” It’s the “these” that we need to go back a bit to discover what “they” are and that takes us to the beginning of Chapter 3.
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.“
Peter reminds his readers that this is the second epistle that he has written. In both cases, I believe, Peter knew full well that his words are being inspired and preserved by God for the edification and teaching of all the church, both present and future. When Jesus was giving his final discourse to his disciples before his upcoming trial and crucifixion (John 14-16), he described for them what kinds of things the Holy Spirit would be providing to them. He said (with my bold and italics added for emphasis):
- I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (14:16-17).
- If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (14:23).
- the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (14:26).
- when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (15:26).
- when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (16:8-11).
- I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (16:12-15).
More of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit are recorded elsewhere (cf. Luke 12:11-12, Mark 13:11, Matthew 10:16-20, for example). However, I want to specifically point out the last bullet above (John 16:12-15). The rest of the statements can be generalized to encompass all believers, but these verses are directed specifically to the apostles (those who knew and followed Jesus through first-hand first-century experience). He said “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” His time with them on Earth was drawing to an end and their increasing sorrow was going to inhibit their ability to respond and understand. So Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all the truth”, declaring “the things that are to come” and glorifying Jesus in the process. This was, I believe, a direct prediction of their involvement in the writing of the canon of the New Testament and Peter recognized and understood this fact when he was writing his letters. Peter continues:
“In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,“
Peter wants to remind his readers (and us, as their benefactors in faith) certain things to keep in mind. Note that he lists as equal status the holy prophets (Old Testament) and Jesus’ commands as relayed through the apostles (the gathering writings of the New Testament). He begins with:
“knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”
Peter references the “last days”, which he did also in his very first sermon after Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts 2:17, Peter quoted the prophet Joel by saying, “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh… .” Peter recognized that the “last days” began with Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He then points out that one of the characteristics of the “last days” will be scoffers who claim that God is not acting to bring about His judgment on the world (which began with Jesus’ death and resurrection). These scoffers, Peter says, will deny (overlook) the historical record of God’s first judgment on humanity – the flood of Noah, as recorded in Genesis 6-9. At that time God destroyed all of humanity which was engulfed in evil, saving only Noah and his family. However, in Genesis 9:11 God promised that he would never judge the world in that way again (with a flood). But Peter continues making his point with:
“But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
Just as the world was judged in Noah’s day, so judgment is coming again. Jesus himself said that his second coming and Day of Judgment would be like what the world experienced in Noah’s day (Matthew 24:36-44). However, this second universal judgment will be by fire rather than water (cf. Isaiah 66:15-17, Revelation 20:11-15). But Peter acknowledges the argument of the “scoffers” that God doesn’t appear to be doing anything. This is not accurate. In fact, the continuation of evil is an argument for the patience of God. Ezekiel 33:11 records that God has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Peter writes:
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
Peter, through direct revelation, or through the synthesis of multiple Old Testament passages (or both) paints a picture of the final judgment. He then encourages his believing readers to live lives that anticipate this final day.
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.“
This anticipation of God’s judgment and the ensuing motivation to live godly lives is what the “therefore” is there for! Now we can move on to the final paragraph (and the 3:16 verse) that it contains.
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation,”
Peter admonishes that we should be grateful that God is as patient as He is and use the time that we have to allow His Spirit to work in us continuing to mold us into the godly body of Christ that we should be. Then he turns to acknowledging and supporting the many letters that Paul has by this time written. Paul is credited with writing 13 of the books of the New Testament, and by the time Peter wrote this letter, Paul had probably composed and distributed at least 10 of them. Peter says:
“just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
Peter credits the Holy Spirit as the source of the “wisdom given” to Paul and he equates those letters with the validity of the Old Testament Scriptures. He also berates those who would twist the meanings of the any of the Scriptures, saying these practices will lead “to their own destruction.” Out response, then, to God’s Word, both Old and New Testaments, is to carefully study and follow them without trying to make them say something they do not, and in following them we should draw closer to God and become more like Jesus. Moses, in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 warned that following the words of God must lead us toward God and not away from Him. Peter closes with another “therefore”:
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.“
Looking back through Chapter 3, this “therefore” statement should challenge us to be faithful to God’s Word – all of it – and continue studying and testing ourselves to make sure we are being consistent with what it says and what God’s will for us is – to be his holy and righteous ambassadors!
Our next is 3:16 study will come from Ezekiel. Only four more to go!