My good friend Robert Cruickshank is an excellent student. I am pleased to offer for our readers another great article by him on the text of 2 Peter 3:8. This famous passage is often the final court of appeal for those attempting to evade the force of the NT time statements of imminence about the coming of the Lord.
Playing the 2 Peter 3 Card
Daniel E. Harden (Editor)
All Rights Reserved
Playing the 2 Peter 3 Card
When faced with the time texts and the reality of the past fulfillment of much New Testament prophecy, futurists routinely flee to 2 Peter 3. While there are over 100 time statements in the New Testament anticipating the imminent realization of these prophecies, 2 Peter 3:8-9 is somehow the trump card with which these 100+ time indicators are all rendered null and void.
Some of these time indicators use terms such as “near,” “shorty” and “quickly” to designate when the prophesied events would happen. Common sense would seem to dictate that such terminology is simply incompatible with a lapse of almost 2,000 years or more. This incompatibility only gets worse as the lapse increases and the New Testament prophecies supposedly continue to fail to materialize.
In response to this, futurists will often point out that Peter says “a thousand years is as one day” to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8). As the reasoning goes, something that seems like a long time to us (a thousand years) is actually a short period of time (one day) to God. For example, one person comments: “Read 2nd Peter 3:8. We see through a human perspective. God is not a human and is not subject to time in the same way as we humans are. From a heavenly perspective, it’s been less than 2 days.”
The problem with this logic is that the first half of the verse is always overlooked. Not only is “a thousand years as one day” to the Lord, but it is equally true “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years.” In this case, something that seems like a short period of time to us (one day) is said to be a long period of time (a thousand years) to God, rather than vice versa.
If we plug this variable into the same equation, it hasn’t “been less than 2 days” from “a heavenly perspective,” it’s been almost 730,000 (365 x 2000) years! In this case, Jesus’ coming should have happened even sooner than we would expect and would be long past overdue. This is especially the case since He Himself said it would happen before that generation passed away (Matt. 24:34) and before the last disciple died (Matt. 16:28). The first half of the verse doesn’t work in the futurists’ favor, and this probably accounts for why they routinely ignore it.
Can God Tell Time?
In his excellent little booklet, Can God Tell Time?, Don K. Preston asks the question: “Can God communicate understandably with His creation, or does He speak in purposely ambiguous ways? Does the Lord hold out a carrot stick of imminent blessings to His hurting creation while knowing all the time He is not really going to bring the promises soon? Did God constantly threaten nations with imminent judgment, and not punish them for centuries? Where then is the reality of the threat to the wicked? Does God’s transcendence over time prevent him from speaking to man in words that convey genuine nearness?”
The reality is that while God is not bound by space, time or matter, He communicates to those of us who are on our own level. For example, with regard to the timing of the Jews’ return from Babylon, God doesn’t parse heavenly time vs. earthly time or divine time vs. human time. Jeremiah says:
“Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who prophesy to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the Lord’s house will now shortly be brought again from Babylon’; for they are prophesying a lie to you (Jer. 27:16).
Why were the false prophets “prophesying a lie” when they said the vessels would “shortly” be brought back from Babylon? Because it wouldn’t happen for another 70 years!
“For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord. For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place” (Jer. 29:9-10).
If the popular approach to 2 Peter 3:8 is correct, the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day could have used the same reasoning and responded by saying, “Wait a minute, Jeremiah. We weren’t ‘lying’ when we used the word ‘shortly.’ Don’t you know that a thousand years is like a day to the Lord? This being the case, a mere seventy years is nothing to Him! We were speaking from a ‘heavenly perspective,’ not a human perspective.” If this was really Peter’s intent in the New Testament, wouldn’t the same logic apply in Old Testament times as well? Did Jeremiah not get the memo that time works differently for God? Didn’t he know the word “shortly” is essentially meaningless?
Additionally, if it was a “lie” to say something would happen “shortly,” with regard to a 70-year time period, how much more so would it be a “lie” for John in Revelation if almost 2,000 have passed and the events he predicted remain unfulfilled? The truth is that God can in fact tell time, and He can and does communicate with humans on a human level –as Jeremiah demonstrates. The fact that He himself is timeless (as Peter states) does not negate the fact that His time statements in the Bible are meant to be understood in real time, in human terms. The Scriptures cannot be broken, Peter and Jeremiah are not at odds with each other, and John was not “prophesying a lie” when he said the events would happen “shortly.”
As Preston writes elsewhere: “Peter’s purpose in 2 Peter 3:8 is not to imply God is not honest in his usage of chronological language. His only purpose is to reassure his readers that whether God promises something is imminent or whether He says it is in the misty future, He will keep His promises. God is faithful! He does not deceive His creation when He speaks to them. What He promises, He will perform, no matter how difficult the task, or the time involved to perform it.” As it is, however, many have a completely different view of what “Peter’s purpose” was.
Does Peter Flip Flop?
According to Christopher M. Hays, by the time Peter wrote “…a number of Christians were feeling uncomfortable with the non-occurrence of the eschatological consummation, and that different Christian leaders felt obligated to take action to control attendant disbelief in Jesus’ second coming.” Hays theorizes that several Biblical writers “…took steps to tone down Jesus’ teachings about the eschatological consummation,” and one of those writers was supposedly Peter. “The delay of this consummation would only have been made more poignant,” says Hays, “for the Christians in Peter’s community who identified Jesus’ promised Parousia as the occasion of that eschatological judgment and destruction (v. 4; cf. 2 Pet. 1:16), especially if they reflected on the fact that Jesus had foretold that the end would come before his disciples (‘the fathers’?) all died.” Thus, Peter’s “day for a thousand years” clause was meant to “tone down” the expectations created by Jesus Himself, under Hays’ hypothesis.
If this is the case, we must ask: when did Peter suddenly shift gears and why? Conservative scholars give a date of AD 63-64 for 1 Peter and AD 64-66 for 2 Peter. At most, Peter’s two letters were written 3 years apart and they may have been written within a year of each other. With this in mind, Peter’s first letter contains intense expectations that are certainly no less as strong as the words of Jesus Himself in the Gospels.
Peter spoke of a “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pt. 1:6) He tells his readers that Jesus “has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” (I Pt. 1:20). According to Peter, Jesus was “ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Pt 4:5) and “the end of all things” was “at hand” (I Pt. 4:7). It was “time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (I Pt 4:17), and he spoke of “the glory” that was “about to be revealed.” (I Pt. 5:1). By the time Peter wrote his first epistle, it had already been well over 30 years since Jesus uttered the words: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). At this point, what would have made Peter change his tune so quickly within 1 to 3 short years (the time between his two epistles)?
If Peter’s first epistle also attempted to “tone down” the language of imminence, Hays might have a case here. But the idea of an almost bipolar change of mind on the part of the Apostle, from one inspired letter to the next, makes no sense at all. Additionally, in 2 Peter 3 itself (where this change of mind allegedly took place), Peter encourages His readers to be “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pt. 3:12). The word for “waiting” is prosdokaō, and it carries the idea of “to expect” or “anticipate.” The word for “hastening” is speudō, and it carries the idea of “to be eager for the arrival of.” If verse 8 truly is Peter’s attempt to soften his readers’ expectations of the Parousia, this would be even more extreme than changing his position within two different letters. Here, within the space of 4 verses, Peter supposedly is telling his readers that the time before Christ’s promised coming will drag on forever (2 Pt. 3:8) while at the same time telling them to expect it with eagerness (2 Pt. 3:12).
Additionally, how does toning down imminence help Peter’s case to begin with? Remember, Peter is attempting to answer the mockers who were saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pt. 3:4). Supposedly, Peter’s answer to these scoffers is to say that it could be delayed for a few thousand years. This would be counterproductive to Peter’s case, to say the least.
As Peter Leithart remarks: “If that were the case, the false teachers’ mockery of Jesus’ promise would be justified; in that case, the mockers would be exactly right to question the ‘promise of His coming’ (3:4). Even if the false teachers were destroyed, they would eventually be proven right. Indefinite delay of the Parousia would be a feeble response to false teachers who are predicting that the Parousia will be delayed indefinitely!”
Leithart’s logic is razor-sharp, and it cuts to the heart of the matter. If the objection was that the Parousia had been delayed, how does arguing that the Parousia had been delayed answer the objection? How does agreeing with the protesters solve the problem? How does this make any sense? It doesn’t, yet this is exactly what the popular approach insists that Peter is doing.
Supposedly, the Parousia was postponed until further notice because people just weren’t repenting as they should have been, and this somehow justifies what ultimately amounts to Peter’s non-response to the scoffers with whom he was taking issue.
Lack of Repentance Justifies an Indefinite Delay?
It’s quite telling that Christopher M. Hays in fact fully concedes that Peter seems to “…appear to be making a somewhat flat-footed defense of God’s tardiness.” But Hays says there is a very good reason for this “flat-footed defense” of the Lord’s lethargy. “Peter explains that God has delayed the prophesied judgment for a very specific purpose,” writes Hays, “to give people time to repent.” In fairness to Hays, this is undoubtedly what Peter is driving at, but Peter’s rationale only makes sense within the context of a limited time period and not an extended interval encompassing all of human history.
In other words, God was allowing as many people as possible the time to repent within that generation. As Gary DeMar has commented: “they knew it would happen in that generation,” but they didn’t know specifically “when in that generation it would happen.” The judgment indeed took place as Jesus had predicted, but in His mercy God held off until the very end of the specified time period. That being said, if we extend this beyond the confines of that particular generation, it creates intractable problems.
Rachael Wrue demonstrates how Peter’s argument spirals out of control if he did not have a specific, time-limited judgment in mind. She writes, “Let’s think about what Peter says in verse 9. Is this a logical explanation for the reason God has not yet returned after 2,000 years? Over time, the population of the earth has increased, not decreased. If God were to come back today and wipe out all the unbelievers, that would be billions of people. Why didn’t He come back yesterday, or 500 years ago, or a thousand years ago when there were less people who would perish?”
Wrue continues: “Also, most Christians would agree that once a person dies, they can no longer repent. How many unbelievers have died over the past 2,000 years? How many generations have come and gone? If we are going to use 2 Peter 3:9 as the reason Christ hasn’t returned yet, then we can continue to stretch this out forever. If Christ hasn’t returned yet because He wants ALL to come to repentance and none to perish, then He will never return!”
Wrue’s comments are spot-on here. Every day, 385,000 new people are born into this world. That’s 130 million new people each year that God must wait for, to see if they “repent,” before He can send His Son back to this earth. The problem of the delay of the Parousia increases exponentially as time marches on.
Additionally, if in fact Jesus was supposed to return in that generation but didn’t because not enough people repented, where does that put us today? Technically speaking, we are nothing more than an afterthought in the mind of God. So much for being chosen in him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) – by rights, we should have never existed! And if only enough people had repented in the first century, we wouldn’t be here. While the arguments of Hays and others with regard to 2 Peter 3:8-9 are somehow meant to comfort believers with regard to the supposed problem of the delay of the Parousia, how is this in any way comforting? The attempted solution creates more problems than it supposedly solves, and those problems are very much uncomfortable.
A Local Judgment on a Specific Group
To quote Wrue again: “2 Peter was written in or around AD 64. So by this time, the time was almost up for that generation. This is why the unbelievers were mocking and scoffing at the Christians. AD 64 is when the Neronic persecution of Christians was launched. And very shortly after that (AD 66) is when the Jewish revolt began, which led to the Jewish-Roman war, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. The judgment of 2 Peter 3 was the judgment of that wicked and adulterous generation that Christ spoke of in the Gospels. It was the judgment of the unbelieving Jews who crucified Christ and then persecuted and attempted to destroy the church.”
“If 2 Peter 3 is about a worldwide judgment of all unbelievers on the planet,” concludes Wrue, “then how will God decide when to pull the plug? At any given time, there would be billions of people who would be destroyed. 2 Peter 3:9 only makes sense if it is a local judgment on a specific group of people who were living at a specific time.”
Only by understanding Peter’s words in light of their immediate context can his rebuttal make any real sense, and only then does it defuse the numerous difficulties created by ignoring it. If the passage is talking about a future, final coming of Christ at the end of history, Christ will never come, and history will never end. Every day just brings further delay as new people come into the world on whom God must wait to see if they repent. This does not answer the mockers in Peter’s letter in the least since admitting indefinite delay is no answer to the objection of indefinite delay. More to the point, the very idea of indefinite delay itself would in fact run contrary to the very expectations of Peter himself in his letters. While it is true that God is timeless, he nevertheless makes time proclamations to humans in terms in which they can understand and to which they can relate. 2 Peter 3:8-9 should not be used as a playing card that changes the meaning of “near” to “far,” of “shortly” to “lengthy,” or of “quickly” to “slowly.”
 Don K. Preston, II Peter 3: The Late Great Kingdom (Shawnee, OK: The Shawnee Printing Company, 1990), p. 44.
 , p. 88.
 Ibid., pp. 87-88
 Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Through the Bible (Camden, KC: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), p. 469.
 Wilkinson and Boa, Ibid., p. 476.
 Leithart, Peter J.. The Promise Of His Appearing: An Exposition Of Second Peter (p. 74). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
 Hays, When the Son of Man Didn’t Come, p. 89.
 Ibid., p. 90.