The Episcopalians skip over chapter 2 of 2 Peter in their schedule of readings. I don’t know why*, because the context is rich with condemnation for false prophets, the kind of people he warned about at the end of chapter 1 who take the Holy Scripture and turn it into their personal interpretation. You should go read that on your own.
1. This is already the second letter I’ve written you as a reminder to rouse a sincere mind
2. and to recall the words said beforehand, by the holy prophets and the commandments of the apostles to you from the Lord and Savior.
3. But first know this, jeering mockers living according to their own desires will come about in the last days
4. saying, ‘Where is this promised coming of his? For from the time our ancestors closed their eyes in death, everything remains the same since the beginning of creation.’
5. In their longing, it escapes them that the sky – ancient and old – and the land – formed from water through the water – have consisted by the word of God
6. by which the whole word was destroyed; it was flooded by water.
7. But now the sky and the land, by the same word, are being preserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and the destruction of godless people.
8. Don’t let this fact escape you, dear ones, that one day according to the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day.
9. The Lord is not slow in the promise as some understand slowness. He shows patience to you. He is not wanting to destroy anyone, but gives time for everyone to make repentance.
10. The day of the Lord will arrive as a thief. The heavens will expire loudly. The fundamental elements of creation will dissolve, being burned away. The earth and all the works done upon it will be revealed.
‘Why is it taking God so long to act? Where is Jesus, anyway? Why hasn’t he already come back yet? Surely the time is ripe, right? Maybe he isn’t real, after all.’ Clearly this is the kind of thing Peter was contending against in his own ministry. How much more do we? His basic answer is that God’s timetable is not like ours. He is waiting because he wants to allow plenty of time for people to get right and repent.
He waits for us because he loves us. When he acts, there will no longer be time.
I’ve often thought of verse 10 as a description of the earth being destroyed completely by fire. One has to only imagine nuclear war to fulfill the ‘fundamental elements’ of the world dissolving. That would certainly be cataclysmic.
However, as I translated this, what I see is the dissolving of things not as destruction but as a striping away of the what hides our deeds. Peter is not talking annihilation, but revelation. When God acts, when Jesus returns, the trappings of power, ego, and blame will no longer be available for us to hide behind, because they will be gone. It will be us before God, laid bare before the cosmic courtroom, our souls on display before The Almighty. This is judgment.
Yes, I am ready for the Lord to return and set all things right with his justice, but at the same time it is a terrifying thought. I perceive none of us are as ready as we think we are.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
*The second chapter of 2 Peter makes a cameo appearance in the readings for year one.