We often hear televangelists speaking of the last days, saying that they are near or that we may even be living in them today, adding that Jesus is about to return from heaven to take away his elect. Dates of Jesus’ coming have been set by many, even in our own time. Sadly, no one seems to mind that these men have been wrong, and the Bible refers to such as false prophets (Deuteronomy 18:20, 22). Many such prophets and teachers were predicted in the New Testament to come in the name of Christ, and their work would be fashioned to deceive believers (cf. Matthew 24: 5, 11, 24). Jesus spoke of these times as unequaled in history for violence (Matthew 24:21), and Paul spoke of them as perilous times (2Timothy 3:1). What can we say of such things? Are we living in the last days, or, if not, are they near? Peter has quite a lot to say about such things in the third chapter of his second epistle.
In 2Peter 3:1-2 Peter wished to stir up the memories of the believers in Asia Minor concerning the words of the prophets and the words of the Apostles of Jesus, both of which concerned the coming of the Messiah. It wasn’t that Peter thought the believers had already yielded to the false teachers, but there was reason to be concerned that some were wavering, because later in the chapter he calls for their repentance. By “the commandment of the Apostles” Peter is referring to the Gospel, which was preached to his readers. The very same of which we find in the Gospel narratives: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Herein, Peter seems to place the writings of the Apostles on par with Scripture, specifically that written by the prophets. Not only does he place his own epistle alongside the words of the prophets (the Old Testament Scriptures), but later he infers that Paul’s writings were Scripture as well (2Peter 3:15-16).
By writing “knowing this first” (2Peter 3:3; cf. 1:20) Peter wants his readers to pay particular attention to what he is about to say, because it represents an important theme at that point in his epistle. A scoffer (2Peter 3:3) is someone who makes light of an important matter. He will ridicule and make sport of those holding to the matter the scoffer holds in contempt. According to Peter, scoffers would come in the last days, and they were already present at that time in the first century AD in Asia Minor. Such people walk after the flesh, speaking of things that appeal to their own desires (2Peter 3:3). They are not motivated by the Spirit when they speak of the things of God, but are rather guided by what appeals to the flesh.
Unless one would read modern times into Peter’s epistle and indeed into the entire New Testament, the last days refer to what occurred in the 1st century AD. Peter equated the last days with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:16-17). In 2Timothy 3:1 Paul tells Timothy that the last days would be perilous times, and goes on to describe what evil people would be like. Then he says to turn away from such people, showing that those times were upon believers in the 1st century AD (2Timothy 3:1-5). The writer of Hebrews claimed that God had sent his Son, Jesus, to the earth in the last days (Hebrews 1:1-2). James mentions that the disobedient were at the time of his letter storing up their sins for the last days, showing he expected them to be judged in their expected lifetimes (James 5:2-3). Peter claimed that the salvation offered in Christ was revealed in the last time (1Peter 1:5), and then goes on to say that Christ secured our salvation in the last times (1Peter 1:20). Both Peter and Jude speak of scoffers or mockers who would appear in the last days or the last time (2Peter 3:3; Jude 1:18), and, finally, John claims the appearing of them (instead of scoffers he uses the term antichrists) shows it is the last time (1John 2:18).
By using the term fathers in “since the fathers fell asleep” the scoffers are probably pointing to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What they mean is that God simply does not intervene in human affairs or ever would. These men ridicule the coming of Jesus to his office as Messiah. They claim he is dead, denying both the resurrection and the power (or perhaps the desire) of God to raise him from the dead in order to give him the rule over both Israel and the gentiles.
Everything in the New Testament that points to the last days contextually points to the first century AD and not to our times. The days about which Jesus warned his disciples in the Olivet Prophecy occurred in the first century AD. Jesus’ coming did not have to do with his return to this earth (Acts 1:11). Rather, Jesus coming in the clouds had to do with his coming into his office as Messiah and judging Jerusalem (Matthew 24:29; cf. 26:64). In fact, Jesus’ vindication as the Messiah, and the sign to the world that he has resurrected was his judgment of Jerusalem and the Temple (Matthew 24:30; cf. 26:64).