In his second epistle Peter told his readers that he was reminding them of what he had already told them in his first epistle (2Peter 3:1). In other words, Peter’s second epistle is all about what he wrote in his first one. However, Peter’s first epistle was worded differently, and in it he used very simple and direct language. So, the reader simply isn’t impacted in the same way in 2Peter 3, as he was when he read 1Peter 1. 2Peter chapter three uses very picturesque and apocalyptic language, while 1Peter chapter one does not.
We also need to keep in mind that the Jewish form of expression is picturesque, while the western mind wants to take things at their face value. For example, we might refer to one of our Presidents as a great leader, but the ancient Jews were more likely to refer to their king as a great or a good shepherd. Peter expressed himself metaphorically, while the western mind will normally try to digest Peter’s words under a literal framework. Therefore, we need to be on our guard to consider Peter’s intent in the context of what he wanted his audience to understand, especially in the context of 2Peter 3, where part of that audience reacted to what Peter said in his first epistle. How his mockers (2Peter 3:3) reacted to Peter’s first epistle, helps us to understand what Peter tells us in 2Peter 3. Let’s consider the contrast Peter makes in 2Peter 3:6-7:
Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.(2 Peter 3:6-7)
How should we understand this text, and how would it be possible for us to allow the word of God to interpret itself? First of all, notice that Peter does not say the earth was destroyed in the Genesis Flood. Rather, water destroyed the world or kosmos (G2889), that is, the ‘arrangement or system of things’, which in the context of Genesis was a very wicked or ungodly system (2Peter 2:5), in which the intents of the hearts of men were evil only (Genesis 6:5).
Peter points to a similarity between the worlds of 2Peter 3:6 and 2Peter 3:7. In other words “the world of the ungodly” (Genesis 6) is placed in parallel with “the heavens and the earth, which are now” (2Peter 3). Peter is not saying the literal heavens and earth of his day would soon catch fire and be destroyed. He is using picturesque and apocalyptic language that his audience in the first century AD would understand perfectly. Peter was saying, just as the “world of the ungodly” ended in the Genesis Flood, so, too, the present world or system of things in the first century AD (i.e. the heavens and the earth that are now), particularly for the Jews who are the “ungodly men” of 2Peter 3:7, would end violently. Remember, in his first epistle Peter claimed Jesus was coming soon (1Peter 1:7, 13), and he was ready to judge his people with whom he had a covenant relationship (1Peter 4;5, 17).
This is what the scoffers of 2Peter 3:3 were scoffing about. They recognized Peter’s claim for the immanency of Christ’s coming in his first epistle, so they mocked: “Where is the promise of his coming?” For over 30 years Peter had been preaching Jesus would return, yet “all things continue as they were since the beginning (Moses) of creation (the Torah or Law).” The Temple is still here; the Law is still here; the Levitical priesthood is still here; God’s covenant with the Jews was still valid. This was their argument. They didn’t believe Jesus would return or that the present system of things (the heavens and the earth that existed in the first century AD) would end or be destroyed.
Therefore, if Peter wasn’t claiming Jesus’ return (i.e. his Second Coming) wasn’t soon to occur in the first century AD, the scoffers would not have tried to argue against it. Their argument would make no sense at all, if Peter hadn’t claimed Jesus was soon to return (i.e. in that first century generation). Therefore, 2Peter 3 verse-7 and verse-10 cannot be twisted to mean the end of time or the end of the universe, because neither time nor the universe came to an end in the first century AD. Since it is evident that Peter had to be speaking of his day, i.e. the first century AD, then we have a choice, today, to believe Peter or the folks around us saying the world (and time) will soon come to an end. It’s that simple. Either Peter was correct (and the scripture he wrote was correct) or today’s best sellers, produced by men for gain, are correct. Choose this day whom you believe. As for me and my house, we believe Peter.