Like Gary Alexander, I too am a “recovering apocaholic.” For one semester, I taught Bible prophecy at the late, not-so-great, Ambassador College. Additionally, I wrote quite a number of articles and booklets on the subject. At the time, I thought I knew what I was talking about. Apparently I did not. To cite the old German saying, “Ve get too zoon oldt, undt too late schmart.”
It is still true, however, that some 27 percent of the Bible contains prophetic material. It must be there for a reason. Is it meant to warn us of things to come? Or is it something we’ll better understand in retrospect than beforetime?
The apostle Peter wrote some interesting things in his second letter. He said, “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles,” (II Peter 3:1-2).
For Peter, the words of the Old Testament prophets still carried meaning for the Church of his day. He also encouraged them to be mindful of his own words and those of the other apostles. What did Peter have in mind when he penned these thoughts? He tells us in the next verse: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he has promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation,’” (II Peter 3:3-4).
Peter, along with the whole first generation of Christians, fully expected the Lord’s return in their lifetimes. It didn’t happen. It hasn’t happened in nearly 2000 years. Does that mean it will never happen? Peter wanted his friends (verse 1, 8) to remember what Jesus has said to and through his apostles. Jesus taught that he would eventually prepare “mansions” for his faithful followers (John 14:1-2). He said these mansions, or rooms, would be in “my Father’s house.” These are the eternal dwelling places of the saints of God. Then he said, “…if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going,” (John 14:3, 4).
Jesus promised to return to gather his church to himself. After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to his disciples and provided them with additional instructions. Then he rose into heaven and was hidden by a cloud (Acts 1:9). Two men, apparently angels, then said to those watching, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven,” (Acts 1:11).
We can expect Jesus to return in the same matter he left – on or in clouds. At the same time, we have no idea when this will occur. In fact, we know it will happen at a time when even the church is not expecting it, “So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him,” (Matthew 24:44).
The operative term in the above verse is “be ready.” Peter, even though he was a bonafide apostle, had no better idea than we do about when Jesus would return. What he was doing was attempting to ready his generation of Christians for the possibility that it might still happen in their time. Because the Lord seemed to be delaying his return was not justification for descending into cynicism and becoming a scoffer. He wanted them to think “wholesome thoughts” – not those of a doubter who discounted the words of Jesus and his apostles on the subject.
Peter knew that a time of future judgment was coming. He wrote, “…the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men,” (II Peter 3:7b). When the Lord returns, he will bring judgment upon the earth. It is the time of the “baptism with fire” of which John the Baptist spoke. As we shall see, the time between the Lord’s departure and his return was meant to be a time of repentance and preparation for the saints of God.
Peter pointed out that God lives outside the boundaries of time, which is a product of the material universe. He transcends the limitations of time and space. Wrote Peter, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” (II Peter 3:8, 9). The more time we have before the Lord’s return, the more people can hear the good news and come to repentance. God, in his great mercy, is providing all of us with an opportunity to come to him.
Peter then reiterated the fact that the day of the Lord’s return will occur unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” (II Peter 3:10a).
Whether or not we are practicing, or recovering, apocaholics, it behooves all of us to live constantly in a state of spiritual readiness. The Lord may return in our generation, and he may not. If he does, we need to be prepared. Our salvation will be well-served if we are found in a steady state of “living holy and godly lives…” (verse 11b).