The more I compile the posts for my Forbidden Bible Verses, the more I wonder why they have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary.  If I were a vicar or pastor, I would probably read the entire chapter, not just the passages assigned to Sundays and feasts.

With the theological relativism pervading today’s world — ‘all religion is equal and all men are saved’ — it is no wonder that church attendance has dropped like a stone.  What’s the point in going?  We take in the readings, listen to a sermon about being nice people, go home and tune into a ball game or watch a movie.  Sunday — job done, tick in box.

Yet, if we were to hear whole chapters of Scripture at church, I doubt we would be so complacent.  Paradoxically, I believe that church attendance would actually increase.  Let’s face it, we are hard wired to appreciate fear.  We watch horror films, read supernatural stories, revel in sensational news items and discuss other people’s tales of woe (never our own, of course!).

St Peter’s compact set of letters exemplifies the intensity of the New Testament.  So much has been left out, yet these ‘forbidden verses’, as it were, are essential, not only for understanding God’s intentions for mankind but also for avoiding secular pitfalls and worldly temptation.  Today’s entry is another case in point.

This is the final instalment of the letters of St Peter.  Today’s reading comes from the English Standard Version (ESV), with exegetical commentary from the 17th century Calvinist minister and Bible scholar, Matthew Henry.

2 Peter 3: 1-7, 15-17

The Day of the Lord Will Come

 1This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly …

Final Words

15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability …

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St Peter is writing to his new converts, whom he has helped to shepherd in the faith.  He will be writing to them no more after this.  Consequently, as we have seen in his other letters, his tone conveys an urgent intensity.  Even today, his words carry a particular resonance in an increasingly secularised and apostate world.

Peter begins his letter (verse 1) by reminding his converts of what he has written thus far.  In 1 Peter, the Apostle instructed his new converts on holiness, the importance of the Gospel, conduct in society, conduct in marriage, good stewardship of God’s gifts and the relationship between the young and those in authority. 2 Peter 1 discussed the necessity of self-control and goodness.  2 Peter 2 warned against false prophets, describing their carnality and sinfulness.

He says to pay heed to what the prophets of the Old Testament foresaw as well as what Jesus commanded of all believers (verse 2), described in detail in the previous letters (see above).

In verse 3, Peter says that in the ‘last days’, those who scorn God and His Son will abound.  The ‘last days’ refer to the period dating from the first Pentecost to the end of the world.  So, Peter and his converts were living in the last days, just as we are right now.

Peter says that, by mocking the Good News, the scoffers are doing no more than following their natural predilection for sin.  And, then as now, they uttered the same foolishness (verse 4): ‘When will He fulfil this so-called promise?’ ‘Why hasn’t He shown Himself yet?’ This is something we still encounter today, whether online or offline, in print or in conversation.  We read about a dead God, a fairytale God, a delusion and so forth.  Unbelievers are increasingly puffed-up with their own self-importance — their rationality, their empirical evidence, their intelligence.  They don’t need a God, only vulnerable weaklings do.

Matthew Henry explains why this is so (emphases mine):

This indeed may seem very strange, that the New-Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace, which is spiritual and therefore more agreeable to the nature of God than the Old, should be ridiculed and reproached; but the spirituality and simplicity of New-Testament worship are directly contrary to the carnal mind of man, and this accounts for what the apostle seems here to hint at, namely, that scoffers shall be more numerous and more bold in the last days than ever before. Though in all ages those who were born and walked after the flesh persecuted, reviled, and reproached those who were born and did walk after the Spirit, yet in the last days there will be a great improvement in the art and impudence of bantering serious godliness, and those who firmly adhere to the circumspection and self-denial which the gospel prescribes. This is what is mentioned as a thing well known to all Christians, and therefore they ought to reckon upon it, that they may not be surprised and shaken, as if some strange thing happened unto them.

We must expect this mockery and know how to resist it, particularly as our world becomes more advanced technologically.  As Henry says:

these seducers, because they wish he never may, therefore do all that in them lies to cheat themselves and others into a persuasion that he will never come. If they cannot deny that there is a promise, yet they will laugh at that very promise, which argues much higher degrees of infidelity and contempt: Where is the promise, say they, of his coming?

… for while they laugh they will pretend to argue too. To this purpose they add that since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation, v. 4. This is a subtle, though not a solid way of reasoning; it is apt to make impressions upon weak minds, and especially upon wicked hearts. Because sentence against them is not speedily executed, therefore they flatter themselves that it never will, whereupon their hearts are fully set in them to do evil (Eccl. 8:11); thus they act themselves, and thus they would persuade others to act; so here, say they, “The fathers have fallen asleep, those are all dead to whom the promise was made, and it was never made good in their time, and there is no likelihood that it ever will be in any time; why should we trouble ourselves about it? …’ Because they see no changes, therefore they fear not God, Ps. 55:19 …

In verse 5, Peter tells us that the scoffers ‘overlook’ the ‘fact’ that God alone created the universe long ago.  He fashioned the Earth Himself from the water which He created.  Note that God, in His providence, gave us not only rain but also defined channels and bodies of water in the form of rivers, lakes, seas and oceans.  However, He also sent the flood of Noah’s day, which Peter refers to in 2 Peter 2:5.  People today say it never happened, that it was just an allegory.  Why, then, would Peter refer to it twice in his second letter, the other reference being here in verse 6?  Henry explains the wilful ignorance of the scoffers with regard to creation:

Note, It is hard to persuade men to believe what they are not willing to find true; they are ignorant, in many cases, because they are willing to be ignorant, and they do not know because they do not care to know. But let not sinners think that such ignorance as this will be admitted as an excuse for whatever sin it may betray them into. Those who crucified Christ did not know who he was; for had they known they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Co. 2:8); but, though ignorant, they were not therefore innocent; their ignorance itself was a sin, willing and wilful ignorance, and one sin can be no excuse for another. So it is here; had these known of the dreadful vengeance with which God swept away a whole world of ungodly wretches at once, they would not surely have scoffed at his threatenings of any after equally terrible judgment; but here they were willingly ignorant, they did not know what God had done because they had no mind to know it.

However, in verse 7, Peter warns that, just as God destroyed the Earth and the reprobates of Noah’s day, the entire world will meet with a fiery end.  Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t.  Only God knows when that day will come.  He has continuously confounded prophets and seers who are adamant they know that fateful date, the latest being May 21, 2011.  (The last one I recall, having come from an interpretation of Nostradamus, was July 4, 1999.)

the judgment here spoken of is yet to come, and will surely come, though we know not when, nor upon what particular age or generation of men; and therefore we are not, we cannot be, sure that it may not happen in our own times: and this makes a very great difference … for there were some, though very few, who escaped that deluge, but not one can escape in this conflagration. Besides, we were not in reach of the one, but are not sure that we shall not be included in the other calamity. Now therefore to see the world to which we belong destroyed at once-not a single person only, not a particular family only, nor yet a nation (even that which we are most nearly interested in and concerned for), but the whole world, I say, sinking at once, and no ark provided, no possible way left of escaping for any one from the common ruin, this makes a difference between the desolation that has been and what we yet are to expect. The one is already past, and never to return upon us any more (for God has said expressly that there shall never any more be a flood to destroy the earth, Gen. 9:11-17); the other … is as certain to come as the truth and the power of God can make it: the one came gradually upon the world, and was growing upon its inhabitants forty days, before it made an utter end of them (Gen. 7:12, 17); this other will come upon them swiftly and all at once (2 Pt. 2:1): besides, there were in that overthrow (as we have said) a few who escaped, but the ruin which yet awaits this world, whenever it comes, will be absolutely a universal one; there will not be any part but what the devouring flames will seize upon, not a sanctuary left any where for the inhabitants to flee to, not a single spot in all this world where any one of them can be safe. Thus, whatever differences may be assigned between that destruction of the world and this here spoken of, they do indeed represent the approaching as the most terrible judgment; yet that the world has once been destroyed by a universal deluge renders it the more credible that it may be again ruined by a universal conflagration.

So, to unbelievers, I say, fine, believe it or not, but ignore the warnings at your peril.  Now, people may say, ‘It’s wrong to scare people into believing.’  The fact of the matter is that we are so complacent today because we have listened to the scoffers for too long.  And some of those scoffers are preaching from our pulpits!  How many of us know of clergy who have consistently preached a sermon of ‘love, love, love’ and ‘gentle Jesus’ but have never prepared their flocks for the Day of Judgment?  It’s like moving house and taking nothing with you or going on a long holiday with no suitcase.  ‘I’ll get what I need when I arrive.’  Are you sure? It’ll cost you dearly.  Similarly, if the world were to end as soon as you finished reading this post, what would you do?  What would you think about the state of your soul or those of your children?  Would you be trembling or joyful?  Something to think about!  By that time, it may well be too late to repent.  The Lord in His wisdom is patient, but even He has limits.

I know so many people — and I’m not preaching to my regulars here so much as I am to the casual reader — who suffer intense traumas.  One adversity piles up onto another affecting health, finances, relationships, trouble with the law — often spreading like a virus through a family.  At that point, a faithful Christian turns to prayer and the Bible.  But the lukewarm and the mockers muddle through, oblivious to the ‘come to Jesus’ moment, rationalising their way through it all, even though it may take years.  ‘Oh, we’re fine.  No, we didn’t need Jesus.  We didn’t see it as a divine tap on the shoulder to mend our ways.’  Hmm!  Passing judgment?  No, just warning.

Now, on to verses 15 – 17 of this chapter.  I spoke of God’s patience above.  In verse 15, Peter advises his flock to consider it as ‘salvation’.  Many Christians — myself included — are looking forward to the final day.  If it came tomorrow, we would be happy indeed.  Yet, at the same time, the fact that God waits is a sign that He is giving all of us more opportunities to repent and turn to holiness in preparation for eternity.

Peter directs his converts to the words of St Paul, specifically 1 Corinthians 3:10:

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.

Note that Peter refers to Paul as ‘beloved brother’, even though Paul had previously publicly censured Peter.  Matthew Henry explains:

(1.) He calls him brother, whereby he means not only that he is a fellow-christian (in which sense the word brethren is used 1 Th. 5:27), or a fellow-preacher (in which sense Paul calls Timothy the evangelist a brother, Col. 1:1), but a fellow-apostle, one who had the same extraordinary commission, immediately from Christ himself, to preach the gospel in every place, and to disciple all nations. Though many seducing teachers denied Paul’s apostleship, yet Peter owns him to be an apostle. (2.) He calls him beloved; and they being both alike commissioned, and both united in the same service of the same Lord, it would have been very unseemly if they had not been united in affection to one another, for the strengthening of one another’s hands, mutually desirous of, and rejoicing in, one another’s success. (3.) He mentions Paul as one who had an uncommon measure of wisdom given unto him. He was a person of eminent knowledge in the mysteries of the gospel, and did neither in that nor any other qualification come behind any of all the other apostles. How desirable is it that those who preach the same gospel should treat one another according to the pattern Peter here sets them! It is surely their duty to endeavour, by proper methods, to prevent or remove all prejudices that hinder ministers’ usefulness, and to beget and improve the esteem and respect in the minds of people towards their ministers that may promote the success of their labours.

In verse 16, Peter says that Paul’s knowledge of the Gospel is so great that ordinary minds might not fully understand what he is saying, therefore opening the door to false prophets and teachers to twist his words to meet their own sinful desires.  And how true this is even today.  We are met with a bewildering array of preachers from all ends of the spectrum (e.g. Rick Warren, Rob Bell) and movements (e.g. New Age Christianity, liberation theology).  What do we believe?  We should work hard at becoming like the Bereans, comparing what we read and hear against the Bible, eschewing anything that supplants Scripture.  It is not unusual to hear some of the big-name preachers say, ‘Don’t worry about bringing a Bible.  You won’t need it — you’ve got my book.’  Even on a local level, church-sponsored studies of The Shack and other examples of so-called Christian literature are often more commonplace than solid Bible study.  That’s because ‘Christian’ novels are engaging and entertaining.  They tickle our itching ears.  They contain the messages we want to hear.

This is why Peter cautions his converts in verse 17 not to fall into this trap, lest they turn from Christ to charlatans.  Yes, false prophets and false teachers are lawless.  They may preach a form of sanctity or holiness, but it is manmade legalism, with no roots in Jesus’s commandments.  Eating healthfully or walking around a labyrinth is not the way of the Bible. These things will not win us salvation. Such gnostic, fake piety only makes its creators fat and rich whilst harming the gullible and impressionable.  This is what Peter means by ‘lose your own stability’.

As Matthew Henry said above, Christianity is too simple and too spiritual for carnal man to appreciate or understand.  Therefore, let us pray that God saves us from such traps and brings us ever closer to Him through His divine grace.