Perhaps the most interesting epistle in the New Testament, at least from an eschatological standpoint, is 2nd Peter. Although this epistle has been bitterly attacked throughout the centuries — some denying its apostolic authorship, and others disallowing its place in the N.T. canon — it remains a fruitful field of study for those who truly love Christ and look for His appearing. While the epistle itself consists of much that is interesting, the third chapter contains doctrine that is of the greatest importance to students seeking to understand the second advent and related events. In the following article, I would like to look briefly at Peter’s prophesy of “scoffers” who were predicted to arise in the last days to challenge the doctrine of Christ’s second coming.
What about these men? Peter writes: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3: 3-4).
In order to understand this prophecy, it is essential that we know something of the “times and seasons,” even though God in His infinite wisdom has refrained from giving us exact dates. Peter says that these scoffers will arise in the “last days.” What is meant by this term? Since it is clear from the text that the prediction lay in Peter’s future (otherwise it would not be a prediction), the “last days” undoubdtedly refers to the final days of the Gospel dispensation which began with Christ’s personal ministry (see Luke 4: 18-21; 16: 16; cf. Mark 1: 1) and which will terminate at the “end of the age,” when the wheat and tares are separated (Matthew 13: 40). This eschatological purgation is scheduled to occur at Christ’s second advent (see Matthew 24: 30-31; Revelation 14: 14-16). It is then that the Lord will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and cast them into the furnace of fire; while the righteous will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13: 41-43; Daniel 12: 2-3; cf. 1 Cor. 15: 41-42).
The coming of the “scoffers” referred to by Peter therefore falls in the days immediately prior to Christ’s return. This conclusion is supported by other Scriptures which speak of a “falling away” that will happen in the days preceding the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory (see 2 Thess. 2: 3; 1 Tim. 4: 3; 2 Tim. 3: 1-7; 4: 4-5). Of course, the main prophetic event standing between that apostasy and Christ’s personal coming will be the coming of Antichrist, in whom the apostasy shall have its culmination (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5: 29: 2). But that subject must be dealt with in a different article.
Regarding the apostasy, our Lord Himself alluded thereto when He said: “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find THE faith (Gr. ten pistin) on the earth?” (Luke 18: 8). The “faith” can be none other than “the faith delivered once for all to the saints” (Jude 3), which is preserved in the New Testament; to which nothing is to be added, and from which nothing is to be taken away. Christ was not speaking of a personal faith in Himself, but of faith in the entire body of Christian doctrine.
It seems natural, then, to identify Peter’s mockers as a sub-group of men who will belong to some last days’ “movement” to subvert the Christian faith. Whether these men will find their stronghold in churches or in seminaries (or perhaps both) it is difficult to tell. However, their doctrine will be characterized by a rejection of vital truth regarding the second coming of Christ. Now, in charting all the details, we must keep very close to the actual language of Peter’s prediction, taking great care that we do not read something into his words that isn’t there. In speaking of these mockers, Peter does not say that they will outright deny the doctrine of the second advent. Rather, their business will be to make men doubt that it will happen in their own lifetimes.
The apostle gives us a better view of their doctrine by telling us with what argument they’ll seek to bolster their doubts. They won’t just throw the Lord’s second coming into question. They’ll also justify their teaching by an argument based on historical precedent: “For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” In other words, their rationale will not be evolutionary at all. Their reason for questioning the validity of the second advent will not be founded on the notion that the “world is getting better and better,” but on the observable fact that since the patriarchs were laid to rest, the world has continued spinning its daily round unchecked by Divine judgment. This is not to say that some of these men won’t also adopt evolutionary arguments; only that such arguments will not serve as the main prop upon which their doubting rests.
As stated, the reasoning of these scoffers will be more of insinuation than of outspoken denial. “Hitherto no judgment hath befallen, and so we need not look for judgment.” Typically, such men would be the ones to compile lengthy lists of Christians who had looked for Christ’s return to occur in their own lifetimes, and yet died with their hope unrealized. “All these worthy saints and scholars were wrong. Ergo, where is the promise of His coming?” Instead of treating Christ’s second advent as the pole-star of the Christian’s hope, such men would perceive it as the “ignis fatuus” which lures the church off its appointed course.
Another thing to note, is that Peter does not deny, in some measure, the validity of their argument. It is certainly true that for upwards of 2,000 years, there has been no worldwide judgment of the kind that the apostles spoke of when they predicted Christ’s return. Peter has no wish to dispute that fact. However, he drives home a point which these men have missed. The scoffers are wilfully ignorant that all humanity, except for eight persons (1 Peter 2: 5), was once destroyed by a global flood (2 Peter 3: 5-6). And what happened before can happen again. In fact, Peter goes on to say that a similar judgment will take place at Christ’s return. Except, instead of the world being deluged by water, it will be deluged by fire (see 2 Peter 3: 7, 10, 12).
Thus, Peter turns the scoffers’ argument back upon themselves. For he too is arguing from historic precedence! He keeps, however, ALL the facts in mind. Whereas the mockers of which he writes will have cherry-picked from human history, leaving the record of God’s past judgments out. This gives us an exquisitely up-front view of how these men will operate. They’ll employ a logical fallacy to cast doubt on the imminency of the second advent. The fact that are described as “walking after their own lusts,” also discloses that will not take sanctification seriously. Instead of allowing their lives and characters to be transformed by Christian teaching, they will turn the grace of God into lasciviousness (cf. Jude 4); disregarding the truth that “God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12: 14).
Peter adds something else as well, which casts light on why God seems to be “slack” concerning His promises. The Lord is not slack at all; for with Him a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3: 8). Moreover, His reason for what seems to US an unreasonable “delay” flows from His long-suffering; for He does not will that any man should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3: 9). Indeed, He would have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2: 4).
Even in light of God’s longsuffering, however, Peter assures us that there WILL one day be a judgment, and that it will happen swiftly, like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3: 10). This brings us back to the words of Christ Himself, Who predicted that the coming of the Son of Man will be as the days of Noah (Matthew 24: 37-38), inasmuch as it will catch men off their guard while they are immersed in the affairs of this life. And so Christian doctrine comes full circle once more. What Christ hath uttered, Peter hath echoed; and vice versa.
So, what can we say in conclusion? Well, we would again remind readers that at the present moment the professing church is being attacked by a battery of false doctrine so deadly that it will ultimately mean the wreckage of millions of souls. Yea, the goodly ship hath capsized. What we want now is a more earnest faith in the pure teachings of Scripture, that we get not sucked down by any “undertow” as we attempt to swim to shores of the promised kingdom. We believe that the scoffers of whom Peter wrote are within the professing church even as we write; and that it is time to sift any doctrine which men may tell us, and make sure it lines up with the holy faith that was delivered to the saints, and which faith we have preserved in the Scriptures of truth. Maranatha!