Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Repentance Averts Temporal Calamity

During my 7 part response to Matthew Waymeyer on his treatment of Acts 17:30-31 (see here for a list of all 7 links), I talked about the universal command to repent in light of the coming Day of the Lord.

Zane Hodges has an excellent discussion of universal repentance in his commentary on 2 Peter. I have already given the commentary on 2 Peter 3:8 here: Repentance and the Day of the Lord; Exposition of 2 Peter 3:8-9. Please refer to this previous article for context.

The following is the second of two parts, the conclusion to the previous lined treatment on 2 Peter 3:8. Here 3:9 is tackled.

Read on and you will find a great significance of repentance when we view it against the great and terrible Day of the Lord! (I guarantee you that this article will keep your attention!)

2 Peter 3:8-9
But don’t let this fact escape you, beloved, that one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, the way some people regard slowness, but is longsuffering toward us, not wanting any to perish, but that all should come to repentance

---Majority Text, Zane Hodges’ Translation

It follows from what Peter just said that, in the divine actuality, the Lord is not slow about His promise, that is, in the way some people count slowness. How can a God for whom a great span of time (a thousand years) is no longer than a single day be accused of slowness? Some people (like slow-moving earthworms!) may count the apparent delay to be slowness in regard to His promise, but this is not really so. This ignorant accusation is rooted in a purely human conception about time. Now that we know something about the relativity of the experience of time [Antonio’s note: see vs. 8 commentary for details], Peter’s refutation is all the more impressive and effective.

There is also a second fact that is important to Peter’s refutation of the false teachers. Not only is the Lord… not slow about His promise, but (instead) He is longsuffering toward us. The word us here is not a reference to Peter and his readers (i.e., “us Christians”) but to “us” in the sense of humanity, since Peter is talking here about a worldwide calamity. The use of us, however, is appropriate since even the Christians would be beneficiaries of this mercy. After all, even though we are destined to escape these things (see 2 Peter 2:5, 7-9.), Christians have relatives and friends who would be swept away if the judgments came at once. A mercy to them would be a mercy to us as well.

Thus the seeming “delay” of the Second Advent is to be understood by Christians as related to two fundamental realities about God: (1) His relation to time itself, and (2) His compassion toward mankind.

It should be noted here that Peter is not discussing the final judgment of men, but instead the arrival of our Lord’s “coming,” which the scoffers are challenging (see 3:4). This is synonymous with the arrival of “the Day of the Lord” (see vs. 10). As we learn from our Lord’s own teaching in Matthew 24, from Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5 and from the book of Revelation, the events that follow this “arrival” are the most devastating in human history. They will involve the near-extinction of humanity (Matt. 24:22). Indeed, in one of the plagues described in Revelation, a third of the world’s population is killed by that plague alone (see Rev. 9:15, 18). In terms of the earth’s present population, we are talking in that case about the death of some 2 billion people.

God is in no way anxious to begin this dreadful process. As Peter puts it, He is longsuffering toward us, not wanting any to perish. The Greek word rendered perish here (apolesthai) might equally well have been translated be killed. In its general, everyday Greek usage the same form could mean things like “to be ruined, to be destroyed, to be killed” [cf. BDAG]. Our Lord actually used this verb in Luke 13:5 as a synonym for the verb “killed” (13:4). Here Peter is thinking about God’s gracious reluctance to see sinners killed.

The truth Peter has in mind is clearly articulated in Ezekiel 18:23:

“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord god, “and not that eh should turn from his ways and live?”

And it is stated again in Ezekiel 18:32:

“For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live.”

Some modern minds categorically reject the idea that God could ever sanction the death of millions and millions of people. But this type of thinking only demonstrates how far human beings have detached themselves from reality. If physical life itself is a bestowal from God, then human beings have no right to retain it if they turn their backs on their Creator. Our Maker has a perfect right to withdraw His life-giving “breath” from any man or woman who fails to acknowledge Him. His reluctance to do so has nothing to do with the supposed “rights” of the creature, and it has everything to do with the Creator’s enormous compassion and mercy.

What God seeks from men while His judgment tarries is repentance. God’s wish, therefore, is that all should come to repentance. This statement should not be read as though it indicated God’s desire that all men should be saved from hell. It is true that God does have such a desire, since it is so plainly stated in 1 Timothy 2:4-5 and also found in passages like John 3:16-17 and 2 Corinthians 5:19-20. What is suggested here, however, is that if men would repent, the judgment of the Day of the Lord could be averted. But this repentance would need to be essentially universal, that is to say, all would have to come to repentance.

This truth is illustrated in the microcosm in the case of Nineveh. Jonah preached, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). In response, the entire city repented (Jonah 3:1-10; note especially vs. 5), with the result that the judgment did not fall. How many of the Ninevites escaped eternal damnation is not the subject of Jonah’s book, since repentance is not a condition for eternal life. What is clear is that all of them were spared from the impending “overthrow” of their city, because the whole city repented. Of course, well over a century later (612 BC), Nineveh was overthrown, but long after the forty-day time frame specified in Jonah’s preaching. The climactic judgment came well after the city had resumed its wicked ways, and this “overthrow” fulfilled the later prophecy of Nahum.

What is therefore implicit in our text is that a worldwide repentance could postpone the Day of the Lord for as long as such a repentance attitude prevailed. We can also glean this principle form the book of Jeremiah where the Lord says to the prophet (18:7-8):

The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.

And to Judah, Jeremiah was told to say (18:11):

Now therefore speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return no every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good’” [emphasis added]

But the opposite possibility is also true (Jer. 18:9-10):

And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.

In our passage, the truth that Peter expresses regarding what the Lord wants, is twofold. God delays the Second Advent because (1) God does not want any (individuals) to perish, and (2) He does want all (people) to come to repentance. These represent His desires, both negatively and positively considered, in regard to mankind.

However, the question naturally arises why God would withold the Day of the Lord if He knows full well that a worldwide repentance is impossible. And the answer can only be that He knows it is not impossible. To say anything else reduces the compassionate action of God, as described by Peter, to a cruel charade. In that case, while God witholds His wrath, the population of the world grows exponentially, only to be doomed in the end.

It must be regarded as certain, therefore, that God’s compassion is real and that man’s opportunity to repent is equally real. (We are not talking here about everyone getting saved, of course, but about everyone turning to the true God in one way or another.) What conditions in the world could bring this about? This, of course, God alone knows. He also obviously knows whether this possibility will be realized or not. The point is simple. God delays in order to give all men a genuine opportunity to repent. The mercy is real because the opportunity is real.

Consider Nineveh again. Who would have thought it even remotely possible that “the people of Nineveh” would have “believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:4) as a result of Jonah’s preaching? What caused them to do this, beyond the obvious work of the Spirit of God? We do not know. However, it is tantalizing to learn that a cuneiform representation of the city’s name sometimes occurs in the form of two cuneiform signs that were combined into a fish inside an enclosure. Did Jonah’s experience inside the great fish become known at Nineveh? Did that experience itself seem like a supernatural representation of Nineveh’s very name (= enclosure + fish)?

We tend to evaluate possibilities in terms of what we can observe and imagine. But this severely underestimates al all wise, omniscient God. Undoubtedly God fully knows under what set of conditions mankind might turn to Him – however briefly – and so long as there are options that are viable in His eyes, He witholds “the promise” of our Savior’s return. But even if this results in another thousand years of seeming “delay,” for Him the length of “time” is inconsequentially short.

And it should be for us as well. After all, He is eternal and our destiny with our Lord Jesus Christ is the experience of eternal life. Compared to that, a few thousand years is nothing. In the meantime, we can call men to the knowledge of the God who loves them with magnificent patience.

Zane C. Hodges, The Kerugma Message, Vol 14, No 3, Winter


Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

This a very good post.

November 15, 2006 12:39 AM  
Anonymous GlennW said...


This is indeed a very good post, God shows grace to both the saved and unsaved. When reading this I also thought of the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30).

13:28 He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’
13:29 But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them ...

Jesus restrains the elect angels from gathering the weeds (which verse 38 explains are the people of the evil one) because some wheat (people of the kingdom) might get uprooted in the process. Sometimes when Jesus withholds judgment it is to protect his own even if we do not recognize it as such. God truly shows his grace in ways we do not even comprehend.

I know that there has been heated debate over the meaning of the parables and I am not trying to stir up that pot again.

Thank you.

Glenn W.

November 15, 2006 8:17 AM  
Blogger Kc said...

Now you're talking theology! Let that systematic stuff go the way of the wind. ;-)

Great article.

November 15, 2006 2:39 PM  
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November 26, 2006 10:52 PM  
Blogger H K Flynn said...

Great post, Antonio!

Erwin Lutzer believes it is always the combination of the teachings of God's judgment and His love that brings repentance. (And that judgment only tends to harden people) I think the very fact that God is making the warning known (repent) shows his tenderness toward the people who need to repent.

May 11, 2007 11:54 AM  

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