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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:Like a Thief
Text:2 Peter 3:1-13; Text: 3:10; 12b (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Second Coming

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Like a Thief

2 Peter 3: 10; 12b-13

Preached by Rev. Keith Davis 10-24-21


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is no great mystery that among all the subjects in the Bible that fascinate and captivate people’s attention -- it is the subject of the end times that is most popular. In fact, even among Christians there can be a fascination – even an unhealthy interest and obsession with the Bible’s teachings about the end times.  


I saw this firsthand. When I was a much younger man, working in the trades, I had a co-worker who was just a year or two older than I was. He was raised in a Christian home; the church he attended (or used to attend) was a Reformed church. And by his own admission even though he did not go to church much, he still considered himself a Christian.


But whenever we talked about the Christian faith, whenever we talked about the Bible, there was only ever one thing on his mind. He was obsessed with John’s visions from the book of Revelation. I was always amazed at how he could describe those passages with great accuracy. He was especially interested in trying to assign meaning to all the things that were symbolized – like who were the locusts described in Revelation 9 (like this was all a puzzle for us to solve).  


But that was it. As far as I could tell, that was the extent of his interest in the Bible and in the God of the Bible. So let that be a cautionary tale, a word of warning to all of us that mere curiosity about the Bible and about the end times is not a substitute for truth faith and believe in God.


Besides, the whole purpose of God telling us about the coming of the end is to prepare us in our heart and soul to meet our Lord, to look forward to the Day when we shall see him as he is, and when we shall know Him and love Him as we ought!! And so that is especially what should captivate our minds and hearts about Judgment Day


In the verses we read tonight, Peter talks about that coming judgment—and he speaks not only of its surety, that it is indeed coming, but he speaks of the refining fires of judgment and the introduction, the inauguration, the unveiling of the new heavens and the new earth. So that is what we are going to look at tonight. Peter Speaks about the Day of the Lord.  

1. The Surety of the Day

2. The Secrecy of the Hour  

3. The Purity of the Fire


1. The Surety of the Day

We remind ourselves again that Peter is responding to the scoffers and false teachers in the church who said that there was no second coming. Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.


Now, let’s take a moment to review what Peter wrote earlier in response. He said – But they (these scoffers) deliberately forget that long ago by God’s Word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and with water. By water also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. And by the same word the present heaven and earth are served for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.


So what is Peter saying there? First, he exposes these scoffers for what they were. These men were liars. They were deliberately and intentionally twisting and defying and misrepresenting the clear teachings of the Word of God.  Peter said they had conveniently forgotten the truth that in ages past God did indeed enter into judgment against His people.


God did not simply sit back and let the world (and evil) go on unchecked. Incidentally, that is very much like the beliefs of Deism where God is the Creator who (much like a divine watchmaker), creates the world, but then he just sits back at a distance and watches everything unfold , without having much to do with the day to day events of world history.


But Peter spent some time in chapter 2 debunking all that. He explained that this was NOT the case. God entered into judgment against the angels who had rebelled in the beginning – casting them out of heaven. And God entered into judgment against the wicked and depraved generation in the days of Noah when God sent the flood. And God also entered into judgment against the wicked citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying them and their cities.


So, God is not detached from his creation. God is intimately connected to His creation. And of course, as we know God not only entered into judgment against the world, but God actually entered the world himself (into its history) in the Person of His only begotten Son. And God did that so that as John 3:16 so that the world by Him might be saved!  


Another error of these scoffers is they defied the power of God’s Word. They not only deliberately forgot the past judgments of God, but they also denied the power of God’s Word. Peter said by God’s Word the heaven and earth was made. That’s the all powerful, creating Word of God.


And although it does not state it explicitly, we know that it was also by God’s Word that the waters of judgment came; and by the same Word the present heavens and earth awaits God’s judgment by fire.


The emphasis there is on the unchanging, all powerful Word of God. The Word of God cannot be broken; it cannot be the thwarted. If God has spoken it, then it is sure to be (see verse 2 also). And so Peter’s encouragement for the saints in his day is the same as it is for us today: God is true to His Word. What he has said he will do. The Day of judgment is coming; of this we can be sure.


2. The Secrecy of the Hour  

And that brings us to the second point of this passage – where Peter describes the secrecy of the hour. In verse 10 Peter wries: the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. Clearly, Peter is repeating the words of teachings of Jesus his Master; Jesus used this same illustration of a thief (in the night) when speaking about his return.


So we ask, what does that mean? What is the purpose of that comparison? A thief comes when no one expects him. He usually comes at night under the cover of darkness. So there is a certain hiddenness implied, a secrecy, an unpredictability, an unexpectedness about his coming.

Let’s take a few moments to look at a couple passages where Jesus speaks about the secrecy and the unpredictability of his coming. Matthew 24: 36 No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Then later Jesus said: Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.


By the way, that’s another very good example of the human nature of Jesus. Even though Jesus was fully God, and Gad knows everything, Jesus was also fully human. So here was something that the Father knew, and that (in His wisdom) He withheld from the knowledge of His Son on earth. So, there were things that Christ in his humanity was not given to know.


So the Son did know the hour or the day. This was all the more reason for Jesus to impress upon the people to live with a sense of urgency, always watching and always ready. That theme of watchfulness carries over from Matthew 24 into chapter 25 and it is illustrated by the well-known parable of the 10 virgins, five of whom were wise, but five were foolish because they brought no oil for their lamps; they were not ready for the return of the bridegroom.


At the end of that parable Jesus issued this warning (Matthew 25: 13): Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day of the hour. That same call to watchfulness is also echoed by the Apostle Paul in Thessalonians 5:1-4.  (Context – I Thess. 4:13-17 describes all that will happen on the day Jesus returns: Jesus will bring all those who have fallen asleep with him; those who are still alive on earth will see the Lord with their own eyes, they will bear witness; the Lord will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the arch angels and the trumpet call of God. And the dead will rise first, etc. etc.).


But then Paul goes on to say right after that -- Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.


The first thing of note is Paul’s warning about times and dates. As some of you may know, this has been a problem for some Christians, and it has been the downfall of not a few prominent pastors (like Harold Camping for example).


They thought they could read the signs and make an accurate prediction – and all we know how those predictions turned out. Most of the people who made such predictions are lying dead in the grave for many years and still the Lord has not returned. They have shown themselves not only to be fools, but false prophets.


So you see, accepting that as truth -- that we do not know the day or the hour prevents us from those kinds of foolish and even dangerous and shameful predictions. I think they’re dangerous because those kinds of predictions (and the people who make them) are usually so bold and so sure – the people who make them are usually very confident and sure of themselves; and those leaders have a strong following – that when those predictions fail, they threaten to take down with them all those who put their faith in them – not in the Gospel, but in them! A person.


Another problem is that predictions like that make a very bad witness and impression of the Christian faith and the church. draw the wrong kind of attention to the church –people think we Christians are whacko members of a doomsday cult and we’re all together in church every week just waiting and praying for the end of the world. And that is not what the church of Jesus Christ is about.


Also, it invariably calls into question the validity of the truth of the Bible. If people think we Christians can look to the Bible to find out when Jesus is coming back – but then when he doesn’t come, then they (and perhaps we) are left to wonder: was the Bible wrong? How reliable can it be? So you see, for good reason we are given this warning; and for good reason we need to heed this warning.


So then, we accept for truth that the Lord IS COMING, that is a certainty. In fact, as one author wrote: it is more certain that Christ will return than that the sun will rise tomorrow. But the time of his coming is unknown. He will come like a thief -- and so we are to live each day in eager expectation of the return of the Lord, keeping our minds alert, our eyes open, our hearts engaged, being ready for the coming of the bridegroom.


3. The Purity of the Fire

Lets just take a closer look at the way Peter describes the day of the Lord:

Vs. 10b.

- The heavens will disappear with a roar; 

- the elements will be destroyed by fire, 

- the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Vs. 12b-13

- That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire

- and the elements will melt in the heat. 

- But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (where righteousness dwells).


The first point I'd like to make about this is that there will be a very clear continuity between the creation as we see it here and now and the new heavens and the new earth. I know that when we speak of the day of judgment, we often refer to it as the end of the world. And perhaps all kinds of movies and books and stories about the end of the world comes to mind.


But we should understand that when we talk about the ‘end of the world’ God will not utterly and completely destroy and annihilate and remove the world that we currently inhabit. So perhaps that's a good point to make about judgment day and the new heavens and the new earth. We're not talking about an act of God recreating from scratch. We're not talking about God revisiting Genesis 1 all over again no that is not the case at all.


And in a way we have an example of this in the scriptures. When God sent the flood and “destroyed the world” in Noah’s day, God did not remove the world from existence. God did not destroy everything that he had made. Rather the flood destroyed humanity. And the flood waters transported Noah and his family to a “new world”. But of course, as we know, the problem was that sin was on board the ark; and the world was still lying beneath the curse of sin even after the flood.


So in that way it was a temporary and partial judgment. The judgment that God will bring about on the great and final day – will be a once for all judgment that will rid the world of every trace of sin and the curse of sin!


So, when we speak of the end of the world, when we Christians speak of judgment day what we're talking about is the end of the world as we currently know it. We're talking about the end of this world in so far as it lies under the curse of sin, a world that is polluted and corrupted and infected with the disease of sin. That is the only reality we know. That is the world in which we live at the moment.


And to me that is exciting to think about (not that the idea of judgment day is thrilling. It is an incredibly sobering reality and there is a sense of fear and trembling associated with it). But what is exciting is the thought that this earth will not be removed. All the beauty and majesty and grandeur -- all the good that is here on earth -- there will be something of that in the new heavens and earth, only in a fuller, more beautiful, more perfected state! It will be something familiar, something we will know and recognize and add feel at home in.


And how will God do that? How will God bring us/transport us to the new heavens and earth earth?  Through the purifying fire of God’s judgment. Again, the judgement by fire is not as a judgment that consumes and destroys everything so that there is nothing left.


Rather the fires of God’s judgement are to be thought of in terms of their purifying power, in terms of the property of fire that burns away that which is in pure. Think of the process of refinement and purification instead of utter annihilation. The imagery is drawn here from the idea of the refinery where fire is used to burn away the impurities of the metal. To be sure this process is violent and destructive. The passage makes that clear the heavens will pass away with a roar, the elements will be destroyed with fire with intense heat the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. The heavens will be destroyed and the elements will melt with heat.


Again these descriptions suggest the presence and the process of extraordinary power and destructiveness. However this is the process of God uses to purify and to refine to cleanse the world of all of its impurities. The presence and power of sin and evil will be removed and all of creation will be left in a state of pristine purity.


Dr. Cornel Venema writes about this in his book: The Promise of the Future:  just as the refiners fire is used to produce the highest and purest grade of gold or silver so the refining fire of God's judging and sanctifying this sin cursed creation will yield a new heavens on earth where all is holy and pure in this process far from being eliminated, the integrity of the creation is restored, all the unnatural impurities having been removed (p. 467).


And so what we have in the end is not the creation of all things new, but the renewal of all things. The new heavens and the new earth will be a place that is beautifully and perfectly suited for the dwelling of God and his people. To restate that: it will be a place beautifully and perfectly suited for the dwelling of our holy God with us, His holy people. And in the new heavens and the new earth the glory of God will cover the earth!

Although we do not have time to go into what life will be like in the new heavens and the new earth, we know it will be a place of perfect blessedness. We will experience perfect union and communion and fellowship with God – as we will live with Him and with each other in unbroken and unbreakable bonds of fellowship (just think of the realization and fulfillment of Christ’s prayer in John 17!).


Again, there are many more things to say about this but I will save them for another time. But I hope that this already gives us great encouragement, a great excitement, and also great anticipation as we continue to wait for the Lord's return. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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