2 Peter 3:1
This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,
(a) Beloved; see entry for 1 Pet. 2:11.
(b) The second letter. Since this is Peter’s second letter “to you,” we can conclude that it went to the same place as his first one, namely to the churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pet. 1:1).
(c) Stirring up. I’m trying to wake you up to these realities.
(d) Your sincere mind. Your heart is in the right place and you are established in the truth, but I want to remind you of a few things. See entry for 2 Peter 1:12.
2 Peter 3:2
that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
(a) The holy prophets. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the Messiah coming in judgment and glory; see entry for 2 Pet. 3:4.
(b) The commandment of the Lord. Be ready for the Lord’s return (Luke 12:36, 40).
There are several great commands of the Lord in the New Testament. There is the command of God to believe in his Son Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 2:21, 1 John 3:23), and the command of Jesus to “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34). But this command concerns the final coming of the Lord (see 2 Pet. 3:4, 10). It is the Lord’s oft-repeated instruction to be ready for his return (see entry for Matt. 24:44).
(c) Apostles. In their epistles the apostles remind us to be ready and eagerly await the return of the Lord (Rom. 8:23, 8:25, 1 Cor. 1:7, 1 Thess. 1:10, Php. 3:20, Jas. 5:7–8, Jude 1:21, Rev. 3:11).
Further reading: “90 scriptures about the final coming of Jesus”
2 Peter 3:3
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts,
(a) The last days began when Jesus commenced his earthly ministry. Peter believed he was living in the last days (Acts 2:17, 1 Pet. 1:20), as did Paul (2 Tim. 3:1), James (Jas. 5:3) and John (1 John 2:18). We are still living in the last days. See entry for Heb. 1:2
(b) Mockers will come. Last days’ mockers are nothing new.
No one knows when the Lord will return (Matt 24:36). In New Testament times there were some who doubted whether he ever would (see next verse) and others who said he already had (2 Tim. 2:18).
The wrong way to read this scripture is to apply it exclusively to our generation. “We have mockers, therefore Jesus is on his way.” But Peter’s warning covers the entire period of the last days. His warning was for his generation and our generation and every generation until the return of the Lord.
Further reading: “The market for bad predictions”
2 Peter 3:4
and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
(a) The promise of his coming. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming of the Lord in judgment (Ps. 79:10, Mal. 2:17), and Jesus spoke of his glorious return on numerous occasions (e.g., Matt. 16:27, 24:27, 37–39, Luke 17:28–30, John 14:3).
(b) Coming. The original word (parousia) is derived from an oriental word used to describe the royal visit of a king or emperor. It is an apt description of the final and glorious return of the Lord. See entry for Matt. 24:37.
(c) The fathers fell asleep. Our ancestors died. People still die.
(d) All continues. Because nothing seems to change, the cynical mock the faithful. “Where is this so-called coming of the Lord?”
2 Peter 3:5
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water,
(a) It escapes their notice. Those who mock seem to forget that the same God who spoke the universe into existence also spoke about judgment and destruction (see 2 Pet. 3:7). We would do well to heed God’s word.
(b) The word of God is powerful, creative, and sustains all things (Gen. 1:3, John 1:1, Heb. 1:3). What God says always comes to pass. So when God speaks, we should pay attention.
2 Peter 3:6
through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
Flooded. What God made with a word he destroyed with a word (Gen. 6:17).
Many years before he wrote this letter, Peter sat with Jesus on the Mount of Olives and asked him about his return. The Lord replied that his coming would be like the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37–39). Peter never forgot the Lord’s words, and he understood that the former event (the flood) illuminated the latter (the Lord’s return).
2 Peter 3:7
But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
(a) By his word. The same word that created the earth (verse 5) and destroyed it in a flood (verse 6) will one day burn it with fire (see verse 10).
(b) Reserved for fire. The heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire and replaced with new versions of each (2 Pet. 3:10, Rev. 21:1).
The Lord often spoke of fire in connection with Judgment Day (Matt. 5:22, 13:42, 50, 18:9, 25:41, Mark 9:43, Luke 12:49, 17:29–30, John 15:6), and Peter develops that fiery theme here. But what does it mean to say the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire?
Those who opt for a preterist interpretation say these prophecies were fulfilled in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. They note that “heaven and earth” was a shorthand phrase for the temple, God’s heavenly seat on earth (see entry for Matt. 5:18). But the context here is Judgment Day and the destruction of the ungodly. In contrast with the fall of Jerusalem, which was preceded by wars and lawlessness (Matt. 24:6, 12), the return of the Lord will occur during a time of peace (Matt. 24:37). The former event was well-signposted, but the Lord will return unexpectedly like a thief in the night (2 Pet. 3:10).
Peter is speaking of a destructive end-of-days event. Just as the earth was destroyed by water (see previous verse), it will be destroyed by fire (2 Pet. 3:10). But that does not mean the earth will cease to exist (Ecc. 1:4). Just as the earth survived the flood, we can look forward to a new earth after the fire (see entry for 2 Pet. 3:13).
(c) The day of judgment; see entry for 2 Peter 2:9.
(d) Destruction of ungodly men. Those who reject Life reap death.
There are two outcomes for humanity: eternal life, for those who believe in Jesus, and death for those who don’t (John 3:16). Those who reject the gift of life shall perish in the ultimate or second death (John 5:40, 10:28, Rev 2:11). These stark outcomes were preached by all the apostles including Paul (Rom. 6:23, 2 Th. 1:8-9), James (Jas. 4:12), John (1 John 3:15, Rev. 11:18, 21:8), and Peter (2 Pet. 2:6, 12).
People don’t go to hell for their sins, because all our sins were dealt with at the cross. But those who reject the Lord reject life itself and are lost forever.
Further reading: “Alternatives to hell”
2 Peter 3:8
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
(a) Beloved; see entry for 1 Pet. 2:11.
(b) A thousand years. God does not measure time the same way we do (Ps. 90:4).
God’s schedule is not our schedule and his patience is long. In his eschatological parables, Jesus told stories of masters, noblemen, and bridegrooms being gone a long time (Matt. 24:48, 25:5, 25:19). We need to wait patiently for the Lord’s return.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
(a) Patient; see entry for 2 Pet. 3:15.
(b) Perish. God doesn’t want anyone to die but desires all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). This is why he delays the final Judgment – to give us time to preach the gospel and to give others time to heed it.
(c) Repentance is the ability to receive the truth that sets us free. It’s a change of mind that causes us to see as God sees and think as God thinks. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Like faith, repentance is a response to God’s love and grace (Rom. 2:4).
See entry for Repentance.
2 Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
(a) The day of the Lord is the day when Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire (2 Th. 1:7). This day is also known as the day of judgment (see entry for 2 Pet. 2:9).
(b) A thief. Jesus is no thief, but he will break into our world in a sudden and dramatic way (Matt. 24:43, 1 Th. 5:2, Rev. 3:3). “Behold, I am coming like a thief” (Rev. 16:15).
(c) The heavens will pass away. From the Lord’s own lips, Peter heard that heaven and earth would pass away (Matt. 24:35).
The sinful earth passing away we can understand, but why heaven or the heavens? Peter is referring to the sky, say some. He is referring to the temple, say others. The latter interpretation is unlikely since the context is Judgment Day (1 Pet. 3:12).
What does it mean to say the heavens will pass away? John’s vision of heaven fleeing before the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11) and Isaiah’s imagery of the sky being rolled up like a scroll (Is. 34:4), may be the only scriptural clues we have. The language may be metaphorical or it may refer to a cleansing of our polluted atmosphere. Just as the land will be made new, so will the sky and the air that we breathe.
(d) The elements will be destroyed. The original word for elements (stoicheion) can mean physical elements, but it can also refer to the basic principles or rules for survival in a world captive to sin (see entry for Gal. 4:3). The old world order, which is subject to principalities and powers, will be destroyed or melted or dissolved with intense heat (2 Pet. 3:12). Things which are temporal and cursed will be replaced by things which are eternal and blessed.
(e) The earth… burned up. The land that was cursed by sin will be scoured by fire and made new.
It is not the world that is burned up, but the earth. Peter has already mentioned how “the world”, “the ancient world” and “the world of the ungodly” was destroyed by a flood (2 Pet. 2:5, 3:6), but here he uses a different word; not kosmos, which means world, but ge, which is sometimes translated as land or ground (e.g., Matt. 27:45). First Adam cursed the ground with his disobedience (Gen. 3:17), but Last Adam blessed the earth with his obedience.
God’s wonderful creation is going to be liberated from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:20–21). The world will not be obliterated in a firestorm for “the earth remains forever” (Ecc. 1:4). But those parts of the earth that have been stained by sin will be burned away and made new (Rev. 21:5). How this plays out is anyone’s guess, but we can be confident that the world that God gave us will be transformed into a beautiful and eternal home. It will be better than Eden because the ruler of the new earth will not be Adam but Jesus himself (see entry for Rev. 21:3).
2 Peter 3:11
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
(a) All these things. The heavens, earth, the elements (see previous verse) and the ungodly will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:7).
(b) Destroyed in this way. By fire; see previous verse.
(c) Holy conduct and godliness. When we who are holy conduct ourselves in holiness, we provide the world with a prophetic picture of the kingdom come.
2 Peter 3:12
looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!
(a) Hastening. We hasten the Lord’s return by living holy lives that point people to our holy Father.
Those who believe that Peter’s prophecies of fiery destruction were fulfilled when the Romans burned Jerusalem have a difficult time explaining this verse. “New Testament believers hastened the coming of the Lord by crying out to God for justice, and their prayers were answered when the Romans slaughtered the Jews.” Such an interpretation is at odds with the evidence (this letter was sent to Christians who lived nowhere near Judea) and a God who is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9).
(b) The day of God or the day of the Lord is also known as the day of judgment (see entry for 2 Pet. 2:9).
(c) Destroyed by burning; see entry for 2 Peter 3:7.
(d) Elements; see entry for 2 Peter 3:10.
2 Peter 3:13
But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
(a) His promise of a new heaven and earth (Is. 65:17, 66:22, Rev. 21:1, 5).
(b) We are looking. Every believer is looking forward to the day when this broken and cursed world will be made new. On that day there will no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4).
(c) New heaven and a new earth. The eternal age, where God dwells with humanity on earth.
In the imagery of Revelation, the new heaven and earth correspond to the City of God, a.k.a., the new Jerusalem or the church. There is a wonderful symmetry here. Just as the temple of Jerusalem was known as “heaven and earth” in the old covenant (see entry for Matt. 5:18), in the new covenant, the church represents the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:1). But the church is just the trailer, not the movie.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter got a preview of Christ’s kingly glory (2 Pet. 1:16). In the same way, the church presents the world with a glimpse of the kingdom come (Eph. 3:10). One day God will bring an end to all those things that oppose his good will and heaven and earth will be made new. It is a day to look forward to (see next verse).
2 Peter 3:14
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,
(a) Beloved; see entry for 1 Pet. 2:11.
(b) You look for these things. As believers we are looking forward to the day when the Lord will return and wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).
(c) Spotless and blameless. Since Jesus makes us spotless and blameless, the call to be found spotless and blameless, is a call to be who we are in Christ. It’s a variation on the exhortation to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15) and live holy and godly lives (2 Pet. 3:11). Peter is not calling us to pursue dead works of self-sanctification or self-righteousness. He is calling us to live from our true identity as a holy people and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9).
2 Peter 3:15
and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,
(a) Patience. We may be impatient for the Lord’s return, but he is in no hurry at all. Time is on his side, and the longer he waits, the bigger his family grows. Like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree, God’s kingdom is growing every day (Matt. 13:32).
(b) Salvation. God’s patience means more people get saved (2 Pet. 3:9).
(c) Our beloved brother. Paul rebuked Peter for withdrawing from the Gentiles and then wrote about it in a letter (see entry for Gal. 2:11–12). To his eternal credit, Peter harbored no ill will towards Paul, but called him a beloved brother. Truly, Peter had a teachable spirit and a heart inclined to grace.
(d) Paul the apostle said similar things about the Lord’s patience (e.g., Rom. 2:4, 9:22–23).
(e) The wisdom given to him. Peter, along with James and John, recognized that Paul had a profound understanding of the grace of God (Gal. 2:9).
(f) Wrote to you. Since Peter’s second letter went to the same five provinces as his first letter (see entry for 2 Pet. 3:1), he may be referring to Paul’s letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians and the Colossians. (Ephesus and Colossae were in Asia (Acts. 19:26).) However, there is no way of knowing for certain which letter or letters Peter is referring to.
2 Peter 3:16
as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
(a) All his letters. Peter was familiar with the letters of Paul.
Peter wrote this letter shortly before his execution in AD64 (see entry for 2 Pet. 1:14). At that time, Paul’s letters had been circulating for ten years or more.
(b) These things. These questions about the final return of the Lord.
(c) Hard to understand. Peter is not referring to the gospel of grace, which he understood perfectly (1 Pet. 1:13, 5:12). The context suggests he was referring to those parts of Paul’s eschatological teachings which are hard to understand and open to interpretation (e.g., the apostasy and the man of lawlessness; see 2 Th. 2:3).
(d) The untaught and unstable distort. People who don’t know what they are talking about twist Paul’s words.
(e) The rest of the Scriptures. Peter ranked Paul’s letters as equal in authority to the Old Testament.
We are familiar with Paul’s letters because they are in the Bible. But in the first century, his letters were little more than bits of parchment passed around the churches. Yet even then they were recognized as divinely inspired and scriptural.
(f) To their own destruction. Those who distort the scriptures miss the life-saving message of grace.
Note that the original word for destruction here is the same word used in 2 Peter 3:7. This passage is not about confused Christians who are making a hash of their Bible class. It’s talking about false and ungodly teachers who deny the Lord and pervert the gospel.
2 Peter 3:17
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,
(a) Beloved; see entry for 1 Pet. 2:11.
(b) Be on your guard. Watch what you hear or read. Listen to unstable teachers and you risk becoming unstable yourself.
(c) Unprincipled or unstable teachers are those who distort the teachings of the New Testament (see previous verse).
(d) Fall from your own steadfastness. Listening to false teachers who mishandle the gospel of grace can leave you feeling anxious and insecure. So don’t listen to them, but grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus instead (see next verse).
Further reading: “Can you fall from your secure position?”
2 Peter 3:18
but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
(a) Grow. We are exhorted to grow in grace and we do this by growing in our revelation knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Believers who have a little understanding of God’s grace remain immature and susceptible to bad teaching (2 Pet. 2:14). The remedy is not to run after the latest teaching. The remedy is to crave the pure milk of the word so that you may grow (1 Pet. 2:2). Jesus is the Living Word and the Bread of Life, and the more we feed on him the more we grow.
(b) Grace; see entry for 1 Pet. 5:5.
(c) Savior Jesus. Peter ends his epistle the way he started it, by declaring that Jesus is equal with God (1 Pet. 1:1). Jesus is the Savior and God is our Savior (Jude 1:25). Truly the Father and the Son are One (John 10:30).
(d) Glory; see entry for 2 Pet. 1:3.
(e) The day of eternity is the day eternity begins. It is the Judgment Day, or the day of the Lord when Jesus is revealed from heaven. See entry for 2 Peter 2:9.
(f) Amen. So be it.
The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got something to say? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this page, please use the comment form below.
- 2 Peter 3:1
- 2 Peter 3:2
- 2 Peter 3:3
- 2 Peter 3:4
- 2 Peter 3:5
- 2 Peter 3:6
- 2 Peter 3:7
- 2 Peter 3:8
- 2 Peter 3:9
- 2 Peter 3:10
- 2 Peter 3:11
- 2 Peter 3:12
- 2 Peter 3:13
- 2 Peter 3:14
- 2 Peter 3:15
- 2 Peter 3:16
- 2 Peter 3:17
- 2 Peter 3:18