2 Peter 3:1 – 18 > Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first; that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to 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 creation.” For this they willingly forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now are preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.
Mark 13:24 – 31 > But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven. Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near – at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
Today’s Scripture readings, 2 Peter 3:1-18 and Mark 13:24-31, point us to the Great Day of God, that is, the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: a)when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15); b)when all that are in the graves will hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:24-29); c)when the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21); d)when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when he will come to be glorified in His saints (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10); e)when, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead (in Christ) will be raised incorruptible, and we (who are alive) will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) f) when the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up…nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10,13; Revelation 21:1). Peter, in his epistle, reminds us of those things we must remind ourselves of. And he warns us to beware of the scoffers who will twist the Holy Scriptures to lead us into the error of the wicked causing us to fall away. Christ had warned that, in the time of the end, even the very elect could be deceived (Matthew 24:24). And St Paul warned that there would be a great falling away before the second coming of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3). May these sobering realities lead us to a life of repentance and perpetual conversion. I have zeroed in on four truths that will help us to live this life in the light of the Great Day of God Almighty, which is the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven, to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1) and create the new heavens and the new earth.
Four Truths to Live By
Truth #1) We need to be reminded often of the truths of which we should be most attentive. Peter “stirs up” their pure minds. Why? It is because the tendency is to become a forgetful hearer, to lose sight of the vision of God that has been set before us (James 1:22-25). Peter, in this reading, declares what we are “seeing”. In verse 11, “Seeing then that all these things will be dissolved…”; in verse 14, “…seeing that you look for such things…”; and in verse 17, “…seeing you know these things…”. We are being challenged, commanded, to not lose sight of these eternal realities. We are to ever be “mindful of the words which were spoken by the holy Prophets, and of the commandments of the Apostles…” (2 Peter 3:2). This is why the Church is constantly pointing us to the Eschaton, that is, to the second coming of Jesus Christ and all that His second coming portends. We pray in the Divine Liturgy, for “a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense before the fearful judgment seat of Christ.” We confess in the Creed, “And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end…I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” The Scriptures are replete with references to the second coming of Jesus Christ and the final judgment (over 300 times in the 258 chapters of the N.T.). Jesus, Himself, when teaching, included His second coming as a constant point of focus. Today’s gospel reading is an example of this. But, in spite of the scriptures flood of eschatological passages, and in spite of the constant references in the Church’s Divine Services to the future promises of our hope in Christ, we must still actively remind ourselves of these truths. We must be mindful (purposefully paying attention), of what has been given to us, and to what we have been shown with the eyes of our hearts.
Truth #2) We are to live this life in light of the eschaton. This life is but a vapour, that appears for a little time, then vanishes away (James 4:14). Jesus taught, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His holy angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works (Matthew 16:26,27) The knowledge of these truths, that is, the truths of the last things (Eschatology), is to inspire diligence in our souls. Our aim in this life is to live holy lives, and be found “in peace, without spot, and blameless” at Christ’s second coming. The blessed hope leads to a life of holiness (Titus 2:11-13). We are to live this life in the light of eternal consequences. Twice in the Divine Liturgy we pray, “That the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless”. This prayer is a radical request. But it is a request that is a response to the commandment of the holy Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:14; 2 Peter 1:5-12)
Truth #3) We are to live a life of repentance. Repentance (metanoia in Greek) is defined as “a change of mind”, “a change in the inner man”. God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3, 4). The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The reason that God delays the “day of the Lord” is because he is longsuffering, not willing that anyone should perish, but that all would come to repentance. Please understand, repentance is not “just” a one-time event, when you are first converted to Christ Jesus. Repentance is to be a moment-by-moment experience, causing us, by God’s grace, to experience perpetual conversion. But we all must begin with that initial conversion experience, that rebirth that Jesus taught to Nicodemus when He said, “You must be born again.” Let us repent.
Truth #4) We must beware of false teachers who twist the Holy Scriptures to lead us into error. We especially are to be wary of false teaching concerning the last days and the time of the end. We live in a day and time when the land we live in is flooded with false teaching concerning the coming again of our Lord Jesus. These teachers proclaim boldly that there is a “secret rapture” seven years before the second coming of Jesus Christ which will evacuate Christians from this world just in the nick of time to miss the Great Tribulation. Almost every radio and television preacher, and most Evangelical pastors believe these false doctrines and proclaim them with regularity. These false teachings have been popularized in the “Left Behind” book series and just recently with a motion picture entitled, “Left Behind”. The “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” of the “Left Behind” theology/theory is a denial that Christians in these last days will have to suffer for their faith. The “Rapture” is a way that Christians can bypass God’s judgment. We must pay particular attention to the teaching of the Church concerning eschatology. The Church has distilled the teaching of the Holy Prophets and Apostles, as well as the Church fathers in the Divine Services of the Church. Paying attention to these things will prevent the faithful from being led astray. Peter warned that false teachers would twist scripture that could result in the faithful being led into error. The system of eschatology developed by those who teach the “secret rapture” theory is called “dispensationalism”. And it was made possible by the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura” (the Bible alone). By “sola scriptura” they mean that the Bible is the “final authority” for doctrine, not the Church. This opens the doors for teachers to interpret the Bible, with no checks and balances, and create their own novel systems of belief. I call this twisting of scripture “sola scriptorture”. Truly, these false teachers must torture the scriptures to “make the Bible say what they believe it must say”.
Let us realize that though we are responsible as individuals to be mindful of the things Peter and the other Apostles are teaching, we are not left to our own devices to make this happen. In the Church, the Holy Spirit has inspired the Divine Services with; psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, prayers, applicable Scripture readings, and divine teaching commentary, so that we will be mindful in a way that is acceptable to our God (Romans 12:1, 2; Psalm 19(18):14). Let us attend the services of the Church on every opportunity, and acquire our own copies of the Divine Service books for personal devotions. And let us be committed to daily Scripture reading as guided by the Church calendar so that we may be mindful of the truths of Christ, including those concerning His second coming. All these things are in place for our spiritual growth and salvation, and to protect us from the influence of false teachers. As we begin to let the reality of the Eschaton descend from our minds down into our hearts, may we find ourselves ever more repenting, that is, turning away from this world with its passions, and turning toward Jesus and His Kingdom.
Questions to Ponder
1) What are the distractions in your life that hinder your spiritual mindfulness? (Mark 4:14–20; Luke 21:34–36)
2) How should you respond when someone you are speaking with espouses false teaching about Jesus? (Colossians 4:3-6; 2 Timothy 2:14-16)
3) Why is the “secret rapture” doctrine a danger to the spiritual lives of the faithful?4) What are some things that you can do to grow in the grace, and in the knowledge of God (2 Peter 3:18)? Ask yourself, “Is growing up in Christ something I truly desire? (Ephesians 4:14, 15)
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Fr Bogdan Bucur at frBogdan@orthodoxbutler.org
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