I’ve posted a reflection on 2 Peter 3:8-15a over on Political Theology Today. Within it, I argue that Christ’s predictions concerning his return within that generation came to pass. I explore Peter’s argument against those questioning Christ’s return and his statements concerning the apocalyptic event that was about to befall the world.
The earliest Church’s expectation of Christ’s imminent return has long been a source of theological discomfort and apologetic embarrassment for many Christians. The apparent failure of New Testament prophecy throws the reliability of Christ himself as a prophet into serious question. Christ and the apostles who bore witness to him declared firmly that he was coming soon, yet here we are, almost two thousand years later.
Passages such as 2 Peter 3 can accentuate the problem. Peter is writing to Christians, reminding them of the prophetic witness of Christ and the apostles, against the background of disbelieving and mocking false teachers. Even at the time of the epistle, people are starting to ridicule or reject the prophetic testimony.
Early in the letter, Peter declares his intent to write to remind his readers of what has been promised, knowing that he is about to die soon (1:12-15). He assures the readers that, in their testimony concerning the coming of Jesus Christ, they weren’t following ‘cleverly devised myths’ (1:16). He presents what he witnessed with James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration as evidence that the word concerning Christ’s coming was certain: Christ’s kingly glory was a reality and just waiting to be revealed at the appropriate time.
Yet Jesus had declared a period of time within which his prophecies would be fulfilled, and everyone could see that the time was swiftly running out. In addition to saying that he was coming soon and that the time was near (Romans 13:12; James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 1:1; 3:11; 22:6, 7, 12, 20), Jesus had given more specific details concerning the time within which the prophecies would be fulfilled and he seemed to be on an increasingly tight schedule.
Jesus had assured his hearers that his promised coming would occur before they had finished going through the towns of Israel (Matthew 10:23) and while some of the apostolic witnesses were still alive (Matthew 16:28). That generation would not pass away until all Jesus’ prophecy came to pass (Matthew 24:34). It was this that represented the biggest challenge for the readers of 2 Peter. The apostles and witnesses of Christ (‘the fathers’—2 Peter 3:4) were dying and Peter, by his own admission, was near death (1:14), but still the awaited coming of Jesus hadn’t materialized.
It was looking as though he would be a no-show, which threw everything into question. This is the troubled background for Peter’s statements in our reading for this week.
Read the whole post here.