“From Here to Eternity”
2 Peter 3:3-14
August 31, 2008
Every person has a destiny in God’s promised eternity.
I. Some try to deny God’s promised eternity (2 Peter 3:3-7)
II. Some try to defer God’s promised eternity (2 Peter 3:8-10)
III. But believers long for God’s promised eternity (2 Peter 3:11-14)
From Here to Eternity was a novel by James Jones, made into a famous movie. It tells the story of the officers, non-coms and enlisted men of ‘G’ company, 27th Infantry, Schoefield barracks, Hawaii, just before World War II. The title is from a Rudyard Kipling poem about British officers of a previous era, ‘damned from here to eternity’ for their ungodly behavior. And it raises a central questionfor every person in every age: what will be my path into eternity? A path of destruction or of blessing? An eternity of sorrow, as in Jones’ novel, or an eternity of praise and delight?
Scripture, of course, is not slow to address questions of eternity. From the Old Testament assertion that God has placed eternity in our hearts to the teaching of Jesus that in him is eternal life, all of Scripture leans forward toward God’s eternal resolution of this dying world’s needs. In the same way our doctrinal statement addresses the questions of eternity. Last week we looked at the second coming: We anticipate the return of the king, the resurrection of believers who have died, the rapture of living believers, and our reunion in the air after which we will be with the Lord forever.
But we haven’t really talked about ‘forever’: It’s addressed in the last point: We believe God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.
I. Some try to deny God’s promised eternity (2 Peter 3:3-7)
Once again, the paragraph alludes to many Scriptures. But I want to look at one main text, and draw in some others. So let’s look at 2nd Peter 3, beginning with verses 3 to 7:
2 Peter 3:3-7 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
Each person has a destiny in God’s promised eternity. But people respond differently to God’s promises and warnings. There are some who simply deny God’s truth: “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.”
To scoff is to scorn and belittle and dismiss what someone asserts. I’m a scoffer when it comes to pop science. If somebody claims to have found a ‘free, clean and constant’ energy source that defies the laws of thermodynamics, my response is likely to be ‘yea, right, sure’. I’m a scoffer. But one wants to be careful what one scoffs at: if you’re wrong it could be trouble. You can dismiss the promises of God, but that doesn’t mean you can escape his judgment for eternity.
Yet, just as Peter prophesied, in our day there are a huge numbers of scoffers, who deny God’s promises and warnings as they pursue their evil desires. And it’s fascinating to see how they are identified: “They deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.”
They deliberately forget creation. Isn’t that a perfect description of our scoffers: They are naturalists: the supernatural is ruled out. Everything is explained by the workings of nature, so even life is not a creative act of God, but the result of blind chance, evolution. The universe wasn’t created: it formed itself through the Big Bang.
Remember, Scripture teaches that the heavens proclaim the glory of God, and that “since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” People are not naturally ignorant about God: creation testifies to him. Atheism and naturalism require people to deliberately ignore God. The debate between evolution and creation is, at it’s core, a moral debate, an attempt to deny God’s existence so that we don’t have to do things his way.
So these scoffers say "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." This is the philosophy of the athiest and the naturalist: uniformitarianism. For example, resurrection: we’ve never seen anybody rise from the dead, so Jesus can’t have risen either. Same thing with the flood: where a creationist sees clear evidence, a uniformalist can’t; he denies that by water the original creation was deluged and destroyed, and denies the flood’s implications for our present world and our knowledge of the past.
So Peter gets it right: in these last days scoffers have come, denying God’s promises and warnings by saying ‘everything goes on just as it always has’. But Peter looks to eternity yet to come and says the destiny of such scoffers is destruction. Verse 7: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” The statement of faith says “We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment.”
This truth is affirmed often in Scripture, and pictured in Revelation 20:”Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.
Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
John described the lake of fire as a place of torment, ‘day and night for ever and ever’, this is Scripture’s teaching about hell. Everyone has an eternal destiny, and those who deny God’s promises and warnings, when they rise from death, will be judged for unbelief, punished for sins and assigned to an eternity of conscious torment. We can’t white-wash or downplay that truth: it is the fate of all those who set themselves up against God and never turn from rebellion to the mercy of Christ.
II. Some try to defer God’s promised eternity (2 Peter 3:8-10)
But of course, there are many who don’t outright deny God - they just keep putting him off. Verses 8 to 10: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some count slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
The first people we looked at simply scoffed at God’s promises. Here Peter seems to be addressing a group that things God has somehow missed the timing: the coming of Jesus was late and getting later because God was somehow behind schedule.
Peter admonishes them by pointing out that God’s understanding of what is too soon or too late is not necessarily the same as ours. Bound in time, with mortality certain, we want rescue right now. But the author of time, bringer of eternity is not necessarily in such a great hurry: Peter says a day is like a thousand years to God, and a thousand years like a day. Psalm 90, verse 4: “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”
What appears to be slowness isn’t. Instead it’s a more wonderful quality: patience. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some count slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Why is God patient? Because He doesn’t desire the destruction of unbelievers. His joy is their rescue. He wants them to stop delaying and come to repentance.
The statement of faith says “We believe God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ.” The New Testament word repentance means a change of mind. Specifically, we need to change our minds about our sin - to agree with God that it deserves judgment, and that bound by sin we have no hope of salvation in ourselves.
We also need to change our minds about Christ: when we see that God worked through Jesus to pay the price of our sins on the cross, when we change our minds about him being a mere man or a myth and embrace him as fully God and fully man, then we can come to him in humility and faith.
Repentance is a change of mind; but it is also a change of direction. The Old Testament word means to turn, or to be turned. We’re on a path of sin and self and judgment. We’re rebelliously disobeying God. And when we hear the good news about Jesus, we are supposed to turn, in fact to be turned, away from sin and toward Christ. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t stop sinning in our own power. As we give up on ourselves and cling to Christ by faith, we receive forgiveness, new life, eternal life.
And God is patiently waiting for us to turn. He desires us to come to repentance. Paul says the same thing as a warning in Romans: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Elsewhere Paul teaches that “now is the day of salvation” It’s time to turn to Christ by believing.
Those who defer repentance should be warned that God’s patience is not endless: the judgment is coming. Verse 10: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” The image is of a fire that will purge; fire that burns the surface of the earth and lays bare the earth’s mantle; a cataclysm on the same order as the flood, and resulting in total transformation of the earth.
This is the source of a phrase I use a lot: “It’s all going to burn”. When making material decisions – houses, cars, etc, one thought it’s good to have is that it’s all ultimately going to burn anyway. Investment in earthly things may be OK for this life, but has no value in eternity. Jesus says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So there are some who, while not denying God’s existence or even his plan of salvation, are content to defer and put off and delay any decision about God, counting on God’s patience, which is very real, to give them some opportunity down the road. God desires all to come to repentance. But someday judgement will come.
In 1871 Dwight L. Moody was pursuing a successful ministry in Chicago. But on October 8, 1871 he made a mistake. A biographer writes, "Before him was the largest congregation he’d ever addressed in the city. But he concluded with a blunder he called the biggest in his life. He, D. L. Moody, gave them a week to decide for Christ." He told them to think about the claims of Christ and pray about their acceptance of him and come back the following week ready to make a decision.
That night the great Chicago fire broke out and many of the people who were there were killed. The church building, Moody’s home and much of Chicago were destroyed, and that crowd would never gather again. Moody said that was the last time he ever told anyone to postpone a decision for Christ. God’s patience is intended to lead you to salvation. Do not defer your decision about eternity.
III. But believers long for God’s promised eternity (2 Peter 3:11-14)
There is a third class of people represented here: those who long for that day. Verses 11 to 14: Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt as they burn. 13But according to his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found by him spotless, blameless and at peace.
God’s people are aliens and strangers, pilgrims in this world, longing for something more, better, the presence of God. Describing believers of the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews says “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.”
That’s us: we’re looking for a country of our own; a true homeland. These verses teach us that it’s right and good to look forward to that Day of the Lord. But as aliens and strangers here we do have responsibility; as pilgrims we do have a mission that we are on. Peter exhorts us in his first letter: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”
And in this second letter he expands that. Verse 11: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” You ought to live holy and godly lives because just as everything you own that is earthly will be destroyed in that day, so also everything in you that is earthly will be destroyed.
Paul teaches in 1st Corinthians that people build into their own lives and the lives of others with “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay and straw.” In the end this “work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
Everything earthly you’ve built into your own life and the lives of others will be destroyed when God brings eternity to light. So, Peter says, live holy and godly lives and by doing so you’ll show that you are looking forward to that day.
By building into your life and the lives of others the things that are eternal, you will even hasten that day. Verse 14: “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found by him spotless, blameless and at peace.”
But what is it we are looking forward to? What motivates this kind of whole-heartedness, even fanaticism as we lean forward toward eternity? It’s the fact that God is not just going to destroy but re-create: “That day will bring the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt as they burn. 13But according to his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
Randy Alcorn has spent many years doing battle against what he perceives as a false image of heaven. The classic image is of getting harps and wings and sitting on clouds forever. Or more maturely, it’s of a place so different we can’t imagine it, where our very existence will be changed into something more spiritual than physical. In his book Heaven Alcorn marshals the Scriptural evidence to debunk such views.
Now if you were to die today I believe that you would go to be with God in a heaven that is more spiritual, though I’m convinced it’s also real and that we will have a real localized existence even there. But Alcorn says that’s an intermediate heaven. It’s heaven by every definition, because it’s the presence of God, and thus will be both glorious and wonderful. But it is not the final heaven of eternity. That, the Bible teaches, will be a new heaven and a new earth in God’s presence in physical bodies.
Resurrection is meaningless unless we end up in physical bodies. Paul teaches that when we are raised up or raptured up we will be changed, transformed in a manner similar to the transformation Jesus experienced at his resurrection. But we will have bodies. In the beginning God created us by combining spirit and flesh, and that reality is at the core of what being human is all about. We will have bodies and we will live in a physical universe, a new heaven and a new earth.
Peter says this is what we are looking forward to. The statement of faith says that the believer will be raised bodily “to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.”
This is our hope for eternity. The night mom died, a Scripture that comforted Gail, and probably Mom also was Isa. 25: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. 9In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."
Later Isaiah speaks of this as a new heaven and a new earth: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” What will this new heaven and new earth be like. It will be heaven, because it will be the place where God dwells.
But it will also be a new earth, a real earth, earth the way it was meant to be, earth the way it was before the fall, earth the way it should be, hinted at in every beautiful sunrise and every snow capped mountain and every pristine beach and every green forest and every beautiful cultivated field or garden and every cart laden with harvest and every glass of pure cold water and every beautiful beloved face. All that is left in this creation that is right and good will be made more perfect in that new earth and all that is fallen and twisted and cruel will be burned up.
C.S. Lewis said it beautifully when he said “In the truest sense Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next and we take solace whenever it does not.” Lewis said over and over, and pictured in the last book of the Narnia series, that heaven is a place not less than earth, but more than. He said these are the Shadowlands, and that is the reality they shadow.
I believe we will live in resurrected bodies in a new earth that will be the fulfillment of the promises of Eden, an earth with day and night, with eating and drinking, with learning and working and growing, and above all with loving relationships, not only with God, but with those we have loved here and not only with them but with an eternity to develop personal relationship with those from every tribe and tongue and people and language who will be dwelling with us.
This is the last promise of God, verses you knew I’d get to because they are at the heart of my hope. This is the eternal destiny we are promised. Revelation 21:1-5 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."