Agree or disagree: all people – believer and non-believer alike – believe that the world as we know it will eventually come to an end. From the threat of enemies outside our borders to the cultural rot within our nation to movies and TV shows depicting a zombie apocalypse to warnings from economists that the financial markets could come crashing down to the global warming alarmists with their doomsday predictions – it seems that we can all agree that this world will come to an end. But how? When? Why? There is no consensus on these answers – not even among Christians. Which is a sad commentary on the state of American Christianity – because God has answered those questions for us in his Word. Not only does the Bible tell us when, how and why this world will end, it tells us how to prepare for it. Today the Apostle Peter assures us that the Day of the Lord will Come; in the Lord’s time, with destruction for the ungodly, but salvation for the faithful.
First of all, (of first importance!) you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” Despite the universal consensus that this world of ours will end; for 2000 years now people have laughed at the idea that the world will end – not because of global warming or world war III – but because Jesus will return in judgment. In Peter’s day, these scoffers reasoned that because people were still dying (roughly 30 years after Jesus’ ascension) just as they had before, nothing had changed. From what they could tell, everything had always gone on the same way – so what was the point of believing in Jesus and looking for his return? Today, people still use their fallen reason to argue against Jesus’ coming in Judgment. And, they think they have found proof in the un-scientific theory of evolution. This world is millions of years old, they argue, and for millions of years things have progressed, evolved according to basic, universal principles. Simple organisms evolve into complex creatures. The weak die and the strong survive according to the law of the jungle. Society and civilization are progressing in an upward, positive direction. And now they claim that with the advances of medicine and technology – given enough time and money – we are on our way to defeating death itself. Things are getting better. Things are going along just as they always have. And so there’s no reason to feel accountable to an invisible God, no reason to fear his judgment, no reason to look for Jesus’ second coming. So live free! Be happy! Do whatever makes you feel good!
In a culture that has fallen for this lie hook, line, and sinker – it can feel like a heroic struggle to hold to the truth of the Bible in spite of our unbelieving society. That may be true, but it’s not the whole truth. We hold fast to Scripture not only in spite of these scoffers, but because of them. How can pseudo-science and an ungodly society build our certainty? Because they are doing exactly what Peter predicted they would do! By laughing at the Bible’s prophecies of the end, they are proving them to be true. Whenever Stephen Hawking or Bill Nye or Bill Maher get up on their pedestal to mock your trust in Scripture, thank them, for they are validating the truth of God’s promises.
But it’s not that easy, is it? There’s a part of us that is strongly attached to this life and this world and wants to hold onto it as long as we can. Our own fallen reason wants to agree with them because the facts don’t lie. It has been 2000 years since Jesus closed his Revelation to John with the promise yes, I am coming soon. (John 22:20) 2000 years is a long time. Many generations have lived and died without seeing the fulfillment of that promise, and, in many ways, life is going on just as it always has. Are we just clinging to a delusion? A myth? If Jesus was going to return in judgment, wouldn’t it have happened already? Doesn’t the fact that we’re still here prove that Jesus is a liar?
Peter has the answer to that argument: 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. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. God doesn’t perceive time the way we do. That shouldn’t surprise us. We don’t even agree on our perception of time, do we? For children, Christmas seems likes its ages away. For the rest of us, it’s coming up far too quickly. Some of you might think that a 25 minute sermon seems like an eternity; if you are nodding off, it might seem like the blink of an eye. The point is that we should not be concerned that Christ has forgotten his promise. To him, a thousand years is no different than a day. Luther tried to describe this distinction. He said that we look at time like we like at a tall tree, we cannot see both ends at the same time. But God looks at the same tree perpendicularly; he sees all of it, from beginning to end at the same time. To God, Adam and the last person to be born exist in an unchanging present. (LW 30:195) So, while from our human perspective 2000 years seems like a long time, to an eternal God it is no more than a day. No matter what the scoffers say, Peter says, Jesus – who is himself the eternal God – did not lie when he said he would come soon. The day of the Lord will come – in his good time.
Whether that day is 1 or 1 thousand years away, there is no question that it will bring terrible, unexpected destruction. Peter writes: 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 Apostle Paul concurs: now, brothers, 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. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)
Jesus will return and it will mean destruction for this world and all its wickedness – the Bible could not be clearer. So why don’t people believe it? Why do so many live as if this life is all there is? They deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. People don’t believe that Judgment is coming because they don’t believe God’s Word. They don’t want to believe that from beginning to end – not only this world but their lives hang by the thread of God’s Word and God’s command. Here is the great danger of evolution. Not only does it deny God’s creation of this world, it denies God’s judgment and destruction of this world. There can be no reconciling evolution with Christianity. It makes sense that people who believe this world is millions of years old and will continue for millions of years would have no concern about greater, eternal spiritual things. But if we believe this world was created and sustained by the Word of God, then we must believe that one day God will end it – because he has promised it.
If you’re ever tempted to doubt that just consider God’s track record. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 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. Peter is saying that the Flood (Genesis 6-8) is a picture of Judgment Day. Jesus himself explains: as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-39) You may think the Flood story is only for children. But we all need to be reminded of it regularly. Why? Because so often we live as though this world is going to go on forever. We get so caught up in day-to-day life that we forget how important it is to be prepared for the end. The strange thing is that we don’t do this when it comes to other potentially dangerous situations. As winter approaches, I’d be willing to bet that we are all getting our shovels and snow blowers back in working order, changing furnace filters, getting our heavier sweaters and jackets out of the closet – in short, preparing for the coming cold weather. When we know something potentially destructive or dangerous is imminent, we try our best to be ready.
Do we have the same attitude toward Judgment Day? If we really believe it when we confess every week that [Christ] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (Nicene Creed) – and that it could be any moment – shouldn’t we be preparing for it? The good news is that Peter says the very reason God is delaying his judgment is so that we can get ready, so that we might be prepared. He says: the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. God never intended that the crown of his creation – mankind – should be destroyed along with the world. But just because God didn’t intend it doesn’t mean that he won’t fulfill his threat. Those who are found by Jesus still covered in sin-tattered clothes with hearts full of unbelief will be destroyed, they will perish forever in hell.
But God, in love, has provided a way out: repentance. An encouragement to live in constant readiness by daily repentance – turning from sin and turning to God – is how Peter closes: Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as 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 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. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. This is the heart of Christianity, isn’t it? God didn’t give us the Bible to teach us how to live in this world or so that we might have our best life now. The Bible’s main purpose is to prepare us to stand in judgment before a holy God. How can we be found spotless, blameless, and at peace by Jesus when he returns? – is the question the Bible revolves around. Answering this question, providing comfort and certainty regarding this question is why our central focus here is not community service or practical life-advice, but is always on the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. It’s why we make teaching the next generation the eternal truths of God our highest priority; it’s why we are working to expand our facility – to give more and more sinners comfort and certainty regarding Christ’s return; and it’s why work tirelessly to call those who have strayed to repentance. Judgment Day is coming and all who are found dead in their sin and unbelief will be destroyed by fire along with this world.
But by God’s grace we know how we can be found spotless, blameless and at peace with our Judge – because God has revealed that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) We know that God himself began our life of repentance when he drowned our sinful nature and raised us to new life in Baptism. We know that Jesus came into this world to take our place, to stand in God’s Judgment, to be convicted and condemned to hell so that we might be acquitted and invited into eternal life. To be driven ever deeper into the good news that our Judge is none other than our Savior is why we gather week after week, year after year – however long it takes for Jesus to return – to confess our sins and receive forgiveness, so that when he does he might find us spotless, blameless, and at peace with him. Today especially, as you receive the body and blood your Savior shed for you on the cross, remember it’s twofold purpose: to point you back for comfort and certainty to Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross; and to point you ahead to his second coming in glory and judgment. As Paul wrote: whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26) So while some reject the reality of Jesus’ return in Judgment – and most are too distracted to care – you are ready and waiting for that day, because it is the day of your salvation. It’s the day when Jesus will finally save you from this world of sorrow and take you to heaven where there will be no more death or mourning or pain.
So let the scoffers scoff; their mocking is only proof the Day of the Lord will come. Or better yet, let them repent. Because the day of the Lord is coming, in the Lord’s time, with destruction for the ungodly, with salvation for the faithful. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.