Commentary on 2 Pet 3:12-15, 17-18
The early Christians had high expectations that the Lord would come back to them very soon. As time passed, they began to realise that it might not be as soon as they had first thought, namely in their own lifetime. This is reflected in the way later books of the New Testament are written.
But even here in this relatively late book the anticipation is still there. We are even urged to hasten that day. How can we do this? By working harder to bring more people to know the Way of Christ, to share his vision of life and thus realise the full establishment of the Kingdom. We still have a long way to go!
The “day of the Lord”, the end of the world is visualised as utter destruction of all we know now but it will be replaced by “a new heaven and a new earth”, words taken from Isaiah and also used in the book of Revelation (21:1). This new world is the “home of righteousness”. There truth and goodness will dwell as unchanging and unchangeable elements. This will be a time when what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer – “your Kingdom come, your will be done” – will be fully realised.
For each one us, it is a reminder to lead lives “without stain or defilement” (words applied to Jesus in 1 Peter) and at peace with God. In this way, we are always prepared no matter what time the Lord decides to take us to himself. There is a lovely sentence here too: “Consider that our Lord’s patience is directed toward salvation.” This echoes words of Jesus in the Gospel that he has come not to condemn but to bring life.
There are warnings about being led astray by the “error of the wicked and the unprincipled”. In this case, the warning is against Gnostic teachers who held ideas which were in conflict with the Gospel. In our day too, there are many kinds of “wicked error” which can lead us far from the ways of truth, love and justice.
Instead, we are told to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. To grow in grace is to open ourselves more and more to the experience of being loved by God. To grow in the knowledge of Jesus is not to know more about him but to grow into a personal and intimate relationship of mutual love.
This kind of knowledge is on a different plane altogether from the esoteric knowledge that the Gnostics proclaimed. In our own day, some come pretty close to it when they put an excessive emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy. It is a modern version of Pharisaism. Jesus said that people would know true Christians not by their theology but by the love they show for each other, and especially for those in any kind of need. “By this will all know that you are my followers, that you have love one for another” (John 13:35) and “May they be completely one so that the world may know that you have sent and have loved them” (John 17:23).