February 16, 2003
Just as in Peter’s day, the world still scoffs at the promise of Christ’s return. In this message, Alistair Begg reviews Peter’s description of the day of the Lord, when all will be judged and the heavens and earth renewed. Scripture’s focus isn’t on calculating when these events will occur. Instead, Christians are to prepare for Christ’s return by living holy lives in light of what we know and by calling our friends and neighbors to faith in the Gospel.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now, we’re turning in our Bibles to the New Testament and to 2 Peter and to the third chapter. If you go to the back of your Bible and start at Revelation, it goes Revelation—going backwards—Jude; 3, 2, 1 John; and then 2 Peter, and you’re at chapter 3.
Two Peter chapter 3:
“Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
“First of all, 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.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 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.
“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. 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.
“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.
“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. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote [to] you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
“Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”
Now, why don’t you just keep your Bible open.
Father, we pray that as we study now from these pages, that the Holy Spirit will help us, enable us, quicken us at the end of this day, when there are so many distracting thoughts and influences, as our minds range back through the day and forward into tomorrow. Help us, then, Lord, to hear from you. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Now, I want to tell you what I’d like to do—whether I can do what I would like to do or not remains to be seen—and that is, I’d like to go through the whole of this chapter before we end our time in further praise. That’s what I’d like to do.
Chapter 2 ended with Peter’s preoccupation on pigs and dogs, if you will recall. He had some very striking things to say concerning the false teachers that were plaguing the believers to whom he is writing. And as he comes now into the home straight, as it were, to draw his brief letter to a close, he is addressing his “dear friends.” He actually uses this phraseology frequently. You will notice he says it again in verse 8: “Do[n’t] forget this one thing, dear friends.” He comes back to them as “dear friends” in verse 14. And when he gets ready finally to wrap it up, he is again referring to them in verse 17 as “dear friends,” agapētoí, from the Greek agapē. And this love of the Lord Jesus, which is “shed abroad” in the hearts of the believers, is supposed then to be the mark of our relationships with one another. And Peter wants his readers to know that he’s addressing them in that way. He’s been very passionate, as we’ve seen, in his declarations and in his stinging rebukes, and now he is very warm and encouraging as he seeks to wrap these matters up.
“[It] is now my second letter to you,” he says. Now, that may immediately make us think that he’s referring to 1 Peter, and it may well be referring to 1 Peter, but it may not. He may have written another letter in between the two. And it’s also possible that he wrote 1 Peter to one destination and 2 Peter to a second destination. And if he wrote 2 Peter to a destination other than 1 Peter, then 1 Peter can’t be the letter to which he refers in 3:1, but it would have to be another letter that he had written. If he wrote another letter, it is a letter of which we have no knowledge. It doesn’t really matter very much at all, and so we keep moving, but I want you to notice that in passing.
Whatever this other letter was, whether it was 1 Peter or another letter, he says, “I want you to know that I’ve written them both as reminders.” And you will perhaps recall that when we started out, we began not at 1:1, but we began at 1:12, saying that this was the key which opened up the whole letter: “I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you … have.” Down in verse 17 at the end of the chapter, he’s back to that, isn’t he? “Dear friends, since you already know this, [then] be on your guard.” So, he is writing to affirm them in truth about which they have already become convinced. And he wants them to be stimulated particularly to wholesome thinking: “I’m writing these things to you as a reminder in order that you may be stirred up, that you may recall certain things. Recollection may give way to stimulation, and the stimulation may result in wholesome thinking.” And what, then, will be the basis of wholesome thinking for the child of God? Well, it will be in the source which he refers to in verse 2: “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by [the] Lord [Jesus, himself].”
We need be in no doubt as to the basis of wholesome thinking. Paul says the same thing in Romans: “[that you would] be transformed by the renewing of your mind[s].” And the minds would be renewed in the truth of Scripture. And Peter says the same thing. It is impossible for us to think wholesomely unless we are thinking biblically. And it is difficult for us to think biblically unless we’re studying our Bibles. And if we’re endeavoring to get enough as a result, perhaps, of one study a week or even two studies a week, as a result of what comes from the pulpit here, then we will find that we are impoverished fairly quickly into the week. Let me encourage each of us to make sure that we are, for ourselves, in our Bibles, recalling the truth of God’s Word and being stimulated to think properly. “The words” that have been “spoken in the past … the command[s] given by [Christ]” is simply another way of saying, “I want you to be people of the Bible. I want you to make sure that you’re paying attention to these things.”
At our staff meeting during the week last week, we read together from Romans 15: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The only foolproof way to stand against nonsense, to combat heresy, is in understanding what the Bible has to say. And it is no surprise, then, that Peter drives this home in his opening couple of verses.
Now, in verses 3–7, he gives to us what he says is the first thing that they need to understand. “This is a priority,” he says. “This is number one in what I want you to be getting hold of. I don’t want you to be unsettled by the existence of scoffers.” “First of all,” he says, “you [need to] understand that in the last days…” And of course, Peter’s reference to the last days can be understood not only from here but also from what he said post-Pentecost. Do you remember when the people came, and they said, “It looks as though folks in Jerusalem have been up very early in the morning drinking alcohol, because there is a great hullabaloo going on in Jerusalem”? And Peter stands up, and he says, “Folks, these individuals are not drunk as you think. They haven’t been going out to the bar early in the morning. But this is nothing other than what was reported by the prophet: ‘In these last days I will pour out my Spirit upon you.’”And he says, “What the prophet said would happen in the last days has happened,” making clear that the understanding of the Bible concerning the last days is a reference, first of all, to the days between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ.
Just as Jesus came as a result of the prophecies, or in conjunction with the prophecies, of the Old Testament, so Jesus is going to come again personally, visibly, bodily, life-changingly, strikingly, staggeringly, in a way that the whole world will understand. Jesus is coming again. The Bible makes that perfectly clear. And we’re living, along with those to whom Peter wrote, in the period to which the Bible refers to as the last days. Now, clearly, there will be last days to the last days. But the time frame gathers up not only the immediacy of the circumstances to which he refers here in the chapter but also to our lives.
And they need to understand what it is important for us to know and about which we are not at all surprised—namely, that “in the last days scoffers will come,” and these scoffers will be “following their own evil desires.” They will scoff at all kinds of things. They will certainly scoff at the idea of living a godly life. They will be scoffing at the idea of the notion of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. “And so,” says Peter, “I want you to understand that even this is actually covered in the Scriptures. You need to understand that in the last days, they’re going to come, and people will say this.” They will say, verse 4, “[Well,] where is this ‘coming’ …? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has been since the beginning of creation.”
Now, these warnings about scoffers you don’t only find here towards the end of the New Testament. I’m not going to take time to cross-reference it in your hearing. But if you read in Psalm 73, in Jeremiah 17, in Mark chapter 13, you will find that there are references frequently to those who emerge, as it were, in every generation, scoffing at the whole idea that God is orchestrating the events of history and that Jesus is coming back again. These individuals live self-indulgent lives. They have a self-indulgent agenda, and they laugh at the very notion of the return of Jesus Christ. It becomes a figure of fun.
Somebody was telling me just moments before I came in here that subsequent to our gathering at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville last weekend, an edition of a program on National Public Radio went out where they seized the opportunity to scoff at the whole idea of the return of Jesus Christ. And apparently, making use of President Bush and his statements regarding faith, they saw fit to pull him into it and everyone else into it. And the big joke, of course, was “Ha ha! These people apparently think that Jesus is coming back again.”
Now, Michael Green in his commentary says, “For men who live in the world of the relative, the claim that the relative will be ended by the absolute is nothing short of ludicrous.” And of course, it is within the desire of men and women who are living godless lives, who have no interest in the Bible, who only use the name of Jesus as a curse word to deny any notion of him coming back again. If you’re fooling around in your classroom, you want to know that the schoolteacher has left for the day. You don’t want the possibility of the schoolteacher returning. If the schoolteacher is about to return, then, of course, it makes a difference to the extent of your foolishness. At least it did to mine. It curtailed it at least a little. But if the person took his briefcase and said, “That’s it for me! Look after yourselves until the bell rings,” that was an invitation for complete mayhem in the school to which I went. But if he left his briefcase and you knew he was returning, then you need to moderate the extent of your foolishness. So if you could convince yourself that he has gone for good, then you can pretty well do what you want.
And that is why men and women have a vested interest in denying the return of Jesus Christ. Because as long as he is not coming back, then there is no judgment to face. There is no report card to be filled out. There is no event that yet awaits us that will call us to account. So the self-indulgent life has a definite interest in convincing first themselves and then those who would listen to them that Jesus will not return. And so the skepticism is described. They’re saying, “It’s not going to happen. Things have been going on like this for years.”
So, Peter points out to his readers that the scoffers are not simply working from the evidence before them, because if they think about the evidence before them, they’ve had to make a deliberate determination to forget what has happened in the past. And so he says, “They[’ve] deliberately forgot[ten] that long ago by God’s word”—the creative agent—“by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water”—simply a reference to Genesis chapter 1 and the place of water in the work of creation; not some great scientific statement but merely an acknowledgement. If you go back to Genesis 1, you can say, “I can see why Peter would say what he did.” And then he says, “As a result of that creative act of God, God, by his same power, was able to destroy.” And in verse 6, the same waters by which the earth was formed became the very waters by which the world at that time “was deluged and destroyed.” And, of course, this is a reference here to the flood. And so he’s saying God’s activity in the past is an indication of what is yet to be.
And then comes this staggering statement: “By the same word…” You see this? “By God’s word,” creation—verse 5. By that same word, the destruction of the flood—verse 6. “By [that] same word,” verse 7, “the present” world as we know it, the “heavens and [the] earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
The Bible is absolutely clear concerning the issue of judgment. Absolutely straightforward. And as Rico reminded us a few Sundays ago, we daren’t come at this with any sense of smugness or the silly nonsense that you see on bumper stickers in the cars that refer to secret raptures that basically say, “Hey, I’m gone, please yourself,” you know? “I’m out of here. Tough for you.” It doesn’t seem to have the mark of Jesus about it, does it? It doesn’t seem to have the touch of the apostle upon it.
If we thought for any time at all about the truth of verse 7 and we really took it to heart, who knows but we wouldn’t simply walk out of the building and either visit or phone up every person that we know within the precinct of our own acquaintance and friendship and tell them, “Listen, before you go to sleep tonight, I have to tell you something. It struck me again: if you die in your sleep without Christ, you will go to hell. And because I love you, I can’t imagine the thought.” See, many of us are just unbelieving believers when it comes to these issues.
Now, in verse 8 and following, he says—having said, “First you need to understand this,” and then he tells us what they need to understand—then in verse 8 and following, he says, “And there are a couple of things I don’t want you to forget. In fact, the first thing I don’t want you to forget, my dear friends, is this: that you can’t ask God to think of time the same way we think of time.” “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Let me paraphrase it: God is not working on our clock. That’s what he’s saying: God is not working on our clock. We hope for things to happen in our lifetime. And if they don’t happen in our lifetime—threescore years and ten, perhaps a little bit more if you stay around for longer—if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime, then we say to ourselves, “Well, you know, this is no good at all.”
And so the people are saying, “Well, you know, some of the folks who came to faith in Christ in their fifties, they’re dead. We’ve been hearing about this Jesus thing for a while. Our fathers are gone. My Uncle Bill, he’s gone. Fred’s gone. Mary’s gone. You know, Penelope’s gone. Everybody’s gone that was in our praise band. And you’re still banging away with this notion of the return of Jesus!” And Peter says, “Well, I don’t want you to forget the fact that God is not working on our clock.” If you try and work out the return of Jesus Christ on the basis of our time-space mechanisms, then you’re going to come up really short.
Now, I don’t want to delay on this or divert myself from it, but if you read old books on prophecy—and I mean old books on prophecy—you will find this borne out. Napier, of Napier College, which is adjunct to Edinburgh University, was a mathematician. He invented logarithms. He’s a great hero of mine, as you can imagine. And having invented logarithms, he then used his logarithmic formula to determine the date of the return of Jesus, which he set somewhere early in the nineteenth century. Now, on the strength of that, his book went through multiple printings—until it reached the date. And it hasn’t sold particularly well in the second half of the nineteenth century on. And clearly not! Because he went to it, and he said, “You know, I can figure this out according to my clock.” And Peter says, “Listen, he’s not working according to your clock.”
Also, you need to realize that God is not being slow, here, in the fulfilling of his promise in the way that we might understand slowness: sitting at a traffic light, waiting for the light to change; sitting outside, waiting for a friend to come; waiting for somebody to come out of the grocery store; whatever it may be. “What in the world are they doing now? Why are they being so slow? What’s the holdup here?”
“Now,” he says, “you need to know that God is not working on your clock, and secondly, his slowness is a purposeful slowness. He has an express design in view, and that is why Jesus has not come back yet.” “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” You remember, Paul says something very similar to this—a disturbing verse for some of us. First Timothy 2:3–4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And here he seems to be saying the same thing: “[God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Of course, we know that not everybody does come to repentance. And so the church fathers distinguished between the desire of God, which is expressed here, and the decree of God, which is not addressed here. For those of you who understand my allusion, fine. For those of you who don’t, don’t worry about it. You can pick it up later on.
I resist the temptation to stop on verse 9. There are multiple ways to understand it, but I’m not going to delay on it. Let us allow us to take it just at face value. God loves saving people. He wants to save people. And if he had come back prior to this evening, all those to whom we’re going to go with the message of the gospel would have gone to a lost eternity. Therefore, we should be very, very grateful—and others, too, across the world—that he remains in this posture. And Peter says, “I want you to understand that he is doing so with great purpose.”
But, he says—verse 10—“Don’t allow yourselves to count on this in a strange way, because the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” There’s going to be a once-for-all end to our space-time home. It’s really beyond description. It’s beyond imagination. It’s attempted at there in verse 10: “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire … the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” It’s a description of the destruction of the cosmos as we know it, the laying bare of the earth. And the Master is going to return and inspect his works.
Now, again, you see, this gives us an opportunity to speak to our friends in the framework that I’ve given to you on many occasions: the good, the bad, the new, the perfect. When you talk concerning your view of the world with your friends at the office, and they say, for example, “I wonder why it is that things are in such a dreadful predicament,” we cannot give them watertight answers, but we can at least help them along the journey by pointing out that the world that God made was absolutely perfect, pristine, pure, good, and wonderful, and he communed with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, and fellowship between God and man was absolutely unmarred and unstained and unbroken. However, sin enters into the world as man turns his back on God and exercises his free will and goes his own way, and so badness, then, becomes the pervasive element within the framework of man—both the badness that he finds in himself, those dreadful tempers, those hasty outbursts, those horrible words, those filthy thoughts, those dreadful resentments, and disgusting jealousies. Why? Because his grandmother locked him in a box? No, because he is inherently sinful. That’s what the Bible says. Our friends may not like that, but that’s at least our explanation. And furthermore, no attempt by the man who’s trapped within this box to extricate himself can possibly work as a result of his own endeavors.
But of course, the good news is that Jesus has come to do for man and woman in that box, trapped as they are, what they could not do for themselves—namely, to release them, to set them free, to forgive them, to change them, to make them new. “He died that we might be forgiven,” as the Easter song says. “He died to make us good.” And he makes us new. And so the believer lives in the realm of the new. He has become a new creation. She has become a new creation. And she looks forward to the perfect. The good, the bad, the new, the perfect. And “since everything will be destroyed,” verse 11—“since everything will be destroyed”—he doesn’t say, “You better figure out the time frame on this”; he says, “You better figure out the kind of person you ought to be.”
This, I think, for me, in terms of eschatology, is the great kicker—in other words, the issue of the last things; that the compelling issue in any consideration of what happens at the end of the world, when God wraps things up, when you go to the Scriptures themselves, they are always urging not to some kind of speculative framework or the creations of charts and diagrams, but they are urging us to a certain kind of life. What kind of people ought you to be? “Well,” he says, “let me tell you: you ought to be the kind of people who are living holy and godly lives, and you’re indicating the fact that you have a forward look. You’re looking forward to the day of God.” Interesting phrase, isn’t it, “to the day of God”? He doesn’t say, “You’re looking forward to the rapture.” He says, “You’re looking forward to the day of God.”
What is “the day of God”? I think it’s the day when God will come, when Christ will come, and wrap the whole business up. We will move from this age to the age that is to come. And in one great instantaneous moment, God will settle all the accounts, deal with all the issues. No second chances! No place else to go! Since this is the case, he says, when an individual understands this about the destruction of the cosmos, then surely it will create compassion in our hearts for those who do not believe. And if we’re genuinely interested in moving towards the day of God, then our friends and our loved ones will know that we are not by our ability to articulate a view of the end times but by our lifestyle, by our holiness, by our godliness, by our zeal for the things of Jesus.
It’s such a challenge, isn’t it? It’s far easier to say, “I’m very interested in the return of Jesus Christ, and let me tell you how I’ve got it all figured out here in page number 49. You see, this will happen, and that will happen, you’ll run twice around the building, you’ll go over there, you’ll take the number you first thought of, you’ll multiply it by six, and before you know where you are, you’re underneath the throne in Jerusalem. When you get there, you will discover there are 144,000 people living under a building. You will come out of it…” And so it goes on. And people are saying, “What in the world is that about?” Exactly! What is it about? It’s largely an American invention. Sorry, but true. Exported from England, picked up in the States, and, as with every other good invention, parlayed into the most powerful influence that the world has ever seen.
I’ve got news for you: the quantifier, as Augustine said, regarding those who love the coming of the Lord is not those who affirm that it is very close, nor is it amongst those who determine that it is far in the distance, but it is to be found in those who, whether it be near or far, await it with all their hearts. And how will you know that you’re awaiting it with all your heart? It will stir you concerning the loss of your loved ones and your friends who do not know Christ, and it will say to you, “Come on, now, Jesus is coming. He doesn’t want to find you in this filthy predicament.” It makes perfect sense.
And the whole idea of speeding his coming is interesting, isn’t it? That’ll shut down most Bible studies there. In verse 12: “as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” So Mrs. Jones puts up her hands and says, “I want to tell you what this means to me.” Just ask her to go out and make coffee at that point; do everybody in the group a favor.
How could we speed his coming? Perhaps by living in its light. If sin causes a delay—in other words, he’s not slow as some people count slowness, but he is delaying in order that those who remain in their sin may be repentant—well, if sin causes it to slow up, maybe living in the light causes it to speed up. Maybe we can speed it up by praying for his kingdom to come: “Your kingdom come.” “Come, Lord Jesus. Maranatha.” Perhaps by our involvement in world mission, the Word will go out as a testimony to all the nations, and then Christ will come. So perhaps by our engagement in these things.
But never stumble over a wee phrase like that. Just stand back far enough, as you do in an art gallery, to see the totality of the picture. “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, … the elements will melt in the heat.” He reiterates this. It’s hard to mistake it, isn’t it? “But in keeping with his promise we[’re] looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
This week, I read a book that Pastor Bickley recommended to all of us on the pastoral team. It’s a terrific little book. I’ll recommend it to you as soon as it’s in the bookshop, but I don’t want you to annoy all the people in the bookstore behind the counter this evening by going and asking for it when they don’t have it. They told me, “If you ever do that again, we’ll do something dreadful to you,” and I’m horribly afraid of them.
In this little book—and every so often you read a book somebody writes down something that you thought was a totally heretical view, and then you realize: if it is, at least it’s you and this guy, or this girl, that wrote it down. And I had one of these this week, because most of the pictures of heaven, both as a child growing up and in my adult life, have not, do not grab me. I’m just being perfectly honest with you. The idea of walking on the streets of gold—I mean, I know that you’re supposed to get up for that, but it doesn’t do anything for me. “Well, we’re going to walk on the streets of gold.” “Okay. Well, right. What else?” “Well, there’s some things and there’s a big thing, and you go in that.” “Well, yeah, but I’ve been to Disney. You know? I mean, what is this?”
Now, I don’t mean to be bad in saying that. But if you read Romans 8, where all creation is groaning—right?—in travail, waiting for the redemption of the sons of God, and when you read the Bible, and you think about the fact that there is going to be a new heaven and a new earth, it prevents us from the kind of Platonic thinking that pitches heaven into somewhere away up there that you’ve got no knowledge of, that is so completely beyond anything that represents the reality of our lives now that you find yourself saying, if you’re honest, “Well, I know I’m supposed to like it, but I’m not sure that I really do.” Not the fact that Jesus will be there or that we’ll be reunited with our loved ones or anything like that. I’m not referring to that. I’m just talking about the general way in which heaven is pitched—and especially in old hymns that came out of the 1950s.
Now, I hope I can find this quote, because otherwise I’m in deep trouble. Yeah:
As strange as it sounds to our ears, the Bible insists that on the day God rights the moral wrongs of history—[namely,] the Judgement Day—he will right the environmental chaos as well. In other words, God pledges to renew the physical universe itself.
This is one of the most distinctive elements of the biblical understanding of the future. Eastern traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism respond to the problem of the disorder of the natural world by holding out the hope of nirvana …, an eternal state of absolute non-physicality. For these philosophies, physical reality is not reality at all, but an entrapment from which we must eventually free ourselves. Biblical hope is radically different. When the Good Book describes the future eternal kingdom of God—what we commonly call “heaven”—it speaks not of the removal of physical existence but of its renewal. The passage just quoted [Romans 8] says the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay.
In fact, the climactic description of that kingdom, found in the final pages of the Bible, speaks not of “going to heaven” at all, but of heaven coming [down] to earth and transforming everything: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … [And] I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” …
For many of us, even for some long-term believers, our picture of the “kingdom come” derives from an unlikely combination of ancient Greek philosophy and modern Hollywood movies. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato taught that the physical world is a kind of grubby reflection of the ultimate non-physical reality to which everything is headed. Buddhism and Hinduism, with their goal of nirvana, share a similar outlook. Somehow, Hollywood got hold of this idea and now almost always portrays the afterlife as an airy-fairy, fourth-dimensional existence with clouds, halos, bright lights and the ever-present harp music.
In the years after I came to believe in Christ, it always troubled me…
And this, when I read the book, I said, “Oh, this looks like he’s going where I hope!”
In the years after I came to believe in Christ, it always troubled me that I was now meant to enjoy the thought[s] of escaping the physical world and entering a spiritual one called heaven. I loved the taste, smell, sight, sound and touch of this world, and here I was being told to look forward to losing [these] five senses and having them replaced by a spiritual sixth sense. I was not terribly excited about it. Then someone challenged me to point to biblical texts that describe the afterlife as a disembodied, nirvana-like bliss. I couldn’t. Every passage I turned to challenged the Hollywood version of heaven. It turns out that the biblical “kingdom come” is not an ethereal place of clouds and ghosts, but a tangible place of real existence: it is a “new creation.” Whether or not we will gain a “sixth sense” I have no idea, but I think we can count on keeping the other five senses.
This is a future I can get excited about. It is [a] life in the fullest sense of the word, a reality in which the moral and physical tensions of our current world will be resolved through an extraordinary act of divine re-creation. And when I find myself doubting that such a fantastic hope could ever become a reality, I need only go down to the beach near where I live or look up at the glorious night sky and remind myself that God has already done it once: the proof is right there before my eyes. Why should I question his ability to do it a second time?
That is really good! Yeah! Now, it doesn’t negate one thing in the Bible. All it does is it just fleshes out the reality of the notion of a new heaven and a new earth.
“Well,” you say, “stop it, now!” Okay. I will. Because if I try to go to the rest, then we’ll be here a long time, and… Actually, I don’t have any other notes past that. Why do you think I read that big, long quote?
Father, we are so thankful that you’ve given us the Bible to study. Thank you that it demands of us a right thinking and a careful use of the faculties that you’ve provided. We always are saying to one another, “Now, you’re sensible people. You need to examine these things to see if they’re so.” Certainly, the Bereans did that with Paul’s preaching, and we need to do it with each other’s. We thank you, though, that there are things that are perfectly clear to us tonight, about which we need be in no doubt at all—namely, that Jesus will return (he has promised), that judgment will take place. It’s happened in the past, and it will happen in its fullness and in its finality in a day that God has set. God, when he looks on our lives, knows that we are eager and keen for these things not by our ability to describe our views but by our willingness to tell our friends and neighbors about the good news of Jesus and our desire to close the gap between what the Bible says we are in Christ and the way in which we’re living.
You are truly a wonderful, merciful Savior, Lord Jesus. And this night, we bring to you our lives, and we bring to you our offerings in your powerful name. Amen.
 Romans 5:5 (KJV).
 Romans 12:2 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 15:4 (NIV 1984).
 Acts 2:13 (paraphrased).
 Acts 2:15–17 (paraphrased).
 See Psalm 73:8–11.
 See Jeremiah 17:5–6.
 See Mark 13:5–8, 21–22.
 Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed.,Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1987), 150.
 Cecil Frances Alexander, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” (1848).
 Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2 (NIV 1984).
 See Matthew 24:14.
 See Revelation 21:21.
 See Romans 8:22–23.
 John Dickson, If I Were God, I’d End All the Pain: Struggling with Evil, Suffering and Faith (Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2001), 58–60.
 See Acts 17:11.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.