Beckett: Living in Holiness and Godliness Until Christ’s Advent

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

2 Peter 3:11-18

“These things” that “are thus to be dissolved” that St. Peter is referring to are the things that will occur during the last days (v. 3), which have been ongoing for nearly two millennia. The most we talk about the last days—or “the end times” as we like to call them—is during Advent since it concerns not only the anticipation of the First Advent of our Lord on Christmas Day but especially the Second Advent of His return for us post-resurrection Christians. During the Divine Service, we read Jesus’ words on the signs of the end, and some from the epistles that speak similarly. They tell us what to expect, but they don’t tell us much about what we do during these last days. Thankfully, the all-noble Peter gives us his apostolic exhortation above, and he tells us four things.

First, we are to be found “without spot or blemish, and at peace” (v. 14). But how? He doesn’t divulge how we are to do this. And therein lies the problem of our wondering—this is not something we do. Peter is most likely writing to Gentiles in all three of his letters (the language of v. 1 is a good indicator), but especially because of the wider context of Acts 10 where Peter was called to minister to the Gentiles. In his previous letter, Peter writes “you were ransomed form the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Also, as a Jew, Peter may have had Leviticus on his mind, especially Leviticus 1:3 where a burnt offering must be “a male without blemish.”

As our Confessions say concerning this, “They were not called sacrifices because they merited the forgiveness of sins before God, but because they merited the forgiveness of sins according to the righteousness of the Law, so that those for whom they were made might not be excluded from the commonwealth <from the people of Israel>. Therefore, for a trespass, the sacrifices were called sin offerings and burnt offerings” (Ap XXIV, 21). And Christ was that righteousness of the Law when He was sacrificed on the altar of Mt. Calvary on your behalf. Therefore, you are without spot or blemish by the intermediation of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and you are therefore at peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Where do you receive the benefits of what He accomplished on the cross for you? At the Sacrament of the Altar, where you receive the precious blood of Christ without blemish or spot, hence the pastor’s words, “Depart in peace” at the dismissal. Therefore, the first thing we do during these last days is keep doing the pious (= godly) thing of coming to the Lord’s Table in the Divine Service to receive His holiness and peace in His true body and blood.

The second thing Peter exhorts us to do is “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (v. 15). As we view the signs of the end around us and ponder the Advent of Christ, we perhaps wonder, “What’s taking Him so long?!” It may seem long to us, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9; cf. Habakkuk 2:1-4). Though it is a mystery to us, the Lord does not experience time as we do; He is not bound to its limits but exists outside of time. Why does He patiently wait? For salvation—that more and more might repent and find life in Him (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). Thus, during these last days, we meditate on the patience of our Lord to save many.

The third thing we do is take care not to be overtaken by “the error of lawless people” (v. 17). Who are such lawless people? Well, since Peter specifically mentions Paul, perhaps it’s best to refer to him. Paul speaks of “the man of lawlessness,” referring to the man in the generic sense who is engaged in lawless behaviour, not the antichrist(s) dealt with in John’s epistles. The person of lawlessness “[proclaims] himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Who does this? Anyone who rejects God and makes themselves the god of their own lives—the false trinity of me, myself, and I, that what I think is what’s best for me. Such self-godhood is how you get the murdering of unborn babies.

The lawless man, “by the activity of Satan,” also performs “false signs and wonders” and “wicked deception” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). Think of TV evangelists who pretend to be “faith healers,” supposedly performing miracles when nothing is actually happening, and those and others like them who deceive others with false doctrine and heresy. We take care not to be overtaken first by our own delusions thinking we are gods of our own lives, or letting others pressure us into ungodly—that is, lawless—behaviour (e.g., moving in with one’s boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/fiancée, premarital sex, drunkenness, contentiousness, etc.). We also take care not to be deceived by false teachers, as Peter warns in the epistle.

Lastly, in relation to the previous one, we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). How do we grow in His grace? Keep attending the Divine Service where you receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through His Means of Grace: the Word and Sacraments. How do you grow in the knowledge of Christ? As knowledge is a cerebral thing, this includes not only Divine Service as well as when the pastor preaches, but also Bible study where you move from milk to solid food (cf. Hebrews 5:11-14)—from the basics to the intricacies of our faith in Christ.

Notice these things we do in the last days are not especially groundbreaking. We rely so much on so-called revolutionary church programmes (or “revival” movements) with the help of pop psychology to ascend to greater and newer things when God simply uses simple, ordinary means to come to us and do His extraordinary work. These are His Word and Sacraments. If anything, we need them more during these last days, not less.


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