To scoff or not to scoff. Is that the question? It’s not. The question is: What were the scoffers scoffing at? Futurists insist that Peter is critical of those who were scoffing that the physical coming of Jesus had not occurred as promised (2 Peter 3–18). The simple fact is that the New Testament writers, Peter included (1 Peter 4:7), taught that Jesus would return shortly (Rev. 1:1), before the last apostle died (John 21:18–24; Matt. 16:27–28), within a generation (Matt. 24:34), because the time was “near” (Rev. 1:3) for the old covenant to pass away. This coming was a coming in judgment — not a physical coming like Jesus’ first coming — similar to the predicted comings that resulted in judgments in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa. 19:1; Micah 1:2–4). The New Testament writers were not describing a final, end-of-the-physical-world coming.
We find comparable local judgment comings in Revelation (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3). Here are fellow-dispensationalist John F. Walvoord’s comments on Revelation 2:5:
The Ephesian Christians were also sharply warned that if they did not heed exhortation, they could expect sudden judgment and removal of the candlestick. As [Henry] Alford comments, this is ‘not Christ’s final coming, but His coming in special judgment is here indicated.’ The meaning seems to be that He would remove the church as a testimony for Christ. This, of course, was tragically fulfilled ultimately.”(1)
Walvoord argues in a similar way in his comments on Revelation 3:3 where Jesus says to the church at Sardis, “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you”:
The same symbolism is used at the second coming of the Lord, but here the figure is not related to that event. The judgment upon the church at Sardis, however, is going to be just as unexpected, sudden, and irrevocable as that which is related to the second coming.”(2)
The judgment described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse was also only local. The then existing temple was to be destroyed (Matt. 24:2) and the judgment could be escaped by fleeing to the mountains outside Judea (24:16–20).
The scoffing of Peter’s skeptics makes sense only if a particular time period was known by those doing the scoffing. A nearly 40-year period with no return will bring out scoffers who were told that this coming would take place within a generation, but a nearly 2000-year period of no return makes scoffing reasonable. You can’t write that an event is “near” (Rev. 1:3), soon to take place (1:1), and then have 2000 years pass with no coming as promised and then claim that God has a different view of time than we do. By the time Peter wrote his letter, that generation was coming to an end and the temple was still standing. As a result, they began to scoff at Jesus’ prediction.
Today’s scoffers are those who do not take Jesus’ words seriously when He said He would return before the generation to whom He was speaking passed away (Matt. 24:34). Those who maintain that Jesus did not mean the generation that was alive in His day are calling Jesus’ veracity into question. They are scoffing that Jesus meant what He said. “He didn’t really mean that He would return within a generation,” they argue. “That’s just not possible.”
For example, Ed Hindson, who wrote “The New Last Days Scoffers” in the May 2005 issue of the National Liberty Journal, takes the position advocated by F. V. Filson “that Matthew [in chapter 24] certainly understood Jesus to be saying that ‘all these things’ referred to the end of history in the distant future.”(3) Contrary to Filson and Hindson, it’s obvious that Jesus had that particular generation in view and not a distant future one (Matt. 24:33). This is the position of numerous Bible commentators. For example, the great Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon (1834–1891) writes: “The King left his followers in no doubt as to when these things should happen: ‘Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till and these things be fulfilled.’ It was about the ordinary limit of a generation when the Roman armies compassed Jerusalem, whose measure of iniquity was then full, and overflowed in misery, agony, distress, and bloodshed such as the world never saw before or since. Jesus was a true Prophet; everything that he foretold was literally fulfilled.”(4)
We live in a time leads people to believe that there is no hope. The world seems to be crumbling down around us. In a way, it is. But whose world is crumbling? It’s the worlds of unbelief, moral decadence, and confusion. What we do is what matters.
- John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), 57.(↩)
- Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 81.(↩)
- Edward E. Hindson, “Matthew” in Liberty Bible Commentary: New Testament (Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982), 83.(↩)
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1987), 353.(↩)