That’s the question being asked on the Christian Post website. Here’s the first paragraph:
Many believers are anxious for Jesus’ return and, in the natural, some feel God is postponing His return despite knowing that the scriptures, such as 2 Peter 3, teach that God is not slow, but is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, said Jeff Kinley and Todd Hampson of the “Prophecy Pros Podcast.” Kinley and Hampson emphasized that Jesus hasn’t yet returned because the Lord is giving “humanity a chance to repent before He returns.”
Why keep history going if it’s all about continued repentance? It seems to me that if this is the argument, why didn’t Jesus return to wrap up everything in the first century? That way, fewer people — by the billions — would never have to repent of anything since they never would have been born.
Like so much of Bible prophecy speculation, many who traverse the topic miss the timing factor built into most prophetic texts.
What is going on in 2 Peter 3? Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes what was taking place before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34). There were scoffers who were ridiculing the prophecy made by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3–4).
Peter and those to whom he wrote were living in the last days, that is, the last days of the old covenant order that began with Adam and ended with the finished work of Jesus on the cross, His resurrection, and ascension. For a generation a warning went out to the Jews to repent. Those who denied that Jesus was the promised Messiah and placed their faith in the stone temple and its planned obsolescence sacrificial system would be caught in the threatened conflagration because they believed God would rescue them from the war machine of the Romans. The rescue came 40 years earlier, and those who believed did not die when the Roman armies march on the city of Jerusalem and dismantled the temple stone-by-stone.
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Some believers were impatient and left the faith as James Jordan’s point out in his comments from his commentary on Matthew 23–25 to be published by American Vision:
Indeed, Peter says that these men would “follow their own lusts,” language similar to “eat and drink with drunkards” in Matthew 24:48. As the epistle of Jude, 2 Peter 2, and the later letters of Paul make clear, some of the Christian teachers and disciples also fell away and began to mock and live wantonly.
The temple was still standing. In fact, it was more glorious than ever with the rebuilding process started by King Herod I (the Great) in 19 BC and completed in AD 63, seven years before it was destroyed as Jesus predicted it would be (Matt. 23:38, 24:1–2). Jesus was its ultimate and lasting incarnation (John 2:13–22).
In 1 Peter 4:7, we read: “The end of all things is at hand.” Whatever “things” Peter had in mind, notice their end was “at hand,” that is, near for him and his readers (James 5:8). Jay Adams writes the following:
In six or seven years from the time of writing, the overthrow of Jerusalem, with all its tragic stories, as foretold in the book of Revelation and in the Olivet Discourse upon which that part is based, would take place. Titus and Vespasian would wipe out the old order once and for all. All those forces that led to the persecution and exile of these Christians in Asia Minor—the temple ceremonies (outdated by Christ’s death), Pharisaism (with its distortion of the O.T. law into a system of works-righteousness) and the political stance of Palestinian Jewry toward Rome—would be erased. The Roman armies would wipe Jewish opposition from the face of the land. Those who survived the holocaust of A.D. 70 would themselves be dispersed around the Mediterranean world. “So,” says Peter, “hold on; the end is near.” The full end of the O.T. order (already made defunct by the cross and the empty tomb) was about to occur.
Peter defines the time parameters of the last days after the people witnessed a series of manifestations of the Holy Spirit and their effect on the disciples: “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this”— the events you saw with your own eyes and heard with your ears—“is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh’” (Acts 2:15–17a).
The “last days” were a present reality for the New Testament church made up of Jews who embraced Jesus as the Messiah and believing Gentiles. The gifts of the Spirit were hard evidence that the last days had arrived.
Dispensationalists are so befuddled by the obvious timing of when the last days occurred that they must add to, and in other cases, take away from Acts 2:16 to get it to mean what they need it to mean for their brand of futurism to hold up. Thomas Ice, an editor of the Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, reworks Acts 2:16 to read, “But this is [like] that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” In a note on Acts 2:16, Ice adds the word “like” to the text and offers the following comment: “The Spirit’s activity in Joel is linked to the events that will transpire during the Tribulation; thus, it could not have been fulfilled in Acts 2. The unique statement of Peter (‘this is that’) is in the language of comparison and similarity, not fulfillment.” For a comprehensive study of this topic, see my book Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers.
Peter explains what the people had just seen by stating unequivocally “this is that.” It’s not like that; it is that. The simile “like” is found in 157 verses in the New Testament. If Peter meant to imply “comparison and similarity” in Acts 2:16, he would have done so by inserting the word “like” without any help from Mr. Ice.
Taking a different approach, fellow dispensationalist David E. Olander writes, that “Peter was not quoting these verses as a fulfillment in any manner. This was not possible, for the Joel prophecy will only be fulfilled in the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:1–27).” Even though the passage says, “this is that,” Orlander claims “Peter is not saying ‘this is that’….” If Peter is not identifying the events witnessed as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, he chose a strange way of not saying it.
Orlander is begging the question with his claim that the events of Pentecost were not the “day of the Lord.” Orlander’s argument rests on a very narrow and limited understanding of how the Bible uses the phrase “day of the Lord.” John Walvoord, a futurist, makes a valuable comment about the multi-faceted character and application of the phrase: “The ‘Day of the Lord’ is an expression frequently used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe any period of time during which God exercises direct judgment on human sin. The Old Testament records a number of times when Israel endured a day of the Lord, lasting a few days or, in some cases, several years.”
John R. Stott (1921–2011), in his commentary on Acts 2:16, states, “Peter introduces his sermon with the words ‘this is that’ (16, AV), i.e, ‘this’ which his hearers have witnessed is ‘that’ which Joel foretold.” F. F. Bruce makes a similar point: “Joel, like other Old Testament prophets, had spoken of what was going to take place in the ‘last days.’ Peter’s quotation of this prophecy means that these days, the days of fulfillment of God’s purpose, have arrived.”
The use of “last days” in the New Testament refers to the time of the first generation of Christians and the end of the old covenant era. The writer of Hebrews states:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the world (1:1–2).
Later in Hebrews, we read, “but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26). Paul writes something similar to the Corinthians: “Now these things happened to [the Israelites in the wilderness] as an example, and they were written for our instruction [the Corinthians and other Christians at that time], upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). The timing of the last days is important. In each of these cases, the “last days” was a present reality for those who first read these New Testament letters.
With this understanding of the last days in mind, let’s revisit 2 Peter 3:3–4 and Jude 18 which reads, “‘In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’” In the next verse, we are told, “These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly, minded, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19). Not “will be” but—present tense—“are.”
Peter and Jude are not predicting what will happen in the distant future. These things were happening in their day. Just like “false prophets also arose among the people …, there will also be false teachers among you,” Peter writes (2 Pet. 2:1). “The way of the truth will be maligned” and “they will exploit you with false words” (2 Pet. 2:2–3). Notice the use of the second person plural (“you”). Peter is issuing a warning to those who received his letter. The entire New Testament issues warnings against these skeptics and moral troublemakers (Jude 10–16; Acts 20:28–30).
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Christians who are asking why Jesus hasn’t returned will not find the answer in 2 Peter 3. In fact, it’s the wrong question. The better question is, What should I be doing since Jesus has finished His redemptive work?” What was Paul doing waiting for his trial? He was “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness unhindered” (Acts 28:31).
Jay E. Adams, Trust and Obey: A Practical Commentary on First Peter (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), 130.
“‘All mankind’ seems to be defined by what follows: old and young, women as well as men. This makes it reasonably certain that the whole company of 120, which included women, received the Spirit at Pentecost.” (Everett F. Harrison, Acts: The Expanding Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), 58.
Thomas Ice, “Acts,” Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, gen. ed. Tim LaHaye (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 1167, note on Acts 2:16.
David E. Olander, “The Importance of the Biblical Languages,” Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie, ed. Christopher Cone (Ft. Worth: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2008), 87.
John F. Walvoord, Prophecy: 14 Essential Keys to Understanding the Final Drama (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 114–115.
John R. W. Stott, The Spirit, the Church, and the World: The Message of Acts (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 73.
F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 60–61.