Peer has shown us in the verses prior to this that the people who scoff at the return of the Lord and a future judgment are completely clueless. The fact is, simply because it hasn’t happened does not prove that it’s not going to happen. Rather, the fact that it hasn’t happened yet is simply a demonstration of God’s patience, not His slothfulness. Without giving as much detail as we might like, Peter tells us what the judgment is going to look like, what it’s going to sound like, and what it’s going to feel like. In short, we are given a picture of a terrible cataclysmic judgment that is worse than any nightmare we’ve ever had.
First of all, we are told of the certainty of judgment. Peter says “The day of the Lord [the future day of judgment] will come”. Sometimes, as we look at the sin in the world and the people that mock God and His precious word, we are tempted to say with the psalmist “How long?” (Psalm 6:3). It is difficult to see people sneer at God, mock us for our faith, and appear to prosper all the while. However, no matter how long it takes, judgment will come and it will do so according to God’s perfect timetable. We can take comfort in the certainty that God will put an end to sin and we should be motivated by the certainty of that judgment to be even more diligent to share the gospel.
Further, observe with me the clandestine manner with which the Day of Judgment will come. Peter says it will come “like a thief”. Now, considering the author, we have to assume I think that this refers back to Jesus’ words about His return as recorded in Matthew 24:43. The basic idea that Peter is trying to convey here is this—we can’t wait till the last minute to prepare for judgment day. This is not like when we were kids and we could start being good 2 or three weeks before Christmas because we knew it was coming and we had to get ready. This isn’t like a test that is announced 2 or 3 weeks in advance for which we can start to study little by little to prepare, friends. No, quite the contrary, this is the ultimate pop quiz and there will only be one question—“How did you respond to the gospel?” And you can be sure of one thing; the wrong answer will get you much more than a failing grade on some report card. Rather, you will find yourself in a terrifying position as justly condemned before a holy God.
Finally, Peter tells us exactly how terrifying the judgment will be. He describes a nightmarish cataclysm from which there will be no hiding and no recovery. Now, in the interest of full disclosure here, I should probably mention that I am a premillennial dispensationalist. In short, I believe the event of Revelation and the 70th week prophesied by Daniel have yet to be fulfilled. I believe there is going to be a rapture of the church followed by a 7 year period during which the Anti-Christ will be revealed who will deceive many people, persecuting those who come to faith n Christ. I believe this “Day of the Lord” that Peter discusses here will come after all these events and will be the final judgment of God on sinful men. I do not believe that the Left Behind series is an accurate portrayal of what will happen nor do I believe in newspaper exegesis.
Now, having said that, I know there are good Christian men and women who believe differently than I do about these events. Therefore, I’m not saying that my view is the end all be all, final word on the subject of eschatology (the study of the end times). I believe, ultimately, that God will bring about an end to sin and will bring all those who have saving faith in Christ into an eternal heavenly kingdom to live with Him forever. That is the most important truth to remember when thinking about the last days.
In any case, the universe as we know it will cease to exist. Everything will be destroyed: “the heavens…the elements…the earth and its works”. Now, I’m not sure exactly what Peter had in mind when he said “heavens”. Likely, he just meant the sky as he could see it which we know would include the universe. Likewise, I’m not exactly sure where he was going when he said “the elements”. The Greek word means something like “building blocks”. Of course, Peter didn’t know anything about atoms and molecules so we can only speculate as to exactly what he had in mind. The phrase ‘earth and its works”, however, is pretty obviously referring to, well, the earth and its works. In short, Peter is saying that all these things are going to be destroyed (“pass away…destroyed with intense heat…burned up*”). I always like to point folks that are looking to save the earth to this verse on Earth Day. This universe, this plane of existence, is temporary and God will do away with it when the Day of Judgment comes.
Now, should knowing this affect us? I think it should. How should it affect us? Let’s see what Peter has to say about that next time.
*Some Greek texts have "will be laid bare" rather than "burned up". This is what is known as a textual variant and it causes some people to (cue disco music) "Freak out". However, regardless of which reading is the one Peter originally wrote, the trust of the passage is the same--there is a judgment coming and it will be sure doom for those who do not have saving faith in Christ.