Why is Christ Taking So Long to Return?
Answers to the questions on Christ’s delay–2 Peter 3:8-10
A young man desired to go to India as a missionary. Mr. Marvin was appointed to consider the young man’s fitness for such a post. He wrote to the young man and told him to call on him at six o’clock the next morning. Although the applicant lived many miles off, he was at the house punctually at six o’clock and was ushered into the drawing room. He waited, and waited . . . and waited, wondering–but patiently. Finally, Mr. Marvin entered the room about mid-morning. Without apology, Mr. Marvin began, “Well, young man, so you want to be a missionary?” He replied, “Yes sir, I do.”
“Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ?” His response, “Yes, sir, I certainly do.” Mr. Marvin asked, “And have you any education?” The young man replied, “Yes sir, a little.” So he asked, “Well, now, we’ll try you; can you spell ‘cat’?” The young man looked confused, and hardly knew how to answer the insulting question. His mind evidently halted between indignation and submission, but in a moment he replied steadily, “C, a, t—cat.”
“Very good,” said Mr. Marvin. “Now can you spell dog?” The youthful candidate was stunned, but replied, “D, o, g—dog.” Mr. Marvin said, “Well, that is right; I see you’re good at spelling, now for your math; how much is 2 x 2?” The patient young man gave the right reply, and then to his shock, was dismissed.
Mr. Marvin gave his report at the committee meeting. He said, “I recommend that young man; I have duly examined his testimony and character. I tried his self-denial. I made him get up early in the morning to travel to my place. I tried his patience by keeping him waiting. I tried his humility and temper by insulting his intelligence. And he responded well to all. I recommend him wholeheartedly.”
How do you fair at the testing of your patience? Are you a patient person? In the New Testament, patience also means longsuffering. Patience refers to holding back just anger a long time without cracking. And patience can also mean to abide under–sometimes translated endurance or perseverance. God calls believers to not become exasperated or angry, remembering that God is patient with you. If the perfect Son of God is so patient with sinners, if Christ is so willing to hold back righteous anger from sinners like you and me, how much more are you, His children, obligated to grow in patience with others?
The apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 3, wants to equip the churches of Asia to be patient. The false teachers push for impatience–they want believers to reject the Second Coming, because God is taking so long to return. They’re accusing Christ of not keeping His Word, because His return appears to be delayed. Where is this? Turn to 2 Peter 3 and follow along in your outline. In chapter three, Peter is focusing on the main event in eschatology–the Second Coming of Christ, where Christ judges His enemies and blesses His children forever. In verses 1 to 2, Peter declares . . .
#1 The return of Christ is CERTAIN Verses 1 to 2
How do you know? Peter says in verses 1 to 2, because of the hundreds of promises made by the prophets in the Old Testament, by the Lord Jesus Himself in the gospels, and by the apostles in the New Testament. If Christ is not coming back, then throw your Bible away, because Christ’s return as the world Ruler and Judge of each person is everywhere in your Bible. But in spite of the clear teaching of God’s Word, in verses 3 to 4 . . .
#2 The return of Christ is CHALLENGED Verses 3 to 4
False teachers attack the clear teaching of God’s Word with intimidation through mockery, flaunting their so-called freedoms by living immorally (lustfully), and by trying to manipulate their thinking through arguments—none of which will stop Christ from returning to judge all, punish those without Christ, and reward those in Christ. In response to those attacks, Peter declares in verses 5 to 10 that . . .
#3 The return of Christ is CLEAR Verses 5 to 10
Peter takes six verses to show the foolishness of the false teachers’ claims and in verses 5 to 7 last time . . .
First God’s invasion of history destroys UNIFORMITARIANISM arguments Verses 5 to 7
Peter focuses on the attack of the uniformitarianism world view of verse 4, where the false teachers pontificate–because everything continues on the same today, Christ will not radically change the planet in the future. Since Christ has done nothing radical in the past to alter the world, He won’t be radically changing the world in the future.
Peter proves their attack on biblical history is completely fallacious. Last week, Peter wiped out their arguments in verses 5 to 6 by reminding his readers of the creation of the world and the flood destroying the world–both actions by God, radically reordering the world. These are such strong proofs against uniformitarianism, that Peter affirms in verse 7 that the return of Christ, His punishment of His enemies and judgment of all mankind will clearly come.
But the false teachers are not done–they sneer, then ask, why is Christ taking so long? And some Christians Peter is writing to are asking the same–why the apparent delay? Peter answers that question in verses 8 to 10 for today, second under His return is CLEAR.
Second The very character of God destroys the DELAY arguments Verses 8 to 10
“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
You should be patient for Christ’s return, because He has been patient with you. The Lord Jesus Christ has promised to return, and the Lord will keep His promise. God calls on each of you to be patient–for now. We need to expect and long for the Second Coming, because the return of Christ gives Christians hope for the future.
The Second Coming reminds believers to fight sin, and live obediently, because our homegoing is any minute—it is imminent. Christ’s return requires a particular world stage. When you understand what will happen, you’re more prone to understand what is happening today. The return of Christ will bring judgment. Those who live unrighteously, those who persecute the Church, those who’ve turned away from Christ will all be punished forever. The Second Coming intensifies your desire to share the Gospel with the lost and the return of Christ fires up your desire to have your faith turn to sight.
You should be patient for Christ’s return because He has been patient with you. In these three verses today, Peter has blown me away as he describes the vast and incredible character of God. With this three-verse description, Peter destroys the false teacher accusation that Christ has delayed so long because He is not coming. Nothing could be further from the truth. Peter says here you don’t understand God.
What do you think about when you try to imagine how Great the true God is? A.W. Tozer has said that, “What comes to our mind about God is the most important thing about us.” And that is true. Sadly, many believers don’t study the Word enough to really understand the depths of Who God is. They think God is mostly loving, so they don’t understand when 9/11 happens or Covid-19 attacks the world. Or God is mostly forgiving, so they don’t take their sin seriously. Or God is mostly inactive, so they live how they want. Or God is not in control, so they do what others say instead of what God says in his Word. Or worst of all, they are guilty of Psalm 50:2l where God says, “You thought, that I was just like you.” We think God is just like us–never!
Today, I want you to be like my son, Matt, when he was around one year old. I offered him two graham crackers–one small ¼ piece, and one the entire large cracker, to see which one he would take. He grabbed the huge one, bigger than he could handle–he even jabbed his own eye with it when he tried to eat it. I want you to try to grab a view of God that is bigger than you can handle. Peter will give us that view, while he calls us to be patient for the return of Christ.
A The profoundness of ETERNITY proves Christ is not delaying His return
Verse 8, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” Peter is answering the criticism that Christ has delayed so long, you can’t really believe He is coming back. You would not waver about His return if you saw eternity from God’s perspective. From God’s experience of time, it hasn’t been long at all. God understands time much differently than you. From people’s point of view, Christ’s coming seems like a long time away. From God’s viewpoint, it won’t be long at all.
Peter starts verse 8 with, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved”—meaning, do not fail to recognize this truth. Make certain you understand this. Peter reminds his readers they are beloved–this is for those who are God’s children. But more than that, beloved of God, beloved by Peter in the most intimate relationship, which is filled with tender love and genuine affection. Christians are beloved of God. So Peter says, “Dear sweet family of Christians, do not forget what it means to be Eternal God.”
In Psalm 90:4 Moses declared, “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.” Peter’s paraphrase of that psalm here in verse 8 encouraged his readers to not fail to recognize this–God’s perspective on time is much different from yours. An actual theological definition of eternal is this–God is not limited by time.
Make certain you understand this–the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is eternal. Isaiah 9:6, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father [that’s father of eternity, the one who oversees eternity], Prince of Peace.” Our Lord Jesus is (Revelation 22:13), “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” The amount of earthly time that passes is of no consequence from God’s timeless perspective. A moment is no different than a century, and an eon passes like a moment to the eternal God. What may seem like a long time to believers, like a thousand years, is actually short–like one day in God’s sight.
Peter is contending that, while Christ’s return may seem far off to human beings, it’s imminent from God’s perspective. Finite people must not confine an infinite God to their time schedule. The Lord Jesus Christ will return at the exact moment determined by God in eternity past. Those who foolishly demand God operate according to their timeframe ignore that He is, Micah 5:2, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Just like those who press God’s timing, there are those who argue Christ will not return, since He has taken so long. Yet their argument is foolish when you recall God is eternal.
John Piper writes this, “Since our God is immortal, does not age, does not forget, sees all history at a glance and is never bored, He clearly does not experience time like we do. And since you were made in God’s image, there is in you something like God’s experience of time. The older you get, the faster time seems to go.
“How many older people say, ‘It just seems like yesterday I was in school.’ Or, ’It just seems like yesterday we got married.’ And not only age, but joy makes us experience time like God. If you are bored at a program, it seems to drag on forever. But if you go on a vacation for a couple weeks and have a terrific time, you come to the end and say, ‘It seems like we just got here.’ And at the end of those weeks, it was like yesterday you arrived. When Jesus comes back and stands on this earth to make it his own, He will say, ‘It just seems like yesterday I was here.’
“Don’t fail to recognize this. It is no argument against Christ’s second coming that almost 2,000 years have passed since His departure. From God’s experience of time it is as though Christ just arrived at His right hand the day before yesterday.”
You should be patient for Christ’s return because He has been patient with you. Not only does, A The profoundness of ETERNITY prove Christ is not delaying His return. But also . . .
B The depth of God’s MERCY proves Christ is not delaying His return
Verse 9, not only do you need to embrace God’s eternal nature, but also His magnificent mercy. You can only be tempted to believe Christ is not returning if you have a low view of God. Peter responds to the attack on Christ’s return as a delay in a powerful way in verse 9. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Peter says Jesus will keep His promise to return. He is not slow, just patient. He does not desire His chosen to suffer in Hell forever, but to repent and turn to Christ. The writer of Hebrews assures his readers God will fulfill the promises He made to them. What did he write? Hebrews 10:37, “For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.”
Why does it seem like Christ is slow? Verse 9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise,” Peter tells you in verse 9. God is patiently waiting, driven by a heart of abundant mercy. Despite the ridicule of scoffers, the Lord is not slow about His promise. Slow means delayed or late, painting an idea of loitering. None of that applies to God–His seeming slowness is not due to lack of ability, forgetfulness, or apathy. In fulfilling His promise, God is working everything precisely according to His perfect will and schedule.
John MacArthur writes, “The reason Christ’s return is not immediate, is because God is patient with sinners. Any waiting is attributable only to God’s gracious longsuffering. It is not that He is indifferent, powerless, or distracted. Instead, it is just the opposite. Because He is merciful and forbearing, He delays so that elect sinners might come to repentance.”
The cause of the so-called delay is not from God’s disinterest or inattentiveness. The cause of the seeming delay lies in God’s mercy toward sinners like you and like me. God is giving more time for His chosen children to repent of their sins. Jesus will return when God’s patience has ended, when the time allotted has expired, and when the last believer has turned to Christ as Savior. It is the sovereign God who graciously grants a time interval for repentance. God works out His plan and purpose even though you and I might express doubts.
Now pick this profound verse apart with me and understand the character of God. Verse 9 adds, “as some count slowness.” The “some” in this verse are not the scoffers of verse 3, but they are believers who’ve been influenced by these scoffers. Some Christians were unable to explain the delay of Christ’s return and began to doubt as they listened to the scoffers. So Peter says God has a purpose for this time.
Verse 9 continues, “but is patient toward you.” Peter addresses the readers here, not the scoffers, when he writes the pronoun you—”is patient toward you.” So “patience toward you” refers both to Peter’s immediate readers and any who will ever come to faith in Jesus Christ–like those in John 10:16 when Jesus describes, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
Some have argued that the “you” here implies that God gives salvation to all people. But the immediate context and the comments of verse 7, “the destruction of ungodly men,” clearly limits the “you” to believers. Plus, consider the term “beloved” listed four times in chapter 3, that also restricts this pronoun, “you” to born again Christians.
Peter indicates that God does not judge His people hastily, but grants them sufficient time to come to repentance and be born again in Christ. God is patient. God shows his patience now and He showed his patience before. Remember 1 Peter 3:20, “Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water”—120 years!
Patient in verse 9 is a compound word combining large with great anger. Peter uses it here to show that God has a vast capacity for storing up anger and wrath before it spills over in judgment. While that judgment is inescapable and deadly, God’s merciful patience gives His chosen the opportunity for reconciliation and salvation. So God’s wrath toward the individual sinner is immediately appeased whenever any person repents and believes in the Gospel.
God has been patiently waiting for 2,000 years for His chosen to believe. Aren’t you glad He has been waiting for you? I am glad He was waiting for me. You should be patient for Christ’s return, because He has been patient with you. So much so, verse 9 adds, “not wishing for any to perish.” Peter is not teaching universalism in this sentence. In this letter, Peter clearly states the false teachers and the scoffers are condemned and will face destruction.
Since the whole passage is about God’s destroying the wicked, His patience is not so He can save all of them, but so that He can receive all His own. He can’t be waiting for everyone to be saved, since the emphasis is that He will destroy the world and the ungodly. Those who do perish and go to Hell, go because they are depraved and worthy only of Hell and have rejected the only remedy, Jesus Christ–not because they were created for Hell or were predetermined to go to Hell, but because by their sin they deserve Hell.
“Not wishing for any to perish.” Perish means God does not wish any to be utterly destroyed in eternal Hell–suffering forever damnation because they are dead in their sins and they refuse God’s offer of salvation in Christ. At the same time, it is clear from Scripture the Father takes no delight in the death of the lost. Ezekiel 18:32, “’For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. Therefore, repent and live.”
God even wants the false teachers to be saved, but sadly they have disregarded God’s patience toward them. They actually employ their knowledge of Christ against Him, willfully rejecting God’s offer of salvation. They even take God’s mercy in waiting and turn it into an evidence for Christ not returning. As a result, they end up bearing the full responsibility for their own condemnation.
Verse 9 ends with God wanting all to come to repentance. God provides time for man to repent, but repentance is an act that man must perform. The mockers in Peter’s day refused to come to repentance, even though God was granting them a time period of mercy to respond in repentance. Repentance is changing your mind, which results in a turning from sin to pursue Christ in obedience, always evidenced by Spirit-produced fruit. Acts 26:20, “They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
God wants to save His chosen children. The context indicates that the “any to perish” and “all to come to repentance” are limited to the elect–namely all those whom the Lord has chosen and will call to Himself. Put another way, Christ will not come back until every person whom God has chosen is saved. Because you are dead in sins, you’re unable to respond to God. God must choose you, then call you to Himself so you can respond in repentance and faith to Christ.
Ephesians 1:4, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” And John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you.” Romans 9:16, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” The reason for the so-called delay in Christ’s coming, along with His judgment, is not because He is slow to keep His promise or because He wants to judge more of the wicked, or because He is impotent in the face of wickedness. Christ only delays His coming because He is patient and in His mercy desires time f,or His people to repent.
How many of you are saved–raise your hand? He’s been waiting 2000 years for you! Those who are not saved, He is still waiting for you, and so are we–repent now so we can go. Of course, once all of the elect are accounted for, God’s patience will run out. Having given the world as much time as He has sovereignly determined, God will pour out His wrath upon the earth, which leads us to verse 10. While His patience and mercy currently holds back His judgment, this season of mercy you all now enjoy will not last forever. So . . .
A The profoundness of ETERNITY proves Christ is not delaying His return Verse 8
B The depth of God’s MERCY proves Christ is not delaying His return Verse 9
C The certainty of Christ’s return and the POWER of His judgment, undoes any deception over His delay Verse 10
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” Based on his preceding arguments, Peter confidently asserts the Day of the Lord will come. No matter what the false teachers may claim, the evidence against them is overwhelming. The Day of the Lord is the future time of judgment whereby God judges the wicked on earth and ends this world system in its present form.
The Old Testament prophets described the Day of the Lord as unequaled darkness and damnation–a period when the Lord would act in a climactic way to vindicate His name, destroy His enemies, reveal His glory, and establish His kingdom. The New Testament views this prophetic season as an awesome and fearful event. Six times they call it “the day of doom” and four times “the day of vengeance.” This day includes horrifying judgments from God because of the world’s overwhelming sinfulness.
It occurs at the time of the Tribulation on earth and again 1,000 years later at the end of the millennial kingdom before the creation of the new heavens and new earth. And it will come, verse 10, “like a thief”. The Day of the Lord will be unexpected, without warning, and disastrous for the unprepared–like a thief. And Christ is so powerful, look at what He will do in verse 10, “in which the heavens will pass away with a roar.”
Heavens refers to the visible, physical universe of interstellar and intergalactic space. The term roar is an onomatopoetic word that sounds like what it means. It speaks of a rushing sound, or a loud noise, and also describes the crackling sounds that objects emit when fire consumes them. On that future day, the noise from the disintegrating atoms of the universe will be deafening, unlike anything ever heard before. In the final phase of the Day of the Lord, Jesus says in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and Earth will pass away.”
God is so powerful, He will incinerate the universe–which is what Peter describes in verse 10. “The elements will be destroyed with intense heat.” The elements are the atomic components into which matter is ultimately divisible, which make up the composition of all the created matter. Peter means the atoms, neutrons, protons, and electrons are all going to burn everything to disintegration. The entire physical earth in its present form, along with the entire universe, will be consumer. The intense heat will be so powerful that, verse 10, “the earth and its works will be burned up.” God’s power will consume every civilization, every ecosystem, and all natural resources–everything in the material realm, along with the surrounding celestial universe.
Yet even in the midst of that mind-boggling destruction, the Lord will protect His sheep. Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You.” God made the universe by His great power and He will destroy the universe by His Great power–nothing is too difficult for God.
At the moment, false teachers may be mocking, but their disparaging insults are only short-lived. One day Christ will return and God’s judgment will be displayed–a fact guaranteed by His promise and fulfilled by His power. After He returns, the entire present universe will cease to exist. It will be replaced by a completely new Heaven and Earth, where the righteous will live with God forever. Revelation 22:4 and 5, “They will see His face, 5and they will reign forever and ever.” You should be patient for Christ’s return, because He has been patient with you.
TAKE THIS HOME
A Make it a life passion to pursue the KNOWLEDGE of God
Today you’ve seen God’s patience, God’s eternality, God’s mercy and God’s power. Pondering today’s passage will help you to grow more intimate with Christ. Let today light a fire underneath you that will never go out–a fiery hunger for God.
• The same fire that motivated Moses to cry, “I pray Thee, show me Thy Glory.”
• The same Passion that drove David to utter, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God.”
• The same commitment that made Paul shout, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ.”
The greatest Christians are those who don’t merely want to know God, but they make plans, exercise discipline, and take action in order to know Christ deeply–through regular worship, His Word, in fellowship, with discipleship and through intentional study of His character and attributes. Knowing God is a start, but don’t stop. Make certain knowing Him is a top priority in your everyday life in Christ.
B Allow God’s patience and mercy to move you to GRATITUDE
Don’t walk away today without deeply pondering God’s immense patience in waiting for you to come to Christ. Our Lord has been patiently waiting to save you for 2,000 years. We barely have the patience of 20 seconds waiting for our spouses, let alone 2,000 years. The Lord had to work extra hard on me. He had to save my entire family, move them all to pray, involve our entire church to pray, to bring me to faith. I am so grateful that His mercy was extended to me–that He waited for me. I hope and pray you say thank you all week long.
C Understand the necessity to REPENT in order to be genuinely saved Yes, it is Christ who must choose you, and the Spirit must call you. But you are responsible this day to repent and turn to Christ–both truths are biblical. The path to eternal damnation in Hell is the path of a non-repentant heart–it’s the path of one who rejects the person and provision of Christ and holds on to their sin. The path of those who refuse to turn from their sin, to follow Christ as Lord, the path of one who remains in the church but only lives for themselves, the path of one who hears the truth of who Christ is and what Christ did for you, but remains indifferent, or remains externally religious or Christian in name only.
The Bible says, all must come to repentance—you must repent. Matthew 4:17, “Jesus said, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Luke 15:10, “’In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’” Romans 2:4, “The kindness of God leads you to repentance.” Acts 20:21, “Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks [everyone] of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” God’s mercy waits for you, but not forever. Turn from your sin to follow Christ today. Let’s pray.