For sheer power and majesty, 2 Peter 3:3-13 stands among the top two or three eschatological texts of the NT. Here the apostle fully unveils his conception of “the end of all things” (1 Peter 4:7). As ever, the Parousia lies at its heart (3:4). Now, however, the accent falls upon the one Judgment that Christ will effect at his return, and also upon the cosmic implications of that Judgment. The result is one of Scripture’s most comprehensive pictures of the Consummation, a picture whose character and unity completely rule out every premillennial scheme. For this reason, it serves as a true bulwark of the classic Reformation eschatology.

A few words of introduction are in order.

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NOTE: This post is an excerpt from a forthcoming book entitled The High King of Heaven. Its purpose is to explain and defend the classic Reformation vision of the Church’s Blessed Hope: Christ will return once at the end of the age to raise the dead, judge the world in righteousness, and bring in the Kingdom in its full and final form.

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Our final two texts appear in the general epistles of the apostle Peter. It is widely believed that he wrote them from Rome sometime between AD 60-68, during the reign of the infamous persecutor of the fledgling Church, the Roman emperor Nero. As we shall see, in his first letter Peter repeatedly encourages suffering believers with the hope of eternal glory at the revelation of Christ. From this it is evident that when he wrote it he looked for the Lord’s return in his own lifetime. However, in his second letter, Peter has realized that he will soon be martyred (2 Peter 1:12-14, John 21:18), and that the Lord may yet tarry for a great while (2 Peter 3:8-9). Accordingly, he is now at pains to leave behind a body of written instruction and exhortation; instruction that will include, not least of all, important information about the Consummation, so that Christ’s pilgrim Church may be able to keep her Blessed Hope squarely before her eyes, and so walk in strength and purity, pleasing to the Lord (2 Peter 1:15, 3:1-18).

In this section I want briefly to discuss 1 Peter 4:7-19, a passage that well reflects the apostle’s view of the Consummation. However, in order to understand it most fully, we must take a few moments to survey the eschatology of the letter as a whole.

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Shortly before his passion, the Lord Jesus sat with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and taught them about the Consummation. All agree that his lengthy discourse, recounted by three of the four Gospel writers, is the single most important dominical teaching on this subject.

It is also the most difficult and controversial. However, if our grasp of biblical eschatology is firm, and our understanding of prophetic diction clear, the difficulties are actually quite surmountable, and the controversies fairly easily laid to rest.

My approach in this essay will be as follows.

First, we will look closely at the Disciple’s Question, a question that both elicited the Lord’s reply and determined the prophetic principles by which he would give it.

Secondly, we will briefly survey the Discourse itself, using those principles to help us interpret his meaning.

Thirdly, we will address some of the more difficult questions involved, even as we interact with different interpretations of controversial passages.

And finally, we will summarize our findings, showing how richly they favor the amillennial view of the Consummation.

To read the rest of this essay, please click here.

For all its doctrinal richness, this lengthy eschatological text was written primarily out of deep pastoral concern. As verses 1-2 make plain, a rumor was circulating among the Thessalonian house churches, to the effect that the Day of the Lord had come; that it was imminent. Since the rumor was troubling the brethren, distracting them from their spiritual mission and daily responsibilities, Paul addressed it pointedly. His message is clear: The Day of the Lord will not come until certain things happen first; until certain unmistakable signs appear on the historical horizon. So then, until you see those signs, stand firm (2:15) and stay busy (2:17, 3:6f)!

Because, in the providence of God, this passage tells us so much about events leading up to the Consummation, it invites a closer look. Once again, my approach will be to give the gist of each section, spotlighting along the way the many indications that Paul here presupposes and teaches a single Consummation at the Parousia of Christ.

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In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, eschatological teaching appears even more prominently than in the first. The Thessalonians continue to endure severe persecution (1 Thess. 3:3, 2 Thess. 1:4). Because of this, and because of the apostle’s earlier teaching, they eagerly await the Coming of their Lord (1 Thess. 1:10). Now, however, a rumor is circulating, a rumor to the effect that “the Day of the Lord has come”— that Christ’s return is “at the very door” (Mt. 24:33). As a result, the Thessalonians are troubled, shaken from their spiritual composure (2 Thess. 2:2). Doubtless a vigorous debate has arisen in their congregations, seeing that the rumor does not square with Paul’s previous instruction (2 Thess. 3:5). Also, certain men, previously reproved for their indolence, are likely using this rumor as an excuse to dodge the responsibility of work (1 Thess. 4:11-12, 5:14). In the good providence of God, Paul gets wind of these things and again takes pen in hand.

Our text, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, is the first of two passages in this letter devoted almost entirely to eschatological themes (we will discuss the other, 2:1-12, next). In essence, it celebrates the Thessalonians faithfulness and endurance amidst their severe persecutions, even as it encourages them to stay the course, seeing that Christ will soon return to administer perfect justice in the form of eternal rewards and retribution. Let us briefly survey it now, paying special attention to any signs that Paul has in view the single Consummation of classic amillennial eschatology.

Paul’s Gratitude

In verses 3-4, the apostle opens with an expression of thanksgiving. He is deeply grateful for the Thessalonian’s growth in faith and brotherly love, and especially for their perseverance amidst so many dire persecutions and afflictions (Acts 17:5-9, 1 Thess. 1:6, 2:14, 3:3). He feels he ought always to thank God for such exemplary qualities in such exemplary Christians, and proudly declares that he openly boasts about them to the other churches of God.

Paul’s Exhortation

In verse 5-10 he goes on to encourage them to keep up the good fight. This tightly knit section may be divided into three parts.

In verse 5, Paul states his theme for the passage: the righteous judgment of God. The Thessalonians are to remember that their admirable endurance through these unjust persecutions stands as a “plain indication” (or “manifest evidence,” NKJV) that God, the Righteous Judge has already declared them to be righteous because of their faith in Christ, and so made them worthy to enter his eternal Kingdom. Implicitly, they must now continue to endure, so that they may see their righteousness fully vindicated on the Day of the Lord Jesus (Mt. 24:13, Rom. 8:17, 11:22, Col. 1:23, 1 Tim. 2:15). As Paul will later express the matter to the Philippians, the calm perseverance of believers in the midst of persecution is a sure sign: a sign of future destruction for their persecutors, but of future salvation for the believers themselves (Phil. 1:28).

God’s Righteous Judgment

In verses 6-8, Paul continues his meditation on God’s righteous judgment. Now, however, his thoughts pass on to another judgment: the final Judgment itself. He means his words to be a great encouragement to the Thessalonians. In that Day God will send the Lord Jesus down from heaven, surrounded by flaming fire (i.e., divine glory in manifestation) and accompanied by his mighty angels. When he arrives, he himself will consummately administer the righteous judgment of God, turning a morally upside down world right side up. How will he do this? By afflicting the afflicters, and by relieving the afflicted (verses 6-7). He will do it by dealing out fiery retribution to all who spurned the knowledge of God and refused to obey the Gospel of Christ (v. 8; Rom. 1:5, 28).

What Judgment is This? 

Is this indeed the Last Judgment? Verses 9-10 assure us that it is. In verse 9, Paul says that the unbelieving rebels will pay the penalty of eternal destruction. From that moment on, they will experience the eternal ruin of all well-being in Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire (Mt. 13:40-43, 25:46). Note also that this judgment removes unbelievers from “the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power.” Here, Paul has the Regeneration in view. Unbelievers will never taste the powers, nor behold the glories, of the eternal Age to Come, wherein God and Christ will feast together with the saints in the new heavens and the new earth (v. 9; Luke 14:24).

Verse 10 also points conclusively to the Last Judgment. When he comes, Christ will “ . . . be glorified in his saints on that day, and marveled at among all who have believed.” Paul has in view Christ’s entire Church: all the saints, all who have believed. And how exactly will they all arrive upon the scene? The apostle need not say, for in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 he has already explained everything: On the day when Christ is revealed from heaven, he will bring with him the spirits of the departed saints, and then clothe them with their new resurrection bodies. Then he will transform the living saints. At that point, all of the saints of all time will be standing before the Lord in glory! I agree, therefore, with F. F. Bruce, when he writes, “Christian men and women are meant here. They are to share in Christ’s glory. The revealing of the Lord Jesus from heaven (v. 7) is also the day of the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19, Col. 1:3) (NBC, p. 1162)

Finally, note in verse 10 Paul’s reference to “that day.” What day does he mean? As the phrase itself indicates, there is, and can only be, one of them: the Day of the Lord Jesus. Moreover, in this text—as in so many others like it—it is plainly a day of eternal reward and retribution (1 Cor. 5:5, 2 Cor. 1:14, 1 Thess 5:2, 2 Thess. 2:2, 2 Peter 3:10f). In sum, it is the Last Day, the Day of the general Resurrection, the general Judgment, and the inauguration of the Final State for all men and angels (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54).

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would point out that this text is highly problematic for our dispensational brethren. For if, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul was extending to his flock the hope of a secret Coming and a removal to heaven, how is it that here he is extending to that very same flock a completely different hope: the hope of an exceedingly public Coming, of final redemption for the saints, and final retribution for sinners?

No, in both of these passages Paul clearly has in mind a single Day. It is the Last Day, the Day of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Consummation, in which the glorified Lord Jesus will come to earth again, one final time, to raise the dead, judge the world in righteousness, and introduce the Kingdom of God in its glorious fullness.

So our Reformed forefathers believed, taught, and joyfully proclaimed. We do well to follow in their steps.