Connecting With God: “Judgment Day” – 2 Peter 3:1-13

the last judgment 2Twenty-five years had passed since the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican was painted in Rome when (between 1536 and 1541) Michelangelo Buonarroti began working on the monumental work called the “Last Judgment” at the front of the chapel. By now, as an older artist, he decided to create a new standard for this scene famous among artists of the Renaissance. Instead of positioning people according to their social station, dressed in the common garb of that place in society, he placed nude figures (entirely equal before the throne of God with nothing to hide behind). Stripped bare of rank, each person faced God in the truth of his own vulnerable, physical state. The scene graphically displayed separation of the blessed and the damned with the saved ascending on the left and the damned descending on the right. Muting the colors for a specific reason, the fresco is dominated by the tones of flesh and sky – because those indicate the point of the whole scene – as heaven swallows up mortality.

The depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the corresponding eternal judgment by God of all humanity was captured in an overwhelming artistic scene. It is loved by artists and students, but was spurned by many when first unveiled. The artist was accused of being insensitive to decorum, incorporating nudity and refusing accepted social convention. In fact, the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said of the painting “it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully,” and called the work suitable “for the public baths and taverns.” Michelangelo worked Cesena’s face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld and gave him a set of Donkey ears (signifying foolishness), with the critic’s nudity covered by a coiled snake. Eventually, the genitalia in the fresco was painted over with a variety of draperies after Michelangelo died in 1564, only to be removed by conservators in more recent years where possible.

Just as well-studied guides to the Vatican know the history of the reaction to the painting of the Last Judgment, avid Bible students have studied the predictions concerning the reaction of the masses to an actual coming judgment as God revealed it through various Biblical writers. Here is the truth: as the day approaches, most people will become convinced that such a judgment is a myth – and reject its actual nature. That point was made clear in passages like the one for this lesson from 2 Peter 3. Here is the truth of this passage…

Key Principle: God has set the time and terms of judgment. They are not mean, but just. They are not harsh but deserved. We must therefore prepare not only to face that judgment, but to find a way to continue to offer the message of it in a more and more hostile climate.

While on the subject of artwork, the “Second Epistle of Peter” is like an exhibition of three sculpted works of art:

• In the first chapter, Peter offered a sculpted model of the fruitful and secure believer that is following after God, offering a scale we can compare our walk to (1:5-7).
• In the second chapter, Peter offered a sculpted model of the deceptive teachers that work to hurt the cause of Jesus in the world.
• In the final chapter, Peter sculpted an image of a “frieze scene” of a whole time period, a judgment that is coming, and what every believer should DO about it!

In the case of the third and final work, the point of the passage is two-fold. First, because judgment is coming, preparation is necessary. Second, even the notion of that judgment will be dismissed by most in the days ahead, and that should come as no surprise to us.

Peter wrote the last part of this epistle to help us with BOTH preparing people to face (or avoid) such a judgment AND (even more) to prepare believers to face a world increasingly hostile to the very idea that God will judge.

We will make this point again as we study the passage: Don’t miss the dual truths interwoven within the words. Both the fact of judgment and some of the reasons for its rejection are threaded into the verses of the chapter…The preparation, then, concerns both those who reject God, and those who must proclaim the truth of coming judgment in an increasingly hostile audience for that message.

“Have you ever noticed how popular notions and the Bible clash over heaven?” One writer asked it this way:

Have you ever noticed that when a discussion turns to a recently deceased celebrity, someone invariably says, “I know he’s looking down on us right now”? It doesn’t matter how godless the person was, his peers refer to him as being in a better place and then gesture skyward. Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees a lamentable example of that in the 1941 poem “High Flight,” which was quoted in tribute to astronauts who died in the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Not all the astronauts were Christians “but we were told they ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,’” Coppenger noted… Such secular cultural perceptions are uninformed by the truth and seem to be based on the delusion that one’s eternal destiny is determined either by heinous deeds or good poll numbers. Some people assume the dearly departed are in heaven because they weren’t notorious sinners. People want to believe the departed went to heaven because they know they themselves are sinners and want to believe they are not bad enough for hell. “I’m not as bad as the other guy,” goes the thinking. “God will somehow understand in the end that we were pretty good people, and based on our overall behavior He should let us into heaven.” In a 2004 address at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said, “Even those who retain some vague idea of heavenly bliss beyond this life are slow to acknowledge the reality of final judgment and condemnation. Modern men and women live with the mindset that there is no heaven, no hell and therefore no guilt.” (Florida Baptist Witness, August 28, 2008).

Preparation for the Coming Judgment:

God’s people must be prepared to proclaim the judgment when the message is unwanted, in order that many will be enabled to avoid facing it. How do we make such preparations?

Step One: Let’s get our facts straight. We must take our information from God’s Word and not popular culture! (3:1-2).

To introduce the idea, Peter wrote:

2 Peter 3:1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior [spoken] by your apostles.

Peter essentially noted that believers need their MINDS engaged in the words made known in the Scripture and from Jesus and His Apostles. Here he promoted the need to identify the proper source of truth.

In an internet age where we “Google” anything we don’t know, this warning is even more necessary to carefully heed! The source of truth is not irrelevant, since most “news” outlets represent a point of view. Thus, Peter began with a simple warning: “Truth can be found in a more careful consideration of God’s revealed Word.”

Have you ever wondered why so many believers don’t take their understanding of the spiritual truths from the Word? I have wondered a good bit about that over the years. Perhaps it is because they have forgotten the clarity of the Word as it was presented, either by fuzzy, feeling-filled teachers, or by those who had only a marginal grasp on the text. Yet, the more I examine it, the more I believe many are unaware of some accepted maxims concerning our belief system:

First, there are many sources from which we take information we assume to be true, and many of them are unreliable. There is no one who relies on news received over a computer that hasn’t experienced this in the past decade. We have all seen, believed and been moved by hoaxes of some kind. There are the “Babylon Bee” type posts that are intended as satire, but get frequently passed as news items. There are deliberate lies that are fabricated to get people enraged, then “Snoped” to look stupid and shut down their message. These things abound, and they trick even the most sophisticated news organizations, who end up reporting false statements as assumed truths.

Second, truly understanding the truth, even when it is placed in our hands, is not a simple matter. The right map held upside down gets us to the wrong location. It requires time, investment and energy to read and understand truth properly. Right answers on critical issues don’t come easily – so one must be committed to go beyond the surface to get to the truth is many issues.

Third, a flawed map is worse than no map at all, because it provides undue confidence. The words God left us are not cryptic moral platitudes shrouded in mythology, but straightforward warnings of the coming days.

Let me take a moment to illustrate how a lie can change a society and become an assumption. Crisis Magazine reported in 2012:

“Alfred C. Kinsey had a secret. The Indiana University zoologist and “father of the sexual revolution” almost single-handedly redefined the sexual mores of everyday Americans. The problem was, he had to lie to do it. The weight of this point must not be underestimated. The science that launched the sexual revolution has been used for the past 50 years to sway court decisions, pass legislation, introduce sex education into our schools, and even push for a redefinition of marriage. Kinseyism was the very foundation of this effort. If his science was flawed — or worse yet, an outright deception — then our culture’s attitudes about sex are not just wrong morally but scientifically as well.

Let’s consider the facts. When Kinsey and his coworkers published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953, they turned middle-class values upside down. Many traditionally forbidden sexual practices, Kinsey and his colleagues proclaimed, were surprisingly commonplace;

• 85 percent of men and 48 percent of women said they’d had premarital sex,

• 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women had been unfaithful after marriage. Incredibly, 71 percent of women claimed their affair hadn’t hurt their marriage, and a few even said it had helped.

• What’s more, 69 percent of men had been with prostitutes, 10 percent had been homosexual for at least three years, and 17 percent of farm boys had experienced sex with animals.

Implicit in Kinsey’s report was the notion that these behaviors were biologically “normal” and hurt no one. Therefore, people should act on their impulses with no inhibition or guilt.

The 1948 report on men came out to rave reviews and sold an astonishing 200,000 copies in two months. Kinsey’s name was everywhere from the titles of pop songs (“Ooh, Dr. Kinsey”) to the pages of Life, Time, Newsweek, and the New Yorker. Kinsey was “presenting facts,” Look magazine proclaimed. He was “revealing not what should be but what is.” Dubbed “Dr. Sex” and applauded for his personal courage, the researcher was compared to Darwin, Galileo, and Freud.

But beneath the popular approbation, many astute scientists were warning that Kinsey’s research was gravely flawed. The list of critics … included …Distinguished British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer [who] put it well when he called the reports propaganda masquerading as science… what were the issues the world’s best scientists had with Kinsey’s work? The criticism can be condensed into three troublesome points.

Problem #1: Humans as Animals

… Trained as a zoologist, he saw sex purely as a physiological “animal” response. Throughout his books, he continually refers to the “human animal.” In fact, in Kinsey’s opinion, there was no moral difference between one sexual outlet and any other. … In his 842-page volume on female sexuality, motherhood wasn’t mentioned once.

Problem #2: Skewed Samples

Kinsey often presented his statistics as if they applied to average moms, dads, sisters, and brothers… in reality, Kinsey’s reports never applied to average people in the general population. In fact, many of the men Kinsey surveyed were actually prison inmates. … the team had taken sexual histories from about 1,400 imprisoned sex offenders. ..In short, Kinsey’s team researched … from sexual deviants — and then passed off the behavior as sexually “normal,” “natural;” and “average” (and hence socially and morally acceptable).

Problem #3: Faulty Statistics

Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that Kinsey’s statistics were so deeply flawed that no reputable scientific survey has ever been able to duplicate them. …Not surprisingly, Kinsey’s numbers showing marital infidelity to be harmless also never held up. In one Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy study of infidelity, 85 percent of marriages were damaged as a result, and 34 percent ended in divorce. Even spouses who stayed together usually described their marriages afterwards as unhappy. Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, M.D., estimates that among couples who have been married for a long time and then divorce, “over 90 percent of the divorces involve infidelities.”

Speaking at a 1955 conference sponsored by Planned Parenthood, Kinsey pulled another statistical bombshell out of his hat. He claimed that of all pregnant women, roughly 95 percent of singles and 25 percent of those who were married secretly aborted their babies. A whopping 87 percent of these abortions, he claimed, were performed by bona fide doctors. Thus he gave scientific authority to the notion that abortion was already a common medical procedure — and should thus be legal… Bad statistics are significant for many reasons: “They can be used to stir up public outrage or fear, they can distort our understanding of our world, and they can lead us to make poor policy choices.”

• In a 1951 Journal of Social Psychology study, psychology students at the University of California, Los Angeles, were divided into three groups: Some students took an intensive nine-week course on Kinsey’s findings, while the other two groups received no formal Kinsey instruction. Afterward, the students took a quiz testing their attitudes about sex. Compared with those who received no Kinsey training, those steeped in Kinseyism were seven times as likely to view premarital sex more favorably than they did before and twice as likely to look more favorably on adultery. After Kinsey, the percentage of students open to a homosexual experience soared from 0 to 15 percent. Students taught Kinseyism were also less likely to let religion influence their sexual behavior and less apt to follow sexual rules taught by their parents.

Influencing Court Decisions

• …The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 2003 decision striking down sodomy laws was the offshoot of a long string of court cases won largely on the basis of Kinsey’s research.

• Inspired by the first Kinsey report, Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953.

• A decade later, Helen Gurley Brown turned Cosmopolitan into a sex magazine for women.

• In his book The End of Sex, an obituary of the sexual revolution, Esquire contributor George Leonard accurately observed that “wherever we have split ‘sex’ from love, creation, and the rest of life . . . we have trivialized and depersonalized the act of love itself.” Treasuring others solely for their sexuality strips them of their humanity. When Kinsey tore the mystery of love from human sexuality, he abandoned us all to a sexually broken world.

That is a long illustration, I admit. The problem is, the lie became an assumption and the culture was changed by it, and is still being changed by it.

Step Two: While fact finding, don’t expect the crowd to join you. Expect the notion of judgment to become a laughing matter (3:3-7).

Thankfully, the Bible offers truth – even if many will be carefully weaned from recognizing it…

2 Peter 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Peter said people will walk away from truth for one reason: they want to do what they want to do. They want to follow their own fallen inclinations – period. Kinsey may have lied, but people bought what they wanted to buy, and P.T. Barnum (“A sucker is born every minute”) rolled in his grave to smile. The specific truth Peter referred to was not about sexuality, but about accountability.

Obviously, Peter made clear that in identifying the truth concerning the destiny of mankind, we cannot look to the popular voices in our culture. God has promised they will rise in an anthem against the truth, and that should not surprise us. Lies will be planted, nurtured and eventually widely assumed. In a culture sculpted to believe that everyone should get a prize so that no one feels badly, where does Divine judgment fit it? It doesn’t – and that point shouldn’t be overlooked. A tailor-made morality will slowly replace the truth, and make judgment seem, not only unlikely, but entirely untenable as part of the Christian message.

The other night I saw a short clip from a drama that illustrated the point well. A woman was in anguish about her life and some terrible events that transpired. She ran into a storm and cried out to God. She said: “God, where are you? Why are you taking me through this hell? I haven’t done anything to deserve such a life! I have tried to be good. Much of my life I have helped others, and I have never done things that were cruel or harsh.”

Can you hear her? Can you imagine yourself sympathizing with her plight in the midst of a movie or play. When you watched her play her role, wouldn’t you find yourself thinking: “Wow, what terrible things happened to her. She doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. She is so nice. She has been incredibly kind. That just doesn’t seem right!

Now step back. Would such a nice person with such a good heart deserve judgment by God? Wouldn’t you think a God that would judge her would sound cruel and heartless?

Here is the problem. The woman may deserve our human sympathies for her plight. She may evoke in us a deep sense of care for her, and that would be a good thing. What we must admit, however, is that we don’t see what God sees. He sees a heart hardened to His love. He sees a woman who chooses to do “good things” while snubbing the gift of His Son for her sin. He sees a woman speaking of her goodness, but not of her need. He sees depravity – the very act of self-trusting and earned righteousness – and not kneeling and surrender.

Here is the way the lie is constructed in us:

First, people will wholly believe (including many in the church) that man is basically good. A baby is born innocent.

Second, an offshoot belief that must be eventually assumed is that people who haven’t committed heinous acts barely deserve any kind of judgment.

A third lie that will be grasped by most is this: It is action of sin that make a person a sinner.

I believe the greatest accepted lie of our time is this: “Man is basically good.” It is found in the musings over the “innocence” of a little child. It tugs at even the toughest heartstrings. Yet, it ignores the Biblical view of each of us as we are born, and makes any judgment by God seem both highly unlikely and fully unwarranted… It is essential that Jesus followers recognize that man is not condemned simply because of some terrible acts we commit, but rather because our default state is one of rebellion.

Let’s be honest. Since the Garden of Eden, even the most tenderhearted of us have few moments that are truly and fully surrendered to God. The default setting of our heart is selfish rebellion. The argument of Scripture is not that man is condemned apart from salvation because of what we do, but because we are depraved in our state of rebellion alone. Depravity, in the Bible sense, doesn’t mean we do something the world considers terrible; it means our self-reliance IS considered a heinous act by God as we reject the headship of our Creator in favor of following self. It is Eve’s choice revisited in daily action.

Our guilt, then, isn’t primarily about horrible treatment of others, it is about horrible treatment of God Himself. In our lost state we continuously reject God’s right to rule our lives in favor of self-leadership. We reject the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf in favor of our own striving. We tell God that He should want was we want to give, not what He has demanded.

In truth, even those who know and follow God struggle to yield, while those who do not know Him do not even understand that state as a problem. In that way, depravity has become a hidden state or normality. Lost man can judge himself by his acts and ignore a rebellious heart that is at the center of the problem. The point is this: It is a lie that we are not depraved. It is a lie that depravity is about action – it is about rebellion.

Even implied innocence erodes that necessity of judgment. If man isn’t “that bad” then they don’t deserve judgment.

Step Three: Don’t be disheartened by God’s delay. Remember this creates an opportunity!

In light of the lies that permeate our culture, don’t get discouraged about God’s lack of enthusiasm to judge quickly. In fact, it is to our advantage. Peter reminded:

2 Peter 3:8 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. 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. 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.

The point of this passage is not to suggest that God’s watch is set in thousand year increments, but rather that God is not subject to time – for He is the author of time. He, by definition, doesn’t “rush” anything. He has a plan and He works that plan – but He is telling a story. The temptation to jump to the end is not something He faces. He knows what He wants to do – and He will do it when and how He chooses.

Step Four: We should be changed by a knowledge of His promise and not need to see more.

We need to walk carefully, and keep our eyes fixed on enduring things! Peter said it this way:

2 Peter 3:11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

Since all this is coming, how should a believer behave? We ought to live for God and walk distinctly from others (3:11) as we keep in mind the swiftness of judgment. We should measure our surroundings as those things that will not last, (3:12) and keep our eyes on the coming ever-enduring world promised us (3:13)!

God has set the time and terms of judgment. They are not mean, but just. They are not harsh but deserved. He doesn’t want to judge you. The choice is yours.

As a body of Jesus followers we have a choice. We can decide that what God said is true, whether popular or not. We can follow His Word and open our hearts to allow Him to change us…or not. We can play church, and few will know.

Back in January of last year, Francis Chan traveled to Hawaii and spoke to a church where some friends of mine work on the staff. He opened his message explaining how many people were telling him in his travels that they followed him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and his words really helped him in their daily walk. He was very flattered, but he had a big problem. He wasn’t on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. He didn’t post a word of what they read. His staff did some digging. They discovered the whole thing was put up by well-meaning believers who posted only quotes from his sermons or books, and put up pictures of his wife and things he did that they found in other places. He didn’t post them, but he was the author of the words. How incredibly awkward! Yet, Francis took a lesson from this that we need to recall. Today, across the world, people will meet in the name of Jesus. They will quote Him, and they will share pictures of what He has done. Yet, many of them, will not really be a part of His family. They are faking their identity and hoping for belonging. They aren’t part of the Body of Christ. They haven’t surrendered their heart to Jesus. The pictures are real and the quotes are accurate, but the identity is fake. One day, sadly, they will hear the voice of the One they have played before and quoted.