The Longsuffering of the Lord

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

If after thirty years people were already asking, “where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4), how much more so after 1,980 years?

These days you might still hear the phrase, “slower than the second coming,” to describe someone or something that is not moving very quickly. That type of phrase says much about people’s attitudes toward the Lord’s return: it’s taking a very long time. It seems slow! To many it has become almost a joke. Many believers have come to experience “apocalyptic fervor burnout” on account of the continual drumming up of the expectation of the Lord’s imminent return only for time to continue on yet again. Some have come to discount the eventual return of Jesus completely; some suggest it happened in a “spiritual” way in the past, while others think of it as a relic of an earlier, more eschatologically-minded age. Even among those who do look forward to the day of the Lord’s return, it seems remote, something not highly likely to happen within our lifetimes. The Lord’s return, therefore, becomes a very abstract and almost academic matter.

The Apostles expected this kind of mockery and fatigue. Paul warns the Thessalonians about staying awake, ever ready and vigilant for His coming, as it will be like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10). Peter, in 2 Peter 3:1-14, also speaks directly regarding the expectation of the Lord’s return, especially in light of those who mock and deride the suggestion that the Lord would return. He wishes to remind such people about the great Flood of Genesis 6:9-8:22: it came with plenty of warning and yet happened suddenly (2 Peter 3:5-7).

Yet Peter’s very potent argument involves a challenge to our expectations: why do we think that the second coming is “slow” to happen? Why do we consider the 1,980 and counting years as a reason to doubt God’s faithfulness? Peter quotes Psalm 90:4 in 2 Peter 3:8 to underscore the challenge: to God a thousand years is as one day, and one day as a thousand years. God transcends the space-time continuum; time does not matter to God. A thousand years, which is a long time to humans, is likened to a very short time in God’s estimation (one day). And one day, which we consider a short amount of time, can yet be understood as a long time, a thousand years, in God’s sight. 1,980 years? Simultaneously like less than two days or as much as 723 million years. Time, therefore, is irrelevant when discussing God and what He is doing. Nevertheless, why is it that the Lord has yet to return?

In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter makes it clear that it is not a matter of time. God is not slow; the return of Jesus is not “delayed”; the Lord’s return should not be used by us as a marker for someone or something’s lack of speed. Instead, He is patient, “longsuffering” toward us, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Peter will go on to warn everyone that just as the Flood came upon people quickly, so Jesus will come like a thief in the night, and that is a good warning to heed: when the Lord returns, it will be very fast, and there will not be time for any more second chances (2 Peter 3:10). In light of all this, believers should live holy lives, waiting earnestly for the day of God, ever prepared and vigilant whether He comes or not (2 Peter 3:11-14). And then he encourages believers to consider the longsuffering of the Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15).

It is for our benefit, then, that the Lord has yet to return. We can certainly personalize this truth: if you are a believer in Christ, and have submitted to the Lord through belief, confession, repentance, and baptism, and walk with the Lord as His follower, when did you come to that faith and obtain your salvation? Now ask yourself: what would my fate have been if the Lord had returned the day before? God facilitated your salvation through His patience; why now would you impose on that patience? Perhaps today is the “day before” or the “day of” the obtaining of salvation for another, and that person has as much a right and access to God’s patience as you.

The Lord, therefore, has been longsuffering toward the world for 1,980 years. It is good for us to consider the longsuffering of Jesus toward us: how many times have we grieved Him because of our sins, weaknesses, and immaturity? What if the Lord were not as patient and longsuffering toward us as He is? What would our fate be? And, God forbid, what if the Lord was as patient with us as we are with our fellow human beings? If God were only as patient as we are, the world would have ended a very long time ago!

Peter well defines the longsuffering of the Lord as salvation: if the Lord were not patient with the creation, we might never have enjoyed the opportunity to live, or, in a darker light, perhaps would live in sin and be condemned before we might have turned in repentance back to the Living God. God’s longsuffering has allowed for our rescue, and how many times do we continue to depend on the longsuffering of God as we seek to grow in maturity? As it is with us, so it is with others. The world continues because the Lord is showing longsuffering toward them as well. As God has been patient with us, and that patience allows for our salvation, so we do well to be patient with others, both within and without the household of faith. We needed some time and wherewithal to recognize our challenges and to come to the Lord for healing; so do others. We have needed our time to grow in the faith and come to understand many of its precepts in greater clarity and understanding; so do others. We may have gotten further on the path of Jesus than others, but just as we needed to cross that terrain, so do they, and we do well to seek to truly build them up and strengthen them through that process just as we were, or at least should have been, built up and strengthened at that stage ourselves.

God is faithful to His promises. Jesus will return. Until then, let us not think of Jesus as slow or delayed; let us recognize that God is patient and longsuffering toward us, and be thankful that we have been able to obtain salvation through that patience of God. Let us account the longsuffering of God as salvation and praise and glorify Him in Christ in all things!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Watch and Pray

“But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:32-37).

Humans have a preoccupation with the prospect of the end of the world– or, if nothing else, the end of their particular world.  People who would not otherwise consider religious messages eagerly watch shows speculating on the end of the world based upon all kinds of different “predictions” and the like.  There always seems to be some cause or another for such speculation.  Not long ago it was the turn of the millennium.  Presently many are focused on the end of 2012.  After that there will most assuredly be some other time.

This type of speculation is not foreign to Christianity, and it is certainly not foreign to interpretations of the so-called “Olivet Discourse,” presented in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.  All kinds of postulates are made about exactly when the world will end and how based, at least in part, on Jesus’ words in this discussion.

If there is ever a time when it is good for us to be good Bible students, it is certainly when so much speculation is at hand.  Mark’s version makes the context very clear: Jesus has declared that all the stones of the Temple will be toppled (Mark 13:2).  Some of His disciples utter the same questions that haunt people to this very day–  “when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4).

In context, “these things” represent the Temple and its destruction.  And here we have the ultimate irony of this whole discussion: Jesus’ answer to the questions is not really what the disciples wanted to know.  And it goes a long way to show us that the questions that people most often ask today cannot be answered to their satisfaction!

Jesus goes on to say that there will be false Christs deceiving the people, wars and rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms rising up against one another, earthquakes, and famines (Mark 13:6-8).  Our immediate impulse is to look into the history books and find the precise events concerning which Jesus speaks, and, no doubt, we can find such things.  And that, of course, is Jesus’ point– at what point in human history have there not been false teachers, wars and rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms rising up against each other, earthquakes, and famines?  They are always happening somewhere!

Later Jesus will provide some specific conditions that will be met, and to “get out of Dodge” when the Roman army comes to town (cf. Mark 13:9-23), and predicts the establishment of the Kingdom and the end of the covenant between God and Israel (Mark 13:24-31).

But when?  We have the classic statement: only the Father knows (Mark 13:32).  Much has been made of this statement in terms of Christology, but that is quite separate from the point.  Jesus tells the disciples, point blank, that they will not know exactly when these things will take place (Mark 13:33).  There is no watering down of this idea, no concept that at the last minute a revelation will be given to them.  They simply will not know.

Attempting to ascertain the precise set of conditions and circumstances that will lead to Jesus’ return, therefore, is utterly futile.  If the disciples were not going to know precisely when Jerusalem would be destroyed, why should we believe that anyone is going to know precisely when Jesus will return?

It may seem unbelievable to many, but Jesus’ main point in the “Olivet Discourse” is not to lay out a road map to the apocalypse.  As Peter will say, all things will continue as “normal” until the moment comes (cf. 2 Peter 3:2-12).  True, Jesus does give His disciples some things concerning which they need to be considering and for which they must prepare.  And that, in the end, is the real message.

In declaring that no one will know precisely when these things will take place, He exhorts the disciples to take heed, watch, and pray (Mark 13:33).  He presents the image of the master leaving the house and instructing the doorkeeper to remain awake, since the master’s return may be at any time (Mark 13:34-36).  And Jesus’ universal message, to first century disciples awaiting the judgment on Jerusalem to twenty-first disciples anxious for His return, is to “stay awake” (Mark 13:37)!

This is the thread that runs throughout the whole discourse (Mark 13:5, 9, 13, 23, 33-37).  In the extended version that Matthew provides, the theme is just as evident (Matthew 24:36-25:30).  This is, in fact, the theme that runs throughout all of New Testament eschatology (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, 1 Peter 4:7-11, 2 Peter 3:11-12, Revelation 2-3, 22:7, 11-12).

As long as God shows patience toward mankind there will be people who will speculate regarding the times and conditions of the Lord’s return.  Do not be deceived into believing any of them.  The “Olivet Discourse” does pave the way, but not in the expected sense.  It is not for us to know when the Lord will return, but the Lord has made many things evident.  He will return.  There will be judgment.  It will happen in God’s good time.  It is not for us to doubt these things or to speculate regarding them.  Instead, we need to be ready.  We must stay awake.  We must live our lives serving God, ready if the Lord returns tomorrow or after another two thousand years.  We must always be ready for the challenges that come with our walk with God, and to stand firm and endure despite them.  Let us avoid the frenzy of folly, and always be on guard for the Lord’s return!

Ethan R. Longhenry