But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8).
To say that we live in a fast-paced world might be one of the greatest understatements of the age. Technological advances allow us to get things done more quickly and efficiently than ever; communication can happen instantaneously. We now expect things to be done already; we have very little patience to wait for anything that we feel takes too long. A package may take a week to ship; a website might require a few additional seconds to load; we chafe and chomp at the bit, wanting to have it or to see it already.
Meanwhile, Jesus died, was raised in power, and ascended on high almost two thousand years ago. For two thousand years we have been waiting for His return and for the consummation of all things (cf. Romans 8:17-24, 2 Peter 3:1-14). And to think that even within a hundred years of Jesus’ death people were scoffing, wondering when He would return (2 Peter 3:4)!
Peter wants to encourage Christians regarding this dilemma: why is God taking so long to accomplish His purposes? But before he can provide an answer, he must first establish the proper perspective on all of these matters.
Peter declares that one day is as a thousand years to God, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8). It has been tempting for people to emphasize one half of this verse over the other half, suggesting that one “Biblical day” is really a thousand year period; from the second century until today people attempt to hypothesize how much longer we will be around on the earth based on this suggestion. But Peter’s statement is not that one day is a thousand years, or, for that matter, that a thousand years is one day. Peter uses a simile: to God, a thousand years is like a day; a day is like a thousand years.
Such a statement, on its surface, seems ridiculous. It is ridiculous only when one seeks to literalize the statements or try to use the statements to make some declaration about the nature of time in the Bible. Peter is not providing a cipher with which one can unlock the numerological mysteries of the Bible; instead, he uses a simile to communicate how God transcends time. A day, a thousand years; it does not matter with God. God is above time, eternal in nature, from everlasting to everlasting (Romans 16:26, Psalm 41:13).
Therefore, even though we are bound by the constraints of time, spending our few decades up to perhaps a century on the earth, we should not impose such constraints upon God. Sure, to humans, two thousand years seems like a long time; yet, on the divine scale, one could compare it to two days. Then again, humans believe that two days is a short period of time; yet, on the divine scale, one can compare it to two thousand years! God cannot be so easily compressed and fit into the boxes that dictate our existence!
Peter says this in order for us to take comfort and be encouraged. The fact that two thousand years have transpired between the momentous events of the first century and the present day does not mean that God has neglected or abandoned us. It does not mean that God is slow as humans would consider slowness. Time is meaningless to Him; He has His purposes, He is carrying them out, and when His purpose has been fully accomplished to His satisfaction, the end will come and we will understand better.
God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan; 500 or so years later, they obtained it (Genesis 17:1-14, Joshua). God promised Israel through Moses that He would raise up a prophet like Moses for the people; 1,450 years later, Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the promise (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). When God cursed mankind, He provided the promise of the One who would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); it took no less than 4,500 years before Jesus’ death and resurrection allowed anyone to be freed from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-4). God will do what God does according to His purposes, and He is not limited to our time-frame or our scale of time. Let us therefore be patient and maintain our trust in God and His purposes for us in Jesus Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry