Isn’t Peter expressing a kind of cosmic death-wish in 2 Peter 3? A few preliminary considerations to guide our study:
1. we need to interpret this passage in context of the whole letter. It’s usually read on its own.
2. Peter takes the trouble to point out that his teaching about the future is the same as that of the prophets and of Jesus and his apostles (3:2,15) – he is not proposing a new or rival doctrine. In view of this we need to find a reading of this passage that coheres with the eschatology (future expectations) of the rest of the NT. This passage has too often been interpreted in isolation.
SO, what’s the argument in 2 Peter?
It’s very eschatological: 2 Peter writes of the ‘coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ which will mean the destruction of the wicked (2:3) and ‘entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ for believers (1:11).
Chapter 3 deals with an objection to that eschatological scheme. Some scoffers say, ‘this idea of a last judgement goes against the nature of things: since the beginning of creation everything continues the same, there’s no fundamental break in the cycles of life. Cataclysmic interruption? – the facts of history deny it.’
To counter this, what does Peter need to do? He needs to show that there can and has been this sort of change in the created order.
Peter’s exhibit A for cataclysmic change in the created order is the flood. The flood was just such a massive interruption: a whole generation of humanity wiped out, the earth renewed, a fresh start for the creation (including mankind). There is precedent in history for the sort of universal interruption Peter is speaking of. The flood effectively counters the argument from history of the gainsayers.
Peter builds the flood in tightly into his argument about the last judgement. It becomes the pattern for the whole event. What pattern is that?
First the earth was brought up out of water by God’s word (3:5). Then by his word he reversed the process, submerging the earth under water again: an ‘uncreation’. The ‘cosmos’ or order of things as it then was, ‘was destroyed’ (v.6). The earth is not said to perish, but rather the world order, the order established by wicked mankind. As for the earth, it experiences a second dunking, and comes up out of the water again, cleansed.
That’s the pattern for judgement: the flood.
Tomorrow: how the day of the Lord follows that pattern