ESCHATOLOGY LECTURE NOTES
Section 2: The General Judgment
The subject of the day of judgment is a vastly important and quite extensive
issue in the study of eschatology. The following treatment is, however, not
intended to be a comprehensive study of all the various topics that might come
up in connection with the subject of the day of judgment. Its primary interest
is on the general judgment as a structural consideration for redemptive history
in general and eschatology in particular. In other words our interest is in how
this doctrine helps us choose between the various competing eschatological
A. The Thesis about the Judgment
The thesis which I am attempting to establish in this section and which forms
the basis for the structural significance of the judgment for eschatology is
that there will be one judgment of all men living or dead, righteous or
unrighteous occurring at the second coming of Christ issuing in either eternal
life or eternal punishment. This is clearly the doctrine of our 1689 Baptist
Confession of Faith (32:1-3) which reflects in turn the Westminster Confession
of Faith (33:1-3).
1 God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness,
by Jesus Christ; to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father; in which
day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that
have lived upon the earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an
account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what
they have done in the body, whether good or evil.
2 The end of God's appointing this day, is for the manifestation of the glory
of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the
eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient; for then
shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy
and glory with everlasting rewards, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked,
who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast aside
into everlasting torments, and punished with everlasting destruction, from the
presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
3 As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day
of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of
the godly in their adversity, so will he have the day unknown to men, that they
may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not
at what hour the Lord will come, and may ever be prepared to say, Come Lord
Jesus; come quickly. Amen.
B. The Importance of the Judgment (as a Biblical Concept)
There is no more basic and important aspect of eschatology than the day of
judgment. The biblical materials on this subject are vast. The term "day" as a
reference to the day of judgment occurs 58 times in the New Testament." It is a
fundamental point, an elementary principle, of Christian teaching (Heb. 6:1-3).
Again, I emphasize that we are not going to the details of eschatology, to
peripheral issues for our structural considerations of eschatology. Here we are
dealing with a fundamental and extensive aspect of biblical revelation.
C. The Significance of the Judgment (as a Structural Consideration)
In coming to this consideration our focus is narrowed from all of time which we looked at in the two ages, to the dividing line between the two ages.
If the thesis mentioned above can be established, it will have a
tremendous structural impact on our eschatology. If the judgment occurs at the
second coming, is absolutely universal, and issues in the eternal state, this
will powerfully corroborate many of the conclusions drawn in Part 2, Section 1.
Specifically, it will tend to discredit premillennialism and establish a scheme
which is anti-premillennial.
D. The Treatment of the Judgment
Our methodology will not be an attempt to survey the vast, biblical
materials, but to take up the three classic passages which most extensively deal
with the subject and which most clearly establish our thesis.(1)
Those passages are:
I. Matt. 25:31-46
II. Rom. 2:1-16
III. 2 Pet. 3:1-18
I. Matt. 25:31-46
31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him,
then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 "And all the nations will be
gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd
separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right,
and the goats on the left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on His right,
'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world. 35 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me
something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a
stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and
you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. ' 37 "Then the righteous
will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or
thirsty, and give You drink? 38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite
You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 'And when did we see You sick, or in
prison, and come to You?' 40 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I
say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine,
even the least of them, you did it to Me.' 41 "Then He will
also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal
fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry,
and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing
to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did
not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me. ' 44 "Then they
themselves also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or
thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care
of You?' 45 "Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the
extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to
Me.' 46 "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into
A. The Timing of this Judgment
There can be no real doubt about the timing of the judgment described in this
passage since verse 31 begins with the words, "when the Son of Man comes in His
glory, and all the angels with Him." This is a clear reference to the second
coming of Christ. The entire preceding context of the Olivet discourse confirms
this reference to the second advent of Christ as its constant theme (24:3, 14,
27, 30, 31, 37, 42, 46, 50; 25:6, 10, 13, 19).(2)
B. The Issues of this Judgment
These issues are clearly stated in verse 46. They are eternal life and eternal punishment. This language in this context clearly refers to the permanent eschatological conditions of the eternal state and assumes, of course, that both the righteous and wicked are in a resurrected condition.(3)
C. The Scope of This Judgment
1. The Alternative Interpretations
It is difficult to impossible to raise significant questions about either the
timing or issues of the judgment of Matt. 25:31f. Alternative interpretations
have labored, however, to suggest that this judgment must not be understood as
general, but as having a limited scope.
The Dispensational Premillennial Interpretation of the Old and New Scofield
may be summarized under four points. (1) The Old Scofield Bible (Henceforth to
be designated in this treatment as O. S.) implies that this is a judgment of
nations, not individuals. The New Scofield Bible (Henceforth to be known in this
treatment as the N. S.) disclaims this position. (2) The brethren of Christ (vv.
40, 45) are distinct from the sheep of Christ (vv. 32, 33) or the righteous (v.
37). They are the saved Jewish remnant of the tribulation who preach the gospel
to the nations. (3) The phrase "all the nations" refers to the Gentile nations
which survive the tribulation (v. 32). (4) This judgment is not the last
judgment but one of many. As Pentecost puts it, it is part of a lengthy judgment
The Historic Premillennial Interpretation may be illustrated from the
interpretation of George Gay.(5)
Gay's position may be summarized under three headings. (1) "All the nations" is
a reference to the Gentiles who are professing Christians.(6)
(2) "The Brethren" are a special group of the righteous.(7)
(3) This is not the general judgment.(8)
2. The Crucial Discussion: The Meaning of "All the Nations" ( )
The occurrence of the phrase, "all the nations," in v. 32 has a decidedly
general ring to it. Yet the premillennial interpretations surveyed above have
endeavored to give to it a meaning that limits the scope of the judgment of
a. The Biblical Data
The term "all the nations" must be understood, first of all, in its Matthaean
context. While it is true that the plural of by itself designates the Gentile
nations in Matthew (6:32; 10:5, 18; 12:18, 21; 20:19, 25), the case is different
with the terminology of "all the nations." This occurs in three other places
(Matt. 24:9, 14; 28:19). There is good reason to regard Matt. 24:9 and 14 as
including the Jewish nation, because of the contextual references to false
Christs and tribulation (vv. 5, 10) and the Jewish milieu suggested by vv.
21-24. Matt. 28:19, as well as 24:14, are a reference to the universal scope of
the church's evangelistic mission. This scope certainly includes the Jews (Acts
1:8; Rom. 1:16, 17). Matt. 28:19's parallel passage, Luke 24:46-49, makes this
46 and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer
and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for
forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations,
beginning from Jerusalem. 48 "You are witnesses of these things. 49
"And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are
to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
In such passages as these, which are the true parallels of Matt. 25:32, the
distinction between Jews and Gentiles sometimes designated by "" disappears. The
phraseology "all the nations" therefore designates the world--both Jew and
Gentile--which is the object of the preaching of the gospel during the last
b. The Opposing Positions
1) The Dispensational Premillennial Position
The Scofield note reads, "Here there is no resurrection; the persons judged
are living nations." Later in the note it is clear that the nations are regarded
as the Gentile nations as opposed to the "Jewish remnant."(9)
Several objections may be raised against this theory.
As seen in our exposition above, there are the most cogent reasons to include
the Jewish nation in "all the nations." This destroys at its root the Scofield
theory. The claim that there is no resurrection here is a purely gratuitous
argument from silence. In fact the truth is that the passage is not so silent.
Both the context (24:30, 31) and the passage itself contain clear indications of
2) The Historic Premillennial Position
Gay limits the reference to professing Christians out of every nation. This
limitation is thought to be warranted by the kingdom-reference of the passage.
It is thought that in Matthew the idea that all mankind is within the sphere of
the kingdom is absent.(10)
Several objections may be brought to Gay's view. Matt. 13:38-43 contradicts
the thesis that for Matthew the children of the evil one are in no sense "in the
sphere of the kingdom." The identification of "all the nations" with the scope
of the gospel mission contradicts the thesis that only professing Christians are
meant (Matt. 24:14, 28:20). If "all the nations" are viewed as the objects of
the gospel preaching, they can scarcely be viewed as within the scope of the
kingdom in the sense of being professing Christians. There is nothing in the
passage that really supports the thesis that the wicked of Matt. 25:31f are
exclusively professing Christians.(11)
The address, "Lord", is not determinative as Gay admits.(12)
The surprise and the shock of the wicked is directed at the charge of failing to
minister to Christ not at the rejection of some supposed profession.
Matt. 25:31-46 is the final, triumphant stanza of a judgment-theme that runs
throughout Matthew's gospel (Matt. 7:22; 11:20-24; 12:36-42; 16:26, 27 etc.). We
must interpret Matt. 25:31-46 in line with such passages which always speak of a
single judgment or single day of judgment and teach that ancient nations, cities
of Jesus' day--in short "every man" and "all the nations" of all history will be
there, Matt. 25:31-46 must be seen as in its scope absolutely universal.(13)
Appendix: The Meaning of "One of These Brothers of Mine,
Even the Least of Them" ( f µ , v. 40, and cf. v. 45 )
Though of secondary importance to our thesis, it is still of importance and
interest to address the meaning of the phrase, "one of these brothers of mine,
even the least of them."
(1) The Biblical Data
(a) The Meaning of the Phrase
There are two slightly different translations of this phrase possible. The
NASB renders "to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them." This
translation takes " " appositionally and epexegetically in the sense of (even)
the least of (them). It has the order of the words in its favor. The phrase also
could be rendered "these least brethren of mine." the difference, of course, is
that the first translation makes Jesus mention all his brethren--even the least
of them. The second translation makes Jesus mention only the least of his
brethren. It would be tenuous upon either translation to exclude from Jesus'
frame of reference the totality of His brethren. The least to whom a good work
is done are simply those who most radically epitomize the truth being stated.
Gay himself while laying stress on "the least" does not exclude the greater(14).
In Matt. 10:42 and 18:1-14, the little ones may be all Christ's true disciples
(b) Those Designated by the Phrase
Who are Christ's brethren according to Matthew? It is true that in 13:55
mention is made of Jesus' brothers after the flesh, but this is the language of
unbelief (note the context). Jesus himself in two places straightforwardly
clarifies who His true brethren are (Matt. 12:46-50; 28:10). All true disciples
are Jesus' kin. This truth is frequently insisted upon in the rest of the New
Testament (Rom. 8:14-17; Heb. 10-14). Love of the brethren is made the mark of
true discipleship in many places (note esp. 1 John). The basis of Judgment in
Matt. 25:31-46 is not, therefore, surprising.
The objection may be raised that Jesus distinguishes between the sheep and
the brethren. To this it may be said, first, that this is not the case.
Actually, Christ makes no distinction between two classes, but views one class
from two perspectives. They are both those that have mercy on Christ's brethren
and those who are the recipients of that mercy. Second, even if one concluded
that there was some implication of this distinction between sheep and brethren,
it would need to be viewed as a merely formal parabolic element in Christ's
description of the scene. To insist on the literality of this possible
implication of Christ's description is to ignore the clear, parabolic elements
in this description and the completely parabolic character of the preceding
(2) The Opposing Positions
(a) The Dispensational Premillennial Position
Scofield says that "these brethren" are the Jewish remnant during the
tribulation. To this it may be objected that this teaching wholly ignores
Matthew's own exposition of who Jesus' brethren are. Further, this teaching
introduces a completely foreign element into this historical situation. The
whole context shows that Jesus was speaking of an intensely personal and
practical day of judgment for His disciples. The Dispensational interpretation
completely disrupts this personal and practical connection (Matt. 24:42; 25:13).
(b) The Historic Premillennial Position
As we have seen, for Gay "the brethren" here are a special group of the
righteous. Gay's interpretation is open to two objections. First, it ignores
Matthew's identification of Jesus' brethren as all His disciples. Second, it
misconstrues "the little ones" of Matt. 10:42 and 18:1-14 to be only one part of
Jesus' disciples. In fact those passages and Mark 9:41 point to the conclusion
that "the little ones" are all true disciples.
II. Romans 2:1-16
Romans 2:1 Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who
passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you
who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God
rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 And do you suppose this, O
man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same
yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think
lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing
that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your
stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the
day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who WILL RENDER
TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing
good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who
are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,
wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for
every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but
glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also
to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned
without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under
the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for not the hearers of the Law are just
before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who
do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having
the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law
written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts
alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my
gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
Introduction: The Proper Setting of this Passage.
This passage occurs in the larger section of Rom. 1:18-3:20. The thesis of
this section of Romans is stated in 1:18. It is, briefly, the revelation of
God's wrath against all men. It has a threefold structure:
1:18-2:16 The wrath of God against all men in general
2:17-3:8 The wrath of God against Jews in particular
3:9-20 General Conclusion
Note that the passage with which we are dealing (2:1-16) occurs in the
section dealing with the wrath of God against men in general.
Again our methodology will be simply to ask what this passages teaches about
the three critical elements of our thesis: the timing, issues, and scope of the
judgment here in view. As in Matt. 25:31-46, my purpose is to establish that the
issues of this judgment are eternal life or eternal death, that its scope is
absolutely universal, and that its timing is the second advent of Christ.
A. Its Issues
1. Eternal life
Note the descriptions of v. 7 "glory, honor, immortality, eternal life" and
v. 10 "glory, honor, peace". These clearly describe the bliss of the eternal
state and the resurrection.
2. Eternal death
The contrast with eternal life (verse 7) creates the strongest presumption
that Paul is here describing eternal torment. This presumption is borne out by
the language Paul uses--all of which characteristically refers to the torments
of eternal punishment. This is true in v. 5 which speaks of "wrath" and the
"righteous judgment of God.", in v. 8 which speaks of "wrath and indignation",
in v. 9 which speaks of "tribulation and distress", and in v. 12 which speaks of
those who "will also perish."
B. Its Scope
Paul is as emphatic here as in the previous point. In general the scope is:
v. 6 "every man"; v. 9 "every soul of man who does evil"; v. 10 "every man who
does good"; v. 12 "all who have sinned without the law"; and "all who have
sinned under the law." In particular the scope is: both the righteous and the
unrighteous (Note in vv. 7-10 the ABBA pattern.); both Jew and Gentile (Note in
vv. 9-12, where the Greek speaks of the one without law.); and both the living
and the dead. This is implicit, but clearly present in Paul's assumption that
his contemporaries as well as those in the past would experience this judgment.
Note the present tenses (vv. 4, 5, 7-10).
C. Its Timing
If the least clear aspect of Matt. 25:31-46 was its scope, here the
timing--while clear--is least emphatic. The following considerations, however,
clearly point to the time as that of Christ's second advent. First, the
parallels between vv. 6, 16, and Matt. 16:27 show this. The language of these
verses is clearly parallel to Matt. 16:27, but in Matt. 16:27 there is an
explicit reference to Christ's second coming: "For the Son of Man is going to
come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY
MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS."
Second, the parallel between the rewards mentioned here and the rewards given
Christians at the second advent manifests this connection. Note v. 7 which
speaks of eternal life and cf. Matt. 25:46. Note vv. 7, 10 which speak of glory,
cf. Col. 3:4; 1 Cor. 15:43; Rom. 8:18. Note v. 7 which speaks of immortality and
cf. 1 Cor. 15:53.
Third, the explicit mention of the day when God will judge the secrets of men
through Jesus Christ (vv. 5, 16) also makes the timing of this judgment clear.
This is the day of judgment taught in Paul's gospel. Day for Paul is often a
synonym of judgment (1 Cor. 4:3). The eschatological day is the time of Christ's
second coming ( 1 Cor. 4:3-5; 2 Thess. 1:10; Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 3:13; 5:5;
Phil. 1:6; 2 Thess 2:2).
Again, our thesis has been plainly established. Romans 2:1-16 is plainly
speaking of a general judgment that is absolutely universal in scope, that has
for its issues eternal life or eternal punishment, and that takes place at
Christ's second coming.
Rom. 2:1-16's description of the general judgment underscores two important,
practical reasons for holding the doctrine of the general judgment. First, it
clarifies the necessity of good works in the judgment. According to Rom. 2:1-16,
both saved and unsaved are at the same judgment and judged by the same standard,
"their deeds." These deeds are the decisive criteria of their eternal state.
This exposes the Scofield Bible's theory of judgment as false. Scofield teaches
that good works are not that by which one's destiny will be determined in the
judgment. Rather there is an entirely different judgment for believers. One
qualifies for this judgment by faith. In it good works are the criteria, but of
our reward as Christians, not our eternal destiny. The denial of a general
judgment is part and parcel of Scofield's Carnal Christian Theory.(16)
Second, this passage emphasizes the basic issues and discourages speculation.
What is the source and tendency of a system like that of some Dispensationalists
which can discover 7 judgments in the Bible? The source of such a system is the
speculative and imaginative mentality which is more intent on the spectacular
and sensational than on the over shadowing and awful spiritual realities of the
day of judgment. The tendency of such a system is to blur the real issues of the
day of judgment by a preoccupation with extraneous, peripheral matters.(17)
On the other hand, the simplicity of the general judgment is consistent with the
sobriety of the godly mind. Its tendency is to concentrate attention on the
burning spiritual realities of the day of judgment.
Appendix: A False Hypothesis concerning the Judgment of
It is important to clear away at the outset a false hypothesis concerning
this passage. This hypothesis is that the judgment in view here is, to some
extent, hypothetical. To one degree or another this theory has been maintained
by W. G. T. Shedd, Charles Hodge, and especially Robert Haldane. Haldane's
statement is representative:
In all these verses the Apostle is referring to the law, and not, as it is
generally understood, to the Gospel. It would have been obviously calculated to
mislead the Jews, with whom Paul was reasoning, to set before them in this place
personal obedience as the way to eternal life, which, in connection with what he
had said on repentance, would tend directly, to lead them to mistake his meaning
on that subject. But besides this, if these verses refer to the Gospel, they
break in upon and disturb the whole train of his reasoning, from the 18th verse
of the first chapter to the 20th of the third, where he arrives at his
conclusion, that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in
the sight of God. Paul was afterwards to declare the way of justification, as he
does, ch. iii. 21, 26, immediately after he drew the above conclusion; but till
then, his object was to exhibit, both to Jews and Gentiles, the impossibility of
obtaining justification by any works of their own, and, by convincing them of
this, to lead them to the grace of the Gospel.(18)
This theory is open to the following decisive objections. First, in Murray's
The principles respecting the future judgment set forth in this passage are
not different from those set forth elsewhere in the New Testament and
particularly Paul's own epistles (Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46; John 5:29; 1 Cor.
3:11-15, 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7-10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:23, 24; cf. Eccl. 12:14.(19)
Second, the principle of judgment according to works is applicable also to
those who are saved. Haldane regards the language of v. 7 "to those who by
perseverance in doing good" as legal and hypothetical.(20)
The New Testament views this language as real and evangelical (John 5:29; Gal.
6:7-10; Matt. 12:37).
Third, the characterization of this judgment as legal is explicitly
contradicted by Paul in v. 16 where it is called "gospel." The relevance of
verse 16 is clear from its close connection with verse 12. Verses 13-15 are
parenthetical explaining first v. 12b in v. 13 and then v. 12a in verses 14 and
15. Note the ABBA pattern.
A VERSE 12 A--THE GENTILES WITHOUT THE LAW
B VERSE 12 B--THE JEWS UNDER THE LAW
B VERSE 13--THE JEWS UNDER THE LAW
A VERSES 14 AND 15--THE GENTILES WITHOUT THE LAW
Verse 16 begins with words, "in the day" ( µ) which harks back to the time
period of v. 12.
Fourth, the characterization of this judgment as hypothetical is contradicted
by the assertions of verses 5 and 16 that the events here described will
III. 2 Peter 3:3-13
2 Peter 3 is one of those most interesting passages in the Bible with regard
to the structure of eschatology. It presents its own unique perspective on the
structure of redemptive history, while at the same time confirming the general
thesis we are establishing with regard to the general judgment.
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 the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved
for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do
not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord
one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as 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. 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, on account 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.
A. Its Proper Exposition
1. Its Theme: The Certainty of the Promise of the Parousia of Christ
Verse 4 with vv. 9 and 13 clearly shows that the theme of this passage is the
certainty of the promise of Christ to come again. The term promise in
each of these verses refers to the promise of the parousia, a Greek word which
speaks of Christ's second coming as His arrival. It is to be noted here that the
term, "the day of the Lord," is equivalent to and synonymous with Christ's
parousia. Several considerations demonstrate this. (1) As has been seen,
throughout the New Testament the day of the Lord Jesus Christ is the day of the
second coming. (2) The term, Lord, designates Jesus Christ throughout
this passage and in fact throughout 2 Peter without exception (3:2, 8, 9, 15,
18). (3) The connection between the mention in v. 9 of the Lord's "promise" and
the substitution of the phrase "day of the Lord" in v. 10 constrains the
identification of the two events. Furthermore, the term, "day of God," in v. 12
is also a synonymous reference to the same event. (1) The connection demands
this identification. (2) The designation, "God," may be a reference to Jesus
Christ (2 Peter 1:1). The second coming of Christ, His parousia, is the
pervasive emphasis of this passage.
2. Its Structure
A close examination of this passage shows that it has a very systematic
structure which develops the general theme of the mockers' denial of Christ's
parousia. It may be outlined as follows:
Theme: The Denial of the Promise of Christ's Parousia, 3:3-13
I. The Gravity of This Denial, v. 3a
II. The Nature of This Denial, vv. 3b-4
A. Its Ethical Motive, v. 3b
B. Its Specific Substance, v. 4a
C. Its Philosophical Basis, v. 4b
III. The Rebuttal of This Denial, vv. 5-13
A. A Critique of Its Philosophical Basis, vv. 5-7
1. The Initial Creation of the World by the Word of God, v. 5
2. The Previous Destruction of the World by the Flood of Water, v. 6
3. The Present Preservation of the World for the Day of Judgment, v. 7
B. A Response to Its Specific Substance, vv. 8-10
1. The delay is consistent with the Lord's view of time (v. 8).
2. The delay is consistent with the Lord's patience and purposes (v. 9).
3. The delay is consistent with the Lord's prophecy about the day (v. 10).
C. A Contradiction of Its Ethical Motive, vv. 11-13
B. Its Eschatological Implications
We have been examining the subject of the general judgment via these
passages. This passage certainly addresses this issue.
a. The Timing of This Judgment
Clearly the time of this judgment is the second coming of Christ. It has
already been shown that the promise of Christ's second coming is the pervasive
theme of this passage. The phrases "day of the Lord" and "day of God" also refer
to this event as has been shown. Note especially the connection of v. 7 with the
succeeding verses and see how Peter passes immediately from the day of judgment
to the promise of His coming. Note also v. 10 where the day of the Lord "in
which the heavens will pass away" is obviously a reference to the promise of His
coming which has formed the theme of v. 9. This identification is confirmed by
the statement that it "will come like a thief" alludes to Matt. 24:43 where it
is used of the coming of the Son of Man. Note v. 12 as well where the "coming of
the day of God" is the time at which the heavens and the elements will be burned
up. Clearly, the day of God is equivalent to the day of the Lord and the coming
of Christ. In v. 13 it is the "promise" of His coming which is regarded as
precipitating not only the destruction of the present world, but the coming of
the "new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells."
b. The Scope of this Judgment
The scope of this judgment is plainly nothing less than universal. The world
as a whole is destroyed (v. 7 "heavens and earth"; v. 10 "heaven and elements";
v. 12 "heavens and elements"). The parallel with the flood, v. 6, strengthens
this statement of the universal character of this judgment. Further, the mention
of the new heavens and new earth in v. 13 also plainly declares its
c. The Issues of this Judgment
1) The Eternal Destruction for the Wicked.
In addition to the implications for the eternal destruction of the wicked
present in the universal destruction of the present world which this judgment
brings, there are explicit and unqualified references to their destruction in
these verses. Note v. 7 which speaks of the "judgment and destruction of ungodly
men" and v. 9 which says that the unrepentant will "perish" at Christ's coming.
2) The Eternal Blessedness of the Godly
Clearly v. 13 asserts that this judgment will usher in the new heavens and
the new earth. This is clearly a reference to the eternal state of the righteous
Here I want to raise this question. Simply in terms of itself and by itself, what is the eschatology of 2 Pet. 3:3-18? Peter clearly divides all of history into three worlds divided by two universal judgments.
PETER'S ESCHATOLOGY ON ITS OWN TERMS
|THE THEN WORLD
It is created by "the Word of God" (v. 5).
It is a period of divine patience with a world reserved for the
flood (1 Pet. 3:20).
It was "destroyed being flooded with water" (v. 6).
|UNIVERSAL DESTRUCTION BY WATER (VERSE 6)|
|THE NOW WORLD
It is "reserved for fire" (v. 7).
In it "mockers come" (vv. 3, 4).
It is in its "the last days" (v. 4).
It is the day of salvation, a time of "the Lord's patience" (v. 9).
The event which brings the end of the now world is described as ...
"the promise of His parousia" (vv. 4, 9, 13)
"the day of the Lord" (v. 10)
"the day of God" (v. 12)
"the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (v. 7)
|UNIVERSAL DESTRUCTION BY FIRE (VERSES 7, 10, 12)|
|THE NEW WORLD
It is described as a ...
"new heavens and new earth" (v. 13)
"In which righteousness dwells" (v. 13)
It has no end bringing as it does ...
"the day of eternity" (v. 18)
Each of the three major New Testament passages regarding the judgment to come
which we have surveyed teach with sufficient clarity that the timing of the
coming judgment is the second coming of Christ, the issues of the coming
judgment are eternal life and eternal punishment, and that the scope of the
coming judgment is general or, in other words, absolutely universal. They
are--to reiterate--clear enough when considered separately, but when considered
together and then in conjunction with the many other references to the general
judgment in the New Testament, they are absolutely conclusive in favor of a
general judgment at Christ's second coming issuing in the eternal state.
The unavoidable implication of this is that premillennialism is excluded from
the biblical scheme of last things. There is room for no interim, millennial
kingdom, inhabited by natural men, subsequent to Christ's second coming, if the
doctrine here established is true. Since every form of premillennialism requires
just such a kingdom premillennialism cannot be reconciled with the most
foundational and structural of biblical teaching about last things, its doctrine
of the final judgment itself.
Appendix: False Interpretations of 2 Peter 3:3-13
(1) With reference to the New Heavens and New Earth.
(a) The Preterist Interpretation of Postmillennialists
J. Marcellus Kik epitomizes the preteristic postmillennial misinterpretation
of this passage when he says:
Perhaps the great stumbling block to the acceptance of the postmil
position is the misunderstanding of the term "new heavens and new earth." Many
look upon this as a material concept rather than a term descriptive of the
gospel economy....That the words are not inapplicable to a revolution of a moral
and spiritual nature, we may learn from Paul's analogous description of the
change wrought in conversion (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15) and from Peter's
application of this very passage, "Nevertheless, we, according to His promise,
look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter
These writers understand the New Heavens and New Earth in a "spiritual" i.e.
"non-material" fashion and as a reference to the "millennium".
The New Testament in general and 2 Peter 3 in particular leave no room for
this understanding. In 2 Peter 3 itself three considerations refute it. First,
in 2 Peter 3 the subject under consideration is the literal second coming of
Christ. The "promise of the parousia" is likely a reference to Acts 1:11 among
other passages. The reference is clearly not to a spiritual coming by the
Spirit. Such a coming was not the subject that produced the mocking of v. 4. The
mockers were denying the possibility of any supernatural interruption of the
uniformity of natural law (v. 4). 2 Peter 3:13 makes the new heavens and new
earth an expectation we await "according to His promise" and in this context the
promise can be nothing other than the promise of the second coming of Christ.
Second, in 2 Peter 3 a material destruction by fire of the world is in view.
This destruction finds its analogy in the material destruction of the world by
water in the flood (vv. 6, 7, 10, 12). Third, the crisis in view in 2 Peter 3
brings not the conversion of the ungodly, but their destruction.
(b) The Proper Interpretation
The language of the new heavens and new earth originates in Isaiah (65:17f;
66:22f.). While it is not to be denied that difficult elements exist with
reference to the proper interpretation of these passages (This is a passage
which must and will be dealt with at length later in these lectures.), the basic
application given them by the New Testament is clear. While it is not to be
denied that the new heavens and new earth is faintly foreseen in the spiritual
renovations of the gospel age, the New Testament's primary application of this
language is to the eternal state. Simply put, the new heavens and new earth is
seen as a reference to the final, eternal state of a redeemed creation. This
terminology, in other words, designates the consummate redemption of the
physical universe. The curse is removed. The original end () of creation is
Three passages confirm this understanding. 2 Peter 3:3-13 contains
considerations which demand this understanding, as we have seen. In particular
the analogy of the (typical) renovation of the world by the flood is
instructive. Rev. 21:1f. is the second passage. Yet it is also understood of the
millennium by some postmils. This is surely indefensible. The primary
reference is to the eternal state where there is no more pain (v. 4), no more
death (v. 4), all sinners are in hell (vv. 8, 27), and no more curse (22:3).
Rom. 8:18-23 while not containing the precise terminology of "new heavens and
new earth" is clearly a reference to that occurrence. The idea of a redeemed
creation as the eternal home of the glorified sons of God is explicit here.
Verses 20-22 are a clear reference to the removal of the curse and the
redemption of physical creation. Note v. 19 as well as v. 23 clearly implies
that this redemption occurs at the same time as the physical resurrection of the
sons of God. According to v. 19 it is for the physical resurrection that
creation longs. Why? Because this event signals its redemption. The connection
of v. 23 with the preceding context signals the same thought, that the
resurrection of the body and the renovation of creation occur at the same
(2) With reference to the Day of the Lord.
The Scofield Bible teaches that the day of the Lord stretches from the second coming of Christ to the end of the millennium over 1000 years later.(23)
|THE NOW WORLD||THE DAY OF THE LORD
[which includes the
tribulation (?), the second coming, and the millennium]
|THE NEW WORLD|
There are two powerful objections to this theory. First, it is without
exegetical basis. Its basis is simply the presuppositions of Dispensational
Premillennialism and the necessity of justifying this scheme in the hostile
atmosphere of 2 Peter 3:3-13. It is invented, that is to say, to make their
scheme fit this passage. Second, this theory results in a forced and unnatural
understanding of 2 Peter 3:3-13. Our objection is not that the Day of the
Lord is literally a day of 24 hours, it is rather based on the following
(1) Verse 10 would have to read not "in which" but "at the end of which".(24)
The natural significance of 2 Peter 3:10 is, however, that when Christ comes the
world is immediately (not 1000 years later) destroyed.
(2) This understanding contradicts the clear implication of the passage that
the destruction of the Day of the Lord is swift destruction. The
analogy of the flood implies (v. 6) swift destruction (Matt. 24:37-44; Luke
17:22-27). The analogy of the thief (v. 10) implies swift destruction (Matt.
24:42, 43; 1 Thess. 5:2f.). A destruction that takes place over a period of 1000
years is anything but swift and sudden.
(3) This theory ignores the fact that in the New Testament and in 2 Peter
3:3-13 the day of the Lord is a synonym for the parousia. To affirm
that the day of the Lord lasts over 1000 years is analogous to
affirming the same with reference to the parousia--a ludicrous thought. Verse 9
makes plain that the alternative to repentance before the parousia is perishing.
This, a 1000 year parousia or day of the Lord does not account for.
(4) The analogy of the flood and the day of the Lord undermines this theory. The day of the Lord like the flood is a catastrophic event not an age-long period of time.
1.In A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (pp. 415-419) I take the same basic approach, but in a more simple and popular way. I make the same point utilizing seven of the major passages on the judgment in the New Testament.
2.The Old and New Scofield interpretations and that of Gay cited below do not dispute this point.
3.Eternal life can, of course, designate the present possession of the Christian in the un-resurrected condition (John 3:15f.). This is, however, clearly not the meaning of this passage. (1) Eternal life is contrasted here with eternal punishment. This means that it is not a present possession, but a future eschatological reward which is in view. Eternal life in this sense is given only in the age to come and involves a resurrected condition (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; 20:34-36). (2) Matthew's use of life and eternal life is exclusively reserved for the eschatological reward of the righteous (Matt. 7:1; 19:16, 17; 19:29; Mark 10:30). In this sense, his perspective differs from that of the Gospel of John. In the Gospel of John eternal life is looked at characteristically as a present reality rather than as an eschatological blessing (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24; 6:47, 54). The combination of these two factors--the timing and issues of the judgment--excludes at the outset the Dispensational Premillennial interpretation. Both the O.S. and N.S. assert that "all the nations" includes (N.S.) "all Gentiles then living on the earth." If this is the case then the passage asserts that all living Gentiles are at the second coming of Christ either sent to hell or given the life of the resurrection. This, however, precludes a premillennial interpretation of Rev. 20. For there at the end of the millennium wicked Gentile nations attack the people of God (which Dispensationalists identify as the nation of the Jews). Such nations cannot be provided for if the dispensational interpretation of Matt. 25:31f be correct. Walvoord in the Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1959) denies that this is the consequence(pp. 287, 288), but this is contradicted by the equation of life with resurrection-life in this passage.
4.The Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1036; The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1036.
5.George Gay, "The Judgment of the Gentiles in Matthew's Theology," in Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation, ed. by W. Ward Gasque and William Lanford Lasor, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1978), p. 213. Note that he was an instructor at Fuller Theological Seminary at the time that this essay was written.
6.ibid., p. 208.
7.ibid., p. 208f., 210.
8.ibid., p. 210.
10.Gay, Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation, p. 210f.
11.Gay, p. 208.
12.Gay, p. 215.
13.The scope of this judgment is, first of all, all those who have preached to them the gospel during the last days. While this fact is not adequately accounted for by any but the traditional, Reformed interpretation, it may not be completely understood even by that tradition. That this is its immediate scope is confirmed by two considerations: the phrase, " ," (Matt. 24:14; 28:19) and the criterion of judgment, practical love for Christ's brethren. Ultimately, however, all history is summed up in these last days and all the nations of history in those who have preached to them the gospel. Other nations without having been the object of gospel light will be found at this judgment (Matt. 11:21-24; 12:36-42). Every nation and individual of history stands in solidarity with the " " of this passage and is epitomized in them either as sheep or goats.
14.Gay, p. 208.
15.B. B. Warfield, "Christ's Little Ones", Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 1, (Nutley, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), pp. 234ff.
16.The Scofield Bible, p. 1233; The New Scofield Bible, p. 1255.
17.Vos, Pauline Eschatology, pp. 26-28.
18.Robert Haldane, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, (MacDill AFB, Fla., Mac Donald Publishing Company, 1958), pp. 81-83; C. Hodge, A Commentary on Romans, (The Banner of Truth, London, 1972), pp. 49, 50. Note Murray's comments on this theory in The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1959), pp. 62f.
19.Murray, loc. cit., p. 63.
20.Haldane, loc. cit.
21.J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory, (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), p. 5. See also Iain Murray's Puritan Hope, (Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971), p. 250.
22.The doctrine of a redeemed creation is of important, polemic significance. In the debate between postmils and premils before the advent of modern amillennialism, there were two truths which were the bulwark of premillennialism and which a systematic postmillennialism could not embrace. These truths were: (1) the imminence of Christ's return and (2) the reign of Christ on the earth (the earthly reign of Christ). The first truth amillennialism embraces via its denial of an age-long golden age before the return of Christ. The second truth it embraces via its doctrine of a redeemed creation. Hoekema's chapter on this in The Bible and the Future is, thus, of great significance polemically. See the later treatment of the New Earth.
23.The Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1349; The New Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 1341, 1372.
24.The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1341.
Section 3: The Eschatological Kingdom