2 PETER 3
Our thought life is very important. Ultimately, it is a matter of life and death. Consequently, we experience a ‘battle for the mind’ resulting – we hope – in progress and maturity as our mindset becomes transformed over time (Romans 1:2). Rarely is this a smooth upward curve, though; more usually we fluctuate daily in our spiritual ‘temperature’, fuelled by our thought lives. For those of us with a more ‘fatalistic’ perspective, Peter brings a strong message that we can control our own thoughts. He wants us to be very selective about what our minds choose to dwell on. He wants us to use our memories of past glories and promises. He wants us to be sure to listen only to the truth!
Peter then talks about cynicism in the ‘Last Days’ (not just meaning the very end times, but the entire gospel age between the First and the Second Comings of Christ). Mockers will say: “Where is this ‘coming’ that he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). These people clearly had a uniformitarianistic view of life – everything can only change imperceptibly slowly, and God cannot intervene to change things. Peter reminds them that the Great Flood occurred very suddenly – although, after a warning – and that the next judgment will come equally quickly, by fire.
If you are a baby of ten days of age, then a single day is ten percent of your entire life – so it must ‘feel’ like a significant period of time. For a three-year-old, a day is about one tenth of one percent of your life. For a thirty-year-old it is one ten-thousandth. As you age, a day seems to go quicker and quicker. God is infinitely old – he is eternal – and so for him there is no difference between one day and a thousand years! In fact, he is neither constrained by time, nor does he need it – he dwells in eternity. (Psalm 93:2; Micah 5:2).
God is currently being patient, allowing many to enter salvation, but one day God will call ‘time’ on this present age, and Jesus will return like a thief in the night! Then the sky, the stars, the galaxies and even the present heaven will disappear, the elements will be destroyed, and the earth laid bare. After that, we will receive a new home – a new heaven and a new earth, full of righteousness. Therefore, we need to live holy and godly lives, eagerly desiring the return of Christ and actually hastening up his coming, by causing many to come to repentance; in this way the job will be done that much sooner!
Our ‘mission statement’ in this life is to assist the Spirit of God in bringing many to repentance, in growing closer and more intimate with Christ himself, and in maturing in grace to become more like him by the day.
DANIEL 4, 5 and 6
If you had spoken to the average emperor of the world (Nebuchadnezzar) the way that Daniel did, then it probably invalidated your life assurance policy! It was as well that the Lord protected Daniel and that by then he had long found favour with the king. “You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes… Your kingdom will be restored when you acknowledge that Heaven rules… Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed”. (Daniel 4:25-27.) I expect that Nebuchadnezzar wished that he hadn’t asked!
Often God uses an image of a great tree to symbolize great earthly kingdoms. When Judith and I were in Australia, we saw a huge Moreton Bay Fig Tree that might have looked like the one in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. (Photo: https://1drv.ms/u/s!AqmXwc9NXEEFjg6PY8IWqFIBNiMc?e=ME7ShE). God meant the dream tree to symbolize Nebuchadnezzar himself, with the key message that despite appearances to the contrary, it is the Lord who is the King of all the nations, and he gives and takes earthly thrones as he pleases. So, if you want to be Prime Minister of the UK, you had better check that the Lord is OK with this!
Nebuchadnezzar acted surprisingly in two respects: he didn’t have Daniel executed for being disrespectful towards the Babylonia throne; and he didn’t take any notice of Daniel’s warning. Like most humans, he was a bundle of inconsistencies, and a year later, he congratulated himself on the great city that he had built “…by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty”. God immediately fulfilled his prophetic warnings to Nebuchadnezzar and turned him into something resembling a strange grass-eating bird – with a mind to go with it. Only after perhaps seven years had passed did God grant Nebuchadnezzar repentance to enable him to acknowledge that Heaven rules! At which point, he was instantly restored and regained his throne. Presumably Daniel and his colleagues had ruled Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s absence.
Then Nebuchadnezzar wrote a very honest and humble circular letter to all his subjects, acknowledging that the Lord’s kingdom is the one that rules and that the Lord can raise up rulers and depose them at will.
Many years later regime change has occurred, and Nebuchadnezzar’s son Nabonidus has succeeded his father. His own son, Belshazzar, was crown prince and fond of wild extravagant partying. Daniel and his fellow-administrators had probably been replaced and were no longer present at court. Belshazzar was not only a drunkard, but also an idolater and he desecrated the precious objects removed from the temple. God therefore practised his handwriting on the palace walls, etching four words in the plaster, as a form of code. The final word is a clever wordplay, meaning either ‘divided’ or ‘Persia’ – and its fulfilment meant both! That night it was serious regime change and Darius the Mede (of Medes and Persians fame) took over the kingdom.
Wisely, Darius continued with the likes of Daniel in key administrative positions, and Daniel’s God-given character and skills made him rise to the very top, making his rivals exceedingly jealous. The only opportunity that they had of criticizing him was because of his allegiance to the Lord. We need to live lives of the same power and quality, so that (as Peter says): “Live such good lives amount the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us”. (1 Peter 2:12).
The Medes and Persians had a legal system with laws that could not be repealed; this was probably an attempt to avoid bringing in badly-thought-through legislation that was only intended to last for a short time. Our own Parliament might take note of that wisdom today! But Darius was tricked into condemning his favourite administrator to death by wild animals – lions, in fact. As we all know, God did another miracle, on a par with the blazing furnace incident of the last few chapters. And so, Daniel survived, and God got the glory!
Notice that Daniel’s faithfulness was not in stamping his feet and insisting that he be allowed to worship his God, the true God. Rather, he just got on and continued with his devotional life, praying three times a day, giving thanks to the Lord – as had been his lifetime habit. God protects and rewards those who honour him in this way. It was also the secret of Daniel’s great spiritual power and wisdom. What is your devotional life like? Are you faithful and disciplined in it? What would you do if Christianity were outlawed in your nation? Perhaps some of us should begin a prayer life now, just in case!