The Time On God’s Clock
October 30th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THE TIME ON GOD’S CLOCK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 3:3-13
10-30-60 10:50 a.m.
You who listen on the radio are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Time on God’s Clock. Our guests this morning are many, many of the faithful people of the Eastern Star, whose worthy grand matron and grand patron are here and several hundred members of that noble organization. We welcome them and the other visitors who share with us this holy hour.
For fifteen years or more, the pastor has been preaching through the Bible. We began in Genesis, the first verse and the first chapter; and we are now in the third chapter of 2 Peter. And we now read this text in 2 Peter, the third chapter, beginning at the third verse. "I am going to write these things to stir up your minds [2 Peter 3:1], these things which were spoken before by the holy prophets, of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Savior" [2 Peter 3:2]; and the reason he is writing is this:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
And saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and the perdition of ungodly men.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
For the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness,
Looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
[2 Peter 3:3-13]
Tonight I am speaking on the second part of that text, When the World Is on Fire. This morning I’m speaking on the first part of this text, "Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" [2 Peter 3:8].
There are three approaches by which we could speak of this text. One is we can spiritualize upon it. I read many years ago a sermon that spiritualized the text. "A thousand years as a day," and he spoke of the passing of eras and ages and times that were meaningless, and sterile, and fruitless [2 Peter 3:8]. Then he spoke of great periods of drought in one’s own life that are meaningless, and fruitless, and barren. Then the preacher spoke of a day as a thousand years; a day of crisis, a day of judgment, as in a war, the day of battle when great decisions are made; a day as a thousand years. That’s good preaching. I don’t happen to like it. I don’t think it reflects much the Word of God; but it’s interesting, and many times its moral aphorisms are very pertinent.
There’s a second way to speak of the text, and that is to theorize concerning it. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years" [2 Peter 3:8]. This last summer in a Bible conference I heard a very learned and able Bible scholar who used the text in this way: he theorized upon it. For example – and I just take a small part – for example, he said, using the passage in Hosea 6:1-2:
Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us; in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.
And he took that text, "the third day He will raise us up" [Hosea 6:2] and he said, "A day with the Lord is a thousand years; so after the passing of two thousand years, on the third day, in the third chiliad, the Lord will come and will raise us up out of our graves." And he also referred to Genesis 2:1-2, in which the heavens and the earth were created in six days, and on the seventh day the Lord rested. And he took that in this theorizing, and he said, "Six days, that’s six thousand years; four thousand years before Christ, and two thousand years after Christ, six thousand years. And on the seventh day comes our millennial rest. And we can look forward in the seventh day, in the seventh chiliad, in the seventh thousand year period, to the great consummation of the age."
Now the trouble with that is chronology in those distant ages past is most difficult for us. More our curiosity is tantalized than it is gratified, for these things are difficult to verify. It is in God’s hands the times and the seasons, and it is not wise for us to ask what God declines to answer, and it is not wise for us to force what God hath purposely hidden away. We do not know when the church militant shall become forever and universally the church triumphant.
In my humble opinion, the best way to interpret Scripture is expositionally; to find out what the author said, what he meant, and the circumstances and the occasion that gave rise to what he said. Now, speaking of the text expositionally, it is very patent, very clear, most plain why Peter spake as he did and the occasion that brought the revelation. It began with the scoffers who said, "Where is the promise of His coming?" He is not coming"; for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue on as they were from the beginning of the creation" [2 Peter 3:3-4]. And Simon Peter has two answers. One, he answers the scoffers, he says, things are not continuing as they were from the beginning of the creation; for, he says, there are divine interpositions of God in human history; and he gives one of them. Out of a multitude of illustrations that he could choose, he chooses one, and that was the divine interposition of God in the days of the Flood [2 Peter 3:5-6]. Things do not continue on as they are from the beginning of the creation; but there are great cataclysms, and there are great upheavals, and there are great judgments, and there are great and mighty interpositions of God in human time and in human history. And as in the days of Noah, it was a long time in the longsuffering of God before that judgment finally fell [Genesis 6:3]. So it is now, Simon Peter says, it’s a long time that we wait; but that judgment is sure and it is certain in its coming [2 Peter 3:9-10].
Then the second part of the answer of Simon Peter was addressed, and is addressed, to the comfort and the consolation of God’s children. The Lord tarries, the long dreary winter month continues on and on; His chariot wheels seemingly do not move, and He is late to His triumph. And because of that, God’s children sometimes grow weary in well doing. Some of them cease from the conflict and lay down their arms. And some of God’s children fall into despair. "Where is the promise of His coming?" [2 Peter 3:4]. Where is God? In days of great crisis, and darkness, and blasphemy, and overwhelming antipathy to all we love, where is God? God’s people sometimes have great trouble in their long waiting for their Lord. In the church at Thessalonica, looking and hastening unto the coming of Jesus, some of their beloved people died; and they sent to the apostle Paul and asked, "Jesus has not come as He promised. Our Lord is delaying and our beloved have fallen into the dust of the ground. What of them?" [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. That’s why Paul wrote the first and the second Thessalonian letters, that they might be assured that the dead who fall asleep in Christ shall also have a part in that glorious and triumphant day when our Lord shall appear from the sky [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10]. But in the meantime, we grow weary in our waiting. And Simon Peter in this text is saying a word of consolation and comfort and encouragement to God’s people who wait for the appearing and the coming of the Lord. He says, our clock is not God’s clock, and our time is not God’s time. He says, our time is not the right time, and it certainly is not the divine time. Then he speaks in the passage that I have just read for our assurance and for our encouragement. Simon Peter points out that what he says is very important. "For this," he says, "be not ignorant of this one thing" [2 Peter 3:8]. By all means, let us realize and take this to heart, says the great apostle, for, he had said in the text, some are willingly ignorant of these things; they blind their eyes. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to see. They don’t care. And then some are ignorant because they won’t study and they won’t search the Scriptures. Daniel searched the Word of God, and found in the prophecies that after the passing of seventy years the Lord would visit His people, and they might return back to their homeland [Daniel 9:2-27]. We’re to study, Simon Peter says. We are to search the Word of God, Simon Peter says, and we are to know and to be assured of these great revelations that are written large on the page of God’s Book [2 Peter 1:12].
Now, we take our text and exactly what Simon Peter said: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," time on the clock of God, time in the eternity of God [2 Peter 3:8]. First, all time is present with God. To us things that are near are close at hand, and things that are a thousand miles away and a thousand miles distant do not concern us. We’ll be in our graves. To us there is yesterday, and today, and tomorrow. To mortal dying beings such as we are, we pigeon things in the past, and in the present, and in the future. But with God, there is no such thing as a past or as a future; but with God all things are present. And He looks upon the end from the beginning; and all time and all history are one great present panorama before His all seeing eye. The name of Jehovah God is "I Am [Exodus 3:14]. "I Am in the past, I Am in the present, and I Am in the future." His name is not "I was," as though God had ceased to be something that He used to be, as though He had changed in His characteristics, as though He had changed in some of His attributes. It is "I Am." His name is not "I shall be," as though there were development in God, that He might be something in the future that He is not now. But the great name of God is "I Am." And all time, and all eternity, and all past and future are a present with the great all seeing, omnipotent, omniscient God.
A second avowal in this text: all history is present with God [2 Peter 3:8]. There’s not anything yesterday, and there’s not anything tomorrow; but all time, and tide, and story, and history are ever present before God. Before I came to be pastor in the church in Dallas, I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma. And just east of Muskogee, in the beautiful Cookson Hills, runs a river called the Illinois; one of the prettiest rivers in America. The stream running through those hills, running through those rocks, runs clear and beautiful. Upon a day, one of the fine deacons in our church took me with him, and we started miles and miles above, and we floated down the Illinois River. As I floated down the river with my deacon friend, we’d come to a turn, and then another bend, and then a rapids, so on down through that beautiful, beautiful country. But to one who stands on top of one of those high mountains, he can see the course of that stream for the beginning up here and for its conclusion down there. And on the river, I see it a bend at a time, a turn at a time, a rapids at a time. But to one on a high eminence, he can see the whole thing and my gradual floating down the river in the boat. So God looks upon the stream of time and the river of life, and He sees all of it together. We may be here or we may be there, they may be yonder, and in the future generation they may be there, but God sees it all from the beginning to the end, the whole stream of time and humanity.
Upon a day, I was in Chicago, a young man, long time ago, I was in Chicago. And it was on Labor Day, and they had a tremendous labor meeting in Soldiers Field, Soldiers Stadium. It’ll seat about a hundred twenty thousand people. I went to the stadium, and for hours I watched that labor parade come into the stadium, band at a time, butcher’s union at a time, candle maker’s union at a time, baker’s union at a time, all of those labor movements, thousands and thousands. I watched them come in the door, come in the great gateway toward the field museum. I watched them come in group at a time, brigade at a time, rank at a time. Having become very weary with the long ceaseless procession, I climbed up to the top of Soldiers Stadium. And when I reached the top, I could see the entire parade from its cessation here, from its consummation here in Soldiers Stadium, clear up to the head of it, way up Michigan Avenue. And I saw the whole great column move together. Down in the stadium, I saw it one at a time, one at a time, brigade at a time, generation at a time. But when I stood in that great tall eminence, I could see the entire column move together. When I’m down here in this world, I see events happen one at a time, day at a time, generation at a time. But if I were God and could stand upon the eminence of eternity, I could see the entire stream of humanity, and its entire history from the beginning to the end. All history moves in the present before God; He sees all of it, everlastingly and always.
It’s the same kind of a thing as these astronomers who look up into the sky with their telescopes, and they speak of double stars. By that they mean that this brilliant and amazingly bright orb looks like one star, but actually it is two. For here is one star, and millions and maybe billions of miles back of it is another star. But in the line of the telescopic view, they look as one, in one line; but actually there are millions of miles between them. So God looking into time and into history: God sees these events as one. To us they are far apart; but to God they’re all just like one great orb. For example, the Fall and the great redemption: to us they are thousands and thousands of years apart; but to God they stand side by side. He sees them both together, our fall in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1-6], and our redemption on the great cross of Calvary [Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. Or, the story of Israel: the decline of Israel, the departure of Israel from their land, the destruction of Israel, thousands of years ago; but today we are seeing the resurrection of Israel, born out of the graves of the nations of the earth. To us it is a marvelous thing. Two thousand years that land over there uninhabited; and now a new nation has been born and been created. To us in time those things are far apart, the destruction of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of Palestine. But to God, it’s like a double star: He sees them both as one together. And no exigency, and no circumstance, and no unforeseen development can ever dissuade God from His purpose. God is not taken by ambush, like an army of men; nor is God suddenly surprised by His enemies; nor is He overwhelmed by weapons that are newly formed against Him. What God has purposed He will bring to pass [Isaiah 14:24, 46:11], and what God had judged shall stand forever; and the elective will of God is our hope for a final and an ultimate triumph in this present world and in the world that is to come.
That is why our sin is ever before God, unless Jesus blots it away and covers it up [Acts 3:18-19]. Forty years before Reuben had gone up to the bed of his father’s concubine and had defiled the bed of his father’s concubine [Genesis 35:22]; and forty years later, when Reuben thought that Jacob had forgotten about it, there it was as fresh and as scarlet and as crimson as the day that Reuben had committed it [Genesis :3-4]. Time does not wash away a man’s sins; they are ever present before the Lord. And the only way they can be hidden out of sight is for them to be covered by the grace, and love, and mercy, and atoning blood, and tears of the Lord Jesus Christ [1 John 1:7, 9]. All history and all time and all life are ever present before God.
A third thing: time is obedient to God. We are slaves of the hour. If I am in excruciating pain and I am racked on the bed of hurt and disease and illness, I cry, "O God, for the morning, that it would haste in its coming." And then I cry in the morning, "O God, for the evening, that it would haste in its appearing." But however I may be in anguish, I am a slave, I am imprisoned in that hour. Or, in an hour of happiness and gladness, I may wish, "O that this hour could be extended, that this day of gladness and happiness could last forever." But whether the hour is like a pendulum that cuts into my very soul, or whether the hour is like a wedding bell tolling from the top steeple of the church, whether in haste or whether in tardiness, my wishes cannot change it. I am a slave of the hour. Not so is God. "And thou, Sun, stand thou still over Gibeon; and thou, Moon, stand thou still over the Valley of Ajalon" [Joshua 10:12]. And if God willed it, that sun would stand there, and that moon would stand there, forever and forever; they move at the word of the omnipotent God.
Or again, Isaiah the prophet of the Lord goes up to Hezekiah and says a great prophecy [2 Kings 20:1-7]. And Hezekiah says, "How shall I know that the prophecy shall come to pass?" [2 Kings 20:8]. And Isaiah the prophet of the Lord said, "Say the word and see the sun dial of Ahaz, shall the shadow go forward ten degrees or backward ten degrees?" [2 Kings 20:9]. To the great mighty God it is indifferent whether time goes that way or whether time goes this way. He is the master of time. And Hezekiah replied, "For the shadow to fall forward ten degrees would be nothing. Let God bring the shadow back ten degrees" [2 Kings 20:10]. And the great Lord God took His sun and His heavens and His orbits and His time, and He flung them back into history. And the shadow on the dial of Ahaz returned backward ten degrees [2 Kings 20:11]. Time itself is obedient to God.
Then pastor, how does this reach down to our souls today? First, and we must haste, first, to the scoffer and the unbeliever, who mocks at the presence of God, and who laughs and scorns the promises of God, "Where," and he says it with a snarl, "Where," and he says it with a sneer, "Where," and he says it sarcastically, "Where is your God? [2 Peter 3:3-4]. And where are His chariot wheels a-comin’? And where is the presence of the great Almighty? Where?" And Simon Peter says to the scoffer, "The words of God stand sure and fast; and He delays just because of His loving mercy, that you might turn and believe and be saved" [2 Peter 3:8-9]. For God is the great holder, and creator, and keeper of all time, and of all history, and of all of His creation.
I can easily imagine, in a stagnant drop of water – I’ve seen them with the microscope – I can easily imagine a thousand of those little animals that live in one little drop of water, I can easily imagine one of those little infusorial animalcules, I can imagine one of the little microscopic creatures, who’s maybe ten times bigger than his neighbor, I can imagine he’s standing up and he thinks it is an extraordinary and a wonderful and an amazing thing that he’s ten times bigger than his fellow creatures. I can imagine his standing up and say, "Oh, what a world is ours, this drop of water. Oh, what an orb and a universe is ours, this drop of water." And I can imagine an infusorial philosopher, one of those little microscopic animalcules, I can imagine him standing up and saying, "But sir, did you know that there is a critter, there is a creature, there’s a human being to whom a drop of water is just as nothing. He could hold it on the end of his finger, and if he wanted to, he could destroy ten thousand worlds just like this. And you think it’s a great thing when you lead your army of rotifers against the empire of the parameciums and the amoebae; but to that creature it would be nothing to destroy you and your whole empire, and all of these thousands of people who inhabit this orb on the tip of his finger, this one drop of water."
I tell you truly, when that infusorial philosopher had stood up, and had got something of the idea of what a great person a man is, he hasn’t begun to do what we are trying to do to get into our heads and our little infusorial animalcule minds the great infinity of the mighty God above us and around us. To Him a thousand years are just so many ciphers in the eternity of His being. To Him a thousand years is but a drop in the ocean of His eternity. To Him a thousand years is but a leaf in the great illimitable forest of His being. To Him a thousand years is but a grain of sand upon the everlasting perpetual shores of His existence. "Where?" says the infidel; "Where?" says the scoffer; "Where?" says the infusorial animalcule philosopher, "Where?" [2 Peter 3:4]. If he doesn’t see and if he doesn’t find, it’s because of the finiteness and the narrowness of his mind.
And what has this got to say, this passage, to the day of the judgment? Oh, it says, "God is in no hurry." God’s sun doesn’t go down like our sun goes down, that what we do we must do quickly. God has all eternity in which to make all of His great elective purposes come to pass. I can imagine to a snail that a mile is a long way. To a grayhound, to a stag, to a deer, the mile is not nearly so [long]. To a diesel locomotive, it’s shorter still. To a jet plane it’s just almost nothing. And to a ray of light, it’s just almost nonexistent. And to ether waves and to other things that we haven’t even discovered yet, we don’t even know how little a mile might be. So it is with God. God can bring His judgments to pass just like lightning, just like the snapping of your finger. Hold out the rod, and the floods walled up on either side bury the great armies of Pharaoh, and they sink like lead beneath the mighty deep [Exodus 14:16, 27-28]. Just like the snap of His finger, the great river Kishon sweeps away the armies of the Jabin [Judges 4:13, 5:19-21]. And the stars in their courses, it said, fall against Sisera [Judges 5:20]. Just like the snap of your finger, the Lord God destroyed the armies of Sennacherib [2 Kings 19:35-36; Isaiah 37:33-36]. God can do it just like that. "A day is a thousand years" [2 Peter 3:8]. Or, the Lord can take His time. And the great judgments of God grind slow. There’s a saying, "The mills of the gods grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine." The judgments of God may take years and years and years in forming, but when they come, they come inevitably and certainly.
And what does that have to say to the Christian? Oh how we cry, "Dear Lord, dear Lord, how long, how long?" The souls that John saw under the altar in heaven cried, "O Lord, how long, how long?" And the Lord said to them in heaven, "Rest, just a little season" [Revelation 6:9-11]. And the Lord says to us here in the earth, "Don’t you be weary. A day is as a thousand years to Me, and a thousand years as a day" [2 Peter 3:8]. It’s just been two days to God, just two days. On God’s clock, just two days since our Lord ascended back into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. "And behold, I come quickly," He says [Revelation 3:11]. And He is coming. And He is coming.
And why the delay, dear Lord? Why, it’s obvious: in order that our triumph might be the greater, and that the hour of our deliverance might be the more glorious. For the longer the conflict, and the more awesome the war, the greater the victory when we shall celebrate it with the Lord Jesus and the saints that come with Him and all of the hosts that are in heaven [Zechariah 14:5; Jude 1:14]. Did you know, after four hundred years of slavery, Miriam and her women, and Moses and Israel, sang the song of Moses? "Come," said Moses in this first stanza, "Come, let us sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He cast into the sea" [Exodus 15:1], after four hundred years of slavery, all that choral benediction and that hallelujah that shook the very heavens itself. It’ll be the same way with us. After the long and arduous battle, and after the conflict, and after the war, and the trials and the troubles and the sorrows of this life, when the end shall finally come, oh, we shall sing, what does the Book say? "The song of Moses and the Lamb" [Revelation 15:3]. That’s the way that old song "On Jordan’s Stormy Banks" ends. In one of those passages:
We shall rest in the fair and happy land (by and by)
Just across on the evergreen shore;
Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (by and by)
And dwell with Jesus evermore.
That’s why He delays. That’s why He delays: that His triumph may be the more glorious, and that the day of redemption might be the more wonderful. Amen. "Even so, come, Lord" [Revelation 22:20], today, or a thousand years from now; for on Thy clock, and in Thy sight, the thousand years is as a day, or a day as a thousand years [2 Peter 3:8-9].
Singer, would you mind if I changed our invitation hymn? Let’s don’t sing "On Jordan’s Stormy Banks" like we usually do. Let’s sing it like I quoted just now, 478, on the left side.
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand, and cast a wistful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.
We shall rest in the fair and happy land (by and by) –
and sing the "by and by", choir; sing the "by and by" –
Just across on the evergreen shore;
Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (by and by) –
choir, sing the "by and by" –
And dwell with Jesus evermore.
["On Jordan’s Stormy Banks"; Samuel Stennett, 1787]
Now while we sing that song, while we sing that song, somebody you give his heart to Jesus; somebody you put your life in the fellowship of our church. As the Spirit of God shall say the word, shall lead the way, shall open the door, would you come and stand by me? In the great throng in this balcony, down this stairway or that, at the front or the back, come; there’s time to come, and aplenty. And on this lower floor, the throng and pressed, into that aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, preacher, and here I am; I give you my hand; I give my heart to God." Would you make it now? On the first note of that first stanza, come. Come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE TIME ON GOD’S CLOCK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 3:3-13
A. Three ways to interpret text
1. Spiritualizing – in our experience, sameness year after year, then sudden crisis after which all of life thereafter is changed
2. Theorizing – use the passage to set a date for the coming of the Lord (Hosea 6:1-2, Genesis 2:1-3, Hebrews 4:4-9)
3. Textually, exegetically – what is the purpose, meaning of the passage
B. The words written for a two-fold purpose
1. To meet the arguments of scoffers (2 Peter 3:3-6, Genesis 6:3)
2. To comfort, strengthen believers
a. Thessalonica to Paul about their beloved dead; his response (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)
b. Some willingly ignorant, close their eyes, will not study
II. Time with God
A. All time is equally present with God(Exodus 3:14, Isaiah 42:8)
B. All history is equally present with God
1. Going down stream in Illinois River
2. Labor parade at Soldiers Stadium in Chicago
3. God sees events in history all together
a. Like double stars look as one to us, God sees the fall and redemption side by side, or the story of Israel all at once
b. Our sin is ever before Him, unless Jesus blots it away(Psalm 51:3, Genesis :3-4)
C. All time is equally obedient to God
1. We are slaves of the hour
2. God is unaffected by time(Joshua 10:12-13, Isaiah 38:8, 2 Kings 20:1-11)
III. The meaning of this
A. To the scoffer, who mocks the promises of God, the very existence of God
1. They are like microscopic creatures living in a drop of water, unaware there is a creature who could scatter their world
B. To the judgments of God
1. God will judge and there is an end – He has no need to hurry
C. To the Christian believer
1. To us, the Lord is long in coming; to Him just two days(Revelation 3:11, 6:10-11)
2. Victory at the end all the greater, redemption all the more glorious(Zechariah 14:5, Jude 14, Exodus 15:1, Revelation 15:3, 22:20)