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2 Peter and the Delay of the Parousia

One of the most difficult issues for Christian students to come to terms with is the imminent expectation of Jesus’s “coming” (parousia) in glory in the New Testament. For instance, 2 Peter 3:10 repeats the saying about Jesus’s sudden return like a “thief in the night” that is multiply attested all over the tradition (1 Thessalonians 5:2; Luke 12:39-40/Matthew 24:43; Thomas logion 21). Indeed, in what may be our earliest text, Paul has to reassure the Thessalonian Christ-followers that those who died in their congregation before the expected return of Christ were not lost forever but would be raised to life when the Lord descends from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). However, 2 Peter is likely written in the second or third generation when much time had passed and “scoffers” doubted that Christ would return to usher in the new eschatological age since nothing had changed since the creation of the world and the death of the “fathers” or patriarchs in Genesis. 2 Peter 3:1-15a holds the hope that the Lord will return to bring judgment, just as he did long ago in the flood, but that a thousand years is but a day from the divine point of view and that any delay allows humans time to repent. Thus, within the canon of Christian Scripture, there are texts that expect that the “second coming” of Jesus will be near and other texts that acknowledge that it could be far off. Both views can be held in tension: the anticipation of eschatological judgment and salvation may motivate holy living and provide a hopeful vision of a future for all creation, while the acknowledgement that these things only occur on God’s timing “ought” to prevent Christians from being misled by “signs” or apocalyptic calendars about the end times.

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