Is the Second Coming a Myth?
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Peter 1:16-18
(read vv. 16–21)
I’m sure we have all heard the statement, “Ideas have consequences.” It’s a valuable reminder, because sometimes we get frustrated with complicated philosophical discussions. They are hard to understand, and they seem irrelevant to real life. So, people gripe, “Get your head out of the clouds and just tell me what to do.”
It sounds good, but ideas really do have consequences. Both human history and church history have proven over and over that all those heavy philosophical discussions that may seem irrelevant in the moment eventually trickle down into real life and create very real consequences.
For example, last week I started reading a book that asks how did we get to this point in the sexual revolution, where people are not only boldly living in rebellion against God’s design, but they are pushing to radically alter the foundations of the entire society so that their lifestyles are not merely tolerated but celebrated by all? How did sexual liberty become a higher priority than religious liberty in one generation?
The author, Carl Trueman, points out that it all started decades or centuries ago with eggheads like Descartes, Marx, and Freud that most people have never read. But “Ideas have consequences,” and their ideas have slowly trickled down to the common man and have radically altered the fabric of our society.
And our text for today illustrates how this can happen in the church. Some false teachers introduced an idea to Peter’s audience. The idea was that Jesus is not going to return to earth in order to judge and establish his kingdom. And this idea yielded dreadful consequences for everyone involved. Peter realized that he couldn’t just attack the consequence; he had to destroy the idea itself.
Therefore, in vv. 16–21 Peter attacks this heresy on two fronts. First, vv. 16–18 argue that the Transfiguration of Jesus proves that he will come again. Second, vv. 19–21 argue that the OT prophets prove that Jesus will come again. Today, we’ll focus on vv. 16–18, where Peter recounts his own experience on the Mt. of Transfiguration and considers its significance for us. Let’s begin in v. 16, where Peter makes his basic assertion. Namely…
I. The Assertion (v. 16): Jesus is coming again.
If you aren’t careful, you may assume that Peter is simply discussing Christ’s 1st coming as recorded in the Gospels. But Peter gives a couple of clear indications that the 2nd coming is his primary concern. First, the Greek word translated coming is parousia. Throughout the NT it is essentially a technical term for the 2nd coming, so Peter’s readers would have immediately recognized that Peter is referring to the 2nd
As well, the rest of the letter is clear that controversy over the 2nd coming was a major issue for the readers (3:3–4). So, in light of what follows in 2 Peter 2–3, we know that Peter’s focus in 1:16–21 is to defend the doctrine of the 2nd In light of that, notice in v. 16 what the opponents were claiming.
The Accusation: The second coming is a fable intended to control people. Notice the denial with which Peter begins, “For we did not…” So, the false teachers claimed that the apostles invented the doctrine of the 2nd coming and pushed it on others using “cunningly devised fables.”
The Greek Word for fables is muthos. Of course, mythology played a huge role in ancient Greek culture. 2,000 years later, we are still fascinated with the stories of Greek mythology. And what’s significant for us is that everyone knew that these stories were just myths. But the Greeks believed that they still communicated important truths, regardless of their historical accuracy.
In the last 150 years, a lot of people have made similar claims about the Bible. For example Rudolph Bultmann worked to “demythologize” the historical Jesus. He assumed that the Gospels are mostly fanciful stories like those about Zeus and Hercules. But that’s okay, because the NT still possesses great moral value. Sadly, this idea has had grave consequences for the church. How should we respond to it? Peter’s going to help us in this passage.
But sadly, it seems that the false teachers were not merely saying that the 2nd coming was a helpful myth; rather, they claimed it was a “cunningly devised fable.” In other words, they accused the apostles of inventing the doctrine for devious reasons—to gain notoriety or more likely to control people and to push Christian morality on them.
They probably claimed that Peter guilted people into obeying vv. 5–7, by scaring them with a doctrine of coming judgment. It was all about control and power. But the false teachers claimed that they knew better.
They claimed that there is no 2nd coming; therefore, they were free to pursue vile ungodliness without any fear of judgment (2:12–14). Again, ideas have consequences. You can almost see the steam rolling off Peter’s head as he writes those verses. Therefore, in 1:16, Peter responds by asserting in the strongest terms that…
The Response: Jesus is coming again. Peter denies that he and the other apostles had followed, “cunningly devised fables when we…” On the contrary, Jesus will come the 2nd time in power. We just sang several songs about how Jesus came the first time in humility. He was born to a lowly woman, and he was laid in a humble manger, where shepherds worshipped him.
But when he comes the 2nd time, he will come in power and glory (Matt 24:27–31). It’s incredible to imagine how the persecuted believers of the Tribulation will feel when they see Jesus descending to the earth in glory. It will be amazing sight to behold.
And Peter understood that this doctrine is not just the stuff of prophecy buffs and theologians. No, it radically shapes how I live today. For example, if there is no 2nd coming, why should I diligently obey the commands in 2 Peter 1:1–11? If there is no 2nd coming, 1 Corinthians 15:32 says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
But if Jesus is coming to judge sin and reward righteousness, then suddenly 2 Peter 1:1–11 and every other ethical challenge in Scripture becomes vitally important. Everything hangs on the reality of the 2nd Therefore, Peter is determined to defend it. And that’s what he does in the remainder of the passage. Notice the proof Peter offers.
II. The Proof: The Transfiguration proves that Jesus is coming again and that he is worth every sacrifice today.
In vv. 16b–18 Peter shares his own memories of seeing Christ’s glory on the Mt. of Transfiguration. It’s such a significant event that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record it. But unfortunately, we often miss the full significance of the transfiguration. We think it was just a really cool display of Jesus, but when you look at the 3 Gospel accounts, it’s clear that the Transfiguration communicated far more.
Matthew 16:24–17:8: I’d like to begin reading in 16:24, because it provides important context, and it’s worth noting that Mark and Luke include the same context, so they are all trying to say the same thing (read). Verses 24–26 record one of Jesus’ most famous statements on the cost and reward of discipleship. Jesus demands everything, but why should we give it?
He answers in v. 27. Jesus is worth every sacrifice, because he is coming again to judge the world and to reward his disciples. So, yes, Jesus demands a lot, but when we see him, we will not regret any sacrifice.
But sometimes the return of Christ can seem so far away, so distant. Therefore, how do we know he will come again? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all follow Jesus’ demands with the promise of v. 28. Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to see the kingdom before death. He’s going to prove what is coming. Since all three Gospels follow with the story of the Transfiguration, it’s clear that they all saw it as the fulfillment of v. 28.
Then v. 1 says that 6 days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain, and suddenly, Jesus revealed his glory to them. Verse 2 says, “He was transfigured…” The disciples saw that Jesus was no mere man. They saw his glory as it will be revealed when he comes to establish his kingdom. It had to be a stunning, overwhelming experience.
But Peter was never one to miss an opportunity to say something awkward, so he suggests that they build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. That was the wrong thing to say, but it prompts an important confirmation of what was happening (v. 5). Imagine what it was like for Peter to see and hear all of this. It’s the kind of experience that burns into your memory forever.
And in our text, Peter reflects on what he saw and heard, and most importantly, on what it all meant. He says in v. 16, “We…were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Considering the fact that he turns around in v. 17 and uses a similar word to describe the “Excellent Glory” of the Father, the clear point of v. 16 is to say that Peter saw the divine glory of Jesus. He saw that he is God.
And in v. 18, he again emphasizes the fact that these things really happened, “We heard…” Contrary to what Bultmann and others would say, Peter was not conveying a myth. And the fact that it really happened mattered. The significance of the Transfiguration is directly tied to its historical authenticity. It’s only significant, because it happened. So, what’s that significance? First…
God declared his purpose to give the kingdom to Jesus. Notice that v. 17 focuses on the voice of the “Excellent Glory” of “God the Father” himself. But what is particularly important is that this voice served to give “honor and glory” to Jesus. Specifically, God declared, “This is My…” On one level, God was correcting Peter and declaring that Jesus is far more significant than Moses or Elijah.
But when you consider the Kingdom significance of the Transfiguration and the loaded language that the Father uses, it’s clear that more is at stake. First, the title “Son” is very significant in OT prophecy. Specifically, Psalm 2 looks forward to the day when Messiah will destroy evil and establish the Kingdom. And notice what it says about how God will respond to the rebellion of men (Psalm 2:4–9). God says that the Son will crush the rebellion and receive “the nations for Your inheritance.”
So, at the Mt. of Transfiguration, when the Father declared Jesus to be his Son, every knowledgeable Jew would have known that he is declaring that Jesus is the one through whom he will judge the world and establish the kingdom. And Peter is saying that I heard God the Father say this. I heard Yahweh say that Jesus is coming again to establish the kingdom.
It’s also worth noting that the phrase “well-pleased” is also loaded with prophetic significance. Isaiah 42 is an important prophecy regarding Messiah, and notice how it begins in v. 1. The second line is particularly significant. Again, any knowledgeable Jew would have seen that on the Mt. of Transfiguration God declared that Jesus is the Messiah, “in whom My soul delights.” He is the one who will “bring forth justice to the Gentiles.”
Now, I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate all of these details until I began studying this week, but when you look at the Transfiguration in context and Peter’s explanation from a Jewish perspective, it’s clear what God was saying and what significance Peter is communicating.
First, Peter explicitly states that these things really happened. They are not “cunningly devised fables.” And second, they are proof positive that Jesus is coming again to judge the world and establish his kingdom.
Yes, sometimes the 2nd coming can seem like a distant dream. We look at the evil around us in the world, and we feel the tug of our flesh, and that glorious return seems almost too good to be true. And Peter will address that delay in chapter 3, but here he says very clearly that it will happen.
Yes, the world is evil. I was amazed this week to reflect on the description of rebellion in Psalm 2:1–3. The nations are definitely raging against God, aren’t they? But v. 4 says, “He who sits…” Jesus is coming! He will judge the wicked. He will fix all that is broken. He will reward his people.
And all of this has massive implications for how I approach life today. Ideas have consequences. Peter doesn’t say it explicitly in our text, but he clearly implies that a second implication of the Transfiguration is that…
The fact that Jesus is coming to judge means that I must serve him today. All the truth that we studied in vv. 1–11 matters because Jesus really did come to earth, he really was the perfect God-man, he really did die on the cross and rise again, he really did provide “exceedingly great and precious promises” by which “you may be partakers of the divine nature.” And he really will come to judge the world and, as v. 11 says, provide his people with an “abundant” “entrance” “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, I must “diligently add to my faith” and I must “be even more diligent to make my call and election sure.” It all matters, because Jesus is coming again. So, I’d like to pull everything together with 3 applications.
Hold fast to the historical authenticity of Scripture. I hope this goes without saying, but we face increasing pressure in our culture to compromise the edges of the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy. And our kids will feel this pressure times 10. And Satan would love for you to believe that inspiration and inerrancy are inconsequential doctrines for eggheads and that it doesn’t really matter all that much that the events of Scripture really happened.
But the apostles didn’t believe that. They go to great pains in the NT to emphasize and to offer evidence that the events they recorded actually happened. They did so, because they understood that Christianity stands or falls on whether or not Jesus is the God-man, died a substitutionary death, and rose again. They wanted us to be confident in their record. They also knew that once you open the door to historical errors, it’s as if you put a fatal crack in the dam that is sure to break.
So, I want to be clear that the Bible is trustworthy. If you have doubts, I’d love to have a conversation about how we know that the Bible is an accurate record of actual events. Therefore, holdfast to the Scriptures and to the events they describe. This Christmas, don’t let anyone tell you that the Christmas story is a cute fable. It is a true and marvelous miracle.
Hope for the soon return of Christ. It’s hard to overstate how important hope is to a healthy Christian faith. No matter what Joel Osteen likes to say, Christianity does not teach that Jesus offers, “Your Best Life Now.” Rather, God says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable” (1 Cor 15:19).
The only way you will maintain a right perspective on both the pleasures and the darkness of this world is if you see them in comparison to eternity. You’ve got to see that vision we read earlier in Matthew of Jesus coming in glory. You’ve got to believe that he is going to fix everything that is wrong in the world. Sin and the curse will not continue forever. And you’ve got to believe that Jesus will reward every sacrifice and godly pursuit. It will be worth it all!
So, every day of your life, keep your eyes looking up. The Rapture could happen today! Be excited. Be ready. And let that vision shape your perspective on everything in this world.
Prepare for the soon return of Christ. The Bible is clear that after Jesus returns, every one of us will stand before the Lord and give an account of our lives. Are you ready to do that?
Do you know that you will not be condemned to hell and that Jesus will welcome you into heaven? Understand that you can never do enough good works to pass that judgment. The only way you will be allowed into the Kingdom is if you have put your faith in Christ alone for salvation. If you have never done that, please repent of your sin today and receive Jesus. The stakes couldn’t be higher, so do not leave today without having that settled.
If you are saved, you can be thankful that you are secure from God’s wrath, but Jesus is clear that you will still give an account of your life. Therefore, don’t get lazy about obeying vv. 5–11. No, diligently add to your faith every day. Serve Christ, spread the gospel, and make disciples. And know that as you do, you can look forward to someday standing before your Savior and hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt 25:23). Jesus is coming, so, live in light of his soon return.