The Time on God’s Clock
June 23rd, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
THE TIME ON GOD’S CLOCK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 3:8
6-23-74 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, we welcome you to the services of the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Time On God’s Clock. It is an exposition of a passage in the third chapter of 2 Peter:
There shall come in the last days scoffers…
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…
But, beloved, be not without knowledge of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years is 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 perish, but that all should come to repentance.
[2 Peter 3:3-9]
And our text: “Be not without knowledge 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]. In my reading and studying, preparing for this message, I came across many interpretations and presentations of this text. It’s a very famous one, and one that is oft spoken of: “A thousand years is a day, and a day as a thousand years” [2 Peter 3:8]. For example, there is a marvelously famous preacher of this generation, this century. He’s now dead, died recently, but I suppose one of the greatest preachers of all time.
He delivered a sermon on this text and he spiritualized it, which is all right. He found in it for him, hidden, esoteric meanings that belong to our experience. He spiritualizes it; that is, he does not look upon it literally. He takes it out of its context and spiritualizes it.
Well, this was his spiritualization: he said that this referred to the fact that in our human experience, we’ll go along, and go along, and go along—the sameness of a thing year, after year, after year, after year—and then suddenly, there will be a great crisis in our life. And in that one moment, that one experience, all of life thereafter is changed. Then you could apply that to nations—and he did. A nation will go along in the sameness of the years, and the years, and the years, and the years, unchanged. Then suddenly, there will be a great crisis and the whole world for that people changes. A thousand years and then, a day “as a thousand years.” Just go along, go along, go along, a thousand years, no change, just one day; then a thousand years, “a day as a thousand years,” a great moment of catastrophic confrontation and change.
If he lived today, he’d illustrate it, I imagine, like this: about a week ago, there was a man who appeared before the Senate Committee on Armed Services. He was from the Pentagon, and he was pointing out to that committee that Russia is building such nuclear capacity as to be able to annihilate the United States in one moment, in one surprise attack. Now that would illustrate what this preacher was talking about: the country, go along, and go along, and go along, “a thousand years as a day,” just the same—then suddenly “a day is a thousand years,” in that one catastrophic, nuclear attack, the whole nation would be wiped out. Well, I don’t have any objection to that spiritualization, that’s fine. That’s fine preaching and a fine message. Our lives are like that; we just go along and then, suddenly, something happens, and it’s never the same again for us.
Well, there’s another way that I run across where men take it, and this to me is rather bizarre and unusual. There are men, interpreters, who take the passage and they use it to set a date for the coming of the Lord, “a thousand years as a day.” For example, one of them took this passage over here in Hosea. In the sixth chapter of Hosea, the prophet says: “Come, let us return to the Lord…He will heal us; He has smitten us, He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight” [Hosea 6:1-2].
Now, the resurrection is the coming of Jesus. So it says here, “After two days He will revive us: in the third day He will raise us up” [Hosea 6:2]. So if a thousand years is as a day, a thousand years, it’ll soon be two thousand years—two days—since Jesus is gone. And in the third day, after 2000 AD, He will come back, “and we shall live in His sight.” Now, that’s interesting; I would not have any objection to that except I don’t think it’s true. But that’s all right, it’s interesting.
Here is another way that a man will take the text, “A thousand years is a day,” and he’s going to set the time of the coming of the Lord. “Thus the heavens,” this is the second chapter of Genesis:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made…
And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made.
So there are six days of God’s creation, and then the seventh day is the Sabbath day of rest. Now they take that and place with it the fourth chapter of Hebrews. In the fourth chapter of Hebrews it’ll say: “For God spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise: And the Lord did rest the seventh day from all His works…There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” [Hebrews 4:4, 9].
So what they do is this: they take this text that “a thousand years is as a day” [2 Peter 3:8], and, after six days come the sabbatical rest [Genesis 2:2-3]. So after six days—six thousand years—will come the next chiliad, the next millennium, the seventh one, and that will be the final rest for the people of God; the coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. Now that’s what this man interprets it to mean. Well, that’s all right; the only thing is, it seems kind of strange to me that a man could persuade himself that in 4000 BC, God made the heavens and the earth. I don’t believe anything that even approaches that. I think this earth is—the Lord only knows. And He only knows how old it is: “In the beginning God created…” [Genesis 1:1] and to say that’s 4000 BC is unusual. But anyway that’s what this interpreter does: 4000 BC and then 2000 AD, and at the end of the 2000 AD, the 6000 years, the sixth day. Then on the seventh day, beginning in 2000 AD, the Lord is going to come and the kingdom will be established in the earth.
Well, those things are interesting, and so much—now, I just use those as illustrations—so much of the preaching and writing concerning the Word of God is like that, it’s one or the other. It’s taking it out of the text, out of the context, out of the meaning of the inspired apostle, and doing something else with it, just whatever might appeal at the moment to the imagination of the preacher. Practically all exposition, and practically all preaching, is like that, the preacher eisegetes; he reads into the text what he wants it to say. And he says from the text what just appeals to his mind at the moment.
It is a far better way, an infinitely better way, to expound the Word of God exegetically. That is: what does God say? What is the apostle talking about? What caused him to say it? What is the meaning of what he says, and what does it mean to us? What is God saying? Not what the preacher thinks, or the expositor thinks, or the interpreter thinks, but what does God say?
Now, let’s take the text like that. What is it that Peter was talking about when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write these words: “It is not to be hidden away from us”—lanthanō, to be hidden; “Let it not be hidden from us this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day” [2 Peter 3:8].
There are two things that he’s writing about. One: he’s writing about these scoffers who say, “Where is the promise of His coming? Why, this world has gone on as it has from the beginning of the creation, and it is no different now than when our fathers fell asleep” [2 Peter 3:3-4]. So he’s saying to the scoffers, “a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day with God” [2 Peter 3:8]. God may delay His coming, but God’s clock is not like ours. That’s the first thing he’s talking about.
The second thing that he’s talking about here in the text is: he’s trying to encourage us to cling to the faith and not give it up. The Lord is coming, though He tarries! And our clock may go fast, but God’s clock may not be like ours, and His time may not be congruent with ours. And we’re not to be helpless and hopeless in our waiting for the great consummation of the age; the Lord is coming! [Philippians 4:5].
Let me give you an illustration of that in the Bible. When Paul and Silas preached at Thessalonica, the capital of the ancient province of Macedonia, they preached to them the coming of the Lord [Acts 17:2-3]. Then as you know, persecution drove Paul and Silas out, and they went down to Athens, and then to Corinth [Acts 17:16, 18:1]. Well, while they were gone, some of the beloved saints in Thessalonica died. So they sent to Paul at Athens, and later they sent to him at Corinth; and they said to him: “We are looking for the Lord. We are expecting the return of Jesus. But He hasn’t come [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. And, while He delays His coming, some of our beloved have died; some of God’s saints have fallen into the hands of death. What of them? Will they share in the kingdom, or is it over for them? Have they missed it because the Lord hasn’t come, and they have died?”
In answer to that question, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 4:13 from Athens [1 Thessalonians 3:1], and 2 Thessalonians from Corinth [2 Thessalonians 2:1-12]. You remember what he said: “The dead in Christ shall rise first, and we, who are alive and remain”—shall be raptured—”shall be caught up with our Lord with them in the air” [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
Remember that? Now that is this identical thing: we are to be comforted and strengthened in our waiting for the delayed return of our Lord; for, says the apostle, God’s clock is different from our clock. For on God’s clock a thousand years is as a day, and a day is as a thousand years [2 Peter 3:8].
For you see, there’s no time with God. Time is the creation in which we are in prison, but not God! There’s no time with God! To us, if a thing is near, it would be five minutes from now or an hour from now—that would be near. And to us, if a thing is a thousand years from now, it’s far off; we’ll be dead and in our graves. It’s a long way off, but not to God! To God, there is no near or no far; it’s all just here, it is present.
He said, “My name is I Am” [Exodus 3:14]. Not, “I was,” as though there was change, or development in God; and He isn’t what He used to be, “I was.” And He didn’t say, “My name is I shall be,” that is, there are other things that are in the life of God, that are yet to be reached for. No! He says, “My name is I Am.” I am, in the past; I am, in the present; I am, in the future—He is always just the same. And all time is present with God. He looks at the beginning, He looks at the end, and He looks at it all the way through; it’s all present with the Lord. All history is like that with God. To us things happen one at a time, a day at a time, but not before God. He looks upon all of it in the present—everything that happens, and all the story of humankind—the Lord looks at it all the time, from beginning to the end.
One time, I went down the Illinois River in the Cookson Hills of eastern Oklahoma, one of the most beautiful streams in the world; flows clear over rock. I went down with one of my deacons in the church at Muskogee in a canoe. And as we went down the Illinois River in that canoe, we went around this bend, and this bend, and this bend. And as we went down the river, why, we saw things happen one at a time as we came to them, as the river went down through the hills.
But one could stand on top of one of those highest little mountains in the Cookson Hills, and he could see that stream—here, clear to there—and he could see us, going down the stream in our little canoe. Now God is like that. To us, things happen one at a time, day at a time. And we don’t know what is around the bend of the day. But God’s not like that: God sees the whole thing from the beginning to the end. All of it is present to Him. He sees everything as though it is now: The Fall is here; the redemption is here; the fall of Israel is here; the rise of Israel is there. The whole thing, all of history, is present with God. There is no such thing as time. He sees it all—always!
There’s something about that that brings great sobriety to our hearts. For you see what we do wrong, God sees forever; there it is. In the penitential psalm, fifty-first Psalm verse 3, the psalmist, David said, “For my sin is ever before me” [Psalm 51:3]. Oh, what a tragic thing! “For my sin is ever before me,” there it is all of our lives, here to there, and God sees it. It’s always present with Him.
Do you remember in the forty-ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis? [Genesis 49:1-28]. Israel, Jacob, has his twelve sons around him, and one of those is to receive the blessing. He is to be appointed the progenitor of the great and coming Messiah. Who should it be? The firstborn, it should be Reuben! [Genesis 49:3].
Actually, because of these things, it was Judah. He was born in the tribe of Judah. Judah received the blessing [Genesis 49:8-12], but it should have been Reuben [Genesis 49:3]. Well, why not Reuben? Jacob turned to Reuben, his firstborn son, and spoke to him first and said, “Thou art my firstborn, the excellency of my strength, Reuben. But, Reuben, thou shalt not prevail. Unstable as water art thou” [Genesis 49:3-4]. And he pointed out an incestuous sin that Reuben had committed forty years before [Genesis 35:22].
Why, I would think that Reuben had thought that that had been forgotten. The nights and the nights had covered it; time had buried it out of sight. But when the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis comes and Israel is dying, and he calls those twelve patriarchs to prophesy to them what should happen, and what should happen to their tribes, and which one should receive the blessing—which one should be the progenitor of the Messiah, he turned to Reuben and said, “Reuben, Reuben, remember forty years before? That incestuous sin before God?” That’s why a man needs to cry for the blood of Christ to wash him clean [Revelation 1:5]—to hide, to cover from God’s sight, our sin.
All of us are imprisoned in time, but not God. We are held incarcerated by time, and we cannot escape it. Not God! Not Him! Here is a man who is writhing in pain, racked with pain; he’s sick and he suffers. And he cries, “Oh, God, for the evening!” And then when the evening comes, “Oh, God, for the morning!” And then when the morning comes, he cries for the evening again. The hours pass, and he’s in pain. He can’t hasten it—the coming of the clock. He’s caught in it; and time is slow, slow, slow in his agony.
Here is a man who is happy; he is infinitely happy. And as the swinging of the pendulum for the man in pain cuts him like a sword, so the ticking of the clock for the man that is happy is like the sounding of a wedding bell, and he wishes time would stop, “Oh, stop, stop! I’m so happy; I want this to go on forever!” Doesn’t make any difference whether it’s the man in pain and the pendulum cuts him like a sword and he wants time to hasten, or whether it is ticking like a clock and it sounds like a wedding bell and he wants time to stop. It doesn’t matter; it goes on just the same. He cannot hasten it in one instance and he cannot slow it or stop it in the other instance.
We are imprisoned in time; we are caught in it. Not God! Not God, He is absolutely above and unaffected by time. For example, in the Book of Joshua, Joshua said: “O God, that sun standing over Gibeon, stop it, stand still. And that moon that is shining over the Valley of Aijalon, stop its motion around the sun, stop it!” And for the first time in history the Bible says God heard the prayer of a man concerning time, and God stopped the sun over Gibeon and it stood still. And God stopped the moon over Aijalon and it did not move [Joshua 10:12-14]. It’s the same to God, He is not imprisoned by time; He is outside of time.
Or take again, in the story of Hezekiah sick unto death, and God said he is going to die [2 Kings 20:1]. And then, because of his tears and his prayers, God sent Isaiah back to him and said, “I have heard your prayers and I have seen your tears; I am going to give you fifteen years to live” [2 Kings 20:3-6]. And Hezekiah said: “What will be the sign that God will heal me and give me fifteen more years?” [2 Kings 20:8]. And Isaiah gave the hardest decision that a man could choose—hard for us. He said to him, “Well, tell me, tell me? God give you a sign: the shadow on the dial of Ahaz, the sundial of Ahaz, the shadow as a sign from God that God is going to heal you and give you fifteen years, would you like that shadow to go forward ten degrees or back ten degrees? [2 Kings 20:9]. Would you like the sun to go down ten degrees, or go back where it came from ten degrees?” Doesn’t matter to God either way, for time is no imprisonment of God. He is not caught in it, He is Lord of it, He is Ruler over it! “What do you want?” says [Isaiah]. And Hezekiah thought for a minute and then he replied, “You know, for the shadow to go forward ten degrees would be the way it’s going. Let’s have God take the sun and send it back ten degrees, bring the shadow back ten degrees” [2 Kings 20:10]. So the prophet Isaiah took that to the Lord God, and the Lord God caused the shadow on the sun dial of Ahaz to go back ten degrees [2 Kings 20:11]. That’s God! We’re caught in time, but not God; He is free, above it. He is mighty, above it—He is the Lord God, and He lives above time.
Our text says, “Let this not be hidden,” lanthanō, “let this not be hidden from you.” Some people willfully hide their faces from the truth of God. And some of us do it in neglect. “No!” says the apostle, “Let it not be hidden from you, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” [2 Peter 3:8].
Now hastily, because our time’s soon gone, what does that say to the scoffer? The scoffer: “There shall come scoffers saying, Where is the promise of His coming? “Where is God? Ha, ha, ha!” “God, where is God? Ha ha, ha!” Where is the promise of His coming? [2 Peter 3:3-4]. I don’t see any heavens rolled back like a scroll. And I don’t see any Lord Jesus Christ coming down from above. I don’t see any of that. All I see is the world—the universe in which we live—and I don’t see any God in it! And I don’t see any Christ coming in it.” Scoffers, who laugh and scorn the Christian faith, and the Christian promise. They live in this world, and they laugh at the idea of a great, mighty Lord who is its history, and its destiny, and its consummation, and who is coming again. They scoff at it.
You know what I think of people like that? I think of those little infusorial animalcules that thrive in a little drop of water—a stagnant water. When you went to school, did you take a microscope and look, in your biology class? Did you look at all of those little amoebas and all of those little paramecia that were just swimming around by the thousands and thousands in that little drop of water? Did you ever do that in school? Oh, that’s one of the most interesting things you ever saw in your life! Those little, old creatures down there; those little unicellular protozoans right down there, you know, in that drop of water.
And, as I look at them, you know, all the little creatures down there, I can just imagine one of them. He’s bigger than the others and he struts and, oh! he’s so proud of himself! And he’s smarter than the others, and he’s very conscious of it. I can just imagine one of them; and he’s a philosopher, and he says: “Oh, all of you infusorial protozoans, listen to me.” He says: “Did you know? Did you know that there is a creature? There is a creature that could take this drop of water and just scatter it? Did you know that? Did you know there is a creature that could take ten thousand of our worlds, these drops of water, and just scatter them everywhere? Did you know that?”
“Why,” they say, “that’s impossible! That’s unimaginable! I don’t see any creature like that down here in this little world of our drop of water. I don’t see anyone like that—that can do that. That’s fantastic! That’s idiotic! That’s inane! That’s unintelligible! That’s unacademic!”
And then they just say all kinds of things, you know. I can imagine one of them saying, “Did you know, if we were to take an army of ten million amoebas on this side and go to war with ten million paramecia on that side, why, we could just shake the whole earth?” The philosopher would say, “Did you know there’s somebody that could just crush all those armies just like that, just like that?” I can just imagine that, I can just imagine that.
You know, all of this vastness and time? They’re just ciphers in God’s sight; just add to it, take away from it as you want to. Put a million ciphers this way, take off a million ciphers that way; it doesn’t make any difference. They’re just drops of water in the vast ocean of God’s infinitude. They’re just a leaf falling in the vast infinite forest of God’s being. It’s just a grain of sand in the whole innumerable, immeasurable, uncountable, innumerable seashore of God’s existence; the whole thing, all of this—time and creation and everything.
When I was a youngster, when I was a teenager, there was a very famous novelist by the name of Sinclair Lewis and there was a very gifted and famous syndicated columnist named Arthur Brisbane. He had a column called “Today.” And in so many of the newspapers of America, it was in the left-hand side. And there was a president of the Santa Fe Railroad named [W.B.] Story. Well upon a day, Sinclair Lewis stood up in a pulpit in Kansas City. And he was making fun of the idea of God, and he said, “If there be a God, I challenge Him, I dare Him to come and strike me dead here in this pulpit.” And when Sinclair Lewis said that, the whole world of infidelity clapped. “Ho-ho-ho-ho—smart! Man, did you ever hear anything like that?” said the whole world. They headlined it in the newspapers, and they wrote of it in editorials. “Sinclair Lewis, the great author and novelist, he scoffs at the idea of God. And he dares God to come and strike him dead, if there is such a God.”
Oh, I remember that so well! I also remember what Arthur Brisbane wrote about it. Arthur Brisbane was a very devout Catholic and here’s what he wrote in that “Today’s” column that I read as a boy. He said, “You know Sinclair Lewis, standing in that pulpit in Kansas City, dared God to strike him dead—if there be a God. He said, “You know, that reminds me of, say,” he said, “a little ant, a little ant, a little tiny ant in the deserts of Arizona.” And right through the middle of Arizona, the great Santa Fe railroad runs. “That little ant gets up on top of one of those big, steel-iron rails and he lifts up his hand and he says, “I am told that there is the head of this railroad by the name of [W.B.] Storey. I don’t believe it! And if there is a [W.B.] Storey who runs this railroad, I dare him to come out here in Arizona and strike me dead, step on my head!” And Arthur Brisbane said, “[W.B.] Storey would say, ‘It’s just not worth my time.’” He said that about Sinclair Lewis. Why should the great Almighty of the whole vast universe, the sovereign God of time, and tide, and eternity, take time out to go out to go down there and mash in Sinclair Lewis’ head?
That’s what Simon Peter is talking about [2 Peter 3:8]. Our little world, and our little clocks, and our little time pieces, how we watch them! Not God, not God—oh! to God a thousand, thousand years is as nothing. He may delay, to us. He is right on time, to Him. His judgments may tarry; Ecclesiastes says because the judgment of God does not fall immediately, “evil men wax worse and worse” [Ecclesiastes 8:11]. It may tarry but it will come. To a snail a mile is a long way; to a stag and a hound it is shorter; to a big diesel locomotive it’s shorter; to a jet engine it’s still shorter; and to ether waves it may be non-existent. To us, it may seem long; not to God. It’s tomorrow, it’s now. I have to close.
Why does God delay at all? Why didn’t God smash the world? Why doesn’t God stamp out evil? Why doesn’t God tear up these that are terrible, they’re violent, they’re criminal? Why doesn’t God do something about those who plan war? Why doesn’t God come? He says He is waiting, that we might be saved [2 Peter 3:9]; He is hoping that somebody you will turn.
And He is praying—Jesus is, our great Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5]—that you might open your heart and accept His great salvation [Hebrews 7:25]. And one thing it does for us, after the passing of the years and the years, the choral “Hallelujah!” will be sweeter, and the triumph will be greater, and we shall rest in that fair and happy land by and by, just across on the ever-green shore. Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb [Revelation 15:3] by and by, and dwell with Jesus evermore [John 14:2-3].
He is coming, He is on His way! It may seem long to us, there’s no time with God; He is here. He is present, and He brings with Him infinite goodness, and grace, and blessing for those who look in faith, in love, in acceptance to Him [John 10:10].
My friend in Christ, look to Him now, accept Him now, trust Him now, open your heart to Him now [Romans 10:8-13]. The blessing is present, it comes. The blessing is forever; it never fades, or perishes, or passes away.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of invitation, and while we sing it, you; in the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, coming to the Lord and to us; a family, a couple, or just you, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment, when we stand up to sing, stand up answering with your life; do it! [Ephesians 2:8]. Make it now; while we stand and while we sing.
ON GOD’S CLOCK
ways to interpret text
– in our experience, sameness year after year, then sudden crisis after which
all of life thereafter is changed
– 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)
exegetically – what is the purpose, meaning of the passage
The words written for a two-fold purpose
meet the arguments of scoffers (2 Peter 3:4)
comfort, strengthen believers
to Paul about their beloved dead; his response (1
II. Time with God
All time is equally present with God(Isaiah
All history is equally present with God
Going down stream in Illinois River
God sees events in history all together(Psalm
51:3, Genesis :3-4)
All time is equally obedient to God
We are rigidly held by the hours
God is unaffected by time(Joshua 10:12-13,
Isaiah 38:8, 2 Kings 20:1-11)
III. The meaning of this
the scoffer, who mocks the promises of God, the very existence of God
are like microscopic creatures living in a drop of water, unaware there is a
creature who could scatter their world
Sinclair Lewis, Arthur Brisbane, Charles Storey
the judgments of God
He delays judgment, evil men wax worse (Ecclesiastes
will judge and there is an end – He has no need to hurry
To the Christian believer
giving time for repentance – hoping we might be saved
at the end all the greater, redemption all the more glorious