Hastening the Return of Christ? (2 Peter 3:12)


As a pastor, one of the joys I have is studying God’s Word when I prepare to teach and preach and discovering things I have never seen before in passages I have previously read and even studied. One of the bummers, though, is that sometimes I am not able to explore these insights in the sermon or lesson for the sake of time or focus. However, writing this blog allows me the opportunity to share some of the work that ended up on the “cutting room floor” of sermon preparation. Last week, there was something incredibly interesting that I was unable to explore in my message on 2 Peter 3:8-13 – the meaning and significance of the word “hasten” in 3:12. Peter exhorts believers to “live lives of godliness and holiness” (3:11) by “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (3:12, ESV). The English word “hasten” can refer to doing something quickly or causing something to happen more quickly. Does this mean that Peter is telling us that we can live in such a way that will speed up the “day of God,” which in this context is a reference to the return of Christ? Let’s explore the meaning of the word and then its significance of this interesting phrase and concept.

Is “Hastening” the Best Way to Understand the Greek Word?
Since the New Testament was written in Greek as opposed to English, it is important to make sure that we focus on what the Greek word/phrase means that lies behind the English translation, as the English word may have different nuances than the Greek word. While you might think you need to understand the Greek language to do some of that digging, a comparison of English translations can a very useful way to discover if there are some different ways to understand the word and seek to bring it into the English language (another good idea is to look at the footnotes in English translation that might give alternative translations). The use of the word “hasten” here is not something peculiar to the English Standard Version (ESV), as “hastening” also appears in translations that reflect a variety of theological backgrounds and approaches to the translation task, such as the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), New American Bible (NAB), New American Standard (NASB), New English Translation (NET), New King James Version (NKJV) (the King James Version [KJV] uses ‘hasting’), and New Revised Standard (NRSV). The slightly different wording in the New International Version (NIV) – “speed its coming” (which the CSB has an alternative reading in the footnote) – and the New Living Translation (NLT) – “hurrying it along” seems to convey the same thought but in less formal wording. Some alternative translations appear in footnotes, as the NIV notes it could be “wait eagerly” and the NRSV “earnestly desiring.” Thus, it seems that there is fairly wide agreement that “hasten” is a good way to render the Greek word, though there are other possibilities. 

The Greek word (speudō) has a range that largely parallels the English word “hasten” in that it can refer to someone being in a hurry (or greatly eagering) to do something or to cause something to happen more quickly. One factor in determining which it means is whether there is an object connected to it; if there is no object, then one is “in a hurry” and if there is an object, then one is “hurrying” for this to happen (that is, seeking to make it happen more quickly). Another factor in determining its meaning is whether or not it is linked to another verb as a way to indicate how it is being done, as it could say something like “let’s hurry to do ________” or “they did this, hurrying.” In 2 Peter 3:12, there is an object (“the coming of the day of God”) and, while the word is linked with a verb (“waiting for”), it is parallel to this verb (joined with “and”) rather than modifying it as an infinitive phrase (to hurry) or participate (“by hurrying”). This explains why most translations render it “hasten.” However, there is a slight possibility it could refer to desiring or eagerly waiting for Christ’s return. I suspect the draw of these alternative translations may be more theological than grammatical, as the phrase “hasten the coming of the day of God” makes it sound as if our actions would then speed up the date of the return of Christ. So now we should ask if that is what Peter is saying with these words.

How Do We “Hasten” the Return of Christ?
The context for this call to “hasten” the coming of the day of God is Peter’s refutation of false teachers who were calling into question whether Jesus will indeed return (3:4-5). Peter reminds that Christ will return like a thief (3:10) and that the passing of many years before Christ’s return does not stem from a slowness or hesitancy in God in keeping His promise, but rather from His patience in calling people to repentance (3:8-9). There is thus a connection between people coming to repentance and the return of Christ; it would seem that his return would happen at the time when all those who will come to repentance have done so. Thus, what “hastening the day” seems to look like practically here is repenting and inviting others to come to repentance. 

Such an idea actually has a connection to Matthew 24-25, the section in which Jesus introduces the interesting idea that he will come like a thief (Matthew 24:43) which Peter echoes here. In Matthew 24:14, we see that before the end comes, the gospel will have been proclaimed throughout all the world. While many people look to wars, earthquakes, false prophets, persecution, and signs in the sky as things that will happen before Christ’s return, they overlook this element of Jesus’s teaching about the end. Interestingly, this element is the only one that would seem to happen directly through the agency of the church, as Christians must proclaim the gospel to the world before Jesus can return. Rather than sitting back and waiting for the other signs, there seems to be an indirect call for action to bring this element to reality.

Therefore, I don’t think we should look at the word “hastening” as meaning that we can cause God to hurry up and bring the end faster than He planned, but rather as a reminder that we play a special role in God’s plan and that our actions really matter. In some ways, this whole discussion connects back to the old question of whether prayer makes any sort of difference. If we believe that God is sovereign, does it matter if we pray? If God has a plan, then how can we say that prayer makes any difference? God has a plan for Christ’s return that is unknown (and unknowable) to us, yet He invites us to participate in how this unfolds by bringing His people to repentance; His plan works through our actions in this world. 

It’s common for Christians to pray “come Lord Jesus” and in the great hymn “It is Well” we ask for Christ to return when we say “Lord, haste the day, when my faith shall be sight/The clouds be rolled back as a scroll /The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,” but are we doing more than just praying and singing – are we participating in the things God says will happen before His return? We are called to wait for the Lord’s return – to remember it and eagerly anticipate it – and to move God’s purposes forward through believing and sharing our faith until the day He returns. So, let’s hasten to hasten the day of Christ’s return!

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