The first letter Peter wrote was addressed to Jewish Christians of “the Dispersion [of Jews] in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Pt 1:1). There were many Jewish residents who lived in these five Roman provinces. Many of them were very faithful to Jewish nationalism. They were loyal to the Jewish cause to establish an independent state of Israel in Palestine that was free from Roman domination.
In the middle of the rising tension between Rome and Jewish nationalism, Peter wrote to those Jewish Christians who might be considering the call of the recruiting agents of Jewish nationalism who compelled all Jews to be faithful to their Jewish heritage. From the letter, however, there were those faithful Jewish brethren who refused to be recruited. The believing Jews consequently suffered from the mocking of the nationalistic recruiters.
Peter wrote his first letter between A.D. 63 and 65. He wrote the second letter between A.D. 65 and 67, just before Rome decided to terminate the Jewish nationalists efforts to establish an independent state in Palestine. In both letters he wrote to “stir up your pure minds by way of reminder” (2 Pt 3:1).
In view of the fact that he was writing to Jews at the time when the Matthew 24 prophecy of Jesus was drawing near unto fulfillment, we would certainly be just to assume that Peter dwelt on this fulfillment, since the consummation of national Israel was near. The fact that Peter wrote to Jewish Christians near the end of national Israel compels us to consider the context of 2 Peter 3 in view of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24. Peter wanted to stir the Jewish Christians’ minds to remember the things they had already been told concerning the end of Israel. This would certainly include the imminent coming of judgment that would occur in five or six years after the letter of 2 Peter was written.
We would assume that the metaphorical language of this chapter refers primarily to the destruction of national Israel in A.D. 70. Peter was writing to encourage both Jewish Christians and their unbelieving Jewish relatives and friends not to make their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover/Pentecost feast. The believing Jews could assume that they were in the last days of Israel, and thus conclude that the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24 was near. Though the believing Jews could warn their Jewish unbelieving families, we assume that their warnings were met with a great deal of mocking and scoffing.
Since Peter was one of the four disciples to whom Jesus personally delivered the prophecy of Matthew 24 (Mk 13:3), we would assume that he recognized the signs of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem. He, as well as all New Testament prophets, proclaimed the message of Matthew 24 throughout the Roman Empire. Friends and families of those who did not heed the warnings would be those Jews of the Empire who would join the resistance and make their way to Palestine. When they were slaughtered in the national calamity of A.D. 70, their friends and families back home would mourn their death (Mt 24:30).
As Jesus did in the prophecy of Matthew 24, in his first letter Peter alerted his readers of an impending end of “all things.” Peter wrote, “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Pt 4:7). When Peter made this statement, it is certain that he had in mind the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of these things (Mt 24:1,2). James also wrote to Jewish Christians, but in general “to the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad” (Js 1:1). James’ warning was the same as Peter’s: “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord [in judgment] is at hand” (Js 5:8).
Both James and Peter were forewarning Jewish Christians that there was an imminent judgment of God in the air. The end was in sight. Since the letters of the two writers were specifically written to the Jews who were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, we could also assume that they were writing to warn Jewish Christians to stay away from Palestine. He would also urge them to warn their unbelieving friends not to give in to the appeals of the nationalistic Jews.
The Holy Spirit was not deceiving these inspired writers. They were not, therefore, deceiving the Jewish Christians to whom they wrote. They did not deceive their readers into believing that the “coming” and the “end” that were at hand referred to the final coming of Jesus and the end of the world. In view of the dates the two letters were written, and the historical destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, it is difficult not to apply their warnings to the imminent termination of national Israel. The destruction was only three to five years away from the time of their writing. The sound of Roman armies was already in the air. “Rumors of wars” had already begun. The end of national Israel was “at hand.”
Interpreters who do not fully appreciate the historical setting of the epistles of Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude often miss the theme of these books. It would not be reasonable to believe that these Jewish writers who wrote to Jewish audiences three to five years before the Jewish calamity of A.D. 70, would ignore the fulfillment of Jesus’ Matthew 24 prophecy. The fulfillment was near, and thus the Holy Spirit’s purpose was to prepare the Jewish recipients for God’s demonstration in time that He was finished with Israel. He finished His special Sinai covenant with the nation at the cross when the new covenant was implemented. He finished the animal blood sacrifices when His Son poured out His own blood on the cross. Now it was time to finish Israel’s physical heritage through the genocide of A.D. 70. Only when the old was finished would the true and new Israel of God shine forth in the kingdom of the Son.
It is not reasonable to believe that Peter, who personally sat at the feet of Jesus during the Matthew 24 discourse, bypassed the imminent fulfillment of Jesus’ profound prophecy in order to focus on something that would occur over two thousand years later. It is not reasonable to believe that James, Jude or Peter, who directed their letters primarily to Jewish readers, ignored the most traumatic national calamity that would happen in the history of Israel.
With the above thoughts in mind, there is little room for dogmatism in interpreting 2 Peter 3 with reference to the end of time. We are not without valid historical proof that the primary focus of Peter in 2 Peter 3 was on the end of Israel. We must, therefore, first consider this text in the historical context of the first recipients of the letter. There are certainly end-of-time illustrations in the metaphors that Peter used. But we must keep in mind that the recipients of this letter were in the midst of great social turmoil. Nationalistic Jews throughout the Roman empire were causing no little disturbance among the Jews, as well as the Roman government. Rome simply came to the decision that enough was enough.