“8But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a THOUSAND years, and a THOUSAND years as one day.” (2 Pet 3:8).
The Judgment of the Lord:
2 Peter 3:8 does not say one day “IS” a thousand years, but says “as or like” a thousand years. You cannot take all the clear imminent timing verses throughout the New Testament (NT) and attempt to make them all meaningless and try to use this verse to sweep all of them away. No, the issue Peter was dealing with here, and one of the main reasons He wrote His letter, was that the time when he wrote was nearly 35 years after the cross, and nearing the end of the “generation” Jesus spoke to and had promised about His coming (Matt. 16:27-28, 23:31-36, 24:34, Heb. 10:37), and there were scoffers saying “where is his coming?” In other words, they knew Jesus’ promises, and the expectancy of the believers (as we also see written throughout the NT), and they were saying it had been a long time and were scoffing and saying that the Lord was not going to do the things He had promised His 1st century audience.
The Language of a “Thousand Years”
In 2 Peter 3:8, Peter described this “uncertain period of duration” as like a day for God. In other words, what appears to be very long and uncertain in duration to man, is just like a day for God. Nowhere is there a specific reference to an exact, literal, one thousand years being described by the writers of either Peter or John, or any other New Testament author anywhere.
In addition to the grammatical problems a person might face when trying to apply a proper, literal, exact interpretation to the word “chilioi,” the idea of a “thousand” in the symbolic literature of the Old and New Testament is quite prevalent. In Leviticus 26:8 the number thousand is used to signify a “great number” while not being strictly literal. In Deut. 1:11 it says that God shall make him a “thousand times” greater than he is. Does this mean God will not make him a thousand and one times greater? No. The language is figurative of “a lot” or “much” greater.
In (Read) Deuteronomy 7:8-9 God says that He is faithful to Israel even to “a thousand generations.” Does that mean that God isn’t faithful to a thousand and one generations? No. This is figurative for “all of them.” In (Read) Deuteronomy 33:2, it says that the Lord came with “ten thousands” holy ones. Does this mean that God came with literally ten thousands holy ones? No. It means that He came with “all of His people.” In (Read) Judges 15:16, it says that Sampson killed a “thousand” men with a single jaw bone of a donkey. Did he really kill exactly 1,000 men? No. We may never know exactly how many men Samson killed with the jawbone of a donkey. This is figurative of the “many” people that Samson killed, however many it actually was, it was “a lot.” Many people use the same sort of typological language. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve told you a thousand times,” when it was really only a few times?
In (Read) 1 Chronicles 16:14-16, it says that God’s Covenant would continue for a “thousand generations” forever! Is this an exact figure? No. It means “for all of them,” or that His Covenant would continue for as long as it was in force, to the fullest of its time, without end. In (Read) Job 9:3, it says that a person could not contend and answer God once in a “thousand” times. Does this mean that on the one thousand and first time he could? No. This is figurative for “every time.” (Read) Psalm 50:10 says that the cattle on a “thousand” hills are His. Does this mean that the cattle on the thousand and first hill is not His? No. It means that they are “all” His! (Read) Psalm 84:10 says that a day in Your courts are better than a “thousand” elsewhere. Does this mean that a thousand and one days elsewhere is better than to be with the Lord? No. It means that a single day with the Lord is better than “all days” without Him.
As you can see, the language used here is quite figurative for “all,” or “complete,” or “the fullness thereof” (regardless of whether it is actually speaking of many, or literally tens,
hundreds, thousands, or millions).
A Day as a Thousand Years
In 2 Peter 3:8-10 Peter says the following (with my own comments in brackets):
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day [when it is past, cf. Psalms 90:4] is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day [when it is past]. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief [in the night], and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:8-10)
Two critical elements of this passage must be seen. First, when Peter draws from the analogy of the thousand years as a day, he is clearly quoting from and alluding to (Read) Psalm 90:4. Peter didn’t just make this idea up. And so, when we see that this “day” is a direct allusion to a “watch in the night” we MUST see the connection between the use of “night and day” language with that of the “thousand years” and also the “watch in the night.” (Also see the direct allusion in the topic heading “Thief in the Night” related to the thousand years). For Peter, the time that is being spoken about is the time in which they were being mocked by the scoffers because the coming of the Lord “seemed” to be taking a very long time.
The scoffers, both in Peter’s epistles and in Jude 18, were mocking the Christians because Christ had promised them that the destruction of the Temple and the end of the Jewish Age would occur in that generation (cf. Matthew 23-24). But Peter reassures them that for God a “thousand years” in God’s eyes is like a very short period of time (i.e. – as a watch in the night,
or the time from sunset to dawn or sunrise).
Since there is no doubt that the New Testament writers, including Christ Himself, used this analogy and drew from this idea to express the time of the “night” and the “coming day,” it is very likely that Peter is also doing the same thing here, and is simply attempting to “ease their minds” because what “seems” long to those Christians who are suffering and being persecuted at the hands of their enemies, is actually going to come to pass exactly as Christ had promised.
The strength of this argument becomes even stronger when we see Peter also reference the idea of the Lord coming “like a thief’ in the very same passage. What other Scriptures draw on this analogy or idea, and how do they apply it? Job 24:14, Matthew 24:43, and 1 Thess. 5:2 all specifically use the idea of the thief coming and they each describe this event as one which happens “during the night” when those who are not ready will be taken by surprise.
Therefore, in one chapter, and in only three verses, Peter describes the “day far gone,” the “thief in the night,” and also alluded to the “thousand year” language from Psalm 90:4, which to any observant reader would recall the readers’ mind to the same idea that Christ would come at the “end of the night.” What did Peter, Paul, James and John say about the night in which they lived? It was ready to pass, and was growing old, and day was approaching soon! (1 Pet. 4:7; Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:29, 31; Jam. 5:7-9; 1 John 2:8, 18).
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 10 Study on 2 Peter 3 vs. 1-13”]