The Eternal Kingdom of Jesus
The apostle Peter has one main purpose in this letter — one big, main purpose. And it’s that you and me, his readers, would enter into the eternal kingdom of Jesus. That is what he wants. He wants us to be with Jesus when Jesus comes back for his church at the end of history — because Jesus really is coming back, and when he does, everything in the world will be put right. And I know that sounds like a fairy tale, but that’s basically Peter’s letter.
That’s what he’s saying in these three chapters, and my plan today is to show you that in Chapter 1, and then we’re going to look at Chapters 2 and 3 in next two weeks. And so you know where we’re headed, Peter ends this letter in Chapter 3 by defending the fact that Jesus really does have a future eternal kingdom, and that he’s really coming back. And Peter also helps us think about why it’s taking Jesus so long — because it’s been a couple thousand years and we’re still here, and bad things still happen. People still get shot by other people, and it happens in places we’ll never hear about. We live in a broken, confused world.
So this book is relevant for us. It speaks into our situation right now, and that starts in chapter 1. Let me read verses 3–11.
2 Peter 1:3–11,
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So that is the theme: the eternal kingdom of Jesus, and there are two important parts of this kingdom that Peter tells us about here.
He tells us, first, about our connection to Jesus’s eternal kingdom. Then he tells us, secondly, about the reliability of Jesus’s eternal kingdom. And those two parts, simply, are the sermon today. That’s the sermon, with a few other points thrown in. So let’s look at the first part.
1. Our Connection to Jesus’s Eternal Kingdom (vv. 3–11)
This first point is really answering a question. If Jesus has an eternal kingdom (which he does), if he’s coming back to do this thing (which he is), how are we connected to it? That’s a good question, right? How are we connected to the eternal kingdom of Jesus?
Peter’s answer is pretty straightforward. We get connected to the kingdom because of what Jesus has done, and we display our connection to the kingdom by how we live. Look at verse 3 again:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.
So we’re going to do here is really dig in and try to break this thing down, and then I’ll put it back together with a paraphrase. First, the divine pronouns in this verse are referring to Jesus. The divine power of Jesus has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness — which means that everything we need to live a godly life in this world is provided for us. We have it. And we have it “through the knowledge of Jesus.”
Because of Jesus
By “knowledge of Jesus” Peter is talking about a saving relationship with Jesus. It’s a shorthand way to describe the saving relationship that believers, Christians, experience by faith. So everything Christians need to live a godly life is given to us through our saving relationship with Jesus — and this Jesus, by the way, is the one who called us by “his own glory and excellence.”
By saying this at the end of verse 3, I think Peter means to emphasis the role of Jesus in our saving relationship. This saving relationship that Christians have with Jesus is because of Jesus. Jesus is the one who called us to himself. And this really stands out, both in this passage, and in light how we might commonly think. Peter wants his readers to know that their relationship with Jesus did not happen because of some kind of personal discovery. They didn’t scratch and claw and pry their way into this thing. Jesus called them. Jesus invited them.
And that goes so much against the grain of our society’s values. And these are values in America that stretch across generations. So track with me for a second. The older generation in America is sort of characterized by the “John Wayne factor.” The value is being self-made — it’s working hard by doing your job and taking responsibility. The newer generation in America is sort of characterized by the “creative start-up factor.” The value is being first — it’s working hard by having the best idea and taking risks. And both of these generations have one thing in common — it’s about what you do. It’s about your work. And this is a value deep in the fabric of America.
There was a guy back in the 1930s named Leon Sampson, and he called this Americanism. All right, so let me give you a quick historical side-note that I think is interesting (?), from some stuff I’ve been reading. This guy wrote a book back in 1933 about why certain ideologies that exist in other parts of the world would not make it in America, and he said it’s because, basically, Americans already have an ideology that runs the country. And he called it Americanism, or we might call it the promises of liberal democracy, and its message is that we are supposed to have what we need to build our own thing and therefore we don’t take handouts. We don’t like handouts. In fact, handouts start to sound un-American. And this gets complicated, and there’s a lot more to it, but my point is that deep in the fabric of America is the idea that if something is worth having, it’s worth working for. And that’s fine and good. I think that’s great. That’s the way America works, but . . . that’s not the way Jesus works.
The way you get into a saving relationship with Jesus is by his free invitation. You can’t work for it. You can’t earn it. He just tells you to come. You get into a saving relationship with Jesus because he hands you a free invitation.
And he does it that way because he can.
When Peter mentions in verse 3 Jesus’s “own glory and excellence” he’s showing us the significance of Jesus. It’s a little unclear whether it should be “to” his own glory or “by” his own glory. It could be either one, but I agree with the commentators who think it is “by his own glory.” Because Peter is saying that Jesus calls us by virtue of himself. He has that kind of authority.
So verse 3 can be paraphrased like this:
The divine power of Jesus has provided us with everything we need to live a godly life here, and it’s provided to us through our saving relationship with Jesus, who himself has called us by his own glory.
His Precious and Very Great Promises
Okay, so that’s my summary of verse 3. Now let’s see how it adds up with verse 4. Look at verse 4 again:
4 by which he [Jesus] has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
And it’s here that I think Peter begins to envision the future. He says it’s by Jesus’s own glory that he grants us “his precious and very great promises” — and we have to ask what those promises are? What are the promises that Peter is talking about?
And I think Peter wants to make this easy for us. It’s not hard to figure out. The word for “promise” here in verse 4 is only used twice in the entire New Testament? [It’s used here in chapter 1, verse 4, and guess the other placed where it’s used?] It’s in chapter 3, verse 13.
2 Peter 3:13,
But according to his promise [there’s the word] we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
So the promise Peter is talking about then is the future, it’s the new heavens and new earth that Jesus is going to bring at the end of history. That is the eternal kingdom of Jesus that we are promised.
And the purpose of this promise, he says in verse 4, is that we would become “partakers of the divine nature.” And again, I think he’s talking about the future. Peter is talking about the day at the end of history, when those who believe in Jesus are transformed to resemble Jesus. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 15:53, when our mortal bodies put on immortality. John talks about this in 1 John 3:2 when he says that we don’t exactly how we’ll look in the end, but we know that when Jesus appears we’ll see him — and in seeing him, we will become like him. That’s in the future.
And then another way we know Peter is talking about the future is because he says, in chapter 1, verse 4, that the partaking of the divine nature means to escape “from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Which means, partaking of the divine nature happens when we’re done with this world. The world as it is in its brokenness, on that day, it will be over. And that day is coming.
So to put it all together, verses 3 and 4, in a paraphrase. Peter says,
The divine power of Jesus has provided us with everything we need to live a godly life here, and it’s provided to us through our saving relationship with Jesus, who himself has called us by his own glory, by which [verse 4] — by Jesus’s own glory — he has given us the amazing promise of his eternal kingdom so that through his kingdom we become finally like him and done with this fallen world.
These are a rich two verses, and they tell us that we get connected to the kingdom of Jesus because of what Jesus has done.
We Display Our Connection
The rest of these verses say more. They tell us that we display our connection to the kingdom of Jesus by how we live. Peter says in verse 5 “For this reason” — or, because we have this kind of future,
make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5–7)
Now these are characteristics that Peter says Christians should have. Or we might call them “qualities.” That’s how the English Standard Version puts them. And there’s nothing strange here in what he says. These are the same kind of ethical categories that are mentioned in the letters of Paul, in letters like Romans, chapter 5, and Galatians chapter 5. These are legit, straightforward qualities that should characterize Christians.
And Peter says in verse 8 that if these qualities characterize us, and we’re growing in them, living them out, then they will keep us from being “ineffective or unfruitful” in our relationship with Jesus. In other words, if these things characterize your life it means you won’t be a spiritual dud.
Y’all know what a dud is? It’s when something doesn’t prove to be what it appears.
Last Monday on the 4th I bought some fireworks for the kids and one of the signs said they were guaranteed dud-free. Which I thought was nice, because last year we had a dud. Hannah doesn’t let me forget about it. It was pretty disappointing for her. She had picked the firework out, and she was excited to see it, but when I lit it, nothing happened. It looked like a firework. It had a fuse. But when it came down to it, it wasn’t real. It didn’t prove to be what it appeared. It was a dud. And that can happen spiritually.
Some people might claim to have a saving relationship with Jesus, and they might walk through all the Christian-motions, but then they eventually end up being duds. And the way it eventually becomes clear is by how you live. When your life has been changed by the gospel, it will eventually look like your life has been changed by the gospel. And Peter says living with these qualities — with faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly kindness, love — living out these qualities show that your life has been changed. We could call them kingdom qualities, or kingdom character. And this kingdom character displays that you are connected to the eternal kingdom of Jesus.
But we have to be clear, okay. This character does not make our connection to the kingdom. They don’t get you connected. Jesus does that. This character just shows that you are connected.
That is what Peter says in verse 10.
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these things you will never fall.
Or in other words, display your connection with the kingdom of Jesus by living out this kingdom character. Because that’s how you know, verse 11, that there “will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:11).
One of the ways we are assured that we will be in the eternal kingdom of Jesus is that we live now in a way that fits with that kingdom. Again, the way we live now doesn’t earn that kingdom. That comes by Jesus’s free invitation. And it’s his free invitation changes us. We become new people who are being fitted for a new world.
The Hinge Verses
And Peter really wants us to know this. He says that in verses 12–15. These are sort of like hinge verses in this chapter. It’s where he states the goal of this letter. He is an old man. He knows that he is going to die soon soon, and that’s way he wants to remind us about this kingdom character, or kingdom qualities. He says that three times in verses 12, 13, and 15.
And then in verse 16 is where we get to the second part of this chapter (and this sermon). First, we saw our connection to the eternal kingdom of Jesus. Jesus is coming back to establish his eternal kingdom, and Jesus has called us to be part of his kingdom, and that means that we live a certain way now. Peter wants to remind us about that.
2. The Reliability of the Jesus’s Eternal Kingdom (vv. 16–21)
And now, in verse 16, he shows us the reliability of Jesus’s eternal kingdom. In verse 16 he starts:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ….
In other words, Peter has told his readers the gospel, and he told them that Jesus was coming back, and now Peter is letting them know that he’s not some random quack who is making this stuff up. That’s my paraphrase of verse 16. Peter says Hey, I’m not some random quack who just made this stuff up. It’s all legitimate. It’s all true. And then he gives us two reasons why. First is that he saw it all unfold. He was an eyewitness.
Peter Was an Eyewitness
That’s the end of verse 16 to verse 18. He says:
… but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
So Peter saw Jesus. He rubbed shoulders with him. Traveled with him. Fished with him. Ate with him. Heard him teach. He saw him get arrested in the garden. He saw him die on the cross. And he saw the empty tomb where Jesus was laid. And he even saw and talked with Jesus for some 40 days after his resurrection, along with another 500+ people (that’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15). So Peter has been there. He has witnessed all of this.
And it’s fascinating to me that the one story he picks here to highlight his eyewitness experience is what’s called the Transfiguration. Now the Transfiguration is this event that happened one time during Jesus’s ministry. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke each talk about it. One day Jesus takes aside Peter, James, and John, and he takes them up on a mountain, and Jesus is transfigured. His clothes become radiantly white and then Elijah and Moses appear, and Jesus is talking with them. And then a cloud overshadows them and a voice comes from heaven, from God the Father, and he says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him.” And then suddenly things go back to normal, and the disciples were just blown away by this.
And Peter, now, of all the things he could highlight here about what he saw in Jesus’s life, he picks this one.
And the only reason in the world I can think of for why he mentions this now is because it must have really happened. He really saw this. Peter says I was there on the mountain. I heard the voice. With these two ears I heard the voice from from heaven. I heard what God the Father said about Jesus.
And what God said about Jesus, Peter says in verse 17, is God the Father giving Jesus honor and glory. In other words, in the Transfiguration, God vouched for who Jesus is. And that, Peter says, is one reason he knows Jesus is coming back. The eternal kingdom of Jesus is reliable because Peter heard what God the Father said about Jesus.
God said: Yeah, here he is. This is my Son. This Nazarene. This Teacher. This man who you’ve been rubbing shoulders with, who you traveled with and fished with and eaten with. This man is my Son. He is my Messiah. Listen to him.
The Old Testament Prophets
And so Peter knows for sure. Jesus is the Son of God. Peter saw it and heard it. Jesus is the Messiah — who the Old Testament prophets talked about. And that’s the second reason he gives for why the eternal kingdom of Jesus is reliable. Verse 19. Not only do we have Peter’s eyewitness account, but also, verse 19:
We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
The Old Testament prophets said all this would happen. Going all the way back to Moses, we’re told about a Prophet like Moses who will lead his people, and then going back to David, we’re told about a son of David who will be King over his people, and then going back to Isaiah, we’re told about a servant who will suffer in the place of his people. And then there are so many details, amazing details. And it’s all there. Right there in the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets said Jesus would come, and now what they said has been confirmed.
And therefore, Peter says, we need to pay attention to that. Because we know, this is verses 20 and 21, we know that those prophets didn’t make that stuff up. They said what they said because they spoke from God. God, by his Holy Spirit, told them what to say. As they were speaking and writing, God carried them along by his Spirit. So they’re legit. It’s true.
And there you have it. The eternal kingdom of Jesus is reliable because Peter heard what God the Father said about Jesus, and what the Old Testament prophets foretold about Jesus has been confirmed.
That is 2 Peter chapter 1.
About Fairy Tales
Peter wants us to be there with Jesus when Jesus comes back at the end of history. That’s when there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth and Jesus will set up his eternal kingdom, and all will be right. No more tears. No more suffering. No more pain. All will be right and Jesus will be king, and Peter wants us there, and so he reminds us to live in a way now that fits with that kingdom, and that we’re only part of that kingdom because of Jesus, and it’s all true.
And that’s the part that’s the hardest, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe it’s true because it sounds like a fairy tale. Well, what’s a fairy tale? Fairy tales are worlds where the good things we want to see happen finally do happen. J.R.R. Tolkien once explained that fairy tales don’t deny the existence of sorrow and failure, but that both are actually necessary in order to know the joy of deliverance. Tolkien writes,
It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the ‘turn’ comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art.
So fairy tales are those stories that get it. They’re stories where, in the midst of real darkness, in the end, light has the final say — and that does something to our hearts. Fred Buechner says that fairy tales are where transformations are always completed. And in this way, the eternal kingdom of Jesus sounds a lot like a fairy tale. Or maybe, actually, it’s fairy tales that sound a lot like the eternal kingdom of Jesus, because only one claims to be true. Only one has people like Peter who say, I heard what he said. I was there.
And that is what is presented to us this morning in the gospel, in the promise of Jesus’s eternal kingdom. And that’s what we remember at this Table.
As the pastors and deacons come get ready, I want to remind you that this Table is the place where together we remember our connection to the kingdom, and that our connection is given to us. That’s what this bread and cup represent. We’re reminded that the broken body and shed blood of Jesus is handed to us, and we receive it by faith. That’s what we are about to do. We are handing one another the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, and if you’re here this morning and you have embraced him by faith, if you’ve received him, we invite you to eat and drink with us.