“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).
The context is the key to determining the correct understanding of this passage, especially the comparison of a thousand years to one day. The context of 2 Peter 3 is the return of the Lord to deliver His people. Peter tells the persecuted believers that scoffers will come and mock the idea that the Lord will return. They will say something like, “He’s been gone a long time; He’s not ever coming back” (see verse 4). As Christians are persecuted and continue to look for the Lord to deliver them, it does appear as though His coming is “delayed.”
Peter reminds the believers not to lose heart because God is working on a different timetable. For a human being, if something doesn’t happen within a matter of years, then we may miss it. God, however, is not limited by the same constraints of time because “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Time is simply not an issue with God because He has an unlimited amount of it. If the average person sees something in the store, it would make no difference whether it cost a penny or a dime, even though one is ten times more expensive than the other. If a billionaire wanted to buy a piece of property it might make no difference to him whether it cost $50,000 or $500,000 or even $5,000,000. This is the idea of the verse—both a day and a thousand years are such miniscule amounts of time to God that it really makes no difference to Him.
If a person promises to do something, there is a finite amount of time available for him to keep that promise. If an elderly father promises to buy his son a home, there is a limited amount of time available to him. As year after year passes and he does not buy the home, the son may begin to wonder if he ever will. Ultimately, if the father dies before keeping the promise and does not leave the son anything in his will, then the promise has expired. We must not look at the promises of God through the lens of human time. If God is working a plan that will take ten thousand years to unfold, it is no different to Him than if His plan took 10 days to unfold. The point of 2 Peter 3 is that, no matter how long it takes, God will keep His word—“the Lord is not slow in keeping his promises” (verse 8)—specifically, He will return one day to judge the world and rescue His people. The fact that it has not happened yet is absolutely no indication that He will not do it. As people with eternal life, Christians need to adopt an eternal perspective on time. We have all eternity before us to receive the promises of God. We need not fret if it looks like our lives may end before we get everything we have been promised. If the Lord does not come back for another 50,000 years, that is less than two months (sixty “days”), using a literal reckoning of verse 8. The main point is that, given the amount of time available to God, time is just not a concern.
Some who hold to old earth creationism use 2 Peter 3:8 to bolster their view that the “days” of Genesis 1 were not literal days but long eons of time. If “a day is like a thousand years,” the reasoning goes, then the word day in the creation narrative cannot mean a literal, twenty-four-hour day. The problem is that God is not attempting to redefine our words in 2 Peter 3:8. Peter does not say that one day is a thousand years; he says that one day is like a thousand years. In other words, he is using figurative language to make his point. The point is not that we should interpret the word day as “a thousand years” everywhere we find it in Scripture; rather, the point is that the passing of time has no bearing on God’s faithfulness to His promises. He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Besides, the day-age theory requires much more than 6,000 years in the creation “week.”
Some others also go astray in their interpretation of 2 Peter 3:8 by taking it as a literal, mathematical equation. Some who hold to young earth creationism estimate that Earth has been around about 6,000 years or, according to the mathematical equation in 2 Peter 3:8, about six “days.” Seven is the number of perfection and completion, so, the speculation goes, the whole of human history will last one week—that is, seven days (7,000 years). The millennial kingdom of 1,000 years is the seventh day of rest. Since the seventh day is still to come and will be inaugurated by the Lord’s return, and since we have already been on Earth for 6 days, then the Lord must return soon. Some go further in their calculations and set specific dates—always an exercise in folly.
While the “seven-day theory” looks attractive given our particular point in history—about 6,000 years in, or somewhere near the end of the sixth day—it goes against the spirit of the verse. The whole point of the passage is that we cannot know when the Lord will return because He is operating on a different timetable. We need to wait patiently, knowing that the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Verse 8 does not give us a cryptic equation to enable us to figure out when He will return. If that were the case, it would seem that Peter would have been able to figure it out and could simply have told the persecuted believers that the Lord would return in about 2,000 years. He didn’t do that because he didn’t know when the Lord would return. And neither do we. We need to wait as patiently for the Lord as the persecuted believers of the first century did and, as they, “live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God” (verses 11–12).