Q: #418. What does (2 Peter 3:8) mean, "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day?"
A: First, we need to understand the context of that verse. One of the primary purposes of the book of Second Peter was to warn its readers (2 Pet 3:1)(1 Pet 1:1) about false teachers. One of the things they were teaching was that Jesus would not return to judge the world as had been prophesied numerous times in the Old Testament (i.e. Isa 2:10-21, Isa 13:6-22, Joel ch 1 & 2), and that people believed was going to happen very soon. Peter is addressing this is (2 Pet 3:1-13). When we get to (2 Pet 3:8-9), he is explaining why Jesus has not yet returned, saying:
“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (9) The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Looking at verse 9, we can see why Jesus has not returned. In His mercy, He is waiting for more people to be saved. He is being “patient.” (We also see the importance of “repentance” in salvation.)
Peter uses the words in verse 8 to link the “patience” of God to time. Jesus (God) has always existed. He has no beginning, and no ending. He sees the past, present, and future all at the same time. He is not bound by time (as humans are). From this eternal perspective, one thousand years are no different than one day.
Of course, for us who are bound by time, God’s timetable often seems to be too slow. Is there any Christian who has not at least once (or more) waited and waited for God to respond to some situation in our lives, and become impatient that He has not done so on the timetable we expect? God’s timetable rarely matches ours. We can find examples of this in the Bible too.
For example, God first promised Abraham that he would have a descendant (with his wife Sarah) in (Gen 12:1-4) when he was 75 years old. However, when God didn’t respond in Abraham’s timetable, he took matters into his own hands (after 10 years) and had a child with his wife’s concubine (Gen 16:1-4, 15-16). God didn’t fulfill His original promise until Abraham was 100 years old (Gen 21:1-7)! God chose young David to be king (1 Sam 16:11-13), but he had to wait app. 13 years to become the king of Judah (2 Sam ch.2), and another 5 years or so to become the king of Israel (2 Sam 5:3-4) when he was 30 years old. God told Noah to build a ark because He would destroy all of the Earth in a flood (Gen ch.6), but Noah had to wait app. 120 years for it to happen.
This is the case in verses 8-9. Because Jesus had not yet returned in the time Peter wrote this (and still hasn’t), the false teachers (“scoffers”) were teaching that He never would. However, Jesus WILL return just as the Bible promises. It will be sudden, when we do not expect it (1 Th 5:2-4)(Lk 12:39-40)(Zeph 1:14). EVERYTHING is done in God’s timing, not our own (Jn 7:6)(1 Pet 5:6-7)(Hab 2:2-3)(Ps 37:7), and His timing is ALWAYS perfect.
Thus, in short, this phrase which Peter used (he may have been quoting Ps 90:4) is speaking of God’s patience. (I have read [i.e. Gill] that this was also a common Jewish phrase in Bible times.)
***Note: A few other explanations are also proposed for the meaning of (2 Pet 3:8) (i.e. it may be referring in some way to the millennial [1000 yr] reign of Christ), but I do not see this as likely.