The Bible is filled with dramatic farewell speeches. From the last words of Moses in Deuteronomy 33 and Joshua in Joshua 24 to the parting admonitions of Paul in Second Timothy and Jesus in John 13-17, the genre of the farewell address (sometimes called a “testament”) is found throughout Scripture. In each of these cases, a great leader raised up by God wanted to exhort those he had been leading to remain faithful after his departure from this life. The second epistle of Peter is another example of such a testament. As we look at 2 Peter 1:12-21, we will learn why Peter had such an urgent need to write this letter, and why he had such great confidence in the prophetic word.
Peter’s Urgency (2 Peter 1:12-15)
In the previous section of this letter Peter had reminded his readers of the virtues to which God has called His people, and the great promise of a glorious entrance into God’s eternal kingdom (1:3-11). These truths were well known to his readers (1:12), yet he felt compelled to send them a reminder. In verses 13-14 we learn why: “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (English Standard Version).
Peter was motivated to write because he knew the time of his death was imminent. Death is inevitable for all of us, which is why Peter describes the body as a temporary dwelling, a point captured better by the more literal American Standard Version – the body is a “tabernacle.” The apostle Paul used similar language in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. But in Peter’s case, the specific time of his death has drawn near. Jesus had revealed to Peter the circumstances of his death in John 21:18-19. Peter now recognizes that the time of his “departure” (Greek: exodos) has come, and because of this, he intends to “make every effort” to impress these truths on the minds of his readers (1:15).
There is one other factor we should mention that undoubtedly heightened Peter’s sense of earnestness. In 2:1 Peter warns that “there will be false teachers among you.” The precise content of their false teaching is unclear, although it seems that among other things they denied the second coming of Christ (3:1-17). Knowing that he is about to die, and that there is an imminent threat on the horizon, Peter wants to do all that he can to imprint the truths of the gospel on his readers.
Peter’s references to the “tabernacle” of his body and to his impending “exodus” bring to mind a special scene in the life of Peter – the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Remember that Peter suggested building “tabernacles” for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Mark 9:5) – and that the topic of discussion that day was Jesus’ own “departure” (exodos) according to Luke 9:31. Now, in 1:16-18, Peter’s thoughts turn to that amazing revelation of Jesus.
Peter’s Testimony (2 Peter 1:16-18)
As Peter reflects on the transfiguration, his focus is on what he saw and what he heard. First, concerning what he saw, Peter writes: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (1:16). And what a majestic scene it was! The gospels say that the face of Jesus “shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2), and that his clothing “became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29), “as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3). It was a scene reminiscent of the great theophanies of the Old Testament, such as the Lord’s appearance to Moses in Exodus 34.
Second, concerning what he heard, Peter writes: “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” (1:17-18). Peter, James, and John heard the very voice of God, and what they heard was a declaration about the identity of Jesus grounded in two very important Old Testament passages. They heard God declare that Jesus was His “Son,” drawing from Psalm 2:7 where the Davidic king is crowned with that title as God’s anointed one. And they also heard God say He was “well pleased” with Jesus, echoing the sentiments expressed by the Lord about His special servant in Isaiah 42:1.
So what Peter and his friends saw and heard that eventful day was a spectacular revelation of the majesty of the glorified Messiah, the one who is the ultimate King and ultimate Servant. Peter’s message that he so urgently wanted to inscribe on the minds of his readers was not a fairy tale. It was grounded in his own profound eyewitness experience, shared by two other witnesses, and therefore expressed the deepest conviction of his heart.
In the context of Jesus’ life, the transfiguration served as the key turning point before he made his way to Jerusalem to be executed. The demonstration of Jesus’ majesty and power – explicitly made in connection with his impending death (see Luke 9:31 again) – served as a powerful testimony that Jesus’ mission was not going to end in defeat and humiliation. Indeed, as many commentators have observed, the transfiguration was sort of a “preview of coming attractions,” pointing ahead to the great and final day of the Lord when Jesus’ power and glory will be revealed. And it is to that event that Peter turns in 1:19-21.
Peter’s Admonition (2 Peter 1:19-21)
Since the transfiguration anticipates the second coming, Peter now admonishes his readers “to pay attention” to the prophetic word regarding Christ’s return, when “the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (1:19b). The first part of this verse is difficult to translate. Does Peter mean that the “prophetic word” is even more sure than his experience of the transfiguration (as the 2007 edition of the ESV suggests – “we have something more sure”)? Or does he mean instead that “because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets” (NLT)? At a minimum, Peter’s point is that the prophetic word about the second coming – what he later calls “the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (3:2) – that word is “an altogether reliable thing” (NET).
And the reason it is reliable is because it is ultimately the word of God. The messages of the prophets were not simply their own best interpretation of world affairs (1:20). Instead, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1:21). Just as a ship is involved in sailing but is empowered by the wind (Acts 27:15), the men who wrote the Scriptures were involved in its production but were empowered by the Holy Spirit. And since the word is therefore God’s word and not simply man’s, it deserves the keen attention Peter exhorts his readers to give it.
Even though centuries have passed since Peter wrote these final words, the truthfulness of his message has not changed. It is still rooted in the eyewitness experience of Peter and the other apostles. And perhaps because so much time has elapsed, and because we may be prone to wonder about the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to return, we need the same reminder that this prophetic word will come true because it is God’s word.
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
‘Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith’” (Habakkuk 2:3-4).