“And this one thing let not be unobserved by you, beloved, that one day with the Lord [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day;” (2 Pet. 3:8, YLT)
This verse has been taken out of context and has been used to express the belief in a timing mechanism for God’s prophesies. It is misused as the basis for many guessing games for those who try to set a date for the end of time. It has been used to sell a lot of books on end-time prognostications.
But we should remember that God used several numbers for counting time. Seven days were a “week”. Seventh day (sabbath) was for man’s rest and refreshment. A “week” of years was seven years with the seventh as a sabbath year of rest for the land. A jubilee was the year after the seventh “seven” of years (49 years, Lev. 25:8-9). There were seven days of cleansing and purification (Lev. 14:51, 15:13-28; Num. 19:11-12, etc.) (Note 1)
God commanded seven weeks to the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost – Deu. 16:9). He commanded seven days for Feast of Unleavened Bread (Deu. 16:3-4), and seven days for the Feast of Tabernacles (Deu. 16:13). The seventy “weeks” of Daniel 9:24 were seventy “weeks” of years as determined by the context of Jeremiah’s prophesy of the Babylonian captivity. (Note 2)
God used the the number 40 for testing, maturing and probation. It rained 40 days and nights in the flood (Gen. 7:4ff). Moses was on Mt. Sinai 40 days and 40 nights (Ex. 24:18; 34:28) The Israelite wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, every year for a day that the men spied out the land of Canaan (Num. 14:34). David reigned for forty years (1 KIngs 2:11). Jonah warned Nineveh that God gave them 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4). Jesus was tempted for forty days, and fasted forty days and nights (Matt. 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2.) Forty years is considered a generation of man.
There are other numbers God used for the timing of feast days, and months. But, He mostly used “thousands” for counting: ie, shekels, talents, gold and silver, the number of men, horses and oxen, sheep, and chariots. It was used to measure lengths in reeds and cubits.
However, the number “a thousand” (1,000) was never used by itself for actual time. By itself, the number 1,000 is symbolic of completeness, and fullness, for perfection. It is a multiple of 10, a perfect number raised to the third power. (Note 3)
“10 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” (Deu. 5:10, KJV)
“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;” (Deu. 7:9, KJV)
“10 For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” (Psa. 50:10, KJV)
“ For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Psa. 84:10, kJV)
“Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;” (1 Chron. 16:15, KJV)
The comparison of a thousand years to a day was not a system of counting or measuring time. When we consider the context of this verse within Peter’s message, it simply meant that God was going to bring His judgment at the right time.
The people of the first century were asking the apostles, “when,”? They wanted to know when that “last day” was coming. Peter was answering the charge from vs. 4.
“ and saying, `Where is the promise of his presence? for since the fathers did fall asleep, all things so remain from the beginning of the creation;’” (2 Pet. 3:4, YLT)
People are naturally impatient. We want what we want now. Even as we grow older, and more mature, it is still very hard to learn to be patient and to wait on the Lord.
14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” (Psa. 27:14, KJV)
Peter had reminded them in chapter 2 of some of the other “days of the Lord,” or times of judgment when God’s presence came upon the people “suddenly” in the days of Noah’s flood, and the time of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. His presence or judgment of the wicked comes when He is ready – not on our time table. God waited until He knew there was no more hope for anyone else coming to Him.
“9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9, KJV)
The very next verse explained the meaning of “a day is as a thousand years”. Peter said that God is not SLOW (slack) as men count time. He waits until the proper time, when He knows it is best for all those that love Him (Rom. 8:28). His time table takes into consideration all those that love Him, and all those that are about to repent and turn to Him.
The word “AS” indicates the metaphor. The metaphor indicated the quality of time. It did not mean that God does not count a thousand days as nothing. Days matter to God. He does not stop counting the days. God remembered every year that the Jews had not observed the sabbath year of rest (Lev. 25:1-7; 26:42-44; Jer. 25:5-11; 29:10) . (Notes 4, 5)
“20 And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia:
21 To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.” (2 Chr. 36:20-21)
Quality, not quantity of time is the issue in 2 Peter 3.
“4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Psa. 90:4, KJV)
When we were children time seemed to pass very slowly because we were constantly waiting for something to happen, or waiting to be older so that we could do all the wonderful things our parents could do. As we get older, time seems to move faster. We never have enough of it to do everything we want to accomplish.
And as we grow very old, time moves so fast that our youth seems as yesterday.
“…and a thousand years as one day.”
We think that time moves slowly when we are in trouble, or enduring hardship. We ask “when”, “when will this end? When will this be over?” That is the question Peter was answering for those of the first century AD when this book was written – approx. 64-66 AD.
They were enduring great hardship, and much persecution under the tyranny from the Sanhedrin, and the Romans. They knew of the promise of Christ’s return to destroy the temple (Matt. ch. 24-25), and of His promised second appearance in that generation (Heb. 9:28). They were daily being accosted by scoffers (vs. 3) who were challenging what the apostles had told them, who were saying that all things continue the same (vs. 4).
It is very hard to keep on believing when people around you are constantly telling you that you are wrong. So, Peter was reassuring them that even though time in their perspective, as they measured it might seem to be moving slowly, that God was not slow to judge the wicked. His judgment was coming to them at the right time, the appointed time. (Note 6)
God’s judgments were always at God’s appointed times.
“5 And the Lord appointed a set time, saying, To morrow the Lord shall do this thing in the land.” (Ex. 9:5, KJV)
“15 So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.” (2 Sam. 24:15, KJV)
“19 And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be.” (Dan. 8:19, KJV)
“27 And both of these kings’ hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper: for yet the end shall be at the time appointed.“ (Dan. 11:27, KJV)
“3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Hab. 2:3, KJV)
John the baptizer came to them at the right time, on the Father’s time schedule during the first century AD to tell the people to prepare.
“3 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Matt. 3:1-3, KJV)
Christ told the people in the first century AD that all the law and the prophets were until John (Matt. 11:13), meaning that the time for the fulfillment of the prophesies had come to that generation, the same generation when John appeared to them.
The words “a thousand” are a metaphor God used in His prophesy for His perfectly completed and appointed time.
“And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years [the appointed time], 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years [the appointed time] should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. … and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years [the appointed time]. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years [the appointed time] were finished. This is the first resurrection. … but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years [the appointed time]. 7 And when the thousand years [the appointed time] are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, (Rev. 20:2-7, KJV)
The above prophetic time statements were not a literal “one thousand” years (Note 7)
In summary, Peter’s message spoke of God’s judgment coming at His discretion, on His timetable whenever He considers the moment to be perfect, whether that took one thousand years, one thousand days, or just one day.
1) List of Sevens in the Bible – Sevens In The Bible
2) See the posts “Seventy Weeks of Daniel chap. 9” and “Daniel and The End Times” at the right margin.
3) The combination number of days in Dan 8:14 (2300 days), Dan. 12:11 (1290 days), Dan. 12:12 (1335 days), and Rev. 11:3; 12:6 (1260 days) are literal days.
4) See Ancient Hebrew Calendar at 5Loaves2fishes
5) See The Atonement Clock by Christian Gedge on youtube here
6) See the post “The Signs of Revelation – Part I: The Time of His Coming” at the right margin.
7) See the post “The Thousand Year Reign of Revelation 20…” for more on the prophesy of these “thousand” years.