"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." (II Peter 3: 3-4)
Who are these "scoffers"? When exactly do they arrive on the scene of history? At what precisely are they scoffing?
To "scoff" means to deride, make fun of, to mock, scorn, and ridicule.
"In the last days" may be rendered "in the last of the days" and this seems to me to be the meaning of the apostle. Dr. John Gill said:
"...when some time before that (Christ's return), it will be a remarkable age for scoffers and scorners; and we have lived to see an innumerable company of them, and these predictions fulfilled; from whence it may be concluded, that the coming of Christ is at hand." (Commentary)
It is not that scoffers will first come into being, for scoffers have existed since the beginning of the world. But, it is that the world will swell in numbers with them. Further, it is not a general scoffing at God and his word that is the focus of the apostle, but a focus upon the promise of Christ's return.
What gives rise to this mass scoffing is the character and behavior of the scoffers, who will be found "walking after their own lusts." The skepticism of the scoffers arises from their depravity and unbelief. They are doubters and deniers. Further, the long lapse of time since the promise was first made of Christ's second coming is a reason for the unbelief and rejection of the genuineness and certainty of the promise. Their unbelief shows itself in their lack of patience. They are short on patience, which is the result of their being short on faith.
Contrary to the thinking of some, the second coming of Christ was not viewed as imminent by Jesus and the apostles. The Thessalonians believed it was imminent in their day and the Apostle Paul wrote to correct them. (II Thess. 2: 1-2) In the parable of the talents, Jesus said:
"After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them." (Matt. 25: 19)
That "long time" has now been almost two thousand years. That "long time" is that period of time between the first and second advents of Christ, what we call "the church age." Further, Jesus said these words in his famous Olivet Discourse which concerns his second coming.
"But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 24: 48-51)
Why does "that evil servant" say "my lord delays his coming"? Is it not for the same reason as the scoffers of Peter's prophecy? Is it not because so much time has come and gone since the promise was made? Peter obviously did not believe the second coming was imminent in his day as his prophecy shows. His prophecy indicates that much time would elapse between the giving of the promise and its fulfillment. Other reasons also show this to be so and I refer the reader to our articles on imminency in this blog's link titled "second coming."
In the above prophecy of Christ, like that of Peter, further evidence is given as to the depraved condition of the world and of the professed followers of Christ. It shows that the scoffers will be among professing Christians as well as among those in the world and outside of the Christian community. Jesus gives us a picture of infighting among his professed followers and how the Christian community will be composed of both "good and faithful servants" and "evil servants," the latter apparently outnumbering the former.
Also, the lack of faith and patience for the return of Jesus leads the evil servants to lapse into sin and worldliness, where they "eat and drink with the drunken." Though the conversion experience is a "coming out from among" the world, and being "separate" (II Cor. 6: 17) from it, many of the professed followers of Jesus will, in the extreme last days, rather join themselves with the world. Jesus says that to such false Christians Christ will "come in a day when he looks not for him" and "in an hour that he is not aware of," just as he will upon all unbelievers and upon the wicked world in general. Long ago Solomon wrote:
“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
Having rejected the idea of Christ's coming again, these scoffers also reject any idea of a salvation and kingdom of God coming from Christ, and thus they look elsewhere for salvation for themselves and for the world. This will no doubt cause them ultimately to accept a false Christ and savior, the one named in Scripture as "the little horn," and "the man of sin" (or lawless one), and "the son of perdition," and "the beast" and "the antichrist."
The scoffers of the last days become anti Christian, a prelude to that intense persecution of Christians that will characterize the reign of antichrist. Before the mass killing of Christians there will be first a growing animosity towards them, and this is what accompanies the career of the scoffers mentioned by the Apostle Peter. As we look at the world today, Christians are increasingly maligned and ridiculed. It is at the point where Christians will be not only villified for their beliefs, but imprisoned for them. They are even now, in Christian America, being mocked for their opposition to abortion and homosexuality.
As mentioned, the latter day scoffers, both in the church and in the world, having cast off believing in the promise of Christ's return, and of a day of judgment, and a coming kingdom of God, turn to another object of faith and hope. This new faith, as stated, will culminate in placing faith in antichrist. But, Peter also mentions something of the philosophy that will take the place of Christian theology. It is summed up in the argumentation they give for rejecting Christ's second coming - "for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."
This philosophy has been called "uniformitarianism." According to the dictionary, "it is the concept that the earth's surface was shaped in the past by gradual processes, such as erosion, and by small sudden changes, such as earthquakes, of the type acting today rather than by the sudden divine acts, such as the flood survived by Noah (Genesis 6-8), demanded by the doctrine of catastrophism."
But, it is not only a scientific idea related to geology, but applied to all areas of "science," including the social sciences, such as history and sociology. It is a kind of godless determinism. The scoffers of the last day will be believers in a secular scientism, or what Paul said was a "science falsely so called." (I Tim. 6: 20) Indeed it will exist side by side with a growing polytheism of sorts, as was shown in previous postings about the end time being one in which belief in demons will be widespread. Perhaps the masses of the end times have incorporated belief in demons, in gods and goddesses, by substituting the word "aliens" for "gods." It is just what the Apostle Paul warned about when he said "And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (II Tim. 4: 4)