When people discuss the timing of the coming of the Lord and the coming of the kingdom of God, many Christians seem to have been taught or concluded for themselves that the terminology used to indicate the time elements involved must be understood according to "God's time reckoning", as they call it. They then define God's time reckoning with statements like, "With God one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years are one day." Then they argue that, according to God, it has been only a very short 2 days since the time of Christ's prophecies and that would certainly count as "soon" or "at hand".
Is such an approach really a valid interpretation of the Scripture? Does the Bible even say that God has a different time reckoning from man's time scale and that His timing is defined by "one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years are one day"? Or do such ideas already come from a wrong understanding of what the Bible actually says?
The statement about the "one day with the Lord is a thousand years" is usually taken from a statement made by Peter in 2Pe 3, where such words are used. Therefore, we want to carefully read that verse and its context to see what Peter was explaining and to what Peter was referring.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Yes, we read " ... one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day". However, is this what people claim? Not exactly, for Peter includes a small but very important word, "one day is ... AS a thousand years, and a thousand years AS one day". There is a difference. The real question we have to answer is, What does this statement mean? What did Peter want to say with these words? Did Peter declare that there are two methods of reckoning time, God's way of time reckoning and man's way of time reckoning? What was Peter discussing here when he used this expression?
The answer to the above questions can be derived from carefully observing the context and the overall argument Peter was making. One cannot just take some words out of context and interpret them a certain way to support a particular idea, especially when such idea otherwise appears to be contradictory, difficult, or ambiguous.
Peter is writing to believers of Israelite background who were living in areas outside Israel in areas in Asia minor (cp 1Pe 1:1), and these believers had come under attack by scoffers and critics who were making fun of and who questioned the promised return and coming of the Lord which the Christians obviously expected to happen still within their lifetime. The believers at the time were already under fire of temptation and were faced with folks who were trying their faith in Christ by advocating a return to Judaism. Like many centuries before some had advocated a return to Egypt after Israel had been led out of Egypt, so now some were advocating a return to Judaism, perhaps they were thinking that God had scattered them among the nations so that they should die there and that God had forgotten about his promises.
Peter however is encouraging them and reminding them of the faithfulness of God. What God has promised will come to pass. Peter's argument is that there is no difference whether a promise is near (one day in the future) or far (a thousand years in the future). God does keep His promise for He is faithful, and what God has said will come to pass in the time that has been promised for its fulfillment. God has never been late, nor will He be late!
The context indicates that it is not Peter's concern to explain that God views time differently than man does, or that there is no difference to God between one day and a thousand years, or that God is not bound to time, or that He calculates a thousand years for one day and visa versa ... No! Peter's point is that God is faithful and that God is not slack concerning what He has promised! And, implied in this truth is the truth that God therefore communicates time related information in terms and with the meaning which the recepients of the promise must be able to understand.
The context also indicates that the believers in the 1st century AD were expecting the coming of the Lord in their generation, exactly as Jesus and his apostles had indicated by stating that those things connected with it would be fulfilled "in this generation" and would come to pass "soon", or were "at hand". At the time when Peter wrote his epistles, the time period of "this generation" was slowly but surely nearing its final years. This makes it easily conceivable that now scoffers and doubters were showing up on the scene and with their questions posed a real danger to the faith of some. They had not voiced their doubts in the early years after the resurrection of Christ and a few decades before when most of the people of that generation were still alive. But now, as the years progressed and more and more people died, the question about the seeming delay of the promised coming of the Lord began to crop up more often and posed a temptation and threat to the faith of the believers. Also, if Peter had thought that the coming of the Lord would be thousands of years away and the statements made by Jesus about "this generation" did not mean his generation, he would surely not have reacted to the scoffers in the way he did.
Peter emphasized that God is not slack in keeping his promises, He is not late. The coming of the Lord and of the kingdom of God would come as promised in "this generation". There was still time left in this generation, and Peter also gave the reason why the coming of the Lord had not occured as of yet: It was because God was patient and merciful and was providing even for the last one the opportunity to repent. But the time would shortly have run out, because God is faithful!
The problem of many Christians today is that they have a certain idea of how the coming of the Lord is supposed to happen, be it that they have imagined these ideas themselves or else been taughta particular scenario by the many preachers who claim to understand those details about what supposedly will happen at the coming of the Lord. These pre-conceived ideas are then used as basis for interpreting other scriptures which at first seem to not harmonize well, and thus people arrive at interpretations such as mentioned above in regards to 2Pe 3 and the verse with the "one day ... thousand years" expression. Peter did not establish a formula for calculating God's time into man's time and visa versa (e.g. 1 day = 1000 years) which one could then use to interpret "soon" or "near" in connection with the coming of the Lord as really meaning "far" and "not nigh". Such an approach does not make for a correct understanding of what Peter wrote and what the NT scriptures teach concerning the coming of the Lord.
It is also interesting to note that those who propagate such an idea about God's and man's different time reckonings usually apply their self-defined "time calculation formula" only in a way which would fit their pre-conceived idea. I've heard many who would use the formula and say that the almost 2000 years since the time of Christ until now are only almost 2 days in God's sight and therefore the "soon" or "nigh" or at hand" terms do not eliminate the possibility of Christ's coming to be still in the future. But then, those same folks will not apply their own time formula and teach that the supposed 1000 year reign of Christ on earth will actually only be one day, do they? In light of this matter of "God's or man's time reckoning", I suggest that readers also consider the study "What about God telling time?".
Peter's words in 2Pe 3 actually confirm that Peter and the believers to whom he wrote believed in an imminent coming of the Lord in their generation, just as Christ himself and prophesied. Toward the beginning of and the middle of the 60ies AD, more and more people of "this generation" began to die and the voices of doubters and scoffers began to get louder, making fun of the believers and calling in question what the believers in the early church believed. The scoffers arguments would have had very little or no effect - as a matter of truth, they most likely would have appeared rather silly and unreasonable -- if the believers thought that the coming of the Lord was to be at some undetermined time in the however distant future.
Let's seriously consider what the passage in 2Pe 3 actually teaches. Which of the perhaps possible understandings of terms and expressions make more sense? Is Peter giving an explanation for why the coming of the Lord which was promised to happen "in this generation" would still be "soon" for Christians 2000 years later? Or is Peter affirming emphatically that God is not late when it comes to fulfilling His promises, such as the one about the coming of the Lord in "this generation", and that God will be faithful and keep His promises?