What does this mean?
What is implied when Peter writes, “one day is like a thousand years” (2 Pet 3:8)? Is this a literal thousand years? We have been taught to believe that; I for one have never questioned it before. We also have to determine the context and how broad we can apply it. This study started out as a quick look-up of this phrase but, as I studied, I realized that it is a key to understanding some of the Bible prophecies.
2 Peter 3:3–10
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of YHVH the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with YHVH one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 YHVH 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. 10 But the day of YHVH will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
The discussion in this passage is about the coming of the Messiah at the end of the age. People were expecting it to be in their time. Since it has not occured yet; they are now mocking it. A. Robertson explains it well when he says:
“Peter applies the language of Ps. 90:4 about the eternity of YHVH and shortness of human life to “the impatience of human expectations” (Bigg) about the second coming of Christ. “The day of judgment is at hand (I Pet. 4:7). It may come tomorrow; but what is tomorrow? What does YHVH mean by a day? It may be a thousand years”. Precisely the same argument applies to those who argue for a literal interpretation of the thousand years in Rev. 20:4–6. It may be a day or a day may be a thousand years. YHVH’s clock does not run by our timepieces. The scoffers scoff ignorantly.”
Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament (2 Pe 3:8). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
To explain it further we must look at the meaning of the word “like”. The Greek word “hos” means an approximation of time.
4. hos (ὡς, 5613) usually means “as.” Used with numerals it signifies “about,” e.g., Mark 5:13; 8:9; John 1:40; 6:19; 11:18; Acts 1:15; Rev. 8:1.
5. hosei (ὡσεί, 5616), “as if,” before numerals, denotes “about, nearly, something like,” with perhaps an indication of greater indefiniteness than No. 4, e.g., Matt. 14:21; Luke 3:23; 9:14, 28; Acts 2:41; with a measure of space, Luke 22:41, “about a stone’s cast.” See LIKE.
Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vol. 2: Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (4). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.
If we look at all the other passages where this word was used with numerals it was translated as “about.”
(I did not include John 1:40 in the examples as it uses a different greek word “heis”)
13 Y’shua gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about(hos) two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
9 About(hos) four thousand were there; and He sent them away.
19 Then, when they had rowed about(hos) three or four miles, they saw Y’shua walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.
18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about(hos) two miles off;
15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about( hosei) one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said,
1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about(hos) half an hour.
2 Peter 3:10
10 But the day of YHVH will come like (hos) a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
I have included the last passage to illustrate to you that the word “like” (hos), is meant as a comparative phrase. It does not mean that Y’shua will literally come as a thief to steal, but it means that He will come unexpectedly. The phrase “as a thousand years” is equally not meant in a literal sense. It alludes to a time period, likened to a thousand years.
There is a similar passage comparing a thousand years with a day in Ps 90.
4 For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night. 5 You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades and withers away.
In this passage “a thousand years” is compared to two things:
- A night watch
919 אֶתְמֹול (ʾěṯ∙môl): adv.; ≡ Str 865; TWOT 2521—1. LN 67.201–67.208 yesterday, i.e., the day before today (Ps 90:4+), see also 9453; 2. LN 67.17–67.64 lately, before, heretofore, i.e., a period of time prior to another time, either short or long (Isa 30:33; Mic 2:8+); 3. LN 67.17–67.64 unit: אֶתְמֹול שִׁלְשֹׁום (ʾěṯ∙môl šil∙šôm) formerly, before, in the past, i.e., formally, yesterday and day before, i.e., pertaining to a point in time prior to another time (1Sa 4:7; 10:11; 14:21; 19:7+); 4. LN 67.17–67.64 unit: גַּם אֶתְמֹול גַּם שִׁלְשֹׁום (gǎm ʾěṯ∙môl gǎm šil∙šôm) formerly, before, in the past, i.e., formally, yesterday and day before, i.e., pertaining to a point in time prior to another time (2Sa 5:2+)
Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
The word “yesterday” can refer to either a period of time prior to another time( short or long), or to the past.
A watch in the night was approximately four hours (Jud. 7:19 refers to a middle watch, suggesting three periods). Such a portion of the night, when man sleeps, is brief.
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ps 90:1–6). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
We can conclude the same for this passage in Psalms as for the passage in 2 Peter. These time periods do not have to be a literal thousand years, although it could be.
How do we apply this to the interpretation of Bible prophecy?
In order for us to apply this prophetic principle of “one day is like a thousand years” further, we must first find proof in scripture. In the second book of Genesis, we get a good example of the prophetical application and fulfillment of this principle:
17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
It is no coincidence that those who lived before the Flood died just short of a 1000 years of age. Thus figuratively speaking, Adam, and all his offspring before the flood, died within a “day”—that is, within a thousand years.
Can we assume that whenever the word “day” is used, it could mean a thousand years? I don’t think so. It is more complex than that. As always, context is king when interpreting scripture. Let’s look at some verses to illustrate this point.
The Scripture says that the world was created in six days. Was the world actually created in 6000 years? I would not go so far as to say that. Plants were created before the sun and won’t be able to survive for a 1000 years without photosynthesis. Therefor, I support a literal six-day creation.
Another example would be the time Y’shua spend in the grave. Those were a literal three days and three nights. We can find many more examples.
Both verses Psalm 90 and 2 Peter 3 speaks about the return of our Messiah. Therefor, we can conclude: the phrase “one day is like a thousand years” can only be applied in a prophetic context.
It is often said that Genesis 6:3 points to a prophetic time period. It refers to the period of man on earth before Y’shua returns. The calculation is as follows 120 x 50 =6000. The 50 refers to the amount of years of a Jubilee cycle.
3 Then YHVH said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
Only problem is that a Jubilee cycle is only 49 years. Shall we investigate this further?
How long is a Jubilee?
10You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. 11‘You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines.
From the above Scripture, clearly the 50th year is the Jubilee. Why do I say 49 years?
How do we calculate a Jubilee?
We calculate the Jubilee year in the same way we calculate the 50 days for Shavuot.
15 ‘You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. 16 ‘You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to YHVH.
- We are to count from the day after the weekly sabbath -the first day of the week
- There shall be seven complete sabbaths
- You shall count 50 days to the day after the seventh sabbath -the first day of the week
It is very important to follow the instructions carefully. We are to commence counting on the first day of the week and end the count on the first day of the week. Take note: the fiftieth day is also the first day of the weekly cycle. This is a pattern for us for the calculation of the Jubilee years. Thus, the 50th year -the Jubilee year – is also the first year of the next sabbatical cycle. Don’t you think it’s awesome to see how YHVH uses the same pattern?
I would just like to add this for clarification: If a Jubilee cycle is 50 years, then between the last year of the first cycle and the first sabbatical year of the next cycle, would be eight years to provide for the Jubilee year. This cannot be as we are told in Scripture that a Sabbath Cycle is to be 7 years.
How do we apply all we have learned in this study?
We have just proven from Scripture that the Jubilee cycle is 49 years instead of 50 years. We also have the prophetic scripture in Gen 6:3. If we apply what we have learned, our calculation of prophetic years would be as follows: 120 x 49 = 5880. We can conclude in saying that one day is like 980 years.
12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. 13 Do return, O YHVH; how long will it be? And be sorry for Your servants.
We can only ask YHVH for His wisdom to live our lives according to His plan. Time is short. We have to number our days.
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