Author: Ron Graham
What World Would God Destroy?
—The Heavens and Earth in 2Peter 3
This study deals with the nature of the "world" or "heavens and earth" whose destruction is linked to the second coming of Christ. We are especially considering Peter's prophecy about the heavens and earth being destroyed by intense fire (2Peter 3:1-18)
The question is whether the heavens and earth destroyed at the second coming of Christ are the same heavens and earth that God created in six days (Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-4).
1 Let's Start With a Riddle
We are told that God loved the world (John 3:16). In another place, we are told that it is wrong to love the world (1John 2:15). Why did God love the world if it is wrong to love the world?
I'm sure you solved the riddle easily. The term "world" is used in different senses. We are all aware that, in natural language, a word may not mean the same thing every time it is used. To understand a statement, one must have regard to the different meanings and usages of words.
Unless we attribute the proper sense to words, we can turn a statement into nonsense, as in the above riddle where God seemed to have done something wrong. You could look at the lesson The Meaning of Words if you would like to know more about this matter.
2 The Language of 2Peter 3
Those who hold to the "AD70 doctrine" feel that 2Peter 3, being a prophetic chapter, uses language that is not meant to be taken in its natural and literal sense. In their view, Peter should be understood as speaking in a highly figurative manner.
They don't think that he is really speaking of three successive literal worlds in the sense of dwelling places or habitats. Rather, says the theory, Peter is speaking symbolically of three ages or systems, namely the Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian ages.
Some teachers draw attention to the figurative or symbolic senses in which the terms "world" or "heavens and earth" or "the creation" are used in Scripture. They conclude that the Bible's prophecy of a fiery destruction of the "heavens and earth" must be taken as figurative and symbolic language.
They do not think that the Lord's return involves a literal fiery destruction of the physical heavens and earth. They say that the "heavens and earth" and the "fire" are figurative of something else, namely the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.
3 Particular Words in 2Peter 3
2nd Peter chapter 3 employs a variety of words in reference to the world. Let's note these in the order in which they occur.
- The creation (2Peter 3:4). This word has a flexibility of meaning in Scripture. We note, however, that Peter uses this word to refer to the heavens and the earth created in the beginning.
- The heavens and earth (2Peter 3:5). This phrase is used extensively in the Bible. It appears in the very first sentence, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
- We note that Peter uses this term, just as Genesis does, to refer to the sky and land which God created. Peter however discusses three distinct "heavens and earth" and later we will come back to this in detail.
- The cosmos (2Peter 3:6). In English, when we speak of the cosmos, we refer to the material creation or physical universe. However in New Testament Greek the word kosmos is not so restricted in meaning, and has a variety of senses just like our English word "world" does, as illustrated by our riddle.
- Having said that, we note that Peter uses this word with reference to the world created by God out of the water and which he destroyed by flooding it with water.
- The eon (2Peter 3:18). In New Testament Greek, aion has a broader range of meanings than in English. It can mean three different things:
- • an age, era, historical period,
- • the world (in the aspect of time),
- • eternity.
4 The Heavens and the Earth in 2Peter
Peter uses the expressions "heavens" and "earth" to describe three distinct scenarios:
- The ancient heavens and earth.
This is the world that God created in the beginning and later destroyed by flood (2Peter 3:4, Genesis 1).
- The present heavens and earth.
This is the world that has existed since the great flood and will one day be destroyed by fire at the second coming (2Peter 3:7)
- A new heavens and a new earth.
This is the world we will inhabit after the second coming (2Peter 3:13).
There is no indication that Peter is speaking symbolically of Jerusalem and the Jews. The passage appears to be straight forward, and about the entire world. The ancient heavens and earth were destroyed by flood. The present heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire. After that there will be a new heavens and earth that cannot be destroyed.
5 The Heavens and the Earth in Isaiah
It is instructive to compare Peter and Isaiah with regard to the heavens and the earth.
Creation of the heavens and earth. We read in Isaiah of the stretching forth the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth (Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 45:12). The AD70 doctrine does not treat this as symbolic language. Here the term "heavens and earth" is accepted to mean the world that God created for mankind to dwell in.
We note, moreover, that the AD70 doctrine rightly accepts these passages as literal, notwithstanding that there are verses in Isaiah about the heavens and the earth, even its founding and planting, that are poetic and figurative (Isaiah 44:23-24, 51:15-17).
Destruction of the heavens and earth In other passages from Isaiah we read of the vanishing of the heavens and the removal of the earth from its place (Isaiah 13:9-13, 34:1-4, 51:4-8). These passages at once address particular nations and all nations, and make it clear that they are speaking about the whole world.
There is no case for making the heavens and earth in these destruction passages any different to the heavens and earth in the creation passages. Whilst the oracles of Isaiah forsee the judgment, fall, and destruction of particular nations, they also look beyond that to the general and final destruction which will come upon all nations when the whole world under the heavens and on the earth is destroyed.
A new heavens and a new earth Also in Isaiah we are told of the creation of a new heavens and a new earth . This is also referred to as the new Jerusalem (cf Revelation 21:1-2). It is a habitation into which shall be gathered people from all nations (Isaiah 65:17-19, 66:19-22).
This new world is what Peter calls "the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2Peter 1:11), and what our Lord himself referred to when he said, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:1-3).
Peter Speaks as Isaiah Speaks
Isaiah tells us that God who made the heavens and earth, will also destroy the heavens and earth. He has brought destruction upon many wicked peoples, and will continue to do so. One day, however, he will bring destruction upon the whole world and banish every evil person from his sight. Those who are righteous will enter a new heavens and new earth where there will be no evil. This joyous world will last forever.
Peter speaks as Isaiah speaks. His message is the same. It is "the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken by your apostles" (2Peter 3:2).
Isaiah was one of those prophets. Peter was one of those apostles. Their words are prophetic, powerful, and plain. Today they warn us as with one voice. A day is coming when planet Earth will be destroyed by intense fire and the day of eternity will see a new world. But only those who conduct themselves in the fear of God and surrender themselves to his grace shall enter in.