The Burning up of the Earth

2 Peter 3:10-13
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

This passage is wrested in the endeavour to establish the unscriptural doctrine of going to heaven, at death or at some other time. Those who misinterpret it think that they can show that the earth is to be destroyed; and that it cannot therefore be the place of the eternal inheritance of the righteous, notwithstanding such scriptures as that which says, "The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever (Psa. 37:29).

Peter, in the context, has something to say about "wrested scriptures." Speaking of Paul's epistles and certain things therein "hard to be understood," he says that these things, "they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (verse 16). And he goes on to warn the brethren, saying, "Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness" (verse 17). Peter's epistle in turn has been "wrested," and "the error of the wicked" is with us still. Many hymn writers and false philosophers keep on repeating the sentiments of the well-known lines of Shakespeare :—

Like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And like the insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

Now this would make God a liar, and would deprive the Lord Jesus Christ and the saints of their inheritance. God created not the earth in vain; "he formed it to be inhabited. And that, too, when "Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation" (Isa. 45:17,18,23, with Rom. 14:11). This is Messiah's inheritance: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen (nations) for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession " (Psa. 2:8). "Those that wait upon the Lord shall inherit the earth" (Psa. 37:9). "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). "We shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:10). The earth is to be regenerated, not destroyed. Peter draws attention to God's promise, as we shall see.

Noah and the Deluge.— Peter was comparing the day of judgment that came upon the world in Noah's day with what was impending upon the Jewish world of his day; and likewise, more remotely, with what would come upon the Gentile world in the latter days. The comparison was natural and fitting. God, in the prophets, and the Lord Jesus also had previously traced a similar comparison. Study carefully Isaiah 54:9 with its context, which speaks of the future glory of Jerusalem. And see Christ's words in Matt. 24:37: "As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be." Also see "The Spirits in Prison," which treats of Peter's previous comparison in 1 Pet. 3:19. In this second epistle the very terms of his comparison ought to be sufficient guard against the extraordinary mistakes that are made. In chapter 1:11 he is speaking of "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord" that is to come, that is "according to God's promise" (3:13). And in chapter 2:1 he warns the brethren against "false teachers," pointing out the judgment that would overtake such as they. "For God spared not the old world (kosmos) but saved Noah with seven others (R.V.), bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly" (verse 5). So again, in chapter 3, he exhorts the brethren to be "mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets" (verse 2). It is the neglect of this that causes all the "wresting," and gives the "scoffers" of "the last days" a chance to expose their folly. As Peter says, they are willingly, or wilfully, ignorant "that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water ; whereby the world (kosmos) that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." The earth remained after the deluge, but when the waters subsided "the world of the ungodly" was no more. Noah and his family, having been saved in the ark, started a new world of the godly, which, alas! soon became corrupted.

The Mosaic Heavens and Earth.— Those who are "mindful of the words of the holy prophets," of whom Moses was the greatest save Christ, will understand that "heaven and earth" are very frequent figures of speech, representing kings, princes, and peoples in the world of human society. In Joseph's dream (Gen. 37) the sun, moon, and stars were figures of the house of Israel; and Moses, many years afterwards, addressing "all the congregation of Israel" in words of everlasting "witness" for God against Israel, opened his wonderful prophetic "song" with these words: "Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth" (Deut. 32:1). Similar figurative language runs throughout the prophets. Of Zion it is said, "Her sun is gone down while it is yet day" (Jer. 15:9). And in promise, "Thy sun shall no more go down, nor thy moon withdraw itself" (Isa. 60:20). Christ is "the Sun of Righteousness," and when he returns in glory to Jerusalem, and makes his redeemed brethren "kings and priests" unto God (Rev. 5:10), then the promise will be fulfilled. The day of the Lord that came upon Babylon is thus described beforehand: "The stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil" (Isa. 13:10,11). "I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place" (verse 13). Compare also the judgment of Idumea (Edom) (Isa. 34:4,5), and the most instructive prophecy of the "world turned upside down" (Isa. 24), where the interpretation of the figures is in great degree interwoven in the context. Christ himself likewise spoke in similar figurative language of "the tribulation of those days" (Matt. 24:29,30). "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." No one understanding "the words of the holy prophets" would misinterpret the Lord's words here. His reference was not to the literal sun, moon, and stars, but to the Israelitish "heavens and earth" which were to be overthrown in the judgment soon to come. And it is to this that Peter refers in the passage under consideration.

The New Heavens and Earth of God's Promise.— "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (verse 13). The old heavens and earth were to be destroyed because unrighteousness dwelt in them. But where is God's "promise"? Look again at some of "the words of the holy prophets." "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy" (Isa. 65:17,18). Now we remember that Christ said, Jerusalem is "the city of the Great King," and that, though it should be made desolate, the time would come when the city would say of him, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:39). "Jerusalem," he said, "shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:14). Then he will shine forth for ever as "Zion's Sun," nevermore to "go down." And "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:43).

"And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12:3). "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning (compare 2 Sam. 23:4), fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?" (Song 6:10). "She" is "the Bride, the Lamb's wife" (Rev. 21:9). John saw her in vision when he said, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." The Lord Jesus comes down from heaven to "plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth" in Zion (Isa. 51:16). The foregoing is an indication of the nature of God's "promise" in which Peter hoped, when he foretold the approaching "day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men."

Reproduced from: The Christadelphian Shield: Papers Explanatory of Wrested Scriptures