Much of this website has focused on the Old Testament to see what God has to say about the metaphorical use of the terms heaven and earth and some of the related topics (sun, moon, stars). Here I'd like to turn to one of the passages in the New Testament.
How many people read 2 Peter 3 and automatically assume its talking about the end of the universe (Grk. kosmos)?
I cannot count how many times I have heard preachers, teachers, and denominational folk quote something from 2 Peter 3 and every time it is a verse here a verse there and it is completely ripped out of its context and made to mean whatever it is they need it to mean for their point. For the denominational folk it is verse 8 trying to find their millenium. For others, it is the big fireworks display, the "Christian Big Bang" (not at the beginning but the end of the universe - e.g. Kent Hovind).
We in the churches of Christ should know better than this. We know there is no coming thousand year reign of Christ on earth as the denominations teach. We know there will be no literal recreation as the Mormons teach. Yet, when I hear sermons on this chapter from our own preachers, without fail, verse 13 is skipped, glossed over, ignored. The reason they do this is because they cannot answer the question "What is the new earth?" It gives them trouble because they believe the context to be that of the end of the universe. They see the destruction in a fiery blaze of the earth, the sky, space, all that is in creation. And the thought that troubles their mind is this...that if these are literal, the context is literal, then verse 13 is literal. A new heaven does not give them pause, though it should in its own right (for what is wrong with God's heaven now?). But a new earth? The only answer I have heard to this question to date is that the new earth is heaven!
So what I would like to do is examine the chapter. Really take a look at it and see what Peter was really saying. I hope you will open your Bible, as I hope you always will, and see if the things I bring to you now are truth.
Problem Verse. Is there an answer?
2 Peter 3:13 – Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
So what is the new earth? Believe it or not, the context tells us! Let us begin at the beginning.
2 Peter 3:1-2 Edit
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
Peter is reminding them of things. What is he reminding them of?
- The things they were to be mindful of were things spoken of before by the prophets.
- The commandment of the apostles.
- And the things spoken of by Jesus himself.
Now, Jesus spoke of the end of time assuredly (John 5:28-30). The apostles did as well (Acts 24:15; 1 Thess. 4; 1 Cor. 15). But can anyone point to a verse in the Old Testament that ever speaks of the end of the universe? The closest I've ever seen (and perhaps someone can correct me, I just may not have seen one yet) is that God promised Noah that he would never destroy the earth (specifically mankind, cause the planet survived intact) by water again. This promise only implies something about the people living on this planet. It speaks to nothing concerning the universe or its end. If someone knows of a verse where an OT prophet speaks of the end of time/the universe, please post it in the comments section or e-mail me so I can check it out!
2 Peter 3:3-4Edit
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.
Secondly, Peter writes concerning the last days. He knows well of this time of the last days because he spoke of it before...in Acts 2. Now, I've heard quite a bit from preachers speaking about these last days. They say that the last days are the Christian age, from AD 33 to the end of time whenever that might be. Is that truly how the Bible defines the last days? In Acts 2:14-36, Peter speaks of the last days. He quotes Joel, who also spoke of them. (Perhaps someone will go there to find a verse on the end of the universe. Joel does not speak of it at all. If you ask me more, I'll certainly elaborate.) These last days would be known by certain properties: But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
- your sons and your daughters shall prophesy
- your young men shall see visions
- your old men shall dream dreams:
- on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
- I will shew wonders in heaven above
- signs in the earth beneath;
- blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
- The sun shall be turned into darkness
- the moon into blood
- before the great and notable day of the Lord come:
Now, if we are in the last days I have to ask...any of you have sons and daughters that can prophesy? Any of you younger men seeing visions? You old men dreaming prophetic dreams? Are their any wonders in heaven that were not there before the Christian age? Any signs in the earth? Has the sun turned to darkness, the moon to blood in recent days?
My point is, that these are all descriptors of the "last days" and none of them apply today. What time did they apply to? Well, we have recorded that these things happened in the first century (see Acts 2), during the establishment of the church, and the last days of Judaism. It is my firm conviction that the "last days" anywhere spoken of in scripture refer to the last days of the Jews, the time period between the coming of John the Immerser and the last revealed word of the Bible after Jerusalem fell but before the end of the 1st century AD. If I am wrong, please show me how.
2 Peter 3:5-6Edit
For this they willingly are ignorant of, 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 that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
Peter then reminds them of the world before the flood. He speaks of the heavens of old, the earth. This world perished. It was destroyed. And then afterward there was a new heaven and a new earth. The one he speaks of in verse 7 as the ones "which are now". But we know that the planet remained. The sky did not boil off. There was still atmosphere. Nothing happened to outer space, the stars, the sun, the moon... So when Peter reminds them that the heavens and the earth that were then were destroyed, what was he talking about? The wicked rulers and people of that day, those who had been God's people but turned away, is what he was speaking of. Read again my article on the comparison between the days of Noah and Lot and the days of the coming of the Son of man. Who was taken/destroyed and who was left behind? This old heaven and earth were destroyed and a new heaven and new earth were created. Both were metaphorical, not literal.
2 Peter 3:7Edit
But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
So now Peter speaks of the heavens and the earth which are now and they are reserved unto fire (always a symbol of God's judgment) against the day of judgment and perdition. The heavens and the earth which are now will be destroyed just like that first heaven and first earth, and guess what? There is going to be another new heaven and another new earth. Will those old heavens and old earth be like the ones before them or are they the literal ones? I believe them to refer to the wicked rulers and subjects of God's people who have since turned away, the Jews (Isaiah 1:2,10). The new heaven and the new earth, in this context are of course the people who would be left, that is the Christians. In this comparison both the current heavens and earth and the new heavens and earth are metaphorical.
A lot of people accuse me and those who believe as I do as being inconsistent with our interpretation. But as I have just shown, we are consistent. All 3 iterations of "heavens and earth" in this passage are metaphorical; none are literal.
2 Peter 3:8-9Edit
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. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
A brief note about these two verses (especially verse 8). This is not a statement of chronology. It is not a reference to a difference in the passage of time in Heaven and here on Earth. Heaven is outside of time, eternal in its nature. The point Peter is making here is that God has a perspective completely outside of time and He fulfills His promises when He sees it appropriate to do so according to His omniscience and benevolence.
IF this is to be used as some kind of Heavenly time scale, and somehow a day (such as those found in Genesis) is literally a thousand years, then to be consistent, any time we find a thousand years (millennium) it should be a day. That means that Christ's alleged millennial reign on Earth (as the millennialists posit it) is only going to last a whopping 24 hours!
2 Peter 3:10, 12Edit
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. 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
What is the day of the Lord?
I believe it is the same day spoken of by Christ himself in the Olivet Discourse. This phrase, "as a thief in the night" is a catch phrase which I explore more thoroughly in another article, but I believe it to be an indicator never associated with the end of the universe but always with the destruction of Jerusalem.
What are the "his promises"? I believe these are the Old Testament promises in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 to destroy the Israelites if they are unfaithful to God. In what passage, OT or NT, does God ever promise to destroy by fire or any other means for that matter, the literal heavens and literal earth, i.e. the universe? No, Peter must be speaking figuratively of the children of God who were once faithful but have since turned wicked.
After this destruction of that heavens and that earth? Then God creates another heavens and another earth "wherein dwelleth righteousness". It was something that Peter and those he wrote were looking for. Did they look in vain? Or did they see this new heaven and new earth? I believe it to be a government and people where the church can thrive. An environment where all nations may partake in God's kingdom, where all can become God's people. Christ is that Sun, that King. His government (heaven) is unending and perfect. His earth (the church), his kingdom, the church, is the answer to that question I asked. And we, the meek, have inherited it. (Matt. 5:5)
Those who believe the destruction of the 2nd heavens and earth in this passage are literal also believe that the "new heavens and new earth" of verse 13 are symbolic of Heaven. Their's is the inconsistent position and they leave MUCH unexplained. Why a new heavens [plural]? Why a new heavens? What is the new earth? Why switch from literal to figurative?
2 Peter 3:1-2, 15-16Edit
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: ... And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you: As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Paul wrote of these things in his letters, all of his letters, and we will be covering those in other articles. It is interesting to note that those who wrestle with the things Paul had to write during Peter's time did so to their own destruction. Now, if Paul and Peter are both writing about the end of time, how could men of that time wrestle with scriptures about the end of time (which, 1900+ years later still hasn't happened) to their own destruction?
So I leave you once more with this question: In 2 Peter 3:13...
- ...what is the new earth?
In Truth and Love,