Cosmology God's sovereignty hermeneutics

The coming new heaven and new earth

A study on 2 Peter 3 verses 10 – 18

This is the final part of a 3 part study. Part I and Part II are found here. I ended the last study of this chapter (in part II) with verse 10.

2 Peter 3:10 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.

It is worth repeating here that I do not believe that the phrase “the heavens shall pass away” describes the destruction of the starry heavens (all the stars and galaxies in the cosmos), but instead, at most, it describes a renovation of the earth and its atmospheric heavens, at the time Christ returns in judgment and to govern the earth. Read Do the heavens literally pass away or don’t they? and Scientific evidences in the Bible: Information or misinformation?

It seems to be the eschatological position of many biblical creationists that this verse means the destruction of the entire known Universe and that all the heavenly bodies will all be burned up in the final judgment. Then God will re-create an entirely new universe. However the destruction of the starry heavens I argue (as put here) is not necessarily required by the texts. Certainly a new heaven and new earth must mean God re-creates the environment of Earth and brings His heavenly city into the picture, providing real physical heavenly mansions for us all who believe. But that re-creation need not extend beyond our solar system. This is further evidenced by the idea that the Universe may be, in fact, eternal. God introduces His sustaining power to maintain it forever. Thus is not the result of an eternal big bang universe that had no Creator, not the result of the quantum fluctuation of a meta-stable false vacuum, but an eternal Universe sustained by the Creator Himself. So at some stage God reverses entropic decay in the Universe and maintains it forever.

The concept of literal restoration of the perfect creation on Earth and its environment is not incompatible with the biblical creationist message that is illustrated in the figure above. God initially literally created a perfect physical world/universe sustained by His power. But at Adam’s sin God cursed the creation bringing about various difficulties (to say the least) upon mankind and all living species on the planet. The greatest of these difficulties was death, spiritual death followed by physical death.

The death of humans and all living sentient beings has little bearing on the “life cycle” of stars and galaxies, which are little more than an arrangement of hot gases. So it is ill-advised to speak of the death of stars resulting from the Curse. Thus to suggest that supernovae only occurred post-Fall is grossly in error. They are the result of normal operational physics and I believe have little bearing on, or relation to, man’s actions. Whereas the Fall was the direct result of a man’s action to disobey the Living God. As a result we all inherited Adam’s sin. And thus we are in need of a Saviour.

The Universe though is a creation of God, for His own glory (Psalm 19:1). We have evidence in the scriptures supporting the idea that God will maintain the Universe (the Sun, moon and stars) forever. Psalms 148:3-6 and 89:37. 

I believe the Lord may return at any time. Yet I don’t hold to some futuristic interpretation of Bible prophecy with its secret rapture before a 7-year tribulation under the AntiChrist. Instead I believe it is possible that we are chronologically somewhere near the period of time in Revelation 20 called the battle of Gog and Magog.  The so-called ‘millennium’ (a word not found in the Bible but derived from the expression “a thousand years” in Revelation 20) I believe is symbolic for the period of the church age, also called the time of the Gentiles.

That period is about to end with the imminent return of Christ. This is what is meant by “the Lord will come as a thief in the night”. Those who are prepared however, like the 5 wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), will not be surprised. Those who profess salvation, i.e. attend church or claim to be Christian in spite of their disbelief in the scriptures, are like the 5 foolish virgins, of whom the Lord will say, at His return, that He did not know them. The reason for that is because they are professing but not confessing Christians. They are the unsaved ‘Christians’. I think we may be surprised that there are so many.

Then we have the expression “the elements shall melt with fervent heat.” This has been taken by many to mean that God destroys the Universe down to its very foundations, the atoms themselves. But I take a different view, but a view held by the Reformers.

Verse 10 here describes the works of man (works in the earth) being burned up. It makes much more sense that this verse symbolically represents the change in government that the world experiences when Christ returns in judgment at the day of the Lord. Mankind is judged not by his physical possessions but by his spiritual possessions. The phrase “the elements shall melt with fervent heat” is a reference to the judgment of your works by fire. (The Hebrew understanding of man is both a physical body and spiritual soul, meaning that judgment is over both. Yet the soul is the most important to be concerned about. Matthew 10:28).

The day of the Lord is for judgment of both saved and unsaved. The saved are purged of their worthless works, only the true gold, silver and precious stones of the souls won for Christ will remain (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). But those found without a “wedding garment” (Matthew 22), being judged by fire, are sent into hell-fire. That is, they are finally sent into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15), which is where Satan’s followers are judged (Revelation 19:20). Jesus spoke of this in His parable of the tares (weeds) and wheat (Matthew 13). In that parable He concludes it with:

Matthew 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest [the great white throne judgment]: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather you together first the tares [weeds, unsaved souls], and bind them in bundles to burn them [in the lake of fire]: but gather the wheat [saved souls] into my barn [mansions in heavenly city].

In that time of judgment man’s works shall be destroyed. They won’t survive the testing of fire for either the saved or unsaved.

2 Peter 3:11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved [destroyed], what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation [conduct] and godliness,

In this epistle the Apostle Peter is writing to the believers. He is telling them that they ought to live a holy life, a life dedicated to God’s service. Because only what is done for God, through salvation of souls will last forever. All other works will be destroyed both physical and spiritual.

2 Peter 3:12,13 Looking for and hastening to 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 dwells righteousness.

This is very similar to verse 10. The “coming of the day of God” is the same as the “day of the Lord”. The physical heavens, i.e. the starry heavens containing billions of galaxies are not considered here, but it could be a reference to the earthly heavens as God renovates the planet Earth in preparation for the new heaven and new earth wherein we see His heavenly city (Revelation 21:1,2).  In the new heaven and new earth “dwells righteousness” which can only be a reference to His heavenly city and its surroundings. Again we read “the elements shall melt” which is not a reference to the destruction of the very atomic structure of the Universe as some have said, but the judgment of your works by fire.

In Do the heavens literally pass away or don’t they? I discuss many of the verses used by some to justify a literal destruction of the starry heavens. However, one passage worth noting here is where the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah,

Isaiah 13:10-13 For 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. 11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. 12 I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir. 13 Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.

From verse 13 it is clear that this is a reference to the same judgment on mankind as described in Revelation 20:11-15. In the day of the Lord mankind is judged by God by fire. The wicked are punished and sent into the lake of fire. That is, those who are unsaved. This same judgment is preceded by stars and the moon not shining and sun darkened, which is the same symbolic language used in Revelation 6:13,14, which parallels Isaiah 34:4. The same expression of sun, moon and stars darkened is used in Joel 3:15 and Matthew 24:29 in reference to God’s judgments. This is symbolic language of judgment.

Some instead apply a literal interpretation to those verses (Revelation 6:13,14, Isaiah 34:4, Isaiah 13:10-13, Joel 3:15 etc) with the extinguishing of the sun and destruction of the starry heavens, to make way for the creation of a new universe. It makes no sense to interpret the verses 2 Peter 3 the same way. In 2 Peter 3 verses 10 and 12 the heavens are described as “being on fire”  or melting with “fervent heat”, which is quite the opposite of being darkened.

The new heaven and new earth then are a reference to the renovated earth and its environment but more importantly to the renovated souls who will inhabit the new heavenly kingdom. To God the spiritual takes precedent over the physical. Nevertheless a person is both a body and soul and we are promised resurrection with a new renovated body like Jesus had after His resurrection.

2 Peter 3:14-16 Why, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent that you may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. 15 And account [consider] that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given to him has written to you; 16 As also in all his epistles [letters], 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, to their own destruction.

The Apostle’s message here is advising us to be diligent to serve the Lord and that we should study the scriptures, keeping to the true doctrine, not twisting what the Lord has said to try to make it mean something else.

 2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.

Here we are advised not to be led away with an error but to steadfastly stick with the truth. The truth is found in a straightforward interpretation of the scriptures. These teach that there will be a final judgment where the wheat (the saved) are separated from the weeds (the unsaved) when the Lord brings in His new heaven and new earth and is seated in final judgment.

Luke 3:17 Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and will gather the wheat [the saved repentant believers] into His garner; but the chaff [the unsaved unrepentant unbelievers] He will burn with fire unquenchable.

This is the same message that Christ has taught through the Bible: the separation of the righteous, through Christ work on the Cross, from the unrepentant wicked, who are cast into hell, at the last judgment.

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.