The commonly held belief of the prophesy of 2 Peter 3:5-13 is a very touchy subject with many people who are reading these scriptures literally. But, they are not balancing them with the entirety of the scriptures. They focus on these verses and lift them completely out of the Bible to stand alone as the source of their belief that Christ will return one day to literally destroy the physical earth, and they are very emotionally attached to this belief.
“5 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:
6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
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.” (KJV)
If we were to throw out all other scriptures, and if we were to ignore the metaphors of God’s prophetic judgment language – see Part V of this series here – then we might be justified in believing this prophesy of 2 Peter 3 was of a some yet future, literal, end-of-the-world destruction.
But, is this prophesy speaking about the End-of-the-World, or is it something else?
Having taken the time to study the previous posts on this site, I hope that some readers have begun to see the clues and definitions within God’s prophetic language and are willing to look at His prophesies with deeper understanding.
Any verse or scripture that is used or “interpreted” to contradict any other verse or scripture is being misapplied.
The scriptures make a very strong case for God’s control over, and maintenance of this earthly realm. In Solomon’s description of the operations of the earth, sun, wind, and sea, we find in Ecc. 1:4,
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.“ (KJV)
In the Interlinear for the original Hebrew this verse reads,
“[One] generation passes away and [another] generation comes but the earth forever stays.”
The word “forever” is Strong’s Heb. 5769, “עוֹלָם”, transliterated as “olam” and is defined as long duration, antiquity, or futurity. It has several different applications in the English as “ages, all successive, always, ancient, ancient times, continual, days of old, eternal, eternity, ever, Everlasting, everlasting, forever, forever and ever, forevermore, lasting, long, long ago, long past, long time, never, old, permanent, permanently, perpetual, and perpetually – depending upon the context of the scripture.
It will be helpful to explore the use of always and forever in another post, but for the immediate use in the context of Ecc. 1:4 it has the meaning in Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) at 2.b, – continuous existence.
The word “stays” is Strong’s Heb. 5975 “עָמַד”, transliterated as “amad” and is defined as “stand”. It is another word with many uses in the English, but the BDB defines it in Eccl. 1:4 as 3.c – continue, abide.
We need to explore one more word which has various meanings in scripture – “earth”. “Earth” is Strong’s Heb. 776 ‘אָ֫רֶץ” transliterated as “erets” and is defined as “land.” Earth is used in the English translations for common, countries, countries and their lands, country, countryside, distance, dust, the ground, floor, land, lands, piece, plateau, region, territories, wild, and world.
I have discussed some of the uses of “earth” in the post “Heaven and Earth Have Passed Away.” When it is used in prophesy it takes on the meaning of the people and the land or region they inhabit to whom the prophet was specifically speaking. When God sent the prophet to Israel, the “earth” was the people of Israel, and the land of Israel. The same for Babylon, Egypt, Edom, Tyre, etc.
But, in Ecc. 1:4, the meaning for “earth” is BDB 1.b, “earth, opposed to heaven, sky, as permanent.” See Biblehub.
I do not see any use of metaphors, similes, poetical, nor figurative images in the context of Ecc. 1:4-7. It does not appear to be a prophesy. Therefore, Ecc. 1:4 reads as a literal descriptive passage.
The meaning of Ecc. 1:4 appears to demand an understanding of a permanent, continually abiding earth.
In Gen. 8:21-22 God made a statement after the flood receded and Noah and his family left the ark.
“21 And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. “ (KJV)
There is a further promise found in Gen. 9:11 that God would never again destroy the people by a flood, which is part of the rainbow covenant God gave to Noah.
“And I have established My covenant with you, and all flesh is not any more cut off by waters of a deluge, and there is not any more a deluge to destroy the earth.'” (YLT)
But, the sign of the rainbow covenant with Noah does not negate the earlier statement God made in Gen. chap. 8 that He would never again “curse the ground” for man’s sake.
We could also explore Psa. 78:69, or Psa. 104:5; Isa. 9:7; 45:17; Dan. 4:3; Eph. 3:21 among many other scriptures. But, with just the above verses in mind, with the understanding that they seem to be literal statements that speak of the earth as permanent; and that God will not again destroy all people from off the earth; we therefore have to find the meaning in the prophesy of 2 Pet. 3:5-13 that does not contradict Ecc. 1:4, nor Gen. 8:21.
We must study 2 Pet. 3 within the context of that epistle for a meaning and understanding of that specific prophesy that does no violence to the whole of the scriptures.
Chapter 3 of 2 Peter continues from the discussion of false teachers and false prophets in chap. 2. Peter had been stressing the need to stay faithful, and not to heed the sensual and lustful ways of the false teachers. He had stressed the previous judgments God had poured out upon the wicked ones of past generations, and finished with a comparison of those who had come out of pagan idolatry and false religion only to turn back again as dogs to vomit (2 Pet. 2 22).
In chap. 3 Peter continues the theme of God’s judgment upon the wicked, reminding them that the scoffers who were saying that all things continue the same were repeating the error of their fathers who had said the same before the flood of Noah’s day. And, in verse 6 Peter reminds them that the “world that then was ….perished”.
What perished ? The physical earth? Did the skies and the air disappear? Is the earth gone? Are the stars in the heavens gone?
The “world” that perished were the living men and women and animals who died in the waters of the flood! The physical earth is still here!
We are here and we exist by the grace of God. We breathe air He gave us. We eat food from the seed of the plants He gave us. We have water to drink that God gave us. Our entire existence is only because of the grace of God. And, as our Creator, He has the perfect right to come in judgment against the wicked ones whenever He chooses to do so.
Psa. 19:9, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (KJV)
Peter opens chapter 3 of his second epistle with the reminder of God’s judgment upon the wicked. The context is of God’s judgments against wicked men. Verse 10 specifically uses the indicator of prophesy – “the day of the Lord.” Upon seeing those words from all OT prophesy, we immediately know that we need to be watching for His prophetic metaphors.
“heavens shall pass away”
The kingdoms of men were and are “heavens” under the authority of Christ whose everlasting kingdom is over all the earthly kingdoms of men (Dan. 7:14, 27), which earthly kingdoms are the only “heavens” that can pass away. The heaven where God sits on His throne will never pass away. See the previous post “Heaven and Earth Have Passed Away” here.
“the elements shall melt”
Strong’s Gr. 4747 “στοιχεῖον” transliterated as “stoicheion” and it means one of a row, hence a letter (of the alphabet), by ext. the elements (of knowledge). The elements are the fundamentals, an orderly arrangement like the basic components of philosophy, structure, or first principles. It refers to the elements and rudiments of religious training and the ceremonial precepts of worship. (See Biblehub)
It is used in the context of being in bondage under the elements of the law in Gal. 4:3-5. The word is rendered as “rudiments” in Col. 2:8, 20 where the traditions of men, and ordinances of men are discussed. It is translated as “principles” in Heb. 5:12 for the first principles of the gospel.
As Part V of this series showed, “heaven and earth” was a compound metaphor for the Mosaic covenant. This prophesy in 2 Pet. 3 is discussing the passing away which Christ prophesied in Matt. 24:35 in the context of the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (KJV)
Christ’s words – the gospel, the new covenant, the new heaven and earth were compared to the old heaven and earth of the Mosaic covenant which was about to pass away in that first century A.D. If you need to, please read Part V of this series again.
Instead of staying with the definition of Strong’s Gr. 4747, all of the commentaries I have read on 2 Pet. 3:10 either incorporated the dispensationalist teaching of the millennium – which the posts on this site have provided much scriptural evidence against, and which false doctrine therefore could not have been God’s intent – or they followed the traditional writings of the early church fathers such as Justin, or incorporated Greek philosophy of the four elements of the material creation, or were grasping upon faulty misconceptions of other prophetic language for the signs of the sun, moon and stars.
The commentators did not keep to the definition of the word “stoicheion.” They read their belief system into the scriptures instead of relying only upon God’s word. A blind adherence to a belief system has caused this confusion regarding 2 Peter c. 3.
Strict discipline is necessary in reading and understanding God’s prophetic language. Failing to recognize His use of metaphors in His prophesy from His original use in the Old Testament (OT) is guaranteed to lead the student off track. Refer back to Parts III & IV of “It’s Not The End of The World” at the right margin.
Contrary to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and most commentaries, the elements that melted were not the elements of the material creation, but were instead the religious and ceremonial principles, the orderly arrangement of the worship of God under the old law of the Mosaic covenant. We are dealing with prophetic language in this chapter, and must remember God’s use of metaphors.
The word translated as “melt” in the KJV is Strong’s Gr. 3089, ” λύω” transliterated as “luo” and means (a) I loose, untie, release, (b) met: I break, destroy, set at naught, contravene; I break up a meeting, annul.” Thayer’s Lexicon attributes the definition of “to destroy” in verse 10, but for the same word in verse 12 it assigns “to overthrow or do away with.”
God was overthrowing, setting loose, breaking up, putting away, annulling (Heb 7:18) the old Mosaic covenant!
“the earth also and the works that are therein”
In God’s prophetic language “the earth” was the people and the land to whom the prophet was speaking. This is the same “earth” that Christ was sent to – Israel. This is the same “earth” that He sent His disciples to, and whom he warned would not finish going through the cities of Israel before He came again (Matt. 10:23).
The “earth” is God’s footstool (Isa. 66:1), and God cast the beauty of Israel down from “heaven unto the earth” and did not remember His footstool (Lam. 2:1). In OT prophesy, “earth” most often represented the land of Israel.
Just so, the “earth” and the “works therein” of 2 Pet. 3:10 was the remnant of Israel: Judea, Jerusalem, and the animal sacrificial sin offerings at the temple which had become profane after Christ’s once and forever sacrifice on the cross.
Heb. 9:26, “ For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (KJV)
When did He appear? When was Christ crucified? And, when did He put away sin by His sacrifice? Let’s read it again in Young’s Literal Translation.
“ since it had behoved him many times to suffer from the foundation of the world, but now once, at the full end of the ages, for putting away of sin through his sacrifice, he hath been manifested;” (YLT)
The English translators used “end of the world” incorrectly in the KJV. It was the end of their world as they knew it.. the end of the world that centered around that old Mosaic temple, but it was not literally the end of all life on earth!
The full end of the ages occurred when Christ was sacrificed for our sins in the first century A.D. That was when He was manifested in “these last days” (1 Pet 1:20), and those were the last days… of the old covenant.
The double fulfillment of Ezek 22:18-22 –
“18 Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross: all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver.
19 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem.
20 As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in mine anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you.
21 Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst therof.
22 As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the Lord have poured out my fury upon you.”
Lam. 2:4. “ He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.” (KJV)
Brass, tin, iron, lead, silver… these are all physical, natural elements that can be melted in a fiery furnace. Here, “melt” is Strong’s Heb. 5413, ” נָתַך” or “nathak”, and means poured out. Melting the elements allows them to be reshaped and reformed. God’s judgment upon wicked men is poured out like fire. The word “like” indicates a METAPHOR!
God’s fury – judgment – was poured out like fire, burning the elements of those sinful, wicked men in A.D. 70 at that temple in Jerusalem for sacrificing His son (Rev. 1:7) and for continuing, even preferring the animal sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant in that temple (Rev. 2:9; 3:9)!
God’s fury “melted” those people in Jerusalem in the Roman siege of A.D. 70 just as surely as He “melted” the fundamental and orderly principles (elements) of the Mosaic covenant in the destruction of the temple.
Imagine, if you will, the longing of Peter’s audience for Christ’s second appearance. They were wondering and asking “when”… when is He coming? How long do we have to wait? They knew His promise to return. They expected it.
Peter and the apostles did not contradict their expectation, nor tell them they were wrong. They were constantly adjuring and admonishing those of that generation to patiently endure, to keep the faith, to keep believing, to stay with the first principles (elements) of the gospel (Heb. 5:12). The apostles repeatedly reminded them again and again that they would get through those hard times.
Can you imagine their shock if the meaning of this prophesy in 2 Peter 3 was in essence saying, “Oh, and by the way, once you endure all this, the world is going to end.”
2 Peter c. 3 was not discussing the end of the physical cosmos. If that was the meaning, if that was what they understood from this prophesy, wouldn’t they have thrown up their hands, and turned from Peter as from a mad man? Might they not instead have thought, “well, why bother if the world is going to end?”
The first audience is the relative point of view. The audience of this chapter was the first century AD Christians. We are not the first audience. It is recorded for our example, and for our admonition, but the first audience had to know and understand the meaning.
They knew the prophesy of the destruction of that temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 24). They were waiting for it. And, Peter’s reminder in verse 11 to live holy and godly lives, and again in verse 13 to look for the righteousness that was coming in the new heavens and new earth covenant relationship.. the spiritual orderly arrangement (elements) of the gospel kingdom… was their hope to cling to.
He wasn’t promising them hope of heaven. They already had that once they were baptized. He was promising them the peace of the kingdom which would be fully established after the destruction of the old heaven and earth temple system. 2 Peter c. 3 was prophesying the end of the old covenant, and the destruction of that 2nd temple in Jerusalem.
As that temple was destroyed in the Roman siege of A.D. 70, the Sanhedrin and Pharisaical Jews were no longer a threat. That old elemental covenant was removed, and they were free from the old law that was constantly being shoved at them by the false teachers and unbelievers still practicing it in Jerusalem. That was the day they were being told to look forward to in verse 12.
Heb. 12:26- 29, speaking of the removal of the old covenant –
“26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29 For our God is a consuming fire.” (KJV)
2 Peter 3 was not speaking of the destruction of the literal, natural earth. The prophesy was discussing the same shaking of the “earth” of Israel, and the same removal of the old Mosaic covenant as all of the book of Hebrews discussed.
If God should decide someday to destroy the physical, natural world… which the scriptures do not seem to indicate… it is my opinion, and just a suggestion that He would only do so whenever He knew that no one else was going to turn to Him. Just as in the days of Noah, when no one else but Noah would listen to Him…. well, maybe someday, if the world ever gets to that point again.
But, as long as He has a harvest of souls (Matt. 9:37-38), as long as there are people who will believe in Him and stand for Him, I believe He will continue to maintain this earthly realm… “to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen” (Eph. 3:21, YLT).