14-8 The Destruction of Heavens and Earth
(Rev. 21:1; 2 Pet. 3:6-12)
God’s purpose being to establish His Kingdom here on earth, it is
inconceivable that He would destroy this planet, and Study 3.3 has demonstrated
that He has consistently promised not to do such a thing. The above references
to the destruction of the heavens and earth must therefore be taken figuratively.
The passage from Peter is showing the similarities between the judgements
on the earth at Noah’s time and what will happen at “the day
of the Lord” in future. “The world that then was, being overflowed
with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now...
are reserved unto fire against the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 3:6,7).
Peter is pointing a contrast between water being the agent of destruction
at Noah’s time, and fire which will be used at the second coming.
“The heavens and the earth” of Noah’s time were not
literally destroyed - “all flesh” which was sinful was destroyed
(Gen. 7:21 cf. 6:5,12). ‘Heavens and earth’ therefore refers
to a system of things or of human organisation. It has been commented:
““Heaven and earth” is a Hebrew expression for “world”-
there was no single Hebrew noun for ‘world’ until a relatively
late period” (Raymond Brown, New Testament Essays (New
York: Image Books, 1968 p. 300)). Those who misunderstand this passage
tend to overlook the destruction of the ‘heavens’ which is
spoken about. This cannot be taken literally - they are God’s dwelling
place (Ps. 123:1), where there is no sinfulness (Hab. 1:13; Ps. 65:4,5),
and which declares God’s glory (Ps. 19:1). If they refer to something
figurative, so must the ‘earth’.
The following passages demonstrate how ‘heavens and earth’
in other parts of the Bible are not to be taken literally, but refer rather
to a system of things on the earth:
? “I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void, and
the heavens, and they had no light...For thus has the Lord said, The whole
land (of Israel) shall be desolate...For this shall the earth mourn, and
the heavens above be black” (Jer. 4:23-28). This is a prophecy of
the judgements to come upon the ‘heavens and earth’ of the
land and people of Israel, for which they (not the literal heaven and
earth) would mourn.
? Moses had earlier addressed all Israel: “Give ear, O heavens,
and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (Dt.
32:1). It is emphasised that there were two categories of people to whom
he spoke: 1) “The elders of your tribes” and 2) “all
the congregation of Israel” (Dt. 31:28,30). The elders would then
equate with the ‘heavens’ and the ordinary people with the
? Isaiah opened his prophecy in similar style: “Hear, O heavens,
and give ear, O earth... Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers...give
ear unto the law of our God, you people” (Is. 1:2,10). Again there
is a parallel between the heavens and the rulers; and between the earth
and the people.
? “He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that
he may judge His people” of Israel (Ps. 50:4). This speaks for itself.
? “I will shake all nations...I will shake the heavens and the earth”
(Hag. 2:7,21) likewise.
? “For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come
down upon Idumea...The sword of the Lord is filled with blood...for the
Lord has ...a great slaughter in the land of Idumea” (Is. 34:5,6).
‘Heaven’ is here equated with Idumea; the previous prophecy
that “all the host of heaven shall be dissolved” (Is. 34:4)
therefore refers to the dissolution of Idumea.
? The heavens and earth mentioned as dissolving in Is. 13 refer to the
people of Babylon. In a series of statements about Babylon we read that
God “will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her
place...it shall be as the chased roe...they shall every man turn to his
own people, and flee every one into his own land” (Is. 13:13,14).
The fleeing away of the heavens and earth is thus paralleled with that
of the people. Heb. 9:26 speaks of the “end of the world”
as occurring in the first century A.D. - in the sense that the Jewish
world was ending then.
With all this held firmly in mind, it is to be expected that New Testament
references to a new heaven and earth at the return of Christ will refer
to the new system of things which will be seen when the Kingdom of God
Closer examination of 2 Pet. 3 confirms this. Having described how the
present ‘heavens and earth’ will be ended, v. 13 continues:
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens
and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness”. This is quoting
His (God’s) promise of Is. 65:17: “Behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth”. The rest of Is. 65 goes on to describe this new
system of things as being a perfect situation here on this earth:
“Behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing...They shall not build and another
inhabit...the child shall die an hundred years old (i.e. life-spans will
be increased)...the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” (Is. 65:18-25).
These blessings are clearly relevant to God’s coming Kingdom on
earth - the new ‘heavens and earth’ which will replace the
present miserable set up.