Unlike Isaiah 65:17-19 and 66:22, agreement exists to which event Peter referred when he wrote, “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Disagreement erupts, however, over what constitutes new.
Starting with 2 Peter 3:1, Peter unveiled a tapestry of ideas related to the final judgment. For example scoffers will mock the idea of Christ’s coming. He paralleled the previous watery destruction of the earth with the future fiery day of the Lord devastating the current heavens and earth. That day will bring judgment and destruction of ungodly people. We also learn God desires for people to repent so they will not perish. General agreement exists the context reveals Peter depicted the end of the world followed by a new dwelling place for the righteous.
Even so, it would be careless to omit acknowledging the fundamental meaning behind some of Peter’s terminology. My own study supports two assertions by an Old Testament professor trained at Hebrew Union.
First, the day of the Lord is a day in which God acts. Thus if God were to bring destruction on a nation or to bless a nation, that would be a day of the Lord. Accordingly, 8th century B.C. Israel expected the day in which God would act to be a day of light for them, that is blessing (Amos 5:18). However, the prophet announced it would be darkness because of their sins. Ain’t no sunshine when God judges! We should not assume that the day of the Lord always designates the final day (Ezekiel 30:3,4; Joel 2:1,2; Isaiah 13:1,6).
Second, phraseology similar to “coming of the Lord” depicts divine action, often judgment. Accordingly, on many occasions the Lord has already come to act (Isaiah 19:1; Micah 1:3,6; Matthew 10:23). And our Lord will yet come in one final judgment (1 Thessalonians 4:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). We should not assume every scriptural reference to the Lord’s coming refers to the end.
All of this underscores the context’s critical role in determining an author’s message. A snippet of text will not suffice to ensure an accurate understanding. As noted above, the context of 2 Peter 3 reveals Peter was describing the final day of judgment and what would follow it.
So what is the nature of Peter’s new heavens and earth? Some understand him to describe the current heavens and earth experiencing a fiery cleansing preparing for remaking the earth.
Others believe he portrays a blazing annihilation of the current heavens and earth. The new heavens and a new earth are then understood to either be literal or a metaphor expressing the traditional idea of heaven.
For me a question highlights the most important and practical message within 2 Peter 3. Will we now live in such a way that we’ll be prepared for then?
Nevertheless another question remains. What is the nature of the new heavens and new earth? What is the evidence within 2 Peter whether the burning simply cleanses or totally destroys?
1. Part of the discussion revolves around the last words of 2 Peter 3:10. Unfortunately, this verse possesses one of the most difficult manuscript problems in the New Testament. Even the experts can not speak definitively.
- Some Bibles render 2 Peter 3:10 as: “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed/ laid bare.” This translation, which can be understood to support a fiery cleansing, is built upon several manuscripts. These manuscripts conclude this verse with a difficult phrase to understand, namely “will be found.” Two of these manuscripts originate from the 300’s along with a handful of others stretching from the 600’s to 1100’s.
When trying to identify the original wording of the author, scholars tend to prefer difficult textual variants over those more easily understood. Just as publishing houses strive to produce easy to read Bibles, scholars infer copyists might have sometimes altered a text to make it easier to read. However, why would they render an easy to understand text with more difficult wording?
- On the other hand, very early Syrian and Coptic Sahidic versions contain “will not be found.” Similarly, Papyrus 72, which is dated to the late 200’s or maybe early 300’s contains the phrase “will be found destroyed.” One manuscript from the 400’s contains “will disappear,” while the vast majority of manuscripts throughout history read “will be burned up.” The earliest one of these is in the 400’s. Accordingly, some Bibles read “the earth and its works will be burned up.”
2. Also relevant to the discussion are the other descriptive phrases in 2 Peter 3: “the heavens will disappear (parechomai) with a horrific roar, the celestial bodies will melt away (tēkō) in a blaze (kausoō), and the earth and all the works on it _________ … since all these things thus being dissolved (luō) … the heavens will be set on fire (puroō) and dissolved (luō), and the celestial bodies will melt (tēkō) as they burn (kausoō)” (2 Peter 3:11,12,13).
3. Stepping outside of the text to engage human reasoning, sometimes the argument is made that if God must destroy his creation impacted by sin rather than redeem it, evil wins. Yet if the heavens will disappear and be dissolved/destroyed, is this valid reasoning?
What do you think the “new heavens and a new earth” will be like? A fresh start on a purified earth or an entirely new dwelling place? Regardless of the details, we are promised new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells!
The previous article in this series is here
First article in this series is here