The Agora
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Earth burned up?

QUESTION: Are the "heavens" and "earth" in 2Pe 3 literal, and will the earth be literally burned up?

ANSWER: The passage in question is 2Pe 3:7,10-12:

"But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men... But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!"

In this passage the "heavens" have been long considered as political, for how else could the literal heavens "pass away", or the literal elements melt with fervent heat, or the literal earth be burned up? But since those awesome days at the end of World War II, the literal character of this prophecy has become a frightening possibility. In a terrifyingly real way, twentieth- century man now has the potential to split the foundation blocks of his material world, to explode unstable elements, which release almost unimaginable energy, and to incinerate the very earth (or some small portion thereof)         on which we stand.

Therefore, 2Pe 3 could literally be fulfilled, to some extent.

But, in the sentences above, stress must be laid on "some small portion thereof" and "to some extent". Whatever destruction of the "earth" which God accomplishes or allows will be speedily remedied by a re-creation, or renewal, as described by Isaiah, in the passage quoted by Peter:

"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more" (Isa 65:17-19).

So one may assume that, even if the literal "earth" were to be burned up, it would rapidly be replaced by another "earth" in which Israel and Jerusalem (and other familiar landmarks)         are still fixtures!

In the passage in question (2Pe 3), Peter speaks of the "heavens" and "earth" and "world" having been once "destroyed" by water (vv 5,6)         -- referring, of course, to the great flood of Noah's day. In using this warning example from history, Peter is implicitly limiting the coming "destruction" of the earth: just as Noah's flood destroyed wicked men along with their wicked works, but left a cleansed globe ready for a new beginning -- so, likewise, the coming fire of divine judgment (whatever literal form it may take)         will burn up wicked men and their wicked institutions (v 7), but will leave a cleansed world ready to receive God's Kingdom, which Christ will bring to it.

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