By Kevin V. Rutherford
The apostle Peter refuted those who scoffed at the reality of the second coming of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3). The scoffers argued things have never changed, as if to suggest they never will change. Peter proved them wrong on both counts. Things did change in the past when God condemned the world and covered it in water. It will change again in the future. Not into a renewed earth as some people teach, but rather it shall be completely destroyed.
When the Lord returns, the heavens will pass away with a great noise (2 Peter 3:10). These are the heavens that God created at the beginning of time (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:6). The term heaven is sometimes used to refer to the atmosphere of this earth, as in the place from which it rains (Deuteronomy 11:17; 2 Chronicles 6:26). Sometimes the term "heaven," or "heavens," is used with reference to the vast universe surrounding the earth (1 Chronicles 27:23; Psalm 8:3; 19:1). Thayer defines the Greek word for "heavens" as "the heights above, the upper regions (The New Thayer's Greek English Lexicon, p. 464). He further distinguishes the material heavens from the "seat of an order of things eternal and consummately perfect, where God dwells and the other heavenly beings." Paul referred to the place where heavenly beings dwell as "the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). It not likely Peter is saying God's eternal heaven is going to be destroyed but rather the heavens (sky and universe) that God once created will someday pass away ("perish" - Thayer, 488) with a great noise.
On that day, the elements will melt with fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10). The word "elements" refers to "any first thing, from which the others belonging to some series or composite whole take
their rise (Thayer, 588)." This word refers to the most basic elements or building blocks of the material universe. Perhaps a reference to the very atoms themselves. These basic building blocks of the material universe will "burn up with fervent heat (Thayer, 342)." The most basic elements of the heavens and the earth will melt with fervent heat. The word "melt" means to unloose something that is bound together (Thayer, 384). The basic building blocks of the material universe will come loose from one another. The material universe will literally fall apart, or dissolve, causing the heavens to perish with a great noise.
We are also told that "the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10 - NKJV). Some ancient manuscripts contain the Greek word that is defined as "to consume by fire (Thayer, 331)." The ASV, KJV, NKJV, and NASB all use the English words "burned up" in this verse, but the ESV translates it as "will be exposed." The ESV is going with an alternate textual reading which contains a word that means "to expose," or to "lay bare." The context would certainly favor the translation in the ASV, KJV, NKJV, and NASB. However, even if the ESV is correct there would not be a contradiction in the text. Even as the very basic elements of the universe are let loose with burning heat, the very construction of the earth and universe itself will be laid bare, or exposed. In either case, the context here is indicating the heavens and the earth are going to literally come apart at the level of the very basic elements or building blocks.
This can be clearly understood by verse eleven. Peter says "all these things will be dissolved." The things in the context are the heavens and the earth. The heavens and the earth will be dissolved. That is the very basic elements for both the heavens and the earth will come apart with fervent heat and a great noise. Nothing that is made of matter is going to be held together. All that is made of matter is going to fall apart from its most fundamental building blocks.
Someday, matter will be no more. This universe and earth will no longer exist. There is coming a day of great judgment when souls will be sentenced to either an eternal punishment or an eternal reward (Matthew 25:46). That eternal reward will not be on this earth, for the earth will no longer exist. That eternal reward will be in heaven. The Bible clearly and distinctively teach this (1 Peter 1:3-4).
- Kevin V. Rutherford preaches for the Warners Chapel church of Christ in Clemmons, NC. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://warnerschapelchurchofchrist.org/