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b) 2 Pet 3:7: This verse says, “But now the heavens and the earth by his word are being reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and [the] destruction of ungodly people.”
The author of 2 Peter divided human history into three periods separated by two cataclysmic events (Cf. 2 Pet 3:5–6).
People who deny the return of Christ shall be caught as unaware as those in Noah’s lifetime (Matt 24:37–39). God will surely intervene once again.
In the future, God shall bring about a conflagration of fire, rather than a flood to destroy humanity.
The Lord promised to never again send a deluge of such magnitude as the one in Noah’s era (Gen 9:11–17).
The center of the debate over this verse concerns what the author meant by his claim that fire will destroy the world.
Aside from 2 Pet 3:10, this concept of universal annihilation by flames occurs nowhere else in Scripture.
Divine judgment by fire does appear in the Old Testament (OT) (Gen 19:24–25; Lev 10:1–2; Num 16:3–7, 35).
In some instances, a metaphorical judgment by fire reflects the worst kind of disaster (Isa 30:30–33; Isa 66:15–16; Nah 1:6; Zeph 3:8).
Bauckham asserts that the Lord will use fire to destroy the planet. He admits that Old Testament views of the end-times do not include such a universal conflagration but instead point to the destruction of wicked people. He cites Jewish and Greek sources as the origin of his theory.
A first century AD Jewish prophecy attributed to Eve says, “On account of your conspiracies, our Lord will bring upon your race the wrath of his judgment, first by water, and second by fire. By these two will the Lord judge all the human race.’”
Early Christian authors also disagreed on this topic.
Justin Martyr, a second century AD apologist, wrote:
Wherefore God delays causing the confusion and destruction of the whole world, by which the wicked angels and demons and men shall cease to exist…because of the seed of the Christians, who know that they are the cause of preservation in nature.
Since, if it were not so…the fire of judgment would descend and utterly dissolve all things, even as formerly the flood left no one but him only with his family who is by us called Noah…from whom again such vast numbers have sprung, some of them evil and others good. For so we say that there will be the conflagration….
Irenaeus (ca 125–202 AD), condemned such thinking. He contended, “Neither is the substance nor the essence of the creation annihilated (for faithful and true is he who established it), but the fashion of the world passes away.”
Gnosticism was a popular view which claimed that all matter is inherently evil.
Consequently, its adherents believed that Jesus came as a purely spiritual being. They asserted that he neither came to earth in bodily form nor suffered death on the cross (John 1:14; Col 2:8–9; 1 John 4:1–3).
Gnostics concluded that the cosmos would be destroyed, allowing their inner “sparks of light” to return to the Kingdom of Light. They posed a significant threat to the church, causing Paul to warn Timothy to avoid such beliefs (1 Tim 6:20–21).
Irenaeus wrote that his Gnostic opponents believed, “When these things have taken place as described, then shall that fire which lies hidden in the world blaze forth and burn; and while destroying all matter, shall also be extinguished along with it, and have no further existence.”
Instead, Irenaeus affirmed that God shall restore the world (Cf. Rom 8:16–22):
Inasmuch, therefore, as the opinions of certain [orthodox persons] are derived from heretical discourses, they are both ignorant of God’s dispensations, and of the mystery of the resurrection of the just, and of the [earthly] kingdom which is the commencement of incorruption…
It is necessary to tell them respecting those things, that it behooves the righteous first to receive the promise of the inheritance which God promised to the fathers, and to reign in it, when they rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated, and that the judgment should take place afterwards.
For it is just that in that very creation in which they toiled or were afflicted…they should receive the reward of their suffering; and that in the creation in which they were slain because of their love to God, in that they should be revived again; and that in the creation in which they endured servitude, in that they should reign.
For God is rich in all things, and all things are His. It is fitting, therefore, that the creation itself, being restored to its primeval condition, should without restraint be under the dominion of the righteous.
The theologian Origen (ca. 184–254 AD) wrote that flames will consume only evil things:
But as it is in mockery that [the Greek philosopher] Celsus says we speak of “God coming down like a torturer bearing fire…”
We shall make a few remarks, sufficient to enable our hearers to form an idea of the defense which disposes of the ridicule of Celsus against us…
The divine word says that our God is “a consuming fire,” and that “He draws rivers of fire before Him;” nay, that He even entereth in as “a refiner’s fire…” to purify His own people.
But when He is said to be a “consuming fire,” we inquire what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God. And we assert that they are wickedness, and the works which result from it…
For [1 Cor 3:10–15 concludes] “The fire will try each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work be burned, he shall suffer loss…”
And, in like manner, “rivers of fire” are said to be before God who will thoroughly cleanse away the evil which is intermingled throughout the whole soul.
Earlier in this letter, the author warned of “heresies which lead to destruction” (2 Pet 2:1–3). Paul also mentioned the eternal condemnation of false teachers (Cf. 1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 4:3; 2 Thess 2:8–10).
Even the Old Testament passages which speak of punishment by fire at the end of this age refer to the destruction of wicked people, not of the cosmos (Isa 66:10–24; Ezek 38:18–23; Zeph 1:14–18; Mal 4:1–3).
Just as the Lord distinguished between righteous Noah and his contemporaries, so he will do on the day of judgment (Gen 6:1–8; Matt 13:24–30, 36–43, 47–50).
“Destruction” (apōleia) consists of physical death and eternal separation from God (Matt 7:13–14; Heb 10:37–39; Rev 17:8). Mockers who scoff at the notion of the return of Christ shall experience his fury (Rev 20:11–15).
The Essenes of Qumran (second century BC–70 AD), held similar views. In this Hymn of Thanksgiving, they attributed the coming destruction to the devil:
I thank Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast redeemed my soul from the Pit, and from the hell of Abaddon.
Thou hast raised me up to everlasting height. I walk on limitless level ground, and I know there is hope for him whom Thou hast shaped from dust for the everlasting Council.
Thou hast cleansed a perverse spirit of great sin that it may stand with the host of the Holy Ones, and that it may enter into community with the congregation of the Sons of Heaven…
And yet I, a creature of clay, what am I? Kneaded with water, what is my worth and my might? For I have stood in the realm of wickedness and my lot was with the damned…
It was a time of the wrath of all Satan and the bonds of death tightened without any escape…
The torrents of Satan shall reach to all sides of the world. In all their channels a consuming fire shall destroy every tree, green and barren, on their banks; unto the end of their courses it shall scourge with flames of fire and shall consume the foundations of the earth and the expanse of dry land.
The bases of the mountains shall blaze and the roots of the rocks shall turn to torrents of pitch; it shall devour as far as the great Abyss.
The torrents of Satan shall break into Abaddon, and the deeps of the Abyss shall groan amid the roar of heaving mud.
The land shall cry out because of the calamity fallen upon the world, and all its deeps shall howl. And all those upon it shall rave and shall perish amid the great misfortune.
For God shall sound His mighty voice, and His holy abode shall thunder with the truth of His glory. The heavenly hosts shall cry out and the world’s foundations shall stagger and sway.
The war of the heavenly warriors shall scourge the earth; and it shall not end before the appointed destruction which shall be forever and without compare.
I thank Thee, O Lord, for Thou art as a fortified wall to me, and as an iron bar against all destroyers…Thou hast set my feet upon rock…that I may walk in the way of eternity and in the paths which Thou hast chosen…
God and his heavenly forces shall destroy everything evil, but the Lord’s people will emerge safely.
The Babylonian Talmud is even more explicit. Quoting a portion of Ps 46, it says:
And should you ask, in those years during which the Almighty will renew his world, as it is written, “And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day, what will the righteous do?
The Lord will make them wings like eagles,” and they will fly above the water, as it is written, “Therefore we will not fear when the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”
Just as our planet survived Noah’s flood, so shall God renew it when Jesus returns.
When the apostle John began his description of the new heaven and earth in Rev 21:1, the Greek word he used for “new” (kainos) denotes something distinctly and qualitatively different. It does not mean that the object in question did not previously exist.
Thus, our earth will be transformed, even as we will have been (1 Cor 15:50–57; 2 Cor 5:14–17; 1 Thess 4:13–18).
Image via Wikimedia Commons
a) Read 2 Pet 3:7. How did Noah’s flood parallel the destruction to come? Do you believe that the earth will be destroyed or renewed in the age to come? Why? What will happen to everything evil? Why can all of creation, including those who belong to Christ, have hope?
Go to God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8)
[Related posts include The World Destroyed by Water (2 Pet 3:5–6); God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8); The Lord Has Patience (2 Pet 3:9); The Day of the Lord Will Come (2 Pet 3:10); Hastening the Day of God (2 Pet 3:11–12); Sons of God or Sons of the Gods? (Gen 6:1–2); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); God Grieves (Gen 6:5–6); Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7); Noah Found Favor (Gen 6:8); A Covenant with All Living Things (Gen 9:8–11); A Bow Set in a Cloud (Gen 9:12–17); Not Knowing the Day or the Hour (Matt 24:36); As in the Days of Noah (Matt 24:37–39); One Will Be Left (Matt 24:40–41); Continually Watch! (Matt 24:42–44); Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); Perishable Flesh and Blood (1 Cor 15:50); We Shall Be Changed (1 Cor 15:51–52); Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:53–55); New Creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17); The Armies in Heaven (Rev 19:14); and Ancient Literature]
[Click here to go to Chapter 9: A Covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:20–9:17)]
Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 299. Whether the author of 2 Peter was the apostle or someone writing in his name remains controversial, even among evangelical scholars.
Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 171.
Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 377.
Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 171.
Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 377–8.
Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 172.
Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 378.
Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 300.
Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 177–8.
Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 300.
Berlie Custis, Gary A. Anderson, and R. Layton, trans., The Life of Adam and Eve (1995), 49.3, Http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/anderson/vita/english/vita.lat.html.
Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 467, www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.
Justin Martyr, “The Second Apology of Justin Martyr,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ANF01) (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; trans. Philip Schaff; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1886), 7.1–3, 190, https://archive.org/stream/antenicenefather01robe#page/190.
Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Gnosticism,” DNTB, 414–8, 414. Note that gnosis means “knowledge” in Greek.
Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ANF01) (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; trans. Philip Schaff; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1886), 5.36.1, 566, https://archive.org/stream/antenicenefather01robe#page/566. Italics original.
Kurt Rudolph, “Gnosticism,” ABD 2:1033–40, 1033.
Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Gnosticism,” New Dictionary of Theology (NDT), 272–4, 273.
Kurt Rudolph, “Gnosticism,” ABD 2:1033.
Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” 1.7.1, 325, https://archive.org/stream/antenicenefather01robe#page/324.
Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ANF01), 5.32.1, 561, https://archive.org/stream/antenicenefather01robe#page/560. Italics mine.
Origen, Against Celsus (trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature, 1885), 4.13, 502, https://archive.org/stream/antenicenefathe00menzgoog#page/n478/mode/2up.
Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 93.
Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 378.
D. A. Carson, “2 Peter,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 1058.
Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 172.
Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 1QH2:5–7, 197–9, https://archive.org/stream/pdfy-Uy_BZ_QGsaLiJ4Zs/The%20Dead%20Sea%20Scrolls%20%5BComplete%20English%20Translation%5D#page/n311.
Heide, “What is New About the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” 50, www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-1/40-1-pp037-056_JETS.pdf.
b. Sanhedrin 92b, https://halakhah.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_92.html.
Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 467, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.
Johannes Behm, “καινος” (kainos), TDNT 3:447–50, 447.
Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1040.