Q & A – 2 Peter 3

01Jan11

With this post we will begin the occasional attempt to broach questions that arise directly or indirectly from the entire blog.

So I have a question: Is the language in 2 Peter 3 about the heavens passing away, being set on fire and melting figurative? Or is there is literal new heavens and new earth coming one day?

First, let’s look at the actual passage and see what Peter is trying to say…

2 Pet 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

I wish I could be bold enough to make explicit proclamation as to my own particular view, but this may be simply the most difficult passage to understand in all of Peter’s writings. There are two main opposing view even within the Preterist camp. There is also a third understanding that we will discuss briefly at the end that I have found quite interesting.

The first, and seemingly most popular view, is that this passage is dealing with the end of things and the true and literal passing of heaven and earth. This would coincide with the picture shown in Revelation 20.

Rev 20:9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.

If these two passage refer to the same event as one could readily surmise than it would be best to place the events of 2 Peter at the end of current age and the beginning of the eternal state.

On the other hand, it is argued that the passage in question is actually using the metaphor of the original creation process found in Genesis to describe how tremendous an impact the work of Christ and the coming destruction and punishment of the wicked and apostate in 70 AD. As much as the creation of the world was traumatic and tremendous, the work of christ on the cross and in His resurrection is just a tremendous. It is cosmic altering.

Peter here is simply using familiar Old testament language to describe the soon coming events of Christ’s coming in judgment. The New Heaven and New Earth that are associated with it are catastrophic in a Biblical way. It changes the direction of human history!

The third possibility is one that I have just discovered. It argues that Peter here is making a case for Holy living amongst the recipients of his letter. He warns them not to join the scoffers who deny the return of Christ in judgment and then describes just what that judgment will look like. This may be related to either the 70 AD or final judgment but is, in actuality, not the specific point of his comments.

What Peter ultimately wants to express is not picture of the Second Coming or 70 AD judgment, but rather a call to righteous living and that the call to the Church in the first century was to embrace this New Heaven and New earth that was arriving as a result of the work of Christ. Note how Peter expresses this in the final verse above.

After expressing some very catastrophic imagery Peter then proclaims that we (the first century Church pre-70AD) are awaiting the New Heaven and New Earth and that that should be our focus.

I have no problems with any of the three and have, for the most part leaned toward the first view, but have grown progressively intrigued by the third option and that exegesis that makes sense historically and contextually.

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5 Responses to “Q & A – 2 Peter 3”

  1. 1 RevK

    It’s all gonna burn!

    • 2 low5point

      I have always appreciated your succinct and detailed exegetical propositions…

  2. 3 Christy

    I see this passage totally different in light of the way the same exact word (elements)is used in other instances in the NT. Peter is speaking of the Judaic system with it’s rules and regulations (traditions of men) rather than the physical world. Study Gal 4:3-9, Col 2:8, 2:20 and Heb 5:12. This same Greek word is used in all of these instances and never refers to the physical world. Let me know what you think after you’ve studied it.

    • 4 low5point

      I have no problem with this view, and in fact, is really where the second view is going. I purposely cut short many detailed aspects as the purpose of the blog has never been to dig too deep and to keep things at a generally acceptable lay person level. Yes, most undoubtedly, if Peter is dealing with the New Heaven and New earth as it relates to the first century (like Rev. 21 and 22) then those apocalyptic descriptions would fit. In fact, I did somewhat allude to that in the argument for the first century understanding when I discussed the impact of the work of Christ.

      But thank you for taking that actual details a little deeper and discussing the impact on the current (at that time) religious climate. I believe that was thoroughly dealt with in the blog itself.

  3. 5 Yeshua is the Lord of Glory

    Hi David

    How are things going…Are you writing IT now? Any way just wanted to say hello…

    Take care


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