"It is almost universally assumed that the bondage Paul avers to is the bondage of tutelage under the law, and that the tutors and governors are equated with the elements of the world. However, this seems plainly mistaken."
In this article we examine II Peter 3:7-13 and decide that the heavens and earth that were marked for destruction involved considerably more than merely Old Testament Judaism, Jerusalem, and the temple.
Early Preterist Perceptions
The modern preterist movement is very young; although we have learned much, we still have much to learn. We are still mining the depths of the language and imagery of the prophets and gaining a fuller comprehension of the meaning and significance of the eschaton. It is natural that we adjust our position as we learn it is imperfect or incorrect. One example of an area in need of correction is the tendency among early writers and expositors in the movement to explain everything about the eschaton in terms of Judaism and the Mosaic law. For example, at one time Max King spoke in terms of mankind’s universal bondage to death finding its source in the Mosaic law, and the eschatological resurrection consisting in raising the “corporate body” of believers out of the dead body of Judaism. In retrospect, many now see that that these views were mistaken. Mankind’s universal bondage to death had and still has its source in the law of sin and death, not the Mosaic law. The law of Moses was merely superadded to the universal law of sin and death. The law of Moses bound only Jews; the law of sin and death tyrannizes all mankind. Removal of the Mosaic law did not destroy death. The law of sin and death still reigns over every man that obeys not the gospel of Christ. The “handwriting of ordinances which was against us” (Col. 2:14) and which Christ triumphed over in his cross was not the law of Moses, but the debt incurred by the law of sin and death; Christ redeemed us from the bond and debt of sin by his substitutionary death and atoning blood. Similarly, the eschatological resurrection was not the liberation of believers from the “dead body of Judaism,” but the resurrection of the spirit or soul from Hades. (I Cor. 15:55; Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Matt. 16:18)
A humorous example of this tendency to explain everything in terms of Judaism and the destruction of Jerusalem occurred at a recent conference at which I was a speaker. A young man who obviously had come under the influence of King was passing out an article in which he attempted to explain casting death and hades into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) as the destruction of Judaism. Apparently, in his mind, to destroy Judaism was to destroy death and hades! I do not say this to pick on this promising young man or Max King. Not by any means. In forging a path through a wilderness, it is inevitable that we sometimes err and have to retrace our steps. King was among the earliest writers on preterism; it was inevitable he make the mistakes pioneers make. But the point remains: there was a tendency among early writers to focus exclusively upon the Jewish aspect of the eschaton; to zero in on passing the Mosaic law and destruction of Jerusalem to the exclusion of all else. And this tendency was not limited to the source of death and the nature of the resurrection. It is also extant in notions about the interpretation of II Peter 3:7-13.
The Early Interpretation of II Pet. 3:7-13
II Pet. Three is one of
the more difficult passages of scripture for many Christians to accept
was fulfilled in the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem
in A.D. 70. Unfamiliar with the usus loquendi (manner of
speaking) of the Old Testament prophets, there is a natural tendency to
interpret Peter’s language literally, as if the earth and its atomic
elements are to be burned up.
Recognizing the figurative nature of identical language in the Old Testament, preterists conclude that Peter must be understood in the identical way. (Cf. Isa. 13:6-13; 34:1-15; Jer. 4:23-26; Zeph. 1:2-4) The New Testament did not occur in a vacuum; the established method of speaking and prophesying did not suddenly cease and a new hermeneutic spring into existence at the cross; the same Spirit that spoke through the Old Testament prophets spoke through the apostles. This, coupled with passages which speak of Christ’s second coming in the events marking the destruction of Jerusalem, caused early preterist writers to interpret the eschaton exclusively in terms of the dissolution of the Jewish state. Accordingly, the “elements” of II Pet. 3:7-13 became the precepts of the Mosaic law and the “heavens and earth,” the world of Judaism, particularly the temple and city of Jerusalem. Similarly, the new heavens and earth were interpreted in terms exclusively of the New Testament kingdom and gospel. After all, didn’t Paul refer to the Mosaic law and its calendar of feasts as the “elements of the world”? (Gal. 4:8-10; cf. Col. 2:16, 17, 20; Heb. 5:12; 6:1) Moreover, didn’t the Jews see in the temple a type of heaven in the Most Holy place and the earth in its outer courts? And did not Jesus, sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple, say “heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away”? And what about Matt. 5:18, didn’t Jesus say “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled,” thus tying the passage of heaven and earth to the fulfillment and passing of the law? And finally, didn’t God state that when he established the covenant at Sinai that he “planted the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?” (Isa. 51:16) Isn’t this proof that the heavens and earth must be construed covenantally, and II Peter interpreted exclusively in terms of the dissolution of Jerusalem and the Mosaic law? Well, maybe.
Critical Examination of the Proof Texts
A critical review of the above texts will show that they have sometimes been misused. Let us begin with Matt. 5:18. When I first became a preterist 25 years ago, I interpreted this passage much as described above. I thought Christ was tying the passage of the law to the passage of the “heavens and earth” and these, in turn, to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is pretty much the standard preterist interpretation today. However, I have come to view it differently. Hopefully, my present understanding is correct.
In saying “till heaven and earth pass away,” Jesus was not employing a metaphor or engaging in veiled speech indicating that the passing of the old law would mark the passing of the heavens and earth. Rather, he is employing a figure of speech to show the impossibility that the law should pass before it was fulfilled. If we substitute a vulgar expression, which we are all familiar with, but which hopefully the Christian himself does not use, it will be easily seen that Jesus did not intend the language to be pressed too literally: “Till hell freezes over, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.” I think it is clear that in this sentence we do not intend to suggest that the fulfillment of the law would indicate hell had actually or figuratively frozen. Rather, we are employing a figure of speech to show that it is easier for hell to freeze than the law should fail. And this is precisely how Jesus uses the expression. In effect, Jesus says it is easier for heaven and earth to pass than for one jot or tittle of the law to fail except it first be fulfilled. And, in fact, he uses this exact phrase in Lk. 16:16, 17: “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” To press the literalness of Jesus’ statement is to miss its meaning. Matt. 5:18 has nothing to lend to the interpretation of II Pet. 3:7-13.
The same is true of Matt. 24:35. In the language of scripture, the sun, moon, earth and sky are synonymous with permanence. They are ordinances of God that cannot be removed. Consider the prophet Jeremiah:
In this passage the Lord compares the permanence of the heavenly bodies to his irrevocable purpose to bring back a remnant from captivity and so bring Christ into the world. And, indeed, he never has cast off all the seed of Israel. Even in destroying the nation in A.D. 70, a remnant was preserved, just as he foretold. (Rom. 9:29; 11:5) Another example of evoking the heavens to show the certainty of God’s word is Ps. 89:36, 37, where the writer says that the throne of David and his seed shall “endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven.” Hence, in saying, “heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away,” Christ is not making an enigmatic reference to the temple. He is simply saying that it is easier for earth to vanish than his predictions to fail. He wanted his disciples to understand that he spoke with the perfect authority of the word of God; that his word was established in heaven and did not rest upon the fickle fortune and changing winds of human earth and sky. To search for hidden meanings is to miss the point.
What about reference to the ordinances of the Mosaic law as the “elements of the world;” doesn’t this accord with Peter saying the “elements” would be dissolved with fervent heat? We think not.
In Galatians, Paul refers to
the time of man’s tutelage under the law as being in bondage under the
elements of the world.
It is almost universally assumed that the bondage Paul avers to is the bondage of tutelage under the law, and that the tutors and governors are equated with the elements of the world. However, this seems plainly mistaken. Paul also speaks of the Gentiles being in bondage to the elements of the world in worshipping celestial bodies, philosophy, and assorted commandments of men. (Gal. 48-10; Col. 2:8-22) Unless we are prepared to say that Paul somehow equated the Mosaic law with idolatry, philosophy, and commandments of men, the elements to which Paul refers must be understood in reference to something other than the Mosaic law. In other words, if A = B and C =B then A = C. If the law equals the elements, and worship of idols and celestial bodies equals the elements, then the law equals worship of idols, etc. Since it is very unlikely Paul would equate the law with idolatry, the only alternative is that he did not intend to equate the Mosaic law with elements of the world. Hence, we submit that the ordinances of the law were the tutors and governors assigned to teach men while they were under the elements, but were not the elements themselves.
In this section of Galatians,
Paul treats of two groups: servants and heirs. The Jews were deemed heirs,
the Gentiles servants. The Gentiles had no inheritance in the Father’s
house, the Jews did. The Jews were putative heirs by virtue of the promise
to Abraham. (Gal. 4:14-18; cf. Rom. 4:13) However, the promised
inheritance would come through Christ, not the law. The period from Abraham
to Christ is likened by Paul to childhood or minority. During this period,
the law was appointed as tutor and governor of the Jews to lead them to
Christ. (Gal.3:24) The Gentiles, being servants, were in bondage under the
elements of the world and the law of sin and death; the Jews were also under
bondage as putative heirs as long as they continued in their minority. Paul
indicated as much when he said “the heir, as long as he is a child,
differeth nothing from a servant.” Israel’s condition of bondage is pursued
further by Paul in the allegory about Hagar and Sarah. (Gal. 4:24-34) The
point of both analogies is that the Jews had no better standing in right of
law than a servant, whether considered from the point of view of their
minority or their fleshly descent. Either way, they were under bondage
together with the Gentiles. Now, although the law was appointed as tutor
during the Jews’ infancy and bondage, it did not make them such. Rather, the
Jews were infants, equal in right of law to bond-servants, by nature.
Gentiles were also under bondage by nature. Man obtained his carnal
nature by inheritance from Adam. Unregenerate man - whether Jew or Gentile -
is in bondage to the law of sin and death through the elemental forces
of his fallen nature. Although divinely ordained, the Mosaic law was
powerless to deliver from these because it was impossible that the blood of
bulls and goat take away sins. (Heb. 10:4) Since it could not save from sin,
to keep the law was to be in bondage under the weak and beggarly elements of
our own falleness; “weak and beggarly” not in terms of their dominion over
man (for to the sons of Adam their power was complete and their bondage
unbreakable), but in comparison with the redeeming blood of Christ, the
second Adam (over whom they had no power at all). Thus, Paul reproaches the
The phrase “turn again” is
very important. Paul is writing to Gentiles that had never been under the
law. This proves conclusively that the elements of the world are not a
reference to the ordinance of the law. Rather, it was in serving idols and
celestial bodies (“them which by nature are not gods”) that the Galatians
had been under the elements of the world. Man’s bondage to the elemental
forces of his falleness made him obey the passions of sin in his flesh; this
in turn brought him into bondage under the law of sin and death. Having been
freed from that bondage by obedience to the gospel, Paul asks how the
Galatians could return to their former servitude. Not by returning to
worship of idols or celestial bodies, but by keeping the law (“ye observe
days, and months, and times, and years”). Thus it is clearly seen that the
elements of the world refers not to the Mosaic law, but to the rudimentary
forces of man’s carnality and falleness; the natural laws operating upon his
flesh and mind, bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in
his members. (Rom. 7:23) Paul’s letter to the Colossian is even clearer.
Paul’s letter to the Colossian is even clearer.
The term “rudiments” here is
from the Greek stoicheia; the same word is rendered “elements” in
Galatians. Paul’s mention of philosophy is a plain reference to the Greek
and Roman philosophical schools and traditions. This is further proof that
elements are not a reference to the law. Philosophy is not after the law of
Moses, but the rudiments of the world and tradition of men. The world’s
systems of religious error find their source in the elemental forces of
man’s fallen nature - the motions of sin in his flesh - not the law. Paul
admonishes the Colossians to beware not to look outside of Christ for
soteriological perfection. Believers are complete in Christ and lack nothing
to make them acceptable before God. (Col. 2:10) Christ spoiled the
principalities and powers (elemental forces) in his cross by canceling the
debt of sin. (Col. 2:14, 15) Hence, believers are not to allow themselves to
be brought back into bondage by obedience to other systems, whether the law
or pagan philosophies:
Paul’s reference to the law in
new moons and Sabbath days is clear enough; the other ordinances Paul
describes are forms of false asceticism common to sects among both Jews and
Gentiles, self imposed rules of abstinence and self-abnegation from things
indifferent in themselves; rules which sprang from man’s own fallenness,
which can not deliver from sin, and whose observance therefore can only
bring enslavement again to sin. The believer’s true self-denial was to rest
in Christ and abstain from sin and worldly lusts, not food and drink.
Christians were to flee these vain deceits because all such things would be
consumed at the eschaton, even though found in the church:
Paul states that the work of men laboring in the gospel would be tested by the fiery persecutions and calamitous events of the eschatological day; the stuff that men were made of – the type and quality of material they were instructed with and built upon – would be made apparent; either men would be purified and refined like gold and silver, or they would be consumed like wood, hay, and stubble; these latter belonging to the “elements of the world,” the former to the hidden treasures of God in Christ. (Col. 2:3; Rev. 3:18) Peter, whose discourse on the eschaton we are discussing, alludes to the fiery trial of the eschatological day in exactly the same terms: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (I Pet. 1:7; cf. 4:12) Were the fires that would try the church different from the fires that would cause the elements to melt and the heavens to be dissolved? Not at all; they were the very same; both spoke to the historical events that would come upon the world at the eschaton. The difference lay only in the result: some would survive, some would perish. To survive one needed to be firmly rooted in Christ, not the soil of human tradition and commandments of men. (Cf. Matt. 13:21)
If the elements of the world do not speak to Jerusalem and the Mosaic law, what did Isaiah mean when he said God planted the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth at Sinai? The short answer is that the prophet did not refer to Sinai, but the return of the captivity from Babylon:
Reference to “dividing the waves” does not place this at Sinai; God refers to the exodus to show that, as he formerly delivered the nation from out of Egypt, so he would bring them from captivity in Babylon and Assyria. “Planting the heavens” is a poetic reference to repopulating the land by sowing it with the seed of men; “laying the foundations of the earth” describes the rebuilding of the waste and desolate places; the cities left uninhabited when their peoples were taken into captivity. This is easily seen by a simple comparison of similar passages. (Cf. Jer. 31:27; Ezek. 36:33, 36; Hos. 2:23).
We have now surveyed all the traditional proof texts. As we have seen, they have all have been misinterpreted and misapplied. To be sure, we apprehended their meaning in part (or, as the apostle would say, “through a glass darkly”), but not clearly or in whole. Hence, we construed II Peter three wrongly. The language is figurative, yes! But much more was involved then merely Judea, Jerusalem, and the law. These were at the center of the eschaton because they were at the center of God’s plan of redemption, but we would be very mistaken to so circumscribe Christ’s second coming as to exclude the rest of the inhabitable world. As we shall see, the eschaton was universal in its meaning and affect. The elements that melted at Christ’s coming entailed the fashion of the whole world.
The Universal Impact and Affect of the Eschaton
The Eschaton in Daniel
The universal nature of the eschaton is nowhere more apparent than in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream depicted Christ coming in his kingdom with power. The affect would be world-wide; except insofar as included incidentally as part of the fourth world empire, the Jews, the temple, and Jerusalem are not so much as alluded to. Daniel does speak to the destruction of the Jewish state in subsequent chapters, but in chapter two the inhabited world is in view. The import of the dream is that the world was on a collision course with the risen Savior; the whole edifice of human government, religion, and culture would be dashed to pieces by the iron scepter of the ruling Christ and forever swept away. A new world order would rise from the rubble; the gospel would become the standard against which every institution of man was measured. What Peter said would be consumed by fire, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream portrayed as chaff that the wind carried away. The visions are the same; only the language and imagery are changed.
In chapter seven, Daniel spoke of the eschaton under other images and symbols. There, four successive world empires that would obtain until the time of the end are portrayed in the form of four beasts. The fourth beast is imperial Rome; its ten horns are the ten provinces of the Roman empire. The vision tells of another “little horn” that rose up in the midst of the provinces and persecuted the saints, who were delivered into its hand for a “time, times, and half a time;” viz., three and a half years. (Dan. 7:21-25) The little horn was defeated by the coming of the Ancient of Days. (v. 22) The beast was destroyed and its body given to the burning; and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. (vv. 11, 27) The little horn is best interpreted as the three and half year persecution under Nero; the coming of the Ancient of Days is Christ’s second coming. The burning of the beast answers to Christ consuming the Man of Sin with the breath of his mouth in II Thess. 2:18. In Revelation, the persecution of Nero is portrayed under the symbol of the invading army of Gog and Magog; the persecution ends when God sends fire from heaven and consumes Gog laying siege to the church. (Rev. 20:7-9; cf.19:20, 21)
In all of these passages, the
fire that destroyed the enemies of Christ answers to the eschatological fire
of II Pet. 3:10. The fire is the same. The persecution under Nero was world
wide: the false prophet (Jewish ecclesiastical powers) led the persecution
in Judea and Palestine; the harlot (Jerusalem and Jewry) drove
the persecution throughout Asia where she is portrayed riding a
scarlet colored beast; and Nero waged war against the saints in Rome.
The world wide nature of the eschatological war against Christ and the
church is proof positive that the eschatological fire of II Pet. 3:10 was
also world wide, and not limited to merely Judea. In Judea, Christ’s coming
would result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; Asia suffered
earthquakes, famine and disease; Rome and Italy were ravaged by plague,
famine and civil war. No part of the empire was untouched.
Other Old Testament prophets that spoke to the universal nature of the eschaton include Ezekiel, Joel, Micah, and Zechariah. (Ezek. 38, 39; Joel 3; Mic. 4:3, 11-13; Zech. 12:3; 14:12)
New Testament Verses Showing the Universal Nature of the Eschaton
Matt. 25:31-41 – “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.”
J. Stuart Russell attempted to explain this passage by saying that “all nations” meant all the tribes of Israel. But his argument was unconvincing. To make this apply only to Judea and the Jews is forced and artificial. The passage is much more consistent with a world-wide judgment at the eschaton than just the Jews.
Acts 17:31 - “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
Paul was in Athens when he made this prediction. He is not here speaking about the judgment of the dead, nor of Palestine, but the world (Grk. oikoumenen – inhabitable world; viz., the Roman empire). The coming day of judgment would envelope the whole Roman empire, and not just Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee. We might comment here that in discussing the “little apocalypse” of Isa. 24-29, preterists generally interpret the “earth” that is there made desolate and bare (Isa. 24:12) in terms only of Judah and Israel. However, the fact is often overlooked that in the nine preceding chapters the prophet described God’s judgment upon Moab (Isa. 15, 16), Syria and Israel (Isa. 17), Ethiopia (Isa. 18), Egypt (Isa. 19, 20), Babylon, Dumah and Arabia (Isa. 21), Judah (Isa. 22), and Tyre. (Isa. 23) Thus, the judgment spoken of in the little apocalypse was world-wide; chapter twenty-four merely summarizes the judgments that overtook the ancient world in the preceding chapters.1
The ax in God’s hand and razor by which he would shave the world of its inhabitants was Assyria. (Isa. 7:20; 10:12, 15) Assyria was like a rending storm and overwhelming scourge that would pass through the land, leveling all in its path. The Jews thought they would escape; they thought they had a covenant with death (Assyria) and with hell were in agreement. (Isa. 28:15) Ahaz had taken the gold and silver found in the temple and the treasures of the king’s house, and sent them for a present to the king of Assyria (II Kng. 16); Hezekiah paid the king of Assyria three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold; he even stripped off the gold from the doors of the temple, and from the pillars, to pay to the king of Assyria to conclude a treaty of peace. (II Kng. 18:13-16) The Jews thought that they would thus escape God’s judgment by the Assyrians. But God said he would annul their agreement with Assyria and they would be trodden down when the overwhelming scourge passed through the land; as in fact came to pass. (Isa. 28:18) Furthermore, what the Assyrians failed to accomplish, the Babylonians would complete.
God’s judgment in carrying the nation into captivity under the Assyrians and Babylonians was typical of the eschatological judgment under Rome when the nation would suffer ultimate and irrevocable destruction. Hence, prophecies of the coming salvation in Jesus are interwoven throughout the little apocalypse, showing it has another, plenary application that would be fulfilled in the days of the Messiah. (Isa. 25:8; 26:19; 28:16) But the point we want to make here is that, just as the judgment of the little apocalypse by Assyria brought within its sweep the whole world of ancient man, so the eschatological judgment would not be limited to Jerusalem and Palestine. All men would feel the rod of Christ’s correction.
Rom. 1:18 - “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
Rom. 2:8, 9 - “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.”
These verses make plain that the coming day of wrath was directed against all men; to the Jew first and also the Gentile. No nation was immune or would escape.
I Cor. 7:29, 31 – “But this I say, brethren, the time is short…for the fashion of this world passeth away.”
Here Paul indicates that the very form and fashion of the world (kosmos) was destined to “pass away” at the eschaton. It was not merely the Jew’s world that would vanish forever, but the world as it had been known to mankind from the time of the fall. No more would sin and death reign; Christ reigned and would henceforth bend the world to his word and his will.
II Thess. 2:8 – “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.”
The “Wicked” (man of sin and son of perdition) is a reference to Nero. This verse states that Christ would destroy Nero with the brightness of his coming. This means that Christ’s coming reached to Rome and was not limited to Palestine. It also shows that Christ came in the events of A.D. 67-70, and not A.D. 70 alone.
Rev. 1:7 – “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”
This contemplates considerably more than just the judgment of Palestine and the Jews. All kindreds of the earth would witness the kingdom coming in power.
Space does not permit a fuller presentation, but these few should do. Can anyone seriously claim that the eschaton encompassed only Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee?
The New Heavens and Earth
Those who see only the destruction of Jerusalem and old covenant Israel in II Pet. 3:10 tend to construe the new heavens and earth in the same overly narrow terms. Typically, the new heavens and earth are thought to represent the New Testament. However, this is mistaken. If the new heavens and earth are the New Testament, only those obeying the gospel would dwell there. But this is not the case. Revelation clearly depicts the lost dwelling in the new heavens and earth, outside the city. It is the city that represents the covenantal habitation of the saints; “without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” (Rev. 22:15) The fact that unregenerate men inhabit the new heavens and earth proves conclusively that they are not symbols of the New Testament. But if they are not the New Testament, what are they?
After the eschatological destruction wrought upon the heavens and earth of old, God did not leave it a ruin and desolation; he renewed and restored it. After the flood, God made a new heavens and earth; after the destruction of the ancient world by the armies of Assyria and Babylon, God made a new heavens and earth; and now, after the eschatological destruction of the inhabitable world, God renewed it again. “And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) The promise that God shall wipe away every tear, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying “for the former things are passed away” (v. 4) is directed only to God’s people (v. 3), and then speaks only to a cessation of the calamities and persecutions that marked the eschaton. It is not a promise that all troubles would be swept away for all time. Common experience proves that this is true. Similar language occurred after the captivity in Babylon and carried similar import. (Isa. 35:10; 51:11; 65:19)
The only thing expressly stated to be different about the new heavens and earth from the old is that John saw no more sea, and the new Jerusalem, having come down out of heaven, reigned in its midst. The lack of the sea in the new earth is suggestive of free and unhampered access to the city of God. Seas are natural barriers and served to separate the nations of men. Moreover, in Revelation, the sea represents the Gentiles of the Mediterranean world; the land represented Judea. In the new earth, the distinction between Jew and Gentile is gone. All men are invited into the presence of God within the city (the church); all approach the throne of grace on equal terms. The gates of the city are always open, inviting all to enter and partake of living water and the tree of life – the word of God and gospel of Christ. The presence of God that had been lost through the fall of Adam is restored to man in the church. Language in Isaiah about the wolf and the lamb feeding together, the lion eating straw like the bullock, and the longevity of infants and old men speaks to the peaceable kingdom, the church – Zion and new Jerusalem - not the new heavens and earth. (Isa. 65:19-25)
Although correctly interpreting the language of II Pet. 3:7-15 symbolically and not predicting the literal destruction of all that exists, we have tended to interpret it in overly narrow terms. The eschaton involved more than the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; it brought the entire inhabitable world within its sweep.
1 It is possible that the devastations described reach to the Persian empire inasmuch as the day of the Lord against Babylon by the Medes is spoken of in chapters 13 and 14, immediately preceding the catalogue of nations surveyed from chapters 15-23.
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Date: 04 Jul 2006
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