Destruction of the world Summary

 

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  • The New Testament says: “The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly … The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12).
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  • Is this literal? Does it mean the total destruction of the Earth? When will it happen? We shall examine these questions.
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  • Secular interest in the end of the world

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  • Apocalyptic End of the World movies are popular and there have been hundreds of predictions of the date of the end of the world over the centuries – currently 2028, 2037, 2129, 2240 and 2280!
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  • However, we have already noted that secular scholars anticipate the world ending. Professor Stephen Hawking said in April 2013 “We must continue to go into space for humanity. We won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.”
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  • The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, founded by Professors Huw Price, and Martin Rees, states: “Many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole.”
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  • The Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford, founded by Professor Nick Bostrom, speaks of “global catastrophic risks, in which an adverse outcome would either cause the extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically destroy its future potential. It would spell an end to the human story.”
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  • Those who dismiss giving serious thought to the end of the world are therefore being rather naïve. If serious secular scholars are taking it very seriously, surely Christians should.
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  • Is prophecy of the destruction of the earth literal?

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  • Clearly the secular scholars I mentioned are taking the possibility of the earth being destroyed literally. I see no reason why the description in 2 Peter 3:3-13 should not be taken as literal. I maintain the position of taking Scripture literally unless there is very good reason to take it as symbolical. It is interesting that the author is, by implication, rebuking those who scoff at a literal return of Christ and goes on to point out what will happen in association with that literal return. I hardly think he would respond to their scoffing by conveying highly symbolical information.
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  • Professor Bo Reicke on this passage says: “The solar system and the great galaxies, even space-time relationships, will be abolished … All elements which make up the physical world will be dissolved by heat and utterly melt away. It is a picture which in an astonishing degree corresponds to what might actually happen according to modern theories of the physical universe.” Michael Green allows for the possibility of a symbolical interpretation but he writes: “Does Peter teach that the whole world will be destroyed by fire? There is no a priori reason why he should not” and he add that it is “by no means incredible to a generation which lives after Hiroshima.”
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  • Will the earth be totally destroyed or renewed?
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  • This is a very important question and there are different views amongst Christian interpreters.
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  • Some say the earth will be totally annihilated and point to various biblical passages which seem to support this. 2 Peter 3:7, 10-12 speaks of the destruction of the “elements” and the “heavens.” Jesus says: “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt 24:35). Hebrews 1:10-12 says the foundations of the earth, and the heavens will perish. Rev 20:11 says: “The earth and the heavens fled from [God’s] presence, and there was no place for them.”
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  • However there are various passages which seem to support the idea of the earth being radically cleansed and renewed. Jesus speaks of “the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne” (Matt 19:28). Peter speaks of when “the time comes for God to restore everything” (Acts 3:21).
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  • Paul predicts that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:20-22). John speaks of God saying “I am making everything new!’ (Rev 21:5).
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  • There are various considerations which support the idea of radical renewal, not total destruction:
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  • 1.      The earth will no more be destroyed by the fire than it was by the flood

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  • 2 Peter 3:6-7 draws a parallel between the Flood and the destruction of the earth by fire. “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”  However the earth was not totally destroyed by the Flood. It was radically cleansed and survived. The parallel suggests the same will happen by fire in the End Times.
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  • 2.      Destruction of the earth would be total victory for Satan

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  • God is deeply concerned for the whole of creation. He pronounced it “very good” (Gen 1:31). He gave humans the responsibility to care for creation (Gen 1:28). He provides for all creatures (Psa 104:27-28).
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  • Creation is there to bring glory to God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psa 19:1).
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  • God also made a covenant with “every living creature on earth” (Gen 9:9-10).
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  • In the light of all this the total destruction (as opposed to “resurrection”) of the earth would be a victory for Satan.
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  • 3.      God is redeemer of all creation, not just human beings

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  • God aims to redeem the whole of creation, not just human beings. He “was pleased … through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:15-20).
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  • Paul describes creation as groaning whilst it waits “to be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-22).
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  • So God’s purpose for the earth is not destruction but redemption. One cannot redeem something which has been destroyed.
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  • 4.      Comparison with the resurrection of the body

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  • We have already concluded that the resurrection body is not completely new but is continuous with our old (existing) body. If this is how God redeems human beings then it seems convincing that he will do the same with the redemption of creation.
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  • When does the ‘destruction’ of the world take place?

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  • Some think the ‘destruction’ of the world is at the beginning of the Millennium but it seems clear from Revelation that it takes place in association with the Great White Throne judgment which is after the Millennium (Rev 20:11; 21: 1, 5). It seems appropriate that it is part of the final judgment. Even the earth does not escape this judgment.
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  • But what about Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:29-31 that immediately after the great tribulation (before his return) “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken”?
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  • Some say Matthew 24 is symbolical and refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. Others say it shows there is no literal millennium. I have already explained why I don’t agree with these views.
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  • Some argue that Matthew 24:29-31 is an example of ‘prophetic foreshortening’ i.e. the prophets seeing two future events as closely related in time, whereas in reality they are separated by a long period of time.
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  • Finally, some say Matthew 24:29-31 is not describing the ‘destruction’ of the world but lesser cosmic events (whether literal or symbolical) associated with the second coming. If literal, it could be describing an eclipse and an asteroid or asteroids hitting the earth. I find this view, namely, that Jesus was describing a lesser cosmic event than the ‘destruction’ of the world, most convincing.
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  • If the earth is to be destroyed does conservation matter?

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  • If we take eschatology seriously we shall not simply try to sort out the order and nature of events in the end times, we shall seek to live in the light of them. That will involve being true disciples of Christ. One aspect of such discipleship is care for God’s earth. Some people have concluded that, since the earth is to be destroyed anyway, we don’t need to trouble ourselves with being conservationists. However, they are mistaken.
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  • We have noted that God is not going to destroy the earth totally but to redeem it and radically renew it. God is not giving up on planet earth and neither should we. 
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  • We have also noted that God gave humans the responsibility to care for creation: “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen 1:28). The words ‘subdue’ and ‘rule’ have been misunderstood as approving the selfish domination and abuse of creation which has, in fact, taken place. But it is clear from the Genesis account that humans are meant to be God’s viceroys and to rule in the same way as he does. God does not exploit creation and neither should we.
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  • God cares for creation so if we want to be godly we have to do the same. “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11).
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  • Now we come to the most difficult subject in End Times teaching – Hell. We have to take this important issue very seriously and not avoid it as an unpleasant subject.
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