by Warren Camp
2 Peter 3:10–13 . . .
“We Await the New Heavens and New Earth”
Peter begins today’s three-verse passage with an attention-getting “But.” Doing so, he’ll underscore the answer he gave scoffing false teachers who’d asked, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (in 3:4, as highlighted in Warren’s commentary on 3:3–4). He answered the scoffers’ question by reminding them that the world hadn’t always been free of cataclysmic events brought about by God. He then stated that the next universal judgment will be brought about by fire. Then, every ungodly unbeliever, starting from that first created day, will be judged.
Warning: The Day of the Lord Is Coming (3:10)
Today, we call the coming day of judgment by its Old Testament name: the “Day of the Lord.” It’ll be a never-before-seen day with dramatic and intense destruction. The heavens and earth will be laid bare. Although God warns about this event repeatedly throughout the Bible, many people won’t be prepared for it. There will be more signs of the end times (see Luke 21:11) forewarning us of it. Sadly, most people will ignore them. However, wise believers who read and trust the truth of the Scriptures know what and who is coming. The foolish mockers and deniers who feel, There’s no God, will be doomed and damned.
10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. 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 (2 Pet. 3:10 NIV).
What is the “Day of the Lord”? Most people associate the day of the Lord with a period of time or a special day that will occur when God’s will and purpose for his world and mankind will be fulfilled. According to Got Questions Ministries, “Some scholars believe that the day of the Lord will be a longer period of time than a single day — a period of time when Christ will reign throughout the world before He cleanses heaven and earth in preparation for the eternal state of all mankind. Other scholars believe the day of the Lord will be an instantaneous event when Christ returns to earth to redeem His faithful believers and send unbelievers to eternal damnation.”
Christ’s second coming has its roots in the Old Testament’s understanding of the “Day of the Lord,” starting with, “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near” (Isaiah 13:6); “For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near” (Ezekiel 30:3); “Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand” (Joel 2:1); “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14); and, “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1:7). “This is because the Old Testament passages referring to the day of the Lord often speak of both a near and far fulfillment, as does much of Old Testament prophecy.” It’s to be the day when God will return to save the faithful and judge the wicked.
Peter’s v. 10a rendition of the “day of the Lord” copies other New Testament Scriptures that proclaim, “it will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2–3); see also what Jesus said in Matthew 24:42–44. It’s come to mean the day when God will end the current age and initiate a brand-new age to come. Thieves never call ahead and announce, I’m coming tomorrow! Neither will God announce the exact day he’ll come. On the “day of the Lord” there will be many people who, caught unaware, will wish that they’d paid attention to the signs and agreed to prepare themselves spiritually. “But” it will be too late for them! Christians, therefore, must be watchful and ready because Christ will “come like a thief” at any moment.
Peter’s three-part revelation in v. 10b of cataclysmic events speaks not of destruction but of purification. The brutal fire that Peter suggests is designed to cleanse and decontaminate. Scriptures concur: The fire will be one that refines, separating gold and silver from dross (Malachi 3:2–3). Knowing that the purpose of a cataclysm will be to separate the righteous from the unrighteous — the holy from the unholy — should motivate the believer to respond by living “holy and godly lives” (v. 11). True believers needn’t fear the coming of the day of the Lord. Instead, they can comfortably look forward to it with joyful anticipation in high expectation.
“The heavens will disappear with a roar” The word “disappear” is from the Greek word parerchomai, which pictures something that is temporary and will soon be passing away. Peter says that the present heavens “will disappear with a roar.” The word “roar” is from the Greek word hroidzedon, which describes a sound so loud that it’s nearly deafening to those who hear it. It further carries the idea of a tremendous hissing, sizzling, cracking sound that rushes all about or a noise so thunderous that no one can escape it.
“The elements will be destroyed by fire” The word “elements” is the Greek stoicheion. It refers to everything that exists, from the sky’s heavenly bodies to the mountains, the earth, Man’s constructed buildings, even small atomic particles. Absolutely nothing will survive the transforming, purifying fire that will melt everything when Jesus purifies this present world and creates a new heaven and a new earth.
One day, the world will end. It may not appear likely on the face of things. But it’s a fact: A time is coming when God will destroy the world. Everything connected with it and its elements will eventually go up in flames. Since Christ will return for judgment, we must live in holiness toward that day, learning to hate what God hates. We must make every effort to be holy, as Christ is holy. We must flee from sin and its corruption and “live holy and godly lives” (v. 11).
He Who Fails to Prepare Prepares to Fail (vv. 11–13)
Peter has declared in prior verses that the day of judgment will come in God’s perfect timing, with massive catastrophic destruction. Here in vv. 11–12, he asks his readers to consider what that means for them. The false teachers had been saying that, because Christ wouldn’t return, no judgment would come. Therefore they asked, Why can’t we indulge in immorality and enjoy fulfilling our passionate desires? If God isn’t here to judge us, then we’ll be free of the consequence of our committed sins.
However, Peter insists that God's fiery judgment will arrive on the day of the Lord when “everything will be destroyed.” He insists that we “ought to lead holy and godly lives.” That said, we must resist all sinful or immoral acts. It’s not just a matter of what we do but what kind of person are we. In his first letter, Peter makes it clear that Christians are “holy,” meaning “set apart.” We should, therefore, live accordingly, having been set apart by God for his specific purposes. For that reason alone, we’re obliged to “live holy and godly lives,” choosing carefully what we prioritize over what unbelievers decide to do with their bodies, words, and thoughts.
The day of the Lord will come first. Then the heavens will disappear and fire will cause the earth and all that’s on it to be laid bare. Although Christ hasn’t yet returned to judge, that frightening day will come certainly and unexpectedly, with disastrous consequences for all who’ve neglected or refused to repent of their sinfulness (v. 10). Peter reiterates this “judgment by fire” theme in vv. 7, 10, and 12, repeating himself because he knows, as the Old Testament often records, that those who need to heed warnings are prone to procrastinate or get distracted. In the end, they fail to get right with God. The timely message of repentance is to turn from evil and follow God wholeheartedly. Realizing the eventuality of the day of destruction, here’s Peter’s exasperating question and his sobering, perceptive answer.
11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you wait eagerly for the day of God to come. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:11–13).
Because Christ will return in judgment, we should be holy people who await the day of the Lord. Although the NIV and other translations present v. 11 as a question, it’s an exclamation! See how these translations structure vv. 11–12: ESV, TLB, NASB, NLV, NLT, RSV, and WYC. For us to “live holy and godly lives” (v. 11b) means to conduct our attitudes and behaviors separate from and unassociated with this evil world. We’re to value people above things while treasuring Christ above all else.
“Since everything will be destroyed in this way” The word “destroyed” is from the Greek word luo. It’s the same word mentioned in v. 10c to describe the complete laying bare of the earth and everything on it. By using luo, Peter alerts us to the fact that nothing we own will last forever. In light of this truth, we’re to take a good look [now] at our material possessions and priorities in life.
The flood destroyed all mankind (except those on the ark) and much of nature, but the earth remained; when the waters subsided, life went on. Subsequently, cities like Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed but life went on. “But the day of the Lord will come” — life won’t go on! All that God has created (recorded in Genesis) will be destroyed. All of life, all the elements, even the heavens. Nothing will be spared! All previous biblical judgments were noteworthy divine judgment examples. “But” none conveys the magnitude of the day of judgment yet to come.
In the days prior to the flood, people around Noah lived without thinking of impending judgment. So it’ll be the day Jesus returns (Matt. 24:37–39). Realizing that his return is step-1 in the world’s ultimate destruction should cause every Christian to choose to follow and trust Jesus and devotedly seek, surrender, and serve God to the fullest. What matters to Father God is that we become more Christ-like and live more holy.
Is v. 12 an emphatic repetition of v. 10? According to Pastor/teacher Bob Deffinbaugh, it’s much more. “It describes a destruction unlike any ever before. It is not difficult to imagine an entire city like Sodom, for example, being burned up. But Peter says that while the destruction of the day of the Lord will be by fire, this ‘fire’ will destroy things that don’t appear to be flammable. The heavens will be destroyed; so will the elements of the earth. Peter describes a fire so intense that seemingly indestructible matter is completely destroyed. We have no way of likening this fiery destruction to any previous ‘fire of judgment.’ It’s beyond human comprehension. We have only one reason to believe it will happen: God said it would. Our belief in the coming day of the Lord is based solely upon our confidence in God and His Word. No wonder those who don’t trust in God or His Word mock the possibility of a day of divine judgment. God’s judgment in the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly — on a scale never before witnessed in the history of mankind.”
Christ’s return will destroy all of man’s proud works! Peter not only says that the earth will be burned up and destroyed, but its “elements will be destroyed by fire.” Everything that proud man has accomplished and created will go through a burning heat that will be so intense that “the elements will melt in the heat” (v. 12b)! The sin of Adam and Eve corrupted the first heaven and earth. Now we need God to create “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (v. 13) as a permanent resident so that we might again enjoy the original creation’s paradise. Rest assured that he'll do just that. After all, through Isaiah he promised, “I will create new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). This assuring promise is confirmed by Revelation 21:1.
- Q. 1 How does knowing that the earth today is temporary affect how you live in it?
- Q. 2 With the earth’s upcoming destruction, how do you view your material possessions?
- Q. 3 How should you prioritize your life? . . . What will you do? . . . Starting when?
Intro Video: “Second Peter”
Warren’s New “Peter Masterpieces” Photo Album
† View several classic paintings of Saint Peter by art world masters: Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rubens, Goya, El Greco, Raphael, Masaccio, Giotto, Correggio, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Veneziano, Tissot, Duccio, Fra Angelico, Galle, Dürer, Palomino, Huret, and many more.
2 Peter 3:10–13