the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
In saying the “heavens and earth which are now preserved” (2 Peter 3:7), Peter indicates the old covenant order awaiting closure. The old system was brought to an end as those who refused to let it go and accept the Messiah fell under the fire of God’s judgment. Peter described this judgment in the same fashion the prophets of the old testament described the judgment of God. The only difference is that Peter gains his effect by repeating similar words or ideas several times (fire, fervent heat, burn up, melt, dissolve) rather than utilize a broad range of cosmic metaphor (scrolls rolling up, mountains shaking, bloody moon, darkened sun or heaving ground).
Thus, when Peter says in verse 7 that the heaven and earth then in existence were reserved for fire, he simply meant the old order was coming to an end and those who refused to accept the new order would be judged. The old system was about to be swept away in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and those who clung to that system would be swept away with it.
In verse 8 and 9 Peter reminds his readers that the Lord delays his judgment because he is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” In other words, the old age overlapped with the beginning of the new age in order to give the remnant of old Israel time to repent and turn to Jesus. God was not willing that any of the remnant should perish, but that all of them would be saved.
In verse 10 Peter said the “day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” Jesus said no one would know the end was near until the preliminary signs had already overtaken them (Matthew 24:36). Peter says the same thing here before returning to the language of prophecy, saying the “heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with a fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”
This “great noise” reminds us of the glory cloud (Exodus 19:19) and the presence of God in judgment. It is also interesting to note there actually was a continual loud noise that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Josephus tells us the shouts of the Romans, the roar of the flames and the cries of the Jews combined for a continual tempest of sound. “Nor can one imagine anything either greater or more terrible than this noise" (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.5.1.) Truly a sound of a tumult, like the sound of an army was in evidence (Ezekiel. 1:24). The Son of Man had come in his glory cloud of fire and smoke to bring judgment on apostate Israel (Matthew 24:30, 26:64).
Also in verse 10 we see that Peter writes of “elements” and the “land” (translated as “earth” in the NKJV). This refers to the cultus and ritual of the old covenant order and to the land of Israel itself.
The word translated as elements is stoikiea, and is typically used in the new testament to refer to the ritual observances of the old covenant (Galatians 4:3, 9, Colossians 2:8, 20-22) or, once, to the basic - elementary - teachings of the new covenant order (Hebrews 5:12). Peter uses stoikiea in the first sense. When the old order came to an end, the ritual (elements) connected to that system died with it. With the temple gone, there was no more sacrifice. There was no more need for sacrifice because the final sacrifice had been made in Jesus.
Peter emphasized that point by saying it was not only the ritual that would be “burned up” - destroyed in judgment - but the land of Israel itself would be devastated in judgment, proof that Palestine was no longer the land of promise but “residence” in Christ himself.
We will revisit this topic in a couple weeks.