By Randy Reynolds
“But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea” (Rev. 21:1).
Some have suggested that the earth is due for yet another renovation, such as was the case in the days of Noah when the Great Flood covered the earth. While it is true that the Flood of old did indeed cleanse the world of sin, and even change the order of things, the key to understanding what took place years ago in connection to what will take place, may first be found in the word “perish” (apollumi) that Peter uses in v. 6. According to W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, the word appollumi means, “not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well being.” For examples of this usage, W.E. Vine suggests considering the following verses: Luke 5:37; 15:4,6,24; John 6:27.
What would be the difference in “perish” (apollumi) as is used in v. 6, and the word “destroyed” (NASV), “dissolved” (ASV), which is found in v. 10? The word “dissolved” comes from the Greek word luo which means “to loosen, break, break up, break down,” according to W.E. Vine. Thayer says, “to dissolve something coherent into parts.” Thus, according to v. 5, the earth that was “compacted together” or “put together” in the long ago, in v. 10 will be pulled apart. This line of thinking of course agrees with the words of the Psalmist because he wrote that the heavens and the earth would “perish” (abad; not the same usages as apollumi). According to Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, abad means, “to be lost or gone; to pass away or cease to be” (cf. Psa. 102:25-27). Since the writer is making a contrast, it is clear to understand that even though God will endure (he is eternal), the earth and the heavens will not.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that, “the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment” (Isa. 51:6). “And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the fig tree” (Isa. 34:4).
The second key to understanding exactly what it is that will take place may be found in the word “new” that both inspired writers used to describe the heavens and the earth according to promise. As a possible explanation consider some thoughts taken from the College Press Bible Study Textbook Series on this epistle of Peter (pp. 200-201): “The word kainos, according to lexicons, is used with respect to form or quality, and means fresh, unused, novel. W.E. Vine tells us that it does not necessarily mean new in time, but new as to form and quality, of a different nature from what is contrasted as old. Had Peter wanted to say that the new heavens and earth were only the old remade or cleansed, he would probably have chosen another Greek word – neos, which also means “new.” Thayer says neos denotes the new primarily in reference to time, the young, recent: kainos denotes the new primarily in reference to quality, the fresh, unworn.” This distinction is confirmed by Vine, for in speaking of neos he says it “may be a reproduction of the old in quality and character . made of kainos used here.”
One final, but very important thought needs to be considered from our main text in 2 Peter 3. In v. 13, the apostle Peter says that it is “according to His promise” that this new heavens and earth are looked for. What is this “promise.” Jesus promised a place in his Father’s house for all who would follow him (cf. Jn. 14:1-6). “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:16-18). (Also consider Rev. 1:7-8; Acts 1:9-11; Isa. 65:17; 66:22.)
Thus the promise is not a promise of this old earth. Rather, it is a promise of Heaven, where Jesus went to be at his Father’s right hand. The apostle Paul affirms that Heaven is where Jesus is now, and that is what we are to be seeking (cf. Col. 3:1-3). That Jerusalem is above Paul says in Galatians 4:26. That eternal home for the righteous, where God is pictured as wiping away every tear from our eyes, removing death, mourning, crying and pain (cf. Rev. 21:4) is our goal, not a renovated earth.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 3, p. 84
February 4, 1988