By Hoyt Houchen
Question: Please explain 2 Peter 3:10. Is it literal? If literal, then heaven will also pass away.
Reply: 2 Peter 3:10 says: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”
The “heavens” mentioned in this verse are not to be confused with “heaven,” the holy abiding place of God. The “heavens” in 2 Peter 3: 10 refer to the atmospheric heavens, the visible portion of the universe above us in which the birds fly (Gen. 1:20). Mark 4:32 refers to “the birds of the heaven.” Peter declares that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise.” This is a description of what will take place at the second coming of Jesus. The sky will pass away and the earth will be burned up. The “heavens” include what was necessary for the dwelling place which God prepared for man – the “heavens and the earth.”
In verse 13 of 2 Peter, a figurative description is given of what will exist after the literal “heavens” and the literal “earth” will have passed away. Peter tells us that we look for “new heavens and a new earth, where in dwelleth righteousness.” This must refer to heaven where the righteous will dwell. So, in contrast to the old literal heavens and earth which will be dissolved, there will be “new heavens and a new earth.” The word “new” is translated from the Greek word kainos which has reference to quality. It is defined: recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the N. T., p. 317). It is not, therefore, a contrast of the young with the old, but it is “unused,” “unworn.”
The present “heavens and earth” are man’s present abode, and they symbolize a better place – “new heavens and a new earth.” When Jesus ascended he left the earth and went to his Father’s dwelling place. God’s throne is in heaven (Psa. 11:4). He went to prepare a place (Jn. 14:2). He is now in heaven, and when he returns he will take his faithful back to heaven where they will dwell with him forever.
Heaven, the abiding place of God and the future abode of the righteous, will not pass away at the conflagration mentioned in 2 Peter 3:10. Christians long for a better place than what the present literal heavens and earth offer. They look forward to heaven, that eternal home for the soul – “new heavens and a new earth.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 2, p. 37
January 19, 1989