By Hoyt Houchen
Question: In Second Peter 3:13 it is said, “we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. ” I have never heard anyone comment on this Scripture before. I would like to hear what you have to say on this.
Reply: In the verse preceding the passage in question, Peter has revealed what will take place at the second coming of Jesus. In verses 10-12 he had written: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in 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. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?”
In view of the fact that this present universe (including our world) will be destroyed at the second coming of Christ, we look for “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” What are the new heavens and earth referred to by Peter?
To properly understand the meaning of the phrase under consideration, we must look at the word “new” which is translated from the Greek word kainos. This word does not mean simply that which is young in contrast to that which is old, but rather, it has reference to quality – “the fresh, unworn.” It is defined: recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the N. T., p. 317). In the new heavens and earth, righteousness will dwell. There will be the residing place of righteous people.
Where the “new heavens and earth” will be, we are not told. Many guesses could be made as to the composition of the new heavens and earth, but they would only be speculations. We have no divine revelation as to those and similar questions. That there will be “new heavens and a new earth” after this present earth and heavens and dissolved, there can be no mistake.
The premillennialists expect a future reign of Christ upon this present and literal earth. But we are told that when Jesus comes again, this earth and its work will be burned up (2 Pet. 3:10). It is impossible, therefore, for Jesus to return to this literal earth at His second coming. Furthermore, the reign of Christ (which is present) will terminate when He returns (see 1 Cor. 15:23ff). This passage (2 Pet. 3:13), therefore, gives no comfort to the premillennialists, whose future speculations are confined to this literal earth.
Where is the final abode of God’s people? Is it not heaven? In view of this truth that God’s people will dwell in heaven (as taught in other Scriptures), we conclude that since the “new heavens and earth” will be the abiding place of the righteous, the passage must refer to heaven – the future home of the righteous.
Since the word “new” conveys the meanings of “fresh” and “unused,” as we have learned, the “new heavens and earth” for which we are looking will not be this old literal earth renovated by fire, as some believe. The expression in 2 Peter 3:13 is found in other passages (see Isa. 65:17-20; 66:22-24) where it refers to a new order, specifically, the restoration of God’s people from Babylon. In the sense it is used there it is symbolical. So, merely because the word “earth” is used in the passage by Peter, does not have to mean this old literal earth. Heaven will be the new dwelling place for the people of God.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 3, p. 70
February 2, 1984