The Study of Last Things
by James T. Bartsch
Learning about the Future to Live Better Today
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up." (2 Peter 3:10)
The Milky Way
The Destruction of the Universe
(2 Peter 3:1-13)
After the revolutionaries of Gog and Magog have been destroyed by fire, and after Satan has been deposited in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone forever, God will destroy the entire Universe by fire. This includes the Earth, our Solar System and its Planets, our Galaxy and all its Stars, and all Galaxies and all other celestial bodies, and even the entire Universe itself, the framework in which all the created order exists. Why will God do this? Because the whole universe constantly experiences decay and degradation that is caused by Man’s sin (Rom. 8:19-22). Death and Decay is everywhere, and so the Universe must be purified by fire.
There are some Bible students and scholars who argue that the existing universe will be purified by fire, but will remain intact. They like to infer that there is continuity between the present universe and the future one. But to me, that interpretation does not do justice either to the language of 2 Pet. 3 or the language of Rev. 20:11. Let us examine these two passages.
The central passage on the destruction of the existing universe is 2 Peter 3:1-13. Let us analyze that passage first.
A. Peter first of all wrote about the purpose of his letter. He wished to remind his readers of the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of Christ spoken by the Apostles (2 Pet. 3:1-2).
B. He spoke next about the coming of mockers denying Christ’s return (2 Pet. 3:3-4). In the last days, mockers will come with their mocking, following their own lusts (2 Pet. 3:3). They will affirm the doctrine of uniformitarianism: “Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation" (2 Pet. 3:4).
C. There will be three failures of these mockers in denying Christ’s return (2 Pet. 3:5-7). They will deny that God has already actively entered dramatically into human history twice in the past, and they deny that He will do so again in the future. They ignore the following:
1. That God originally created the Universe (2 Pet. 3:5).
a. The heavens existed by His Word (Gen. 1:1).
b. The earth was formed out of water and by water (Gen. 1:2, 9).
2. That God destroyed the original earth by means of the Great Flood (Gen. 7:1-8:19), flooding it with water (2 Pet. 3:6).
3. That God will yet destroy both the heavens and the earth by fire. This will come about through His Word, directed as a judgment which will destroy ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:7).
D. There is a reason for God’s delay in judging the ungodly (2 Pet. 3:8-9).
1. The first part of the reason is God’s relationship to time. With God, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. In other words, God exists independently of time, which is His creation. So what seems like a delay to man is irrelevant to God (2 Pet. 3:8).
2. The second part of the reason has to do with God’s long-suffering nature. God is a Person of integrity. He is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness. Rather, He is filled with mercy. He is patient toward all of mankind, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
E. What is the nature of the coming judgment? (2 Pet. 3:10).
1. Its characterization is “The Day of the Lord.” (2 Pet. 3:10a)
2. Its unexpectedness: It will come like a thief (2 Pet. 3:10b).
3. Its catastrophic destruction (2 Pet. 3:10c).
a. There will be a deafening explosion: “In which the heavens will pass away with a roar.”
b. The elements comprising the earth will be vaporized with intense heat: “And the elements will be destroyed with intense heat.”
c. There will be a fiery conflagration: “and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
F. What should be our perspective as believers (2 Pet. 3:11-13)?
1. In light of the dissolution of matter: “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way....” (2 Pet. 3:11a)
2. Perceptive living: “what sort of people ought you (Christians) to be?” (2 Pet. 3:11-12)
a. Holy in our conduct (2 Pet. 3:11b)
b. Godly in our character (2 Pet. 3:11c)
c. Vigilant in our outlook (2 Pet. 3:12a)
d. Speeding up the coming “day of God, because of which” (2 Pet. 3:12b)
1) Burning heavens: “the heavens will be destroyed by burning”
2) Melting elements: “And the elements will melt with intense heat.”
3. Anticipatory living (2 Pet. 3:13)
a. The basis for anticipatory living
1) His promise: “But according to His promise”
2) Our response: “we are looking for”
b. The prospect of anticipatory living
1) New universe: “new heavens”
2) New earth: “and a new earth”
c. The character of anticipatory living: “in which righteousness dwells.”
My understanding of what will take place in this segment of “The Day of the Lord” is something akin to the nuclear fusion that goes on in our present sun and in all other stars. But in present stars and our star the violent explosion is controlled by the hand of God and contained in one massive place. In the coming dissolution of the heavens and the earth, the violent explosions will neither be contained nor controlled. All of nature will go berserk and all matter everywhere will explode uncontrollably all over the universe. These explosions will fundamentally transform matter, and matter will detonate in all directions at the same time all over the universe. The universe and the celestial bodies and planets which we know today will be violently dispersed and will become unrecognizable. Perhaps all the matter that God originally created will still exist somewhere, but if it does, it will be utterly unrecognizable, chaotic, and disorganized. It is even possible that, for all practical purposes, all matter as we know it today it will utterly cease to exist. I rather believe that, according to Rev.20:11, all matter will dissipate to the point of disappearance, at least according to the naked eye.
This is God’s purification mechanism for a universe that has been ruined, not by specious man-made global warming, but by man’s depravity and unrighteousness (2 Pet. 3:7).
But God created the original universe and all matter within it to be a pleasurable environment in which man might live on a flawless earth. God’s plan for man and for the original universe was a good one. And He will create brand new Heavens and a brand new Earth on which perfected and holy man might live forever. This will be a heavens and earth in which only righteous people and righteousness will exist. It is for that reason that we need to be holy people now – to get ready for the perfect and holy New Universe and New Earth!
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995.)
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Updated April 29, 2021