II Peter 3: 5-10 tells us that God will destroy this world – and the heavens – with fire and create a new heaven and a new earth. I have heard many Christians say that the planet we’re living on it irrelevant to the big picture. God’s going to destroy and replace it with an uncorrupted one. But is that what Peter is saying?
It might be easier to answer these questions by pointing out when this is happening:
II Peter 3:10:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
The ‘day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night’ refers to the return of Jesus. What Peter is describing doesn’t happen after the millennial reign, but as a part of its establishment!
John the Baptist said of Jesus:
Luke 3: 16 – 17:
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
And throughout the Bible God’s judgement and His anger are described as a fire. Hell, where the condemned are forever suffering the wrath of God, is described as a place of everlasting fire. What we are reading in II Peter is not a description of the destruction of the planet, but rather God’s judgement and the establishment of the millennial kingdom, a world where sin doesn’t reign.
II Peter 3: 5-10:
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
II Thessalonians 1: 7-9:
Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
When Jesus returns, it will be with a fiery judgement on those who rejected the Truth and who persecuted His church. These two passages describe the same event, one that happens prior to the millennium and not after it.
The fire in these passages is not metaphorical. Again, it is the judgement of God against those who spurned the gospel – a very real and everlasting fire to those who are judged, but to those who are under grace, our world will be renewed. For the first time since the fall, it will be a world in which sin doesn’t reign. Satan will be bound throughout this time and with him no longer prince of this world, the heavens – or spiritual realms – will also know the fire of judgement.
I am addressing this in the context of dispensationalism because it is taught as a part of the broader picture painted by dispensationalist teachings, but I think it can be argued that this interpretation doesn’t ultimately conflict with dispensationalism. Its importance, rather, is in directing us back to out stewardship of the earth. God gave us dominion over it, and God doesn’t give us blessings or responsibilities (Genesis 1:28) so that we can waste them.