God's Promise For A New Earth
We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.--2 Peter 3:13
These words spoken by the apostle Peter contain one of the most grand and sublime themes of the Bible. That theme is the kingdom of God in both its heavenly and earthly aspects. The "we" referred to by Peter are Christians (2 Peter 1:1). We are reminded of the words of Jesus when he taught his disciples (later known as Christians) to pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) Christians have been praying for this kingdom for nearly two thousand years.
Some of the early Christians evidently had begun to have doubts concerning the seeming delay of this kingdom for which they were praying. Peter's words were intended to instruct them by reminding them of the flood in Noah's day and how it came to pass just as God had promised. He reminded them of the need to exercise patience and faith. How wonderful an encouragement it must have been to those doubting Christians!
During the passing of nearly twenty centuries since Jesus' first advent, Christians have joyfully anticipated this promised kingdom. How much disappointment many must have felt when their prayers seemed to go unanswered as their lives came to an end with no kingdom in sight or looming on the horizon. How often they must have relied on Peter's words during that time for fresh supplies of encouragement, comfort and hope.
Peter reminded us that this kingdom was promised by the Lord. This was not man's promise, but one made by Jehovah himself. The most direct promise with similar language to that of Peter's is found in Isaiah: "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." (Isaiah 65:17) "For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain." (Isaiah 66:22) The context of these passages speaks in relation to the nation of Israel, of their selection by Jehovah to be his people, their waywardness, God's temporary rejection of them, and the call then going to the Gentiles. Both Isaiah texts conclude with the return of favor to the Jewish nation and their deliverance and exaltation. Furthermore, they show that the world of mankind is likewise to be the recipient of the blessings of this kingdom promised by God.
The promise of a new earth has caused considerable confusion among some of the Lord's people throughout the age. Their theology has caused them to ask, "Why is there a need for a new earth if Christians go to heaven and the unjust go to hell?" Others do not know how to harmonize the words of Peter when compared to certain Old Testament passages. For example, 2 Peter 3:10 says "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." But Psalm 104:5 says, "Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Psalm 119:90,91 says "Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants." Ecclesiastes 1:4 emphatically states, "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever."
As a possible way to harmonize this seeming disharmony of the Scriptures, one theory suggests the idea that the earth will be "burned up" for a thousand years. During this time the saints will be in heaven. After the earth cools and is restored, the saints will return to live on the earth for eternity. Although this would satisfy the conflicting texts, we cannot agree with such an interpretation.
To correctly understand Peter's words and intention of thought, and have it harmonize with the hundreds of related Scripture texts concerning the kingdom of God, much of his language must be considered symbolic. In verse 6 Peter states that "the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." It was not the literal earth (Greek: ghay), physical land or ground that perished, but the world (Greek: kosmos). Kosmos is defined as the arrangement, order, government or constitution. This is what perished in Noah's day as we see from the account in Genesis 6:1-8.
Thus words like "fire," "burned up," and "melt with fervent heat," are intended to indicate the complete and final dissolution of the present order or arrangement of the kingdoms of this world. These kingdoms are elsewhere styled "this present evil world" and invisibly ruled over by Satan and his cohorts. (See 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12; John 14:30.)
As we look again at 2 Peter 3:13, we see that this earthly kingdom has one noteworthy characteristic in marked contrast to the order, arrangement or kosmos of our day. Peter says, "wherein dwelleth righteousness"! The NIV renders the phrase "the home of righteousness." Peter tells us that this promised kingdom is not a place where righteousness can be found only on certain occasions, or practiced by some at times but not by all. It is the home of righteousness. It dwells there. Righteousness, honesty, integrity, faithfulness, love--all of these are to be practiced by all of its inhabitants all of the time. No wonder Jesus taught us to pray for that kingdom. No wonder that Christians have long anticipated its arrival.
Some question the idea that the earth has the capability to house and sustain the billions of mankind which the Scriptures indicate will inhabit it or think it would be too polluted with so many people. Others are concerned with natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and storms wreaking too much havoc to maintain a peaceable and eternal home for man. Ozone layers and atmosphere problems worry some. While these may perplex mankind now, we are convinced that these will be of little consequence to the Author of Life, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
The parallel passage from Isaiah 65:17-25 gives us a foretaste of this "new earth." Included in its many features are concepts like joy, no more crying, long (everlasting) life, destruction of evil and wickedness, safety and security, peace and harmony, a bright future, and a vital and close relationship with God. What more could anyone ask or think?
How glad we are that the revelator included the following words near the end of the last book of our Bible. What hope they inspire, what praise they elicit toward our Heavenly Father and his beloved son Jesus Christ:
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful."--Revelation 21:1-5