So if the creation is to be redeemed and freed in a way that gives it expectancy and even a groaning in anticipation of the end of time, how can it melt, be destroyed, and disappear? What if we were to read 2 Peter in light of the Old Testament prophecies he’s referring to as well as Paul and Revelation?
(2 Pet 3:10a) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.
So far as I can find, Jesus was the first to declare the unknowability of the time of the end of time (Mat 24:42).
(2 Pet 3:10b) The heavens will disappear with a roar;
“Disappear” translates parechomai, meaning “leave” or “pass away.” It’s the same word Paul uses of our baptism, when he declares —
(2 Cor 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Both passages speak of a new creation by God. And neither means that the old has literally ceased to exist. In fact, the thought is that the old has been radically transformed.
(2 Pet 3:10c) the elements will be destroyed by fire,
“Elements” is translated “basic principles” or “rudiments” in its other New Testament uses.
(Gal 4:3) So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.
In Galatians, the reference is to being outside Christianity altogether.
(Gal 4:8-9) Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
The “elements” are the way things were before God began to undo the curse on creation — it’s the unredeemed world.
(Col 2:8) See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Therefore, Peter is saying that the unredeemed, under-the-curse parts of the world will be destroyed by fire. Where does fire fit in? And the King James says “melt” in fire, which is quite possible in the Greek. Where does the image of melting come from?
(Psa 46:6) Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
(Psa 97:5-6) The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. 6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.
(Amos 9:5-6) The Lord, the LORD Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn — the whole land rises like the Nile, then sinks like the river of Egypt — 6 he who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land — the LORD is his name.
(Nahum 1:2-6) The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies. 3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. 4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. 5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. 6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.
The Nahum passage is especially vivid and very likely the one Peter had particularly in mind, as the subject is plainly the wrath of God. And God’s wrath is “against his enemies” and “like fire.”
But Nahum isn’t saying that God has literally melted mountains and dried the dries the sea and rivers. The earth, hills, and mountains are likely metaphors for human kingdoms, the capitols of which were typically built on a hill or mountain. As many a father has said to a child, “Boy, I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!” God made and so he can unmake. That’s the point.
Therefore, “the elements will be destroyed by fire” means “the unredeemed parts of this world will be uncreated by the wrath of God.”
(2 Pet 3:10d) and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
“Laid bare” is translated “burned up” in the King James, but the better texts have a different Greek word here, meaning “revealed.” “Everything” is actually “works” (ergon). I have no idea why the NIV translators have editorialized “works” into “everything.”
The ESV translates more literally: “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” And this makes much better sense when we’re speaking of Judgment Day.
(2 Pet 3:11) Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives …
“Destroyed” is the same word translated “melt” in v. 10. It’s luo, meaning most literally loosed or unbound, but can be used to mean melt. Given the use of “melt” in the prophets, we should stick with that sense of the word.
The KJV and ESV translate “all these things” rather than “everything,” which again fits the sense better.
(2 Pet 3:12a) as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
“Day of God” is another term borrowed from the prophets.
(Joel 1:14-20) Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. 15 Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. 16 Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes– joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. 18 How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering. 19 To you, O LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. 20 Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the open pastures.
(Joel 3:14-21) Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 16 The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. 17 ‘Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. 18 ‘In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house and will water the valley of acacias. 19 But Egypt will be desolate, Edom a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood. 20 Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations. 21 Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon.’ The LORD dwells in Zion!
(Mal 4:5-6) “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
As we read these passages, we see where Paul gets the idea found in Rom 8 that the creation “groans” in anticipation of the end of time!
But the thought is one of desolation followed by abundance, not disintegration followed by an entirely new world. The images are of a world brought low and then renewed in glory.
(2 Pet 3:12b) That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
“Destruction” is the same word translated “melt” above. But now he speaks of the heavens melting. Why? Because he is speaking of God’s re-creation of the heavens and the earth. Both must be re-formed by the hand of God.
Recall that Isaiah and Revelation both speaks of there being no sun or moon in the new heavens and new earth. Of course, the heavens will melt!
(2 Pet 3:13) But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
“New” is kainos, meaning made fresh, instead of neos, meaning newly made. And in the New Testament, the new heavens and new earth are always kainos.
(John 13:34) “A new [kainos] command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
(2 Cor 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new [kainos] creation; the old has gone, the new [kainos] has come!
(Gal 6:15) Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new [kainos] creation.
(Rev 21:5a) He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new [kainos]!”
So let’s try a different and, I think, better translation —
(2 Pet 3:10-13) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will be transformed with a roar; the unredeemed parts of creation will be melted by fire, and the earth and the works in it will be exposed. 11 Since these unredeemed things will melt in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the melting of the heavens by fire, and the unredeemed parts of creation will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a renewed heaven and a renewed earth, the home of righteousness.
This is now consistent with Paul and with the prophets. Yes, destruction will occur but not everything will be destroyed.
(Rom 8:20-22) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
“Bondage to decay” is thus “the elements” is thus the lack of redemption. The unredeemed elements will be destroyed, but the “very good” parts of the creation will survive and be made new.
(Rev 21:5a) He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new [kainos]!”
He doesn’t say, “I’m making new everythings.” Rather, he’s making that which was old new again. This is same promise we have for our bodies. Our bodies will be transformed into something wonderfully different but it won’t be an annihilation and replacement. It will be like a seed planted and sprouting to blossom as never before.