The translators of 2 Pet 3:10-13 are steeped in the traditional view that the world in which we live will be burned into nothingness, and we’ll then be swept away into disembodied bliss in a spiritual existence in heaven. Therefore, their translation of 2 Pet 3:10-13 is prejudiced toward what they knew to be true before they started.
But if we read Romans and Revelation carefully, we see a very different imagery. And if we notice the parallels with the concept of “new creation,” in which our salvation and receipt of the Spirit somehow anticipates our new existence in our resurrected bodies in the renewed heavens and earth, we see how Romans and Revelation describe a purified and transformed creation, just as our own bodies will be purified and transformed — a process that has already begun.
Indeed, if we ponder the nature of the resurrection, it starts to really fit together. Jesus’ body left the grave, but it left as something both different and the same. It was entirely healed from the crucifixion, could walk through walls, and wasn’t recognized as Jesus unless he wanted it to be. And it was capable of ascent into heaven to be in the presence of God.
Therefore, the renewed heavens and earth will be, I think, much like that. They’ll be made out of the best parts of the original heavens and earth but will be wondrously different. They’ll no longer be subject to decay — they’ll last forever.
This will require some melting. After all, if you were to break a sword, you’d have to melt it to fix it. But it’d be the same sword remade. Indeed, in the hands of a master craftsman, the sword could be made so well that it would never break again.
That means we can have confidence that our work to redeem the world will actually have value to God forever. Indeed, Peter says in v. 12 that we can “speed its coming.” Surely that means that God will end the old world when our redemptive work is done — because we’ve done all we can do here. The more effectively we spread his redemption, the sooner Jesus returns.
(1 Cor 15:58) Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
When we participate in God’s mission on earth — to undo the curse of Genesis — we speed the coming of the transformed heavens and earth, because we speed the completion of God’s mission — at the least the part that can be done before Jesus returns.
Therefore, we speed the return of Jesus as we work to —
* Bring people into the new creation by bringing them to Jesus to be made new.
* Restore people to right relationship with God.
* Restore right relationships between husbands and wives and men and women.
* Restore right relationships among God’s people.
* Restore the right relationship of men and God’s creation — when we return to the proper balance of both working and caring for the creation (Gen 2:15).
* Restore God’s abundance to all his people.
* Bring about just government until Jesus returns.
Our work will not be in vain. Indeed, as we do this kind of work, we become like God. This is what God does and he has given us a mission to join him in his work.
(Eph 4:22-24) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new [kainos] self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul uses ktizo, the same word used of God’s creating in Gen 1, to refer to our being made new to be like God. God has performed a miracle in us, re-creating us to be like God.
Redemption means bringing the world closer to Eden — that is, undoing the results of the sins of Adam and Eve which adulterated the world through the Curse of Genesis 3.
(Rev 22:3) No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
What does that mean? I’ve tried to summarize my thinking in the bullets above, but I think it needs a little more explanation. And we start by considering what was right about Eden and what was wrong afterwards.
The image of God
(Gen 1:26a) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness … .”
Man is made in God’s image or likeness. To the extent we are unlike God, we are suffering from the brokeness of the Curse. One goal of our redemption, therefore, is for us to become like God.
(Mat 5:44-45) But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Jesus’ implicit argument is that we should be like God. Because God cares for the unrighteous, so must we. The same argument is found in the Law —
(Deu 10:17-19) For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.
The argument is simply that this is how God is, and you should be the same. We see throughout the Law God’s concern for honest justice, the fatherless, the widow, and alien expressed in his many commands that the Israelites show God’s own character in their treatment of others.
But for Christians, the idea of being like God is vastly deeper. It’s not just an ethical system. It’s being transformed by the Spirit into the likeness of Jesus.
(2 Cor 3:18) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness [image] with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Notice that Rom 12:2 “be transformed” is in the passive voice. God transforms us.
Rule over Creation
(Gen 1:26b) “… and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
(Gen 1:28) God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God gave man rule (or dominion) over the creation. He instructed that man “subdue” or conquer the creation. However,
(Gen 2:15) The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
“Work” translates ‘abad, meaning put to work or to till. “Take care” translates shamar, meaning to honor, guard, or protect. The idea is that man is both to use the creation and to protect it. We can till the ground to produce the food we need, but we aren’t to waste and destroy what we’ve been given. After all, the Creation has to support many generations yet to come.
The scriptures don’t tell us exactly how to balance the need to exploit the earth for the good of man and the need to preserve and protect what we’ve been given. There are countless questions where good Christians can disagree. But we shouldn’t disagree over whether we have the right to use what’s been given to us for our use or whether we have to use it responsibly.
Those who sneer at environmental concerns — “It’s all going to burn anyway” — have completely missed the point.