Did Peter have a deathwish? – rereading 2 Peter 3

Posted: May 15, 2012 by J in Bible, Theology

2 Peter 3 is often cited as a locus classicus for the doctrine of cosmic annihilation. Doesn’t Peter say that the whole creation will be destroyed in fire and replaced with a new one?

Consider Peter’s description of ‘the day of the Lord’.

He’s answering the objection, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ Why should we believe that the Lord Jesus will return? It seems like everything has gone on as it is since the start of creation. The world seems to be pretty durable, people come and go, but the world just goes on and on the same.

People who talk like that, says Peter, forget about the flood. The world was brought up out of the waters by the word of God, but by those same waters, it was submerged once again – an uncreation.

And now, by the same word, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be discovered (v.10)

This will be

the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire…(v.12)

In view of this coming cataclysm, we look ahead to another world:

…we wait for new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (v.13)

Peter might not have a personal death wish, but this would appear to be a classic example the kind of cosmic death wish, the desire ‘for this poor world to be over’ of which Christopher Hitchens accused us Christians, summing it up with ‘Let this be gone!’  (see previous ‘deathwish’ posts).

Isn’t this Peter’s vote of no confidence in the creation? His warning not to invest in it? That’s how I’ve often heard this passage used: ‘What’s the point of caring for the creation, doesn’t Peter say it’s all going to burn?’ And you don’t want to spend too much of your time rearranging the deck-chairs, when you’re on the Titanic.

Yes friends, for cosmic annihilationists, this text is the biggy. And there’s no denying it’s a difficult text to interpret. Hasty, superficial readings will not come up with the goods here. Peter’s teaching needs and repays careful reading. We’re going to look into it over a few posts. It’s so unique it deserves the time.

Tomorrow: what was Peter really saying?

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