The flood was the pattern for God’s judgement, the world order perishing while the earth itself was cleansed.
The heavens and earth as they are now are being held for a future judgement like that of the flood – but this time by fire. When that fire comes it will mean ‘the judgement and destruction of the godless’ (3:7). As with the flood, the creation is not said to be destroyed, it is rather the world order of wicked mankind that will perish.
Now comes is the crucial bit, often ignored: Peter explains that the fire is ordained by the same creative word that spoke the creation into being (v.7). In other words, the same plan God was prosecuting in the creation, he is still following at the last judgement. The judgement is the completion of God’s creation purpose, not its abandonment. The creation will come through the fires of judgement, just as it did through the waters of judgement long ago, and it will emerge new, cleansed once and for all – evil destroyed, righteousness established. “We await a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (v.13).
If the original creative act is God’s first word about his creation, then the judgement is his last word about it. And it is the same word: let it be! Let it exist in a state of blessing. God will send the fires of judgement because he wants his creation to live. “By that same word the heavens and earth that now are, are reserved for fire…” (v.7)
Tomorrow: what exactly does the fire do?