What kind of ‘new earth’? 2 Peter 3 continued

Posted: May 19, 2012 by J in Bible, Theology

The heavens and earth will be judged with fire. What will be the end result of this for the creation?

we wait for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (v.13).

This is often taken to mean that the current creation is replaced with something entirely new: complete discontinuity. This would imply the scrapping of all that exists now. Have we uncovered Hitchens’ ‘secret death-wish’ for the world, at last?

Maybe. But this view doesn’t fit well with what Peter has just said about judgement, where the heavens only were destroyed, not the earth.

Nor does a ‘replacement’ model fit the pattern Peter has laid out for the judgement – the pattern of the flood. The flood was a cleansing of the creation, not its replacement.

We’d better take a look at this idea of ‘new heavens and earth.’ What is ‘new’?

‘New’ (kainos) can mean ‘replacement’, as in ‘new covenant’. The old is rendered obsolete and abolished. Or kainos can mean ‘renewed and transformed’ as in ‘See, I am making all things new’, spoken as God heals the world of all its hurts (Rev.21:5).

Replacement or renewal?

To work out Peter’s meaning here, we need to notice that he’s quoting Isaiah 65. This passage describes the renewal of Israel. Israel has been ruined,  but Yhwh will judge their enemies, and bring rejoicing. They will inherit the mountains and valleys of Israel for their flocks. Jerusalem will be transformed into a place of joy. The former distress will not be remembered. This description gives content to the central announcement:

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth                                  (Isaiah 65:17)

This is the context for Peter’s ‘new heavens and earth’: a context of renewal and transformation of the land through the judgement of the wicked.

Replacement or renewal? Peter has both in view here. In his picture of judgement, the heavenly powers are simply replaced. The destructive forces that govern the creation are ousted by God’s kingdom. Jesus is now Lord of all.  But the earth is healed: it comes out of the fire cleansed, like it did out of the waters of the flood.

Replacement and renewal.

This means that day of the Lord is good news for the creation: not its end, but its liberation, its consummation and perfection. Its oppressors destroyed, its pains  healed. That’s why Peter can imagine believers looking forward eagerly to this, ‘waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God’ (v.12). On that day God’s people, and the whole groaning creation, will be finally found ‘at peace’ (v.14).

Tomorrow: conclusions – what is Peter really saying?

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