Two conclusions from this study:
1. Peter does not envisage the annihilation and replacement of the creation. He envisages its release and purification by the fires of judgement, similar to its cleansing by the waters of the flood. Peter, like Jesus and Paul, has no cosmic death wish. Wherever the Christian tradition got this from, it wasn’t from Peter.
2. In this passage, Peter aligns his eschatology consciously with that of Jesus and his apostles, esp. Paul, that of the prophets, and with the gospel story itself. At its heart, the gospel has a Saviour whose body is not abandoned to destruction but raised back to life. The tomb was empty! In the rest of the NT, as we’ve seen, an eschatology of restoration is clear.
In fact, Peter’s judgement imagery is very similar to that of other prophets and apostles:
John the Baptist warned that God would ‘gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Matt 3:11).
Jesus spoke in the same terms:
…they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire… 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13).
You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41).
Paul also pictures judgement as a testing or refining fire:
‘the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.’ (1 Cor 3)
John in Revelation sees the demonic hordes being destroyed in the same way: by fire (Rev. 20:9-10).
These are all images of fire bringing judgement. The dark powers are simply destroyed, and replaced with God’s kingdom. And on earth there is a division between what is approved and what is not – the same imagery Peter uses in our passage. For Peter, as for the others, judgement plays this discriminating role, revealing the true nature of things. This is possible because, while some things perish, others survive the fire and are even purified.