Even though this comes on the heels of explaining God's longsuffering, nevertheless, the end will still come, and it will catch the world by surprise. I John 2:17 likewise tells us, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
The original heavens and earth came to an end due to God's judgment on the rebellious angels. The re-created world ended in the Flood because of His judgment on the wickedness of mankind. Soon, our world will be burned up in God's judgment, replaced by new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-8), in which righteousness dwells. That is remarkable in itself—when has the world ever been described as being where righteousness dwells?
This will be a brand new thing. Because our minds are still affected by this world, even the called of God may have a hard time imagining a righteous reality. Simply put, we have become desensitized to unrighteousness. Even though we are—hopefully—not directly participating in it, our minds have still adjusted to what we observe around us; to some degree, we have all adapted to the deviant perspectives of our culture.
As a result, we, too, might scoff at times—not at the promise of Christ's return, but at the ideals of righteousness. We know that we must allow God to make Christ's righteousness our own, yet when we see someone working toward this, our carnality may scoff instead of appreciating a place where some of His righteousness dwells. Christ's righteousness in others may seem unrealistic to us, just like His return seems unrealistic to unbelievers.
Peter gives a powerful description of the violence and dissolution that lies just ahead, adding tremendous gravity to his eventual question. All that we recognize of this world will be burned up. The ungodly will perish. The things that we see on a daily basis will dissolve—the cultures, the cities, the systems that man has developed. With this fiery end in mind, Peter asks, “What manner of persons ought we be in holy conduct and godliness?”
This world is passing away, and everything that is part of this world is of limited duration and meaning. What matters are those things that relate to holiness, godliness, and the next world. All the rest will disappear.
When Christ returns, our response to God throughout our lives will matter. Our house, car, and other physical accoutrements will not. The quality of our relationships with others will matter. Our popularity will not. Our character will matter. The trivia and fickleness of the culture will not. The reflection of God in our lives and our example of His eternal life will matter, but the glitz and glamour of this world are just so much smoke waiting to dissipate. Through God's Spirit, we have been given the discernment to evaluate what will matter when Christ returns and what is simply vanity and grasping for the wind.
As Christ suffers long with us, is our whole heart focused on the repenting that we still need to do? Or are we among those walking according to our own lusts? Are we are putting far off the day of doom, as Amos says (Amos 6:3), because much of this world does not seem too bad to us? Or are we earnestly longing for Christ's return, fervently praying, “Your Kingdom come”?
David C. Grabbe
How Much Longer Do We Have?
Does Peter Predict the Total Destruction of the Earth in II Peter 3:10?
First, it is important we see this in its context: "But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition [destruction] of ungodly men" (II Peter 3:7). This fire is the judgment of incorrigible sinners, the Lake of Fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:14). In this unquenchable fire, likened by John the Baptist to being "baptize[d] . . . with fire," the unrepentant will completely burn up (Matthew 3:10-12).
Peter goes on to describe the effects of this unquenchable fire: ". . . in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" (II Peter 3:10). An unquenchable fire is one that cannot be put out. It burns until it has consumed all combustible material. Then it dies out for lack of anything else to consume. Everything will be burned up except for spirit beings, who are not affected by physical fire.
In verse 6, Peter uses the example of Noah's Flood as a type of the future cleansing of the earth by fire: ". . . by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water." Just as the earth continued to exist after the Flood, so it will continue to exist after the coming worldwide "Gehenna" fire (Matthew 5:29-30; 10:28).
Notice what Peter says in II Peter 3:13:"Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." In the book of Revelation, "a new heaven and a new earth" are mentioned immediately after the account of the Lake of Fire:
"Then Death and Hades [the grave] were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away [by fire]; and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. . . . 'Behold, the tabernacle [dwelling] of God is with men, and He will dwell with them [on the earth] . . ." (Revelation 20:14—21:3).
It is plain from this passage that the earth will still exist (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
The simple explanation of II Peter 3:10, then, is that the surface of the earth and everything physical on it, including the incorrigible wicked, will be destroyed by an all-consuming fire. God will then renew the earth's surface (Psalm 104:30) and make it a pure, glorious habitation for Himself and the rest of the God Kingdom (Revelation 21-22).
This Is Not God's World
The Third Resurrection: What Is Its Value?
Basic Doctrines: The Third Resurrection
Basic Doctrines: The Fate of the Wicked
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Peter 3:10: