Will the Earth Be Destroyed By Fire?

Dr.  Lee E. Warren BA, DD

from (c) Mar.-Apr. 1997 PLIM REPORT

Feel free to copy and circulate this article for non-commercial purposes provided the Web site and author are mentioned.

See Related Articles: REVELATION & END TIME PROPHECIES

Introduction

With 2,000 A.D., the end of the millennium, being about three years away, many expect the Messiah to jump out of the sky and fire to destroy the earth and the heavens. The Apostles’ writings, especially those of Peter, are the basis for this interpretation.

The epistles show that the Apostles believed the consummation of the heavens and earth and the Messiah’s appearance in glory would happen in their lifetime (Rom. 13:11; 1 Cor. 7:29, 15:51; 1 Thes. 4:17; 5:1). As we know, two thousand years have past since then and neither event has happened yet. The reason for their misunderstanding will be discussed later in this article.

The Apostle Peter wrote two epistles or letters some two thousand years ago to the Gentiles “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pet. 1:1).” He told them that fire would destroy the heavens and the earth (2 Pet. 3:7-13). Many Christian scholars and Bible commentaries have interpreted Peter’s scriptures literally. Simply put, many think and believe that fire will destroy or vaporize the physical heavens and the earth, and another new earth and heaven will come into existence to replace the old ones. What this means many Christians do not understand.

The exact quote is as follows. “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with Yahweh (the Lord) as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Yahweh (the Lord) is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of Yahweh (the Lord) will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of Elohim (God), wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Pet 3:7-13).” Many Christian clergy have used a literal interpretation of the above verses to control and terrorize their congregations for thousands of years.

Now questions may arise concerning the correct interpretation of the Apostle Peter’s writings about the destruction of the heavens and earth. They are as follows:

• How did Peter arrive at this conclusion about the heavens and earth?

• Is Peter’s language literal, or allegorical and symbolical?

• Do the Law and Prophets or Old Testament support Peter’s statement?

• Is this fire physical, or does the Holy Spirit in which the Apostles were baptized on the Day of Pentecost symbolically represent the fire?

• Is the destruction of the heavens and earth just a transformation into a New Heaven and Earth?

• Are the New Heaven and Earth merged with the angelic creation or separated?

These questions will be addressed in this article.

What is the intent of this article and who understood the end of the world?

The intent of this article is to explore the traditional interpretation of the Apostle Peter’s prophecies and determine whether the Law and the Prophets (Isa. 8:20) or the Old Testament (OT) supports it.

This article will also show that mankind has historically misunderstood when and by what manner the world would end. We will find that when both John the Baptist and the Messiah told Israel they would be baptized in fire (Mt. 3:11-12), the Jews did not understand this baptism.

The Messiah revealed that the Apostles received the resurrection and the true baptism of fire on the day of Pentecost (Acts. 2:1-4). Prior to this, they had no understanding of the resurrection and the baptism of fire except in a physical sense. Thus, it is no wonder that the masses of Christians do not understand the earth being baptized in fire. They must have a revelation from the Holy Spirit.

We will examine the word “fire” to show that it has many definitions on a literal, figurative, and symbolic level. People of the biblical era believed that fire was of supernatural origin. It should be noted that there were many cultures that believed the earth would be destroyed by fire long before Israel was formed as a nation. Due to space limitation the basis of their beliefs will not be discussed.

The tabernacle pattern and modern science will be used to aid in the correct interpretation of the end of the world. Finally, we will show that the events to end this age are a hidden mystery that only Yahweh Elohim knows and are only understood in analogies and allegories.

What is the Old Testament eschatology?

The physical end of the heavens and earth represents a study of theology called eschatology. It is primarily concerned with the study of the “last things.” Now according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Electronic Data 1996 Biblesoft), there are two distinct types of eschatological outlooks in the OT. First, Israel as a nation desired to be physically regenerated to a level that surpassed Solomon. The Apostles referred to their destiny when they questioned the Messiah at His ascension (Acts 1:6). To restore Israel to this glorious level would mean the destruction of all Gentile nations that held them in bondage. Secondly, along side this position, is the eschatological destiny of the universe and the human race.

Now the Dictionary of the Bible by James Hastings (1963 Scribner’) confirms that initially the Old Testament view of eschatology was primarily concerned with Israel. Generally, the dominant pattern of eschatology revolves around the “Day of Yahweh” (Jl. 2:1-4). It was the "Day of Judgment" for Israel because Yahweh always intervened to judge the world and nations or to establish rule over His people. An example of the “Day of Yahweh” is when Yahweh moved Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and carry Israel to captivity. Now after Israel’s 70 years of captivity (Isa. 13th chp.), the Day of Yahweh punished Babylon by moving Persia destroy it.

What was the Jewish sect’s view on eschatology?

There was a Jewish sect, namely the Essenes, whose belief of eschatology was similar to our current Christian views of the end of the world. This was verified in the 1945 findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls, also called Qumran Scrolls, which included non-canon books not found in the Bible. The scrolls revealed to the Biblical scholars the various eschatology prophecies that the Essenes believed before the coming of the Messiah.

The Essenes believed that their age was closing and that the current events indicated a climatic struggle between Good and Evil, light and darkness. Now Good and light would triumph and establish a period of peace. With this view in mind, one can see the similarity in the modern Christian views.

Do Bible scholars understand the truth concerning eschatology?

Many Bible scholars, ministers, and students are not aware that numerous prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah and eschatology had to do with the end of the Post-Diluvian Age. The four gospels confirm this if they are interpreted correctly.

There are two points that have to be known about prophecy. First, no scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:19). Second, it has to be understood that there is always an element of prophecy that Yahweh clouds or hides and reveals only when the prophecy is fulfilled. The Apostle Paul said: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away (1 Cor 13:9-10).”

Can the ages or worlds be rightly divided?

In various articles of the “PLIM REPORT,” the absolute necessity of rightly dividing the ages or worlds has been shown. When the Messiah was in His ministry for 3 1/2 years, these were the last years of the Post-Diluvian world or age, which began after the flood and ended with the Messiah’s death. Thus, the things recorded in the four Gospel took place in this age before His death and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

What age did the Messiah prophecy would end?

Now the Messiah told His disciples many prophecies concerning the end of His era or age and the beginning of our Present Kingdom Age of Grace. These prophecies were recorded in the 24th chapter of Matthew and Mark the 13th chapter [for a more detailed discussion of this see the May/June 1995 “PLIM REPORT” entitled “Will the Messiah Appear on or Before the 2000 A.D.?”].

The events that closed out the Post-Diluvian Age and began our Present Kingdom Age fulfill the Messiah’s end of the age prophecies. These prophecies included His death, earthquakes (Mt. 24:7; 28:1), the sun turning to darkness (Mt. 24:29; 27:45), His resurrection (Mt. 27:51-52), the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the persecution of the disciples (Mt. 24:9), and Roman destruction of the Herodian temple in A.D. 70.

It should be noted that the Jews not illuminated by the Holy Spirit thought the destruction of the Herodian temple was a national catastrophe. These Jews continued to offer physical sacrifices in the temple after the Messiah’s death, who was the true sacrifice for their sins (Jn. 1:29). In reality, they were violating Yahweh’s grace and these sacrifices were an abomination unto Him. The destruction of the temple stopped the physical sacrifices, but they still believed the sacrifices should be offered.

In short, very few theologians understand that the Messiah ended one age, the Post-Diluvian, and began another, the Present Kingdom Age of Grace by His death, burial and resurrection. Traditionally, Christianity associated many of the prophecies the Messiah spoke in the 24th chapter of Matthew and 13th chapter of Mark with the end of our current age of Grace, which is a great error. This does not imply that these principles do not repeat themselves at the end of this age, but the Messiah was referring to His Post-Diluvian Age and the beginning of our present age. Neither the disciples nor Israel fully understood the end of their age until some years into our present age.

Did Israel understand the end of the world or age?

Now it was the Master who revealed to Israel that their traditional interpretation of the end of the world was not correct and would not be understood until after Pentecost. When Lazarus died, his sister, Martha, sent for the Messiah, who told her that Lazarus would rise again (Jn. 11:24). Now Martha’s reply showed that she did not understand what the Messiah was saying to her. She said: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day (Jn. 11:24).”

Clearly, Martha did not know that she was in the last day of the Post-Diluvian age or world, nor did she understand the resurrection. She thought that one had to physically die in order to resurrect and those dead bodies in the graves would resurrect again physically when the Messiah came.

The Messiah replied: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this (Jn. 11:25-26)?” It is here that the Messiah clarifies to Israel that one does not have to die physically in order to be resurrected. Israel did not understand that the resurrection the Messiah was referring to would bring about a NEW WORLD OR AGE, as it did in the Genesis in the beginning of creation (Gn. 1;1-13). This would mean an end to the Old World begun in sin (Gen. 2:16, 3:1-6).

Now many ministers and scholars have based their interpretations concerning the destruction of the heavens and earth and the New Heaven and Earth state on what the Apostle Peter wrote. Clearly, one thing is known for sure. Elohim has not revealed a full understanding of this mystery to His sons.

Did the Apostles fully understand the end of the world or age?

You must realize that the prophets and the Apostles uttered things by the Spirit that they did not understand. Many times they saw things symbolically that they could not grasp.

For example, the Apostle Peter fell into a trance and saw visions of a sheet letting down three times with all manner of unclean animals according to the Law of Moses (Acts 10:9-12). A voice from heaven told him to rise, slay, and eat, but Peter replied that nothing unclean had entered his mouth (Acts 10:12-13). The voice told him that what Elohim had made clean do not call unclean (Acts 10:15-16).

Simply put, the vision of the unclean animals represented the Gentiles who were to be grafted into the spiritual body of the Messiah. Peter went to Cornelius’ house and preached the truth to them (Acts 10:25-44). Clearly, Peter had no understanding of this vision until it played out before him.

This was in spite of the fact that about seven years before the event, the Apostle Peter spoke the following words on the Day of Pentecost. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:17):.” The Holy Spirit spoke through Peter saying that Elohim would pour out His spirit on ALL flesh, which means Jews and Gentiles. Peter did not understand this until he preached to the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit was poured out on them (Acts 10:44-46).

One has to understand that the purpose of Yahweh is unfolding through the ages. This means that the things Yahweh revealed to mankind were incomplete when one looks at the whole scheme of things. In each age, the Spirit reveals things progressively to mankind to increase his understanding of the Creator Elohim. For example, Yahweh gave the Law of Moses unto Israel in the Post-Diluvian age or the age after the flood. Adam and his generation did not receive it. Now in our present age the Spirit, and not the Law of Moses, leads us.

The Apostles had one view of how the world would end, but none of them had the benefit of the Apostle John’s vision of Revelation in A.D. 96, since they all died before it occurred. This vision gives more details about the various events that would close out the age.

It also shows that the Holy Spirit must provide more revelations to fully understand the mystery of this end in our present age of grace. Various Christian denominations perpetuate all types of scenarios about how the heavens and earth will end, but none of them can be proven according to the scriptures. The final test will be the occurrence of the actual event.

How is the word “fire” used in the Old Testament?

The context in which the word “fire” is used must be understood. It is referred to in a physical, figurative, and symbolic sense in the scriptures. The Hebrew word for fire is “esh” according Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (# 784) and “pur” in Greek (# 4442) in the New Testament.

Now most ancient cultures considered fire one of the four basic elements of the universe and of a supernatural origin. The other three were earth, water, and air. Clearly, Yahweh used fire as a symbol that people were familiar with since most cultures of this era worshipped fire.

What is the literal interpretation of the word “fire”?

A physical destruction is the usual context that people think about fire. In the Old Testament there are numerous incidents where Yahweh rained down fire from heaven to destroy cities, nations, and people, such as Sodom and Gormorah (Gn. 19:24), and Egypt (Ex. 9:23-24). Elijah rained down fire from heaven (1 Kgs. 1:10-12). The Apostle John prophesied in Revelation that the beast with ten horns would destroy the city of Rome, which sits on seven hills by fire (Rev. 17:1-4, 15-18). All of these examples show physical destruction or consummation.

Is fire symbolically used in the Old Testament?

When the word “fire” is used allegorically and symbolically, it is not usually thought of in a literal sense. Fire is used to describe Elohim (God), His anger (Deu. 32:22, 21:9), and angels. For example, an angel of Elohim or God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Ex. 3:1-2) and there was a fiery cloud atop Mt. Sinai (Num. 19th chp., Deu 4:11) that spoke the Ten Commandment Law to Israel. Angels are referred to as flames of fire (Psa. 104:4; Heb. 1:7). There is also mention of a lake of fire where dead souls are tormented (Mt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 21:8) throughout eternity.

Clearly, these examples do not refer to a physical, but an allegorical fire. King David wrote of fire proceeding from Elohim’s nostrils (Psa. 18:8) which is not a normal place to find fire.

Finally, science views fire as a burning process that transforms a substance by releasing light and heat. For example, fire transforms paper or wood into pure carbon. Thus, “fire” in principle is a transformation process, as is Yahweh.

Will fire produce the creation of the new heaven and earth in the Old Testament?

Many prophets mentioned “fire” in prophecies as a method to produce the New Heaven and Earth (Nah. 1:5-6; Mal. 4:1-2). They saw fire as a purging agent to remove the chaos or wickedness from the old world and establish a new one.

John the Baptist told Israel when he baptized them in water that someone would come after him that would baptize them in fire and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11-12).

On the day of Pentecost Peter quoted the prophecy of Joel telling everyone present that this prophecy had been just fulfilled (Acts 2:1-4). Now Joel wrote: “And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke (Acts 2:19):” Joel was speaking of the Messiah’s blood, which was shed in the earth for sin.

The interpretation of Joel’s prophecy is the key in understanding the role fire plays in the New Earth and Heaven. Here the fire is not physical, but it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, fire brought about a spiritual minded state or a New Heaven and Earth within mankind’s mind (Rom. 8:6). The baptism of the Holy Spirit’s fire transforms a man‘s soul from a death state of being ignorant of Spirit to a state of illumination and knowledge of the Spirit within. Clearly, this major change consumes the ignorance and sins of mankind and regenerates them (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:22-23). In much the same way, fire consumed the sin sacrifices in the Court Round About of the Tabernacle. Mankind must be regenerated first spiritually in his mind because Adam and Eve died in their heart and mind or soul first before their physical death (Gen. 3rd Chapter).

What is the New Heaven and Earth now?

Now the most important point to consider here is that the New Heaven and Earth came into existence on the Day of Pentecost by the baptism of fire or the Holy Spirit, which was not observed by those that did not have eyes to see. This invisible, spiritual operation had to occur first before any physical fire could allegedly burn up the physical heavens and earth. Thus, when Isaiah wrote the following verses, they have usually been misinterpreted. “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind (Isa. 65:17; see Isa. 66:22).”

Here it appears that Isaiah is prophesying of a physical New Heaven and Earth, but the Apostle Paul gave the true interpretation of this prophecy after the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. He wrote the following which explains the new creature: “Therefore if any man be in the Messiah (Christ), he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Cor 5:17).”

The Messiah confirmed this with His own words. He knew that the New Heaven and Earth the prophets referred to symbolized a spiritual regeneration or a spiritual rebirth. “Yahshua (Jesus) answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of Elohim (God, John 3:3).” If anyone still has any doubts that this new creature is spiritual and not physical, Ezekiel wrote the following about Israel’s transformation. “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel (Ezk. 18:31)?”

Finally, the Apostle John’s vision in Revelation states: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from Elohim (God) out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of Elohim (God) is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and Elohim (God) himself shall be with them, and be their Elohim (God). And Elohim (God) shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful (Rev. 21:1-5).” This New Heaven and Earth begins with the spiritual regeneration of mankind’s soul first and later there will follow a transformation of the physical earth. The natural always reflects the spiritual (Rom. 1:19-20).

Are there examples of the New Heaven and Earth state?

Now there are numerous examples in the Old Testament of the old heaven and earth passing away. At the end of the first age in time, Yahweh Elohim destroyed mankind because of their wickedness by raining 40 days and nights. Elohim spared Noah and his family in the ark. They saw the old earth and heaven pass away and New Earth and Heaven established. This was the death, burial, and resurrection of the earth.

We can see this same principle with Israel in Egypt, which represents the old heaven and earth that was in bondage to sin and wickedness. Now Israel slayed lambs or goats to prepare the Passover meal (Ex. 12th chp.). The blood on the door protected them from the death angel that passed throughout Egypt killing first-born man and beast. Israel left Egypt through the divided waters of the Red Sea resurrecting into the wilderness.

The wilderness represents the New Heaven and Earth, for the first heaven and earth, being Egypt, were passed away (Rev. 21:1-4). With these examples one can see the principles of the New Heaven and Earth. Now we can analyze Peter’s interpretation of heaven and earth passing away.

Can we interpret Peter’s statement concerning the earth passing away?

Peter referred to the earth ‘passing away” as the transformation of the heavens and earth into another state (2 Pet. 3:10). He says that the elements of the earth melted with fervent heat (2 Pet. 3:10,12). He did not mean that they would be terminated without another state to follow.

The New Testament was written in Greek and the words “passed away” are defined as “parerchomai” according to Strong Exhaustive Concordance and the Thayer (#3928). This word is used metaphorically. It means “to pass” from one state and condition to another according to Clarence Larkin’s book, Dispensational Truth ( 1918).

Conclusion

All one can say about fire destroying the heaven and earth is that it has not been completely revealed to modern man, as Israel did not fully understand the resurrection nor the baptism of fire in the days of the Messiah (Matt. 3:11-12). These two prophecies were unclear until after the death and resurrection of the Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.

Now the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire symbolically represents a process of transformation (Acts 2:1-4). Simply put, the fiery consumation of the physical heavens and earth is a transformation process into a another state that is not revealed. Is it a more mature state than our physical creation and the angelic creation? No one knows or entirely understands at this point in time.

There are numerous allegories that can be made about the New Heaven and Earth state, but they are not the reality. When the gold vessels of the tabernacle were moved into Solomon’s temple, this represents the soul evolving to the New Heaven and Earth state. Here the tabernacle represents the old heaven and earth and the gold vessels represent the resurrected souls of men in the New Earth State. Solomon's temple represented the New Heaven and Earth that would come.

The Messiah demonstrated this process to His disciples when He transfigured before them at Mt. Tabor (Mt. 17:1-2). He took off His physical body and revealed His spiritual body that outshone the noonday sun. Likewise, the whole universe must undergo a transformation process, which Peter is alluding to and that still is misunderstood by many today.

The Apostle Paul talked about the problem of what type of body a person will have in the glorification (1 Cor. 15:29-46). He said: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-53).”

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