We now have come to our consideration of verse 13 of this wondrous Chapter in II Peter. There is something wonderfully arresting about this verse as it is connected with the preceding context. We do well to take note of it presently.
The verse here in question is the 13th. It. reads as follows: “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth; wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Thus is the translation from the Greek text in the King James Version. According to this translation Peter would emphasize the subjective expectation of the believers rather than placing the emphasis on the thing looked for. This comes out especially in the way in which the King James Version translates de particle de by “nevertheless.” No matter how the enemies may scoff at our hope and mockingly call in question the promise of the Lord’s final return, we nevertheless believe in and hope for this return.
Although there is truth in such a translation and of thus construing the text and context, it seems, to me that, according to the original Greek sentence, as written by Peter, the emphasis rather falls on what is expected, rather than upon the subjective and joyful expectation of the same. For literally the text reads as follows: “But new heavens, and earth new, according to his promise we expect, in which dwelleth righteousness.” Two things here strike our attention. Firstly, that in the Greek the definite article is absent with both the term “heavens” and the term “earth.” The identity of the heavens and the earth is not pointed out, but rather the nature of these is indicated. See, for example, Rom. 1:2, where Paul does not say “in the holy Scriptures” but simply “in holy Scriptures,” emphasizing the nature of them, rather than singling them out as a class of Scriptures from other scriptures. True, even so, the Scriptures are placed in a class by themselves by implication, but they are not thus set forth explicitly. Thus also here. Peter certainly has a definite heaven and earth in mind in distinction from another heaven and earth, but that is not the emphasis. He sets forth here emphatically the kind of heavens and the kind of earth which God will realize according to His promise, and for which we look in hopeful expectancy. Secondly, what strikes our attention is, that in the Greek text the adjective “new” (kainos) is emphatic in both cases, and that it is repeated with both heavens and with earth.
Hence, not our expectation is emphasized, but the certainty of God’s work and its unique character are set in bold relief as the object of our living Christian hope. It is well, it seems to me, that this be not overlooked!
Bearing the foregoing in mind, we will now attempt to show from the text and from the Scriptures in general what is meant by ‘hew heavens and a new earth.” According to the rule of interpretation which requires that the most natural interpretation is the correct one, as well as the rule that when a term is employed by a writer in a certain sense in the context, then there is no need to depart from the given sense of such a word or term, it seems to us that the interpretation here of such terms as “heavens” and “earth” should not prove too difficult.
In the context where Peter wages his devastating polemic with the mockers, who contended that all. things remain as they were since the fathers fell asleep, the terms “heavens” and “earth” refer definitely to the present earth on which we now live and the heavens, which are called the “firmament” in Genesis 1:6-8, 14, 15, 17. About this there can be no doubt!
If that point is established, then the next step is also not too difficult. There can be really no serious question about the identity of the, heavens and the earth which shall melt with a fervent heat. Both the heavens (firmament) and the earth shall be dissolved. God shall not only shake the earth, but “now he hath promised saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also the heaven” (Hebrews 12:26, Haggai 2:6). Both heaven and earth will beg destroyed! It shall all wax old as doth a garment. Thus we read in Hebrews 1:10-12, quoting Psalm 102:25-27, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands: They shall perish, but Thou continuest; and they shall wax old as doth a garment, and as, a mantle Thou shalt roll them up, and as a garment; and they shall be changed. But Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” All of Scripture teaches abundantly that the “heavens” too shall wax old, and shall too be put away. This did not take place yet in the flood. It will take place in the Day of the Lord’s Parousia!
Now it seems to me, that there is only one exegetical possibility here when we speak of new heavens and a new earth, that is, that what will be made “new” is thesame earth and the same heavens which became “old.” Apart from the fact that this is the plain and simple teaching of Scripture, it ought to be obvious that only, thus can we speak truly of the “old” and the “new.” God does not make an other world, other heavens and another earth. He makes the old new. He gives it so to speak a new vesture and new garments. And these vestures and garments of the heavens and the earth will be emphatically new!
It ought to be observed at this point that Peter really quotes here in part from the words before spoken by holy prophets. It is particularly from Isaiah 65:17 that he quotes. There we read, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” When one reads the Greek Septuagint version we notice that instead of “behold, I create” we read simply “there shall be” (estai). That impoverishes the sense of the Hebrew text. In the fist place, because the very meaningful “behold” is left out. Secondly, because the lame “there shall be” is never equal to “I create.” It leaves out the subject “I,” that is, Jehovah, and it flattens the term “create” to a mere “shall be.” Besides, it should be observed that the term in the Hebrew “I create” is really “I am creating.” The verbbara (he creates) is in the active participial form, expressing “an action or condition in its unbroken continuity.” What the Lord says in Isaiah 65:17 is that he is constantly busy bringing about the new heavens arid the new earth, and that he is constantly engaged in realizing his promise in every phase and point of history. The Lord is not, slack concerning the promise, but He is longsuffering. Or as Jesus says: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” John 5:17. We must not have the translation here of the Septuagint Greek, but the Hebrew. Peter quotes this passage in part, it is true; but his entire reasoning is in line with the Hebrew as de sense of the Spirit, Who drove Isaiah and Peter thus to write. We do well to take note. Furthermore, it should not escape our attention that the Lord’s work, in bringing about new heavens and a new earth, is emphatically a work of “creation.” It is not simply growth or development, but it is the work whereby God creates, gives shape, form and being to them. It is no less marvelous and divine than the creation of the first heavens and the first earth as recorded in Genesis 1. It will be the unfolding of the Mystery of His will in which He will have united all things in heaven and on earth under one Head, Christ, the eternal Son of God in our flesh.
God will make both the heavens and the earth “new!”
To form a somewhat understandable conception of this newness of both the heavens and the earth is difficult. It doth not yet appear what we shall be. I John 3:2. We do not yet see all things subjected unto Christ. Heb. 2:8. Isaiah 65:17 tells us that the “former things will be remembered no more, nor come into mind.” This points to a very real and drastic change. Jesus signals this drastic change, speaking to the Sadducees of His day, when he says to them: “Ye err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” Surely the former things of marriage and the development of a human race out, of Adam will there no longer be; it will be remembered no more, neither come to mind. In these new heavens and in this new earth there will be a new form of things in which it will be supremely evident that God is all in all!
That the Lord would make a new earth does not seem too difficult to admit. After all this present earth is subject to death, sin, corruption; all things are subject to bondage: Once the Lord has already destroyed the earth in the Flood, and He shook the earth violently at Sinai. But that the Lord will also make “new heavens” is harder to admit. Somehow we think of heaven as the place of perfection; Paul went into the third heaven. And we think of heaven as the place where the good angels dwell about the great white throne of God. Will. God make that heaven “new” too?
Now we must remind ourselves that we may not speculate here, but we must let the Word of God speak.
When we speak of the term “heaven” it should be borne in mind that Scripture sometimes speaks in the plural and sometimes in the singular. The English wordheaven seems to be associated with the verb: to heave. The plural then for heaven is the things heaved up. The Hebrew shamaim: heavens is from shamah: to be high, exalted. The blue firmament is like a mighty vault raised up above the earth and set on pillars. Hence, it is called heaven. And when we look toward heaven, we look toward that blue firmament and think of “heaven of heavens” as being above the firmament. Solomon confessed concerning this heaven that they were not able to contain God. II Chron. 2:6. Somehow the symbolism of the blue sky as a mighty circle above the earth is possibly the nearest that we come to a poetic description of heaven. We have it in Psalm 104:1-4. Here the poet bows down in deep adoration and worship and confesses the greatness of God. God is verygreat. Hear the poet sing: “Bless the LORD, O my soul. O, LORD, my God, Thou art very great. Thou art clothed with honor and majesty; who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain; Who layeth the beams of His chambers in the waters; Who maketh the clouds His chariot, Who walketh upon the wings of the wind, Who maketh the winds His messengers, flames of fire His ministers . . .”
Now Isaiah says that heavens are God’s throne and the earth is His footstool. This makes, in a symbolic and revelatory sense, heaven and earth the place where we dwell with God and God dwells with us; He on the throne and we before the throne. Of this there was a little picture in the temple. It was the place, the tabernacle of God with man; God dwelling between the Cherubim of the mercy-seat with His people, who were in the outer court, and were represented by the High-Priest and by the daily ministration of the priests. It was a picture of the new heaven and the new earth. But it was only a picture, patterned after the heavenly and future realities which Moses was shown by the Lord on the holy mount (Hebrews 8:5, Ex. 35:40). The reality will not be realized until the return of Christ, when God will indeed make all things new. It will be heaven and earth united, throne and footstool, Him who is on the throne and all who bow before the throne perfectly united in righteousness through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(to be continued)