Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
“For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 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.”
Peter wanted the young Christians who were attacked by false teachers to be ready to answer them, especially the deceptive teaching that the end of the world would not come. The false teachers said that the end would not come because “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (4). Therefore the scoffers kept on in their sinning because they believed that the Judge would not come.
Throughout the history of the church there have been those who deny that there will be an end to this world. This is the case with evolutionists, who declare that the same world has continued for millions of years. Others believe that they see constant progress and good development taking place in society, and they urge everyone to cooperate in bringing every aspect of this wonderful world into the service of man.
Peter believes differently. And he wants the young Christians to see it as he does. Not just because this is his personal opinion. But rather because his conviction arises from the revelation of God. The Bible calls all men to live in the realization that the end is coming, and with the end there will be the judgment (Heb. 9:27)!
First, God used the prophets of old to alert and warn the church that “there shall come in the last days scoffers” (II Pet. 2:1; II Pet. 3:2, 3). Jesus too said that “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:11). So the very fact that there are these false teachers/scoffers indicates that it is the last days. This earth will not continue endlessly. There is an end. And the end is near.
Second, Jesus also gave clear warning that the moral condition of human society would become increasingly worse (Matt. 24:12). And He warned of the development of the man of sin and of the power of Antichrist just before He Himself would return. Iniquity will abound, and the kingdom of darkness will grow increasingly. The calling of the church remains unchanged: proclaim the gospel, call men to repentance and faith, warn of the judgment to come. As Enoch and Noah did, so has the true church done, and must continue to do.
Our text teaches us that the present creation will end by means of a catastrophic destruction, which will be followed by the establishment of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness shall dwell. Christ’s coming will bring this present dispensation to an end, and He will establish His everlasting kingdom in the new creation.
You see, the scoffers are willingly ignorant. That is their sin. It is not that they do not know. They know of the instruction of coming judgment. They know of the promise of Christ’s return and of the judgment to come. They know that all things do not continue unchanged. In fact, the hue and cry of global warming is exactly about change—that things do not continue as they were. But they willfully ignore and deny Jesus’ coming again to judge. They consciously suppress any thought of it. It is not as if they do not have sufficient information and intellectual knowledge. Rather, as our text makes clear, their problem is one of spiritual, ethical blindness—a malady due to a perverse will and a wicked heart.
Their willful ignorance is due to their enmity against God and their love of themselves, along with their own ungodly desires. They desire to ignore the promise of Christ’s coming to judge the ungodly for their ungodly deeds (Jude 15).
That of which they are willfully ignorant is, at its heart, the word of God. The heart of their willful ignorance is “the word of God” (5). The almighty and efficacious word of God promised the coming again of Jesus to judge. God’s word accomplishes what it says. It is an effectual word. It is the gospel, the good and glad tidings of redemption in Christ, which delivers from sin and death and takes His people into the Father’s house in the new heavens and new earth. And this word proclaims a day of judgment for the ungodly. It is a day of destruction for the present heaven/earth. The whole world of the ungodly will be destroyed as the just and righteous punishment of God for all their ungodly deeds.
The word says that this heaven/earth are “kept in store, reserved unto fire.” This world is reserved “unto fire.” The words “unto fire,” are, literally, “by fire.” This means that the very element of this world’s destruction (fire) will be also the element that reserves it. This present world is one of fire in its core. Men walk on and live very close to fire. A fire that will destroy them.
As men were willingly ignorant in Noah’s day—eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage—so they live today. They act as though there is no judgment coming. They continue in their false, this-worldly hope and expectation. They express this ignorance by scoffing at the Bible’s teaching of Christ’s return.
To demonstrate the perversity of the scoffers and false teachers, Peter speaks of the destruction of the first world. There was a first world. The world “that then was” was an entirely different world (heavens and earth) from what we have now, because that world stood “out of the water and in the water” (5). Literally, Peter writes that the world that then was stood through the water. It would seem that the amount of dry land was smaller, and it was surrounded by water. And the heavens consisted of “the waters which were above the firmament” (Gen. 1:7).
The world that then was (standing out of the water and in the water) perished through the very element of its existence: it was overflowed with water. The flood of Noah’s day was a universal flood. Further, that first world was destroyed by the word of God, by the very same word that created and sustained it. The powerful word of God that caused the water to be the very element of its existence also caused it to perish by that very element.
Peter is demonstrating that this is proof that the wicked scoffers who call into question God’s promise of a certain end are willfully ignorant. Therefore the Christians must not heed their scoffing nor doubt God’s promise—no matter how long it seems to take to be fulfilled. The destruction of the first world by the flood shows that the reasoning of the scoffers is false. Things have not continued unchanged since the creation. In the destruction of the first world by the flood there is a type of the promise of Christ’s coming again to judge. The flood was not THE end. It was an end. And it was a clear promise of Christ’s coming again to judge.
Also in Noah’s day they willfully scoffed at God’s word of judgment. Both Enoch (Jude 14-16) and Noah (II Pet. 2:5) proclaimed the coming of judgment. Still more, the people of that day were surrounded by the very word of God that would destroy them—the water. But they went on mocking, laughing, and feasting (completely involved in the present) until the flood destroyed them all.
Today there is the same power and sure word of God. By this word “the heavens and the earth, which are now” are reserved by fire (in the core of the earth) unto the day of judgment by fire. Man is surrounded by the word of God. Men know of the fire in the earth’s core and of the possibility of a nuclear fire. But knowing it, they in their unbelief scoff at any thought of a God who will burn this world in the fire of His fierce judgment.
When the present heaven and earth are destroyed by fire, it will be THE end. Then the very “elements will melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (10). That end will be THE end—the final end of all things.
We who have this knowledge are to respond correctly. First, we must, with increasing fervency, proclaim: Believe! Repent! Repent, or perish! Second, we must not be swayed by the scoffing of the wicked. Rather let us, “according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (13, 14). And let us pray, Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!