Q: #483. Will God burn up the earth one day?
By: Steve Shirley
A: There are two views in regards to this question, and both have Biblical support, as well as scholarly arguments. To be honest, I have flipped back and forth on this issue, and am still not totally settled on what view I think is correct. The Bible does seem clear that God will one day destroy the earth by fire. However, there is also proof that rather than total annihilation, God will "purify" the earth with fire. At this time, I am leaning towards the latter viewpoint, but I could be convinced otherwise . So, what I am going to do is show evidence for each view, then I will share why I am leaning away from the total annihilation view. I urge you to look at the evidence, study it, and prayerfully come to your own conclusion.
First, let's look at some verses which seem to show that the earth will indeed be destroyed by fire one day:
Perhaps the clearest, and most used verses are found in (2 Pet 3:7,10-12).
(2 Pet 3:7,10-13) (7) 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. (10) But the day of 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. (11) Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, (12) Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (13) Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Here are a few more:
(Rev 21:1) 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."
***Note: It appears that the new heaven and earth will have "no sea." Coincidence or not, it is interesting that throughout the Bible, the "sea" is often associated with negative things such as: the wicked (Isa 57:20), the cruel (Jer 6:23), a destroying army (Ezek 26:3-4), those who doubt God (James 1:13), false teachers (Jude 1:13), the beast rises from (Rev 13:1), the great harlot sits on (Rev 17:1,15), and the "sea gave up her dead who were in it" (Rev 20:13)
(Mt 24:35) Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Also see: Mk 13:31, Lk 21:33)
(Isa 65:17) For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
(Isa 34:4) And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
For more verses, see: (Isa 66:22)(Ps 102:25-26)(Mt 5:18)
In studying on this subject, John MacArthur seems to be one of the biggest advocates in favor of this position. For example, in his commentary for (2 Pet 3:10), he says, "The "heavens" refer to the physical universe. The "great noise" connotes a whistling or a crackling sound as of objects being consumed by flames. God will incinerate the universe, probably in an atomic reaction that disintegrates all matter as we know it." Again, in (Rev 21:1), he says, "The entire universe as we now know it will be destroyed and be replaced by a new creation that will last forever."
In part 1 of a 3 part sermon series MacArthur did on this subject, he says, "God originally made the universe and the earth, I believe, to be the permanent home for mankind. And Eden would have been his permanent home and he would have lived forever, except that men and women sinned in the garden. Sin and death entered in, corrupted the world and the universe. The fall of angels, of course, added to the corruption. The earth became a place that had to be destroyed. Decay entered in, it started unraveling and decaying; and ultimately, God has to wipe it out."
***Note: I would disagree with MacArthur's thinking in the part 1 sermon series. I do not believe that God could have originally intended for man to live in Eden forever, but because of sin "the earth became a place that had to be destroyed." If God thought that Eden would be their "permanent home," it means God didn't know they would sin. Their sin caught God by surprise. This limits God's omniscience, and means God doesn't know everything.
So... the above makes it pretty clear that the earth will one day be destroyed, right? Well, not so fast! There are a number of scholars who believe that the above verses aren't speaking about "totally" destroying the earth, but rather "renewing" or "purifying" it. David Jeremiah explains this view well. In speaking on (2 Pet 3:7), He says, "When we look at the original Greek, the word we've translated "burned up" more accurately conveys the idea of being uncovered, or laid open. God is not going to burn the earth down to a heap of ashes, He's going to refine every element and atom all the way down to the earth's core. He's going to completely renovate the earth to a quality we haven't experienced. The beauty we enjoy in creation today is barely a taste of the vibrancy we will experience when God is finished purifying it."
In his study Bible on (Rev 21:1), Jeremiah says, "God is not creating a whole new earth from scratch like He did in Genesis. He's renovating His creation and removing all evidences of sin, decay, and disease. The earth will not be new in quantity but in quality - perfectly refurbished to its core."
This, in conjunction with the following verses which show that the earth/world will not end, has also been pretty convincing to me.
(Ecc 1:4) One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
(Eph 3:21) Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
(Ps 78:69) And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
(Ps 148:4-6) Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. (5) Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created. (6) He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.
For more verses, see: (Ps 104:30)(Heb 1:10-12)
***Note: I am not sure I agree with Dr. Jeremiah's view that "burned up" in the Greek ("katakaio") does not mean totally destroyed. When I look at other verses which also use this Greek word, it seems to mean destroyed (i.e. Mt 13:40, 1 Cor 3:15, Acts 19:19, Rev 18:8).
One more good explanation of this view comes from theologian Anthony Hoekema. He writes the following in his book called "The Bible and the Future:" "In his redemptive activity, God does not destroy the works of his hands, but cleanses them from sin and perfects them, so that they may finally reach the goal for which he created them. Applied to the problem at hand, this principle means that the new earth to which we look forward will not be totally different from the present one, but will be a renewal and glorification of the earth on which we now live."
Therefore, we have "good" (Biblical) evidence for both positions. So, what do I do when this is the case? I have dealt with this before regarding other subjects on this website (i.e. Calvinism vs Arminianism, Eternal Security vs losing salvation, Are babies born sinners?). When I am faced with this situation, I ask myself this simple question: "Which view is the most logical, and best fits with the whole of Scripture?" It is with this in mind that I lean towards the latter viewpoint, that God does not TOTALLY destroy the earth with fire. Let me explain why.
My thinking is based primarily one one thing: God has a pattern of leaving a remnant of His original creation when He "destroys."
For example, beginning in Genesis (Ch. 6-8), God
said He would "destroy" ALL living creatures on the earth
(who breathed through nostrils)
(Gen 6:7,13,17)(Gen 7:4), and did so (Gen 9:15).
However, God did not destroy ALL, but instead preserved a remnant of His creation by saving Noah, his
family, and two of each animal.
***Note: God also said He would "destroy" the earth (Gen 6:13), and speaks of it being "destroyed" (Gen 9:11), but He did not "totally" destroy the earth, but instead "renewed" and "purified" everything on it.
Another example can be found at salvation. When we are saved, (2 Cor 5:17)(Gal 6:15) say we become a "new creature (creation)." Does this mean that when we are saved, God totally destroys us and starts over? I don't believe so. I am still the same person I was before I was saved (I am still Steve, same body, same mind), however, God has changed me. He has "purified" me (Acts 15:9)(Heb 9:14)(1 Jn 1:7)(Titus 2:14)(Heb 1:3), and "renewed" me (Eph 4:22-24)(Rom 12:2)(Col 3:10). He has taken what I was, and made something new. He has changed my wants and desires (Gal 2:20)(Gal 5:24)(Rom 6:6)(Rom 7:6)(Eph 2:10)(1 Jn 3:9). He has given me the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). I did not have that before.
For one more example, the Bible says that one day we will receive a "new" glorified body (I discuss this here and here). It seems clear to me that there is a direct correlation between our "new" glorified body and our old body. Our glorified body is our old body "renewed." The Bible tells us that our new bodies will be like the body Jesus had after His resurrection (Phil 3:21)(1 Cor 15:48-49)(1 Jn 3:2). His glorified body was in essence the same as His old body, but renewed (remember it still had the scars from His crucifixion: Jn 20:20,27, Lk 24:40).
***Note: While maybe unrelated, I also find it interesting that even though the (2nd) Temple in Jerusalem was "totally destroyed" in 70 A.D., a remnant of it appears to remain (sometimes known as "the wailing wall").
Finally, to bolster this viewpoint of God "purifying" and "renewing," rather than "totally destroying," let me share a few verses that show what this view might look like.
Perhaps the best example is found in (Mal 3:2-3). These verses say, "But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: (3) And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."
We see that God is going to "purify" His people with fire, but not destroy them (Mal 3:6). When a "refiner" purifies gold or silver, they heat it to a very high temperature, at which time, the impurities are "burned off," and only the "pure" (gold or silver) remains. The same could be said of what God is going to do when He "burns up" the earth with fire. The impurities will be "burned up, and the earth will then be "pure."
Check out a few other verses where God uses "fire" to "refine" or "purify:"
(Zech 13:8-9) And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. (9) And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.
(1 Pet 1:7) That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
(Isa 48:10) Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
(Zeph 3:8-9) Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my
determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation,
even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. (9) For then will I turn
to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.
***Note: Notice, "all the earth shall be devoured with fire," but after, people will "call upon the name of the Lord."
For more, see: (Job 23:10)(Prov 17:3)(Ps 66:10)(Isa 1:25)(Rev 3:18)(Jer 9:7)(1 Cor 3:13)(Dan 12:10)
The Greek word that is used for "new" in "new" heaven and "new" earth is ("kainos"). Strong's defines this Greek word as: "new (espec, in freshness), "new," of that which is unaccustomed or unused not "new" in time, recent, but "new" as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old." This word is also used when speaking of a "new" creature/creation. To me, this also points to God "purifying" and "renewing." God is making something "fresh," or of a different nature. Saying it a different way, we might say we become a "fresh" creature/creation, or there will be a "fresh" heaven and "fresh" earth.
I am not convinced that God's creation is so ravaged by sin that He must destroy it "completely." I believe that God values His creation more than that. He said in the beginning that all of His creation was "good" (Gen 1:31). If we say that everything that God created is now "bad," and must be destroyed, doesn't that kind of give Satan the victory?