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THE SECOND EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER - Chapter 3 - Verse 13
Verse 13. Nevertheless we, according to his promise. The allusion here seems to be, beyond a doubt, to two passages in Isaiah, in which a promise of this kind is found. 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 66:22: "For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord," etc. Comp. Re 21:1, where John says he had a vision of the new heaven and the new earth which was promised: "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." See Barnes "Isa 65:17".
Look for new heavens and a new earth. It may not be easy to answer many of the questions which might be asked respecting the "new heavens and earth" here mentioned. One of those which are most naturally asked is is, whether the apostle meant to say that this earth, after being purified by fire, would be fitted up again for the abode of the redeemed; but this question it is impossible to answer with certainty. The following remarks may perhaps embrace all that is known, or that can be shown to be probable, on the meaning of the passage before us.
I. The "new heavens and the new earth" referred to will be such as will exist after the world shall have been destroyed by fire; that is, after the general judgment. There is not a word expressed, and not a hint given, of any "new heaven and earth" previous to this, in which the Saviour will reign personally over his saints, in such a renovated world, through a long millennial period. The order of events stated by Peter, is
(a.) that the heavens and earth which are now, are "kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men," 2 Pe 3:7;
(b.) that the day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly, 2 Pe 3:10; that then the heavens and earth will pass away with a great noise, the elements will melt, and the earth with all its works be burned up, 2 Pe 3:10; and
(c.) that after this (2 Pe 3:13) we are to expect the "new heavens and new earth." Nothing is said of a personal reign of Christ; nothing of the resurrection of the saints to dwell with him on the earth; nothing of the world's being fitted up for their abode previous to the final judgment. If Peter had any knowledge of such events, and believed that they would occur, it is remarkable that he did not even allude to them here. The passage before us is one of the very few places in the New Testament where allusion is made to the manner in which the affairs of the world will be closed; and it cannot be explained why, if he looked for such a glorious personal reign of the Saviour, the subject should have been passed over in total silence.
II. The word "new," applied to the heavens and the earth that are to succeed the present, might express one of the following three things—that is, either of these things would correspond with all that is fairly implied in that word:
(a.) If a new world was literally created out of nothing after this world is destroyed; for that would be in the strictest sense new. That such an event is possible no one can doubt, though it is not revealed.
(b.) If an inhabitant of the earth should dwell after death on any other of the worlds now existing, it would be to him a "new" abode, and everything would appear new. Let him, for instance, be removed to the planet Saturn, with its wonderful ring, and its seven moons, and the whole aspect of the heavens, and of the world on which he would then dwell, would be new to him. The same thing would occur if he were to dwell on any other of the heavenly bodies, or if he were to pass from world to world. See this illustrated at length in the works of Thomas Dick, LLd.—- "Celestial Scenery," etc. Comp. See Barnes "1 Pe 1:12"
(c.) If the earth should be renovated, and fitted up for the abode of man after the universal conflagration, it would then be a new abode,
III. This world, thus renovated, may be from time to time the temporary abode of the redeemed, after the final judgment. No one can prove that this may not be, though there is no evidence that it will be their permanent and eternal abode, or that even all the redeemed will at any one time find a home on this globe, for no one can suppose that the earth is spacious enough to furnish a dwelling-place for all the unnumbered millions that are to be saved. But that the earth may again be revisited from time to time by the redeemed; that in a purified and renovated form it may be one of the "many mansions" which are to be fitted up for them, (Joh 14:2,) may not appear wholly improbable from the following suggestions:
(1.) It seems to have been a law of the earth that in its progress it should be prepared at one period for the dwelling-place of a higher order of beings at another period. Thus, according to the disclosures of geology, it existed perhaps for countless ages before it was fitted to be an abode for man; and that it was occupied by the monsters of an inferior order of existence, who have now passed away to make room for a nobler race. Who can tell but the present order of things may pass away to make place for the manifestations of a more exalted mode of being?
(2.) There is no certain evidence that any world has been annihilated, though some have disappeared from human view. Indeed, as observed above, (2 Pe 3:10,) there is no proof that a single particle of matter ever has been annihilated, or ever will be. It may change its form, but it may still exist.
(3.) It seems also to accord most with probability, that, though the earth may undergo important changes by flood or fire, it will not be annihilated. It seems difficult to suppose that, as a world, it will be wholly displaced from the system of which it is now a part, or that the system itself will disappear. The earth, as one of the worlds of God, has occupied too important a position in the history of the universe to make it to be easily believed that the place where the Son of God became incarnate and died, shall be utterly swept away. It would, certainly, accord more with all the feelings which we can have on such a subject, to suppose that a world once so beautiful when it came from the hand of its Maker, should be restored to primitive loveliness; that a world which seems to have been made primarily (See Barnes "1 Pe 1:12") with a view to illustrate the glory of God in redemption, should be preserved in some appropriate form to be the theatre of the exhibition of the development of that plan in far distant ages to come.
(4.) To the redeemed, it would be most interesting again to visit the spot where the great work of their redemption was accomplished; where the Son of God became incarnate and made atonement for sin; and where there would be so many interesting recollections and associations, even after the purification by fire, connected with the infancy of their existence, and their preparation for eternity. Piety would at least wish that the world where Gethsemane and Calvary are should never be blotted out from the universe. But
(5.) if, after their resurrection and reception into heaven, the redeemed shall ever revisit a world so full of interesting recollections and associations, where they began their being, where their Redeemer lived and died, where they were renewed and sanctified, and where their bodies once rested in the grave, there is no reason to suppose that this will be their permanent and unchanging abode. It may be mere speculation, but it seems to accord best with the goodness of God, and with the manner in which the universe is made, to suppose that every portion of it may be visited, and become successively the abode of the redeemed; that they may pass from world to world, and survey the wonders and the works of God as they are displayed in different worlds. The universe, so vast, seems to have been fitted up for such a purpose, and nothing else that we can conceive of will be so adapted to give employment without weariness to the minds that God has made, in the interminable duration before them.
IV. The new heavens and earth will be holy. They will be the abode of righteousness for ever.
(b.) This will be in strong contrast with what has occurred on earth. The history of this world has been almost entirely a history of sin—of its nature, developments, results. There have been no perfectly holy beings on the earth, except the Saviour, and the angels who have occasionally visited it. There has been no perfectly holy place—city, village, hamlet; no perfectly holy community. But the future world, in strong contrast with this, will be perfectly pure, and will be a fair illustration of what religion in its perfect form will do.
(c.) It is for this that the Christian desires to dwell in that world, and waits for the coming of his Saviour. It is not primarily that he may be happy, desirable as that is, but that he may be in a world where he himself will be perfectly pure, and where all around him will be pure; where every being that he meets shall be "holy as God is holy," and every place on which his eye rests, or his foot treads, shall be uncontaminated by sin. To the eye of faith and hope, how blessed is the prospect of such a world!
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