2 PETER 3 AND THE CONSUMMATION (1)

PMW 2018-104 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

As we ring out the old year and ring in the new, it might be encouraging for us to consider the biblical concept of the new creation. The key passage presenting the consummate new heavens and new earth is found in 2 Peter 3. Unfortunately, this passage creates much confusion among interpreters.

Some dispensationalists hold that it refers to the earthly millennium, while others argue that it speaks of the consummate new creation (e.g., John Walvoord). Some postmillennialists teach that it refers to the present era introduced by Jerusalem’s destruction (e.g., David Chilton), while others apply it to the consummate new heavens and new earth (e.g., Robert Dabney). Many amillennialists refer all new creation references in Scripture solely to the final consummate order, allowing this passage to control all others (e.g., Philip Hughes). Some hyper-preterists see the spiritual new creation occurring after a literal first century rapture at AD 70 (e.g., J. Stuart Russell).

A part of the problem with 2 Peter 3 lies in the fact that the passage employs terminology that sometimes designates the spiritual new creation and at other times the destruction of physical Jerusalem in AD 70. But similarity does not entail identity. This passage does not speak of either the present spiritual new creation (cf. Isa 65:17) or the future Jerusalem conflagration (as does Heb 12:25–29). It points instead to the consummate order which follows the resurrection and the final judgment. Note the following arguments.


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(1) Peter’s whole thrust in his second epistle promotes a spiritual perseverance for the historical long run. That is, he writes about a long period in history that finally ends up in the eternal new creation. He is not writing about the spiritual new order arriving shortly after he dies, the new covenant era of the post-AD 70 world.

Peter urges his readers to persevere (2Pe 1:6) and warns against short-sightedness (1:9). He states that Christians may have access to the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ only through long-term perseverance (1:10–11, 19). He does this by presenting Noah and Lot as examples of saints who persevere through evil times (like the evil times his faithful readers are facing). By persevering against their ungodly cultures, Noah and Lot come out on the other end of God’s judgment still upon the earth (2Pe 2:5, 7, 9). So Peter’s readers should expect to come out on the other end of the chaos surrounding them (2:9a) — still on the earth because of God’s power to deliver. God delivers Noah and Lot so that his name will continue on earth through their witness (2:6b; cp. 1:8) and offspring (2:5b) to live into the distant future. Thus, those first century Christians should expect their offspring to continue into the distant future (cp. 1:15). They must persevere even against false teachers who will arise among them (2:1). He is urging the Christians toward a long term commitment, not a short-term expectation.

As a part of his argument in this context, Peter teaches that ever since those judgments in the Old Testament long ago God has kept unrighteous angels in “pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2Pe 2:4) and “the unrighteous [tormentors of Noah and Lot] under punishment for the day of judgment” (2:9). That is, though these evil ones suffered temporal judgment long ago, they are still to this day awaiting a final, eternal judgment in the future. Similarly, Peter will be showing his faithful readers that they too have something reserved for them in the future. After they endure temporal judgments in their own time, they can expect something glorious: “we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (3:13). Thus, he parallels God’s reserving future judgment for those evil characters with his reserving future blessing for his faithful Christians — blessings not just a few years away (AD 70), but at a great distance. Indeed, “the present heavens and earth,” he notes, “are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and the destruction of ungodly men” (3:7).


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So then, while contemplating God’s judgment cleansing of the earth in Noah’s day (2Pe 3:6), Peter urges Christians to many “holy livings” and “pieties” (en hagiais anastrophais kai eusebeiais, 2Pe 3:11). These Greek plurals occur only here in Scripture. This suggests many acts of righteousness over the historical long term. Consequently, the epistle also ends with a call to perseverance (3:15, 17), just as it opens with such (1:6, 9). He calls on them to glorify Christ now and until “the day of eternity” (eis hemeran aionos) begins, whenever that may be (3:18).

Continued in next article. Unless the world ends, in which case I renounce my theories. 🙂

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