“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13)
As Christians we look forward to a new habitation of righteousness that will come after this life (Revelation 21:1-27). The prophet Isaiah spoke about “new heavens and a new earth” in forecasting the glorious spiritual order that would come when Jesus, the Messiah, would —in the fullness of time — set up the kingdom of heaven on earth (Isaiah 65:17-25; 66:22-24; cf. Ephesians 1:10). But what Peter was mentioning in his second epistle, was not another order in the physical world, but the spiritual habitation of heaven where the righteous will live forever.
Unlike passages in the prophets that were full of figurative imagery, the third chapter of Peter’s second epistle is a literal, straightforward message about how the physical creation will come to an end. Just as the physical word was inundated with water in the judgment of Noah’s day (2 Peter 3:6), the physical world now awaits the day when it will be burned up, “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” (2 Peter 3:7). “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” (2 Peter 3:10). All the physical world will be “dissolved” (2 Peter 3:11); thus, we should place our affections on the spiritual realities of heaven (Colossians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 4:18; Matthew 6:19-21).
John says those who love this world, the order which is against God, will perish just as this physical world will pass away, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17). Jesus mentioned the passing away of heaven and earth (Matthew 24:35), and told us to be ready at all times for it (Matthew 24:36-25:46).
The new heavens and new earth will not be a realm in which we have physical bodies. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). When Christ comes and raises all from the dead, we will be raised with spiritual bodies, glorious bodies like Christ’s (John 5:28-28; 1 Corinthians 15:44; Philippians 3:20-21).
While there are many questions we may have about what exactly the new heavens and earth will be like, the most important focus is to be ready for it. That’s Peter’s point. The expiration date of this world and the eternal glories of the world to come ought to motivate us to live for the Lord. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 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?” (2 Peter 3:11-12). Are you basing your life on the world around that can be seen but will perish, or are you exercising faith in the unseen spiritual realities that will abide forever?
Jesus said to his disciples, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18, 19).
Since the foundation of the world, wicked men have hated and sought to kill the righteous. Cain murdered his brother Able because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous; thus, we should not marvel that the world hates us today (1 John 3:12, 13). Joseph’s brothers hated him because of the partiality their father showed him and because of his dreams (Genesis 37:3-8). When Jehoshaphat refused to believe the counsel of the roughly 400 court prophets who said that Ahab would be successful in battle at Ramothgilead, he asked for a prophet of the Lord (1 Kings 22:6, 7). Ahab knew of one, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but Ahab hated him because he prophesied evil concerning him (1 Kings 22:8). Ahab hated Micaiah because he told the truth when others would not. It was not a defect in Micaiah but rather in Ahab’s character that Ahab was continually setting himself against the Lord’s will. Similarly, both Ahab and Jezebel hated the prophet Elijah and sought to kill him because he stood for truth (1 Kings 19:2). When he warned against joining the ranks of sinners, Solomon mentioned those who would lay in wait to kill the innocent (Proverbs 1:10).
The devil seeks to discourage us from living faithful lives. It is true that all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). We are not alone in suffering. We must continue to resist being overcome by the evil in the world, knowing our brethren throughout the world suffer tremendous afflictions for the cause of Christ (1 Peter 5:9; cf. Romans 12:21). So let us not give up the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Remember when the world hates you that, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).
Suffering in itself is not virtuous, but suffering for the cause of Christ is. There are many who suffer for the crimes they have chosen to commit. If Christians suffer for following their Lord, then they are blessed. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:15, 16). Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 12). How difficult it is to follow the example of the apostles and rejoice when we are counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 5:41). Let us not shrink back from our allegiance to Christ. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be delivered from the evil of the world (John 17:15). He taught us to do the same (Luke 11:4). But whatever happens, let us live in such a way that we can truly say as Paul did, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).