“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?