A Preterist View of The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth: Summary and Highlights
The prophecies concerning the destruction of heaven and earth are written in an apocalyptic style. Apocalyptic literature is similar to poetry and is thus not strictly literal. Whenever a nation is conquered and destroyed by a foreign army, the Bible sometimes portrays this tragedy in the language of the destruction of heaven and earth. The fall of Babylon (Isaiah 13:9-13), Israel (Jeremiah 4:23-26), Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7-9) and Edom (Isaiah 34:4-5) in the sixth century B.C. are all depicted together with the destruction of heaven and earth. Just as the sky was not literally and physically destroyed at the fall of these great nations in the sixth century B.C., the sky was also not physically destroyed during Israel’s first century war with Rome. When discussing the destruction of heaven and earth, most preterist scholars will stop right here. However, there is far more to the destruction of heaven and earth than what has been stated above. Several natural and supernatural events in the first century A.D. and the sixth century B.C. appear to fulfill these prophecies concerning the destruction of heaven and earth in a shockingly literal way from the perspective of ancient people.
The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained–A Preterist View!
A Covenant Eschatology Interpretation of the Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: The Bible alludes to the Destruction of Heaven and Earth at the Fall of Jerusalem, Egypt, Edom and Babylon in the Sixth Century B.C.
Whenever a nation is conquered and destroyed by a foreign army, the Bible frequently portrays this tragic event as the destruction of heaven and earth. There are several examples of this in Biblical history. In the sixth century B.C. several kingdoms were conquered and destroyed by foreign nations and in each case the Bible expresses this conquest as the destruction of heaven and earth.
The first example is found in Jeremiah 4:23-26. Here the destruction and conquest of Israel by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. is presented as the destruction of heaven and earth itself:
I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. . . . I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins . . .
In these verses, the destruction of Judah at the hands of the Babylonian army is painted in the image of the destruction of heaven and earth. Notice in v. 23, the earth, representing Israel, is dark, formless and void as it was in Genesis 1:2. This day of darkness for Israel is painted in such a way as to imply that heaven itself had also been destroyed since all the lights of the heavens are said to be gone in v. 23. Furthermore, there are no living things to be seen mirroring the desolate state of the earth prior to its creation in Genesis 1. In Jeremiah 4:23-26, the prophet pictures the destruction of the kingdom of Judah at the hands of the Babylonian army in the sixth century B.C. as the destruction of heaven and earth.
The destruction of heaven and earth is also depicted in Ezekiel 32. Here the prophet addresses Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, with a warning concerning Egypt’s imminent defeat and subjugation to Babylon which also came to pass in the sixth century B.C. Concerning the military conquest of Egypt by Babylon, Ezekiel 32:7-9 states:
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will trouble the hearts of many peoples when I bring about your destruction among the nations, among lands you have not known.
Here the destruction of the heavens portrayed by the darkening of the heavenly lights occurs simultaneously with the destruction of Egypt by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. Similar imagery is present in Isaiah 13:9-13 concerning the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.:
See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. . . . Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger [emphasis mine].
Hebrews 12:26 says, “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain [emphasis mine].” Hebrews 12:26 indicates that what has been shaken will be removed. Thus the fact that heaven and earth are shaken in Isaiah 13:13 implies that heaven and earth were removed or destroyed when Isaiah 13:9-13 was fulfilled at the fall of Babylon in the sixth century B.C.
The destruction of heaven and earth is also predicted at the destruction of Edom in Isaiah 34:4-5. This prophecy was also fulfilled around the time of the Babylonian conquest of Judah in the sixth century B.C:1
All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.
Similar imagery is found in Revelation 6:12-14 concerning the destruction of heaven and earth at the time of the end. In Revelation 6:12-13, John foresees the shaking of heaven and earth also seen at the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. according to Isaiah 13:13. In Revelation 6:14 the sky recedes like a scroll and the stars of heaven fall to the earth as it had in Isaiah 34:4 at the destruction of Edom in the sixth century B.C. As shown above, the destruction of heaven is linked to the destruction and conquest of a nation.
Though not discussed in this article it should also be noted that there is covenantal significance to each incidence in which heaven and earth were destroyed throughout Biblical history and Biblical prophecy. For details see The Covenantal Significance of the Destruction of Heaven and Earth.
A Fulfilled Eschatology Interpretation of the Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: The Prophecies concerning the Destruction of Heaven and Earth in the Prophets, 2 Peter 3 and Revelation are written in an Apocalyptic Style. Apocalyptic Literature is similar to Poetry and is thus not strictly Literal.
The prophecies concerning the fall of Edom, Egypt, Israel and Babylon in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, like the predictions in Revelation and 2 Peter 3, are written in an apocalyptic style. Apocalyptic literature is basically poetry. And like poetry, apocalyptic literature is not a rigidly literal depiction of events like one might expect to find in a newspaper. Therefore, one should not expect the sky and earth to physically passed away after the Jewish War just as the stars in the sky were not physically “dissolved and the heavens rolled up” at the fall of Egypt, Israel and Babylon in the sixth century B.C. Because heaven and earth were not physically annihilated at the conquest of Judah, Egypt, Edom and Babylon in the sixth century B.C., it stands to reason that the destruction of heaven and earth at the end of the age predicted in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 6:12-14 is also not expected to signify the complete dissolution of all of creation.2
In all the verses cited above in which heaven was destroyed at the fall of a kingdom, the one unifying theme among all of them is that the heavenly lights were said to be darkened or obscured at that time. It is the disappearance of the sun, moon and stars that is the apocalyptic sign that heaven and earth have been destroyed. It is not required that they actually be physically annihilated. This fact is perhaps implied clearest in 2 Peter 3. In this chapter Peter predicts that heaven and earth would be destroyed by fire. The way in which one would know that this has happened is that the heavens would disappear. 2 Peter 3:10 reads, “The heavens will disappear with a roar[.]” The sky is blue during the day and dark at night so the only way in which I can envision the heavens disappearing is if the sun, moon and stars are no longer visible. Below I shall explain how the sun, moon and stars were darkened which signified the destruction of heaven in a non-physical manner.
When discussing the destruction of heaven and earth, most preterist scholars will stop right here. However, there is far more to the destruction of heaven and earth than what has been stated above. In the following essay we will illustrate the fact that though it is true that God did not completely destroy all of his physical creation and remake it in a new way, there is a surprisingly literal, though seemingly entirely unknown, way in which the end time predictions concerning the destruction of heaven and earth were fulfilled in the minds of the ancient Jews of the first century A.D. and the sixth century B.C. Before discussing the surprisingly literal fulfillment of this prophecies, let us turn our attention to what is meant Biblically by the destruction of heaven and earth.
A Realized Eschatological View of the Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: The First Recorded incidence in which God came on the Clouds of Heaven was at the Creation of Heaven and Earth in Genesis 1 according to Psalm 104:3.
There is an important Biblical link between the destruction of heaven and earth, the creation of a new heaven and earth and the coming of the Lord on the clouds. During the creation of heaven and earth, “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2).” This is the first time in which God came on the clouds of heaven in the Bible according to Psalm 104:3. Psalm 104 also describes the creation of the earth. However, rather than saying that God hovered or moved over the waters at the start of creation, in Psalm 104 God is said to come on the clouds of heaven: “He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 104:3).” The clouds that serve as God’s chariot in Psalm 104:3 is presumably formed by the separation or evaporation of the waters above from the waters below as indicated in Genesis 1:6-8.
The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: When God comes on the Clouds of Heaven, the Cloud Cover of the Glory Cloud obscures the Sun, Moon and Stars. The Darkening of these Luminaries signifies the Destruction of Heaven and Earth.
The coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven which preceded the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1 is also found repeatedly in the Old and New Testaments marking the destruction of heaven and earth prior to the creation of a new heaven and earth. In Isaiah 13:9-13, Jeremiah 4:23-26 and Ezekiel 32:7-9 cited above we saw that the destruction of heaven at the fall of various kingdoms in the sixth century B.C. was presented in an apocalyptic fashion as the darkening of the heavenly lights. The destruction of heaven and earth is also depicted in Joel 2:10-11. Here the God of Israel rides on the clouds of heaven at the head of a conquering army: “Before them [an invading foreign army] the earth quakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness. The Lord utters His voice before His army[.]” As is the case in Isaiah 13:9-13, Jeremiah 4:23-26 and Ezekiel 32:7-9 cited above, in Joel 2:10-11 the darkening of the sun, moon and stars signifying the destruction of heaven is a direct consequence of the Lord coming on the clouds of heaven in the Glory Cloud. The presence of the thick storm clouds of the Glory Cloud forms a blanket across the sky that obscures the heavenly lights just as they are said to obscure the brightness of God’s likeness in the minds of an ancient Jewish observer:
He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky [emphasis mine]. (Psalm 18:9-11)
Above it is clear that the dark storm clouds of the Glory Cloud rendered God invisible in the eyes or mind of the ancient Jews. It is these same storm clouds of the Glory Cloud that naturally darken the sun, moon and stars. The fact that the sun, moon and stars are darkened by a thick, dark blanket of cloud cover indicative of the coming of the Lord on the clouds of the Glory Cloud is made explicit in Ezekiel 32:7-9:
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will trouble the hearts of many peoples when I bring about your destruction among the nations, among lands you have not known.
The darkening of these luminaries makes it appear at least poetically or apocalyptically, if not literally in the eyes of primitive people, that heaven had been destroyed. Thus the destruction of heaven and earth signified by the darkening of the heavenly lights is a direct and an inevitable consequence of the coming of God on the clouds amidst the Glory Cloud.
The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: Following Old Testament Precedence, Matthew 24:29-30 exemplifies the Fact that the Destruction of Heaven is directly linked to the Coming of Christ on the Clouds: The Dark Clouds of the Glory Cloud Fulfilling v. 29 and Darkening the Sun, Moon and Stars.
The coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven is also alluded to in the New Testament where it is applied to the Parousia or the second coming of Christ in Matthew 24:30 and elsewhere in the New Testament. During the second coming, Jesus predicted that He would come on the clouds of heaven as the God of Israel had done so often in the Old Testament. Just as the coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven preceded the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1 and Psalm 104:3, the second coming also heralds the creation of a new heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). And, of course, before the new heaven and earth can be created, the old heaven and earth must be destroyed. It is at this time, at the destruction of heaven and earth, that Jesus comes on the clouds of heaven in judgment. One prominent example in which Jesus is said to come on the clouds of heaven amidst the destruction of the old heaven and earth immediately preceding the act of new creation is found in Matthew 24:29-30:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENEED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
Remember that as stated many times above, the darkening of the sun, moon and stars mentioned in Matthew 24:29 is a sign of the destruction of heaven. The shaking of heaven in v. 29 is literally fulfilled in the reverberating blasts of resounding thunder that make the sky tremble amidst the dark storm clouds of the Glory Cloud. The shaking of the heavens mentioned in v. 29 is also a sign of the removing or destruction of heaven according to Hebrews 12:26: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain [emphasis mine].” Matthew 24:29 says, “[T]he powers of the heavens will be shaken[.]” Hebrews 12:26 indicates that what can be shaken will be removed—that is heaven. In Matthew 24:29-30 one can see a prominent New Testament example in which the destruction of heaven is directly linked to the coming of Lord on the clouds.
The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: Josephus Implies that a Rain Storm Marked the Arrival of the Roman Army at Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Did Jesus Ride These Storm Clouds in Fulfillment of Matthew 24:30 as God had in the Past According to Psalm 18:9-11? And Did These Strom Clouds Literally Darken the Sun and Moon Fulfilling Matthew 24:29?
As illustrated in Psalm 18:9-11 cited above, when the God of Israel came on the clouds in judgment in the Old and New Testaments this generally meant that thick rain clouds would mark His coming. This fact is also implied in Psalm 68:7: “When you, God, went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel [emphasis mine].” Recording what appears to be the literal fulfillment of Christ coming on the clouds of heaven in A.D. 70, Josephus mentions a terrible drought that dried up the springs in and around Jerusalem before the arrival of Titus’ army. However, when Titus and his army arrived in A.D. 70 to besiege Jerusalem, Josephus says that the springs overflowed implying the fact that a great rainstorm occurred at the start of the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Did Jesus come on the clouds in judgment at the start of the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 in fulfillment of Matthew 24:30? And did these dark rain clouds darken the sun and moon as predicted in Matthew 24:29? See The Coming of Christ in A.D. 70–Like You’ve Never Heard it Before!
The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: The Sun, Moon and Stars represent the People of a Kingdom.
In Matthew 24:29, the sun and moon darken and the stars fall from the sky. The darkening of the sun and moon is an astral omen pointing to the fact that a king’s term in office is about to be cut short as is implied in Psalm 72:5: “He [the king] will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon. . .” Furthermore, in Isaiah 24:21-23, the Lord supplants the kings of Israel and rules in their absence to the embarrassment of the sun. These vs. suggest that the state of the sun and moon foreshadows and symbolizes the fate of the ruling elite. Similarly the stars of heaven represent the people, especially the political, religious and socioeconomic elite.
The ancient Jews were not alone in interpreting these heavenly signs in this way. Seemingly all the cultures around Israel read these omens in this way going back at least to ancient Babylon. Even first century Rome was not exempt. For example, a solar eclipse was viewed by the Roman mob as a sign of the subsequent death of Caesar Domitian.3
It seems that the presence of the Glory Cloud, the dark rain clouds marking the coming of Christ on the clouds, in A.D. 70 darkened the sun and moon as predicted in Matthew 24:29-30 as this omen foreshadowed the subsequent death and capture of many of the generals, priests and socioeconomic elite of first century Jerusalem at the city’s destruction by Titus and his army.
The “A.D. 70 Doctrine” View, Interpretation, Exposition of the Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: The Destruction of Heaven and Earth signifies the Deaths of the People of a Kingdom.
The fact that signs in the sun, moon and stars accompanying the destruction of heaven and earth may point to the deaths of the people of a kingdom rather than the physical dissolution of the cosmos fits well with the way in which “creation” is used to just signify people in Mark 16:15. Here Jesus instructs His apostles to “preach the gospel to all the creation[.]” Of course the “creation” of Mark 16:15 refers just to people, not the physical world. In light of the way in which creation is used to refer to people in Mark 16:15 it is perhaps not a surprise that the church is called a “new creation” in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15. If creation can be used to just refer to people rather than the physical cosmos, perhaps the destruction of creation can also refer to just people as appears to be the case in the sixth century B.C. destruction of heaven and earth at the fall of Babylon, Edom, Egypt and Judah?
The Bible often poetically depicts the cosmos as if it were a giant temple. For example, Isaiah 11:12 refers to the “four corners of the earth” like the four corners of a temple. Ephesians 1:4 mentions the “foundation of the earth” like the foundation of a temple. Psalm 75:3 and Job 26:11 refer to the “pillars of the earth” and the “pillars of heaven” respectively. Of course the sky and the earth do not have literal pillars, a foundation, four corners, or a cornerstone. This language is meant to depict the people of the earth as a metaphorical temple where the earth’s inhabitants are represented by these temple features.
The New Jerusalem is the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1-2). The New Jerusalem is depicted as a cube so as to hint at the idea that the whole city is the Holy of Holies of the Temple (Revelation 21:16). In Revelation 21:14 the twelve apostles are symbolized by twelve foundation stones: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” In Revelation 21:14 it is clear that the new foundation of the earth is the twelve apostles. Similarly, the saints in the New Jerusalem are said to be pillars in this city: “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name (Revelation 3:12).” The cornerstone is the first stone set into place in a building’s foundation. The cornerstone of the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and earth, is Jesus the “cornerstone that the builders rejected” (Matthew 21:42).
The kingdom of God mentioned throughout the Gospels, like the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22, is the church. The church is the new Temple of God: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).” If heaven and earth are depicted in the image of a temple wherein the people of this temple are symbolized by the various features of the heaven and earth temple complex, it follows that the destruction of heaven and earth would therefore most likely signify the deaths of people, not the physical cosmos. In other words, if we are to interpret the destruction of heaven and earth in a literal, physical sense, would it not then follow that we should expect to see all the various temple-like features of the earth also annihilated at that time like the four corners of the earth, the foundation of the earth, and the pillars of the earth and sky? Of course not! The destruction of heaven and earth represents the destruction of these temple features by way of the deaths of those people whom these features represent, not the obliteration of the physical world.
Preterist Theology and the Destruction of the Earth: Fulfilling 2 Peter 3:10 Israel, the Earth, was Literally Destroyed by Fire in the First Century.
Earth is a term often used in the Bible to address people rather than soil, elements or minerals. This fact is made clear in the following verses: “Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it [emphasis mine]!” (Isaiah 34:1.) “Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me [emphasis mine].’” (Isaiah 1:2.) Furthermore, earth is also often used in a limited sense to specify the people of a particular city or kingdom, not the whole world, (Isaiah 1:1-3; 24-27; Jeremiah 51:24-25) while sea represents foreigners outside of the specific kingdom addressed (Daniel 7; 9:26; 11:10, 40; Psalm 65:7; 144:7, Isaiah 8:7-8; 17:12; 60:5; Jeremiah 46:7-8; 47:1-2; 51:55-56; Ezekiel 26:3; Nahum 1:8; Revelation 17:15). See In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations. 2 Peter 3:10 is another example in which earth is used in a limited sense to denote the people of a particular kingdom. Though the destruction of heaven and earth focuses primarily on the deaths of the inhabitants of a kingdom, there is a way in which the earth or land was truly destroyed by fire during the Jewish War as predicted in 2 Peter 3:10. In 2 Peter 3 the destruction of the earth by fire was fulfilled in the destruction of Israel by fire during Israel’s first century war with Rome.
After Israel revolted against Rome in Iyyar of A.D. 66, Nero Caesar retaliated with an overwhelming army that swept through Israel like a literal and metaphorically unquenchable fire. Thus Israel was quite literally destroyed by fire as a result of Rome’s scorched-earth policy. Concerning the destruction of Israel, the earth, by fire, during the Jewish War Josephus writes, “He [the Roman general] also at the same time gave his soldiers leave to set the suburbs on fire. . . . So the trees were now cut down immediately, and the suburbs left naked.”4 Further testimony of how the land was left burned and desolate as a consequence of the Roman army’s scorched-earth policy can again be found in The Wars of the Jews: “Now this country [Jericho] is then so sadly burnt up that nobody care [sic] to come at it…”5 “[N]or did the Romans . . . leave off either by night or by day, burning the places in the plain . . . so that Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood. . . .”6 “He [the Roman general] also set fire, not only to the city [of Gadara] itself, but to all the villas and small cities that were round about it. . . .” Thus in the aftermath of its first century war with Rome, Israel was left a burning wasteland with much of the rest of Israel suffering the same fate as that of Jerusalem, Jericho, Gadara and Galilee mentioned above.7
The Destruction of the Earth: In Large Fires Like the One that Destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Sometimes the Sky can Reflect the Hues of the Fire Itself giving an Optical Illusion that the Sky Itself is Also on Fire Fulfilling 2 Peter 3:10.
But what about the destruction of heaven by fire also predicted in 2 Peter 3:10? 2 Peter 3:10 reads, “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” In the midst of a great fire like the one that engulfed Jerusalem at its destruction in A.D. 70, the sky can sometimes appear to also be on fire if the fire below is great enough. In other words, if a fire is sufficiently large sometimes the orange light produced by the fire can light up the smoke and night sky above the conflagration such that the sky appears to reflect the hues or colors of the fire below giving an illusion that the sky itself is also on fire.
Interestingly, it is also worth noting that the smoke induced by large fires can also appear to darken or obscure the heavenly lights. As stated above, the darkening of the sun, moon and stars points to the destruction of heaven in apocalyptic literature (Isaiah 13:9-13; 34:4-5; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Ezekiel 32:7-9). Here one can see how earthly fires can even cause the Biblical signs that mark the destruction of heaven in apocalyptic literature.
What about the elements that are said to burn up in 2 Peter 3:10? When 2 Peter was written there were thought to be only four elements: earth, water, fire and air. In other words, the periodic table of elements was not discovered yet. Perhaps in this prophecy Peter pictures what appears to be the destruction of air by this illusion of fire. It is also possible or even likely that the elements may refer to the elements or principles of the Law. See the commentary on 2 Peter 3:5-13.
A Covenant Eschatology Interpretation and Commentary of the Destruction of the Earth: Does “Heaven and Earth” Just refer to the People of Israel?
Many Christians believe that the Biblical expression “heaven and earth” just signifies the people of the earth, often representing Israel. This thinking is partially based on the earthly symbolic meaning of the sun, moon and stars mentioned above. However, proponents of this view will often cite Isaiah 1:2 and Deuteronomy 32:1 as seeming proof of this interpretation. In Deuteronomy 32:1 Moses tells both heaven and earth to listen to his words: “Listen, you heavens, and I will speak; hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.” The same situation occurs in Isaiah 1:2: “Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!” The fact that in Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah 1 heaven and earth are told to listen when it just seems to be the people of Israel who are being spoken to has given rise to the idea that the expression heaven and earth refers just to the people of earthly Israel.
This is not true. When heaven and earth are told to listen in Deuteronomy 32:1 and Isaiah 1:2, Moses and Isaiah are requesting both heaven, the realm of God and angels, and earth to act as two witnesses. Deuteronomy 17:6 reads, “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” This notion is exemplified in Deuteronomy 4:26 and 30:19:
I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed (Deuteronomy 4:26).”
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (Deuteronomy 30:19)[.]”
As suggested in Deuteronomy 4:26 and 30:19, heaven is asked to listen in Isaiah 1:2 and Deuteronomy 32:1 so that the angels of heaven can witness the fact that God’s prophetic warnings were delivered to Israel by the prophets because justice, of course, ultimately comes from heaven. Furthermore, as indicated in Deuteronomy 30:19 the people of Israel, the earth, are also expected to act as a witness against their own transgressors. Of course not all of Israel violated God’s Law, throughout Biblical history Israel always had a faithful remnant. In light of Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 32:1; and Isaiah 1:2 one can see that heaven and earth are called upon together in order to act as the two witnesses required by Deuteronomy 17:6 for capital punishment. Thus the notion that heaven and earth is just denotes the people of Israel, the earth, is derived from a misunderstanding of Isaiah 1:2 and Deuteronomy 32:1.
The Destruction of Heaven: The Destruction of Heaven by Fire was foreshadowed by an Omen in which the Sky appeared to be on Fire during the Adoption of Nero by Emperor Claudius.
Thus when the Bible mentions the destruction of heaven in 2 Peter 3, this prophecy is not just about the destruction of Israel. Rather, 2 Peter 3 predicts the destruction of Israel, the earth, alongside the destruction of heaven, the realm of angels. Controversial Christian apologist Daren Wisman contends that the prophecies concerning the destruction of heaven in the Bible may also have a literal core of truth to them. He argues that Revelation 12 indicates that Satan’s throne was in heaven in the first century and that Satan is called the God or prince of this world or the god of this age in several places throughout the Bible including Ephesians 2:2, John 12:31, John 14:31 and John 16:11. He says the fact that Satan’s throne was in heaven in the first century explains why Ephesians 6:12 says that there are spiritual forces of evil in heaven: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Wisman argues that the destruction of heaven by fire predicted in 2 Peter 3:7-13 may have been a direct result of the war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the Devil and his angels mentioned in Revelation 12:7. It would seem that as a consequence of the devastation wrought by this heavenly war there would therefore be a need for the creation of a new heaven as predicted in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1. For a detailed explanation see Daren Wisman’s controversial, yet interesting, article Why does the Bible predict that Heaven will be Destroyed by Fire?. If heaven was, in fact, destroyed by war and fire, then it was destroyed in precisely the same way and manner as was Israel, the earth, at the end of the age—by war and fire.
Whether or not heaven was truly and literally destroyed by fire in the first century, the destruction of heaven by fire seems to have been foreshadowed by what looked like fire in the sky on the day in which Claudius Caesar adopted Nero, the sixth head of the beast, as his son and likely successor: “When Claudius had adopted her son Nero and had made him his son-in-law . . . a mighty portent occurred. The sky seemed to be on fire that day.”8 Here one can see a heavenly omen echoing the impending destruction of heaven by fire foretold in 2 Peter 3:7: “By the same word the present heavens . . . are reserved for fire.”
The Destruction of Heaven: Did the Mass Vision of the War in Heaven in A.D. 66 fulfill Revelation 12:7?
Nero is the beast referred to in the 666 cryptogram of Revelation 13:18. During this adoption ceremony a seemingly miraculous sign appeared in the sky which seemed to point to the coming fulfillment of 2 Peter 3:7-12. Nero did, in fact, succeed his adopted father. And during his reign a mass vision of a heavenly war was reported in the sky over Israel at the start of the Jewish revolt against Rome in Iyyar of A.D. 66. Could this mass vision of war in heaven seen by the people of Israel be the war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the devil and his angels mentioned in Revelation 12:7? Recording this event, Tacitus writes, “In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour.”9 Josephus also records this phenomenon adding the fact that these phantom soldiers on horseback appeared at sunset. The fact that this event is said to have occurred at sunset suggests that, like many sunsets in Israel during the month of Iyyar, the sky may have appeared a blend of orange and red, another possible heavenly portent of the destruction of heaven by fire as prophesied in 2 Peter 3:12.In Daren Wisman’s controversial article Why does the Bible predict that Heaven will be Destroyed by Fire?, Wisman echoes the Rabbinic idea that the sun represents the king. Therefore, as a kingly authority in heaven, Satan, like the kings of Israel, may also be represented by the sun. Could the fact that this war in heaven occurred at sunset be symbolically significant? As the sun sets it appears to descend to the earth from the perspective of those standing on the earth’s surface.10 Could this war at sunset have been an omen that Satan, the king represented by the sun, had been cast from heaven to the earth after the war in heaven mentioned in Revelation 12:7-9?
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Revelation 12:7-9).”
In other words could the sun, representing Satan, as it descends from the apex of the sky to surface of the earth at sunset be a symbol of the fact that Satan had lost his authority in heaven that day as a result of the war seen in heaven and been “thrown down to the earth” as predicted in Revelation 12:9 like the sun at sunset?
The Destruction of Heaven: Revelation 12:7-9 says that there was a War in Heaven. How could there be a War in Heaven?
Revelation 12:7-9 explicitly indicates that there was a war in heaven. How could there be a war in heaven? Isn’t heaven perfect and sinless? How could there be forces of evil in heaven (Ephesians 6:12) and a war in heaven (Revelation 12:7)? Ephesians 1:3; 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12; and 2 Corinthians 12:2 indicate that there is more than one heavenly realm. Ephesians 1:3 states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms . . .” 2 Corinthians 12:2 reads, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.” Interestingly, near-death experiences (NDE’s) confirm the fact that there is more than one heavenly realm. Dr. Harold A. Widdison and Dr. Craig Lundahl, two NDE researchers, say the following: “But no matter what level or city [in heaven] a person qualifies for, each city is so superior to any on earth that it is indescribable, and each succeeding realm is indescribably better than that immediately below it.” If there is more than one heavenly realm it stands to reason that the lower heavenly realms may still be occupied by less than perfect beings still capable of sin as indicated in Ephesians 6:12. This notion is echoed in 2 Enoch 7 and 18 where rebellious or evil angels are seen in the second and fifth heavens. In fact, Satan was sometimes thought to rule in one of the lower heavens.11 If there is still the possibility of sin in the lower heavenly realms, then a war like that mentioned in Revelation 12:7 would not appear to be impossible. For a more detailed explanation see controversial Christian apologist Daren Wisman’s interesting article How the Sinful and Flawed State of Mankind is Ultimately Made Perfect in Heaven.
A Preterist Eschatology, Interpretation and Exposition of the Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and New Earth Explained: Conclusion
The prophecies concerning the destruction of heaven and earth fulfilled in the sixth century B.C. and the first century A.D. are written in an apocalyptic style. Apocalyptic literature is similar to poetry and is thus not woodenly literal. Whenever a nation is conquered and destroyed by a foreign army, the Bible often depicts this tragedy in the image of the destruction of heaven and earth. The fall of Babylon, Israel, Egypt and Edom in the sixth century B.C. are each depicted together with the destruction of heaven in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Just as the sky was not literally and physically destroyed at the fall of these great nations in the sixth century B.C., the sky was also not physically destroyed during Israel’s first century war with Rome.
Though the prophecies concerning the destruction of heaven and earth are apocalyptic in style, there is a great deal of literal truth to these prophecies. Though heaven and earth were never physically dissolved, the heavenly omens denoting the destruction of heaven and earth like the darkening of the heavenly lights were all likely fulfilled in a surprisingly literal manner. For example, the darkening of the sun, moon and stars symbolizing the destruction of heaven was accomplished by the presence of God coming on the clouds of heaven in judgment when the thick clouds of the Glory Cloud signifying God’s presence blanketed the sky overhead eclipsing all the heavenly lights. Similarly, Roman historians mention miraculous signs and events said to have transpired in the middle of the first century that appear to fulfill Biblical predictions concerning the destruction of heaven and earth at the end of the age. For example, the Roman historian Cassius Dio says that the sky looked like it was on fire on the day in which Claudius Caesar adopted Nero, the beast referred to in the 666 gematria,12 as his son and likely successor.13 Then during Nero’s reign, a ghostly war was witnessed in the sky over Israel at the start of the Jewish revolt. This war in the sky appears to have been a mass vision of the war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the devil and his angels mentioned in Revelation 12:7. Could this war have caused the destruction of the heavenly realms by fire?
The destruction of Israel, the earth, began immediately thereafter when the Roman army arrived, crushed the Jewish revolt, burned the province and left Israel a charred wasteland. Therefore, the destruction of the earth representing Israel by fire predicted in 2 Peter 3 was fulfilled in Rome’s scorched earth policy during the Jewish War.
Was both heaven and earth destroyed by war and fire? In heaven there was a war between Michael and his angels and the Devil and his angels as mentioned in Revelation 12:7. On the earth, Israel, there was a seemingly concurrent war between Rome and Israel as evidenced by the vision of war seen in heaven at the start of the Jewish revolt recorded by Tacitus. I believe in both cases, heaven and earth were subsequently destroyed by fire perhaps as a consequence of these seemingly concurrent wars in fulfillment of 2 Peter 3:5-13.
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Interested in THE PRETERIST VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY, or are you a PRETERIST struggling with a prophecy or verse? It DID happen just like the Bible says! If you liked this essay, see PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY for a detailed explanation of the FULFILLMENT OF ALL MAJOR END TIME PROPHECIES IN THE BIBLE. The more unbelievable the prophecy, the more amazing and miraculous the fulfillment!
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained: Conclusion
The destruction of heaven by fire was fulfilled in the first century in both a symbolic and shockingly literal way.
- Charles S. Meek, Christian Hope through Fulfilled Prophecy: Is Your Church Teaching Error about the Last Days and Second Coming?, (Spicewood, TX: Faith Facts Publishing, 2013), 123.
- However, some preterists have taken this idea to far by twisting the expression “heaven and earth” to mean just the earth or Israel. This is a textbook example of eisegesis, reading ones beliefs into Scripture, rather than exegesis, deriving ones beliefs from Scripture. This view is derived from Deuteronomy 32:1. In this verse, Moses addresses the Hebrew slaves during the Exodus by saying, “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Those who hold to the belief that the expression “heaven and earth” just refers to the earth or Israel assume that in Deuteronomy 32 Moses is just addressing the Israelites in this discourse. Since they believe that earthly Israel is the only audience in Deuteronomy 32, this must mean that the phrase “heaven and earth” is a non-literal expression denoting Israel alone. This essay discusses the link between heaven and earth and how Moses’ speech seems to have reverberated to the beings of heaven as well.
- Kenneth S. Guthrie, Gospel of Apollonius of Tyana: His Life and Deeds According to Philostratos (US: Kessinger Publishing’s, 1900), 70.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 5.6.2.
- Ibid., 4.8.3.
- Ibid., 3.4.1.
- Ibid., 4.8.3, 4.9.7, 6.1.1.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 60.22.
- Tacitus The Histories 5.13.
- It is interesting to note that the Abyss is located under the earth according 1 Enoch 10:4-7.
- Isbon Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (New York: Macmillan, 1919), 617.
- See the commentary on Revelation 13:18.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 60.22.