A Preterist Commentary on 2 Peter 3:5-13: Summary and Highlights
In this Preterist Commentary on 2 Peter 3:5-13, the reader will be exposed to first century natural and supernatural events that point to the destruction of heaven and earth by fire. 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. Whenever a nation is conquered and destroyed by a foreign army, the Bible frequently portrays this tragic event in the language 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 and thus not strictly literal, there is a literal core of truth to these prophecies. Throughout the Bible, “earth” represents Israel. See In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations. The destruction of Israel, the earth, began shortly 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. Furthermore, at the final supernatural and miraculous appearance of Christ at the death of the beast, a famous catastrophe hurled fire into the sky and upon the earth; darkened the sun, moon and stars; and killed untold numbers. In Roman History 60.23.5, Cassius Dio says that those that witnessed the event believed that all of heaven and earth had been destroyed:“[T]hose close at hand, believed that the whole world was being turned upside down, that the sun was disappearing into the earth and that the earth was being lifted to the sky.” What famous event at the death of the beast also fulfilled these prophecies in a shockingly literal way? The historical fulfillment of these verses is discussed below.
The following may seem unbelievable. However, all information is taken from unbiased historical records and is easily verifiable. Sources listed at the end.
The Destruction of Heaven and Earth in the First Century
5But they deliberately forgot that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
2 Peter 3:5-6 Commentary: In Revelation, Earth represents Israel, while Sea represents Gentile Rome. This Symbolism pictures the Roman Conquest of Israel as a Metaphorical Flood preceding the Creation of the New Earth in the same way that the Earth was created in Genesis 1:2.
In Genesis 1:2, the spirit of God hovers over the waters before the creation of the earth. As is the case in Genesis 1 and Genesis 7-8, floods commonly precede the separation of the waters at the creation of the earth or the creation of a new earth. As is implied in Daniel 11:10, Daniel 11:40, and Nahum 1:8, floods are often used in the Bible as a metaphor for an invading army. The fact that military conquest is symbolized in flood imagery in the Bible serves an important literary purpose. These symbolic floods by means of military conquest signify the precreation water world of Genesis 1:2 before the creation of a new earth or land. It is perhaps for this reason that throughout the Revelation and much of the rest of the Bible, earth denotes Israel (Isaiah 1:1-3; 24-27; Jeremiah 51:24-25), while sea represents foreign nations, specifically Gentile Rome in Revelation (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. This symbolism in which Rome represents the sea and Israel, the earth, in Revelation never varies because it depicts Rome’s conquest and destruction of Israel during the Jewish War as the desolate precreation water world which preceded the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1. And just as a flood preceded the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1, a metaphorical flood also preceded the creation of a new heaven and earth after the Jewish War. This new heaven and earth is the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and Revelation 22.1
A Covenant Eschatology Interpretation and Commentary of 2 Peter 3:6-7: Was the Fire of 2 Peter 3:7-13 Literal?
In 2 Peter 3:7, Peter then goes on to predict the destruction of heaven and earth by fire. It is occasionally supposed in preterist circles that because the sky and earth were not actually annihilated in A.D. 70 that the fire mentioned in the following vs. must not be literal. This view has a major exegetical problem. In 2 Peter 3:6 Peter reminds his audience that the earth was once destroyed by water during Noah’s flood (Genesis 7). If one believes that the waters and flood of Noah’s time was a literal flood which literally destroyed the earth whether in a local or global sense, one is also compelled to believe that the fire that destroys the earth in 2 Peter 3:7 must also be literal. You cannot have literal waters in 2 Peter 3:6 without also having literal fire in 2 Peter 3:7-13. Was the fire of 2 Peter 3:7-13 literal?
Yes. As part of the Roman scorched-earth policy, Josephus records the fact that the Romans literally destroyed the cities and much of the countryside of Israel, the earth, by fire during the Jewish War. See The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained! for a detailed discussion. Having addressed the literal destruction of the earth by fire, let us now address what was actually destroyed at this time in addition to its covenantal significance and meaning.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Preterism, A Commentary of 2 Peter 3:8-9: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
Though Jesus promised to return “soon” throughout the New Testament, Christians still awaiting the second coming often cite v. 8 as a way to justify the unexpected delay of Christ’s coming. Because “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” to the Lord, perhaps Jesus’ use of “soon” and “at hand” to describe His future return at the end of the age should be understood in light of God’s timing? There a significant problem with this logic. James Stuart Russell writes the following in his famous book, The Parousia:
It is sometimes said that the whole period between the incarnation and the end of the world is regarded in the New Testament as ‘the end of the age.’ But this bears a manifest incongruity in its very front. How could the end of a period be a long protracted duration? Especially how could it be longer than the period of which it is the end? More time has already elapsed since the incarnation than from the giving of the law to the first coming of Christ: so that, on this hypothesis, the end of the age is a great deal longer than the age itself.2
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. 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. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
A Covenant Eschatology Interpretation and Commentary–Why the Melting of the Elements in 2 Peter 3:12 is Not What it May Seem: At the Time in Which 2 Peter was written there were only believed to be Four Elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Of these Elements Only Water as Ice Melts from Fire. Thus the Melting of the Elements Cannot Refer to Physical Elements.
At first glance it might appear that 2 Peter 3:7-13 is describing a literal conflagration of the earth and sky in which the physical elements will literally melt from the heat. The “elements” in these verses which are said in 2 Peter 3:12 to “melt in the heat” are not likely to be the physical elements of the periodic table since the physics and chemistry underlying what makes something a true element had not been discovered yet. Thus the true elements of the periodic table were not called “elements” by the people of that time. When 2 Peter was composed there were only believed to be four elements: earth, water, fire and air.3 Thus interpreting the elements of 2 Peter 3:12 to be the elements of the periodic table would be anachronistic. In other words, when Peter said that the elements would be destroyed in the heat he could not have been talking about the destruction helium, hydrogen, copper or any of the other elements listed on the Periodic Table. Furthermore, it seems just as unlikely that Peter was talking about the destruction of the four known elements of the time as only water as ice can be said to melt with fire. Is 2 Peter 3:2 predicting a great melting of ice into water at the end of the age? Here one can see the difficultly posed in a literal and physical interpretation of the elements of 2 Peter 3:12.
The only possible way in which I can see 2 Peter 3:10-12 being fulfilled in the four known elements of Peter’s day is in the fact that sometimes the orange light from fires can light up the smoke and night air above the flames making it appear as though the sky itself is also on fire. This interesting optical effect can give the illusion that the air, one of the four known elements at that time, is also being consumed by fire.
Furthermore, the smoke from a great fire like the burning of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 might darken or obscure the sun, moon and stars as seems to be implied in Isaiah 51:6: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke[.]” Perhaps the smoke from the burning of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 darkened the sun, moon and stars literally fulfilling 2 Peter 3:10: “The heavens will disappear with a roar[.]”? The darkening of the heavenly lights is a sign of the destruction of heaven (Isaiah 13:9-13; 34:4-5; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Ezekiel 32:7-9). See The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained.
Preterist Eschatology–Why the Destruction of Heaven and Earth is Not What it May Seem: If God was going to Destroy the Entire Universe, Why did Jesus tell the Saints to Flee to the Mountains in Luke 21:21-22?
Evidence against the idea that 2 Peter 3 predicts the complete destruction of the universe by fire is found in Luke 21:21-22: “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” If God intended to destroy the entire world by fire, what good would it do to flee to the mountains? Here one can also see the difficultly posed in the belief that 2 Peter 3:12 predicts the complete dissolution of the universe by fire at the time of the end.
A Covenant Eschatology Exposition and Commentary of 2 Peter 3:7-13: The Greek Word for “Elements” in 2 Peter 3:7-13 refers to the Elements or Customs of the Law of Moses in Every Other Instance in which it is used in the New Testament.
If 2 Peter 3:12 is not about the destruction of the earth and sky and the melting of the physical elements, then what is this verse about? The Greek word translated elements in these verses is stoichion. Every other time stoichion is used in the New Testament, it refers to the elements or regulations of the Law of Moses.4 Thus these verses may hint at the fulfillment of the Law of Moses predicted in Hebrews 8:13: “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one [the Law of Moses] obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
This interpretation is further solidified by the fact that the earthly icon or symbol of the Old Covenant was literally burned by fire in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed the Temple by burning it with fire. With the Temple destroyed it was no longer possible to practice the Law of Moses. Thus in a way the elements of the Law had truly passed away by literal fire as predicted in 2 Peter 3:12. It should also be noted that Josephus saw the Temple as a symbol or representation of heaven and earth (The Wars of the Jews 3.7). Thus the destruction of the Temple also signified and marked the destruction of heaven and earth.
Preterism Explained and Interpreted, A Commentary of 2 Peter 3:7-13: 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 destruction of heaven and earth are written in an apocalyptic style. Apocalyptic literature is poetry. It is not a strictly literal description of events as one might find in a newspaper. In light of this fact, it is not surprising that the sky and earth did not literally pass away after the Jewish War in the same way that the stars in the sky were not literally “dissolved and the heavens rolled up” at the fall of Edom in the sixth century B.C. as prophesied in Isaiah 34:4-5.
A Preterist View and Commentary of 2 Peter 3:7-13: The Destruction of the Earth in 2 Peter 3:7-13 refers to the Destruction of the Inhabitants of the Earth as it Did during the Destruction of the Earth by the Flood Mentioned in 2 Peter 3:6.
In 2 Peter 3:6, Peter says, “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.” Though Noah’s flood did, in fact, destroy the earth, it did not cause its complete annihilation. Similarly the fire said to destroy heaven and earth in 2 Peter 3:7-13, though causing the destruction of heaven and earth, also is not expected to cause its complete annihilation. The destruction of the earth referred to in 2 Peter 3:6 refers to the destruction or slaughter of the people of the earth during Noah’s flood. The same thing is predicted in 2 Peter 3:7-13 when Peter predicts the destruction of the earth by fire. This destruction also refers to the wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of the earth which are the people of Israel. The fact that the earth represents the people of the earth, not the material elements, is illustrated well 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.) See In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations. Having addressed how the destruction of the earth in 2 Peter 3:5-13 refers to the slaughter of the people of a particular land, what is meant by the destruction of heaven? The answer may surprise you! See The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained! and What about Romans 8:19-22?.
It is interesting to note that though the earth and sky were not physically annihilated during the Jewish War, two miracles or omens were recorded in the sky in the first century which seem to have prophetically pointed to the impending destruction of heaven. The first miracle occurred at the adoption of Nero by Claudius Caesar and the second transpired during Nero’s reign at the start of the Jewish War in A.D. 66. For a description of these miraculous signs and their significance in addition to a detailed explanation of the fulfillment of 2 Peter 3:7-13 in the destruction of heaven and earth in the first century see The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained!
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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.
A Preterist Commentary on 2 Peter 3:5-13: Conclusion
According to the above “A.D. Doctrine” commentary on 2 Peter 3:5-13, the destruction of heaven by fire was fulfilled in the first century as a result of Rome’s scorched earth policy.
- See the commentary on the Book of Revelation.
- James Stuart Russell, The Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming, (Bradford, PA: International Preterist Association, Inc., 2015), 198. In this quote Russell cites two sources: John Peter Lange, The Gospel according to Matthew, trans. Phillip Schaff, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. John Peter Lange (1866; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960), p. 422; and Henry Alford, The Greek Testament: With a Critically Revised Text, a Digest of Various Readings, Marginal References to Verbal and Idiomatic usage, Prolegomena, and a Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 4th ed., 4 vols. (London: Rivingtons, 1859-61), 2:556.
- Brian L. Martin, Behind the Veil of Moses: Piecing Together the Mystery of the Second Coming, (USA: Xulon Press, 2009), 259.
- Timothy P. Martin and Jeffrey L. Vaughn, PhD, Beyond Creation Science: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation, (Whitehall, MT: Apocalyptic Vision Press, 2007), 74-75.