If This Isn't Heaven, I Don't Know What Is

Biblical Reasons Why We Should
And Practical Suggestions on How We Can

Create Heaven on Earth

Many people are reluctant to embrace "preterism" because it leads to some startling conclusions. One after another, preterists take literally the New Testament statements that "the end," "the day of the Lord," and "the end of the age" would indeed take place before the end of the lifetime of the generation which rejected Christ. All these things occurred in "the last days" of the Old Covenant, according to the Preterist.

Matthew 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

Those who heard Jesus and the Apostles were exhorted to be ready for an event that would occur in their lifetime, but one that would catch unbelieving Jews off guard, like a thief in the night.

But what about this:

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

How could that have possibly taken place in the first century?

For decades I believed that 2 Peter 3 was talking about a future Second Coming and the End of the World. Then I discovered that many occurrences of the phrase "end of the world" in the New Testament are more accurately translated "end of the age," that is, end of the Old Covenant Age. Now I'm convinced that "The New Heavens and the New Earth" is Biblically understood as the New Covenant age. And some of the finest and most orthodox theologians in the history of Christianity agree (though they might not take that ball and run with it as far as I have).

Let's look at the text.

2 Peter 3
1   This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
2   That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
3   Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4   And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
5   For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6   Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7   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.
8   But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9   The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
10   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.
11   Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
12   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?
13   Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
14   Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
15   And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16   As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
17   Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
18   But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

Let's look first at the word "elements." It is the Greek word "stoicheion."

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
(Galatians 4:3)

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
(Galatians 4:9)

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
(Colossians 2:8)

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
(Colossians 2:20)

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
(Hebrews 5:12)

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)

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 3:12)

In all occurrences outside of 2 Peter, the word has something to do with theological principles more appropriate for the unsaved than for believers, or more for spiritual children than for the spiritually mature. David Chilton comments:

Throughout the New Testament, the word "elements" (stoicheia) is always used in connection with the Old Covenant order.  Describing Old Covenant rituals and ceremonies, {the Apostle Paul] says "we were in bondage under the elements (stoicheia) of this world....How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (stoicheia), to which you desire again to be in bondage?  You observe days and months and seasons and years..." (Gal. 4:3, 9-10).  He warns the Colossians: "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, and not according to Christ....Therefore, if you died with Christ to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle"' (Col. 2:8,20-21).  

The writer to the Hebrews chided them:  "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elements (stoicheia) of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Heb. 5:12).  In context, the writer to the Hebrews is clearly speaking of Old Covenant truths particularly since he connects it with the term oracles of God, an expression used elsewhere in the New Testament for the provisional, Old Covenant revelation (see Acts 7:38; Rom.3:2).  These citations from Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews comprise all the other occurrences in the New Testament of that word "elements" (stoichea).  Not one refers to the "elements" of the physical world or universe; all are speaking of the "elements" of the Old Covenant system, which, as the apostles wrote just before the approaching destruction of the Old Covenant Temple in A.D. 70, was "becoming obsolete and growing old" and "ready to vanish away" (Heb.8:13).

St. Peter uses the same term in exactly the same way.  Throughout the Greek New Testament, the word elements (stoicheia) always means ethics, not physics; the foundational "elements" of a religious system that was doomed to pass away in a fiery judgment.

Chilton notes that this word is completely mis-defined by many theologians.

Study notes for II Peter 3:10 from the New Geneva Study Bible; and MacArthur Study Bible:

New Geneva Study Bible (p.1983)  elements.  Greek stoicheia, a term used for (a) the elements making up the world (according to the philosophers these were earth, air, fire, and water)...

MacArthur Study Bible (p.1959)   the heavens will pass away with a great noise.  The "heavens" refer to the physical universe.  The "great noise" connotes whistling or a crackling sound as of objects being consumed by flames.  God will incinerate the universe, probably in an atomic reaction that disintegrates all matter as we know it (vv.7, 11, 12, 13).  the elements will melt with fervent heat.  The "elements" are the atomic components into which matter is ultimately divisible, which make up the composition of all the created matter.  Peter means that the atoms, neutrons, protons, and electrons are all going to disintegrate (v.11).

How could these scholars be so mistaken? The Galatians were not in danger of being in bondage to "atoms, neutrons, protons, and electrons." They were in danger of coming under the bondage of Judaizers. This is quite obvious.

But then, perhaps it's not obvious. We Americans pride ourselves on being "scientific," even though our SAT scores in science and math have plummeted in recent years and are now among the lowest in the industrialized world. We talk a lot about being in "the atomic age," but we know very little about the details. And we know even less about the Bible than we do about physics. And Peter was talking to people who knew their Old Testaments better than we do.

What is the "promise" that Peter says his readers were looking for? Or more important, the promises, plural. How many promises of a "New Heavens and New Earth" can you think of? How many promises did God make to destroy the old heavens and the old earth? Does any American remember Haggai 2:21: "Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth." Or verse 6: "For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land." When God judges a civilization, He speaks of the fall of the heavens and the earth. The purpose of this form of speech is not to make declarations about astronomy, but reinforce the seriousness of the ethical decisions that must be made. Consider these:

The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
(Joel 3:16)

10 The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:
30 And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
(Joel 2:10,30)

For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.
(Jeremiah 4:28)

And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
(Isaiah 51:16)

Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.
(Isaiah 13:13)

While most of the "de-creation" prophecies of Old Testament judgment have been fulfilled, some are said by New Testament writers to be ready for fulfillment in the last days of the Old Testament, the days of the Apostles. The promise spoken of by Peter was also spoken of by the writer to the Hebrews:

See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven: [25] Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. [26] And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. [27] Wherefore since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
(Hebrews 12:24-28)

Probably the best known promise of a "New Heavens and New Earth" was made by the Prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 65
Destruction of the Ungodly
1   I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.
2   I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;
3   A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;
4   Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;
5   Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.
6   Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom,
7   Your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the LORD, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills: therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom.

Salvation of the Remnant

8   Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all.
9   And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.
10   And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for the herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me.
11   But ye are they that forsake the LORD, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number.
12   Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not. (Acts 7:51; John 1:11; Matthew 21:35; 22:3; Luke 19:14)
13   Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed:
14   Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.
15   And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name: (Rev 2:17; 3:12; Eph 3:15)
16   That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes. (2 Cor.5:17)
17   For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
18   But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. (Heb. 12:22; Gal 4:24-25)
19   And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
20   There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
21   And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
22   They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23   They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.
24   And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
25   The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.

Note the presence of two things that most people who are waiting for the rapture are hoping to escape: death and work. In  "The New Heavens and the New Earth" people are still dying, though at more advanced ages. And people are still working, still exercising dominion. This is a surprise to most people waiting for the rapture. Most people who want to be raptured into "The New Heavens and the New Earth" were hoping that heavenly mansions and a heavenly buffet would be theirs without having to work for them. But in Isaiah's "New Heavens and the New Earth" people are building their homes and planting crops.

This passage should force many people to work through these spiritual exercises. It simply does not fit their theological preconceptions. In fact, I'll go further: If you have never believed that heaven is a place where you work, then not only will you not believe that "the New Heavens and New Earth" is a place where we work, but you will be missing the central purpose and meaning of life on earth, where you admit we must work, and you will not be working to create "heaven on earth." What could be more important than understanding man's central purpose on earth? If you're not living your life the way God intended here on earth, will God entrust eternity to you to live life forever in heaven?

John Owen (1616 - 1683) was Chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. Owen also preached regularly before the House of Commons including the day after the execution of Charles I.

J. I. Packer has said, "He was one of the greatest English theologians. In an age of giants, he overtopped them all... he was more like Calvin than was any other of the puritan leaders."

"There is widespread agreement that John Owen was the theologian of the Puritan movement." -- Sinclair Ferguson.

He declined an invitation to become President of Harvard University.

Here is Owen's exposition of 2 Peter 3:

Dr. John Owen (1616-1683) On the 'New Heavens and Earth.' (2 Peter iii. 13)

Here is the biography of John Owen from the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1885).

If we were more grateful, we would appreciate the blessings we have. Anyone living in Isaiah's day would have no problem believing that we are now living in "The New Heavens and the New Earth." Life in our day is so amazingly different from life in Isaiah's day so as to be almost incomprehensible to Isaiah and his contemporaries. The Apostle Peter and his readers would also be overwhelmed.

But we want more. And we want it all without having to work for it.

The Bible never teaches an end to our duty to exercise dominion, respond in a Christlike manner to evil, and grow in grace. Christians in our day are completely unappreciative of God's blessings and the treasures we now have in Christ. They long to be raptured out of the present and into a childish future of irresponsible luxury.

The Bible does not promise a "New Earth" like most people want. The best Bible scholars have concluded that Peter was not talking about the physical destruction of the planet, but the destruction of the Old Covenant and the reign of darkness over the nations.

Bringing in the fullness of "The New Heavens and the New Earth" is our present duty.

For Further Reading:

Looking for New Heavens and a New Earth | David Chilton | Preterist Archive

Preterism and Spiritualization

The New Heavens and Earth | Study Archive

eschatology.org: New Heaven and New Earth articles

Table of Contents

continued click here for next chapter