FUTURE OF EARTH
(Is the Present Earth Eternal?)
Future of earth? It is being debated. Recently a couple of evangelical TV preachers have been promoting the theory that the earth is eternal. That it will not be destroyed in a final fiery cataclysm, making way for a new heavens and new earth. They argue that the present earth will only be refreshed and renewed, with the evidence of the present evils removed. But let me give you a few thoughts as to why I believe this is incorrect, and that the present earth will be utterly destroyed.
1. The Bible Says So
If language means anything, the traditional view (if I may call it that) is supported over and over in the Word of God. Here are some passages to consider. I have added an amplification of the meaning of some words in squared brackets, and italics are mine, for emphasis.
a) Psalm 102:25-26. "Of old You [Lord] laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish [be destroyed, vanish away]."
b) Isaiah 65:17. "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth; the former [heavens and earth] shall not be remembered or come to mind."
c)Matthew 24:35. "Heaven and earth will pass away [perish]."
d) II Peter 3:10-13. "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise [disappear with a horrific noise], and the elements [the fundamental building blocks of which all material things are made] will melt with fervent heat [melt away in a blaze], both the earth and the works that are in it shall be burned up [consumed by fire, utterly burned up*]. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved [melt away and be destroyed], what manner of persons ought ye to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved [broken up, demolished, destroyed], being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new** heavens and a new** earth, in which righteousness dwells [i.e. has its permanent residence]."
A couple of things to note in what Peter says (*):
*This particular expression is a difficult one for translators. The NKJV, NASB, and the Amplified Bible, as well as Kenneth Wuest's Expanded Translation, all have "burned up." Williams New Testament has "the earth with all its works will melt away."
But the words can also mean laid bare. Those who believe the earth is eternal latch onto this possibility, saying it means that the surface of the earth will be scraped clean and that is all. But "laid bare" might mean it will be "exposed to judgment" (NLT). The thought would then be that the earth will not escape the fiery judgment long promised. God has held back His final judgment, giving human beings time to repent (vs.9). But in the end, it will come, and the earth will be exposed to it.
**The argument against this verse meaning that the earth will only be renewed on the surface, as opposed to being completely destroyed and made over, is supported by the double use of the word "new." The universe will be destroyed and made new (the word means new in form and substance, of a new and unprecedented kind). And precisely the same word is used of the earth. It too will be made new.
e)Revelation 20:11. [John says that before the Lord on His great white throne] the earth and the heaven fled away [they vanished!]. And there was found no place for them [they were no more to be found]."
f) Revelation 21:1-2. "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth*: for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away [had disappeared, ceased to exist]. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
*"New earth": the same words as in II Peter 3:13–new in form and substance, of a new and unprecedented kind. This will be needed because the old earth will have passed away, and ceased to exist.
2. "Forever" Can Mean For All the Present Time
There are a number of Old Testament texts that say the earth will abide "forever" (cf. Ps. 78:69; 104:5) But we must be careful of that word. It may be speaking of an eternal forever, or it may only be referring to a temporal forever. It can mean such things as: perpetually, continually, always. And it can mean for all time, as well as eternally. We need to study the context to be sure which is indicated.
For example Exodus 21:6 describes an ear-piercing ceremony under the Mosaic Law by which an individual committed himself to being another's slave "forever" (the same word as is used of the earth). But I know of no Bible scholar who would suggest the poor man will be enslaved eternally to his human master. It simply means for as long as he lives.
In the same way, the present earth will continue to exist until its God-ordained purpose is fulfilled. For all the present time, until it is time for God to bring into being the new creation.
3. The Earth Is Part of the Universe
Since there seems to be no question among these revisionists that the universe will be destroyed and recreated, they need to accept the obvious–that the earth is part of the universe, made of the same substance.
As to why it is singled out for special mention, that is not surprising, since it has been the object of the special attention of the Creator from the beginning, and has been the scene of the worst evils against man, the crown of God's creation, and against the Son of God Himself. Since the earth has been the scene of the grossest evil ever (the crucifixion of Christ), it is hard to imagine that it would be treated more leniently than the rest of the universe.
4. Peter's Reference to the Flood Not Conclusive
One proponent of the new theory points out that Peter talks about the destruction of the flood in Second Peter chapter 3, just before speaking of the fiery judgment to be visited upon the earth. He then advances the hypothesis that since the earth was not utterly destroyed by the flood, it won't be by fire either–and that Peter, in fact, meant to convey that!
But the flood is not mentioned so we can draw an exact parallel between that and the end-time judgment. It is spoken of to refute the skeptics' utter refusal to believe in the coming of a final judgment, saying "all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (vs. 3-4). The flood proves this is not so. God stepped into history once, in great judgment, and He will again, and in an even more decisive way.
5. Earth's Coming Destruction No Reason for Carelessness
One who advanced the new theory said he wondered whether the traditional belief that the earth would be destroyed has led to carelessness with earth's resources on the part of believers. ("Who cares? It's only going to be destroyed anyway!") That seems a stretch! The notion that God's only going to scrape the earth clean and fix up everything wrong with the earth in the end could lead to the same conclusion.
The majority of those who are polluting our planet are likely secular humanists and evolutionists who believe the earth will be around virtually forever. But they act out of corporate greed, not because they believe a deity will never destroy the planet. Christians understand that our world is a stewardship from God. Though we don't always do right in this area, I doubt that it is because of the reason suggested.
6. The Elements Dissolved and Reconstituted
There is a kind of mediating position to be considered. The Lord need not call a new creation into being out of nothing (ex nihilo) as He did at first (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:3). By His mighty power He can reconstitute the elements used previously and refashion them. Einstein has taught us that matter can be transformed into energy (E=MC2). Could Almighty God not use the energy released in the cataclysm (II Pet. 3:10) to refashion matter of His choosing?
In this sense, the new heavens and new earth would have some continuity with the old, just as our resurrection bodies, though new and different, will have a continuity with the old ones (I Cor. 15:42-44). Yet both will also be truly new.
7. No Reason to Reject a Long-standing Position
What is the future of earth? It has been the understanding of the majority of conservative Bible scholars over many years that the earth will be destroyed to make way for an entirely new creation. This view is supported by many of the major Bible translations of the relevant Scriptures. While tradition can never be the bottom line in determining the proper interpretation of the Word of God, I believe we should use great caution in jettisoning teaching that has been so well and so long established in the community of Bible believing Christians.