Bibliano and Amigo: Discussions on Eschatology (Lesson #7, Understanding Biblical Judgment Language)

AMIGO: I know we covered the New Heaven and New earth in previous lessons, but I just can’t get past 2 Peter 3. Aren’t you terrified of a coming destruction of the universe?

BIBLIANO: As we covered in detail, my friend, 2 Peter 3 is not at all about the destruction of the planet or the universe.

AMIGO: Well, you convinced me the New Heaven and New Earth is about the change of the covenants. But 2 Peter 3 just SOUNDS so much like the destruction of the everything. The heavenly bodies will melt with fervent heat and the earth will be burned up and dissolved! Can’t you read English?

BIBLIANO: First of all, not every English translation reads like that. Indeed, there is much variability in how this section is translated. For example, some translations say, essentially, that the “ELEMENTS” WILL FACE JUDGMENT (OR BE EXPOSED). That is quite a bit different from destruction of the planets. Listen, every instance where it is used in the New Testament, “elements” (Greek STOICHEION) is clearly about theological things—the basic elements of the old covenant. So it fits in perfectly with the AD 70 judgment against old-covenant Israel.

AMIGO: Show me.

BIBLIANO: Galatians 4:3, 9, Colossians 2:8, 20-22, and Hebrews 5:12-13 are the only ther passages that contain STOICHEION. A serious reading of 2 Peter 3 indicates that Peter expected this judgment to happen very soon. It is also evident elsewhere in his writing (see 1 Peter 4:7, 17). All of these passages are consistent with others such as 1 Corinthians 7:31 in which Paul said that the “FORM of the world” was passing away— not literal creation. The dissolution of the old covenant order was just about to happen in finality when the writer of Hebrews said that old covenant “was growing old and about to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13)

AMIGO: But if this is not to be understood literally, why would Peter put this in code?

BIBLIANO: It sounds like code to you because (a) you never cross-checked this against these other New Testament passages, and (b) you don’t know your Old Testament. Peter’s original Jewish audience would have understood clearly that this language about disruptions in the created order is symbolic. It is standard symbolic biblical judgment language.

AMIGO: How so?

BIBLIANO: All through the Old Testament the writers used language of cosmic isturbances to signify God’s power or coming judgments. In Psalm 18:15 we see “the foundations of the world were laid bare” (with angels, clouds, hailstones, and fire). In Isaiah 13:13 God would “make the heavens tremble and the earth shaken out of its place,” describing judgment against Babylon in 539 BC. In Isaiah 19:1, God would come “riding on a swift cloud” in judgment against Egypt. In Isaiah 24:19, 23 “the earth is utterly broken and the moon will be confounded” to explain the judgment against Jerusalem. In Isaiah 34:4 “the skies roll up like a scroll” in judgment against Edom.

AMIGO: So would you say that the Bible is using word pictures?

BIBLIANO: Exactly. And there is much more. Deuteronomy 4:24 (and other texts) describes God’s jealousy as a “consuming fire.” Joel 2:31 says that the moon would “turn to blood”(with fire and smoke) which Peter explained in Acts 2 applied to what was happening at Pentecost. In Micah 1:2-16 we see that the Lord would “come down” and the “mountains will melt under Him” in judgment against Israel and Judah. In Nahum 1:2-6 the “clouds are the dust of Yahweh’s feet” as “He rebukes the sea, the hills melt, and the earth heaves before Him.” This was in judgment against Nineveh. In Zephaniah 1:2-18 the text actually says that God would “utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth” and “all the earth shall be consumed” even though this judgment is particularized against Judah, Jerusalem, and Judah’s enemies. There are many more examples.

AMIGO: I have really been in the dark, haven’t I? But I just WANT to take these declarations literally!

BIBLIANO: You mean like the moon turning to blood?

AMIGO: OK I get it. Look, how come nobody ever pointed these things out to me before?

BIBLIANO: No comment.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply