Will God Destroy the World?

Category: The End Times 317 1

There are many passages in Scripture that point to the conclusion that God will redeem the heavens and the earth. Although this interpretation has good evidence to back it up, many Christians will immediately reject it. Why? Most tend to point to a number of passages in the Bible that seem to teach that God will completely destroy the world. The destruction will be so complete that he will create a replacement for the current cosmos.

Popular prophecy teacher John Walvoord says it plainly, “The new heaven and new earth presented here [Revelation 21] are evidently not simply the old heaven and earth renovated, but an act of new creation.”[1] Here is a list of the different passages and their main teaching about the world’s destruction:

  1. “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare…Since everything will be destroyed in this way…That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Peter 3:10-12).
  2. There will be a new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). This is generally viewed to a be a brand-new heaven and earth that replaces this world.
  3. Heaven and Earth will be shaken and removed (Hebrews 12:26-28).
  4. Heaven and Earth will perish and will wear out like a garment (Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 51:6).
  5. The stars will be dissolved (Isaiah 34:4).
  6. The heavens will vanish like smoke (Isaiah 34:4).
  7. Heaven and Earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33 (also 16:17); Revelation 21:1).
  8. Heaven and earth will flee away from God’s presence, and no place will be found for them (Rev. 20:11).
  9. The stars fell from heaven to the earth (Isaiah 34:4; Matt. 24:29-30; Mark 13:24-26; Luke 21:25-27; Rev. 6 12-14).
  10. The sky will be roll up like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4; Rev. 6:14).
  11. The mountains and islands will be removed from their places (Rev. 6:14).
  12. The sun and moon will be darkened (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25). The sun became black, and the moon became like blood (Revelation 6:12-14).

These are the common passages brought up to prove a destruction of the current creation.[2] Walvoord says of Revelation 20:11, “The most natural interpretation of the fact that earth and heaven flee away is that the present earth and heaven are destroyed and will be replaced by the new heaven and new earth.”[3]

Another prophecy teacher, Mark Hitchcock, says, “Before the new heaven and new earth can be created, the present heaven and earth must be destroyed. The old heaven and the old earth will disappear. The Bible mentions this event several times (Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 34:4; 51:6; Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10, 12; Revelation 21:1).”[4] He continues, “By the spoken word, God will simultaneously break up every atom in the cosmos, and the entire universe will disintegrate (2 Peter 3:7, 10-13).”[5]

However, the belief that God will completely annihilate the creation falls short when each of these passages is closely examined. This article will do just that. Of course, this view is looked down upon by many. Walvoord calls the idea that these passages (especially 2 Peter) look not at destruction as a “rather astonishing conclusion…Even a casual reading of these passages [2 Corinthians 5:17, James 1:10; Romans 8:19-23; 2 Peter 3:10, 13], however, offers no evidence whatever that Revelation 20:11 should not be understood as a destruction of the present earth and heaven. It would be difficult to find a more explicit statement than that contained here in Revelation 20:11 and in II Peter 3:10-11.”[6]

He also argues that “it would be most natural that the present earth and heaven, the scene of the struggle with Satan and sin, should be displaced by an entirely new order suited for eternity.”[7] He continues:

“The whole structure of the universe is operating on the principle of a clock that is running down…the natural world [will] eventually come to a state of total inactivity if the physical laws of the universe as now understood should remain unchanged. What could be simpler than for God to create a new heaven and a new earth by divine fiat in keeping with His purposes for eternity to come?”[8]

Is this true? Is it impossible for these passages to teach a redeemed earth as I discussed in another article (see the link at the beginning of the article)? Let us take a look.

2 Peter 3 and the “New” Earth

I will not spend a lot of time on 2 Peter 3 and the word “new” in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1. I have already covered those in another article where I discuss the likelihood that both of them refer, not to a brand new creation (as a replacement), but a renovated one. The fire of 2 Peter 3 is not one of destruction, but of purification (like a fire purifying metal). The Greek for “new” in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 does not indicate something brand new as a replacement but instead carries the meaning of something being “new” again. It is consistent with a renewed creation. See the link at the beginning of this article for a fuller discussion of these passages.

Hebrews 12

Hebrews 12:26-29 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’ [this is quoting Haggai 2:6]. The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”

This passage is a contrast between God shaking the earth at Sinai during the forty years of wandering under Moses and the future judgment but also includes the heavens. Many will think that since verse 27 teaches that the created order will be removed (i.e., destroyed). However, the Greek word that is translated as “removing” in this verse “is metathesis, a noun that can certainly mean ‘removal’ but also can mean ‘change’ or ‘transformation.’”[9] Although this passage can be interpreted to mean destruction, it can also be interpreted to have the meaning of a transformation which is consistent with the renewal that so many other passages in Scripture teach about.

There is also an interesting parallel in this verse with 1 Corinthians 15. Hebrews 12:27 speaks about removing things that can be shaken and things that cannot.“ In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul speaks about “the relationship of the present corruptible, perishable, mortal human body (a body that can be ‘shaken,’ to use the terminology of Hebrews) to the future resurrection body, which will be incorruptible, imperishable, and immortal (one which is ‘unshakable’).”[10]

Although not exactly the same, the parallel between the verses is there. Interestingly, the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 will not be a brand new body that will replace the one we have now. Instead, the resurrection body will be a restoration/transformation of our current bodies. This makes the interpretation of Hebrews 12 teaching about transformation and not destruction a real possibility.

Perishing, wearing out, dissolved, vanish like smoke

Isaiah 51:6 says that “the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” Isaiah 34:4 says, “all the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” Psalm 102:25-27 say, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Do these verses teach the literal destruction of the universe? The answer is no. First, Isaiah 51:6 and Psalm 102:25-27 contain contrasting parallelism. Parallelism is the dominant feature of Old Testament (OT) poetry. In OT poetry, lines are grouped together in units of two or three. These two or three lines will together express one thought. The parallelism of the two or more lines can be developmental, illustrative, contrastive, and more. Author Andrew Kulikovsky comments on the parallelism of these verses:

“The permanence of God’s deliverance and vindication stand in stark contrast to the transitory nature of this present world. Similarly, the references to the ‘perishing’ and ‘wearing out’ of the heavens and earth in Psalm 102:25-26 stand in contrast to the God who will remain forever.”[11] Notice how in Isaiah 51:6 the vanishing and wearing out of the heavens and earth are contrasted with God’s salvation that lasts forever. These verses are not necessarily saying that creation will be annihilated, but are simply comparing them to God, who by his very nature is eternal and sustains his creation which is not eternal on its own.

Concerning Isaiah 34:4, the “dissolving” “indicates that ‘even the mysterious, unchanging stars, the seeming guarantors of the universe’s perpetuity, are in the hands of the God of Jerusalem.’”[12] Like the other verses, Isaiah 34:4 is teaching that only God is eternal. His creation on its own is not. However, God has the power to make his creation last forever.

The Passing and Fleeing Away of Creation in Revelation 20-21 and the Olivet Discourse (5, 9)

Revelation 20:11 says, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.” Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Jesus teaches in Matthew 24:35 (also see Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33) that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” He says in Luke 16:17 that “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”

It is common to interpret these verses as teaching that the current cosmos will vanish in the future. However, this view is not as solid as it may seem. Concerning Revelation 20:11 we need to remember what comes directly after it: The sea is mentioned as giving up its dead. Would this not indicate that the sea is still in existence after the creation flees from God? Middleton summarizes Revelation 20:11 by saying, “In the judgment scene of Revelation 20, we are therefore justified in taking the fleeing of heaven and earth as a vivid representation of the cosmic shaking that accompanies God’s righteous presents. Not even the physical Cosmos can bear the awesome presence of the Holy One, who has come to judge the world.”[13]

A closer look at Revelation 21 and the teachings of Jesus teach us the opposite of a destroyed world. In Revelation 21:1, we have the Greek word aperchomai and in the Olivet Discourse, we have parerchomai (these words translate into “pass away”). The prefixes for these words do not indicate any major difference in meaning.[14] Both of these Greek words denote a disappearance or a ceasing to exist.

However, in the Gospels, the meaning can easily refer to the passing away of the heavens and the earth in their present form only, which is a fallen, sinful state. However, in Revelation, the meaning indicates that the current heavens and earth had disappeared from John’s sight in his vision.[15] It is also worth pointing out that parerchomai is used in 2 Peter 3:10 where, as I showed in a previous article, teaches a purified creation, not one that will be obliterated. These passages do not necessarily indicate that the heavens and the earth will be completely destroyed. Also, note that Jesus’ teaching compares this world with the eternal God (and His Word) just like Isaiah 34:4; 51:6; and Psalm 102 do.

Now we come to Paul’s conversation on the new creation and 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” In this verse, Paul uses parerchomai just like Jesus and Peter. He uses it to describe the passing away of the old person. Middleton says:

“Are we to believe that Paul thinks that the passing away of the old life is equivalent to the obliteration of the person, who is then replaced by a doppelgänger? All the Pauline writings, not to mention common sense, suggest that no matter how radical the shift required for the conversion to Christ, this describes the transformation rather than obliteration of the person.”[16]

He continues:

“By analogy, then, the passing away of the present heaven and earth to make way for the new creation is also transformative and not a matter of distraction followed by replacement. This understanding of passing away as transformation and not as simple obliteration and replacement is supported by the pattern of Scripture, which assumes a parallel between the redemption of persons (including the body) and the redemption of the nonhuman world.”[17]

Hitchcock, however, challenges this kind of interpretation. He believes that Revelation 21:1 indicates that this creation “will go out of existence.” He continues, “Revelation 21:4 uses the same Greek word when it says, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever’ (italics added). It is clear that these things – the tears, death, sorrow, crying, and pain – have disappeared. They are not simply renovated or made new. To be consistent we should give the same meaning to this word where it appears in Revelation 21:1. Therefore, the notion of destruction and re-creation seems to be the simplest, most straightforward reading of the relevant texts of Scripture.”[18]

Hitchcock’s point is understandable, but there is a problem. The passing away of the heavens and earth in Revelation 21:1 fits better with a renovated creation (see the previous link in this section) which is taught in a number of passages throughout Scripture. Just because the same word is used a few verses later does not mean that it has to have the same meaning in both usages. The meaning of restoration in 21:1 is consistent with a common theme of restoration that is presented throughout Scripture.

Stars Falling from Heaven in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation 6

Jesus and the book of Revelation teach that the stars will fall from the sky. Naturally, stars falling in this manner sounds like the universe is being dismantled and destroyed. Revelation 6:13 says, “and the stars fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.” Matthew 24:29 (along with Mark 13:24-25) lists the falling of the stars with the sun being darkened, the moon losing its light, and the heavenly bodies being shaken. Luke 21:25-27 says that “there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

Are falling stars a clear indication that the creation is being destroyed or is there another possible interpretation? First, it is possible, and likely, that falling stars is based on the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) text of Isaiah 34:4. This text interprets the Hebrew of this verse as “all their host shall wither” with the Greek for “all the stars shall fall.” The NIV translates Isaiah 34:4 as “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” Scholar J. Richard Middleton notes:

“That the Septuagint of Isaiah 34 is in the background of Revelation 6 seems clear not only from the reference to stars falling, but also from the analogy of the fig tree in both texts (falling leaves in Isa. 34:4, falling fruit in Rev. 6:13), and from the mention of kings (basileis) and great ones (megidtanes) being judged in Revelation 6:15 and Isaiah 34:12 (in each case Rev. 6 specifically matches the Septuagint of Isa. 34 rather than the Hebrew).”[19]

This is where things get really interesting. If this is correct, then the use of “stars” in apocalyptic literature may be teaching that the stars are corrupt heavenly beings (i.e., fallen angels), who are being judged at the coming of God (for example, Isaiah 24:21 which describes God punishing the host of heaven).[20] Is there biblical evidence for this? The answer is a resounding yes!

This star imagery is found in many different passages. One of the best known is Isaiah 14:2-21. This is the passage that is often seen as the place where we get the word Lucifer.[21] Verse 12 says, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn!” (Lucifer is the Latin for “morning star”). Given this background, it makes sense when Jesus says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18) after the 70 disciples report back to Jesus at the demons have submitted to them in his name and Luke 10:17.

We also have Job 38:4-7 which teaches that the morning stars sang when God created the earth. The context of this passage (along with Genesis 1) clearly indicates that the stars are angels. Stars stand for angels in Revelation 9:1. The star is identified as an angel in Revelation 20:1. Revelation 12:4 says that the tail of the red dragon swept down a third of the stars from heaven to earth. Satan and his angels are thrown down to earth in 12:7-10. Revelation 1:20 symbolized angels as stars, and Daniel 8:10 and Jude 13 do the same.[22] Middleton says:

“It is thus likely that the image of stars falling from heaven in the New Testament refers to the eschatological judgment of corrupt heavenly powers, associated with the coming of God’s kingdom, rather than to the literal annihilation part of the cosmos.”[23]

This allows us to understand best Matthew 24:29 (Mark 13:24 and Luke 21:25) which say, “the powers of heaven will be shaken” as fallen angels. “Although in the Olivet discourse the reference to powers in heaven comes just after the falling of stars, the order is reversed in the Septuagint of Isaiah 34:4, which renders the Hebrew for ‘The host of heaven shall rot away’ with the Greek for ‘the powers of the heavens will melt.’ This convergence of terms suggests at the Olivet discourse, like Revelation 6, has the Septuagint of Isaiah 34 in the background, which further supports taking the shaking of the powers in heaven as judgment on fallen angels.”[24]

In conclusion, although stars can be symbolic of both good and bad angels, the stars falling from heaven in Revelation 6 and the Olivet Discourse are fallen angels being judged by God. It has nothing to do with the destruction of the cosmos.

The vanishing sky and removed mountains and islands in Revelation 6

Revelation 6:14 says, “The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” The removal of the mountains and islands does not have to represent destruction. This removal is consistent with the general Old Testament picture of God shaking the earth as found in Isaiah 54:10. Mountains are used as a symbol for either good or evil nations in other parts of Scripture (Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:44; Zechariah 4:7; Revelation 16:20; 17:9-10). The translators of the Septuagint used “islands” to represent Gentile nations and kings (Psalm 71[72]:10; 96[97]:1; Isaiah 41:1; 45:16; 49:1, 22; 51:5; 60:9; Jeremiah 38[31], MT]:10; Ezekiel 26:18; Zechariah 2:11). Even 1 Maccabees 8:11 and 1 Enoch (18:13; 21:3; 52:2, 6) do the same (showing that Jews would use “mountains” or “islands” as symbols for nations in other literature).[25]

The imagery of the sky disappearing brings us back to Isaiah 34:4. The rolling back of the sky like a scroll is also similar to Isaiah 64:1 where the sky is ripped open so God will come down and the mountains tremble before God.[26] Middleton notes:

“The point is not a literal annihilation of a part of the cosmos, but rather a vivid picture of God peeling back the sky (analogous with rolling up a scroll), so that after the corrupt heavenly powers have been judged [the stars], the earth has been exposed for judgment. This is particularly clear from the Isaiah 34 background text, where the sequence is first judgment in heaven (v. 4), then judgment on earth (v. 5).”[27]

There is “an interesting parallel to this vivid picture is found in the account of Jesus’s baptism, when the heavens were opened so the Spirit might descend.” Mark 1:10 uses the same Greek word that is used for the splitting apart of the heavens for the tearing of the temple curtain at Jesus’s death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). Minimally, the splitting of the curtain symbolizes “the undoing of the barrier between heaven and earth, so that God’s presence has now come near.” It is also interesting to note that Matthew’s account of the tearing of the temple curtain includes cosmic effects that are typical of a theophany[28] (“The earth shook, and the rocks were split”). It would make sense then to take the splitting of the heavens in Revelation 6:14 and Mark 1:10 as a symbolic, “presaging God’s coming in judgment and salvation, rather than as a prediction of the annihilation of the sky.”[29]

Neither the rolling back of the sky or the removal of the mountains and islands indicate a destruction of the cosmos. When interpreted against all the evidence that has been presented it seems clear that they are symbolic and not literal.

The sun and moon in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation 6

What about the darkening of the sun and moon turning blood red? This is seen as being consistent with the cosmos being disrupted and destroyed. However, there is another possible interpretation that should be considered that is consistent with a redeemed world. I’ll let Middleton say it all:

“None of the multiple Old Testament precedence for the shaking of the earth or the darkening of sun and moon imply the eradication of the cosmos; rather, these celestial signs indicate the momentous nature of the events they portend. This is also the case in the Olivet discourse and in Revelation 6. Indeed, in the latter text the sun turning to sackcloth suggest cosmic mourning (likely alluding to God clothing the heavens with sackcloth in Isa. 50:3), while the moon touring to blood seems to draw specifically on Joel 2:31, where the color of the moon reflects bloody destruction occurring on earth. It thus makes perfect sense for the New Testament to use this celestial imagery for the world-shaking significance of the judgment the proceeds eschatological salvation.”[30]

This interpretation is consistent and makes the best sense considering what has been uncovered concerning all the other passages that are used to teach that the creation will be obliterated.

Does God have to Destroy the World because of Satan and sin?

Let us look at one more argument that has been made. Walvoord argues that “it would be most natural that the present earth and heaven, the scene of the struggle with Satan and sin, should be displaced by an entirely new order suited for eternity.”[31] He continues:

“The whole structure of the universe is operating on the principle of a clock that is running down…the natural world [will] eventually come to a state of total inactivity if the physical laws of the universe as now understood should remain unchanged. What could be simpler than for God to create a new heaven and a new earth by divine fiat in keeping with His purposes for eternity to come?”[32]

First, the second quote makes no sense because it would be just as simple for an all-powerful God to redeem the world by putting a stop to the “principle of a clock that is running down.” Walvoord himself even says that the inactivity of the universe would only happen if the laws “should remain unchanged.” Scripture is clear that God will intervene and remove the curse that was placed on it when man rebelled. This would change the laws of nature as we now it.

Second, concerning Walvoord’s first quote, could it not be argued that it would make God look even more powerful if, instead of throwing out creation because of Satan and sin, he instead takes it and rescues it? Would God having to destroy the world not be saying that Satan spoiled the creation so badly that God had to get rid of it? Instead, God will take back his creation and reverse the effects of Satan and sin. He is that powerful.

Conclusion

There have been many passages used by well-meaning Christians to argue that God will completely destroy this world and create a brand new heaven and earth. However, as we saw in another article and this one, God will not destroy the world, but redeem it. When studied closely, the passages of so-called destruction teach not an obliterated universe, but one where sin and corruption will be destroyed and everything else will be restored to a “very good” creation.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

[1] John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 311.

[2] See for example: Mark Hitchcock, The End (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012), 449-450. Tim Lahaye, Revelation Unveiled (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 355-356. Walvoord, 305-307. An interesting note to make is that Lahaye believes that God will destroy the earth and the atmospheric heavens around it, and not necessarily the stellar heavens (356). Craig Blomberg, Matthew (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 364. Blomberg believes that Matthew 24:35 teaches Jesus’ “words will endure even longer than th euniverse itself, which will be destroyed and re-created.”

[3] Walvoord, 305.

[4] Hitchcock, 449.

[5] Ibid., 450.

[6] Walvoord, 305-307.

[7] Ibid., 306.

[8] Ibid.

[9] J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 202.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Andrew Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration (Scotland: Mentor Imprint, 2009), 272.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Middleton, 204-205.

[14] Middleton (p. 205) notes, however, that although the verbs are different it is only slight (the prefixes par- and ap-) so the meanings are not completely different.

[15] Kulikovsky, 272.

[16] Middleton, 206.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Hitchcock, 450.

[19] Middleton, 184.

[20] Ibid., 184-185.

[21] Ibid., 185-186.

[22] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 399.

[23] Middleton, 187.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Beale, 399.

[26] Middleton, 188-189.

[27] Ibid., 188.

[28] A theophany is “an appearance or manifestation of God” (Middleton, 109).

[29] Middleton, 189.

[30] Ibid., 184.

[31] Walvoord, 306.

[32] Ibid.

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One thought on “Will God Destroy the World?

  1. Duane Shippy

    Great article Matt – fantastic presentation of the various different viewpoints and your commentary on those.

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