The Figurative Language of Prophecy
A Detailed Look at 2 Peter 3:7-13
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 wicked men.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with [Yahweh] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
[Yahweh] is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of [Yahweh] will come as a thief in the night; in 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.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and piety, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of [Elohim], wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. 2 Peter 3:7-13
This passage has traditionally been interpreted literally. Many believe Yahweh will destroy the heavens and the earth with literal fire and replace them with new heavens and a brand new planet earth. It is quite easy to interpret the passage in this manner, but is that what Yahweh intends to do or should this passage be understood in a figurative sense? We know that many prophecies throughout the Bible cannot be understood literally, especially those in Daniel and Revelation where they speak of assorted beasts rising up, strange locust-like creatures and even stranger horse-like creatures. The question is, is 2 Peter 3:7-13 one of those figurative prophecies?
Let’s begin our study by seeing what Scripture says about planet Earth and the various heavenly bodies.
And He built His sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which He has established for ever. Psalm 78:69
Yahweh reigns, He is clothed with majesty; Yahweh is clothed with strength, wherewith He has girded Himself: the world [the earth; by extension, the globe] also is established, that it cannot be moved. Psalm 93:1
Say among the heathen that Yahweh reigns: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: He shall judge the people righteously. Psalm 96:10
Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Psalm 104:5
One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides for ever. Ecclesiastes 1:4
These verses certainly teach about the everlasting existence of planet earth.
Heavens (including the sun, moon and stars)
Below are several passages that state directly or by implication the everlasting existence of the sun, moon and stars.
They shall fear you as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures. His name shall endure for ever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed. Psalm 72:5-7, 17
Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Psalm 89:35-37
Thus says Yahweh, which gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divides the sea when the waves thereof roar; Yahweh of hosts is His name: If those ordinances depart from before me, says Yahweh, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Jeremiah 31:35
How do the Scriptures stating the earth and the heavenly bodies will continue forever harmonize with Peter’s statement that, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise”, “the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved”, and “the earth . . . shall be burned up”?
The heavens and the earth
The “heavens and the earth” certainly exist literally, having been created by Yahweh. However, the literal heavens and earth will continue forever. Is it possible there is another “heavens” and another “earth” that will pass away which has not been established forever and which can be moved and destroyed? I believe there is and will attempt to lay that out for you.
When will the heavens pass away? The following passage suggests it will occur at the opening of the sixth seal of Revelation.
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Revelation 6:12-14
However, in Rev 8:12 we see a third part of the sun, moon and stars smitten after the opening of the seventh seal.
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
That tells us that either the sun, moon and stars are not included among the “heaven” that departed as a scroll or that the “heaven” that departed was not the literal heaven (sky, outer space, Yahweh’s dwelling place).
In the following verse, we see “the heavens” put for “the most High” Yahweh in that He rules over the men on it.
That they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will.
And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; your kingdom shall be sure unto you, after that you shall have known that the heavens do rule. Daniel 4:25
When Yahweh gives the rule over men to someone else, they figuratively become the “heavens” to the men that are ruled over. The men that are ruled over figuratively become “the earth”.
Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. Haggai 2:21-22
In this passage, to “shake the heavens and the earth” is to “overthrow the thrones of kingdoms” (the rulers – heavens) and to “overthrow the chariots, and those that ride them” (those ruled over – the earth).
How has Adonai covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger! Lamentations 2:1
Israel was the glory of all nations. They were in "heaven" while they were obeying Yahweh and walking according to His covenant. After breaking His covenant through idolatry and a myriad of other sins, Yahweh cast them down from heaven in His anger.
See that you refuse not him that speaks. For if they escaped not who refused him that spoke on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaks from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve [Elohim] acceptably with reverence and pious fear: For our [Elohim] is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:25-29
The purpose of the shaking is to remove those things that can be moved so the things that cannot be moved will remain. Anything that is built upon the foundation of Yeshua the Messiah will remain including his kingdom. Until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of Yahweh and His Messiah at the sound of the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15, they will continue to be ruled over by Satan.
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Sovereign, and of His Messiah; and He shall reign for ever and ever. Revelation 11:15
The seventh trumpet of Revelation is the “last trump” which signals the resurrection of the dead in Messiah. They constitute Messiah’s fellow rulers (Rev 2:26-27) or “the new heavens”.
That Satan and his fellow rulers (whether spirit beings or men) constitute the old heavens via their rule over the kingdoms of men can be seen in the following verses:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12
And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. Luke 4:5-6
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. John 12:31
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Messiah, who is the image of [Elohim], should shine unto them. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
Notice that just after the seventh trumpet sounds signaling Yahweh and Yeshua’s rule over all the kingdoms of the earth Satan is cast out of heaven. His rule is coming to an end in a short time. Once he is thrown into the bottomless pit, his rule will cease. What happens right after Satan is bound removing his rule over the nations?
Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of [Elohim] and of Messiah, and shall reign with him a thousand years. Revelation 20:6
The saints in Messiah begin to rule with Messiah for a thousand years. It is after this new ruling government is put in place that John sees a “new heavens and a new earth” in Revelation 21:1. The ruling government of Messiah Yeshua is the “new heavens” and the people being ruled over constitute the “new earth”.
We do not see the tremendous fiery judgment spoken of by Peter being fulfilled in Revelation in a literal way. That is because Peter’s words speak of a figurative fiery judgment resulting in a change of rule over the kingdoms of this world and a total destruction of the way the world used to work and function. After Yeshua begins reigning things will be done according to Yahweh’s ways throughout the earth.
Now let’s look at how the people of the earth that are ruled over constitute the “old earth” and the “new earth”.
And the word of Yahweh came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them,
And say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Yahweh; Thus says the Sovereign Yahweh to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.
And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols.
And I will lay the dead carcasses of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.
In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.
And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and you shall know that I am Yahweh. Yet will I leave a remnant, that you may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when you shall be scattered through the countries.
And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations wherever they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which has departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
And they shall know that I am Yahweh, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them. Ezekiel 6:1-10
In this passage, the mountains, hills, rivers and valleys are figurative representing the rulers of Israel (mountains), the lowest of the people (valleys), and all positions of leadership in between (hills, rivers). They all form “the earth”.
Moreover the word of Yahweh came unto me, saying, Also, you son of man, thus says the Sovereign Yahweh unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land.
Now is the end come upon you, and I will send mine anger upon you, and will judge you according to your ways, and will recompense upon you all your abominations.
And my eye shall not spare you, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense your ways upon you, and your abominations shall be in the midst of you: and you shall know that I am Yahweh. Ezekiel 7:1-4
In this passage, the “land” is figuratively used to represent all the people of Israel. They are the “earth” of Israel. The “earth” of the world would be figurative of all the people of this planet.
Let’s look at Peter’s prophecy in more detail.
Let’s look a little deeper into this prophecy beginning with the word “elements” (Greek – stoicheion - something orderly in arrangement, that is, (by implication) a serial (basal, fundamental, initial) constituent (literally), proposition (figuratively): - element, principle, rudiment.) This word was used five other times in the NT.
Galatians 4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
Galalatians 4:9 But now, after that ye have known [Elohim], or rather are known of [Elohim], how turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto you desire again to be in bondage?
Colossians 2:8 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 Messiah.
Colossians 2:20 Wherefore if you be dead with Messiah from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances,
Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of [Elohim]; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
As you can see, this word never refers to “elements” such as gold, silver, etc., found in the Periodic Table of Elements. Instead, the word “stoicheion” refers to things that are not physical, in particular the basic principles that this world operates under and from which believers in Messiah Yeshua have been delivered. It can also refer to the basic principles found in Yahweh’s Word which babes in Messiah feed off of until they become mature in him. Understanding this word correctly should cause us to consider the possibility that other aspects of this prophecy are not to be understood literally either.
Let’s examine the word “melt” (Greek root is “luo¯” - A primary verb; to “loosen” (literally or figuratively): - break (up), destroy, dissolve, (un-) loose, melt, put off.) This word was used about 4o times in the NT. It was primarily translated loose, destroy and break. The only time it was translated “melt” or “dissolve” is in 2 Peter 3:10-12. Assuming “melt” or “dissolve” is a correct translation, let’s see how those words were used in the OT Scriptures.
The mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at His presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before His indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him. Nahum 1:5-6
For, behold, Yahweh comes forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place. Micah 1:3-4
Literal “mountains” and “hills” do not melt even if they are on fire. The “mountains” figuratively refer to rulers of a high degree and the “hills” or “valleys” figuratively refer to rulers or people of a lower degree. Their hearts melt with fear at the presence of Yahweh and His impending judgment upon them.
As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in mine anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you. Ezekiel 22:20
Yahweh says He will “melt” people as metal is melted in a furnace. The people do not literally melt. They are tried in the fire of various situations that Yahweh puts them through.
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered His voice, the earth melted. Psalm 46:6
Peter said the “elements shall melt with fervent heat”. In this verse, the heat is Yahweh’s voice. In Nahum 1:5, the heat is Yahweh’s presence. In both cases, the earth melting refers to the hearts of the people that will receive His judgments.
When Peter writes, “the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved”, “dissolved” in verse 12 is the same Greek word translated “melt” in verse 10 (luthesontai). The word “dissolved” in verse 11 is a form of that same word (luomenon).
Some would say the words “melt” and “dissolve” must be understood literally since Yahweh will use “fire” to judge the world. Let’s look at how “fire” was used figuratively in Scripture beginning with Peter.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 1Pe 4:12
In this case, Yahweh will use a figurative fire to try His children. It is a figurative refining fire with intense heat produced by the circumstances that Yahweh places us in. (See also 1 Peter 1:7)
Return, we beseech thee, O Elohim of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which your right hand has planted, and the branch that you made strong for yourself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. Psalm 80:14-16
The vine is Israel whom Yahweh brought out of Egypt (vs.8). He planted it (them) in the land of Canaan and nourished it (them). However, because His people (the vine) sinned greatly against Him, He sent them into captivity. The rebuke of His anger and judgment that He brought upon the people of Israel is spoken of as them being “burned with fire”.
Hide not your face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline your ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. Because of your indignation and your wrath: for you have lifted me up, and cast me down. Psalm 102:2-3, 10.
The Psalmist’s bones were not literally burned. Whenever Yahweh is angry resulting in His judgment or chastening upon people, it is spoken of figuratively as a burning.
Behold, Yahweh makes the earth empty, and makes it waste, and turns it upside down, and scatters abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him.
The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for Yahweh has spoken this word. The earth mourns and fades away, the world languishes and fades away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore has the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left. Isaiah 24:1-6
“Earth” in these verses is better translated “land” as in verse 3. It refers to the land of Israel that was left relatively uninhabited after Yahweh sent the people into captivity as a result of them breaking His covenant. Since the majority of people were taken into captivity (not burned) and the remnant that was left in the land were not literally burned, this burning should be understood figuratively. Yahweh’s burning wrath was poured out on them. His judgment left the people and the land dry and withering away. Isaiah writes about this again in Isaiah 42:24-25.
Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not Yahweh, He against whom we have sinned? For they would not walk in His ways, neither were they obedient unto His law. Therefore He has poured upon him the fury of His anger, and the strength of battle: and it has set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.
At this point, the Jews were so hardened of heart by their sins that they did not realize they were being figuratively burned by Yahweh’s anger and rebuke.
Jeremiah says the same thing.
He has cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: He has drawn back His right hand from before the enemy, and He burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devours round about. Lamentations 2:3
Let’s look at two passages in which fire is mentioned in the context of the Day of Yahweh’s future judgment as is the case in 2 Peter 3:10-12.
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Master Yeshua shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not [Elohim], and that obey not the gospel of our Master Yeshua Messiah: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Master, and from the glory of his power; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
Notice this fire is only reserved for those that do not know Yahweh and who obey not the gospel. The fire does not burn the literal heavens and earth, but only those who are not Yahweh’s people. This is in keeping with 2 Peter 3:7 where the fire is reserved for wicked men.
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says Yahweh, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, says Yahweh. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. Isaiah 66:22-24
This is undoubtedly an end time prophecy concerning events that will take place after the new heavens and new earth are in place. First, notice the moon and sun still exist (the Sabbath begins and ends at sundown). Second, when were transgressors put to death? Was it not prior to the new heavens and new earth? If so, and if the elements were subjected to such intense heat that they melted and dissolved, how is it that these carcasses survived that burning and continue to burn even after a new earth has come? Will Yahweh actually preserve and transport dead, unclean bodies onto His new undefiled, clean earth? I think not. More will be said about the new heavens and the new earth later.
Works … burned up
Let’s consider 2 Peter 3:10d:
“the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”
Are the “works” that will be burned up things like skyscrapers, bridges, roads, etc., that man has worked to make or do the “works” refer to something less tangible?
According to the grace of [Elohim] which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Yeshua Messiah. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
This is how Yahweh will deal with the “works” of believers in Messiah Yeshua. This “fire” that He will use is obviously figurative fire. No literal flames will touch believers. The flames of Yahweh’s refining and purging fire will burn up works with no abiding foundation, but those works that were built upon the foundation of Messiah Yeshua will stand.
The Apostle Peter writes similarly:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 1 Peter 4:12
The “burning” question now is, how will Yahweh deal with unbelievers and their “works”?
2Pe 3:7 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 wicked men.
2Pe 3:10 But the day of [Yahweh] will come as a thief in the night; in 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.
The same figurative “fire” that will burn up the non-physical “elements” causing them to “melt” will also burn up the intangible works of the wicked. Just as the intangible works of believers will be burned in a figurative fire that will not literally burn believes, a figurative fire will burn up the intangible works of unbelievers. Just as a literal fire totally destroys what it is burning, the figurative fire of 2 Peter 3:10-12 will totally destroy unbelievers. Their destruction will come via disease, famine, earthquakes, sword, etc.
Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of Yahweh’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy: for He shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land. Zephaniah 1:18
Throughout this study we have seen how Yahweh’s presence, judgment, indignation, rebuke, anger, wrath and jealousy are figuratively portrayed as a fire that burns before Him. This is not to say that Yahweh does not literally burn people with fire under certain circumstances as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. However, I do not believe 2 Peter 3:10-12 prophesies about the wholesale destruction of the heavens, the earth, and all unbelievers via a literal fire.