For your Scriptural study and consideration.
In another thread, some individuals asked me why I interpret 2 Peter 3 as having already been fulfilled. I gave a warning beforehand that I would have to compile my written notes into a typed form in order to put it here, and that the end result would likely be very long. (It's just under 9 pages in my word processor right now).
In determination to provide a response for the question I have been asked, I will post my notes/study here. I sincerely apologize for the length, especially after my previous thread required a seven-post OP. However, in order to present my answer, I'm afraid I can't really cut anything down, lest I lose some form of communication in the process.
When the reader reaches Revelation 21, the first few verses commonly prompt an interpretation such that John is seeing a new physical universe. But I consider it more probable that John is, instead, referring to the “new world” of the New Covenant. Rather than simply reading the passage at face value and leaving it at that, or grasping at air for a less than obvious perspective, this is based on Scriptural study.
First and foremost to be considered by many is John’s obvious reliance upon Isaiah 65-66. However, before going to that obvious choice, I suggest we first read Isaiah 51.9-16. We find there the following details:
- Egypt (“Rahab”: Isaiah 30.7) is destroyed [51.9]
- The sea is dried up for “the redeemed to pass over” [51.10]
- God “stretched out the heavens” and “laid the foundations of the earth” [51.13]
- God gave his “words in [their] mouth”, calling them “[his] people” [51.16]
This is clearly a description of the Exodus: God defeats Egypt, he parts the Red Sea for his people to cross, he forms the Israelite nation and called them “[his] people”, and gave them his “words”, being the Law of the Covenant. But this event is also described as the time when God “stretched out of the heavens” and “laid the foundations of the earth” [51.13], as “establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth” [51.16]. To put it simply, the Exodus is described as a creation event; when God established the Old Covenant, he also established a “new heavens and new earth”.
The most obvious question is ask is: Why is the giving of the Covenant described as the establishing of the heavens and earth? Because, in essence, the whole world was being changed through the giving of God’s Covenant. The Israelites went from a disorganized mass of slaves, to being God’s chosen nation on the earth. They were to represent God’s standard of holiness to the world, including a Law that required them to bring sacrifices and offerings to God. God wasn’t to be approached in a blind free-for-all; worship and obedience to God was to be orderly and communal.
Keeping this “Covenant creation” symbolism in mind when we turn to Isaiah 65-66, it must be considered at least possible that Isaiah is prophesying about another “Covenant creation” event similar to the previous one, rather than an actual re-creation of the physical universe. More specifically, Isaiah may very well have been prophesying about the giving of the New Covenant. If, for the sake of the study, this concept is assumed by the reader, one begins to find several correlations between Isaiah’s symbolic “Covenant creation” imagery and what Jesus and his Apostles state about the New Covenant.
- Isaiah 65.17: The establishment of the New Covenant itself (per the precedent of Isaiah 51.9-16).
- Isaiah 65.18-19: Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 21
- Isaiah 65.23: 1 Corinthians 15.58
- Isaiah 65.25: Hebrews 12.22; Luke 10.19
- Isaiah 66.1-6: 1 Timothy 3.15; Ephesians 2.19-22
- Isaiah 66.8: Galatians 4.26
- Isaiah 66.10: Hebrews 12.22-23
- Isaiah 66.11: Matthew 5.6
- Isaiah 66.12: John 14.27
- Isaiah 66.15-17: Matthew 22.7
- Isaiah 66.18: Matthew 8.11
- Isaiah 66.19: Ephesians 3.8; Colossians 1.27
- Isaiah 66.20: Romans 15.16
- Isaiah 66.21: 1 Peter 2.9
- Isaiah 66.22: Hebrews 12.25-28
Through this we find many parallels between Isaiah’s prophecies and the founding of the New Covenant, along with the dissolution of the Old Covenant. These are particularly strong in prophecies concerning the imminent destruction of the nation of Judea. The connection of the “new heavens and new earth” to the foundation of the New Covenant is readily apparent. This is supplemented by Paul’s declaration that Christians are a “new creation” [2 Corinthians 5.17; Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.10; 4.24] In other words, those who enter into the “new heavens and new earth” (the New Covenant) likewise become part of that “new creation”. (Compare, for instance, Revelation 3.14.)
This ultimately means that the Old Covenant was the “old heavens and old earth” parallel to Isaiah’s New Covenant “new heavens and new earth”. Since the establishment of the New Covenant is a “Covenant creation” event, then the passing away of the Old Covenant would thusly be a “Covenant decreation” event. A common example is found in Matthew 24.35; this passage is widely interpreted as Jesus’ prediction of the end of the physical universe at his Second Coming. However, it can readily be shown that the decreation language of Matthew 24.29 was a prophecy concerning the destruction of the nation of Judea in 70 AD, and that the “cloud” language of Matthew 24.30 was a prophecy that Judea’s destruction was to be attributed to Jesus Christ as divine judgment (thus showing him to be God, and not merely a human prophet).
But, by context, the “passing away” of heaven and earth is also restricted to that “this generation” time frame. If the the non-literal “Covenant creation” and “decreation” language, as established by Isaiah, is dismissed when we arrive at Matthew 24.35, the verse becomes problematic because of its relation to the “this generation” prophecy Jesus spoke the verse before. But if we remember Isaiah’s “Covenant creation” in Isaiah 51, then Christ’s prophecy makes total sense, especially when we recognized that Christ borrowed his decreation language from Isaiah back in verse 24.29. In other words, Christ expects his listener/reader to be familiar with the hyperbole-language of Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets. Like it or not, knowing and understanding the Old Testament prophets is absolutely necessary for knowing and understanding Christ’s prophecy in the Olivet Discourse. Using the old prophets (and Isaiah in particular) as our template and precedent, it looks to be that Christ was prophesying about the end of the nation of Judea and the end of the Old Covenant world system; “heaven and earth” were to pass away in 70 AD, along with Herod’s Temple, as Jesus had predicted in Matthew 24.1-2.
Half of the prophecies Christ gave in the Olivet Discourse were referring to the “Covenant curses” of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28; God promised to bring these “Covenant curses” upon Israel as divine judgment, should the nation as a whole become apostate, and Christ was reiterating them because the time for the fulfillment of those promises had come. The next portion of Christ’s prophetic utterances contains the common decreation language, the well-established Old Testament hyperbole language used to describe God’s judgment within history, not at the end of history. The apparent contradiction between the time restriction of “this generation” (when it is read in the most natural sense, rather than redefining any of the words to suit the reader’s presuppositions) and the passing away of “heaven and earth” is avoided when one recognizes the Old Testament basis of Christ’s prophecies in Matthew 24.
With the realization that the judgment upon apostate Israel and the dissolution of the Old Covenant in 70 AD are fulfillments of the Law itself as according to God’s “Covenant curses” in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, difficult passages becomes significantly more comprehensible. When we come across a verse such as Matthew 5.18, where Christ claims that “heaven and earth” will only pass away when the Law is fulfilled, there is no need to extend this into the distant future. We, as Christians, know that Christ brought about the New Covenant as told of by the old prophets. Christ “renewed and fulfilled the Covenant between God and Israel”. What we mean is this: the Old Covenant promised a Messiah who would bring us salvation and fulfill the Law.
Using the Old Testament to clarify the decreation language, we see how the Law was “fulfilled” in Christ. His sinless life, atoning death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension to the right hand of God were all a fulfillment of the Law regarding the sacrificial offering to God for the sins of mankind. Jesus Christ absolutely brought salvation for man, and that that was the single most important event in history is irrefutable. Make no mistake, by putting attributing significance to 70 AD I am not taking away from the centrality of the cross. But with the rejection of the Son of God and the Covenant of God by majority of Israel, God (by his nature) was necessarily required to keep his promises of the Law, being that he would unleash his Covenant curses upon the apostates. Christ’s prophecies in Matthew 24 closely resemble the Covenant curses precisely because Christ was predicting their fulfillment in the near future.
With the destruction of the nation of Judea, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple of Herod, the Old Covenant came to its definitive end; not only because it could no longer be practiced by the apostates who clung to it, but because it came to its end with the fulfillment of God’s promises. Thus, with the fulfillment of the Law in that time of judgment, the Old Covenant “heaven and earth” passed away, as Christ said in Matthew 5.18. This time frame is perfectly corroborated by what we found before in Matthew 24.35. (In addition, his statement that heaven and earth would “pass away”, but his own words would not, still makes sense. With “heaven and earth” referring to the Old Covenant system of the temple priesthood and sacrifices, and his “words” referring to the New Covenant system of just Jesus, we’re left in a frame of time that follows 70 AD.)
We must realize that Jesus was not speaking in a cultural vacuum, but rather with the well-known language of the Old prophets. I can’t stress that point enough: what Christ prophesies in the Olivet Discourse was not new to his audience; it was deeply rooted in the Old Testament prophets. The Jews of his day would have recognized instantly his words to be the exact same hyperbole-language used by the Old Testament prophets. This necessitates the examination of several other passages that use creation/decreation language in the New Testament. If we don't use the Old Testament to interpret the New Testament, we would only end up "speculating and coming up with ridiculous conjectures".
In Acts 2.19-21, the Apostle Peter quotes from Joel 2.30-32, claiming that Joel had been prophesying about the foundation of the Church. Joel’s description of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place in 30 AD on Pentecost, but this puts the fulfillment of Joel’s decreation prophecy in the near future. In the same way that Jesus’ decreation prophecy was about the destruction of Judea in 70 AD, applying Joel’s prophecy to that event makes the most sense chronologically and contextually. We aren’t left performing linguistic gymnastics to figure out that the “former rain” was this, and the “latter rain” was that, or that what Peter was saying was only a lesser fulfillment while there was yet to come a greater future fulfillment, etc. No, instead, we just leave it at what Peter said: Joel 2.30-32 was a prophecy of what was happening at that time, not another one.
In Hebrews 8.13, writing at about 65-67 AD, the author claims that although the New Covenant had already come, the Old Covenant was still existent, yet it was about to pass away. Since 70 AD, the time when the Old Covenant temple, priesthood, and sacrifices came to their end, was in the author’s near future, his prediction in Hebrews 8.13 makes most sense, I believe, when read in that context. The Old Covenant still existed in the form of the still-standing temple system, but it was about to pass away because the temple system was about to be removed permanently. This takes us forward to Hebrews 12.25-29, where the writer claims that God was about to “shake” the heavens and the earth, with only the Kingdom of God remaining through the shaking. This is another example of the decreation language, albeit to a lesser degree of intensity. But even still, it subtly alludes back to Isaiah 66.22, which is the context of how the “new heavens and new earth” would be the New Covenant. The Church had received the Kingdom of God already, the author says, but there would be a “shaking” of heaven and earth in the near future, with the Kingdom of God being what survived through it. The time frame and general sentiment seems quite similar to what Christ said in Luke 21.31-33.