“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the 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.” (2 Peter 3:10)
Here is another frightening prospect. Did Peter see prophetically a scene of nuclear destruction engulfing the whole earth? That’s what it looks like, taken at face value, and some Christian writers actually believe it to be the intended meaning. Can that be so? How should we approach the subject? What did Peter mean?
I would suggest an examination of the expression “the Day of the Lord”, used by Peter, because it occurs many times in the Old Testament. Two particularly helpful references may be found as follows –
“For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low. . . . and the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.” (Isaiah 2:12-17)
“Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’S anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3)
What have we here? Clearly we are being presented with a coming season of refining such as the world has never yet experienced. But refinement is not destruction. The Lord’s purpose is to bring judgment on the pride of man. He will destroy pride and loftiness, but not people.
“For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:16) So the fire represents a time of great refinement, and the sword is the symbol of the Judge’s words. This helps us to understand the vivid picture language Peter used in his letter.
Zechariah interprets the fire in his prophecy. (13:9) “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.”
Malachi reinforces the message. “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when He appears? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” (Mal.3:2-3)
Our brief survey has shown us that God is going to destroy neither the earth nor the people. He promised that to Noah when He gave the sign of the rainbow. The Day of the Lord may be very near, and we would do well to take Zephaniah’s advice to encourage meekness, righteousness, humility and justice, that God may hide us from His wrath when He arises to judge the earth.
More to follow.