Definition: The term “earth” is used in more than one sense in the Scriptures. Usually we think of it as referring to the planet itself, which Jehovah generously endowed so that it could sustain human life with a view to making our lives richly satisfying. It should be realized, however, that “earth” also may be used in a figurative sense, referring, for example, to people living on this planet or to a human society that has certain characteristics.
Will planet Earth be destroyed in a nuclear war?
What does the Bible show to be God’s purpose regarding the earth?
Matt. 6:10: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.”
Ps. 37:29: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”
Is there a possibility that, since the nations show little regard for God’s purpose, they might completely ruin the earth for habitation anyway?
Isa. 55:8-11: “[The utterance of Jehovah is:] As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. . . . My word . . . will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”
Isa. 40:15, 26: “Look! [From the standpoint of Jehovah God] The nations are as a drop from a bucket; and as the film of dust on the scales they have been accounted. . . . ‘Raise your eyes high up and see [the sun, the moon, and the billions of stars]. Who has created these things? It is the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name. Due to the abundance of dynamic energy, he also being vigorous in power, not one of them is missing.’” (The nuclear power developed by the nations is fear inspiring to men. But billions of stars employ nuclear power on a scale that is beyond our ability to comprehend. Who created and controls all these heavenly bodies? Can He not prevent the nations from using their nuclear weapons in a way that would hinder his purpose? That God would do this is illustrated by his destroying the military power of Egypt when Pharaoh sought to stop the deliverance of Israel.—Ex. 14:5-31.)
Rev. 11:17, 18: “We thank you, Jehovah God, the Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and begun ruling as king. But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, and the appointed time . . . to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”
Will God himself destroy the earth by fire?
Does 2 Peter 3:7, 10 (KJ) support that view? “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 [“destruction,” RS] of ungodly men. . . . 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 [“burned (burnt) up,” RS, JB; “will vanish,” TEV; “will be made manifest,” NAB; “will be laid bare,” NE; “will be discovered,” NW].” (Note: The Codex Sinaiticus and Vatican MS 1209, both of the 4th century C.E., read “be discovered.” Later manuscripts, the 5th-century Codex Alexandrinus and the 16th-century Clementine recension of the Vulgate, read “be burned up.”)
Does Revelation 21:1 (KJ) indicate that our planet will be destroyed? “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”
To be correct, the explanation of these verses must agree with the context and with the rest of the Bible
If these texts (2 Peter 3:7, 10 and Revelation 21:1) mean that the literal planet Earth is to be consumed by fire, then the literal heavens (the stars and other heavenly bodies) are also to be destroyed by fire. Such a literal view, however, conflicts with the assurance contained in such texts as Matthew 6:10, Psalm 37:29 and 104:5, also Proverbs 2:21, 22. Furthermore, what effect would fire have on the already intensely hot sun and stars? So the term “earth” in the above-quoted texts must be understood in a different sense.
At Genesis 11:1, First Kings 2:1, 2, First Chronicles 16:31, Psalm 96:1, etc., the term “earth” is used in a figurative sense, referring to mankind, to human society. Might that be the case at 2 Peter 3:7, 10 and Revelation 21:1?
Note that, in the context, at 2 Peter 3:5, 6 (also 2:5, 9), a parallel is drawn with the Flood of Noah’s day, in which wicked human society was destroyed, but Noah and his household, as well as the globe itself, were preserved. Likewise, at 2 Peter 3:7 it says that the ones to be destroyed are “ungodly men.” The view that “the earth” here refers to wicked human society fully agrees with the rest of the Bible, as is illustrated by the texts cited above. It is that symbolic “earth,” or wicked human society, that is “discovered”; that is, Jehovah will sear away as by fire all disguise, exposing the wickedness of ungodly human society and showing it to be worthy of complete destruction. That wicked society of humans is also “the first earth,” referred to at Revelation 21:1 (KJ).
Consistently, Jesus’ expression at Luke 21:33 (“heaven and earth will pass away, but . . . ”) must be understood in the light of the parallel statement at Luke 16:17 (“it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than . . . ”), both of which simply emphasize the impossibility of the situations presented.—See also Matthew 5:18.
Will the righteous be taken to heaven and then returned to earth after the wicked are destroyed?
Does Revelation 21:2, 3 support that view? It says: “I saw also the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them.’” (Does the fact that God will “reside” with mankind and “be with them” mean that he will become a fleshly Being? That cannot be, because Jehovah told Moses: “No man may see me and yet live.” [Ex. 33:20] Consistently, then, the members of the New Jerusalem will not return to earth as physical beings. In what sense, then, could God “be with” mankind and how would the New Jerusalem ‘come down out of heaven’? No doubt an indication is found in Genesis 21:1, which says that God “visited” Sarah, blessing her with a son in her old age. Exodus 4:31 tells us that God “visited” Israel by sending Moses as a deliverer. Luke 7:16 says that by means of Jesus’ ministry God “visited” his people. [All from KJ and RS] Other translations use the expression God “turned his attention” to his people [NW] or ‘showed concern’ for them [NE]. So Revelation 21:2, 3 must mean that God will ‘visit,’ or be with, mankind by means of the heavenly New Jerusalem, through which blessings will come to obedient humans.)
Prov. 2:21, 22, KJ: “The upright shall dwell in the land [“on earth,” NE], and the perfect [“blameless men,” NE] shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.” (Notice that it does not say the blameless will return to the earth but that they “shall remain in it.”)
Has God’s original purpose for the earth changed?
Gen. 1:27, 28: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. Further, God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.’” (Thus God indicated his purpose to have the earth filled with the offspring of Adam and Eve as caretakers of a global paradise. After God had magnificently designed this earth for human habitation, making it unique among all the planets that man has examined with his telescopes and spaceships, did the Creator simply abandon his purpose, leaving it forever unfulfilled because of Adam’s sin?)
Isa. 45:18: “This is what Jehovah has said, the Creator of the heavens, He the true God, the Former of the earth and the Maker of it, He the One who firmly established it, who did not create it simply for nothing, who formed it even to be inhabited: ‘I am Jehovah, and there is no one else.’” (See also Isaiah 55:10, 11.)
If no one is ever going to die in God’s New Order, how will all the people fit on earth?
Keep in mind that when God expressed his purpose for the earth he said: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) God gave man the ability to procreate, and when His purpose in that regard is fulfilled He can cause procreation to cease on earth.
What kind of people will God favor with endless life on earth?
Zeph. 2:3: “Seek Jehovah, all you meek ones of the earth, who have practiced His own judicial decision. Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.”
Ps. 37:9, 11: “Those hoping in Jehovah are the ones that will possess the earth. . . . The meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”