Questions From Readers
● Second Peter 3:10 says: “Jehovah’s day will come as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a hissing noise, but the elements being intensely hot will be dissolved, and earth and the works in it will be discovered.” What does this text mean? Are not the physical heavens and earth a permanent part of God’s creation?—U.S.A.
In determining the significance of the apostle Peter’s statement, we must remember that the terms “heavens” and “earth” often do not designate the physical heavens and earth, which are an abiding part of God’s creation. (Ps. 104:5) A notable example of this are the words of Isaiah 13:13 regarding the day of Jehovah’s triumph over Babylon: “I shall cause heaven itself to become agitated, and the earth will rock out of its place at the fury of Jehovah of armies and at the day of his burning anger.”
Obviously the fall of ancient Babylon resulted in no agitation of the physical heavens—sun, moon, stars and planets—nor was the literal earth rocked out of its place. But, figuratively speaking, the heavens and the earth were affected. How so? Well, we might recall that the Babylonians worshiped the sun and moon as well as the stars and planets as gods or goddesses. So when these deities proved unable to help Babylon in her greatest time of need, her “heavens” became agitated. Also the “earth” of the Babylonian Empire rocked out of its place. Babylon lost control of this vast portion of the earth upon being defeated and becoming a mere province of the Persian Empire.
The case of Babylon illustrates that the heavenly bodies have been viewed as representing powers higher than men, powers that have exercised controlling influence over mankind. The worship that has been given to these heavenly bodies has actually gone to invisible spirit forces higher than men, namely, to Satan the Devil and his demons. This is evident from the apostle Paul’s declaration: “The things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons.”—1 Cor. 10:20.
Yes, God’s Word clearly shows that Satan and his demons constitute a “heaven” over the human society alienated from Jehovah God. The apostle Paul, for example, referred to “wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places,” with their governments, authorities and world rulers. (Eph. 6:12) And 1 John 5:19 tells us: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.”
So it must be the heavens composed of Satan and his demons that “will pass away with a hissing noise.” A fierce, devouring flame of great magnitude makes a loud hissing sound, as, for example, in the burning of a house or a forest. Of course, literal fire would be ineffective in bringing an end to Satan and his demons. But the wicked heavens will not escape the expression of God’s rage, spoken of in Scripture as burning like a fire. (Ps. 89:46; Isa. 30:27) That the Satanic and demonic heavens will pass away is confirmed in the book of Revelation. After having seen a vision of the complete defeat of Satan’s forces and the casting of Satan into the abyss, the apostle John noted that the “former heaven and the former earth had passed away.”—Rev. 21:1.
The “former heaven” not being literal, the “former earth” likewise is not literal. According to Revelation 19:19-21, not the physical earth, but the kings of the earth and their armies are the ones in line for destruction. Thus the “former earth” designates the wicked human society under the control of Satan and his demons. This identification of the “earth” is in agreement with the fact that, in Biblical usage, the term “earth” can denote earth’s inhabitants.—Ps. 96:1.
Accordingly, no “elements” (or constituent parts) of the symbolic heavens and earth will be able to withstand the intense heat of God’s burning anger. They will be completely “dissolved.” The words of Peter somewhat parallel the thought expressed at Malachi 4:1: “‘The day is coming that is burning like the furnace, and all the presumptuous ones and all those doing wickedness must become as stubble. And the day that is coming will certainly devour them,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘so that it will not leave to them either root or bough.’”
The earth, the ungodly human society, and its works will be “discovered” (the Greek word for “discovered” appears in the two oldest and most reliable Bible manuscripts available, the Vatican 1209 and the Sinaitic). This means that the wicked human society and its works will be seared bare of all disguise, exposed as being against Jehovah God and his kingdom by Christ and therefore worthy of destruction. By means of his Son, Christ Jesus, and multitudes of faithful angels, Jehovah God will see to it that none of the wicked works will go undiscovered and unpunished. A comparable idea is conveyed at Isaiah 26:21: “Jehovah is coming forth from his place to call to account the error of the inhabitant of the land against him, and the land will certainly expose her bloodshed and will no longer cover over her killed ones.”
If we desire to withstand the consuming heat that will blaze against the old heavens and earth, we must make it our determination to know and to follow the course approved by Jehovah God. As Peter encouraged fellow Christians: “Do your utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace. . . . be on your guard that you may not be led away with [the untaught and unsteady] by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness. No, but go on growing in the undeserved kindness and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—2 Pet. 3:14-18.