During a radio interview shortly after my book Should Christians Be Environmentalists? was released, the host put forward a common argument some Christians use to justify unnecessary environmental exploitation: “Why should we care what happens to the environment if God is going to destroy Earth at the end of this age?” This argument is based on 2 Peter 3:10-13, which reads in part,
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. . . . But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (10, 13).
This passage appears to say that there will be a fiery cataclysmic end to Earth, perhaps by nuclear war, a collision between Earth and an asteroid or comet, or some other cosmic event that will totally annihilate the planet. This will happen on “the day of the Lord” (v. 10), when Jesus returns to crush Satan and his minions and then recreate a “new” heaven and earth (Rev. 20-22).
I don’t agree with this interpretation for several reasons—as do most theologians I’m familiar with, from John Calvin to the present day. In my book, Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven?: People, Pets, and Wild Animals in the Afterlife, I spend a large portion of chapter five providing the correct exegesis (interpretation) of this passage, and interested readers can examine the evidence in the book. But the biblical fact is, Peter is speaking of judgment—not annihilation. Numerous passages in both the Old and New Testaments (and I quote many of them) confirm that in the last days Earth will be redeemed and transformed, not destroyed. The apostle Paul confirms this in Romans 8:19-23.
Having said this, however, it’s important to understand that even if Earth is destroyed by fire it doesn’t mean the planet will vanish and replaced by another earth. And it changes nothing with regard to God’s eschatological purpose to redeem and decontaminate the earth of sin and to restore it to Garden of Eden-like conditions, as prophesied in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and elsewhere.
Just as God will transform our mortal bodies into glorious sin-free bodies at the resurrection, rather than create entirely different bodies (1 Cor.15:35–53), so too the first creation. It will not be destroyed and replaced by an entirely new creation; it will be transformed. Earth will be restored and renewed; sin will be obliterated and the curse removed (Rev. 22:3); and humans and animals will coexist in eternal peace (Isa.11:6-9). This is all part of God’s redemptive plan for redeemed humanity and restored creation.
What will this redeem, transformed New Earth be like; this eternal home of God’s people and animals? It will be similar to the Garden of Eden—but better! Paradise lost will become paradise regained and glorified. This brings us to the topic of my next couple blog articles: What will the physical environment of the Heaven look like? ©