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Is the Dissolution of the Heavens and Earth on the Horizon?

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If there’s one passage of Scripture that is repeatedly brought up as an indictment against people who object to modern-day prophetic speculation it is 2 Peter 3:3–18. If you dispute with those who argue that all the signs around us indicate that we are living in the “last days,” then you are labeled a “scoffer” or a “mocker” (2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18). If this is how the passage is to be understood, then how should Bible students who argued against similar prophetic speculation during the two World Wars and previous periods of social, civil, and moral unrest going back centuries be evaluated? Those who questioned the prophecy speculators were correct in their skepticism that they were not living in the last days!

Every generation has had people who claimed the end was near and others who argued that the end was not near. Appealing to contemporary signs to make predictions of a near end of all things has a long history as Francis X. Gumerlock demonstrates in his book The Day and the Hour. One would think that by now Christians would stop doing it. But they don’t. They know revving people up over the “last days” sells books . . . lots of books.

The Day and the Hour

Throughout Christian history, bizarre fringe groups and well-meaning saints alike have been fully convinced that events in their lifetime were fulfilling Bible prophecy. In The Day and The Hour, Gumerlock spans two thousand years of conjecture on the last days, disclosing the dreams and delusions of those who believed that their sect was the 144,000 of Revelation 7; that the 1290 days of Daniel 12 had expired in their generation; that the "Man of Sin" of II Thessalonians 2 was reigning in their time; that a Rapture of the saints, a Great Tribulation, a Battle of Armageddon were just around the corner; or that a Millenial Kingdom was about to dawn.

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The people Peter and Jude accuse of being “scoffers” were enemies of Jesus and the gospel and were alive when Peter and Jude wrote their letters. They scoffed at the claims made by Jesus that the temple would be destroyed (Matt. 24:2) and Jesus Himself would be the person to make it happen before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34; 21:18-46; 22:1-14). Since nearly 40 years—a generation—had passed since Jesus had prophesied about the impending destruction, and the temple was still standing with no indication that it would be destroyed in their lifetime, the scoffers began to mock the words of Jesus. “Where’s the sign of His coming? Your Jesus predicted it with certainty, and it has not come to pass. All is as it has been. Based on the Law of Moses, this Jesus was a false prophet” (see Deut. 18:22).

A similar situation happened regarding the prophecies related to Judah’s captivity in Babylon. Consider the following from 2 Chronicles 36 and compared it to Jesus’ description of the destruction of Jerusalem that was prophesied by Him in the Olivet Discourse in the Synoptic Gospels:

Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of the Lord which He had sanctified in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy. Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or infirm; He gave them all into his hand. All the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete” (vv. 14-21).

There’s a big difference between a “scoffer” who rejects God’s word outright and someone who argues for an alternative position using sound biblical arguments. A person who disagrees with modern-day prophetic speculation is not a “scoffer,” especially when there have been so many failed attempts at predicting the certainty of the end over the years.

One could just as easily make the case that modern-day prophetic speculators are “scoffers” and “mockers” because they twist and distort Jesus’ clear words that He would return in judgment before that first-century generation passed away (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Some of today’s prophecy speculators try to argue that the Greek word genea—best translated as “generation” (Matt. 1:17)—can be translated “race” or “nation.” When that doesn’t work, some argue that “this generation” (the generation of Jesus’ day: e.g., Matt. 12:41–42; 23:36), should be translated “that generation” (a future generation). For example, Henry Morris, who insisted that the Bible should be interpreted literally on issues related to creation, does not take the same approach when he interprets the Olivet Discourse prophecy:

The word “this” [in Matt. 24:34] is the demonstrative adjective and could better be translated “that generation.” That is, the generation which sees all these signs (probably starting with World War I) shall not have completely died away until all these things have taken place. [1] That is, that generation—the one that sees the specific signs of His coming—will not completely pass away until He has returned to reign as King. [2] Now if the first sign was, as we have surmised, the First World War, then followed by all His other signs, His coming must indeed by very near [3]—even at the doors! There are only a few people still living from that [4] generation. I myself was born just a month before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Those who were old enough really to know about that First World War—“the beginning of sorrows”—would be at least in their eighties now. Thus, we cannot be dogmatic, we could very well now be living in the very last days before the return of the Lord. [5]

Wars and Rumors of Wars

f you are looking for an antidote for the virus of prophetic speculation, then Wars and Rumors of Wars is the book to read. It’s a detailed study of Matthew 24 and other prophetic passages that are often used to claim that we are living in the last days. A study of the Olivet Discourse will revolutionize how you read the Bible.

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When Jesus’ clear words don’t suit their prophetic paradigm, words are removed, new words added, and Greek words redefined. “This generation” becomes, “the generation that sees these signs,” as if Jesus was addressing a generation other than the one to whom He was speaking. Jesus made it clear that His present audience (“you”) would “see all these things” (Matt. 24:33).

Second Peter 3 links “scoffers” (v. 3 in KJV; “mockers” in NASB) with “the last days” (v. 3), “the promise of His coming” (v. 4), the “day of the Lord” (v. 10), and the passing away of the “heavens” and the “earth” (v. 10). “Last days” is not code for events leading up either to an event called the “rapture of the church” or a future second coming. Gordon Clark comments:

“The last days,” which so many people think refers to what is still future at the end of this age, clearly means the time of Peter himself. I John 2:18 says it is, in his day, the last hour. Acts 2:17 quoted Joel as predicting the last days as the lifetime of Peter.... Peter obviously means his own time. [6]

There are other passages like Hebrews 1:1–2 (note the use of the plural near demonstrative: “in these last days”), Hebrews 9:26 (note the use of “now”), “as you see the day drawing near” (10:25; also 1 John 2:18), 1 Corinthians 10:11 (“upon whom the ends of the ages have come”), and James 5:3 (the storing up of their treasure was in “the last days” not “for” the last days). The question is, the last days of what?: the last days of the old covenant with its stone temple, blood sacrifices, and earthly sinful priesthood, the theme of the book of Hebrews. It’s not only the end of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants.

Twice in the New Testament an explicit comparison is made between Jesus and Adam. In Romans 5:12–21, Paul argues that ‘just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19, NIV). In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul argues that ‘as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,’ while in verse 45 he calls Jesus the ‘last/ultimate/final [ἔσχατος/eschatos] Adam.’”

Given that most Christians who make the “scoffer” charge are premillennial, that is, those who believe that after a future seven-year period that includes the Great Tribulation, a thousand-year reign of Jesus on the earth will immediately follow. It’s only after this 1007-year period (the 7-year tribulation period plus the 1000 years of Revelation 20) that the events described in 2 Peter 3 come to pass (the new heaven and new earth). According to the dispensational view, the “new heaven and a new earth” comes into existence after the first physical heaven and the first physical earth passes away (Rev. 21:1). Given premillennial assumptions (which I believe are wrong), this means that the events described by Peter could never be near since more than 1000 years is not near.

How can a person be a “scoffer” or a “mocker” of prophetic events that are about to happen when the supposed dissolution of the cosmos is more than a thousand years away? It doesn’t make any sense. The charge only makes sense if the described events are actually near, near to those living in Peter’s generation and were familiar with Jesus’ prophecy. Those in Peter’s audience were looking “for these things” (2 Peter 3:12). How could they be looking for “these things” if they were at least 1007 years in their future?

Last Days Madness

The end is here…again, this time as a pandemic. At every calendar milestone, self-proclaimed modern-day “prophets” arise to stir up a furor rivaled only by the impending apocalypse they predict. This doom-and-gloom prognostication is not only spread by a few fanatics, but millions of Christians, including some of the most recognized names in mainstream Christianity who are caught up in the latest “last days” frenzy. Last Days Madness includes a chapter on the passing away of heaven and earth.

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Why didn’t Peter say that their math was out of whack, that the “new heaven and the new earth” are more than 1000 years in the future. According to the dispensational way of interpreting prophecy, we have at least 1000 years before there will be a physically renovated cosmos. This can’t take place until after Jesus reigns on the earth for 1000 years.

In fact, once Jesus sets foot on planet earth again, according to premillennialism, it will be quite easy to calculate when the events of 2 Peter 3 will take place—exactly a thousand years later. To silence a “scoffer,” all a person has to say is, “Look, God promised that these events won’t happen for a thousand years.” This means that for the premillennialist, the events revealed and described by Peter can’t have anything to do with our time. They are still far in the future. This means that this section of Scripture can’t be used to club those who reject the notion that we are living in the last days.

Peter specifically says, once again following the premillennial paradigm, the last days are at this moment in time at least 1007 years in the future. So, if the “last days” refers to the period just before the dissolution of the cosmos that is at least 1007 years in our future, then we can’t be living in the “last days” and there are no signs that can be called into evidence to support the claim that a new physical heaven and earth are on the prophetic horizon.

  1. Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: World Publishing, 1995), 1045.)

    Prior to these comments that are found in his Defender’s Study Bible, Morris wrote the following extended comments on Matthew 24:34 in his book Creation and the Second Coming:

    In this striking prophecy, the words “this generation” have the emphasis of “that generation.” ((I received the following comment in an email from someone supporting the view held by Morris: “I will admit that the word ‘this’ has ALWAYS presented an obstacle to a full understanding of the Discourse. Have you ever considered [if] this word COULD HAVE BEEN ‘that’ in the original [Manuscript]? I believe from my reading that could have been possible” (November 12, 2007). Almost anything is possible, but there is no indication that the Greek word ekeinos (“that”) was ever used. It’s pure conjecture.[]

  2. There is nothing in Matthew 24 that says Jesus is going to return to reign as king on the earth.[]
  3. Why does “near” mean “even at the doors” for Morris in his day, but it did not mean “near” in the first century?[]
  4. Notice how Morris uses the far demonstrative “that” to refer to a generation in the past. How would he have described the generation in which he was living? Obviously with the near demonstrative “this” to distinguish it from “that” past generation.[]
  5. Henry Morris, Creation and the Second Coming (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1991), 183. Morris died on February 25, 2006 at the age of 87.[]
  6. Gordon H. Clark, II Peter: A Short Commentary (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1975), 64.[]
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