“New Heavens and a New Earth” (2 Peter 3:8-14)
This year’s theme for our Advent midweek services is “Waiting for the Day of the Lord.” We’re looking at the Epistle readings for the first three weeks of Advent, all of which are about looking forward to the second coming of Christ and, in view of that, how to live now while we’re waiting for that day.
Last week we began by looking at the biblical background of the term, “The Day of the Lord.” We saw it as a day of both judgment and salvation–judgment for the unbelieving world, but salvation for us as the redeemed people of God. We took comfort in God’s promise that he will sustain us to the end, “guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today we continue to explore what it means to be waiting for the day of the Lord. Our text this week is from 2 Peter 3, where St. Peter alerts us to be ready for that day. Peter’s message to us tonight is threefold: First, while there may seem to be a delay in Christ’s return, don’t think that God has forgotten his promise to bring it to pass, and so don’t be caught unawares when it finally does come, for it will come like a thief in the night. Second, Peter tells us what will happen to this evil world on that day, and he points us to the new creation that God will then bring about: “New Heavens and a New Earth.” Third, Peter exhorts us to live as God’s holy people even now, since that is who we are in Christ, and those new heavens and new earth we’re waiting for will be a place “in which righteousness dwells.” Let’s take these three points now one at a time.
One, don’t think that God has forgotten his promise, and don’t let the seeming delay catch you off-guard. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” Peter is writing this letter several decades after Christ’s ascension, at which time the promise was given that this Jesus will return. However, this is now decades later, and Christians are wondering: What happened to that return we heard about? Why hasn’t it happened yet? How much longer do we have to wait? Did God forget? Did we get all this wrong? No, Peter answers, God has not forgotten his promise. Christ will indeed return. We don’t know when that will be, the exact day or hour, or even the year or the century. But, rest assured, it will happen.
The day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return, may seem like it’s slow in coming, but it isn’t, really. God is in charge of the timing. He knows what he’s doing. What’s he doing is giving people time to repent. This is a window of opportunity that the church has now to get the gospel out and to call people to repentance and faith, lest they perish in their sins. God is giving us time, out of his patience and long-suffering and mercy. God wants all people to repent and believe and live.
And that includes you! You have time right now to come to grips with your sinfulness, to mourn your sins, and to come to the end of your rope. And that’s a good thing. For then God throws you the only lifeline that will work to pull you out of the swirling vortex of your sins. That lifeline is the saving gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who will keep you from perishing. For God so loved the world–he so loved you–that he gave his only Son, that you would believe in him and thus not perish but instead have everlasting life. That is the real reason for the seeming delay. It’s so that you and I and a whole bunch of other sinners whom God loves would have the time and the opportunity to repent and believe and be saved.
So the day of the Lord is coming, but don’t let the “delay” catch you off-guard. Don’t get lulled to sleep during this time of waiting. For that day will come like a thief, that is, it will come when people are not expecting it. There will be people caught off-guard, unprepared, but don’t let that be you. Always be aware, always be alert, always be conscious that Christ will return. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could be a hundred years from now. But whenever he comes, God wants us to be prepared and ready. And that means to be found in faith, fortified by Word and Sacrament, strong to stand in that great day.
That’s the first point, then: What might seem to be a delay is really God giving us time for more people to repent and believe. Therefore, don’t let this seeming delay catch you off-guard when Christ does return, because he could come at any time.
The second point that Peter is telling us is about what will happen to this evil world on that day and about the new creation that God will then bring about. Peter writes: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” “The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
The day of the Lord will be a day of fire and judgment. Just as in the days of Noah, when the evil world was destroyed by water, so also on the last day, when the earth will be destroyed, only this time by fire. The whole creation, the whole universe, the heavens and the earth, will be consumed by fire. In the verse right before our text, Peter writes: “The heavens and the earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” So it will be. It will be a fearful day of wrath, when God’s righteous anger will be unleashed upon this wicked world of ungodly men, bound for destruction.
The whole creation, now subject to decay and futility, where things don’t work right–all creation will be destroyed. There will be a giant “do-over,” the ultimate “system restore.” The whole sin-corrupted universe will be dissolved, purified by fire, and there will come out of it “new heavens and a new earth.” Paradise restored, only better. “New heavens and a new earth,” but not as though there won’t be any continuity with the original heavens and earth that God created. There will be. For the heavens and earth will be “re-newed,” made new again, “re-created,” perfected and improved. God is committed to a physical creation. It was his idea in the first place, wasn’t it, with the Garden of Eden. Man’s sin brought a curse upon creation, brought a curse upon our bodies, brought death and decay into God’s good creation. But Christ by his death and resurrection has brought about a new creation. And we will see the final outcome of that on the day of his return, when there will be “new heavens and a new earth.”
It’s the same thing St. John saw at the end of the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” “Behold, I am making all things new.”
My friends, you and I have no idea how good this will be! It is beyond our experience, beyond our imagination, all the good things God has in store for his people! It’s kind of like Christmas presents under the tree. We know that they’re there, we know they’re going to be good, but it’s not yet time to unwrap them, not just yet. We have to wait a little bit. Well, that’s how it is with waiting for Christ’s return. We’re like little kids waiting to unwrap our Christmas presents. That’s the excitement and eager anticipation we have, as we look forward to what will be revealed to us and for us and in us on that wonderful day, the day of our Lord’s return.
In the meantime, how then shall we live? Peter tells us: “With lives of holiness and godliness.” That’s the third point. While we’re waiting for the Lord’s return, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”
Christ is coming again, and he will rescue us from our sins and from this evil world bound for destruction. That is our great hope, for which we wait, for which we long. But that fact does not make our lives now unimportant or a matter of indifference. No, God wants us to live holy lives, lives transformed by his holiness. How we live is important. God has rescued us from sin and for righteousness. We are waiting for “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” And so God would have us get used to righteousness even now as we dwell in the old heavens and old earth. God has already made us his holy people, set apart to live for him. To be sure, we are still afflicted with the old Adam hanging around our neck. That calls for daily repentance, dying and rising with Christ each new day. And we’re always in need of Christ’s forgiveness, as long as we live in this world with our sins. But God has given us the Holy Spirit. We are new people in Christ. And so God would have us live as his holy people, new people, growing in lives of love and righteousness. Loving God, loving our neighbor, doing good to those around us. Reflecting the character of our heavenly Father, as his dear children. That is who we are. That is how we will live, God helping us. And he will.
Dear friends, we are waiting for the day of the Lord. We are looking forward to new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. God is not slow in bringing that to pass, even though it may seem like it. God’s timing is always on time. He is graciously giving people time to repent. This old world is bound for destruction, but you and I are bound for glory. Christ’s first coming, in which he won our salvation, prepares us for his second coming, when we will finally and fully enter into that salvation. And even now God enables us to live in this world as his holy people, as we wait with eager longing for that great day of the Lord.