As Scripture instructs, we must be adult in our understanding. But we must also cultivate what Luke records in the books of Acts when he says that the early Christians ate their bread with gladness and simplicity of heart. We may be refreshed with both when we come to understand the water of life.
“But 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. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:10–13).
Summary of the Text:
When did this happen? It is easy to read superficially and think that it is all still in our future. But note three things. The day of the Lord is the kind of thing that Peter says has already happened once (v. 6). Noah lived through an exciting time, but he did not live through the dissolution of the space/time continuum. Second, Jude talks about the same thing, citing Peter’s words, and is plainly talking about his generation (Jude 17-19). And last, this meltdown ushers in the new heavens and new earth, and the prophecies concerning them have a time stamp on them.
According to Promise:
We know enough about scriptural language that we do not think the dissolution of the old heavens and the old earth consists of a meltdown of the periodic table. What we mean by “elements” is not what they meant by elements. Peter’s word is stoicheia, which I would submit should be referred to the elementary “gods”—earth, water, air, and fire. Plato was perhaps the first to describe these four with the word stoicheia, along with aether, a possible fifth element.
Before redemption, mankind was in bondage to such elementals as Paul says in Gal. 4:3-8. There is perhaps a reference to two of them in Eph. 2:2 and Rev. 14:18. We have now been set free from them—their power has melted away.
But what does this passage mean positively? The interpretive key is found in Peter’s phrase “according to His promise.” Where were we promised a new heavens and a new earth? Where does the Old Testament talk about this?
At the great conclusion of the book of Isaiah, the prophet tells how reprobate Israelites would be rejected, and the Gentiles brought in. “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, Unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people” (Is. 65:l-2a). God promises to call His elect by another name—Christian, as it turns out—and the basis of this is His promise. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Is. 65:15-17). This is where the promise which Peter is claiming is made (Is. 66:22).
Among other things, what do people do in the new heavens and the new earth? Well, if we read our Bibles thoughtfully, we should notice that they die (Is. 65:20). This means that the new heavens and new earth should not be confounded with the eternal state after the last resurrection. After the last resurrection, there is no death. We are in the new heavens and new earth now.
But do not look for a material fulfillment. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?’” (Is. 66:1). We are the temple (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19), we are the living stones (1 Pet. 2:4-5); we are the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2, 9).
When Jesus teaches us about living water, we have all learned enough scriptural truth not to look in the bucket. This “water” is everlasting life (John 4:13-15); this “water” is the Holy Spirit of God (John 7:37-39). “But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” Most notably, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But where does Scripture talk about rivers of living water?
“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east . . . and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed . . . When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live . . . Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine” (Ez. 47:1-12).
This river of Ezekiel is the Holy Spirit; it is everlasting life, and it flows out over the threshold of the Christian Church.
The Bridal City:
Now the parallels between Ezekiel’s temple and the New Jerusalem make it dear they are a vision of the same thing—the holy Christian church. But how does John introduce his discussion of it?
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1).
The last two chapters of the Revelation are a glorious description of a justified and perfect Church, with healing for the nations.
“And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). This water of life was not given to individuals so they could keep a thimbleful in their hearts. This water is meant to inundate the world.
Why were these waters sent? So that the world would be filled up with Jesus, as the waters cover the sea (Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14). The knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, and Jesus is the knowledge of the Lord (Eph. 1:17-23).