What Does the Bible Say About the End of the World?
Got Questions Website
I visited gotquestion.org recently and was reminded of a time when convinced by Dispensationalism's view of the 'end times'.
Got Questions promulgate Dispensationalism's teaching that the millennium reign will begin at the Second Coming of Christ with Heaven and Earth being destroyed by fire or nuclear explosion at the end of the 1000 years.
The following question caught my attention, although I was dismayed by GQ's answer.
'What does the Bible say about the end of the world?’
Since I no longer hold GQ's 'end times' view, I thought it unlikely I would agree with the answer. Considering GQ is a high profile website, in my opinion, the answer was stereotyped and inadequately thought through. Surely, when answering a question about mainstream Christian doctrine it would be wise to qualify the answer with 'we at GQ believe' rather than give the impression their answer is the only one.
A Quote from gotquestions.org
'With over 4,900 answers to frequently asked Bible questions published online, approximately 75% of the questions we are asked already have answers available to you instantly.'
The emphasis on 'available to you instantly' highlights a desire to pander to a society that demands immediate results. For example, if someone is sincerely seeking Christianity's answer to an important question, an 'of the shelf' answer is not always sufficient. I will attempt to explain why I believe it lacked substance.
The End of the Elements
G Q Answer (a): ‘The event usually referred to as “the end of the world” is described in 2 Peter 3:10: “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.”
Response: Many scholars assume Peter's 'elements' [stoicheion] belong to this material and physical world, even although there is no precedent in the Scriptures for doing so. The Greek ‘stoicheion’ means 'elements, rudiments, or principles'.
In the King James Translation, 'stoicheion' appears seven times and never implied the classical elements, earth, wind, fire, and water. Consistently, 'stoicheion' was associated with the political and ecclesiastical constitution of the Jews. The elements, rudiments, or principles of Old Covenant Israel.
A Quote From John Lightfoot (1602-1675) Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations
2Peter 3:10 'Then shall appear the ’sign of the Son of man,’ &c; which yet are said to fall out within that generation, ver. 34. 2Pet 3:10, The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat,’ &c. Compare with this Deut 32:22, Heb 12:26 and observe that by elements are understood the Mosaic elements, Gal 4:9, Col 2:20 and you will not doubt that St. Peter speaks only of the conflagration of Jerusalem, the destruction of the nation, and the abolishing the dispensation of Moses”'
'Stoicheion' in the Scriptures
- 1) 2Pe 3:10 KJV 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 [stoicheion] shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
- 2) 2Pe 3:12 KJV Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements [stoicheion] shall melt with fervent heat.
Peter did not describe the utter destruction of the classical elements of this world; he proclaimed the end of the Old Covenant Age. On closer examination, 'stoicheion' defined the elements, rudiments, or principles of the Jewish polity.
- 3) Gal 4:3 KJV Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements [stoicheion] of the world:
The Galatians were previously in bondage to the elements, rudiments, or principles of Judaism.
A Quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary of the Bible
Galatians 4:3 'The elements of the world - A mere Jewish phrase, éñåãé òåìí äæä yesodey olam hazzeh, “the principles of this world;” that is, the rudiments or principles of the Jewish religion.’
- 4) Gal 4:9 KJV But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements [stoicheion] whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Paul warned the Galatians not to return to the elements, rudiments, or principles of Judaism’s bondage.
- 5) Col 2:8 KJV Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [stoicheion] of the world, and not after Christ.
Paul warned the Colossians against those who spoil by philosophy and vain deceit after the elements, rudiments, or principles of the world, and not after Christ.
- 6) Col 2:20 KJV Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments (stoicheion) of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
The Colossian believers in Christ were dead to the elements, rudiments, or principles of Jewish ordinances.
A Quote from the People’s New Testament
Colossians 2:20 'Wherefore. Ye died with Christ, died to the world, and to its rudiments, or fleshly ordinances. See note on Col_2:8 and Col_2:12. Why, then, as though belonging to the world, should you be subject to obsolete Jewish ordinances?’
- 7) Heb 5:12 KJV For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles [stoicheion] of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
The writer to Hebrews admonished believers for their lack of maturity in the Scriptures. The solution was a return to the first elements, rudiments, or principles of the oracles of God.
The End of the World
Do you believe the world will end?See results without voting
The Day of the Lord
G Q Answer (b): 'This is the culmination of a series of events called “the day of the Lord,” the time when God will intervene in human history for the purpose of judgment. At that time, all that God has created, “the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), He will destroy.’
Response: It is an untenable statement to claim the Day of the Lord is a series of events. Dispensationalism promotes an imminent physical return of Christ in judgement, followed by a 1000 years reign also ending in judgement.
- Act 2:17-20 KJV And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy within the lifetime of his generation...Joel 2:28-32. Initially fulfilled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in AD 30 and culminating in the great and notable Day of the Lord in AD 70.
it shall come to pass in the last days' Peter confirmed his generation lived during the last days; we are not living in last days today.
'I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh' The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was evidence of Christ on His heavenly throne in the last days before the impending Day of the Lord.
'before that great and notable day of the Lord come' Joel's prophecy was fulfilled by the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews, at the return of Christ in AD 70.
- Act 2:40-41 KJV And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
Not only did Peter's generation witness the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they were given the opportunity to repent before the imminent 'great and notable day of the LORD'. Why would the Holy Spirit inspire Peter to preach repentance to his audience if the judgement didn't apply to them?
The Timeline of the Day of the Lord
BG Q Answer (c): 'The timing of this event, according to most Bible scholars, is at the end of the 1000-year period called the millennium. During these 1000 years, Christ will reign on earth as King in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David (Luke 1:32-33) and ruling in peace but with a “rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15).'
- 2Pe 3:10-12 KJV 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. 11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 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?
‘the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night’ Peter used the same metaphor as Jesus when He described His return to His generation...Matthew 24:34.
‘Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God’ Peter had Christ’s imminent return in mind when he encouraged believers to live accordingly. The coming day of God was the Second Coming of Christ.
- 1Pe 4:7 KJV But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
‘Watch unto prayer’ Peter said the end of all things is at hand, meaning within his generation's lifetime and called the saints to 'watch'.
- 1Th 5:2-6 KJV For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
‘the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.’ Paul also used Christ’s ‘thief’ analogy when he taught the events leading to the Second Coming of Christ in his Epistles to the Thessalonians. He encouraged them to remain alert and 'watch' for the Day for the Lord. Therefore, the Second Coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord are synonymous; thereby, the Day of the Lord is not a series of events extending to the end of the 1000 years. To add to Dispensationalism’s dilemma, if Paul taught the rapture theory, why did he insist they watch for the Day of the Lord, if the rapture was seven years earlier?
- Mat 24:42 KJV Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
‘if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come’ Christ used the ‘thief’ analogy when He described His return in judgement on Old Covenant Israel. During the same discourse He prophesied all these things would happen to His generation and advised them to ‘watch’.
- Rev 16:14-15 KJV For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. 15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
‘Behold, I come as a thief ‘ On this occasion, Jesus repeated the ‘thief’ metaphor and indicated His return at the battle of that great day of God Almighty, which was the siege of Jerusalem not the so called 'Battle of Armageddon'...Revelation 16:19.
Jesus, Paul, and Peter, described the Second Coming on the Day of the Lord. The context of the Epistles and the Olivet discourse provided encouragement and warnings about the signs leading to Christ's return. Most importantly, the common denominator was the 'thief'.
By identifying the timeline, it is apparent Peter's destruction of Heaven and Earth was not literal. Peter did not describe the end of the universe he referred to the end of the principles of the Old Covenant world of Israel. The New Covenant Age was fully established when the Old Covenant passed away with the burning of the temple and Jerusalem.
Obliteration by a Nuclear or Atomic Reaction?
G Q Answer (d) First, it will be cataclysmic in scope. The “heavens” refers to the physical universe – the stars, planets, and galaxies—which will be consumed by some kind of tremendous explosion, possibly a nuclear or atomic reaction that will consume and obliterate all matter as we know it. All the elements that make up the universe will be melted in the “fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:12). This will also be a noisy event, described in different Bible versions as a “roar” (NIV), a “great noise” (KJV), a “loud noise” (CEV), and a “thunderous crash” (AMP). There will be no doubt as to what is happening. Everyone will see and hear it because we are also told that “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
Response: What magnitude of nuclear explosion would destroy the universe?
New Heaven and New Earth
G Q Answer (e): Then God will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1), which will include the “New Jerusalem” (v. 2), the capital city of heaven, a place of perfect holiness, which will come down from heaven to the new earth. This is the city where the saints—those whose names were written in the “Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 13:8)—will live forever. Peter refers to this new creation as “the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
Response: Rev 22:10 KJV And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
'for the time is at hand' If the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Book of Revelation was at hand 2000 years ago, the 'New Heaven and New Earth’ and ‘New Jerusalem’ must also be fulfilled.
At Christ's return in judgement, the New Covenant Age was fully inaugurated, and synonymous with the New Heaven and New Earth and Christ's Everlasting Kingdom.
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My Answer to the Question
Within mainstream Christianity there are sincerely held yet differing views concerning 'the end of the world', this is not unusual with 'end times' doctrine. However, regarding the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and His wonderful salvation, agreement is crucial to fellowship and the Faith.
Some scholars teach the end will come after Christ's future return and His 1000 years reign. Others including myself, believe the world will not end, because the translation from Greek to English does not mean this physical world, but the end of an Age.
- Mat 24:3 [King James Version] And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
- Mat 24:3 [Youngs Literal Translation] And when he is sitting on the mount of the Olives, the disciples came near to him by himself, saying, 'Tell us, when shall these be? and what is the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?'
It stands to reason that we should be good stewards of this beautiful world, but should Christians be perplexed over the end of the world? Absolutely not, Paul wrote the following about the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Col 1:16-17 KJV For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they bethrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
- Heb 1:3 KJV Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
A Quote from Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
'Hebrews 1:3 'And upholding all things by the word of his power - That is, by his powerful word, or command. The phrase “word of his power” is a Hebraism, and means his efficient command. There could not be a more distinct ascription of divinity to the Son of God than this. He upholds or sustains all things - that is, the universe. It is not merely the earth; not only its rocks, mountains, seas, animals and human beings, but it is the universe - all distant worlds. How can he do this who is not God? He does it by his word - his command. What a conception! That one simple command should do all this! So the world was made when God “spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast;” Psa 33:9. So the Lord Jesus commanded the waves and the winds, and they were still Mat 8:26-27; so he spoke to diseases and they departed, and to the dead land they arose; compare Gen 1:3. I do know how people can “explain away” this ascription of infinite power to the Redeemer. There can be no higher idea of omnipotence than to say that he upholds all things by his word; and assuredly he who can “hold up” this vast universe so that it does not sink into anarchy or into nothing, must be God. The same power Jesus claimed for himself; see Mat 28:18.'
We can rest assured that whatever the future holds, we know who holds the future.
What do you think?
- Heaven and Earth Will Not Be Destroyed by Fire
Why do many today believe that the New Heavens and a New Earth will arrive at the end of the millennium? Peter wrote this event would take place at the return of Christ...2 Peter 3:11-13.
© 2016 Alexander Gibb
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