The Melting Elements

“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.” —II Peter 3:10

PETER explains that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (ch. 3:8) This means that the “day of the Lord” which was to come “as a thief in the night” is not a twenty-four-hour day, but an entire age, a thousand years in length. The passing away of the heavens with a “great noise,” and the melting of the “elements” with “fervent heat,” are developments which occur in the opening years of this prophetic “day of the Lord.” Also to take place in this “day” is the establishment of a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”—ch. 3:13

The coming of the “day of the Lord” was to be as a “thief in the night”—unobserved by the world, with only those who are enlightened by the “sure word of prophecy” understanding the meaning of the events which would occur. (II Pet. 1:19) Paul confirms this, writing, “Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.”—I Thess. 5:4,5

One reason for the thieflike appearance of the day of the Lord, so far as the world is concerned, is the fact that the prophecies pertaining to it are couched in figurative, or symbolic, language. Those into whose hearts the Lord has shined by the Gospel, and thus have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, understand this language and are able to identify the foretold events of the incoming “day.” In these events they also see the “signs” which betoken the return of the Lord and the near establishment of his kingdom, symbolically described as “new heavens and a new earth.”


Much in Peter’s second epistle, and particularly the 3rd chapter, pertains to the time of Christ’s second presence. In verses 3 and 4 of this chapter, he explains that in the “last days” there would be “scoffers,” saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? [Greek, parousia, meaning presence] for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” In Acts 3:19-23, Peter explains that God’s message through the prophets to the ancients, or “fathers,” was that at the second coming of Christ there would be “times of restitution of all things.” Those who ask, Where is the promise or evidence of Christ’s presence, claim that there are as yet no restitution blessings reaching the world, and that mankind continues on in sin and death, as has been true throughout all the centuries since the promises of restitution were made to the “fathers.”

Peter’s reply to this is that the scoffers are willingly ignorant of the manner in which, by means of the Flood, a world came to an end in the “days of Noah.” These scoffers are of course, professedly students of the Bible, and should know of Jesus’ reference to the “days of Noah” as being illustrative of the “days of the Son of “Man,” the time, that is, of his second presence; for certainly Noah was present in the “days of Noah.” (Luke 17:26) Thus Peter reminds us that among the first “signs” of the Master’s presence are not restitution blessings, but destructive trouble foreshadowed by the Flood which destroyed the world of Noah’s day.

“The heavens and earth which are now,” Peter continues, are reserved “unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men.” (ch. 3:7) In other words, the “world” or social order which began with Noah and his family after the great cataclysm of the Deluge, was to continue—with various changes—until that period in the plan of God referred to by Peter as the “day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”

The coming of the Flood in Noah’s day meant “perdition,” or destruction, for the ungodly men of the antediluvian world. So the clay of judgment, the first age in the new world, will also be one of destruction for the ungodly. But Peter wanted us to realize that this destruction of the ungodly would not be precipitous as it was in the “days of Noah,” so he explains that this “day of perdition” will be a thousand years long. It will not require that much time to destroy the ungodly, the purpose of the thousand years being to give all mankind an opportunity to repent, to turn from ungodliness to righteousness.

After explaining that the “judgment day” is a thousand years long, Peter adds, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise [to bless ‘all the families of the earth’], as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (vs. 9) Thus we see that the “day of judgment” is to be a day of probation, and only those who, when fully enlightened, continue willfully in their ungodly ways, will be destroyed.—Acts 3:23

But in order that all mankind might be given a fair and full opportunity to turn to the Lord, unhindered by evil pressures all around them, and undeceived by the wiles of the Devil, it is necessary that the symbolic “heavens” and “earth” which are now should be destroyed, and the promised “new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” should be established. So, as Peter prophesied, this is among the first “works of the Lord” to be accomplished in the “day of the Lord.”—Ps. 46:8-10

Figurative Language

If Peter had referred only to the “earth” as being destroyed, students of prophecy could get the thought—if they failed to compare scripture with scripture—that he referred to the planet Earth itself. But his prophecy that the “heavens shall pass away,” precludes all reasonable possibility of such a literal interpretation, for the destruction of the physical “heavens” would mean the passing out of existence of the sun, moon and stars; or, we might say, the entire universe.

Obviously, then, Peter is using the “heavens” and the “earth” in a symbolic manner. In the figurative, or sign language of the Bible, practically all the material things of creation, as well as the various phenomena of nature, are used symbolically. God does not explain the lesson he teaches when he refers to sheep symbolically. He knew that we would understand the characteristics of sheep, and why, in certain ways, they so fittingly represent his people. Just so with the heavens and the earth and their relationship to each other.

All life on the earth is more or less subject to the influences exerted by the “heavens,” that is, the sun, moon, and stars; so the Lord uses this relationship to symbolize the civil and spiritual aspects of Satan’s world, as well as the corresponding phases of Christ’s kingdom, the “new heavens and a new earth.”

Replying to the question by his disciples, “What shall be the sign of thy coming [Matt. 24:3 Greek, presence],” Jesus replied, “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things coming upon the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”—Luke 21:25,26

It seems clear from this prophecy that the “sign” in the symbolic sun, moon, and stars is the fact that the “powers of heaven” would be “shaken,” or weakened. From a literal standpoint, should the powers of the sun, moon, and stars be weakened, there would certainly be distress upon the earth. The seasons would be thrown out of balance; the tides would fail to function normally; and there would be almost endless abnormalities of other sorts, causing untold suffering to the entire human race.

Similarly, the weakening of the powers of spiritual control over the affairs of men, symbolized by “heaven” and the “heavens,” is causing “distress of nations, with perplexity.” The godlessness of communism, with its deterioration of moral and religious standards, is posing a dire threat to the world at the present time, and there is widespread fear of what the outcome will be.

But communism is only part of the evidence that the “powers of heaven” are being “shaken,” or weakened. Religious concepts and standards are being flouted on every hand. This is being manifested in the increasing love for pleasure rather than for God; in juvenile delinquency; in race riots, and in various other ways. In the world-over situation, there is an increasing lack of respect for religious viewpoints and standards. Individually, and as groups, the people are determined to obtain their “rights.” They want no part of religious restraints which might hinder them from attaining thee’ own selfish ends.

True, a great religious revival is being acclaimed. Many new churches are being built, especially in the United States. Tremendous efforts are being made to unite the various groups of religionists, with some measure of success being attained. National and international conferences are being held from which are issued manifestos pertaining to what these groups will approve or disapprove in the conduct of world affairs; but little heed is paid to their proclamation.

This, seemingly, is what is foretold by Peter in his prophecy stating that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise.” (II Pet. 3:10) “Noise” is symbolic of confusion and boastful claims, and certainly the religionists of the world today are confused, and in their confusion, are making a lot of “noise.” They doubtless realize that their “powers” of control are being “shaken,” but they are not able to do anything about it except to issue manifestos, pass resolutions, and so forth, which go largely unheeded.

It is claimed, and in the past has been generally recognized, that religion is a deterrent to evil in human society. So, with godlessness increasing, society is becoming more and more chaotic. As the various “elements” of the symbolic heavens melt under the “fire” of selfish and inflamed human passions, the “earth” also—that is, the civil affairs of men—disintegrates. With this symbolism in mind, just consider the world situation today. There is confusion and trouble everywhere. One issue after another threatens to precipitate another global war in which it is feared the race itself might be destroyed.

And none of these issues are ever settled. Those involved temporarily, and through fear, retreat from their stand; but that is all. Meanwhile the “perplexity” of the nations continues and increases. No one has a solution! There is no way out! Such is the world situation during the beginning years of the “day of the Lord.” Just as the Flood destroyed the world in Noah’s day, even so this great “time of trouble” now upon the nations will destroy the “world” [the present social order] in this “day of the Lord.”

“Nevertheless,” Peter adds, “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (ch. 3:13) The power exercised over the world by the “heavens,” which are now melting, has been based upon fear, and has operated largely through superstition. God has permitted these heavens to function, but has not approved their viewpoints and methods. And now that the world is being enlightened and is throwing off its shackles of religious superstition, God is prepared to establish a “new heavens” that is, a new spiritual control over the people.

The resurrected, glorified, and returned Lord will be the chief One in the new “heavens.” With him will be associated his footstep followers, those who have suffered and died with him in order that they might live and reign with him. These are brought forth in the “first resurrection.”

These will be invisible to the world, even as the resurrected Jesus is invisible; and even as Satan, the “prince,” or “god,” of this “present evil world” is invisible. (John 12:31; II Cor. 4:4; Gal. 1:4) But there will be human representatives of these divine, invisible rulers. These are prophetically described as “princes in all the earth.” (Ps. 45:16) As the psalmist explained, these will be the ancient “fathers.” who, receiving life through Christ in what is described by Paul as a “better resurrection,” will constitute the nucleus of the “new earth.”—Heb. 11:35,39,40; Rev. 21:1,2,9,10

With this new governmental arrangement functioning, the whole world of mankind will be subject to moral and religious restraints. It will be a religious government, imposing laws of righteousness and justice upon the people. But it will not be upon the basis of fear. The people will not be threatened with eternal torment, nor with purgatory, if they do not obey the laws of the kingdom.

Instead, they will be enlightened concerning the true God of love. A knowledge of his love and glory will then fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) Through the new kingdom arrangements, God will turn to the people a pure “language,” or message, that they may all serve him with “one consent.”—Zeph. 3:8,9

In outlining the “signs” of his second presence, Jesus said that when we would “see these things” we should lift up our heads, knowing that our “redemption,” [Greek, deliverance] draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28-32) By the same token, it means that the deliverance of mankind from sin and death is also fast approaching. And now we do “see” these things, but we do not “fear” as does the world—even though man-made “moons” are sent swirling around the earth.

Just as David wrote, while we recognize that the symbolic “earth” is being removed and the “mountains”—the powerful governments of men—are being carried into the midst of the “sea,” that is, swallowed up by the turbulent, unrestrainable masses, we do not fear. Instead, as man’s order of selfishness “melts,” we rejoice in the assurance that soon God’s voice of “new heavens and a new earth,” will say to the raging masses of earth, “Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the heathen [the nations], I will be exalted in the earth.”—Ps. 46:1-10

Dawn Bible Students Association
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