John Owen on “Heavens and Earth” in 2 Peter 3

I like John Owen, I really do. His books like The Mortification of Sin and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ are wonderful and time-tested treatments that should be read more than once.

Recently, though, while preaching through 2 Peter at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I was studying the verses in chapter 3 where Peter speaks of the “heavens and earth,” and disagreement with Owen arose when I read one of his sermons.

In a sermon called “Providential Changes, An Argument for Universal Holiness,” he takes 2 Peter 3:11 as his main text but also addresses the larger context as he sees it. Owen’s statements about the “heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3:7 and 3:10 are not the traditional take on the phrase.

First, the verses under consideration:

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly….But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the [elements] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:7, 10).

Next, Owen’s interpretation of the phrase “heavens and earth”:

“…the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, and day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state…” 

And later in the same sermon, “[Jesus] will come, he will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God himself planted,–the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church,–the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinacy against the Lord Christ,–shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed.”

Essentially he is arguing:
(1) “heavens and earth” (in 3:7 and 3:10) refer to the Old Covenant with Israel, not to creation
(2) the coming of Jesus on the “day of judgment” (3:7) and “day of the Lord” (3:10) is not his Second Coming but his judgment on the Jerusalem temple in AD 70
(3) the fiery judgment foretold in 3:7 and described in 3:10 refers not to a final judgment of the ungodly but to the end of the Old Covenant at the AD 70 temple destruction
(4) this means the “new heavens and a new earth” in 3:13 refer not to a future new physical creation but to the New Covenant fully established

I’m not convinced Owen is right. In his sermon he provides other arguments and texts to bolster his reading, but I think there are better arguments and interpretations of those same texts that point away from Owen’s interpretation.

What do you think of the quotes above? Does his interpretation seem like the natural reading of “heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3? I say no.


Compiling Some Quotes on God’s Sovereignty

Here are some excellent quotes on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, with occasional application to salvation or suffering:

  • John Piper: “We must simply listen to God when it comes to the sovereignty of God. We must have God tell us what it means for him to be sovereign, lest we import limitations or possibilities into God that he doesn’t find in himself.”
  • Jonathan Edwards: “Absolute sovereign is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”
  • Kevin DeYoung: “For many Christians, coming to grips with God’s all-encompassing providence requires a massive shift in how they look at the world.”
  • Loraine Boettner: “Amid all the apparent defeats and inconsistencies of life God actually moves on in undisturbed majesty.”
  • Eugene Merrill: “Any view of God that assigns him any role other than that of sovereign over all creation results either in an ontological dualism in which he is coequal with the material and/or spiritual universe or at least renders him limited in some aspects of his nature and work.”
  • Bruce Ware: “The sole criterion for understanding the nature of divine sovereignty is simply this: whatever God tells us in Scripture about his lordship and sovereign rulership over the universe is what we should believe, because this alone can be the infallible truth about his sovereignty.”
  • D. A. Carson: “To put it bluntly, God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of his sovereignty, yet evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to secondary agents, to secondary causes.”
  • Mark Talbot: “How the Creator’s agency relates to his creatures’ agency is to be categorized quite differently from how any creature’s agency relates to any other creature’s agency.”
  • Wayne Grudem: “In every case where we do evil, we know that we willingly choose to do it, and we realize that we are rightly to be blamed for it.”
  • Mark Talbot: “Scripture reveals that both human agency and divine agency are to be fully affirmed without attempting to tell us how this can be, because we have no way to understand it, no matter what Scripture would say.”
  • Christopher Wright: “God acts through human actions–without turning people into puppets.”
  • John Calvin: “Are you prepared to believe that nothing is lawful for God that you do not fully understand?”
  • James Spiegel: “…if we were blind to the higher (and now obvious) good that Christ’s tortures served, then how much more might we be blind to the higher good served by the sundry other moral evils that vex us?”
  • John Piper: “There could be no greater display of the glory of the grace of God than what happened at Calvary.  Everything leading to it and everything flowing from it is explained by it, including all the suffering in the world.”
  • John Stott: “The doctrine of election is the product of divine revelation, not of human speculation.  It was not invented by Calvin of Geneva or Augustine of Hippo.  It is above all else a biblical doctrine and no biblical Christian can ignore it.”
  • R. C. Sproul: “Among the mass of fallen humanity, all guilty of sin before God and exposed to his justice, no one has any claim or entitlement to God’s mercy.”
  • D. A. Carson: “The problem, again, is that biblical truths are not being permitted to function in biblical ways.  Inferences are being drawn from things truly taught in the Bible that are being used to disallow what the Bible clearly says elsewhere.”
  • John Piper: “The teaching of Scripture on election has been controversial.  But I believe with all my heart that it is precious beyond words and a great nourishment for the Christlikeness of faith.”
  • Charles Spurgeon: “Cheer up, Christian!  Things are not left to chance: no blind fate rules the world.  God hath purposes, and those purposes are fulfilled.  God hath plans, and those plans are wise, and never can be dislocated.”


John Elliott on “Judgment” in 1 Peter

What does 1 Peter teach about God’s judgment?  On p. 804 of his Anchor Bible commentary on 1 Peter, John H. Elliott provides a helpful summary:

The judgment of God…is both inclusive (4:5-6) and impartial (1:17), involving the living and the dead, nonbelievers and believers everywhere.  The honor or shame it brings will be meted out according to each one’s deeds (1:17) relative to God’s will and each one’s response to Jesus Christ (2:4-10; 3:16).  All creatures (cf. 2:13) are accountable to God their Creator (4:19).  This universality and impartiality of divine judgment is firmly accented in early Christian tradition and is stressed repeatedly in 1 Peter. 

Russell Moore on the Resurrection from “Tempted and Tried”

When I first read Russell Moore’s Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ (which you should buy and read if you haven’t), the following paragraph moved me deeply:

“But sometime before dawn on a Sunday morning, a spike-torn hand twitched. A blood-crusted eyelid opened.  The breath of God came blowing into that cave, and a new creation flashed into reality.  God was not simply delivering Jesus–and with him all of us–from death, he was also vindicating him–and with him all of us.”

From Tempted and Tried, p. 125.

Bonhoeffer on Why Christians–Not Psychologists–Know the Human Heart

“The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.  The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is….And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness.  Only the Christian knows this.” 

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 115.

Randy Alcorn on Repenting of Materialism

In For the Fame of God’s Name, Randy Alcorn contributed a chapter entitled “Dethroning Money to Treasure Christ Above All.”  He writes:

“Financial stewardship seems to be the last bastion of accountability.  People are more open about their sexual struggles than battling materialism.  Some churches are talking about getting out of debt.  I applaud that.  But you can be out of debt and still be stingy and greedy.  We don’t need to become smarter materialists; we need to repent of materialism” (emphasis mine).

For a great read, get Randy’s excellent little book The Treasure Principle.

Tom Schreiner Defines the “Glory of God”

New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner contributed a chapter to For the Fame of God’s Name entitled “A Biblical Theology of the Glory of God.”  He gives the following definition of God’s “glory”:

“I would define the glory of God as the beauty, majesty, and greatness of who he is; therefore, in all he does, whether in salvation or in judgment, the greatness of his being is demonstrated.”

D. A. Carson on the Importance of the Gospel for Discipleship

Today I read some great words by D. A. Carson.  In For the Fame of God’s Name, he contributed a chapter called “What is the Gospel?–Revisited,” and the following statements concern the believer’s need for the gospel:

“…if the gospel becomes that by which we slip into the kingdom, but all the business of transformation turns on postgospel disciplines and strategies, then we shall constantly be directing the attention of people away from the gospel, away from the cross and resurrection.  Soon the gospel will be something that we quietly assume is necessary for salvation, but not what we are excited about, not what we are preaching, not the power of God….Wherever contemporary pursuit of spirituality becomes similarly distanced from the gospel, it is taking a dangerous turn” (p. 165).