As Sure as Heaven and Earth
by Pastor George Van Alstine
Human life is based on the absolute predictability of the heavens and the earth. We need to know that the sun will arise every morning. Our planting and harvesting depends on regular seasonal changes. A volcano gives us a tiny exposure to the earth’s molten core, but if it all came gushing to the surface, living things would be entirely wiped out. As long as there have been reasoning beings on the earth, men and women have looked at the patterns of stars in the night sky, and they have found them to be remarkably precise in their relative positions, moving, but always along predetermined paths. One’s health may be up or down, the bottom may fall out of the economy, close relationships may turn sour, but the heavens and the earth are always the same, and that’s greatly reassuring.
Jesus often spoke in parables which were based on the regularity of nature, but he also wanted his hearers to know that these apparently eternal heavens and earth were not, in fact, eternal at all. There was a time when they did not exist, and there will come a time when the current natural order will cease to be. The Ultimate Reality is not the heavens and the earth, but their Creator. Jesus prayed to his Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matthew 11:25). He taught that people should not make vows in the name of the heavens and the earth, as if they were the lasting Fact in the universe: “Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth, for it is his footstool” (Matthew 5:14). In this saying he was declaring that the heavens and the earth only have meaning as they fit into God’s anatomy; their reality is derived from his.
In defense of God’s law, as treasured by his Jewish people, Jesus said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped” (Luke 16:17). The word of God is prior to and takes precedence over the created natural order. This hearkens back to the Genesis account of the beginnings of the heavens and the earth, which describes God as speaking the universe into existence: “Let there be . . . And it was so.” (Genesis 1:6-7, etc.). It’s striking that Jesus also used this same terminology in reference to his own authority: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33).
The author of 2 Peter reflected the fact that Jesus’ followers in his day took this all quite literally. They expected the existing natural order to be destroyed as part of the judgment day they believed would be coming quite soon, triggered by the triumphant return to earth of their Lord and Savior. Apparently some unbelievers ridiculed this idea:
“First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
These people were arguing from the predictability of the natural order that nothing ever changes. The author answered in words that show the influence of Jesus’ teaching:
“They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens came into existence long ago and an earth was formed . . .” (vs 5)
In fact, the current continuity of the natural order, far from proving this will exist eternally, is another expression of God’s control:
“By the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.” (vs. 7)
The author alludes to that coming judgment in picturesque words:
“The heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be burned up.” (vs 10) . . . .
The heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire.” (vs. 12)
When will this all happen? Well, it’s been 2,000 years since these words were written, and the stars all seem to be still in place. As if he anticipated the possibility of this long delay, the author writes:
“With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” (vs. 8)
You see, he is Lord over time as well!