The End: "All these things shall be dissolved"
The disciples asked the Lord Jesus one day, "When shall these things be? and what of the end of the world?" (Mt 24.3). Such questions about the end have often been asked, as have the questions about the beginning, which we considered last month.
Many attempts have been made to provide answers, and even give dates for the end, some based on ingenious calculations which only their exponents can follow, others by attempting to extract from history the fulfilment of specific prophesies of Scripture, still others from superstition! But our Lords words are apposite: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons and ye shall be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1.7-8). Curiosity about future times must not turn us from present responsibility. It is not that God has not told us about the future. Much has been told us, particularly that the Lord is coming soon. But when, we do not know! We do know, however, that the Rapture will initiate events which will take place on earth and in heaven, as revealed in the Scriptures, before the end does come.
This earth is the platform (or stage) upon which the great drama of redemption is being worked out. The effects of that wonderful work will be everlasting, but the earth on which it happened is not everlasting. We are now going to look at what will happen to the present creation, how it will end.
2 Peter 3 declares that there are three different "heavens and earth":
(1) "The heavens were of old, and the earth" (v.5): the "world that then was". They were overflowed by the waters of the great flood of Genesis 7.
(2) "The heavens and the earth, which are now" (v.7). These are reserved unto fire in the day of judgment which is yet future.
(3) "New heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (v.13), which John also saw in his great vision (Rev 21.1), when the former things had passed away and there is an eternal state of blessedness.
"The heavens and the earth" in this context is the total environment made for man. To show how this present "heaven and earth" will end, three instructive phrases are used in the New Testament: they will be "delivered up", they will be "folded up", they will be "burned up".
1 Corinthians 15.24 tells us of "the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power". What is described here is the ultimate and full victory of our Lord Jesus over every enemy which has invaded this world, including the "last" one, death (v.26). This earth, since mans fall in Eden, has been the scene of much rebellion against God, of the relentless struggle of evil against good, of wars and strife, of centuries of sadness and sorrow for mankind. But also on this earth Gods Son appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and to deliver from Satans power all those who trust in Him. That work at Calvary is the guarantee of ultimate liberty and eternal triumph for the redeemed.
So, before the present heaven and earth reach the end of their appointed time and purpose, there has to be the full and final overthrow of every enemy and the subjugation of every rebel force. Christ will do that, via the great battle of Armageddon in the land of Israel, and then around a thousand years later, the final battle of all, which concludes with the devil being cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20.10). All His enemies will be put under His feet. In "righteousness he (will) judge and make war" (Rev 19.11). Our blessed Lord will deliver up to God the Father a fully completed and perfected work of grace and government on this earth where it began.
Among the superior glories of the Son of God described in Hebrews 1 is His creatorial power (vv.10-12). In the beginning He laid the foundation of the earth. We marvel again at the works of His hands. From our view-point they seem so permanent. Even Scripture speaks of "the everlasting hills" (Gen 49.26). But they are not permanent. "They shall perish wax old"; He will "fold them up, and they shall be changed".
The figure is that of a garment which has served its purpose, but is already showing signs of wear and tear. That is what we see all around us, for example in the diminishing of the earths resources as raw materials are used up, as sea and land become plundered and exhausted of food supplies, and as energy resources dwindle. This planet has supported man and countless other life forms for several millennia, but the task is getting harder. The "garment" is getting thinner and is stretching to near breaking point.
What will happen next? Our Lord Jesus will fold it up not allow it to go into tatters. Just like an old worn coat, it will be folded away and replaced with a new one. He is in control, so that when the appropriate time comes, He will change this present environment altogether and introduce a better one which will not grow old. But He will not change. He remains the person He has ever been. He will outlast the work of His hands. "Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail" "the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Heb 1.12; 13.8).
The words of 2 Peter 3 give a different picture. The context is about God keeping His promises, even though the ungodly do not think so. They think that things just go on and on and on as usual. The chapter points out how God does interrupt history, in a drastic way, first with a great flood, and next with a great fire. His time scale is different from mans, however. He is longsuffering and He never sends judgment without first sending mercy and opportunity to be saved.
The present world, we are told, is reserved unto fire. "The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." The graphic language of vv.10-11 presents a scene of total destruction, even annihilation "pass away with a great noise elements shall melt with fervent heat all these things shall be dissolved".
Words such as these have been used about catastrophic events which this world has already witnessed, and which may provide a clue to the fulfilment of 2 Peter 3. The terrible destructive force of nuclear explosions is well known. In these, small amounts of matter are converted into energy almost instantaneously, with extremely devastating effects. Nuclear fission (as in the atomic bomb or in a reactor for production of electricity), and nuclear fusion (as in the hydrogen bomb) are processes which release immense amounts of energy. This is a consequence of the way that God designed the atom.
Atoms are composed of a nucleus containing protons and neutrons with energy fields to keep them in place, and electrons which move very quickly around the nucleus, also in their energy fields. But by far the biggest part of every atom is empty space between the nucleus and the moving electrons. So when an atom collapses, these vast amounts of energy are released, and where there was solid matter there is just empty space, nothing. Einsteins equation shows how much energy can be obtained from matter, and matter (the stuff of the universe) can be thought of as a form of energy or power.
Now this agrees with the fact that all things were created and are upheld "by the word of his power". That power is there for His purposes of providence or government. At the appropriate time that power will be released in the disintegration of the earth and everything in it. That same eternal power will then rebuild a new and better world altogether.
It is solemn to realise that everything around us, made up of atoms, already contains the means and mechanism of its destruction. The world of Genesis 6 was like that too - the waters of the flood had been stored in a huge vapour canopy above the earth and in fountains deep beneath. Another example of this may be the existence of earths greatest rift valley up through North Africa all the way to the Jordan valley, where we are told that profound geological changes will one day occur to split the Mount of Olives and bring a sea of waters to Jerusalem (Zech 14.4-8). God, who knows the end from the beginning, has everything in place for His purpose long before it is required.
Delivered up, folded up, or burned up this world will reach the end of its appointed purpose. But Christ and His Kingdom are eternal, and His people will share His glory "throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph 3.21).
To be continued.