Second Peter 3:5-7:
For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

Peter was describing a past judgment in Noah’s time and relating to how God would use a similar way around His promise to Noah by destroying earth without using water. They were awaiting His Coming of Jesus and they knew that the coming would be in judgment towards an Apostate nation.

You have to see the context of Second Peter 3, starting with verse one in order to understand the message he was writing. This is one key principle in interpreting the scriptures. Context is king.

2 Peter 3:1-2
Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us,[a] the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 

In this letter, Peter is going to remind his readers about some specific words and commands given from:
(1) The Old Testament
(2) Jesus, and
(3) the apostles. He actually made mention of the Apostle Paul later in the text.

2 Peter 3:3-4
knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 

Eze 34:16 says
16 I will seek the lost and bring back the strays; I will bandage the injured and strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them – with judgment!
Jesus first coming was to seek and save that which was lost and He also declared that he came for the sick as it was only the sick that need the physician. But for the Pharisees and Saducees who were content with their righteousness and led the nation away from the reach of the father they would receive judgment.
Peter now clarified that he is referring to Jesus’ promise that He would “come,” this is clearly a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. The historical context of Peter’s writing is between AD 30 and AD 70. At that time, the Jews were bringing tremendous persecution upon the Christians and getting the Romans to participate too. The Christians were clinging to the hope of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 that judgment was about to come upon Jerusalem and the religious system. As we see in the above passage, the Christians were being mocked for believing that Jesus was actually coming to bring judgment upon the Temple.

2 Peter 3:5-7
For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
Peter then responds to the mocker’s statements by showing how God has judged before and affirming that God will judge again.

2 Peter 3:8
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

Many people have used this scripture to make prophetic mathematics work in their wild end-time theories and doctrines. Yet Peter was simply quoting from Psalm 90:4, he was not proposing a formula by which to figure out when the world would end. Psalm 90:4

Peter is NOT saying that to God, time is vague or relative. Peter is quoting from a Psalm, which speaks of how time is of little value or importance to an infinite eternal God. Time is real to God, but not in the same way as it is for us. So when it seems to take too long for us, for Him it will happen in moments.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,[b] not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

In Matthew 24:34, Jesus said His words would come to pass within a generation. Here is a simple equation for the timeframe of his prophecy: AD 30 + forty-year generation = AD 70. In the scriptures forty years represent a generation. Jesus could have come back in AD 50, midway through the prophesied generation, but He chose to wait until the last moment of His forty-year prophecy so that people would have more time to repent. This is similar to what their fathers experienced in the wilderness. God had to wait for them forty years to enter the Promised Land.

2 Peter 3:10
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

The phrase the elements will melt is tremendously is the key to understanding the whole chapter. What elements are being described?

The word for “earth” used here in the Greek is ge, not kosmos. Ge is the word for “land,” whereas kosmos is the word for “the whole world.” This is not about the destruction of the planet earth (kosmos), but it is about the destruction of the land of Israel (ge). When this destruction happened in 70AD, it was the most devastating thing in Jewish history. Just as Jesus said in Matthew 24 “For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen.

The sacrifices were stopped, the priesthood was killed, the Temple was destroyed, the Levitical records burnt and the buildings were leveled to the ground. Jerusalem was laid bare. Up till now the Jews cannot reassemble the temple and worship based on the requirements for it.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming… (2 Peter 3:11-12). 

The question Peter throws to his readers is: “Considering that this great wrath is about to be poured out upon the religious system, how should one live?” Peter encourages his readers to live godly lives as they await the arrival of the Day of the Lord.  This is not a remote reference as we find throughout the New Testament that the first-century believers were eagerly awaiting the coming of the Lord. He doesn’t want their persecution to be as a result of them being guilty of wrong acts but because of the testimony they held.

1 Cor. 1:6-8
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Phil. 3:20
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

1 Thess. 1:9-10
For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Peter continued his letter, saying:
…That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat (2 Peter 3:12). 

The Greek word Peter uses for “elements” is Stoicheion.  This word appears only five other times in the New Testament

Gal. 4:3, 9;
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.
But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 

Col. 2:8, 20;
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
20 Therefore,[e] if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—

Heb. 5:12
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 

In each occurrence, it refers to the basic principles of the Mosaic Law. The law is the ABC of living that why Apostle Paul describes those under it as immature children. In context, these elements concerned rituals and observances of feast days (see Gal. 4:9-10). Thus, Paul was trying to keep his readers from coming under the principles of the Law again

New Heaven and New Earth
In the next verse of Second Peter 3, Peter makes an important shift:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

Up until this point, Peter has not yet quoted from the holy prophets of old. In verse 13, Peter makes a departure from the words of the apostles (Paul and the destruction of the Jewish elements) and from the words of Jesus (about the destruction of the land). And Peter begins to quote from the holy prophets of old:

For, behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind (Isaiah 65:17 NASB).

“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD… (Isaiah 66:22 NKJV).

Like Peter and the holy prophets, we also are looking forward to the new heavens and the new earth John also saw this in Revelation 21:1
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

The old heaven and earth that passed away was the temple and city of Israel and now the heaven and earth is the temple in the believer and Jesus. This is where righteousness dwells, Christ in us the hope of glory. The new testament was enthroned at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

We can learn two important points from this passage in Second Peter. First, we see that Peter was not speaking about the whole world being destroyed by fire. The word elements was, rather, a reference to the Mosaic Law. The Law was passing away. Second, by doing our research, we discover that not one verse in the New Testament predicts the destruction of the kosmos, of planet earth. When the New Testament speaks of the destruction of the world, it uses the root word ge, which means “land,” not globe. There is not one verse that predicts the destruction of the globe. I personally believe that God doesn’t want to be preoccupied with how it will end but to occupy ourselves spreading the kingdom. The kingdom will keep across barriers, nations, tribes and tongues and we will all witness the explosion of the gospel in areas where darkness once reigned. 

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