When the World Is on Fire (Part 1)
October 16th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
WHEN THE WORLD IS ON FIRE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 3:3-13
10-16-60 7:30 p.m.
Now I know you would like to read with me this marvelous passage of Scripture. It would be a tragic thing, of course, were it not for the faith we have in the Lord, “When the world’s on fire, He will hide us over in God’s bosom” [from “When the World’s on Fire,” Carter Family, 1930]. There will not be the smell of smoke on our garments, the flame will not pass upon us [Daniel 3:27]; it’s a great promise. And I’m going to preach about it tonight. So let’s read the passage; 2 Peter, 2 Peter 3. Let’s start at verse number 3; 2 Peter 3, verse 3, and read through verse 13. Now sharing your Bible, let us all of us read it together; 2 Peter 3:3-13:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after 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 the creation.
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
But 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.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
[2 Peter 3:3-13]
All of this came because of the skeptical scoffers who looked up into the sky and said, “I don’t see any Lord coming.” And if they thought that in the year in which Simon Peter wrote this epistle, think of how much has been lent to the credits and to the credibility of the scoffer who says after two thousand years, “We’ve been looking and watching and there’s not any change. As all things were from the beginning, so are they now. As they were in the days of Adam, as they were in the days of our fathers, so are they now. All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” [2 Peter 3:3-4].
And to that Simon Peter has two answers. His first one is this: all things have not continued as they were from the beginning of the creation. For there have been times in the history and the story of man when God has intervened and interdicted. And he uses one instance, and he could have used a thousand like instances. The instance that he uses is one most appropriate and most terrible. There was a time when the earth went along as it had from the beginning of the creation of God, then the Lord intervened and God destroyed the earth by water [2 Peter 3:5-6]. Things do not go on, Simon Peter says, without interruption and intervention from God. And his use of that one instance is just one out of a thousand and a thousand others that he could have used. He could have spoken of Sodom and Gomorrah when God intervened [Genesis 19:24-29]. He could have spoken of the armies of Sennacherib when God intervened [Isaiah 37:33-37]. He could have spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem when God intervened [1 Chronicles 21:15].
All of these calamitous wars, the overthrowing of empires, and the destruction of dynasties, these are the appalling interventions of God in human history, bridling the human race lest it lose itself in a headlong abyss of atheism, and blasphemy, and villainy, and rascality, and greed, and hate, and war. The intervention of God, Simon Peter says, is always latent, and always possible. It’s one of the imponderables of life. And things do not go on as they are in an even course, some say, from the beginning. But God changes and God interdicts.
The second thing that Simon Peter says here is that the reason this interdiction of God, and this intervention of God, does not fall is because the Lord is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” [2 Peter 3:9]. God is slow to strife; the Lord refrains from smiting the wicked. But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t notice it, that He doesn’t look upon it, that He isn’t cognizant of it. And it doesn’t mean that the Lord is removed, and far away, and takes no interest in this world in which He made. It is just because God fain would give men another hour, another chance, another opportunity, to come to repentance and be saved.
But, Simon Peter would say, though the Lord tarries in His longsuffering, and though His vengeance waits, yet it surely comes, and it burns hot like an oven. The mills of the gods grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine. And when God’s wrath, and when God’s judgment doth fall, it cuts to the bone. It destroys and it damns. Then he uses the illustration here of the final day of the Lord. Not by water will God destroy this evil, and blaspheming, and adulterous, and unbelieving, and unregenerate, and denying, and cursing, and ungodless, and materialistic generation; not by water, but this time God shall destroy it by fire [2 Peter 3:10].
Now the Lord reveals these great, cataclysmic, future events in broad outline. When you try to fill in the outline, you’ll fall into difficulty. Many, many of these things we will not know certainly how they fit in, and just when they’re coming to pass, until the day that the thing is fulfilled, when the thing is done. But the great, broad outline God has revealed in His Book, and the great Architect of this destiny has a place for every stone that He has labeled. And we’re not to fling any of them away as being idle superstition. Every stone of this revelation, and every one of these great outlines, will fit perfectly and beautifully in that final day when they’re fulfilled in the word and promise and reality of the Lord.
Look what he says here: he says, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved . . . looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” [2 Peter 3:11-12]. All of you people who’ve studied Greek, all of you, “seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved,” the Greek word there is luomenon. And every Greek grammar in every college, and every seminary all over the world, every grammar I’ve ever seen, your paradigm for the conjugation of the Greek word, of the Greek verb is luō, luō, luomen, luote, luō. The paradigm for all the conjugation is luō, and it means to loose, “to dissolve” it’s translated here. Luomenon then, is the present passive participle, “Seeing then that all of these things are now being dissolved” [2 Peter 3:11]. Peter is avowing an unusual thing. He says we are in this great dissolution now. He says the stage is being set for this great dissolution that comes from God.
Well, Simon Peter, how is this thing? When you speak of the world being destroyed by fire, that is the absolute end time. This is not the beginning of the day of God. That’s the consummating end of the day of the Lord. Well, how is it that Simon Peter says these things are all now being dissolved? What Simon Peter had just said was this: that “a thousand years is with the Lord as a day, and a day is as a thousand years” [2 Peter 3:8]. And he is avowing that in the purposes of God, in the great denouement of God, in the working out in time, and in history, and in our lives, and in humanity, of these ultimate final purposes of God, we’re in them now, he says. “A thousand years is as a day.”
Next Sunday morning I’m going to preach about The Time on God’s Clock. These things are even now shaping up to those great final judgments of the Almighty. The Book says that these tribes are going to return to Palestine [Ezekiel 36:24-28]. And out of the grave of a two thousand years has there been resurrected the Jewish nation, in your day, in your lifetime. And even now, these great powers are aligning themselves on the east and on the west, and they’re being challenged to take one side or the other. It looks as though this thing is shaping up for that great final battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:13-16].
However day a man lives, and whatever the time and the era, it is a part of this great final dissolution of God. These things are even now being dissolved, says Simon Peter [2 Peter 3:11], and that final judgment is just at the door. God is not far away, but the Lord is near. And faith can hear the pounding of His steeds, and faith can hear the rumble of His chariot wheels. For this judgment day of God draweth nigh. Then he describes that final day:
It shall pass away with a great noise.
And the elements shall melt with fervent heat.
And the earth and the works shall be burned up with fire.
And the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved.
And the elements shall melt with fervent heat.
[2 Peter 3:10-12]
All of the works of men: these great cathedrals, these vast cities, these objects of art, the skill and cunning of men, all of it shall be burned up. This whole world shall be turned back to a molten mass. The forests shall flame and smoke, the mountains shall run down in molten lava, the whole earth and the heavens above shall be cast into that primeval flame out of which God first shaped and made this creation [Genesis 1-2].
“Well, pastor, isn’t that an unusual, far fetched thought and idea?” It is attested by everything that we meet and everything that we know in life. This world shall be dissolved and shall be burned up by fire, says God [2 Peter 3:10-12]. And everything you read, and everything you know, if you’ll open your ears to hear and your eyes to see, will give attestation to this great revelation here in the Book of God.
The historians attest to it. Pliny, who lived in the early days of the Roman Empire, said, and he said it many times—he said, “It is a miracle that this earth is preserved from burning for a single day.” And in the ironical turn of fortune, Pliny was destroyed in Pompeii, in the awful eruption of Vesuvius.
It is attested to by the chemist. It says here, “in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” [2 Peter 3:10]. When I was down there in school taking chemistry—that was the biggest piece of foolishness that I ever saw for a minister of the gospel, teach him chemistry. Even Dr. Irvin would say that that’s unusual for a preacher, that he’d be taught chemistry. I went to the professor and I said, “Why didn’t you give me A+ in this course in chemistry? I made a hundred on the final examination, and I carried through all of those tests during the course. Why didn’t you give me a hundred?” The only reason I could do a thing like that is, I could memorize easily. So I memorized everything in chemistry, and I made a hundred on the examination. And I said, “Why didn’t you give me A+?” And he looked at me right square in the eye, and he said, “I’ll not give anybody an A+ who is as little interested in my subject as you are.”
Well, he didn’t know the half of it; chemistry—law me!
The chemist down there took a little hydrogen gas and put it over here in this thing. Then he took a little hydrogen gas and had it in this container. Then he put the two of them together and put a spark in there and it blew up! Then he opened the container where the explosion had been, and there was a little drop of water on the inside. My, my! If that big of explosion comes from one little drop of water, think what God can do with this universe with an ocean of water! Why, it scares you to death, frightens you to death. And that’s what the chemist says: that when this explosion comes, and those elements turn to primordial, primeval flame, “It will come,” says this man Peter, “with a great noise” [2 Peter 3:10], and the chemist says the same thing. And this preacher attests to the sound thereof.
What does the geologist say? The geologist scares you to death. He’s just like all the rest of them. You know these preachers used to scare the wits, scare the [wits] out of people. Now it’s the scientist that does it. You know what these geologists say? They say that this earth is a liquid, molten core, and that there’s just a thin crust on the outside of those awful flames and liquid rock that’s just underneath us.
And they say that if you go down into the earth, every sixty-five feet it heats up— every forty-five feet it heats up one degree Fahrenheit, and that there is no known rock that will not liquefy at the depth of sixty-five miles. And this earth is seven thousand miles all the way through. And at sixty-five miles down there in the crust of this earth the tremendous weight and pressure of the vast heaps above it turns those rock to liquid fire!
And these volcanoes are just fuses, just vents, to keep the thing from exploding down there. And if any water gets down there it comes back up in steam, and in spouting geysers. Every time you walk, you’re walking over the fires of the deep right down there, right underneath you. And there’s only this thin crust that separates between the ocean of water above and the ocean of fire beneath. Oh! All God has to do would be to, just to shove this crust just a little that way and break it up in that sea of liquid mass upon which it floats. These geologists say another thing: that this world, as it turns, as it whirls, this world is liquid because it is flattened at either pole just the same amount as if you whirled a liquid mass. The thing’s hot on the inside; it burns on the inside; it’s a lava flow on the inside. That’s what the geologist says.
And then when you come to the physicist, you’re absolutely just scared out of your wits. One of those physicists that I read about said that there was enough atomic energy in the paper of a railroad ticket to drive the train twenty-five thousand miles around the earth. Michael Faraday said that in every drop of water there was latent electricity enough to make a blinding flash of lightning. And when you get through listening to these modern day physicists as they describe all of this atomic fission and what’s going to happen if we have another nuclear war, it scares you to death!
And then what about the astronomer? He bears witness to the same thing. He trains his telescope up there to the heavens and he says, “I see stars explode, and I see them turn to flaming mass, and I see them die out. Stars that used to be in great and first magnitude now are burned-out cinders.”
Why, no matter where you turn, whether in literature, whether in science, whether in the daily newspaper, you see that same startling revelation that you find here in this third chapter of 2 Peter. The world shall be destroyed by fire, and all the works of man therein shall be burned up [2 Peter 3:10].
Now Simon Peter does an unusual thing here. He identifies that great final destruction with the judgment of ungodly men [2 Peter 2:9]. And when you turn over here to the Book of the Revelation, there is that same thing revealed in more detail. “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the mountains and the earth and the whole earth fled away . . .” [Revelation 20:11]. There was scattered before Him the great and the small . . . “out of the sea, and out of the graves, and out of the earth,” and they were judged according to things which were worded in the books [Revelation 20:12-13]. This is the Judge of the damned; this is the judgment of the lost, the ungodly, and they were cast into the lake of fire [Revelation 20:14-15]. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old earth and the old heaven were passed away” [Revelation 21:1].
This great final destruction of the earth Simon Peter links with the judgment of the ungodly [2 Peter 2:9]. And at that great end time when God judges the ungodly, that’s the time when the world’s going to burned up with fire! [2 Peter 3:12]. And that seems to be the way that God has done this in adumbration through all of the centuries. It was in connection with the ungodly that the Lord looked down and saw when the sons of God, the line of Seth, joined to the seed of Cain; the ungodly union of church and state. The Lord said, “It is enough! I have had enough” [Genesis 6:1-7], and He destroyed the world by water [Genesis 7:17-24]. It’s connected with the ungodly. And when God looked down on Sodom and Gomorrah, that same thing: the judgment of the ungodly [Genesis 19:24-29]. This destruction of the world by fire is linked with the iniquity of mankind. The Lord is purging His creation [2 Peter 3:10, 12].
Then he says here, “it will come as a thief in the night” [2 Peter 3:10]. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t been warned, it means that men cannot conceive of its approach. It’s a thing beyond what a man can think of and what a man could accept. It will come as a thief in the night.
When I hear some of these atheists strutting around on the stage of the world today, and they spur any invitation, even to go to church—ah! I think of the wrath that is being stored up in heaven against the ungodly in this ungodly earth; as a thief in the night suddenly and without warning, but it doesn’t mean annihilation [2 Peter 3:10].
Simon Peter says here that there’s going to be a new heaven, a new heaven in the place of the old heaven, and a new earth in the place of the old earth [2 Peter 3:13]. There’s no such a thing in physics of the annihilation of matter; you can’t burn up an atom. Nor can you destroy anything that God has created. You can change its form. You can turn it into energy and energy back into matter. But you can’t destroy it. And so it is in this great apocalyptic, cataclysmic end time. There’s going to be a destruction. There’s going to be a purging. There’s going to be a fire, a flame, a burning [2 Peter 3:10]. Then God will take it and mold it again [Revelation 22:1]. He is going to take out of this world the mark, and the trail of the serpent and the dragon [Revelation 20:2-3], and He is going to put in it the light and the love and the glory of God [Revelation 21:23]. He is going to take this old molten earth, destroy it by fire [2 Peter 3:10].
Where are you going to be in the meantime? I haven’t time to talk on these things, we would be here all night. Where’re you going to be in the meantime? You’re going to be up there in that holy city, the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-3]. And when God has reshaped this earth and made us new heavens, and made us a new planet, and made it according to the beauty and glory of His own marvelous grace and goodness, bless your heart! “I saw the heavenly Jerusalem come down from God” and descend to this new earth and this new heaven [Revelation 21:1-2]. Ah, we’ll have a lot to say about that as we get into the Revelation pretty soon. God is going to purge this old earth, and make it new. And He is going to remold it and refashion it and make it glorious, like His own glory. And then the Holy City is going to come down, and here in this place we’re going to live with the redeemed, world without end [Revelation 21:1-3].
Then he makes his appeal: seeing then that all of these things are in that dissolution, the winged time of God speeds on. “What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation” [2 Peter 3:11]. Wherever you see that word “conversation” here in the King James Version, just put “living” there, “in all holy living and godliness.” In view of these great cataclysmic events of God, what kind of people ought we to be? This is the kind we ought to be [2 Peter 3:11].
John Bunyan begins his Pilgrim’s Progress with Christian, the Pilgrim, in the City of Destruction. And Evangelist calls him, like I’m calling here tonight. Evangelist calls him, and Christian, the Pilgrim, turns his back on the City of Destruction and turns his face to the City of God. And his wife pleads with him to come back, and his children cling to his garments. But the Pilgrim is on the way to the heavenly city of the Lord. That’s the kind of persons we ought to be. Don’t bind yourself down with the materialisms of this life; we’re going to leave it. It’s going to be burned up some of these days by fire. Set your face to the heavenly City of God. What kind of a person ought we to be? In all, holy living toward men, and in godliness toward God.
What kind of a person should a man have been in the days of the Flood? As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man [Luke 17:26]. What kind of people should they have been? They should have been people who turned and listened to the pleading of the preacher Noah, and have found refuge in the ark, and be saved like this preacher preached tonight [2 Peter 2:5]. Come into the ark of safety and be saved. What kind of people should they have been in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah? “As it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man” [Luke 17:28-30]. What kind of people? They should have listened to the righteous man, Lot, who vexed his soul with the filthy conversation and living of the men of Sodom [2 Peter 2:7-8].
Isn’t it strange how God’s people sometimes can be, get so enmeshed in the world, so compromised in worldliness, that God has to come down and seize them and pick them up. “For,” said the angel, “the fire cannot fall until you have escaped” [Genesis 19:22-24]. And as long as you’re here in this world, the fire can’t fall and the judgment can’t come. When God takes you out of the world, as God took Lot out of the world [Genesis 19:22-24], as God took Noah and put him in the ark and closed the door [Genesis 7:16]—the judgment can’t fall, the fire can’t come as long as you’re in it [Genesis 19:22-24]. And some of us are so compromised we have to be forced out of it [1 John 5:16].
And some of us thank God, some of you thank God, that put your heart and soul in the hands of Jesus, that the thought of leaving everything here and going to be with Him is a precious comfort and a sweet promise indeed. That’s one reason that I say awful illness is not always an unmixed blessing. When we’re in health and strength, and affluence, we like this world; we want to stay in this world. But when God cuts us down, maybe we can’t see, and maybe we can’t walk, maybe we’re in pain everyday and all through the long weary night, then you will hear God’s children whisper “O come, come, blessed Jesus! O come, blessed Jesus!” God has a purpose in these illnesses and in these troubles and trials that sweep over the soul of God’s children.
And that fire; Nebuchadnezzar looked in there, and he said, “Come, didn’t we put three men in the flame and the furnace? Three!” [Daniel 3:24].
“Yes, O king, there were three.” Nebuchadnezzar said, “But I see four, and the face and the countenance of the fourth is like the Son of God” [Daniel 3:25]. And he commanded them to be brought forth. And not a hair of their head was singed. And the smell of smoke had not passed over their garments [Daniel 3:26-27]. The Lord kept them and preserved them and saved them; and that’s what He is going to do for us, bless His name. We’re going to be saved. He is going to take us to Himself [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And when this world’s renovated, and when it’s burned up [2 Peter 3:10], and when the ungodly are judged [2 Peter 3:7], we’ll be with Him in heaven! [Revelation 21:1-3].
And when the Lord is done with the fury, and done with the burning, and done with the fire and the flame [2 Peter 3:10], and He has a new, wonderful heaven and a new, wonderful earth prepared, then we are going to be in that heavenly city coming down to earth [Revelation 21:1-2]. And we shall hear the angel cry, “The tabernacle, the dwelling place of God, is with men.” No more deaths, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more crying, for all things have been made new—new. He that sitteth upon the throne said, “I make all things new” [Revelation 21:3-5]. It’s the new world, and the new age, and the new day, and the new time, and the new city, and the new life, and we can have it now; and then fully someday, when He comes.
I must close. While we sing this song of appeal, and while we press this invitation, and while our people pray that the Spirit will speak to your heart, will you come out of infidelity, and out of atheism, and out of unbelief, and out of rejection, and will you come to Christ? “Lord, humbly here I am and here I come. I’ve said ‘no’ to Thee for the last time. I’ve refused the invitation of the preacher for the last day. Here I am and here I come. And when God numbers His saints and He calls the roll, Lord, put my name in that list. Here I come and here I am, simply trusting, looking to Jesus” [Romans 10:9-10]. “Pastor, here’s my whole family. We’re all coming tonight: this is my wife, these are my children.” As the Spirit shall lead the way, shall say the word, shall make the appeal, shall open the door, would you come? If you’re in the balcony, down one of these stairways and to the front, in this great throng on this lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front; “I give you my hand, pastor. My heart I do give to God [Ephesians 2:8]. Here I am, here I come.” Would you make it tonight? Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.