When the World Is On Fire (Part 2)
October 30th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
WHEN THE WORLD IS ON FIRE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 3:10-13
10-30-60 7:30 p.m.
Now, the sermon tonight will close the Book of Simon Peter, and then we enter John and Jude, and then the Revelation. Turn to 2 Peter 3, verse 10, and we start reading at verse 10 and read to the end of the chapter. Second Peter 3, verse 10, and read to the end of the chapter. All of us have it? Second Peter 3:10 to the end of the chapter; now let’s everybody read it together, out loud like it was written to be read, out loud. Second Peter 3:10:
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.
Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.
[2 Peter 3:10-18]
Now the title of the sermon is When the World Is on Fire. The title that is printed is, The New Heavens and the New Earth. The climax of the sermon tonight will be of that new heaven and that new earth; but as I prepared the message, it seemed infinitely better to wait until I preached through the Revelation to speak of the new heaven and the new earth at length. So tonight we shall follow the passage. Simon Peter here says, by the revelation of God, that this world will not remain as you now see it. He says that this world is going to be rejuvenated. It is going to be remade. All of the tracks of Satan, all of the slime of the serpent, all of the dregs of iniquity and sin are going to be effaced and destroyed. And out of this world, God is going to reshape and to remake a new, and a perfect, and a beautiful, and a righteous, and a heavenly creation.
Now as I said this morning, Simon Peter writes this for a twofold purpose. First, he is encouraging the saints. Lest we be weary in waiting, and lest we think that the powers of darkness are going to overwhelm us, unless a man might fall into despair that we are going to lose this final battle, Simon Peter writes this word, that there is coming an interposition, an intervention of God in human history, and by God’s own right hand, He will bring a triumph to our Savior and to our Lord’s people. That is to encourage us and to send us with a new uplifted heart and spirit in the way of our work and ministry. Then, of course, he wrote this as an answer to the scoffers who looked up at the heavens that were clear and said, in Noah’s day, “It never rained. We never saw rain. It is not going to rain.” And who looked upon the face of the face deep and said, “These great oceans are held in the arms of the sage. They could never overflow.” And all the while that Noah was building an ark on the dry land, hundreds of miles from where it could be floated, all of the scoffers, and all of the cynics, and all the unbelievers, and all the blasphemers came by and mocked the old man, and laughed at the old man, and jeered and made fun of and ridiculed the old man. But Noah, the preacher of righteousness [2 Peter 2:5], for one hundred twenty years, spoke of the judgment of God that was yet to come [Genesis 6:3]. And however they might have scoffed, and ridiculed, and believed, and jeered, and jibed, and made fun, the Flood came according to the word and promise of God. And those who were not ready perished! [Genesis 6-7]. Simon Peter uses that intervention of God in human history to say things do not continue always in their course [2 Peter 3:5-7], but in God’s elective purpose and in God’s elective time, when God says it is enough, when the last soul has been saved and the last name has been written according to election in the Book of Life, the great end time shall come, and the judgment shall come, and God shall destroy this world by fire in order that He might, that He might make out of it the new creation that shall glorify and bless His name forever [2 Peter 3:10-13].
Now, there are two great forces in nature. One of them is water and the other is fire. And both of these does Simon Peter use here as instruments of God in the judgments of God upon the world. Water, and that was in the days of the Flood [2 Peter 2:5], and then he says, this world that we now see is reserved by the same word of God that destroyed it in the Flood [2 Peter 3:10-13]. That same word of God now preserved this earth until the word of God shall be spoken that shall bring that ultimate and final kataklusmos. That is the Greek word used here, and we take that word kataklusmos and take it into English and make “cataclysm” out of it. The great kataklusmos he speaks of in the ninth verse [2 Peter 3:9]. And then he says here in the seventh verse, that these heavens, and this earth that now is, is stored up in fire against the day of judgment [2 Peter 3:7]. A thesauros —literally, the meaning of thesauros is “to treasure up.” Here it would be a better translation to say “stored up.” That is, the fire is already in it! The fire is already underneath it! The fire is already about it! The fire is already above it! What Simon Peter is saying that the instrument, by which God shall judge and destroy this world, is already here [2 Peter 3:7]. It’s not something He is going to bring from outer space. It’s not something He is going to create at the last minute. It’s not some mysterious something He is going to bring up from the deep. But this world is stored in fire this minute! And the great active agent for the destruction and perdition of this evil world is already present.
Now isn’t it a strange thing, that when our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of that great and final consummation, that He used those same two illustrations of water and of fire? Our Lord said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man” [Luke 17:26-27]—the water that destroyed the earth. Then, our Lord in the next syllable said, “As it was in the days of—as it was in the days of Lot—in the days of the cities of the plain, in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the days when they were destroyed by fire, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man” [Luke 17:28-30]. There have been two great cataclysmic catastrophes in the history of the world; one, the destruction of the world by water [Genesis 6-8], and the other the destruction of the cities of the plain by fire [Genesis 19:1-29]. And both of those cataclysmic destructive forces and powers are figures of that great and ultimate judgment when God shall dissolve this world by fire and shall create the new heaven and the new earth [2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1-5]. Now this is not a strange or a new thing that is revealed in the Word of God. You will find the revelation of that great, ultimate, and final judgment all through the Word of the Lord, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
May I read for you if you do not mind just a few of the typical passages of that final judgment that we read in the Word of God? In the Book of Joel, for example, the second chapter and the thirtieth and the thirty-first verses, Joel says, “And I will show wonders”—talking of the Lord—”and I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” [Joel 2:30-31]. Then here is a typical passage from the Book of Isaiah: “Behold—
Behold, behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel, cruel in wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and God shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not give her light.
And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
Then, this is a typical passage—out of the Book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 32:7-8: “And I shall put thee out—and when I put you out, I will cover the heavens, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. And the bright lights of heaven I will make dark over thee, and set darkness upon the land, saith the Lord God.”
And here is a typical passage out of the New Testament. In the words of our Lord in the apocalyptic chapter of Matthew 24:29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” And once again in the Book of the Hebrews, Hebrews 12:27: “And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” All through the Word of God, all through the Bible, you will find that same—that same dark threat. You will find that same heavy, heavy and dark shadow. There is a day of judgment coming. There is a day of the fierce, burning wrath of God, and there is a day when the Lord shall destroy this world by fire! [2 Peter 3:7, 10-13]. And those that are not able to stand in the presence of God shall perish in that awful and terrible conflagration [Revelation 20:15].
Now Simon Peter in speaking of it speaks of three things that are going to be destroyed; “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; into the which,” first, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise,” second, “and the elements shall melt with fervent heat,” and third, “the earth also and the works thereof shall be burned up” [2 Peter 3:10]. First of all, the heavens are going to pass away with a great noise, with a great catastrophic explosion, like a gigantic hydrogen bomb increased ten thousand million times! Now there are three heavens that are spoken of in the Scriptures. There is the heaven of God. That’s called the third heaven, where God dwells. There is the heaven of the stars, those great planetary systems that are out there that you see in the Milky Way and in the sidereal spheres. That’s the second heaven. And the third heaven is the heaven above us, the heavens where the birds fly, the heavens where the airplanes go, the heavens where the clouds and vapors all gather, the heaven that is above us. Now that is the heaven that Peter speaks of when he says, “And the heavens are going to pass away with a great noise,” he is speaking of the heaven above us [2 Peter 3:10]. It is going to enter some kind of a vast explosion, and with a great noise, it’s going to be taken away. That’s the place where Satan has his principalities. That’s the place where the demons, and the devils, and the powers of the air who circle this globe and who hound it and persecute it and who drive it into sin and blasphemy and despair and madness, that’s where they have their principalities [Ephesians 6:12]. And God is going to destroy it with a great explosion! And Peter says that this thing is stored in that fire right now [2 Peter 3:7].
Wonder what that refers to? Why, it is very evident and very plain. Did you know this atmospheric heaven above us, all of this vast above us, did you know it is composed of mainly, almost altogether two elements, oxygen and nitrogen? Oxygen is the one element without which you don’t have any burning. When a thing burns up, it is merely the uniting of oxygen with another element, with the consequent release of light and heat and energy. Fire and burning is just the union of oxygen with some other element. Down here in the Coleman Hall, I so often see the women when they have a banquet and those beautiful candles are burning. And after the candles have burned a while and they burn low, I see them take a spoon and they put it over the flame, and the candle goes out. Wonder why that candle goes out? What is in that spoon to put out a fire? Nothing in that spoon puts out a fire. But when they put the spoon on top of that flame, it cuts off the oxygen, and the flame dies itself. If you want to kill a thing that is burning, cut off the oxygen from it. If you want to heat up the flame, as in a blowtorch, turn on the oxygen, and it will turn blue with heat. Think of the oxygen that God has at His disposal. This world is stored up for fire! And then the other element in the atmosphere above us is nitrogen. Isn’t that a strange thing that the two most explosive elements in this earth are right there above us? Nitrogen—in any kind of a manufacture of these explosives: dynamite, TNT, nitroglycerin, nitrates, nitrogen is a vital component part. And the nitrogen in this atmosphere above us, the Lord only knows how much is at His disposal, “And the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, with a vast explosion” [2 Peter 3:10].
And then the second thing, “And the elements shall melt with fervent heat” [2 Peter 3:10]. That word “fervent” there, kauson; our English word “caustic”; a caustic acid, a caustic soda. By “caustic,” you mean “burning”; and kauson, the Greek word used there, with fervent heat, kauson, that means a terrific burning. There is not an element that cannot be melted, whatever the element is. Our world is made up of about ninety-six or ninety-seven elements—oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sodium, iron, zinc, lead, gold, silver, aluminum, calcium—all of these elements, and every one of them can be liquefied, and every one of them, whatever it is, can be melted. And they can boil with fervent heat; kauson, caustic. And isn’t it the strangest thing in the world? Here is this great atmosphere above us, oxygen and nitrogen, highly explosive. And here beneath us and below us are these great illimitable oceans made of oxygen and hydrogen. Isn’t that the strangest thing? Hydrogen, they used to put in dirigibles, but it is so explosive that they dare not use it any more. So they substituted another element, helium. Hydrogen is one of the most explosive elements in the world, and all of these elements are right here at God’s hands. Peter says this earth is stored with fire, ready for it to be inflamed by the word of God [2 Peter 3:7]. Why, it scares you to death just to think about it.
I lived in Amarillo in the days when the great oil fields were discovered out there. And they had a fellow out there name Pick Thornton. And he put explosives in the wells in order to make it blow. They would drill a little hole down there about that big around, about a mile deep, and then this fellow would come along and go down there about—send down there about a mile his explosives. And they would blow out a great big area at the base of the well. And then the oil would pour into that pool down there, and then they would pump it out. Well, he was an authority and world famous on using those explosives to blow a well. So one day, he made a speech to the Rotary Club in Amarillo. And on a table, he had all of his explosives from one side to the other. Here was dynamite, and here was nitroglycerin, here was TNT, here was black powder, and here was white powder. And here was all kinds of his explosives. They were all up there. And then he would just handle them as though they were nothing. You know, he would flip them around and talk about them, and he scared the bunch to death. And finally, he picked up a little vial just about that big. And he said—he said, “This is the most explosive of anything in the earth.” And he said, “If I were to drop this, it would blow this whole building wide up and open.” And you know what happened? While he was a-talking and a-flipping things around, he just happened to lose that out of his hand, and it fell out there on the floor, and everybody jumped! Have you got a nickel? I have a nickel in my hand. There is enough atomic power stored up in that nickel, if it were released, to blow up a city ten times as big as the city of Dallas. “Law, preacher, don’t drop it. Don’t drop it. Don’t drop it!” That’s what Simon Peter’s talking about. He says God has stored up in this world this great power by which He is going to make this thing turn into an atomic bomb. Thank you, [handing nickel back].
And the third: “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” [2 Peter 3:10]. This world shall catch fire. It shall flame. It shall burn! Did you notice a recurring thing in all of these passages from the book that I read? Did you notice it says, “And the moon shall be turned red like blood”? [Joel 2:31]. And did you notice all of those passages say, “And the sun shall be darkened as though it were covered and veiled with black sackcloth”? [Revelation 6:12]. And did you notice those passages say, “And the stars shall fall out of their courses—out of heaven”? [Revelation 6:13]. Did you notice that? All that refers to this gigantic, terrestrial conflagration, when the great fire comes to burn up this earth [2 Peter 3:10]. When he says, “That moon turns red” [Joel 2:31], it is going to be red with the reflected light of this burning orb. And when it says, “And the sun shall be black with sackcloth of ashes” [Revelation 6:12], it refers to the great columns of smoke—pillars of smoke that are referred to in one of those passages I read [Revelation 9:18]—pillars of smoke that shoot out into space ninety three million miles and covers the face of the sun until it is black like sackcloth of ashes. And did you notice where it says there, “And the stars shall fall out of heaven”? [Revelation 6:13]. That is, when this earth explodes and when God burns up this terrestrial sphere, that the movement of it is going to shake these other planets and these other stars out of their courses. And it is going to look as though they are falling from heaven as they are deflected from their regular orbits. God says He is going to shake the heavens and shake this earth and all of these things may be taken away that the things that cannot be shaken may remain [Hebrews 12:27].
Last Sunday night, you know, I referred to the fact that we’re just walking on an eggshell. And that is literally a comparison of how we live in this earth. The eggshell on the outside and the semi-liquid contents on the inside is a fine proportionate figure of the earth on which we live. And the crust is just about the same in proportion to our earth as an eggshell is to the semi-liquid contents on the inside. And on this crust, we walk, the shell of this globular egg. But on the inside of that globule, there is fire and heat. And these men say that the heat down there is fifteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit. And the molten mass of this earth is filled with the fury of the burning of God! When Peter says this world is scorched by fire, he is referring to the agency that is already here out of which God shall make a new heaven and a new earth [2 Peter 3:7].
Now, he says an unusual thing, a remarkable thing! He says, “Looking for and hastening 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. But we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth” [2 Peter 3:12-13]. How in the earth could Simon Peter ever say a word like that? “Looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of the Lord,” why, it scares you to death! How does he say, “We are looking, longing for, and hastening unto; our spirits go out to, earnestly seeking for, waiting for, hoping for, praying for that day of the Lord”? [2 Peter 3:14]. Why, it frightens you? No, no! What Peter knows is this, that God’s people, God’s redeemed people; we’re all with our Savior when this great conflagration consumes this earth.
The Lord and the thief, “Behold, He comes as a thief in the night” [2 Peter 3:10]. He is coming first, the first thing, our Lord is coming to steal out of the world His pearl of price [Matthew 13:51-52]; to take out of the world His jewels [Matthew 14:44], to take out of the world the treasure hid in a field [Matthew 13:44]. First, all of God’s children are going to be taken up with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And up there in glory, maybe we can watch—maybe we can see the fury of the conflagration and burning and destruction of the evil in this earth. Maybe we can watch Satan as lightning fall out of heaven [Luke 10:18]. Maybe we can see God triumph over His enemies. I don’t know what it will be like, but Simon Peter says to God’s people, that is the day of our climactic victory; it’s the day of our final and ultimate triumph. And he says we are to look forward to it [2 Peter 3:12-13]—when God shall take Satan and bind him and put him in the pit [Revelation 20:1-3], when God shall wipe away the stain and the track of the old serpent [Revelation 12:9, 20:2], and when God shall remake this world beautiful and perfect [Revelation 21:1-5].
Man, do you ever think about those things? How was it in the days of Eden when Satan wasn’t there [Genesis 2:8-25], and when the first parents walked in nobility, and in holiness, and in righteousness, and in beauty, and they talked to God face to face, and every tree gave its fruit, and the lion ate straw like an ox, and all of the animals were domestic [Isaiah 11:7, 65:25]. The whole world was beautiful in the hands of God, and then Satan marred it! [Genesis 3]. But look, when it is burned, that does not annihilate it. Burning does not annihilate anything. It just changes it from this into gas and fire, smoke and ash. Nothing in matter has ever been annihilated, and God is not going ever to annihilate anything. When a vase made out of gold is worn and beaten and battered, the goldsmith can take it and melt it and make it again into a beautiful and perfect vase. That’s what God is going to do with this world. He is going to take this world, and He is going to melt it down again; He is going to put it back into its primeval elements, and then He is going to reshape it and remold it, and He is going to make it perfect. Every tree will be perfect, every river will be perfect, every stream will be perfect, every rock will be perfect, every field will be perfect. Every part of the mountain, every part of the sea, every part of this glorious earth will be perfect and beautiful. And when God has prepared it—the new heaven and the new earth—then we are coming down out of heaven, the heaven of God, coming down in the beautiful city of Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem, and we’re coming down to this earth [Revelation 21:1-5], and God shall have made it for us [Revelation 21-22]. The Lord shall have prepared it for us. God shall have swept it clean for us, the Lord God shall have made it beautiful and holy and glorious just for us.
And we are going to live in that beautiful city. And you fellows that want to fish, man, you can get you a pole and go out and fish in any stream and catch whatever your heart’s desire. If you want a trout, there is the trout. If you want a bass, there is a bass. And if you want a crappie, there is a crappie; you can just fish to your heart’s content. And all of you fellows that like to hunt; I don’t know what you are going to do because there won’t be anything to kill. Oh, the lions will come up and lick your hand, and all the elephants will come up and put their proboscis around you and hug you real tight. All the leopards and the wolves are going to follow you around like little tame dogs, and you’ll be a-petting them, the cheetahs and all those creatures that now scare us to death just to look at us. The panthers, and the cougars, and the lions, and the tigers, all of them going to be around us in peace. Why, bless your heart! Why, you can hardly think of it. “When the wolves shall dwell with the leopards, when the wolves shall dwell with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; when the lion shall eat straw like an ox, and when a little child shall lead them. Girls and boys playing in the streets thereof; and when they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain. And when the earth is as full of the knowledge, and the love, and the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:6-9]. Man, don’t you want to see that? O Lord! I want to be, I want to be there in that day. My soul, my soul! And there won’t be any of us that are cripple there, and there won’t be any of us that are blind there, and there won’t be any of us that have to sing with our hands because we don’t have any ears to hear, but the deaf can hear, and the blind will see, and the cripple can walk. And the sinners are all washed clean and pure, and God’s children sing and shout in His presence world without end. Say, hold my hand while I shout, “O Glory! Glory! Glory!”
I tell you, as I move to that Book of the Revelation, my heart begins to sing. It seems like a climax doesn’t it, to what Jesus has done when He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21], and what the martyrs have suffered when they preached to us, and the consummation is the day of redemption, when the Lord comes again [Revelation 19:11-21] and gives us back all that we have loved and lost for a while, our fallen creation—holy and pure, stainless and spotless, without sin and blemish—all of it, God shall give us again. We’ll go over and sit down under the tree of life, and drink from the water of the river of life [Revelation 22:1-2], and we’ll look into God’s face and live [Revelation 22:3-4]. My, my! “What the Lord hath in store for those who love Him, for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Why you’d—man! How could you say “No!” to Jesus? “I’m not interested.” How could you say “No!” to God? “I don’t care about that.” How could you say “No!” to the Spirit of appeal? “I’m not interested in that.” Why man, outside of that it is death, it’s the grave, it’s the fire, it’s the judgment, it’s the separation, it’s the perdition! And in the loving arms of Jesus, all of this and heaven too; why, I never heard of such a bargain in my life as for a man to come up and say, “Jesus, I think I’ll take heaven.” What does it cost? And Jesus says, “I have already paid the price, here, it is free, for nothing, take it!” Take it? Take it in your heart, take it in your life, take it in your soul, take it in your home, take it with you when you die! Take it with you to heaven. It’s your eternal inheritance that can never pass away, take it, take it, take it [1 Peter 1:3-4]. Just by faith, just by loving, just by trusting, just by bowing, just by yielding, take it, all for the asking, and it’s for you, it’s for you.
While we sing this appeal tonight and while we make this song of happiness reign tonight in our hearts, isn’t it, “There’s a Land That’s Better than Day”? Isn’t that what it is? “In the Sweet By and By,” while we sing that song of appeal, somebody give his heart to Jesus. And somebody to come into the fellowship of His church, would you come and stand by me? Would you make it tonight? “Here I come, preacher, and here I am. I give my heart to Jesus gladly, gladly, gladly.” Or, “Here, we are coming, pastor, into the fellowship of the church.” “I make it tonight. Here I am and here I come.” Would you so? Would you so? On the first note of the first stanza, down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and to the front, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” Would you make it so? While we stand, and while we sing.