The World On Fire
June 30th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THE WORLD ON FIRE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 3:5-13
6-30-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you to our First Baptist Church and to this early service in which the pastor is delivering a message entitled The World on Fire. It is a presentation of a revelation that God gave to Simon Peter in which he writes in the third chapter of his second letter these words:
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.
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, damnation, of ungodly men.
[2 Peter 3:3-7]
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, anastrephō, conduct—translated here conversation—in all holy ways of being, and godliness—
One of them is toward man in our conduct, the other, eusebeia, is toward God— 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 3:10-13]
I don’t think anyone in the earth could read that or listen to that being read without standing aghast at the revelation that God has made through this holy prophet and apostle.
He says, and everything that he said up to the time in which we stand, comes exactly true and is exactly so—he says that because God delays His coming, that there shall arise mockers, scoffers, walking after their own desires and passions, translated here lusts [2 Peter 3:3-4], saying, “We do not see any change in the course of the creation from the beginning that it was made to this present hour. All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. Now when you preach about the heavens rolled back like a scroll, we don’t see any heavens rolled back like a scroll. And when you talk about the Lord Christ descending in glory, we don’t see any Lord Christ descending in glory. All we see is the revolving of the earth on its axis as it has from the beginning, the sunrise, the sunset phenomenon and all we see, just things continuing as they always are.”
And they made a deduction from that. The deduction is that God doesn’t exist, or if He does, He certainly doesn’t intervene, and He doesn’t care about the people who live in this world. So they made a further deduction. It God doesn’t exist, and if there is no intervention and interdiction of God in human life, why then, we can give ourselves to every unnamable, unnamed sin in the world. And that gives rise to our modern life of promiscuity and high and low places of political and social and cultural sin and wrong and iniquity, even in Dallas.
Our crime rate is so vast and so great that women are afraid to walk on the streets some places in broad daylight. The deduction that is made that because there is no apparent intervention of God in human history, therefore we are at liberty just to do as we please. And of course such permissiveness gives rise to the very dissolution of society itself: personal, national, political, cultural, every wise in which our lives are involved.
Now it was that that gave rise to what Simon Peter here is writing. He is not writing about something that pertains to an age two thousand years ago. But he is writing about something that pertains to our day and to our time and to all days and to all times. So let us see what Simon Peter says when these scoffers and mockers look at the routine of the revolution of the world and all of the other things that pertain to its creation and its ongoing, and let’s see what Simon Peter says to that deduction that there is not any God and He does not intervene in human story.
All right, first of all he says that is not so that God does not intervene. God does intervene. And he gives here an example. His example is the destruction of the world, the judgment of the world by water:
By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the world, chaotic, destroyed, standing out of the water and in the water.
And the world that then was overflowing with water perished:
But the heavens and the earth that are now has been kept in store, reserved under fire against the day of judgment and damnation of wicked men.
[2 Peter 3:5-7]
He speaks there of the then world that was destroyed by water, and the now world that is being kept in store for judgment by fire [2 Peter 3:7]. Now, when you study that you will find some tremendous scholars and expositors saying that the references to Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, the destruction of the world by water in the beginning; the whole world, after God made it.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [Genesis 1:1], and if God made it, it was perfect. I cannot conceive of God doing an imperfect thing. I cannot conceive of God making the world as we know it now. As we know the world now, it is marred and defaced by sin. The earth is cursed, and the heavens are cursed, and man is cursed, and the whole life of creation, the animal world, the vegetable world is cursed. You see it everywhere, in every manifestation. The stars, some of them are burned out. This earth is blasted by deserts, and animal life travails, as Paul says in the eighth chapter of Romans, in agony, in bondage [Romans 8:22]. And we ourselves are victims of sin and death [Romans 8:23].
There are great expositors who say that the judgment of God mentioned here by water refers to the dissolution of the heavens and the earth that came when sin was first found in heaven, when Satan and his angels fell [Revelation 12:3-4]. And the whole earth became chaotic [2 Peter 3: 5, Genesis 1:2]. The water and the substance of land were all intermingled.
Then you have the story of the recreation in the first chapter of Genesis when God separated the land from the water: first, the waters above in the firmament, the clouds and the moisture in the atmosphere, the waters above [Genesis 1:6, 7]; and then the waters beneath, mingled in all kinds of dirt and rock and water. And then God gathered the water underneath in the great ocean beds and the dry land appeared [Genesis 1:9].
But until God did that, until God separated the waters above in the firmament from the waters below, and until God separated the water from the land [Genesis 1:6-7, 9], it was a great chaotic mass with water everywhere, mixed with all of the other elements. Now there are great expositors who say that this refers to that, the then world and the now world.
Then of course, there are expositors who would say that it refers to the [seventh] chapter of Genesis when God destroyed the world by water in the days of Noah [Genesis 7:17-23]. It doesn’t matter. Both are illustrations of what Simon Peter is describing. He is using that as an illustration of the fact that God intervenes. We have a tendency on the part of the infidel, the unbeliever and the mocker and the scoffer and the wicked man, we have a tendency to put God out there, not here but out there. And He is not interested or He takes no part in it.
There is an instance, Simon Peter says, when God intervened [2 Peter 3:5-6]. Now he does not use but just that one instance. We could stand here for hours on end and describe the intervention of God in human story. He is not out there somewhere. He is here and He judges and He intervenes.
Simon Peter could have used the illustration of Sodom and Gomorrah when God intervened by brimstone and by fire [Genesis 19:24-29]. He could have used the illustration of Sennacherib and the Assyrian army, when Hezekiah prayed and God heard his prayer and that night an angel of the Lord passed over the great army of Sennacherib. And the next morning one hundred eighty-five thousand corpses were counted in Sennacherib’s army [Isaiah 37:15-36]. God intervenes. Or he could have used the illustration of the intervention of God in 587 BC, when Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple was destroyed [2 Kings 25:1-21, 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. Or the illustration in 70 AD, when the judgment of God fell upon Judea and the nation was destroyed until God raised it out of the grave, the eighteenth of May in 1948.
God intervenes in human history. There is no limit to its illustration. The reason we are English speaking and the reason the world is dominated by English speaking people instead of Spanish speaking people was an intervention of God. In 1588 AD, God sent a wind and blew the Spanish Armada against the rocks and sank the greatest show of naval force that the world, up to that time, had ever seen. God did that.
Take again at how unusual does God do things. God can reach into His box of damnations and take out the most unusual things. In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte took what up until that time, was one of the greatest armies the earth had ever seen and marched into Russia. Napoleon, at that time, was the great dominating tyrant and military victor over the whole civilized world. He had all Europe in his hand outside of England, all of it. And he marched into Russia.
That winter, that winter when Napoleon, with his great army, was in Russia there began to fall softly, tenderly, sweetly, beautifully little flakes of snow. They would hardly have awakened a baby asleep, so soft did it fall. And it fell and it fell and with it the cold, and the cold, and the cold, and the cold, and the cold. And when that awesome winter was done, all through Russia were little mounds, little mounds covered in beautiful white snow. And underneath the mounds were the guns and the cannons of Napoleon Bonaparte. And underneath those mounds were the fallen bodies and forms of over five hundred thousand men. Snow, God’s snow.
Or take once again. Not long after 1945, I stood in the cities of Germany; as far as my eye could see and driving in a car through the great cities continuing as far as my eye could see; nothing but vast, illimitable seas of rubble. I could stand, as I did in a great vast city like Hamburg, bigger than Chicago, I could stand in the center of Hamburg and from horizon to horizon not see one building still erect, not one. As vast as the city was, just so vast its ruins, destruction, annihilation, an underneath that rubble, thousands and thousand buried alive.
Ah, but pastor, you don’t understand. You don’t read history correctly. That was an inadvertence. That was a happenstance. That was an adventitious come-to-pass in the story of Germany. I don’t believe that. That’s what the infidel says. That’s what the unbeliever says. But I don’t believe that. I believe it was a judgment of Almighty God. I believe it was an intervention of the hand of God in human story. I think God took out of His box of damnations and did that to Adolf Hitler. Why, I can remember when it looked for certain, absolutely certain, that Hitler would win the whole world. And when the United States entered the war under President Roosevelt, it looked as though we were entering the side that had lost.
But God did something. God did something! And that’s what Simon Peter is writing here. Men who have a tendency to say, “God doesn’t save, and God doesn’t care, and God doesn’t intervene, and God doesn’t interdict,” Simon Peter says these men don’t know. God speaks, and God judges, and God intervenes [2 Peter 3:5-6].
Now he goes on to say, why isn’t that intervention now? He says it is because of the hesitancy of the Lord to damn human life and to destroy the world. It’s because of the longsuffering of God who is not willing that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9]. And my next sermon is going to be on the longsuffering of God lest anyone of us should perish. Longsuffering. Simon Peter says the Lord is longsuffering, “not willing that any should perish.” But, says the apostle, but there is coming a time when the longsuffering and patience of God has worn out, and when God intervenes and interdicts, and then shall come the great, final, cataclysmic destruction of this world and judgment of God upon this world; this time not by water, but by fire [2 Peter 3:10].
So we are going to look at that just for a moment; by fire. You know, God outlines the future in great magnificent, panoramic sweeps of His words and of His revelations. But He doesn’t do it in detail. We have to wait until the end time for to fill in the details. But the great outline God plainly reveals. And He does so here in this remarkable passage. The world is reserved in judgment against the day of the intervention of God in the lives of wicked and unbelieving men. And that judgment, that final judgment, he says, shall be by fire [2 Peter 3:10].
Well, I think of that. You know, I spoke of the fact that God has in His box of damnations all kinds of things. The winds are His ministers. The book says so [Psalm 104:4]. Fire is His minister. The Book says so [Psalms 104:4]. The snow is His minister. All these things that you see in the world are in God’s box of judgments. And they are all ministers and fire is one of them.
What do the historians say about that? Pliny the Elder, one of the greatest, most gifted men of all time, Pliny the Elder said that it was a miracle that the world did not burn up any day. Isn’t it a strange thing? Pliny died in 79 AD, in the awesome eruption of Vesuvius in Italy. Pliny said it is a miracle that the world escapes burning on any day. He was referring, of course, to the evil times in which he lived.
Let us see what the chemist would say about that. You notice the apostle says here, “When the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the heavens and the earth shall pass away with a great noise” [2 Peter 3:10]. Isn’t that a strange thing? You had thought that Simon Peter had been to the latest class in chemistry. The elements shall melt with fervent heat [2 Peter 3:10].
There are about a hundred elements, every one of them can be reduced to liquid and finally to gas, every one of them. All of the metallic elements like iron and copper and zinc and aluminum and gold and silver, just name any of the elements, all of them can be melted. And it says that the heaven and the earth shall pass away with a great noise [2 Peter 3:10]. That refers to the sound of combustion when these elements combine.
When I studied chemistry in school, the teacher took a little vial, a little something of oxygen and a little something of hydrogen and put them together and ignited them. And they made an awesome sound, an explosion! And then he opened up the container and inside of it was a little drop of water. Hydrogen and oxygen, two atoms of hydrogen, one atom of oxygen, H2O, and you have water.
Those vast oceans out there and the great cloudy firmament above us made up of the most explosive of all of the elements that God has created. The atmospheric heavens around us, most of the air, most of the air is oxygen and nitrogen. Both of them are highly explosive. When a thing burns you call it a fire. It’s burning. All it is, is uniting with oxygen. That’s all. Nitrogen, nitrogen is in TNT. It’s in dynamite. It’s in nitroglycerin. The whole world of chemistry around us is pregnant with dynamite and explosives of the highest order and the highest character. All God has to do is just call on His elements.
Let’s take the witness of the geologist. The geologist says that this world is like a globular egg, and the thin cool crust around it is no thicker than the thickness of a shell, of an egg. And underneath this cooled off crust, the earth is molten liquid. And one of the signs of it, the geologist says, is the earth is flattened at both poles and is swinging around and is revolving around. It’s flattened at both posts as though the inside of it were molten. It is liquid. And when you go down any kind of drilling, the further you go down it gets hotter and hotter and hotter. And if you could go down far enough you would find the earth, the heart of it molten. It is liquid.
So unbelievable the stress, the pile of weight, the pull upon it, that all of those elements down there—and many of the chemists think the earth is molten nickel underneath—all of those things down there are at a vast temperature. We live, literally, on an earth that is burning with fire. And once in a while a little escape valve we’ll see. We call it a volcano. That’s what the geologist says.
Let’s look at what the physicist would say. The physicist would say that there is so much latent power in one drop of anything, as to blow up great cities. There is enough latent atomic power in one drop of water, I have read, to blow up a city of Dallas ten times its size, in one drop of water, and create a vast chasm here where the city used to stand—ten times as big as the city of Dallas in one drop of water.
I read a physicist who said that there is enough atomic energy in the ticket that a railroad agent would write for you to drive the train, to propel the train, around the world several times. Atomic fission, atomic power; all God has to do is just to speak to His elements, and the whole world burns on fire.
Let’s take the astronomer. What does he say? The astronomer looks into the heavens, and he finds stars exploding and turning into cinder and into blackness of night. You know, it’s an unusual thing. The Lord says that when this great cataclysmic day of judgment comes that the earth shall be turned to blood red and the sun will be black like sackcloth and ashes [Revelation 6:12]. What does that mean? Why, I think this is what it means. I think it means that the burning of the earth, the fire, the reflection of the fire in the earth will make the sun look red. And so vast is the explosion of the destruction of this earth, that the face of the sun is shut out until its black like sackcloth.
The intervention of God in human story; when will that happen? He says here that this will happen when God brings to pass the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men [2 Peter 3:7]. Well, I don’t need to be in darkness concerning when that is. This great fire, combustion, when the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the whole heaven and earth shall pass away with a great noise [2 Peter 3:10], he says that is coming to pass in the day of the judgment of ungodly and wicked men [2 Peter 3:7]. Well, all I need to do is to turn to the Revelation to find out when that is:
And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away: and there was no place for them.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God . . .
And the sea gave up the dead . . . and Death and Hell, Death and the Grave, gave up their dead, and they stood before God; and they were judged according to their works.
And Death and the Grave were cast into the lake of fire . . . . And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast in the lake of fire.
When is this great event, catastrophic, judgmental, that Simon Peter is describing? When does it occur? It occurs in that day of God’s judgment of the wicked dead. In that day the very heavens and the earth shall flee away from God’s face [Revelation 20:11], and that will be the day of the burning of the elements and the explosion that destroys this earth [2 Peter 3:10].
Now immediately you think, you say, bring to your mind as you look at it and study it, does it mean the annihilation of the world? It’s going to be destroyed, absolutely destroyed. Well, there are here again some marvelous commentators who believe that the whole earth and the whole heavens will absolutely be destroyed. I don’t think so. I haven’t thought so in the years that I was preaching through the Revelation. And in my studying since I have found no cause to change my mind. I think this is a renovation, a rejuvenation. It is a cleansing. It is a purging.
I don’t think anything that God made can be destroyed. I think God made it like that. You take something that you burn and you say, “Well, it’s just gone. It’s destroyed.” No. Every atom of it is still there. All of it. Matter, like God, is indestructible. It has that much of God’s character in it. And when you burn a thing, you just change its atomic structure. It’s now smoke, gas; it’s now ashes. It’s now in another form, but it is all there. Matter is indestructible. Whatever God made and created in the beginning is now and ever shall be. And I think that it is a renovation.
When Simon Peter says, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth” [2 Peter 3:13], I think that is the exact thing that follows in the Book of the Apocalypse after this story of the judgment of God and the destruction of the world [Revelation 20:12-15]. Immediately the next sentence is,
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old first heaven and the old first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
And I saw the holy city coming down . . . out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice from heaven saying, Look . . . the dwelling place of God is with men . . .
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor anymore pain: for these old things, these former things are all passed away.
I think and I have studied that as the best I could in that original language, I think that refers to a rejuvenation. I think it will be this earth, this earth. I think it will be those heavens, those heavens. Only it will be rejuvenated. It will be remade. It will be cleansed. It will be purged. And there won’t be any sin in it. And there won’t be any violence in it. And there won’t be any tears in it, and there won’t be any sorrow in it [Revelation 21:4]. And there won’t be any heartache in it. And there won’t be any disappointment and frustration in it. But it will just be as God intended from the beginning.
You know, I couldn’t illustrate that better than to think of a golden vase, a golden vase. And it’s marred, somebody stepped on it, and somebody else crushed it, and somebody else forgot it and neglected it—a golden vase. And the smithy takes it, and he melts it, and he remakes it. And it’s a beautiful new vase, shaped and fashioned and etched and carved just beautifully according to the artistry of the smith.
And I think of our world and our heavens like that. It will be this world, this one. It will be those heavens, those. Only it will be remade and reshaped, and it will be beautiful and perfect in the hands of God. Don’t you want to live in it? Don’t you? Don’t you want to be a citizen in that beautiful city that is coming down from God out of heaven [Revelation 21:1-2], coming down to this earth, renovated earth, cleansed earth, purified earth [Revelation 21:3-5], an earth wherein God’s glory and God’s happiness overflows, covering every life and blessing every heart? Oh what a wonderful, wonderful day!
Shall we be afraid then of this awesome time of fiery judgment? Why, no. Why, no. You know God puts things in the Bible for our comfort and for our encouragement. There were three of the Hebrew children thrown into the fiery furnace. And there came a fourth walking by their side, the Son of God [Daniel 3:25]. And when the king called them out there was not a hair of their head singed, nor was the smell of fire found upon their garments [Daniel 3:27].
Isn’t that a beautiful thing? And God put that there for us and for our assurance. When that awesome day comes, the day of God’s catastrophic judgment, there will not be a hair of our head singed, nor will there be even the smell of fire upon our raiment. God shall preserve and keep His own, He hath promised [John 3:16, 10:27-30].
You know, looking at these children here, these young men and women, reminds me of a time long time ago when some of our young people went away to a camp. And when they came back they were singing a chorus. That’s the first time I ever heard it, when those boys and girls came back from that retreat singing this chorus. Now do you remember it?
Oh my loving brother when the world’s on fire
Don’t you want God’s bosom for to be your pillow?
Oh hide me over in the Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages cleft for me.
Did you ever hear that? Could you sing it with me? Let’s try.
Oh my loving brother when the world’s on fire
Don’t you want God’s bosom for to be your pillow?
Oh hide me over in the Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages cleft for me.
[“When the World Is On Fire,” traditional]
That’s Jesus. And that’s what God has done for us that we might not fear or tremble before any future. God says there is a day of judgment coming [Hebrews 9:27], but the same Lord God says to us who hide in the cleft of the rock, in the Rock of Ages, in the sheltering guardian love of Jesus, you don’t ever need to be afraid. He is our strength and our refuge and our shield [1 John 2:1].
While we sing our hymn of appeal, that family with you, your wife, your children, if God speaks today, would you come and join heart and hand and life with us? Would you do it today? A couple or just you, if you are in the balcony at the topmost seat, there is time and to spare. In this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “I am coming.” Giving your heart in trust to Christ [Romans 10:8-13], putting your life in the circle and circumference and fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], answering any call God would lay upon your heart, while we sing this appeal, making the decision now, come now. Walk down that aisle now. Make the decision open and public before God and men. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.