Forestry experts state that not all wildfires are created equal. In fact, some forest fires act as cleansing agents for old and overgrown forests and make them healthier. We often think of fire in purely destructive terms, but Scripture also uses fire in the context of renewal (cf. Matt. 3:11), and this helps us understand our passage for today.
It seems that 2 Peter 3 contradicts yesterday’s text (Rom 8:18–23), where we saw a link between our redemption and that of creation itself. Our reading suggests that creation will be destroyed and not redeemed. How do we understand this seeming tension?
First, note that Peter compares the Flood to the coming “Day of the Lord” (vv. 5–7) in terms of the suddenness of judgment and its effect. God brought the Flood to cleanse the world of sin (Gen. 6:5–7), and at its culmination the world was covered in water with only a dove hovering above it (Gen. 8:8; see Gen. 1:2). Through the Flood, God “recreated” creation with Noah, a new Adam. So too Christ’s coming will fully renew the created order. The idea of judgment as a “refining fire” has its roots in the Old Testament (i.e., Micah 3:2–4).
Second, translations over the centuries have sometimes indicated that creation will be “burned up” (NKJV), but “will be laid bare” is truer to the Greek word used here, heurethesetai, which literally means, “will be found.” First Peter 1:7 uses this same verb to describe how we are refined by the fire of trials. As we go through them, we are to look forward to a new heavens and a new earth, which will be characterized by righteousness. In anticipation of this, we should make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with God.