Will God destroy Creation?
I don’t believe God has purposed to utterly obliterate this creation. I believe in light of Genesis 3:17-19, 5:29 in particular and Genesis 3—8 in general (and see Romans 8:19-20) that God cursed the creation and that in Jesus Christ that curse is removed (see Romans 8:20-23). In the hymn Jesus Saves we sing “Earth shall keep her Jubilee, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”
The year of Jubilee, of course, was the year of a new beginning (see Leviticus 25:8-17, 50-55). After seven cycles of seven years (sabbatical years) the Year of Jubilee was the fiftieth. The blowing of the ram’s horn (shophar) on the Great Day of Atonement signalled national cleansing and a new start that embraced the entire nation. Jubilee was the eighth year after seven sevens; it was eight, the number of new beginnings. Toil on the land was forbidden that year and the land freely gave the nation its food. All debts were cancelled and prisoners were freed (details were worked out) and the land inheritance returned to the original owners, those to whom God gave it (as stewards—for the land always remained God’s land and could not be sold in perpetuity).
I believe that the final removal of the curse is heralded in the Year of Jubilee and shadowed in passages like Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Revelation 21:1—22:22 with their “return to Eden” speech. Ezekiel and Revelation have their own specific agendas but as surely as every judgement shadows the Final Judgement every blessing and triumph for God’s people heralds the Final Triumph. (See how the song of Mary begins with God’s grace to her but is then taken as the assurance of grace to all—Luke 1:46-55. The psalms are saturated with that kind of “he did it for me therefore he will do it for all” kind of praise.)
But aren’t there texts, which plainly say that the creation will be destroyed? Well, there are a few (not nearly as many as people suppose) that look like that. The core text, I suppose, is in 2 Peter 3:1-13. I’m purposing to say something about it in another place.
Luke 21:33 (see also Matthew 24:35 and Mark 13:31) seems to predict that the creation will be destroyed. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away,” Jesus Christ said. Matthew 5:18 offers something similar. “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
I don’t think these texts are affirming the destruction of creation. I think Jesus is affirming the changeless certainty of his word and I think he does it by saying what he did. I think he is saying (in essence), “You’ll see the heavens and earth pass away before you see my word fail.” In the Matthew 5:18 text he is not speaking of his own word but of the Jewish Law. I don’t think it matters, however, because his point is the same.
I think what is happening in these texts is that Jesus Christ is taking what humans regard as permanent and certain to be around, come what may, and he is using it to illustrate the abiding nature of his own word (or God’s). “You look at the unchanging creation and make that a standard of what abides. I tell you my word is even more sure.”
Let me illustrate further what I mean. Ecclesiastes 1:4 says this. “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” That closing phrase seems to deny that the earth will pass away.
In Psalm 78:69 a singer praises God for his faithfulness to a faithless people. He’s especially pleased that God chose David’s house and built Zion. Here’s what he said of Jerusalem, “He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever.” No matter how faithless Israel is, Jerusalem is secure and because God dwells there it’s like the very mountains on which it sits and it will abide like the earth God established forever.
Now I don’t believe that either of those texts is affirming anything about how long the creation will abide. They have a different agenda and point to make. They want to say something about how faithful God is (in the psalm) and how fleeting and vain human life is (as in Ecclesiastes). To do it they make use of the abiding nature of creation. Habakkuk 3:6 speaks of “ancient mountains [and] age-old hills”—unmoved until God moved them. Be sure to read that text though none of them is discussing how long the creation will be around. That’s not their point.
One more illustration from Jeremiah. Judah is about to go into captivity and that will complete the exile of the entire nation. Many were thinking and some were saying that God no longer cared for Israel and that his faithfulness had come to an end but Jeremiah 30—33 sets that nonsense right. God assures them that his promises would never fail and his covenants with Israel would be honored. And how does he do that?
Jesus said, “My faithfulness will last longer than heaven and earth.” God says, “My faithfulness will last as long as heaven and earth.”
Jesus Christ said, “You will see the creation obliterated before you will see my word come to nothing.” God says the opposite! He says, “You can be as sure of my word as you can be that the sun and moon will always be in the heavens!”
Here’s what he says in Jeremiah 31:35-36. “This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night...only if these decrees vanish from my sight, declares the Lord, will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.”
Again in Jeremiah 33:19-26 he says this. “This is what the Lord says: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken...Have you not noticed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two kingdoms he chose’? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation. This is what the Lord says: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.”
In these texts God says they could be as sure of his word to Israel as they could of his covenant with creation. Some were saying God had rejected Israel and broken the covenants he made with them because he wanted nothing more to do with them. He tells them that that would only happen when there was no more sun or moon or stars. He says his covenants with Israel were as permanent and as sure as the fixed laws of nature. He assures them that as long as the sun, moon and stars are in their places he would be faithful to his covenants with Israel.
But while it’s reasonable enough to infer that such texts teach the creation will never cease, that is not their point. The creation is called in as something that is around when all the humans pass away and when God wants to illustrate how sure his promises are he says, “They’re as sure as the creation! My promises will last as long as the creation!” It’s a comparison thing. For obvious reasons he wouldn’t say, “My promises are as sure as a flower of the field.” Jesus Christ used a flower of the field as an illustration of something passing and he used heaven and earth as an illustration of something permanent. Jesus would not have said, “A flower of the field will die before my word will come to nothing.” People see flowers dying every day but they don’t see mountain ranges vanishing and creations passing away.
We’ve seen that God likens his enduring faithfulness to the enduring reliability of the creation (under his covenant, of course)—his faithfulness last as long as the creation lasts. But look what a psalmist does in Psalm 102:25-26. He contrasts God’s abiding nature with the passing nature of the creation.
“In the beginning you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
So what does all that mean?
It means we should look carefully at what a writer or speaker means to do with what he says even if he/they speak on the same subject. Jeremiah says the creation never ends and so it illustrates God’s faithfulness, which never ends. Jesus Christ says, in comparison with the abiding nature of his words the creation is a passing affair.