To say that the words of the Apostle Peter in the above title have been the subject of much controversy when discussing the New Heavens and Earth would clearly be an understatement! When we approach the New Covenant Scriptures from a "futurist" perspective, as I once did (A-millennial), I saw these words as the destruction or dissolution of our present-day "physical" heavens and earth! Surely, to imagine a celestial spectacle of such magnitude is almost beyond comprehension! And what is even more frightening, was the thought that all this could possibly happen in my own generation! This was truly mind-blowing to say the least!
It may be that you have asked yourself, is this really what is meant by Peter's words in this passage? Is there actually going to be such a cataclysmic event to happen, even possibly in our own present-day generation?
Good folks, one of the things I failed to recognize for many years when studying the New Covenant Scriptures, was the fact that all the things our Master spoke, personally, and to whom His Inspired Writers wrote, were spoken "to" and written "to" Believers in the First Century. Surely, these writings were indeed written "for" every one of us of all generations forward, however, they were spoken and/or written "to" Believers "in Jesus' generation," would you not agree? For example, please notice that Peter says to his First Century recipients: "Therefore, beloved, since 'you' look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless."
Please note also in verses 12 and 13 that Peter and those First Century Believers were "looking for and hastening" that coming day when the "old" heavens and earth would be destroyed and replaced by the "New" Heavens and Earth! And notice also that in vs. 13, Peter says "we" (i.e., First Century Believers) are looking for that promise! Dear ones, I find that truly remarkable and quite telling!
Since those earlier days of my Christian walk, I have come to approach the Scriptures from the perspective of "fulfilled prophecy," And as indicated above, I now see the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:1-18 as prophecy that "was fulfilled" at the time when God brought to complete fulfillment, His Old Covenant with Israel, which He made with them at Mt. Sinai. This would be the end of the age about which Jesus' apostles asked Him in Matthew 24:3. I believe this was in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (See Heb. 9:8-10). This, of course, opened the way for the new "spiritual" heavens and earth, i.e., the fully consummated, perfected, and glorious Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, "wherein dwells righteousness" under the "New" Covenant! [2 Peter 3:13]. This Kingdom was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost, and was awaiting its perfection at the return of The Master (See Hebrews 9:28; 10:37; James 5:8-9 Luke 21:28; Romans 13:11-12)!
Yes, the time had now come for that "old" temporal world and covenant, which the Lord had created for ancient Israel, to finally and completely disappear [Hebrews 8:13]! In the verses immediately preceding this verse [verses 8-12], the Hebrews scribe quotes from Jeremiah's prophecy (Jeremiah 31:31-34). He says: "Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a 'new' covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah; not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the House of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone His fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord.' For all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more."
Here the writer clearly declares that the "new" covenant would not be like the covenant Yahweh had made with their fathers at Sinai. We understand this to be a covenant of the heart, and of the very Spirit of God! In other words, a "spiritual" covenant, which through grace and mercy, provided forgiveness of sins freely through faith in God's Son and His Precious Blood.
How the "Old" Would Be Removed
We indicated earlier that before the New Heavens and Earth could become a reality, the old one had to be removed first. And thus Peter says in vss. 10-13:
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!  But according to His promise, we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells."
While viewing the above passage from my former "futurist" perspective, I was convinced that the horrific, catastrophic language above was indeed descriptive of a time in our future when there would be the destruction and dissolution of the universe in which we live. In my mind, I envisioned this horrific picture of a total disintegration of the very material fabric of our planet and the universe!
Destruction of the Elements
Having had two years of chemistry in my early school days, I can understand why some Disciples, as they read Peter's two references to the word, "elements" in this passage, envision a total destruction of the chemical elements that make up our physical universe. For those unfamiliar with the world of chemistry, the word "elements" is used in this science when speaking of the things which comprise the physical makeup of everything on our planet, including its atmosphere and its seas. There are perhaps 107 or more known chemical elements at this present time.
All of these elements are named. Some of the most familiar names among the elements are things such as: iron, gold, silver, magnesium, aluminum, lead, copper, which exist in their natural state as a "solid." Then there are elements such as: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and helium, which exist in their natural state as a "gas." And finally, such elements as: mercury and bromine exist in their natural state as a "liquid." Each element is assigned its own "atomic number," and is orderly arranged on what is called The Atomic or, Periodic Table according to its atomic number and atomic weight.
Therefore, when viewing the term, "elements" from strictly a "scientific" perspective (as I once did), one understandably visualizes Peter's words, "the elements melting with intense heat," as a literal destruction of all these elements, along with nearly a hundred more that make up the material fabric of our planet! But the question is: Is this really what Peter had reference to in his use of the term, "elements?" Is he actually describing such a literal, physical destruction of our universe?
Peter's Use of the Word "Elements"
In Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, under his #4747, he defines this word "elements" as it is found in the Greek text. It is from the Greek word, "stoicheion," which Mr. Strong renders: "lit. elemental principle, rudiment." With the use of a Greek-English New Testament, one learns that this Greek word "stoicheion" is used twice here in 2 Peter 3, and then only five other times in the New Covenant Scriptures. Good folks, if I may, I would like to suggest that we examine the other five examples of its usage. For I believe if we can learn exactly how the word "stoicheion" is used in those other five passages, then that in turn would further explain its meaning here in 2 Peter 3:10, would it not?
[1.] Hebrews 5:12 "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the 'elementary principles' (stoicheion) of the oracles of God,' and you have come to need milk and not solid food."
I believe we would all agree that the writer here tells us quite definitively exactly what "stoicheion" means in this passage. It clearly has reference to the "elementary principles" of the Word of God.
Before continuing on to the second passage where it is used, if I may, I would like to expand a little on the matter of the "oracles of God" as that term is used here. It is my understanding that the "oracles of God" in this verse has specific reference to the "old covenant" oracles, and not the "new covenant" oracles, as I once thought. The reason I believe this is because the new covenant oracles were still incomplete at this point in time; they were still in their revelatory state.
Therefore, I understand this verse to be a rebuke of some of the Hebrew Disciples for their lack of "spiritual development". In other words, their spiritual development was not commensurate with the length of time they had been Disciples. And this problem was precipitated by their lack of knowledge of and familiarity with the Old Covenant Oracles. Please let me explain: The Old Covenant Oracles were filled with "types and shadows" of "spiritual realities" that were to have their fulfillment in the new covenant [See Hebrews 8:5; 9:8, 9, 23, 24; 10:1; Galatians 4:21-31; Colossians 2:16-17], Yes, all the physical things in the old covenant oracles, such as the tabernacle, its furniture, the fleshly priests and their many sacrifices and rituals, sabbaths, festivals, new moons etc, all served as types and shadows of things far greater than themselves! And so, if these Disciples had been adequately learned in those "elementary principles" (stoicheion) of the Old Covenant oracles, then certainly, for the length of time they had now been Believers, they should now have been able to teach others about the marvelous "spiritual realities" that were veiled in those types and shadows of the Old Covenant oracles! However, as he says; they, themselves, were like newborn babes in need of milk and not solid food; they needed to be taught all over again, the "elementary principles (stoicheion)" of the Old Covenant oracles. Hence, the writer's criticism and admonition!
[2.] Galatians 4:3 "So, also while we were children, were held in bondage under the 'elemental things' (stoicheion) of the world"
[3.] Galatians 4:9, 10] "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless 'elemental things' (stoicheion), to which you desire to be enslaved all over again. You observe days and months and seasons and years."
As we can see here in Paul's letter to the Disciples in the province of Galatia, he especially addresses the Israelite Disciples among them. How can we know that? I believe the answer is found in verse 10. Look at that verse in light of the, "weak and worthless beggarly elements (stoicheion)" that Paul speaks of in verse 9, and then ask yourself: In what world or system did the keeping of certain days, months, years, and seasons play an integral part? Of course, it was the old covenant world of the sons of Jacob/Israel.
And so, here Paul addresses those Israelite Christians in Galatia. They were constantly being badgered and enticed by the unbelieving Jews (and apparently with some degree of success), to abandon God's gracious gift of salvation by grace through faith in His Son, and go back under the slavery and curse (condemnation) of "the Old Covenant law" with its "elementary principles' (stoicheion),"i.e., with its ordinances and ceremonial rituals. Of course, the law was designed for the purpose of magnifying their sin in their own eyes. Therefore, the Law's ultimate purpose was to cause them to recognize their need of a Savior, which in turn would lead (drive) them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith! Yes, the central purpose of The Law of Moses, as Paul said, was "to make sin appear exceedingly sinful" [Romans 7:13].
[4.] Colossians 2:8, 16-17] "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the 'elementary principles' (stoicheion) of the world, rather than according to Christ.…Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival of a new moon or a Sabbath day - things which are 'a mere shadow of what is to come', but the substance belongs to Christ."
[5.] Colossians 2:20-21] "If you have died with Christ to the 'elementary principles' (stoicheion) of the world (Old Covenant world-jg), why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.'"
Here once again, we see in these two passages, exactly the same things involved as in the Galatians and Hebrews passages, only here, they are even more conspicuous! Again, I ask this: What world would it be, in which the keeping of Sabbath days, or new moon festivals or, don't drink this or, don't eat that, were all integral elements? Of course, to ask the question is also to answer it! It was the same world of the Mosaic economy, was it not? As we can see, the inspired apostle Paul used this Greek word "stoicheion" to convey a message of the "elementary or rudimentary principles" of the Old Covenant world and law!
Good folks, I honestly do believe we have clearly demonstrated that the word, "stoicheion," that Peter used, was also used by Paul in all of these other five examples in Galatians 4, Colossians 2, and Hebrews 5. Dear friends, I believe we can clearly see that in every case, without exception, the meaning of "elements" (stoicheion) really has nothing whatsoever to do with the chemical elements that make up the material fabric of our planet, its atmosphere, and seas. And for this reason, would it not seem unwise to force an interpretation that runs counter to these truths? I sincerely believe that a correct understanding of this term, "stoicheion," is imperative if we are going to understand the message our Father intended by Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:10! With these thoughts in mind, let us now turn back to 2 Peter 3, where Peter used this word, "stoicheion" or "elements." In verses 14-16, do you see what I see? Peter, speaking of the great apostle Paul on this very matter of "elements" or "stoicheion," said this: "Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, and spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother, Paul, according to the wisdom given him, 'wrote to you,' as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand…"
Peter says very clearly in this passage that "these things" about which he is writing to the Disciples in 2 Peter 3, Paul also had written them "to these same disciples." Good folks, I am persuaded that when Peter says Paul had also written to them about "these things," he has reference to the same letters in which we just now examined Paul's use of the term, stoicheion! Please look again at verse 16 and see what you think! One thing that is an indisputable fact is that Peter and Paul are in total agreement regarding "the elements," as well they should be, for they are both speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit!
Another question here: "If Paul's use of the term, "elements" (stoicheion), is clear now, and Peter and Paul are in total agreement about the term, shouldn't this explain for us what Peter meant by his use of it?" Paul obviously used the term in a "spiritual" sense. Therefore, when we read what Peter had to say about it, shouldn't we also make the same "spiritual" application of it that Paul made, and not change it by substituting a literal, "physical" application for the spiritual? It is my conviction, that when Peter used the term, "elements," we should understand it in the same way as Paul used it. One of the cardinal rules of proper bible hermeneutics in a case such as this is that the clear passage should always explain the obscure passage, and not the other way around! Thank you so very much for staying with me. May our Lord bless you with His Marvelous Grace and Peace.
Permission granted by the author, Jim Gunter, who may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Jim and his wife Gloria have been Full Preterist Believers since 2002. The Holy Spirit has inspired Jim to write numerous articles as a freelancer to God's Praise, Honor and Glory. Those wishing to be placed on Jim's mailing list, may subscribe via his e-mail. All Scripture texts - unless otherwise indicated - are quoted from the NEW AMERICAN
STANDARD BIBLE® (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The
Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Inserted explanations by the author are indicated as (-jg). This article may be printed in its entirety for personal study and free distribution, but never to be sold as Jesus Christ said, "The Kingdom of Heaven [He Himself] is at hand ... freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:7-8).