So far, I have covered three points in my case against John Owen’s preterist view of 2 Peter 3. Let me add a fourth in this post.
The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation Continued
Owen takes Isaiah 65:17f. as a reference to the present gospel age exclusively (page 135). Let me quote what he says again: “this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances…” It would be one thing if Owen maintained that this was a promise anticipated or even partly fulfilled in the gospel age. His words, however, are clear. They are exclusively fulfilled in the gospel age— “nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances.”
Owen here takes what seems to me to be an indefensibly one-sided view of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus makes clear in Matthew 13 that the mystery of the coming of the kingdom is that it comes in two stages. The grand prophecies of the return of the kingdom of God to our world are fulfilled both in the events of Christ’s first advent but fully and finally in the events that accompany and follow Christ’s Second Advent in glory. This matter of the already and not yet is really a matter of settled perspective among most Reformed exegetes today. While I am not saying that Owen would have been wholly unaware of such a perspective, I am saying that he chooses to adopt a totally preterist view of the New Heavens and New Earth in his exegesis of 2 Peter 3.
This is questionable enough in itself, but it is even more questionable in light of the way in which the other passage in the New Testament which alludes to Isaiah 65:17f. does so. There are clear allusions to the language of Isaiah 65:17f. in Revelation 21:1-4. Look at that passage: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
There are multiple allusions to Isaiah 65:17f. in these verses. First, there is the reference to the new heavens and new earth which is a clear quotation of Isaiah 65:17f. and Isaiah 66:22f. Second, there is the reference to the holy city which is also mentioned in Isaiah 65:18-19. Third, there is the affirmation of the end of weeping and crying in Isaiah 65:17f. Kraugei in the LXX of Isaiah 65:19 is translated crying in the NASB and is used in Revelation 21:4. Ponos, the word translated pain in Revelation 21:4 is used in the LXX of Isaiah 65:22. The closing words of Revelation 21:4 (the first things have passed away.) also appear to allude to the words of Isaiah 65:17 “And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” Fourth, the condition of which Isaiah speaks is eternal (Isaiah 65:17-18). This means that it is the eternal state that is in view. Fifth, the condition contemplated in Isaiah 65:17f. is one in which there is an absence of evil. “The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.” This is parallel to the assertions of Revelation 21:8 and 27.
There is an indisputable reference to Isaiah 65:17f. in Revelation 21:1-4. I understand that some preterists even take Revelation 21:1-14 as a reference to the gospel age. I can only say that, if they do refer to this, I do not know how to understand their significance. Personally, I think such an interpretation of Revelation lacks credibility.
But something more needs to be said about the phrase, new heavens and new earth. While I admit that an already/not yet grid has to be applied to Old Testament prophecy. I believe that this particular phrase and these particular passages show that the emphasis if not the exclusive meaning of these phrases is on the eternal state. Certainly, Isaiah 66:22-24 seems to emphasize the eternal state. I have also argued elsewhere against Premillennialism that Isaiah 65:17f. must be understood as a prophecy of the eternal state, and the language which suggests death in the state contemplated is to be taken as a promise of the end of calamity and figuratively speaking of what Revelation 21:4 calls “no longer any death.” See my End Times Made Simple and my critique of Matt Waymeyer published in JIRBS.
Something else must be considered. It is that the phrase in verse 13 which is descriptive of the new heavens and new earth, “in which righteousness dwells,” alludes to other prophecies in later Isaiah which appear to speak of the eternal state. Cf. Isaiah 11:9; 52:1; 54:13-14; 60:21.
The notion that 2 Peter 3:13 refers only to the gospel age simply lacks credibility.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.