From the humbling and awful indictment of false teachers in 2 Peter 2 beginning to play their corrupting part in Christendom, as the false prophets had wrought the ruin of Israel in the past, the apostle turns to speak of this Second Epistle, and its aim in the grace of God. But even so, as we shall soon see, he has to warn of another daring snare to be, and a wholly different class of adversaries.
“This already a second epistle, beloved, I write to you, in both which I stir up your pure mind by putting in remembrance, that ye be mindful of the words spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of the Lord and Saviour [by] your apostles14” (vers. 1, 2).
The apostle of the circumcision here presents scripture, both O. and N.T., as the grand safeguard, just as the apostle to the nations in his second Epistle to Timothy. Neither has the least thought of apostolic succession; which, if really given of the Lord, might well be regarded as no small stay for beleaguered saints exposed to the worst of perils from misled leaders, and these at work within. But the truth is that the mystery of lawlessness was actively at work from early days, as 2 Thess. 2 informs us. It was restrained by the power of the Spirit, and especially by apostolic energy. But, as the apostle Paul let the Ephesian overseers know (Acts 20:29, 30), his own decease would be the signal for fresh and successful efforts of the enemy. “I know that after my departure there will come in grievous wolves not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall rise up men speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them”. What then was the resource? “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all that are sanctified.” Not a hint of a successor, but the assurance to faith of God and the word of His grace.
Just so here our apostle, in view of the danger, and horrors of the false teachers carrying on their nefarious work, casts the Christians from among the dispersed Jews on the words that were spoken before by the holy prophets, and on the commandment of the Lord and Saviour by their apostles. Both the prophets and the apostles were inspired to write as they did; for only by the faith of divine communications are those who believe brought into living relationship with God. Thus His word separates the soul to God, and by the revelation of Christ is the source of their joy and the formative power of obedience. In this faith the elders from Abel downwards obtained witness, whatever the dislike of the world, which was not worthy of them and awaits sure judgment from God. Still the O.T. at best was predictive, and could not make known as the N.T. does the infinite glory and grace of the Saviour, nor the God-glorifying efficacy of His work for our souls, before the salvation of our bodies at His coming again. known eternal life and accomplished redemption give the believers now to walk in the light, as could not be given before Christ came the first time, and renders him as a worshipper once purged to have no more conscience of sins, yea to have the Holy Ghost sealing him, and the earnest of coming glory with Christ as a joint-heir.
These privileges of the believer are the outcome of His actual advent and of the atoning work done and accepted by God, so that His love has been and is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us. The First Epistle of Peter makes much known, the Epistles of Paul much more, which could neither be known nor enjoyed as they are since redemption. Thus the commandment of the Lord and Saviour by “your apostles,” while it fulfils the spiritual promises of the O.T., goes far beyond it in the revelation of blessings in and through and with Christ in the heavenly places. Hence Paul refers to the mystery or secret which was kept silent in times everlasting, but now manifested according to the eternal God’s commandment for obedience of faith to all the nations. For, after the cross (which entailed the setting aside of the Jew meanwhile), God set up the rejected Christ above as the Supreme Chief over all things heavenly and earthly, and makes us who now believe (few or Greek), His body and bride, to share all glory with Him at His coming. This glory of the Head and the body over all things is far higher, wider and deeper, than anything in O.T. prophecy; it is the secret now revealed, however little it may be apprehended.
How horrified both the apostles would have been to witness the deadly undermining of the Bible, which, begun by free-thinking men more than a hundred years ago has become a naturalised epidemic, not only in Germany, France and Holland, but now in the English-speaking regions of the earth; growing self-confident, impudent and arrogant beyond measure, not knowing that God has forewarned of this turning away their ears from the truth and readiness of mind for fables. Take their treatment of the Pentateuch in particular, and of such prophets as Isaiah and Daniel. The infinite fact of a divine Person become flesh as truly as He is God is (with very few exceptions, to whom God may give deliverance) as nothing in their eyes, though of infinite value to those who believe and love as they know His love, God’s love, to them.
Christ and His apostles declare that Moses wrote these earlier books. He and they treat the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, not only as genuine and authentic, but as of divine authority. Most are not ashamed to be so intoxicated with the poisonous wine of neo-criticism as to deny the certainty of Christ’s knowledge, and to regard Him and the inspired writings as under the ignorant prejudice of their age, just like themselves at the present time, impiously claiming for themselves superiority of intelligence ranging over the, whole Bible.
Their success, with the youth chiefly of a mocking and scoffing generation, emboldens them to shut their eyes to the iniquity of sitting in judgment, not on copyists who introduced some errata, but on His word which shall judge them. They believe not that the Judge stands before the doors; nor that the secret of lawlessness is in all this working more fatally than in the priestly party who glorify themselves and their leaders with their self-aggrandising legends. For those give God’s written word the lie, and accept as a settled fact that, instead of Moses writing e.g. Genesis, it was really written by a large number of unknown men, fragments interwoven by a compiler, separated by hundreds of years, with perhaps traditionary words of Moses, a priestly document and another quite different and opposed, and only published many centuries after Moses and his successor Joshua. Now even if we do not notice the monstrous perversion of the discovery of the neglected book of the law in Josiah’s day, as if it were a concoction then first palmed on the king and the people, how could such a hodge-podge as all this be the word of God? How blot out the fullest historical proof that Moses wrote as God spoke to him? How get rid of the inspired men from his own day till the O.T. Canon closed? Were these holy men all impostors? Were they, the inspired, more ignorant of divine things, than these infidel reformers?
The faith of saints in all ages fully accepts the O.T. So the Lord taught His disciples, and His hearers generally, as God’s testimony, written by those who claim it and by adequate evidence communicated it. Nor does the expression on which stands the modern fable of the Elohists and Jehovists and the many redactors afford the most slender proof. It is simply the reverie of one who was too ignorant and unbelieving to see the depth of truth in the words for “God (Elohim)” sovereign and historical, and “Jehovah” for His reference to relationship. It is a distinction as real as important, which is lost to such as build on the absurd fancy that it springs from different documents or legends. But infidelity took it up to discredit and destroy God’s authority, as it must if received, as well as deny those whom we have sound evidence to believe really wrote the various hooks as they stand, with few and brief editorial notes at a later day added by similar divine authority.
But here, as in 2 Tim. 3, we read how the last words of the two apostles call on the saints to cherish what God has given them, things old and new. Be the corruptions as they may, and however veiled by those who are deceived and deceive by them, we have the inspired word to stir up the “pure mind.” How different from the unbelief that denies real inspiration, and fancies the most incredible tissue of authorship to set aside God’s word searching the reins and hearts! What more blessed than to have such in remembrance? What could we call to mind for profit and comfort compared with the prophets and the apostles as our teachers? It is not those of old only, but “your apostles.” For as one of these wrote, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. From this we know the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Solemn word for conscience! “They (that judge the word of God, the sceptics) are of the world; for this reason they speak [as] of the world, and the world, heareth them.” O how true is the apostolic word! Even that of old is not enough now without “your apostles.” If the O.T. be Blighted, the N.T. will ere long share the same lot. How awful to become an apostate! Yet the danger is most imminent in our day.
A special reason for heeding the prophets and the apostles follows, which gives urgency to the warning as to those who despise the word of God. For do we not recognise that today is a day of prevalent and growing mockery in Christendom among philosophers and those influenced by their speculations?
“Knowing this first, that in the last of the days mockers shall come with mockery walking according to their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming (or presence)? for from the [day] that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue thus (or, as they were) from beginning of creation” (vers. 3, 4).
The apostle first introduced the formula “Knowing this first” when insisting on the divine source and character, with the certainty and value, of prophecy, even while intimating the still more intimate and elevated nature of the heavenly light and hope of Christianity. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is (or rather is made to be) of its own interpretation.” It is not an isolated thing, but part of a vast plan for God’s glory in the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Its true and lull interpretation cannot be apart from His future kingdom in displayed glory. As the Fathers counsels look onward to nothing short of this, so the Holy Spirit has moved in the inspiration of the word to this end. Man of himself is quite beneath such ability. Like the gracious power of good which alone could set aside all the evils under which man groaned, and especially the awful weight of Satanic possession, as a testimony before the age to come will enjoy it fully; so prophecy of scripture anticipatively fills the heart and mind of the believer with the mighty beneficence of that day, and His grace and His glory through it come to pass with everlasting Hallelujahs to God. It was therefore in neither case the working or effect of man’s will. Those who wrought the wondrous deeds, or who wrote the no less wondrous words, did so by the power and Jove of God Who alone could qualify them in honour of His Son, the Lamb of God.
So here the repetition of “knowing this first” marks the importance of the truth. It might have seemed that the proclamation of the gospel to all the creation must have disarmed the hostile spirit, even of those who did not believe through pride, pleasure, and lusts of all kinds, to the saving of their souls. But the mind of the flesh is enmity against God. And our Lord :Himself had prepared us for unbelief and self-seeking and defiance of God and His word, as in Israel, so as bad or worse in Christendom. “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, till the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came .and destroyed all. And in like manner as took place in the days of Lot: they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven, and destroyed all: after this manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed.” The subject is wound up in His closing figure: “where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (Luke 17). Divine judgment will find its object.
The apostle Paul was given to reveal that lawlessness should come out openly, ,as even from the early days of the gospel it was at work secretly, till (the great Hinderer being removed,) it should culminate in the man of sin, the express opposite of the Man of righteousness, the Saviour from perdition instead of its son; “whose coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth to them a working of error, that they should believe the falsehood, that all might be judged who believed not the truth but found pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2).
No less plain is 2 Tim. 2, 3, and 4, on the growth of haughty unbelief and unrestrained disregard of God in word and deed in the last days, while having a form of piety before even this is finally cast off. The Epistle of James lays bare’ as the beginning of evil, the unjudged creedism which life in Christ was not, and works quite dead and worthless, and instead of love, worldliness, selfishness, and injustice prevailing. 1 Peter 4 affirmed the end of all things drawn nigh, and the season for the judgment beginning from or at the house of God, a principle to which He adheres; for as His privileges are there, so also is the special responsibility of those who claim them, though every one shall bear his own burden in God’s moral government. But it is here in the second Epistle and in that of Jude and in the Revelation of John that the marked form of evil professors at the close is fully defined. It is a return to that materialism which abounded in the heathen that knew not God. Here it comes out in the naked infidelity of scoffers who sit in the seat of the scornful.
Scoffing was an evil sign in pagan Greece and Rome. Yet none can wonder that mockers should rise up like Lucian of Samosata when paganism was exposed in its falsehood, emptiness sad demoralisation under the revealed light of God. Again, when the Bible got read at the time of the Reformation, we are not surprised that natural men treated Catholic legends and traditions, and the decrees of the Popes with contempt, any more than that the unhallowed ribaldry broke out before, during, and since the French Revolution, against truth as well as error and fable in divine things. But here we are apprised of a dense dark cloud, far more widely spread, which would shut out the light of heaven, not merely on the gross licentious ways of evil men who taught for gain as in 2 Peter 2, but on others of philosophic mind, who might be generally correct in moral ways, but were beguiled into such an abandonment of truth, as we have already in Agnosticism, Positivism, and the like. They stand on phenomena, on things seen, on matter. God is in none of their thoughts as a living reality, His word (if His word) of no account. Things continue as ever. This is the fixed law. All else is idea. God is, for such, an unknown God. These do not openly hate the name of the Lord Jesus, but like other incredulous men have no words too lofty to express their admiration of His life and ministry and death, quite apart from God’s testimony to their own guilt and dire need to find redemption through His blood. But their dream of human progress is so judged and cut short by His return to judge the quick, that they all unite with open mouth to refuse and decry His return to judge the habitable earth. Hence their description here, as “proceeding according to their lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for from the day that the fathers felt asleep, all things continue thus from beginning of creation.”
This therefore is a distinct and solemn part of Christian testimony: not only the judgment of the wicked dead at the end of the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, but that which will fall suddenly on men “as a thief by night” at the end of the age, while they cry, Peace and safety. The yet more awful judgment of the dead is comparatively distant; and men with little effort but extreme peril can put off all thought till a more convenient season. But for flesh and blood, it is intolerable to hear also of a judgment unsparing and universal to arrest the every-day interests of mankind, when sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon her that is with child. And He comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they which pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Where then will be the rock, the dust, to hide man from Jehovah? For “man’s lofty looks shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men bowed down, and Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away. . . . In that day men shall cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made [each] for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; to go into the clefts of the rooks, and into the fissures of the cliffs, from before the terror of Jehovah, and from the glory of His majesty, when He shall arise to terrify the earth” (Isaiah 2).
The corruption of the best is the worst corruption. It was an abomination in Israel. It is the apostasy in Christendom. The counsel of the ungodly in a moment comes to nought. The way of sinners is seen to be everlasting ruin. And what will it be to the seat of the mockers when their mocking is confronted with the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of His power? For He will appear in flaming fire taking vengeance on those that know not God, and those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As they shall pay the penalty of everlasting destruction from the Lord’s presence, and from the glory of His might, so He shall have come to be glorified in His saints and to be wondered at in all that believed in that day (2 Thess. 2).
Not only for these the heavenly saints will it be glory with Christ, but times of refreshing, for those who repent and are converted, both in Israel and in the nations on earth, will surely come from the Lord’s presence who sends the Anointed Jesus Who was fore-ordained for His people but now in heaven; but there are times of restoring all things of which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets since time began. So the apostle preached in Acts 3. It is clear therefore that this word leaves no room for expecting the Holy Spirit as now working to bring in those times. The Spirit had just come for the gospel and the church; and He was in no way grieved and hindered and denied as He soon began to be. But ever increasing woes have been singe the apostles. But even then the apostle explicitly looks to God’s sending the Lord Jesus again to bring in the day of earth’s blessedness, and the nations rejoicing with Israel, no longer deaf and dumb, but the loudest in that united and continuous chorus of divine praise. Yet the sword, as we have seen, must inevitably clear the earth before Jehovah, Jah the Saviour, “shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Jehovah, and His name one.”
Then too shall all the universe be put into divine harmony, according to Eph. 1:10-12. For it will then be the administration of the fulness of the fit times: to sum, or head up, all things in the Christ,. the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth: in Him in whom too we were given inheritance, being marked out beforehand according to purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will, that we should be unto praise of His glory.
We have seen that the Holy Spirit lets us know one special trait of philosophic unbelief at the end of the days of nominal Christianity. Mockers with mocking, proceeding according to their own lusts’ and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? for from the day that the fathers fell asleep all things continue thus from creation’s beginning.”
It is not true. “For this escapeth their notice willingly, that by the word of God heavens were of old, and an earth having its subsistence out of water and through water; by which [waters] the then world being overflowed with water perished” (vers. 5, 6). It is barefaced materialism which the light of Christ ought to have dispelled. Rather did the proclamation of grace encourage these unbelieving speculators to deny that judgment is imminent for living man upon the earth. The Jews were much less incredulous as to it than the nations, and themselves secured as being the seed of Abraham. Blind to their own sins, their prejudices conspired to read clearly what the Prophets wrote on the downfall of the world in general. Yet the Lord had already reversed all thought of immunity for the ungodly, whether Jew or Gentile. He had declared the universality of the judgment which He Himself would indict on the quick. For it is quite distinct from the judgment which awaits all the unbelieving dead whom He will raise for the purpose at the end of His world-kingdom. But the imminence of the judgment on the quick, Christendom has ever been too ready to put off, if not disbelieve, whatever the common creeds may say: what we wish not we readily forget.
The Lord had done more. In His great prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives He had compared this very judgment of the quick to the days of the deluge.
“Watch therefore; for ye know not on what day your Lord doth come.” It may be urged that He has the judgment of the Jews particularly before Him in these words, which manifestly apply not to the Roman siege of Jerusalem any more than to the judgment of the wicked in Rev. 19. But in Luke 17:29, and following verses, He refers to the days of Lot also, and thus gives it a bearing on the Gentiles too. Again in Luke 21:25-35 He directly refers to the Gentiles also. For which reason He speaks not only of “the fig-tree” but of “all the trees,” and declares that “as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.”
The stability of the earth therefore is a vain defence, even according to their own acquaintance with the known geologic facts from the time that the earth was first brought into being. There is abundant evidence to prove that it has passed through many phases of destruction, followed by renewal in the wise ways of God before man existed, and, in general, progressive in character. But when the earth was made in due time the suited sphere for Adam and his race, moral considerations entered. Not only did the earth become corrupt. and filled with violence, but a new violation of all order was perpetrated as in Gen. 6:1, 2, most abhorrent to God and deeper than any natural depravation, which was the immediate occasion of the deluge. Did these men, wise in their own eyes, never hear of the deluge? Hardly a country on earth but has traditions, more or less true, of that solemn dealing with the whole habitable earth, while God preserved in an ark Noah and his family, as well as of the lower creatures which otherwise had perished in the waters. They are therefore without excuse, for what else than the fact could give rise to a tradition so universal among the races of mankind, North, South, East and West? On their own ground it is irrational to pay no heed to an historical tradition which, though different in shape, was alike in substance over the world, that all things did not remain thus from creation’s beginning. Yet those who find pleasure in slighting God’s word are generally apt to respect relics of the past which have prevailed everywhere.
How then can we account for this slight of so general a report among all the races of men? It is wilful ignorance. “For this willingly escapeth their notice that heavens were of old and an earth having its subsistence out of water and through water by the word of God; by means of which [waters] the then world being overflowed with water perished.” Here we have inspired scripture to set every doubt at rest for those that fear God. The stupendous fact is briefly attested to, the universal destruction of guilty man by the deluge, and this stripped of any local vanity, or of other human accessories; the moral fact is left in all its solemnity. In 1 Peter 3 much is made of the exceptional salvation effected by the ark which Noah was prophetically instructed to make; and this is also referred to in 2 Peter 2:5. Here too the catastrophe is cited to overthrow the alleged stability of nature.
But the passage before us is by some applied only to the earth’s primeval constitution, by others to the deluge. It is plain enough that the apostle looks successively at each. The All-wise God had so constituted it in case of need; and as the apostasy of the race required the drastic remedy, He applied it to destroy the old world. Could unbelief be more suicidal than to presume on its impossibility?
Notice the stress laid on the word of God here. The natural system must bend to His will. The fixed laws which even His enemies set up to block Him out of sight and hearing have over and over again bowed to His word, not only in a small sphere but on the largest scale. It may repent Him of His work, when it rebels against Him and He interferes to reprove, punish and destroy. But His word He exalts above all His name. It is the expression of His mind, purpose and love, as well as His majesty in judgment.
With the deluge in the past there is analogy as well as contrast in the future. God is not mocked either way; but abuse of greater privilege will infallibly destroy the proud unbelief of the ungodly in the surest way.
“But the now heavens and the earth by the same word have been stored with fire, being kept for a day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (ver. 7).
The gospel is a question of faith, not only in the Son, but in the word of God, beyond whatever was in patriarchal days, or during the law, as well as in coming ages.
The displayed kingdom which the Lord Jesus will establish to His glory for a period longer than man ever attained when he lived longest, or even Christianity in practice, can only be in power where each is sanctified by the Father’s word, which is His word fully and finally revealed. Yet tradition, the great enemy of the word, never wrought in Israel so insidiously and widely and systematically as in Christendom to darken, undermine and pervert God’s word; and that in face of the Lord’s own denunciation in Matt. 15 and Mark 7, or by the words of Isaiah in a more burning indignation as became him.
But now there is a new school of deeper pride which disdains ancient tradition, deifies itself, and idolises the working of man’s mind in history and science, so foreign to the will of God and so dear to the world, even to the length of making it the judge of His written word. A worse or more dangerous form of infidelity there is not nor ever was; it directly leads into the “apostasy” which the apostle of the Gentiles declares must be before the day of the Lord comes in judgment of living mankind. Its success among professors of Christianity intoxicates its votaries so that they are encouraged by its popularity to essay even more daring scepticism.
Here we see that the destruction of the early population of the earth was effected by the vast store of water God provided above and below to overwhelm man and beast save those preserved in the ark with Noah by His command. To this exceeding overflow the language of Gen. 7:11 points: “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up,” “and the windows (or, the flood gates) of heaven opened,” as on the other hand that of Gen. 8:2, when the assuagement set in.
Dealing with the outrageous depravity of that age was just when ignorance was as great. But as since the law, Christ’s coming, and the gospel to every creature, have made the responsibility of man immensely greater, so is his sin in rejection of the truth, and professing science, or ideas, that ignore sin as well as grace, and flatter pride in the progress of the first man whilst forgetting his guilt against the Second. How much sorer a doom awaits man, especially the Jew, and most of all Christendom, when treading under foot the Son of God, and treating the blood of the covenant as vain and unclean, and thus insulting the Spirit of grace! Such guilt beyond measure, through rejecting the only and absolutely righteous One and His propitiation, and the full revelation of grace and truth in Him who was true God and perfect man in one person, will have to face God’s extreme punishment by fire. And this is made known in the words of the scripture before us, looking back on man visited of old by a deluge of water. “But the now heavens and the earth by the same word have been stored with fire, being kept for a day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
God has not left Himself without witness on a small scale of what He intends for the punishment of the ungodly who are willingly ignorant of His warning, and of their awful wickedness against His Son and the wondrous proclamation throughout all the world of life eternal and the forgiveness of their sins, through His death on the cross. The very book of Genesis records, not very long after the deluge, the destruction of the cities of the plain because of their enormous impurity, contrary to fallen nature itself. “Then Jehovah rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah, brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven; and overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities and that which grew upon the ground” (Gen. 19:24, 25).
Again, in Lev. 10 when Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, were so heedless of the favour shown by the coming of fire out from before Jehovah to consume the burnt offering, and slighted it in the service of their own inauguration to the service of the sanctuary by putting common fire for burning the incense, “there went out fire from Jehovah and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah” (ver. 2). Jehovah will be sanctified in those who come nigh Him, and before all the people will He be glorified, as Moses told Aaron; “and Aaron held his peace.” It was not only the ungodly outside who must be shown that He is the witness and the Judge of evil, but those who approach Him cannot trifle with His sanctity save to their cost.
In Num. 11:1, when the people complained instead of acknowledging His justice, He was displeased and the fire of Jehovah burnt among them in the uttermost parts of the camp; and the people cried to Moses who prayed not in vain, and the fire was quenched. But they renewed their murmuring; and Jehovah, though He gave the flesh they lusted after, smote the people with a very great plague. It is Num. 16 which sets forth this solemn dealing with the gainsaying of Korah, which the epistle of Jude lets us know as the last and worst of the sinful developments reproduced in Christendom. “Woe to them! because they proceeded in the way of Cain, and were devoted to the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.” For here it was ministry usurping the priesthood, and hence rebellion against the efficacious priesthood, as well as denying the Christian title of nearness to God. And what befell them? “And it came to pass as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground crave asunder that was under them; and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained to Korah and all their goods. They and all that was theirs went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them; and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them, for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up. And there came out a fire from Jehovah, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.” This is by no means all that the O.T. offers on the subject, but it is ample for the proof that from the beginning a still more tremendous destruction by fire in a day both at its opening and at its close is plainly revealed as the way in which the wrath of God will be against the ungodly before the great white throne, and the resurrection for judgment described in Rev. 20:2-15. Isaiah 9:5 and Isaiah 66:15, 16, are as clear proofs as 2 Thess. 1:8, that the day of the Lord will open with fury and destruction on the wicked, discriminatingly and not as a providential judgment.
The phrase “the new heavens and the new earth” is borrowed from 65:17, Isaiah 66:22. But there, it is the principle as applied to Jerusalem and the land in the future kingdom, rather than its full character which follows. This is clear from the prophet’s explanation which indicates its realisation in the chosen land and people, “But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in what I create; for behold I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy, and I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days; for the child shall die a hundred years old; but the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses and inhabit [them], and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree [are] the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they [are] the seed of the blessed of Jehovah, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock; and dust [shall be] the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.”
It is plain that the prophet sees in the vast change when Messiah reigns in power, the introduction and sure pledge of the new heavens and earth, rather than the absolute fulfilment. Rev. 21:1-8 makes this evident and certain; for here is no more an earthly Jerusalem nor a people in flesh such as Isaiah describes; no infant of days to die, no more curse to be executed. Neither will building take place, nor planting; nor again labour however blessed, nor bringing forth for joy any more than trouble. In the eternal scene all will be praise and worship at God’s counsels fulfilled to the utmost, and for the defiance of God its righteous punishment for ever. It is in the future kingdom over the earth that the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and there the lion shall eat straw like the bullock, and there that dust shall be the serpent’s meat as the solitary mark of degradation. But in the full and eternal sense of the new heavens and new earth these creatures are found no more: only the holy city, new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride for her husband, as before the kingdom in power, so after it to all eternity, and outside it redeemed men with it shall tabernacle when God shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, their God.
These are the two extreme points of view, the prophet of Israel though giving the glorious prospect, dwelling only on its initiatory application to Jerusalem and the land and the people. Equally seasonable is the beloved disciple’s vision, at the end even of the wondrous age and world to come, of the end in its full sense when even a dispensation of glory with the Son of God and Son of man reigning over the universe closes the proof that such a reign fails, as did His coming in the grace of all His humiliation among men to God’s glory, as man left to do his will showed. But He really and everywhere triumphed over the enemy and the race which distrusted God and was misled to everlasting ruin in despising Christ. And the teaching of Peter holds a wide way as became the chief apostle of the circumcision writing to Christians who had been Jews. For he embraces the beginning and the ending of the day of Jehovah as the transition link between Isaiah and John. That such a view is according to the spirit of scripture may be made plain by “new creation” as applied by the apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 5:17: “so if any one [be] in Christ, [there is] a new creation.” Yet it is but the risen life in the soul. Only when we are changed into conformity to the body of Christ’s glory will it be fulfilled in its entirety.
[Left unfinished by the Author’s death].
14 The uncials give
ὑμῶν, the cursives
ἡμῶν as in the ordinary text It does not Seem that any of the ancient versions support the former. No doubt the peculiarity of the phrase accounts for this. But we may be assured that, as it is overwhelmingly attested. so we do well to receive it, and learn the special ground for the unusual expression. It was a reminder of their near and dear relation to Christians.