The World Ends in Fire. Why?
Someone, who disagreed with me about how the world came into being, once challenged my view by retorting, “Were you there?” and then walked away smugly, as though he had put me down with his mocking question. I wish I had had the presence of mind to have answered, “Of course not . . . but I know someone who was.”
Just as there are disagreements about how the world started, even among Christians (young earth vs. old earth), so also are there various views on how it will end. My purpose here is not to debate these various views but simply to share one insight that the Lord unexpectedly gave me about just one aspect of this coming end of the world: that of its destruction by fire. I may not know everything about this coming destruction, and since it is in the future, I obviously haven’t been there; no one has. But I do know the One who dwells in the future no differently than in the past; it is all the same to Him.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8 WEB).
“For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity. . . .” (Is. 51:15 WEB).
What this eternal One showed me about fire and the end of the world resonated with me because I studied physics as my minor in college and have continued ever since studying how the universe has been put together by God.
“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who have pleasure in them” (Ps. 111:2 RSV).
I was sitting in a chair, not thinking about anything in particular, when my thoughts turned to this topic and suddenly I sensed that that the Lord was revealing something to me. I began to see new meaning in the Bible’s descriptions of the end of this world by fire. Here is what I believe the Lord showed me about this.
God created the laws of physics and chemistry and so forth by which world is sustained and maintains itself and its form. But just as God had the right to create in any manner he so chose, so does he have the right to suspend those laws and do away with them. The only reason the laws of nature must be obeyed is because God has said they must be obeyed. He is the one “who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, . . . and fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, and said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’ (Job 38:8-11 NIV).
Why did God make the laws of nature the way he did? Because he had in mind all along a purpose for what he was creating when he created the cosmos of stars and galaxies and this planet earth. That purpose was, among other things, to serve as a place in which man may dwell. He knew beforehand how he would make man, what kind of physical body he would give him; thus he knew exactly what kind of world and universe he would need to make to provide a fit environment to protect and nourish this living creature of his making.
“For this is what the Lord says–he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Is. 45:18 NIV).
The laws of nature were instituted by God as they are because those laws form a system by which the universe becomes habitable by man. That is the purpose of those laws, to govern the physical universe in an orderly way so that man can survive and live.
But once sin entered into this system, it no longer became a fit place for man to dwell in permanently–all the more so since God seeks for his Spirit to dwell within man and God cannot dwell where sin reigns. Thus we have the pronouncement of God upon his chosen dwelling place:
“Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years'” (Gen. 6:3 RSV).
Thus we see already, by the sixth chapter of Genesis, near the beginning of the world, that God puts a limit on the days of man, thus hinting at the same limit for the place in which man dwells, the earth.
“In the beginning you laid the foundations 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” (Ps. 102:25,26 NIV).
That is half of the message in that passage about why this world will end. The other half finishes that passage this way:
“But you remain the same, and your years will never end. The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you (vs. 27,28).
This is the contrast between man and God. Man may disappear from the earth and the earth itself is doomed; but God remains and his desire is still the same: to have his Spirit dwell within man. Therefore, if the original dwelling place he created for man is no longer fit for him, then God must provide a new dwelling place for him, so that, as the verse says, “the children of your servants will live in your presence.”
God has a purpose for everything he does. He created the world for a purpose, to be a dwelling place for man, as the previously quoted passage from Isaiah shows. But that dwelling place became polluted and something had be done. God did do something: He brought the great flood of Noah’s time upon the earth. But that was more like a cleansing rather than a complete destruction, and it was temporary. God has warned us in his Word that there is coming upon this world another great catastrophe, but which will be permanent and final:
“But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Ptr. 3:7 NIV).
Water and fire. These are the two major ways Scripture mentions as destroyers of earth. We have already seen one, that by water. That type of destruction took a long time. Noah had to wait for at least 150 days for the water to go down (Gen. 8:3). But the coming destruction by fire will be as swift as a thief in the night:
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Ptr. 3:10 NIV).
Why the difference? Why will the coming destruction of this earth by fire be carried out swiftly, while the previous destruction by water took much longer? Because in that previous judgment of the world, the purpose for God’s creation of that world had not yet reached its fulfillment; there was still more of God’s plan to be carried out. In fact, thousands of years of the execution of that plan still lay ahead; it had, in fact, only begun. The Messiah, for instance, still had to come to this earth to provide a way out for God’s people to escape the coming destruction, and that Messiah could not come until all else had happened to prepare the world for his first coming.
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Gal. 4:4 NIV).
The same holds true for the second coming of God’s Son into this world. It will not happen until the fullness of God’s plan for that event has taken place. But once that fullness has been reached, then there will be no delay, no drawn out execution of the plan because there will be no need for such delay. All will have been completed and all opportunities for repentance and salvation will end.
“There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (Rev. 10:6,7 NIV).
What happens, then, at the end, when there is no more delay? At end of world, Scripture tells us that everything is torn apart, separated. This is true spiritually and physically.
Spiritually, there is a separation of the righteous in Christ and the unrighteous outside of him. “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Mt. 25:32,33 NIV).
Physically, there is also a separation. The stars, galaxies, even the very atoms which make up this world and universe will literally fall apart. “All these things are thus to be dissolved . . . the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!” (2 Ptr. 3:10-12 NIV).
This is the dissolution of the elements that make up the physical universe. The universe, space and time itself, will come apart, separate, dissolve. This is what happens when the substance that composes the atom is released in an atomic explosion: The atom is ripped apart and its tremendous energy released. At the end of the world, this will not be confined just to a single area but the entire universe will fall apart, be ripped apart–for it will no longer be needed.
space: “He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens'” (Heb 12:26 NIV).
“The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place” (Rev. 6:14 NET).
“The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (Is. 60:19 NIV).
time: “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer” (Rev. 10:5,6 KJV).
All that is of this world will be torn apart, released from its confinement to the form of this present world, just as the hidden energy of the atom is released in the fission process of an atomic explosion.
“The form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31 NIV).
The physical form of this world passes away at this point because it is no longer needed; that form has fulfilled its purpose. It was given first so that physical man could have a place to live.
“It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:44-49 NIV).
So now a new form, a spiritual form, must take over. In fact, the former physical form cannot survive into the new age; therefore, it must be done away with.
“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:50-53 NIV).
That is one reason for the rapture, so that we can receive our new bodies from the Lord. All that is of the old world, with its corruption and decay, must be dissolved. Only that which is connected to, joined to, united with and into Jesus will survive this the coming of this new creation–because all such are already declared by God to be part of that new creation.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV).
“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Ptr. 3:14 NIV).
Why will the world end in fire? Because at that final moment, the real essence of all that exists will be exposed by God. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened” (Rev. 20:12 NIV)
The physical, material world that we see and that is so familiar to us is only a temporary form to house the real essence of that which exists. And at the end, God will remove this housing that hides this real essence, both for human beings and for the world that houses them. Each human being will have his or heart exposed for all to see, while the old world that was a house for them is destroyed. Both will be done by fire. Fire burns away all that cannot stand its heat.
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10 NIV).
It is important to remember in all this that the end of the world is not just about destruction and punishment, however. There is also that aspect in which God’s saving grace is also made evident. Not only is the physical world torn apart and separated, as well as the world of non-believing people, because they did not want God in their lives but to have him be separate from themselves. There is also the uniting of those who welcomed God into their hearts and lives. Separation and uniting reach their fullest expressions at the end, in God’s great plan for this world–“a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10 RSV)
This is our great hope for us who believe. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5 RSV). We shall escape the fire of God’s wrath and the fire of hell.
Thus it is clear that fire serves two opposite purposes in this final act of earth’s history. It destroys the earth and those in it who do not avail themselves of the one way to escape this destruction, through faith in Jesus Christ. And it preserves those who do. Fire both destroys and saves.
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:11-15 NIV).
“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Ths. 1:7 NIV).
“He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire'” (Heb. 12:26-29 NIV).