Where Does the Righteousness of God Now Dwell?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This excellent short article was written by Terry Siverd, Minister of the Cortland Church of Christ, and sets about to highlight the essence of the message of Jesus and the apostles about the approaching change (end) of the “world” as it related to the Old Covenant over against the arrival of the New Covenant and the “righteousness” that was promised]
The end of the world predicted by Jesus in His Olivet discourse (Mt.24:3) heralded the soon coming removal of the old covenant realm. It was part of the all these things shall take place that Jesus declared would transpire before the passing of that first-century generation (Mt.24:34). The focus of the destruction of old age was not planet earth, but rather the old covenant. This promise was firmly rooted in the prophetic utterances of many Old Testament prophets. Many years prior to the incarnation of Jesus, Isaiah had prophesied: For behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind (Isa.65:17). As noted by our Lord, this promise was trustworthy: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away (Mt.24:35).
This world–ending event is described in the Scriptures with a wide array of poetic language. In Joel 3:16 and Heb.12:26-28, it is depicted as a SHAKING. In Ps.102:25-26 and Heb.8:13 the image is of THE WEARING OUT or WAX-ING OLD of a garment. Another colorful picture of the same event speaks of the ROLLING UP OF A SCROLL (Isa.34:4 and Rev.6:14). Still another envisions a FLEEING AWAY (Rev.20:11). While all of these are metaphors of demise, the figure that most captures our attention is the FIERY CONFLAGRATION described in 2Pet.3:10 – – 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.
Perhaps this latter depiction is best encapsulated in the words of Isaiah – – for the Lord will execute judgment by fire (Isa.66:15-16). This same thought is echoed in the Epistle to the Hebrews – – Our God is a consuming fire (Heb.12:29).
The Western mind (contrasted with the oriental) has come to be so fixated on a literal interpretation of 2Pet.3 that we have all but dismissed these other images – – all of which are very legitimate verbal expressions of catastrophic change. There is no doubt that fire had a literal presence in the fall of Jerusalem. In one of His parables addressing judgment on Jerusalem, Jesus stated: the king was enraged and sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire (Mt.22:7). In this instance, this terminology was both physical and symbolic (Heb.10:26-27). What we have failed to see in the verbiage of 2Pet.3 is THE COVENANTAL LANGUAGE BEHIND THE FLAMES. As implied by Hebrews.9:8, the AD 70 event was necessary: the death-throes of the Old Covenant became the birth-pangs of the New Covenant. The subject of this judgment was not the incineration of the literal heavens and earth but the setting aside of the old realm. The object of the fiery judgment was not to destroy the planet but to alter the covenant worlds. Peter’s words – – according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells dovetail with those of Paul – – therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken… (Heb.12:27-28).