Recovering the classic, Protestant interpretation of Bible prophecy.

Of the Conflagration of the Universe

The effects of Christ’s second coming and personal appearance are many; as the resurrection of the just, of which we have treated at large already; and the burning of the world, and making new heavens and a new earth, and the reign of Christ there with his saints a thousand years; and thou the general judgment: of all which in their order. And to begin with the universal conflagration; which is strongly and fully expressed by the apostle Peter, #2Pe 3:10,12 where he says, "the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up": which is to be understood of the burning of the whole sublunary and visible world; signified by the heavens and the earth, taken in a literal and not in a figurative sense.

1. First, not figuratively, as some {1} interpret them, of the Jewish church, and of the Mosaic elements, the ceremonial laws, and the abolition of them; and who suppose, that the "new heavens" and the "new earth", in a following verse, design the evangelical church state, or gospel dispensation, which took place upon the removal of the former. But,

1a. Though the civil state of the Jews is sometimes expressed by the heavens and the earth, and the removing of it by the shaking of them, #Heb 12:26,27 and sometimes by the "world", at the end of which Christ came, and upon whose apostles the ends of it were, #Heb 9:26 1Co 10:11 yet the Jewish church is never called the world; for, in opposition to that, the Gentiles are called the world; the name of church the Jews took to themselves, that of the world they gave to the Gentiles, #Ro 11:12,15 hence the love of Christ in dying for the Gentiles is expressed by this phrase, #Joh 3:16 1Jo 2:2.

1b. Though the commandments of the ceremonial law are called elements or rudiments, in allusion to the elements or rudiments of a language, to which children are put to learn; under which the Jews were while children; and while under the law, as a schoolmaster, #Ga 4:3,9 Col 2:20 yet they are never so called, in allusion to the elements, which belong to the system of the natural world, such as air and earth, which are only capable of being burnt; for surely the burning of a few papers or parchments of the law cannot be meant here.

1c. The abrogation of the ceremonial law is expressed by other phrases usually; as by the fleeing away of shadows, the breaking down the middle wall of partition, the abolishing of the law of commandments, and a disannulling of it; but never by burning, melting, and dissolving.

1d. The Mosaic elements, or the ceremonial law and its precepts, were already abolished when Peter wrote this epistle; these had their end in Christ, and were done away at his death; signified by the rending of the temple vail asunder; and Peter knew this, who was the first to whom it was made known, by letting down before him a sheet, in a visionary way, with all kind of creatures in it, which he was bid to slay and eat; and from whence he learnt that now nothing was to be reckoned common and unclean, that law which made the distinction being abrogated; whereas the melting of the elements was a future thing in his time, and is yet so, And likewise,

1e. The new heavens and the new earth, if by them are meant the evangelic state, or gospel church state; that also had already taken place, and Peter was au instrument in the forming of it; he had the keys of the kingdom of heaven given him, and opened the door of faith by preaching the gospel to Jews and Gentiles; and on the day of Pentecost three thousand were converted and baptized, and added to the church, which was the first gospel church in Jerusalem; and therefore this was not a state to be looked for as to be in future time. But,

2. Secondly, the words are to be understood literally; yet not of a partial bursting of some particular place or city; not of the burning of Jerusalem, the city and temple, and inhabitants of it; which is the sense some {2} put upon them; and which some take into the former sense, and so make a motley sense of them, partly figurative and partly literal; but such a sense of the words cannot be admitted; for,

2a. This would not afford a sufficient answer to the objection to the promise of Christ’s coming, taken from the continuation of all things in the same situation as they were from the creation, #2Pe 3:4 for what change in the system of the universe would the burning of a single city, and of a temple in it, make? Changes and revolutions in single states, kingdoms, and cities, had been frequent, and these objectors could not be ignorant of them: but nothing less than such a change as was made by the flood could strengthen the answer to the objection and serve to remove it. Wherefore,

2b. The destruction here spoken of is of equal extent with the destruction of the world by the flood; as the world, the whole world that then was, was overflowed by the flood and perished; so the heavens and the earth which are now will be dissolved and burnt by fire; and nothing short of such a dissolution of the whole frame of nature can answer such a description. Besides, it may be further observed, as it has been {3},

2c. That the apostle’s quoting a passage in #2Pe 3:8 from #Ps 90:4 seems to suppose, that the time of Christ’s coming might be then a thousand years off, as in fact it was, and much more, and yet be a short time with God, and might be spoken of as such; but to make mention of a thousand years must seem very improper, with respect to an event that was not twenty years to come; and which Christ had assured would be in that generation, #Mt 23:36,38,39 24:3,34.

2d. No such events as here mentioned happened at the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple; as the passing away of the heavens with a great noise, a fervent heat in them, to the liquefaction of the elements; with the burning of the earth and all works in it; for even the land of Judea itself was not thus burnt up, with the cities, towns, villages, and inhabitants of them, and all things in them.

2e. Nor was this destruction so desirable a thing as to be looked for with pleasure, and the coming of Christ to effect it, to be hastened to, as in #2Pe 3:12 whereas Christ’s coming to judge the quick and dead, at his appearing and kingdom, will be glorious, and is to be looked for and loved. To say no more,

2f. The destruction here prophesied of is expressly said to be at the day of judgment, against which day the heavens and the earth are reserved unto fire, #2Pe 3:7 so that, upon the whole, nothing else can be meant but the general conflagration of the world by fire, in a literal sense. The nature and extent of this burning will be more particularly considered after we have proved that such a conflagration is possible and probable, yea, certain; as will appear,

2f1. First, from partial burnings, which may be considered as types, emblems, and presages of the universal burning; as,

2f1a. The burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities of the plain; which were set forth for "an example of suffering the vengeance of eternal fire"; and why not then be considered as an emblem of the burning of the world at the last day? These cities were destroyed by fire which came down from heaven; and on a day, when in the morning there was no appearance nor likelihood of it, a fine, bright, sunshine morning, #Ge 19:23,24 and when the inhabitants of it were thoughtless and secure, and indulging themselves in pleasures; and thus, says our Lord, "shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed", that is, in flaming fire, to take vengeance on the wicked, #Lu 17:28-30 and if God could destroy these cities, and all in them, by fire from heaven, what should hinder but that he can destroy the whole world in like manner?

2f1b. The destruction of Jerusalem, and the burning of the temple, were emblems of the destruction of the world by fire; hence in answer to the question, put by the disciples of Christ unto him; "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" #Mt 24:3. Our Lord gives such as were common, both to the destruction of Jerusalem, near at hand, and of the whole world, at the end of it, the one being typical of the other: and so these signs had a double accomplishment; first in the destruction of Jerusalem, and then in the final dissolution of the world. And so the destruction of the Jews is sometimes expressed in such language as suits with the destruction of the whole world; particularly in #De 32:22. "For a fire is kindled in my anger", &c. And, indeed, this conflagration here spoken of may be thought to reach further than the land of Judea, though that seems principally designed; even other parts of the earth, and to terminate in the destruction of the whole world; and so Justin Martyr {4} interprets it of the general conflagration. And though Jerusalem and the temple were not burnt by fire from heaven, yet the hand of God was so manifest therein, that Titus, the heathen emperor himself, could observe it; who strove, by all possible means, to prevent the burning of the temple, but could not do it; for God, as the historian observes, had condemned it to the fire {5}; as, indeed, it was: our Lord foretold the burning of the city by the Romans, #Mt 22:6 and the blaming of the temple is prophesied of in #Zec 11:1 there called Lebanon, because built of the cedars of Lebanon.

2f1c. The burning of the beast, of antichrist, and of the antichristian states. The judgment which will issue in that is described in such manner as if the last and the great day of judgment was intended, and the dissolution of all things at hand; yet nothing else follows upon it, but the body of the beast being destroyed and committed to the burning flame, #Da 7:9-11 and the destruction of Idumaea, which seems to be a type of Rome and of the antichristian states, is expressed in such language as agrees very well with the dissolution and burning of the whole world, #Isa 34:4-6,9,10 of the burning of Rome, see #Re 18:8-18.

2f1d. The destruction of Gog and Magog, or the Turk, will be by fire; which will be at the beginning of the spiritual reign of Christ; and when the Jews are converted, and restured to their own land, which will irritate the Turk to bring his armies against them, the Lord will "rain upon him an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone", #Eze 38:22 this is said of Gog; and the like is said of Magog, #Eze 39:6. And I will send a fire on Magog: these are different from the Gog and Magog in #Re 20:8,9 who are no other than all the wicked dead raised; whereas these are the Turks: and they will appear at a different time; the one at the beginning of the spiritual reign of Christ, as before observed; and the other at the end of the personal reign of Christ, or the millennium; and so the fire that comes down from heaven on the one is of a different nature from that which comes on the other; the one is a material fire, the other the wrath of God. Now these several partial burnings, as they are types and presages of the universal burning of the world, so they at least make that possible and probable.

2f2. Secondly, the probability of the universal conflagration may be argued from the preparations in nature which are made and making for it; for the apostle says, that "the heavens and the earth which are now", which are now in being, "are by the same word", the word of God, "kept in store", as a treasure, and are treasured up among the stores of vengeance, "reserved unto fire"; for which preparations are making in them; "against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men", when it will break forth and destroy the universe and all things in it. Preparations are making in the earth for this general burning. Not to take notice of the central fire, supposed by some to be in the midst of the earth, since it is doubtful whether there is such a thing or not; it is certain there are various volcanos, or burning mountains, in different parts of the world; besides Mount Etna, in Sicily {6}, which has been burning for many ages, as also has Vesuvius, near Naples; and the island of Strombilo, in the sea, which lies between them both, and is thought to have a communication with them under the bottom of the sea; and Lipara, near Sicily: and so far north as Iceland, there are three burning mountains; one of them called Hecla, which oftentimes rages no less than Etna, vomiting out prodigious stones, with a terrible noise; besides hot springs in abundance. In the East Indies, in the island of Java, not far from the town Panacura, a mountain broke out in 1586, for the first time; discharging such quantities of burning brimstone, that above ten thousand persons in the country round about were destroyed. The mount Gonnapi, in one of the islands of Banda, in the same year, which had been burning seventeen years, broke from the rest, throwing out a most dreadful quantity of burning matter, and great red hot stones, &c. There is another mountain on the island of Sumatra, which smokes and flames just like Etna. The earth, in the Molucca islands, casts out fire in several places; as in Sorea and Celebes; especially a mountain in Ternata. In one of the Moorish islands, about one hundred and twenty miles from those of the Molucca, there happen very often earthquakes, with eruptions of fire and ashes. In Japan, and the islands about it, there are many little, and one great burning mountain; nay, it is said {7}, there are eight "volcanos" in Japan, besides many hot springs. In Tandaja, one of the Philippine islands, are found many small fire mountains; and one in the island Mariudica, not far from them. The like are found in North America, in the province of Nicaragua. And in South America, in Peru, among those mountains that make the ridge of the Cordillera, near the city Arequipa, there flames a mountain continually. There is likewise one near the valley Mullahalo, which being opened by fire, casts out great stones. There are also several burning mountains in the district that lies on the east side of the river Jeniscea, in the country of the Tongesi, some weeks journey from the river Oby, according to the relation of the Muscovites; as also near another water called Besida. Near the island Santorini, no longer ago than the year 1707, sprung up a new island from the bottom of the sea; in which, about the end of August that year, the subterraneous fires, after a terrible rumbling, burst out with such violent noise as if six or seven pieces of cannon were discharged at once; and frequently a great quantity of ashes, glowing stones, and huge pieces of burning rocks, have been tossed into the air with such a force, that they have been carried seven miles before they have dropped into the sea {8}! Strabo {9} reports somewhat similar to this, as done near this place some hundreds of years ago. Nor is our island free from symptoms and appearances of subterraneous fires; for by what are the hot waters at Bath and Bristol occasioned, but by them, by which they are heated? Besides, there are eruptions of fire in some places in other parts of the land {10}. And by the above accounts it appears, that not only there have been burning mountains in ages past, in some places, even thousands of years ago; but that new ones, in later times, have broke out: so that the preparation for the general burning of the world is still carried on and is increasing; and which may seem to portend its being near. And there is not only a preparation making in the earth but in the heavens also, where there is great store of materials fit for this purpose provided; witness the fiery meteors in them, the blazing comets, which sometimes appeal and are always in being, though not always seen by us; also those vast bodies of light and fire, the sun and stars, to be made use of on occasion; and the vast quantities of matter which occasion such dreadful thunders and lightnings which, in some parts of the world, are almost continual, and from which they are scarce ever free. Now when these things are considered, the general conflagration of the world will seem neither impossible nor improbable; but rather it may be wondered at, and thought a miracle, that the earth has not been destroyed by fire long ago. Let the atheist, the infidel, the profane and careless sinner tremble at this. Pliny {11} the heathen, observing the many fires in the earth and in the heavens, and how easily fire is kindled by holding concave glasses to the sun, says,
“It exceeds all miracles, that one day should pass and all things not put into a conflagration!”

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About Me

Historicism.com is owned and operated by me, Joe Haynes, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I serve as a pastor in a church plant in Victoria since 2013. My wife, Heather, and I have five kids. In 2011, I completed a Master of Arts in Christian Studies from Northwest Baptist Seminary at the Associated Canadian Theological Seminaries of Trinity Western University. Feel free to visit my blog at Keruxai.com.
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