In his second letter, Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Pet. 3:10).
It is difficult to overstate how much this one verse has affected Christians of the last century. Many have interpreted it to mean that on the Day of the Lord, all of creation will be annihilated and created brand new, ex nihilo, all over again.
That leads some to wonder, If I’m a construction worker, or Amazon employee, or accountant, will everything I’ve done be destroyed? If so, what’s the point of going to work—or of doing more than the bare minimum to earn my paycheck?
We seek to offer another view.
Our Work Renews
To begin, we must remember that everything God created was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That’s great news! The bad news is that sin has wreaked havoc on God’s good world. But what he made good, sin cannot make bad. Instead, sin acts as a parasite, defiling God’s good work for unrighteous ends. Sin is not capable of creating something new the way God has done. It can only corrupt what already exists.
Sin is not capable of creating something new the way he has done. It can only corrupt what already exists.
The rest of Scripture teaches that God is at work making all things new through Jesus and his work on earth—namely, his death and resurrection. Now, when we unite with Christ and are filled with God’s Spirit, we are empowered with “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) to proclaim the gospel, and with works worthy of our calling in Christ.
How does this affect our reading of 2 Peter 3:10? First, we must keep the whole Bible in mind when reading Scripture. In so doing, we maintain a clearer view of creation as God’s good work, which he has not forsaken. Second, we must allow other passages of Scripture to inform our understanding. For example, 1 Corinthians 3:9 teaches that “we are God’s fellow workers” as well as “God’s building.” After explaining that God has built on the foundation of Christ, Paul argues:
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:12–15)
Although both 2 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 3 carry ambiguities, we can conclude a few things.
Our Work Will Be Refined
First, the language of both appears to state that “through fire” all of creation will be disclosed, not destroyed. In other words, we should expect a purging or refining of creation rather than annihilation.
‘Through fire’ all of creation will be disclosed, not destroyed.
Second, this disclosing is similar to what happened in the flood of Genesis 7–8, though this time sin will not squeak through as it did before. Because of Christ, sin will be snuffed out and death destroyed in the new heavens and earth.
Third, we can infer that our work will be seen on the other side. Paul’s language is often read as speaking only to the fruit of our spiritual work, but perhaps the fruit of our physical work will greet us in the kingdom as well.
Our Work Will Glorify God
A scholar friend once remarked, “When we reach the new heavens and new earth, one of the first things I’ll do is dash off to the library.” Why? “To see if my books made it through.” His point is not one of ego. He simply longs for his works to be of such value—gold, silver, and precious stone—that they might have a place in Christ’s eternal kingdom.
One wonders if this is what Revelation 21:24–26 refers to: “By its light [the glory of God] will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. . . . They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”
He longs for his works to be of such value—gold, silver, and precious stone—that they might have a place in Christ’s eternal kingdom.
We don’t know for certain what the “glory and honor of the nations” are, but we can’t help but wonder, what glory do the nations have to offer in the light of the glory of God? Could the glory of the nations be good works done in faith? If so, would these be strictly spiritual works, or also physical works?
We cannot answer these questions with certainty, but we believe there will be some continuity between this world and the one to come. Will it be new? Of course; otherwise it could not be the new heavens and earth. But some things will be old, beginning with the Ancient of Days himself.
This article is adapted from Every Waking Hour: An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians (Lexham Press, 2016) and is used here by permission.