What would Jesus do to the planet?
Although MacArthur thinks that ‘we have a responsibility to care for the environment’, that we ‘ought to care for every resource God has provided us with’, this would appear to be a classic statement of theologically motivated contempt for the created world. So is there any basis for his ‘wait until they see what Jesus does to it’ attitude? He cites only 2 Peter 3:7-13, which is certainly one of the more garish and disturbing passages of New Testament apocalyptic:
In Isaiah the recreation of heaven and earth is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel following judgment (Is. 65:17). The destruction of the enemies of Israel, either internal or external, by fire is also part of this judgment-restoration scenario. What precedes the remaking of the heavens and the earth in Isaiah is a judgment on the enemies of Israel, when the heavens will be torn open and the mountains will melt like wax (Is. 63:19-64:1 LXX), when ‘the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire’ (Is. 66:15; cf. Mal. 4:1). This is not a burn-the-whole-planet judgment: it is a historical judgment on the enemies of the people of God as part of restoration.
The allusion to Habakkuk 2:3 in verse 9 evokes a situation in which righteous Israel must wait for God to judge the ungodly.
Verse 10 sounds like a reference to Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse (cf. Matt. 24:43), and there is certainly a strong case to be made for the view that Jesus is speaking here of the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (see COSM 16-70). The passing away of heaven and earth is for Jesus a metaphor for the transformation that accompanies the taking place of ‘all things’ - the events associated with this historical transition (Matt. 5:18; 24:34-35).
Peter speaks of a ‘day of judgment’ on the ungodly that will be like the judgment of the flood or the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, when the righteous will be rescued just as Noah and Lot were rescued (2 Peter 2:4-10; cf. 3:7). Jesus also foresaw a ‘day of judgment’ (hēmera kriseōs) which will be like the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but this will be a judgment on Israel, on its towns and villages (Matt. 10:15; 11:22-24; cf. 24:36-39; Lk. 17:26-30).
We also should not overlook the fact that Peter is quite certain that this event will happen fairly soon; it will have an impact on his readers (cf. 1:19; 3;12, 14).
This has been a hasty analysis. It is possible, moreover, that Peter is using this extravagant apocalyptic language and imagery in a much more literal and final sense than is the case with the prophets and Jesus. Still, it seems to me reasonable to suppose that he means to describe, primarily for the benefit of Jewish believers harrassed and scorned by their compatriots, the approaching judgment on Jerusalem and a concomitant judgment on the enemies of the people of God. This is not to say that the New Testament does not contemplate a final judgment and a final renewal of heaven and earth (see Rev. 20:11-21:8), but this lies at the outer rim of its vision and does not detract from the essential responsibility of the people of God to live well now - righteously and creatively - in the midst of the nations and to be an embodiment of the hope of creation made new through its own transformed existence.