THE DESTRUCTION OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
Hebrews, no other book is quite like it. Its logic is powerful, its lessons persuasive, its significance under-emphasized in most discussions, its eschatology almost ignored, except by those who sometimes cast around for a “proof-text” to support their view– while they ignore the actual context.
From the first syllable to the last, Hebrews is a book of eschatology. It speaks of the last days (Hebrews 1:1-3), the coming of the Lord in judgment (10:32-37), the establishment of the kingdom (12:25f). It speaks of the passing of “heaven and earth,” the New Jerusalem, the New Creation (12:21-28).
We are concerned here with Hebrews 1:10f and the prediction of the destruction of “heaven and earth.” This text is one commonly used by those who insist on the literal destruction of planet earth. We will show that it has no such application.
Note that in chapter 1 the author spends most of his time contrasting Jesus with the angels, and it is in that contrastive context that he mentions the passing of the heaven and earth.
Why would the author of Hebrews spend so much time contrasting Jesus with the angels? Was it because his audience worshiped angels? No. As Ellingworth says, “A clue to the place of angels in the structure of the argument is provided in Hebrews 2:2, which, like Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, refers to the tradition that angels acted as mediators when the Law was given to Moses.” (Paul Ellingworth, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Hebrews (Eerdmans, Paternoster, Grand Rapids, 1993)104). The reference to angels, in contrast with Jesus, was a discussion of Jesus being greater than the Old Covenant world.
The reference to the destruction of “heaven and earth” is given in the contrast between the world of the angels, the Old Covenant world, and the age to come, the world of the Messiah. That this is the contrast is shown clearly in chapter 2:1-5. The writer says God had not given the angels authority over the “world to come.” He had given them authority over the world, the heaven and earth of the Old Law, because it was through them that it was mediated, but they, as mediators of that Old Covenant world were merely acting as messengers and servants for those who would inherit salvation in the “age to come” (Hebrews 1:14).
There can be no serious doubt that the Hebrew writer has in mind the passing of the “heaven and earth” of the Old Covenant.
For a much longer discussion of this critical issue, see our longer article…