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Frequently Asked Questions - Doctrines

FAQs - Doctrines

The canonicity of the books of the Bible was determined as follows:

As the various books of the Bible were written, they were read by believers and recognised by consensus. The Holy Spirit caused them to accept those books which God had inspired (the 66 books that we have in our Bible today) and reject those books which were not inspired by God (e.g. the apocrypha and the spurious gospels).

How do we know what was the consensus of God’s people? Through differences in the way they handled the books. e.g. the Dead Sea Scrolls show a difference in the way that the writers quoted from the OT books from the way that they quoted from other books written at the same time.

As for the NT, Tertullian made this statement which represents the thinking of Christians in the 2nd century AD with regard to the Bible: "We Christians are forbidden to introduce anything else on our own authority, or to choose what someone introduces on his own authority. Our authorities are the Lord’s apostles, and they in turn chose to introduce nothing on their own authority. They faithfully passed on to the nations the teaching which they had received from Christ."

How we know that the Bible is complete:

God has defined that the OT prophets (see Deuteronomy 18:20-21) and the NT apostles (see John 16:12-16) are the only legitimate human writers of scripture whom the Holy Spirit will inspire. Ephesians 2:20 - "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" Ephesians 3:5 - "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" 2 Peter 3:2 - "That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour"

These two groups are the only two categories of the "Holy men of God" mentioned in 2 Peter 1:21 - "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." The line of OT prophets came to an end about 400 BC. Josephus, declared that the prophets wrote from the days of Moses to Artaxerxes. Josephus also wrote: "It is true our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time." The Talmud remarks: "After the latter prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel." Both of these sources testify that Malachi was the last writing prophet of the OT. Hence no one after Malachi can claim that he is a writing prophet.

The line of NT apostles came to an end about AD 90 with the death of the apostle John. What is an apostle? He must be an eyewitness to Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3), and manifest the signs of an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3,4). It is true that the books of Mark, Luke and Acts were not written by an apostle, but these have the authority of the apostles behind them, e.g. Peter for Mark and Paul for Luke and Acts. No one living after AD 90 can claim to be an apostle or have the authority of an apostle because all the apostles of Christ died by that time.

Another evidence that the Bible is complete is the fact that the last few chapters of the last book, Revelation, reflect themes in the first few chapters of Genesis which is the first book. Look at the following:

Subject / Theme
God giveth light - Gen 1:3; Rev 22:5
God’s garden/city - Gen 2:8; Rev 21:10
Tree of Life - Gen 2:9; Rev 22:2
Precious stones - Gen 2:11-12; Rev 21:18-20
River - Gen 2:11-14; Rev 22:1
Marriage - Gen 2:24; Rev 21:2
Satan - Gen 3:3; Rev 20:2
Destruction of Evil - Gen 6:11-13; Rev 19:20,21
Babylon - Gen 11:1-9; Rev 18:1-9

This is not coincidental, but a real testimony to the conclusive nature of the book of Revelation. The same kind of structure can be observed in OT poetry. e.g. Psalm 103 begin and end with the same phrase: "Bless the LORD, O my soul" Therefore, any book that is written after the book of Revelation and claimed to be part of the Bible would violate this intricate structure of God’s revelation!

As for Rev 22:18,19 the argument that it applies to the whole Bible is admittedly tenuous since the words "the words of the book of this prophecy" apply directly to the Book of Revelation alone. Hence it is a warning not to tamper with the book of Revelation. However the same warning is found in Deuteronomy 4:2 – "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." (also Deu 12;32). Hence, by analogy, every book of the Bible, which is inspired by God, cannot be tampered with with additions or subtractions. In an indirect sense, additional books purported to be from God, will be doing that, especially if their message nullifies or changes what God has already revealed through the prophets and apostles.

There are some who say that Paul was the replacement for Barnabas and that Matthias who was elected in Acts 1:26 was not a legitimate apostle. Nothing more is mentioned of him.

But I think that it may be better to say that there were the 12 apostles, plus some other apostles recognised by the church, which includes Paul. Acts 15:5,7 seems to imply that the term "The twelve" is a subset of "The apostles" - "And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles."

Who are these other apostles besides Paul? Two of them may have been James, who was the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). Paul calls himself the least of all the apostles (1 Cor 15:8,9)

There are two important qualifications of an apostle:

1. Must have been an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1 - Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus and presumably learned all about the life, death and resurrection of Christ by direct revelation. Christ appeared to his brother, James, according to 1 Cor 15:7. Barnabas was presumably among the more than 500 who saw the resurrected Christ in 1 Cor 15:6).

2. Must have the signs of an apostle (Paul had these - 2 Cor 12:12; Acts 14:3 shows that Barnabas was also able to perform miracles, like Paul.)

If a person had one qualification but not the other, he could not be called an apostle. E.g. Philip was able to perform signs, but he was not an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 8:5,6). There may have been many among the 500 who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ, but who did not have the signs of an apostle.

Thus when the Bible talks of "The apostles" it is sometimes referring just to the 12 who were His original chosen disciples, plus Matthias who replaced Judas. At other times it may be referring to a larger group, which included Paul, Barnabas and James the brother of Christ.

They were created before man. Job 38:6,7 – "Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" The term ‘morning stars’ and ‘sons of God’ (cf. Job 1:6; 2:1) refer to angels who witnessed the acts of creation by God. Man did not see these things, since they were all made by the time he was made. Man is therefore of lower rank than the angels (Psalm 8:5) who are powerful immortal beings. But man will one day in his resurrected state, be like them (Matthew 22:30).

The term "angel of the Lord" is found altogether 68 times in the Bible (56 times in the OT and 12 times in the NT). In most of the verses where the term is found (both in the OT and NT), the term may refer to any angel that was sent by the Lord to bring a message to someone (e.g. 2 Kings 1:3,4) or to execute God’s will (e.g. 1 Chronicles 21:15). However, there are some OT passages where the ‘angel of the Lord’ is God Himself. E.g. Genesis 22:11,12,15-17; Genesis 31:11,13; Exodus 3:2,4; Judges 13:20. We cannot take every instance of the mention "Angel of the Lord" as referring to God or Christ. Those that are revealed to be God in the OT are probably the preincarnate appearances of Christ (Micah 5:2 – "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.") but none of the Angel of the Lord appearances in the New Testament are like that, because Christ was already incarnated.

We believe that Christ’s atonement was sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.

It is correct to say that Christ died to save only the elect, when the context is the design and intention of the atonement, and not its sufficiency.

The Arminians believe that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended to save the whole world but only those who believe are saved. This position is wrong because when an atonement is made for anyone his sins can no longer be held against him. The penalty for all his sins has already been fully paid. If that person has to pay it again in hell, then there would be a double payment for the same sins. So the atonement of Christ could only have paid for the sins of the elect, not for the sins of the non-elect. Matthew 1:21 says, "...for He shall save His people from their sins." The term ‘his people’ here refers to the elect. Ephesians 5:25 – "...even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." Again the term ‘church’ demarcates a group of people, not the whole world.

But the value of Christ’s atonement is infinite, so that if hypothetically, God had elected every sinner who ever lived, Christ’s atonement would still have been sufficient to pay for all of them. No sinner is lost because of an insufficient atonement. This sufficiency is stated in 1 John 2:2 – "And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Therefore the atonement is sufficient for all.

First we must consider what is true of all three persons in the Trinity: The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarises it as follows: "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." What is true about God is true about each person in the Trinity. God is eternal. Therefore Father is eternal, Son is eternal, Spirit is eternal, etc. All three persons are equal (cf. John 5:17,18; 10:30) but there are functional differences:

The Father is mentioned first, followed by the Son, and then the Holy Spirit. (John 14:28 – "If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.", 16:14 – "He [the Holy Spirit] shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.", 5:19 – "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."). This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is a lesser God than Jesus and that Jesus is a lesser God than the Father. Or that one is less important than the other.

Functionally, God the Father is the Source from whom all things originate. God the Son is the Word or wisdom, and God the Holy Spirit is the Power, executing the will of God. These functions can be seen in creation (1 Cor 8:6 – "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.", Gen 1:2 – "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.").

And salvation (1 Pet 1:2 – "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.") The Father elected us to salvation from the before foundation of the world, The Son provided the atonement that saves us, and the Spirit Calls us through the preaching of the Word. When we pray – we pray to the Father, through the Son, by means of the Holy Spirit.

However, the distinctions are not absolute and there is some overlap. E.g. Which Person of the Trinity abides in the believer? – The Holy Spirit; God the Son – John 14:20 "At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." (cf. Gal 2:20); God the Father – "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." In whose name do we baptize? Acts 2:38 says "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." But Matthew 28:19 says, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"

Sanctification is the work of the Spirit (as seen in 1 Pet 1:2) and yet in Jude 1:1, it is God the Father who sanctifies! ("Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called"). Awhile ago we said that prayer is directed to God the Father, but one prayer in the Bible is not addressed to the Father, but to the Son – Acts 7:59 – "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

Hence, there definitely is some overlap in functions and roles. How much? – Not for us to say or to measure. Remember: That it is beyond man’s ability to completely understand or analyse God, the way he might analyse anything in this world. We should simply accept what the Bible says about Him.

The main difference it is spirit baptism that saves, not water baptism. The moment a person is born again, he or she is spiritually baptised. 1 Corinthians 12:13 – "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." After a person is spiritually baptised, he should be baptised with water as well to confess that he now believes in Christ. In infant baptism however, water baptism comes before spirit baptism, because it is usually later on that the child is born again. But there was one exception – e.g. John the Baptist (Luke 1:15 – "he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.") He was born again before he was even born!

Water Baptism is one of the two sacraments ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ to be practised by the church, which are: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Of these, baptism is only done once, to initiate the new believer into a church. Salvation is not the purpose of water baptism – many people have this mistaken idea, because it is taught by the RC church and some cults – e.g. Central Christian church. See 1 Corinthians 1:17 – "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." If baptism is required for salvation, Paul would not have said that.

The thief who died on the cross next to Christ was not baptised, and yet he was saved. (Luke 23:42,43 – "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."). The Bible teaches that baptism is only an outward sign of an inward grace (cf. Wedding ring – the outward sign of the invisible marriage bond). It distinguishes Christ’s disciples from the rest of the world, and comforts them. If an adult who is not saved goes through water baptism, that water baptism is no use to him. Therefore what matters most is the unseen spirit baptism that is done by God.

The OT Jewish Laws provided salvation only as far as the Jews believed in God’s provision of the Messiah for their salvation. The Laws were designed to make them aware of their sin and need for salvation, and the sacrifices prescribed in the Law made them look forward to the final sacrifice God would provide for them, to take away all their sins. There are ample prophecies in the OT about the coming Messiah and many godly Jews in the time of Christ were looking forward to seeing Him.

E.g. Simeon, in Luke 2:5-27 – "And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law."

Besides Simeon, there was also Anna, a prophetess in the Temple who recognized Jesus as her Messiah, "And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38).

As Jesus was growing up, there were probably many other godly Jews, who like Simeon and Anna, were waiting for their Messiah and His salvation, but who unlike Simeon and Anna, they were ignorant that He had already come. As long as they still had this hope and desire, they were saved. But when Jesus began His public ministry, the news about Him would have reached most of the Jews living in Palestine. That would then determine who were saved and who were not among them. Those who were saved would readily confess that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:13-17 – "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.")

1 Peter 2:7,8 – "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed."

Therefore, from the time that Jesus’ ministry became known among the Jews (and not the completion of the canonical Bible), their response to him determined whether or not they were saved. Those who heard about the Jesus and sought to know Him and follow Him would be saved – as God would draw them toward Him. Those who responded to the news with indifference, were not. How about those living far outside Israel who never got to hear the news even after Christ had ascended up to heaven? – They would be saved if they were like Simeon and Anna in desiring the Messiah to come. But since godly Jews would take the trouble to visit the Temple at Jerusalem every year for the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, it is likely that they too would have received the news about Jesus (cf. Pentecost in Acts 2:5,6 – "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.")

Today, the news of Jesus is common knowledge to most Jews. And yet they still reject Him. This is due to the ‘blindness’ that God has placed on them (Romans 11:25).

Three of them are named: the Crown of life (Rev 2:10, James 1:12), the Crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), and the Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). The idea of crowns was taken from the athletic contests and they were actually prizes that were awarded to athletes in New Testament times. In those days people took part in sporting events like the present day Olympic games. But unlike the Olympic games, participants in these games who performed better than all their other competitors in athletic events, did not receive gold silver or bronze medals. What they received were special wreaths or garlands woven from leaves, and they wore these on top of their heads.

Different kinds of leaves were used to make the ‘crowns’ in different areas. The crown worn by the victors in the Olympic games was made of leaves of the wild olive; in the Pythian games, of laurel; in the Nemean games, of parsley; and in the Isthmian games, of the pine. The Romans bestowed the "civic crown" on him who saved the life of a citizen. It was made of the leaves of the oak tree. Our Lord Jesus Christ was also crowned when he died on the cross, but one that was woven with thorns, not leaves, in order to mock him rather than to honour him.

And the whole concept of the crowns that the New Testament writers wrote about was actually derived from these wreaths, since the Christian life is like a long distance race. When we are discouraged we can look into God’s Word and be motivated to press on when we understand that there are wonderful prizes waiting for us at the end of the race: the crown of righteousness, the crown of life and the crown of glory.

The Crown of Righteousness – According to 2 Tim 4:8 Paul knew that he would get this crown, and it would be his reward for having fought the good fight, finishing his course and having kept the faith. He says that this crown will also be given to all who love the appearing of the Lord Jesus.

The Crown of Life – According to James 1:12 this crown is given to those who love God and because of that, they endure severe trials in life -- "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." Since trials often endanger a person’s life, the crown of life becomes a fitting reward for them.

The Crown of Glory – According to 1 Peter 5:1-4 this crown is given to elders in the church who are faithfully feed and oversee the flock of God. "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." (1 Peter 5:4). Since they resisted the temptation to use their authority to seek glory for themselves, the crown of glory becomes an appropriate reward for them.

But what exactly are all these crowns? Are they real, literal material crowns, an ornamental head-dress like the special wreaths worn by victors in the ancient games? I think that are probably not: They must be better than that. What will be the use of having a special beautiful shining crown to wear in heaven when our physical appearances do not really matter any more over there?

The crowns are best understood to be referring to real and wonderful rewards that we will truly enjoy in heaven. Some have suggested that the reward is actually found in the name of the crown. E.g. The crown of righteousness is righteousness. The crown of life is life itself, and the crown of glory is glory. Cf. Hebrews 2:9 – "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour;. . .."

Question: We can understand righteousness and glory as rewards. But what’s so great about having life as a reward when we will have eternal life? Life can be defined as the ability of an entity to interact with the things around it. When a living thing dies, it loses all ability to interact with its environment. The supreme level of life comes from having the ability to interact with God Himself, with the One who is the ultimate source of all life. We experience life in its fullest meaning only when we can more fully know, love, and fellowship with the infinite, eternal God.

When life is seen and understood in these terms, then we can understand why the crown of life is such a great reward to strive for. What we are being promised by God is the blessedness of experiencing a much deeper, and a much closer relationship with Him that will satisfy our souls to the fullest. In heaven, everyone who is saved may not be enjoying the same level of closeness and intimacy with God. Some will be granted the special privilege of being closer to God than others. This is why the mother of James and John asked Jesus to grant that her two sons may sit next to Him in heaven. (Matthew 20:20-22).

One more interesting point about what the rewards may be: Isaiah 28:5 -- "In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people," Do you see here what the crown of glory is? It is the Lord Himself.

This suggests that the crowns have to do with God Himself and not something apart from Him. Perhaps some may be disappointed to know this because we have been thinking of heavenly rewards more in terms of valuable material assets like those we are used to receiving in this world like gold, property, houses, and cars. But if we desire to obtain special prizes at the judgment seat of Christ, then let it be for no other reason than the fact that the prizes will in some very special way bring us much closer to God. Our Lord is the best reward, the best prize we should be looking forward to in heaven!

This is a difficult question to answer. I have thought quite long about it, and I must admit that I do not have the answer to it. We will probably know only when Christ returns.

Let me just present the problems of finding an answer to this question. There are few of them. The first is that since with regards to the rapture we take either a pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation position, then after the rapture there will be no Christians left on earth for the duration of either 7 years or 3.5 years. And then there might be some who come to know Christ as a result of the tribulation (There was even a film made of these ‘tribulation saints’ some years ago – they formed an underground church that suffered a lot under the Antichrist.) But they also suffer the full brunt of the wrath of God that is vented against the world of the Antichrist in the seven vial judgments. The question is that when these tribulation saints die, what happens to their bodies? While the saints who are already raptured are enjoying the marriage supper of the lamb, receiving their rewards at the bema seat, when will these ‘tribulation saints’ get their new resurrection bodies and their belated rewards? The Bible is silent.

One way around this is to say that there will be no tribulation saints at all. The time of grace is already past. The Holy Spirit has been removed from the world (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Thus no one will be called into God’s kingdom during the tribulation. All who are left behind are ‘condemned’ so to speak. And yet there must be a possibility of salvation to take place during that time, because some prophecies tell us that Israel will turn to the Lord during this time. According to Zechariah 12:20, they will look upon Him whom they have pierced and weep for what they did to Him. The Jews will be revived during the years of tribulation and will realize that Jesus Christ whom they crucified was actually their messiah! Romans 11:25 tells us that all Israel shall be saved after the fullness of the Gentiles have come in.

This means that there will be at least some Jewish tribulation saints. So we are back to the question: what happens to them if they die believing in Christ? Some may suggest that they will be glorified instantly to join the rest of the saints – as latecomers. Imagine a Jewish Christian shot to death and immediately his body resurrects! Others suggest that there will be a special resurrection for them just at the end of the tribulation when Jesus descends the clouds with the saints. They will resurrect and immediately join the armies of saints coming with the Lord. Will there be a second rapture then of those Jewish Christians who did not die?

Another problem: What happens after Christ begins to rule on earth during the millennium? If people are born during the millennial kingdom and they are saved, and then they die, where will they go? We know that as glorious and changed as the millennium will be, death will still be existing. Isaiah 65:20 tells us that though people will live much longer during the millennium, they will still have to die – "There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed." So what will happen to them when they die? Will they join the resurrected saints and reign with Christ on earth? In that case we will have an interesting situation of believers who die during the millennium and they just pass on from life on earth in a corruptible body to eternal life on earth in a resurrected body!

Because there are so many difficulties and questions related to the resurrection of believers who die after the rapture and no answers, some have opted to do away with the literal interpretation of the scriptures and believe in the amillennial view where everything will take place at the same time: resurrection of believers, and unbelievers all at the same time, and no more need for two or three or more resurrections! While that may simplify things and "solve" this problem, we need to ask if it is a valid solution, since it means spiritualizing away many specific prophecies of the Bible. And since every prophecy of scripture that has been fulfilled has been fulfilled literally, we have no reason to believe that the rest of the prophecies will be fulfilled spiritually.

I believe that the premillennial view we hold is the right one, even though I do not have the answers to these questions. These things are not revealed to us and therefore we do not need to know. But rest assured, one day all things that are unknown will be made known. So let us be patient to wait for that day!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

November 19 & 26 - The End of the World

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10