It is the view of Got Questions Ministries that 2 Peter 3:7–12 is describing a literal event in the future. “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. . . . That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Peter 3:10, 12). This earth will not last, and God has something better planned. John records seeing “‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that this earth will pass away and be replaced by a new heaven and earth. They believe that God will never destroy the earth, that they will survive the battle of Armageddon to inherit a paradise earth and live upon it for 1,000 years, and then, if they pass the final test, they will live forever on the earth. The Witnesses say only 144,000 persons since the time of Jesus will ever go to heaven.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that, before the outbreak of the Great Tribulation (“‘Your Deliverance is Getting Near’!” Watchtower, July 15, 2015, p. 14–19), those of their anointed heavenly class (the remnant of the 144,000 still alive) will die and then be taken up into heaven in spirit form (“‘Caught Away to Meet the Lord’—How?” Watchtower, January 15, 1993, p. 4–7). All other Witnesses (about 8 million) will be left on earth to go through the Great Tribulation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses take the prophecy of Ezekiel 38:11 about the attack of Gog of Magog and apply it to themselves. They anticipate a time of unprecedented persecution when both the religious and political elements of this world (under the control of Satan) will turn on them because they refuse to submit to the Antichrist and those who follow him.
In heaven, the 144,000 co-rulers with Christ who were taken there before the Great Tribulation will receive authority to share with Jesus in wielding “an iron rod” of destruction against all enemies of God’s Kingdom. (God’s Kingdom Rules!, chapter 21, 2014, page 228).
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Armageddon will happen before the millennial reign of Christ Jesus and that the only survivors will be faithful and obedient Witnesses (“Stay Faithful Through the ‘Great Tribulation,’” Watchtower—Study Edition, October 2019, p. 14–19). They believe that God speaks through their organization, and that “Jehovah’s servants already belong to the only organization that will survive the end of this wicked system of things” (Watchtower, December 15, 2007, p. 14). The survivors will inherit a “paradise earth” ruled by Jesus Christ in heaven. The majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not want to go to heaven but are looking forward to the paradise on earth.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been anticipating the battle of Armageddon since before 1914. They see Armageddon as the time when God will destroy all earthly governments and false religion—which includes all Trinitarian churches and all denominations that do not promote and use the name Jehovah (“Who Is the Antichrist?” Watchtower, June 1, 2015, p. 14–15).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that billions of people who died before Armageddon will be resurrected with physical bodies to return to earth, and they will be given a “second chance” to repent. Not all the dead will be raised, however.
This is how Jehovah’s Witnesses understand those Bible verses that speak of the new heavens and a new earth (e.g., 2 Peter 3:13 and Isaiah 65:17):
Sometimes when the Bible speaks of “the earth,” it means the people who live on the earth (Genesis 11:1). So the righteous “new earth” is a society of people who receive God’s approval . . . “The wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth” (Psalm 37:10–11). “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it” (Psalm 37:29) (What Does the Bible Really Teach, p. 33–34).
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the planet remains but the wicked inhabitants (those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses) will perish. Their 1992 leaflet “Will This World Survive?” explains the destruction by fire mentioned in 2 Peter 3:7 this way:
The Bible does not mean that the literal earth or the starry heavens will pass away, even as these did not pass away in Noah’s day (Psalm 104:5). Rather, this world, with its “heavens,” or governmental rulers under the influence of Satan, and its “earth,” or human society, will be destroyed AS IF by fire (John 14:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4). This world, or system of things, will perish just as surely as did the world before the flood.
Here is a summary of future events as described in the 2014 book God’s Kingdom Rules! (Chapter 21, p. 224–225): The precursor of the Great Tribulation will be a proclamation of peace and security. This is to be followed by the final sealing of the remnant of anointed Christians (Jehovah’s Witnesses). The Great Tribulation begins with an attack on religion by the Wild Beast of Revelation (which they say is the United Nations). Events leading up to Armageddon include celestial phenomena, a pronouncement of judgment on the enemies of God’s Kingdom by the Son of Man (Jesus), the all-out attack of Gog of Magog (Satan) on Jehovah’s people, and then the gathering of the anointed ones. These things happen before Armageddon, at which point the Great Tribulation ends. The grand finale of the Great Tribulation is the execution of judgment at Armageddon.
Regarding the eternal state, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that, at the end of Christ’s reign from heaven over the millennial kingdom, all those who were resurrected for a second chance and who remain faithful till the very end will live forever on a paradise earth.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses use the global flood to teach that 2 Peter 3:10 and 12 do not mean a literal destruction of the earth by fire. But there is a big difference between the effects of water and fire. Whereas water covers, fire consumes and exposes. The flood was not about destroying the literal planet; however, when God uses fire, things are reduced to ashes. God has promised to expose earth’s internal workings by fire, and “the elements will burn and be dissolved” (2 Peter 3:10, CSB). There is nothing ambiguous about the wording of the prophecy:
“The heavens will vanish with a [mighty and thunderous] roar, and the [material] elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and the works that are on it will be burned up. . . . For on this day the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the [material] elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Peter 3:10, 12, AMP).
In Revelation 21:1 God does a complete make-over of heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:12–13). The new heaven and new earth will be the setting for the eternal state “where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). After the re-creation, God reveals the New Jerusalem. John sees a glimpse of it in his vision: “The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). This is the city that Abraham looked for in faith (Hebrews 11:10). It is the place where God will dwell with His people forever (Revelation 21:3). Inhabitants of this celestial city will have all tears wiped away (Revelation 21:4).