Second Peter is a reminder of First Peter (2Peter 1:12-15; 3:1-2), so what we find in First Peter applies to the context of Second Peter and is worthy of mention in order to clarify difficult passages. Therefore, when Peter speaks of things like: “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” (2Peter 3:10), it would behoove us, rather than force Peter’s words into a modern day, scientific context, to place such an event into the context of what Peter claimed in his first epistle.
In his first epistle Peter claimed the Lord’s coming would occur in the last time (1Peter 1:5), but that would be in a little while (1Peter 1:6). So, the last time was the time in which Peter and his readers lived. Furthermore, the coming of the Lord was going to be within the lifetimes of his readers (1Peter 1:9), and the prophets of the Old Testament (who foretold the coming of the Lord in the Day of the Lord) prophesied for the time or the generation of the first century AD (1Peter 1:10-13). First Peter also claimed that the end of all things was at hand (1Peter 4:7). That is, all things of which the prophets foretold was at that time being fulfilled, and Christ stood ready to judge the living and the dead (1Peter 4:5), and the long awaited Judgment was beginning at the house of God (1Peter 4:17). After this, Peter’s readers would receive their inheritance, the Kingdom of God, which was about to be revealed (1Peter 5:1).
Therefore, whatever Peter meant by: “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” (2Peter 3:10), he believed it would occur ‘in a little while’, ‘in his generation’ and it ‘was about to be fulfilled.’ Since, therefore, the space-time continuum didn’t end in the first century AD, and, if Peter wasn’t mistaken (as many modern critics conclude), we need to understand his words from a first century AD context, rather than a moderns scientific context.
Notice, as well, what Peter claimed was the source of both epistles, namely, the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus, concerning whom the Apostles were witnesses, i.e. the ones who published Jesus’ message or Gospel (2Peter 3:2). In the context of 2Peter, Jesus claimed that he didn’t come to destroy the Law and the Prophets but, rather, to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17), and Jesus said this in the context that fulfillment would occur when ‘heaven and earth pass away’ (Matthew 5:18). It is in this light that Peter claimed the world was about to end, namely: “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” (2Peter 3:10). Notice what Jesus said in this context:
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.(Luke 21:20-22; emphasis mine)
In other words, Jesus placed the time of the fulfillment of all things written in the Old Testament at a time when Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies. It was a time of war and a time of vengeance. It would be a time when Jerusalem would fall to her enemies, because the Lord warned his servants to flee the city when they saw the armies. The city walls could not protect them. He warned his servants not to enter the gates of the city (to celebrate the Holy Days), because all things which are written (would be) fulfilled at that time (cir. 70 AD), and this is what Peter claimed in 1Peter 4:7.
Therefore, Peter’s words: “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” (2Peter 3:10), must refer to the events that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple—the time when all things would be fulfilled, namely, the time when the Old Covenant ended. That is the heaven and earth under Moses passed away and gave way to the heaven and the earth under Christ.