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There is a lot of talk about the end times. But where and when in the scripture does it recount the world actually being destroyed? In the end of John's Revelation we have the new heaven and earth, and at the beginning the old. More specifically, at what event and by what means are the old heavens and earth destroyed?

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Some say fire. Some say ice... either will suffice. –  Narnian Feb 6 '12 at 19:45
    
Yet we have an old and a new. Did it happen or not? –  RiverC Feb 6 '12 at 19:49
    
Sorry... just referencing the Robert Frost poem. –  Narnian Feb 6 '12 at 19:54
    
:) no harm done! –  RiverC Feb 6 '12 at 20:01
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The precise moment seems to be:

Revelation 20:11 (ESV)
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.

It's probably best to think of this as an image of what will happen rather than a detailed description.1 However, the image is that the throne of God fills the space that the heavens and earth2 currently fill and completely supplants them. Precisely what happens to them seems not to matter in the culmination of history. Only the people, who are judged at this time, remain from the former world.

Immediately on the heals of the arrival of God's throne and the disappearance of the old world, comes:

Revelation 21:1-5 (ESV)
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

I've bolded the critical phrase. N. T. Wright says on the topic:

The New Testament, building on ancient biblical prophecy, envisages that the creator God will remake heaven and earth entirely, affirming the goodness of the old Creation but overcoming its mortality and corruptibility (e.g., Romans 8:18-27; Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). When that happens, Jesus will appear within the resulting new world (e.g., Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2).

Summary

According to the New Testament, the world isn't so much destroyed as renewed or replaced. God will make it His dwelling place with us.


Footnote:

  1. Revelation overflows with images that are not to be taken as strictly literal. For instance, what is transparent gold? I don't think our language is equipped to describe such things precisely—we can't yet see clearly.

  2. "Earth and sky" often is a metaphor for "everything" or, what we now call, "the universe".

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Ah, that's the one! Yes, as it says, 'with fire and a great noise'; and in other places, 'our God is a consuming fire.' But this does appear to be the exact point as best as I can tell. They are destroyed before the face of God, not by some mechination. Secondly on your footnote, 'earth and sky' or 'the heavens and the earth' refers traditionally not to 'the universe' but to 'the creation seen and unseen' as referenced in the creed. –  RiverC Feb 8 '12 at 13:14
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If I am understanding St. Paul correctly, he's telling us that there is no way to know when this will happen -- that indeed the angels don't even know -- and that our preoccupation with it is of no consequence if we are not ready to meet and be judged by God on that day.

The following is based on 1 Thessalonians chapter 5:

"Of the times and moments. That is, of the day of judgment, of the end of the world, of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is enough to know the time is uncertain, and that death cometh as a thief in the night. (Witham) --- When the judgment shall take place the Angels themselves do not know. Perhaps St. Paul, when wrapt up to the third heaven, may have learnt something on this subject; for he was told many things which he could not announce to man; therefore, he says, I need not write to you: it is unnecessary for us to know it. (Calmet)"

The second epistle of St. Peter does suggest fire though:

2 Peter 3:10: But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth, and the works that are in it, shall be burnt up.

Some commentary on this:

The heavens, &c. He puts the faithful in mind not to regard these profane scoffers, but to be convinced of the truths revealed, and that the world shall be destroyed a second time by fire. Reflect that the time of this life, and all the time that this world shall last, is nothing to eternity, which has no parts, no beginning, nor end; so that in the sight of God, who is eternal, a thousand years are no more to be regarded than one day, or one moment. The long time that hath hitherto passed, must not make you think that God is slack as to his promises, or that they shall not infallibly come to pass at the time and moment appointed by his divine providence. God's infinite mercy, and his love for mankind, bears patiently with the provocations of blind and unthinking sinners, not willing that any of them should perish, but that they should return to him by a sincere repentance and true penance, and be saved. But watch always, according to the repeated admonition of our blessed Redeemer. (Mark xiii. 37. &c.) For both the day of your death, and the day of the Lord to judge the world, will come like a thief, &c. (Witham)

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On the topic of fire but not the end of the world, part of the message of the Marian apparition at Akita, Japan (1973) is this: "If men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never have seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead." Link: is.gd/IDBR4G –  Audio Sancto Feb 6 '12 at 20:59
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I'm not sure that a cataclysmic event (or series of events) that necessarily leads to annihilation, or some other form of the annihilation of the world is a biblically defensible position.

The "new" could be a reference to a restoration of the created order to its original intended state.

edit: I stand corrected http://www.gotquestions.org/end-of-the-world.html

This guy has an interesting take.

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I'm not convinced. 'Rolled up like a garment' sounds pretty cataclysmic. –  RiverC Feb 6 '12 at 19:50
    
Absolutely. I will edit my answer to be more clear since it's not at all clear. If you are referring to Rev. 6:14, then it seems like more of a galactic destruction --- with stars falling and such. Or it could be figurative. –  swasheck Feb 6 '12 at 19:57
    
I'll look myself tonight but I do recall there being a point at which everything is actually destroyed. –  RiverC Feb 6 '12 at 20:01
    
The link is kind of 'meh', to me; the Heavens refer to the unseen world whereas the Earth refers to the visible universe, at least in that style of writing. –  RiverC Feb 6 '12 at 20:07
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