Just as a flood destroyed the earth and its inhabitants in Noah’s day (see Genesis 7), prophets have told us that the earth will be destroyed by fire in a future day. Perhaps not far in the future.
This is not happy news. It’s a terrifying prospect, really. Incomprehensible, a disaster of epic proportion. But it is well attested in scripture. And because it comes from scripture, it’s not just a possibility and it’s more than probability. It’s a prophecy, and, soon or late, prophecy comes to pass.
In the last book of the Old Testament, we read an important question:
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. (Malachi 3:2–4.)
How will He be like a refiner’s fire? Isaiah spoke of a time in the last days when the earth would be defiled by sin and the inhabitants burned:
The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left. (Isaiah 24:5–6; emphasis added.)
Malachi’s well-known prophecy about the burning of the earth tells us that the wicked will be as stubble, as the fields after harvest:
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (Malachi 4:1; compare D&C 29:9; D&C 64:24; and D&C 133:64.)
The apostle Peter wrote in his second epistle that the earth and the wicked works therein will be burned up:
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.)
How will the earth be burned? The prophet Nahum tells us that the earth will be burned at the presence of the Lord.
The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. (Nahum 1:5; emphasis added.)
Modern revelation also testifies that the presence of the Lord will be as a “fire that burneth”:
And it shall be answered upon their heads; for the presence of the Lord shall be as the melting fire that burneth, and as the fire which causeth the waters to boil. (D&C 133:41; see also D&C 88:94; emphasis added.)
And another place the Doctrine and Covenants says:
And the saints also shall hardly escape; nevertheless, I, the Lord, am with them, and will come down in heaven from the presence of my Father and consume the wicked with unquenchable fire. (D&C 63:34; emphasis added.)
How is He like a refiner’s fire? Perhaps because the light and power of His presence will have a purifying effect on the righteous and a destructive effect on the wicked.
Nephi tells us that the fire will actually be a protection to the righteous:
Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire. (1 Nephi 22:17; see also vs. 22–23.)
Finally, the Lord’s protection will be effective:
And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 4:3.)
When the saints, living and dead, are “caught up together . . . to meet the Lord in the air” (see 1 Thessalonians 4:17), they will be protected from the destruction that will take place on earth. How the two events go together, I am not sure. But I think they do go together.