When used symbolically in the Bible, the term “heavens” often refers to ruling powers, which are elevated above their subjects. (Isa. 14:13, 14; Rev. 21:1, 2) “The heavens [that] will pass away” represent human rule over ungodly society. Their passing away with a loud “hissing noise”—or “a mighty roar,” according to another rendering—may indicate the swift annihilation of these heavens.
The “earth” represents the world of mankind alienated from God. Such a world existed in Noah’s day and, by divine decree, ended with the Flood. “By the same word the heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” (2 Pet. 3:7) Whereas the Flood destroyed the ungodly all at one time, the coming destruction will occur in stages during “the great tribulation.” (Rev. 7:14)
In the first phase of that tribulation, God will move the political rulers of this world to destroy “Babylon the Great,” thus showing his contempt for that religious harlot. (Rev. 17:5, 16; 18:8) Then, in the war of Armageddon, the final phase of the great tribulation, Jehovah himself will wipe out the rest of Satan’s world.—Rev. 16:14, 16; 19:19-21.