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Last session we studied 2 Peter 3:1-10, in which Peter taught about the second coming of Christ. The delay of the second coming had become a problem for the Church. Peter, Paul and the other apostles taught that Christ would return soon; but no one knew how long “soon” would be. By the sixties of the first century, when Peter wrote this letter, nearly four decades had passed since Jesus’ death and resurrection. By that time, many of the first generation of Christians already had died, yet Jesus still had not returned. So some were beginning to think that the second coming never was going to happen. Therefore in this part of his letter, Peter set out to exhort the recipients to maintain their faith in the second coming; and he did it with a series of exhortations, all of which were exhortations to remember something.
First, Peter exhorted them to remember the teachings of the prophets and apostles (v. 2). Second, he exhorted them to remember the word of God (vv. 5-7). Third, Peter exhorted them to remember God’s sovereignty over time (vv. 8-9). And fourth. He exhorted them to remember that the Day of the Lord will come, and that it will come unexpectedly (v. 10). I noted that the events Peter were describing are open to more than one interpretation, but he clearly set forth four things that are to happen when the second coming of Christ takes place:
—It will come unexpectedly.
—It will come with a loud noise.
—It will dissolve the elements.
—It will burn up the earth and its deeds (Mal. 4:1; Isa. 34:4).
In verses 11-18, our study for today, Peter brings his letter to a close. In doing so, Peter applies his thoughts to the recipients with a moral mandate that he believes is required, and then he gives a few closing exhortations.
As we already had seen, Peter wanted the recipients to understand that the Lord is coming again; and he wanted them to understand some things about that second coming. But it’s one thing to have that knowledge, and it’s quite another thing to live the right kind of life in response to the knowledge.
Thus in verse 11 Peter gives the recipients a moral mandate. He asks, “Since all these things,” meaning the heavens and the earth, “are to be dissolved in this way,” meaning by fire, “what sort of persons ought you to be?” That’s an outstanding question. It’s a question we Christians ought to be asking ourselves much more often than we do.
God’s Judgment is coming. We may not live physically until Christ comes again, but all of us will be participants in the end-time (including the judgment), when he comes. We may not be able to understand how God will bring it all to pass; but it will come to pass. Each of us will be resurrected and will participate in the final judgment. And that is why Peter is asking how we ought to be living in the meantime.
Too many people, including many Christians, live as though there never will be an accounting. But God’s Word says there will be an accounting. Every human being will appear before the judgment seat of God, and God will punish or reward us according to what we have done in the body.
Now then, Peter answers his own question about how we should live. As the NIV puts it, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.” The letter to the Hebrews also stresses the holy life. Indeed Hebrews declares that holiness is required to see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). And it isn’t just a matter of conduct, though conduct is important. Primarily it is a matter of character. Indeed the only way to be consistently holy in conduct is to have a holy character. And holiness of character comes from one’s yielding to the will and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In other words holiness comes from the inside out, and it defines who we are as Christians.
Some may think of godliness as a synonym for holiness, but that isn’t really the case. Godliness has to do with devotion or piety. It indicates a moral attitude. In the New Testament godliness indicates a Christian attitude towards life. Indeed the word is used in the New Testament as an equivalent of the Old Testament concept, the fear of God.” In other words, godliness has to do with the kind of wonder, awe, and reverence we believers should have towards God. Those who have this proper attitude towards God are godly; those who do not are ungodly. They are not properly devout or pious (Dictionary of New testament Theology). As you can see, holiness and godliness are not the same thing, though they are closely related. Obviously, one who is truly holy will be godly; and conversely, one who is ungodly cannot possibly be truly holy.
In verse 12 Peter gives two more characteristics of true Christians. We are “waiting for, and hastening the coming of the day of God.” The NIV says we “look forward to the day,” rather than we are “waiting for” it; but I believe the NRSV is a better translation in this instance. Either translation is correct, and both are true. For example, it’s true that we look forward to the second coming. But the more consistent theme of the New Testament is that we wait expectantly for the second coming, as we look forward to it. That’s the idea behind this word, and that’s why I prefer the NRSV translation. So, in addition to living lives of holiness and godliness as we await the second coming, we are to wait expectantly.
Lastly, in addition to holiness, godliness and expectant waiting, we are to hasten the second coming. Wow! I doubt that many Christians give a lot of thought to that idea. We are to hasten the second coming.
There is no doubt that this is what that word means. Every time the word occurs in the New Testament, it means to hurry or hasten. For instance, in Luke 2:16, the shepherds “went with haste,” or hastened, to see the Christ child. In Luke 19:5-6, when Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down out of a tree, he said “hurry” [or hasten] and come down.” “So he hurried down.” And in Acts 22:18, when Paul is telling about a vision he had in which Jesus said to him, “Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly.” So we are in some sense supposed to be hurrying, or hastening, the second coming.
The obvious next question is, how can we hasten the second coming? Peter doesn’t tell us, but the New Testament as a whole reveals some ways we can do it. First, we can pray. For example, in Rev. 8:3-5, it is revealed that the prayers of God’s people have an influence on the events of the end time. I suggest you take the time to look at that passage to see what I mean. The context is the Tribulation vision, which suggests that it is during the end time.
I don’t want to deduce too much from this passage; but it does indicate that the prayers of God’s people influence end time events. And of course Jesus himself taught us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to pray “thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). Therefore, although the New Testament is a bit vague on this subject, it does teach us that our prayers can somehow hasten the second coming.
Second, we can hasten the second coming by preaching or witnessing. Again, there is mystery here. But when Jesus taught about the end-time, as recorded in Matt. 24:14, he said, “And this good news [or gospel]of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony [or witness] to all the nations; and then the end will come.” So according to Jesus, our preaching or witnessing, like our praying, can influence the second coming. We have no way of knowing when God will launch the end time events. We don’t know if the number of people saved, or the number of people groups or nations reached, has anything to do with God’s timing. But we do know that we are preach and bear our witness to the ends of the earth so that God’s purposes will be attained, which will hasten the second coming.
Yet a third way that we can hasten the second coming is repentance, as seen in Acts 3:17-21. Again I suggest you look it up and read it. As you can see from these verses, repentance of sin brings not only “times of refreshing,” but it hastens the sending of the Messiah, the Christ. Of course the sending of the Messiah in this instance refers to the second coming. Thus repentance is a third way to hasten the second coming.
Now then, Peter concludes the letter with several final exhortations. Verses 14-15a summarize what Peter said earlier. “While you are waiting,” that is, waiting for the second coming, “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him” (NIV). Once again Peter reminded the recipients that the delay of the second coming was for salvation purposes, not slowness to fulfill his promises.
Peter’s mention of Paul is significant. First, it indicates that Peter and Paul taught the same things. Second, it indicates that Paul’s letters were accepted as Scripture while he was still alive. Of course many scholars reject this. Rather than believe that Peter said that, they reject authorship by Peter. They attribute this letter to a later, unknown writer who was writing in Peter’s name. And third, it always has been comforting to me that Peter admitted that he found some things in Paul’s letters hard to understand.
Finally, in verses 17-18 Peter instructed the recipients to “beware,” or “be on your guard’ (NIV). In other words, they were fairly warned, and they had no excuse. And he exhorts them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Last session we completed the second chapter of 2 Peter in which Peter dealt with false prophets and teachers. In 2 Peter 2:1-3 we saw false prophets described: they will arise and lead people astray. In 2:4-10a we saw false prophets condemned: three Old Testament examples. And last session we saw in verses 10b-22 false prophets further described: five points.
In this session we study chapter three, verses 1-10, in which Peter turned to teachings about the second coming of Christ. He approached the task by exhorting the recipients to remember several important matters, beginning with previous teachings they had received.
In verses 1-4 the subject of the section does not become evident until verse four when Peter repeats a question raised by persons he called “scoffers.” “Where is the promise of his coming?” they asked. “For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!”
Obviously the delay of the second coming had become a problem for the Church. Peter, Paul and the other apostles had taught that Christ would return soon; but no one knew how long “soon” would be. Jesus himself taught that no one knew when the end would take place. Even Jesus in his human incarnation didn’t know.
Peter wrote this letter in the sixties of the first century, nearly four decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. By that time, many of the first generation of Christians already had died, yet Jesus still had not returned. So some were beginning to think that the second coming never was going to happen. Therefore in this part of his letter, Peter set out to exhort the recipients to maintain their faith in the second coming; and he did it with a series of exhortations, all of which were exhortations to remember something.
Now before reviewing the objections, I want to say that the false teachers of Peter’s day had two objections to the doctrine of the second coming. One was objection due to the delay in Christ’s second coming already mentioned. And two, they objected on the basis of the stability of the universe. In the latter case, the false teachers were claiming that because the universe had kept its regular movements for centuries, it was reasonable to assume that it would continue to do that. Thus they concluded that the apostolic teaching of a second coming of Christ accompanied by a cataclysmic end of the world and judgment was wrong.
This situation distressed Peter, because the prophets and other apostles clearly were teaching that Christ would come again in judgment. Thus we saw Peter’s first exhortation in verse 2: remember the teachings of the prophets and apostles. Many of these authority figures still were alive. Therefore the false teachers were opposing the Spirit-filled leaders of the Church. And Peter was telling the recipients that they must listen to the prophets and apostles.
Peter continued to answer the objection based on the continuity of the universe with his second exhortation in verse five. It is a bit indirect, but it is there. Peter declares that the scoffers, the false teachers and their followers, were ignoring, or forgetting, the word of God. So Peter tells the recipients not to do that. In other words, remember the word of God.
In verses 5-7 Peter instructed the recipients to remember two specific things in God’s Word. He told them to remember the creation and flood stories. During the creation, God by his word created out of “waters” (Gen. 1:1-2). And then during the time of Noah, God by his word destroyed mankind with a flood of waters. Peter’s point was that the universe is not as stable as the false teachers were claiming. God has the power both to create and to intervene when and if he desires.
But Peter’s reminder of the flood went far beyond the stability issue. It was an example of God’s intervention for the purpose of judgment. In verse three Peter calls the false teachers and their followers “scoffers.” A scoffer is one who treats serious matters as though they were not serious. The people of Noah’s day scoffed at the idea of a judgment. But the flood of judgment came, and God destroyed them. In Peter’s day the false teachers scoffed at the idea of a future judgment; but Peter assures them that an end-time judgment of fire is on the way.
Many today who scoff at the idea of a coming end-time judgment. They insist that there is no such thing as hell. They choose to ignore God’s Word, just like the false teachers of Peter’s day. But those false teachers and the scoffers of today both will face their maker at the last day, and the Lord Jesus Christ will judge them, as he will judge us all.
All right, we have seen Peter’s answer to the false teachers’ objection based on the stability of the universe. Next, in verses 8-10, Peter answered the objection based on the delay of the second coming of Christ. In verses 8-9 we see Peter’s third exhortation: remember God’s sovereignty over time. In this exhortation Peter not only is answering the objection of the false teachers based on the delay of the second coming, but he also is reassuring the recipients that what they had been taught by the apostles still holds true.
Time is different from God’s point of view than it is from ours, says Peter. “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Peter undoubtedly had Ps. 90:4 in mind. It says, quote: “a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.” In other words, the Psalmist and Peter were in agreement that human standards of time are inadequate to judge the speed or slowness of God’s actions. In the case of Peter’s situation, they are inadequate to judge the sped or slowness of God’s fulfillment of his promises. He is sovereign over time, and he will fulfill his promises according to his perspective on time. Philosophers today are spending a great deal of energy on this subject of time and how God relates to it. Although that is a subject worthy of philosophical and theological speculation, it always stays a bit beyond our understanding.
Peter goes on to say, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Ah, here is the real reason for the delay of the second coming. It isn’t a matter of God’s being slow to fulfill his promises. Rather it is a matter of God’s patience, his mercy. He delays because he doesn’t want any to perish. He delays in order to give sinners more time to repent of their sins and be saved (Cf. 1 Tim. 2:4).
Peter’s fourth exhortation in this section is seen in verse 10. Remember that the Day of the Lord will come, and that it will come unexpectedly. “But the day of the Lord will; come like a thief and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed (NIV ‘laid bare,’ lit. ‘discovered’)”. Jesus himself announced that the coming of the Son of Man would take place as unexpectedly as a thief. And when he comes, the works of mankind will be laid bare, presumably for purposes of judgment.
Now the events that Peter are describing are open to more than one interpretation, but he states that when the second coming takes place, four things are to happen:
—It will come unexpectedly.
—It will come with a loud noise.
—It will dissolve the elements.
—It will burn up the earth and its deeds (Mal. 4:1; Isa. 34:4).
This means that all, including the false teachers and their followers, should heed the call for repentance.
In the last study we dealt with 2 Peter 2:1-3. In those verses we saw false teachers described. Peter, having declared that the Holy Spirit, rather than people, must control interpretation of Scripture (1:20-21), immediately brought up the subject of false prophets (2:1). As Old Covenant Israel had both authoritative and false prophets, the Church in Peter’s day had both authoritative and false teachers. And Peter was saying that these false teachers would arise and lead Christian people astray.
We noted further in verse one that Peter indicated three things that false teachers do. First, they “secretly introduce destructive heresies (haireseis)” (NIV). In other words they introduce doctrines that are not true and that lead believers astray.
Second, false teachers “deny the Master who bought them.” The “Master” we reminded is Jesus, who by his death on the cross “bought” us all, that is, redeemed us all from sin and death.
Third, false teachers bring swift judgment upon themselves. And we saw that “swift judgment” meant end-time judgment.
Next, in verse 2-3 we saw two things the false teachers are, as opposed to what they do and four results or consequences of their false teachings. The first thing the false teachers are is “licentious,” which means lacking restraint in legal or moral matters, especially matters sexual. The second thing Peter said that the false teachers are is greedy.
Next, we saw in verses 2-3 four results or consequences of the ministries of false prophets. First, many follow them in their licentious ways. And we illustrated that by the example of modern day cults. Second, they malign the way of truth. That is, the false teachers attack the Christian way of life. Third, they exploit their followers with deceptive words. And fourth, the false teachers stand condemned and will be destroyed. A guilty verdict already has been pronounced against them. They are guilty, and in the end-time, they will be destroyed.
Today’s lesson is 2:4-10a. Having described the false teachers in verses 1-3, Peter now, in verses 4-10, spells out their condemnation by giving three examples of others who have been condemned.
Peter’s first example, seen in verse four, is the sinful, or fallen, angels. They clearly were condemned for sinning, but Peter doesn’t say which angels he meant. I am amazed at how many commentators immediately suggest that Peter was referring to the account in Gen. 6:1-4. But that’s a big assumption that is based on an interpretation of Gen. 6 that, though common, is a misinterpretation. If you turn to Genesis 6:1-4 for a moment, you will see that the passage speaks of sons of God marrying daughters of men and having children by them.
There are two major interpretations of this passage. The first interpretation is that the “sons of God” are angels and “the daughters of men” are humans. The reason for this interpretation is Job 1:6 and 2:1, where angels are referred to as “sons of God.” This is a classic case of interpreting without taking into account the whole Word of God.
In the first place, nothing in the context of Genesis six says anything about angels. But more importantly, in the second place, this interpretation falls flat on its face, because of the words of the Lord Jesus himself. In Matt. 22:30, Jesus says that angels do not marry. Thus we know that these “sons of God” cannot be angels, because Genesis specifically reports in verse two that these “sons of God” married human women. Yet many interpreters of 2 Peter 2:4 assume not only that this is the correct interpretation of Genesis six, but also that Peter was referring to Genesis six in 2 Peter 2:4. Both assumptions are incorrect.
The second and correct interpretation of Gen. 6:1-4 is that the “sons of God” mentioned there were human beings, not angels. The phrase “sons of God” is used of human beings in Hos. 1:10, where the NIV reads in regard to the Israelites, “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” So the phrase “sons of God” was used of both angels and humans at various times. Here in Gen. 6:4 the author meant humans, because humans can marry humans.
In my opinion the “sons of God” were those who had been faithful to God, and that’s why they were called “sons of God.” The “daughters of men” on the other hand were from families that had not been faithful to God, and thus they were not daughters of God. Some interpreters have suggested the “sons of God” were Sethites, that is, descendents of Seth and that the “daughters of men” were Cainites, that is, descendants of Cain. Whether they literally were such is not important. The important fact is that believers were marrying unbelievers, and the Lord was displeased. It is a problem that exists to the present day.
All right, coming back to 2 Peter 2:4, we have no way of knowing what specific sinful angels Peter had in mind. However their sin was serous enough that God committed them to pits of darkness, or to chains in deepest darkness, as a punishment. Peter’s main point in mentioning these “angels” is clear. If God judged sinful angels this severely for their sins, he certainly will judge and punish sinful people severely as well.
Now then, in verse five we see Peter’s second example of others who had been condemned, namely, the wicked generation of Noah’s day. This example is found in the biblical record in Genesis six, immediately after the account of the intermarrying of believers and unbelievers. I believe this is a major reason why so many interpreters interpret the wicked angels of verse four as the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis Six, because Peter’s second example comes from Genesis six.
Ay any rate, the wicked people of Noah’s day provide Peter with a second example (Gen. 6:5-7). This story is not complicated. Human beings in general had become so sinful in the days of Noah that God regretted having created them. And he determined to destroy them.
Now two things stand out about this example. First, God did not spare the wicked among that generation. On the contrary he brought about the flood that destroyed nearly all of humanity. In other words God became so disgusted with the sinfulness of humanity, he decided to start over in his relationship with them.
The second, thing that stands out is that God did not give up on the righteous among them. This is the hopeful element in the story. God saved Noah and seven others: his wife, three sons, and their wives (Gen. 7:12). There probably were ungodly children and grandchildren who were not saved, because Noah and his sons had lived many years before the flood, and they likely had many children. And of course the flood came upon the “ungodly.”
Notice that Peter doesn’t merely say that Noah was righteous. He declares that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness.” Now the Old Testament doesn’t say that Noah was a “preacher” of righteousness; but Peter may have meant by that statement simply that Noah preached righteousness by living a righteous life for many years in the midst of many ungodly people.
Peter’s third example of others who had been condemned by God, seen in 2 Pet. 2:6-10a, were the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah. The record of their wickedness is found in Gen. 13, and that of their destruction in Genesis 18-19.
God’s opinion of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is first seen in Genesis, chapter 13, where the story is told of when Abraham and his nephew Lot decided to go their separate ways. The two of them had so many people and livestock that the land no longer could support them if they stayed together (13:6). So they decided to split up. Abraham gave Lot his choice of land, and he chose the lush Jordan plain where Sodom and Gomorrah were located (13:10-11). Indeed he ended up living in Sodom. Abraham went in the opposite direction. In verse 13 we see God’s opinion of the people of Sodom, and apparently of Gomorrah. It reads, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” Peter says they were “ungodly” (v. 6).
By chapter 18 of Genesis we learn that God had determined to destroy both Sodom and Gomorrah. You will remember that Abraham interceded with the Lord about the righteous people who might have been living in the cities, and the Lord promised not to destroy them if even 10 righteous men were found (18:32). But there were not ten, and fire and brimstone fell on the cities completely destroying them (19:24).
In the meantime, angels who went to Sodom to investigate it were threatened by the men of Sodom, causing the angels to save Lot, his wife, and their two daughters before the city was destroyed (19:16). As you remember, Lot’s wife, who was unwilling to make a clean break from Sodom, looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt (19:26).
Now then, coming back to 2 Peter 2:7, Peter describes Lot as “a righteous man.” He also tells us that Lot was “greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless” and “tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds.” Thus we see the same pattern with Lot that we saw with Noah. The wicked are destroyed, and the righteous saved.
At this point we must deal with something Peter does not tell us. I believe Peter was justified in calling Lot righteous, for he was righteous in some important ways. He didn’t participate in the sexual sins of Sodom; he was distressed, even tortured by the evils he saw; and he was willing to believe the angels and leave everything he had behind in Sodom. But the Genesis account reveals that Lot’s righteousness was quite limited. Interestingly, Peter ignores that fact.
For example, Gen. 13:10-14 indicates that Lot was worldly enough to choose the best land for his flocks when Abraham gave him the opportunity. In addition he was willing in 19:6-8 to offer his two virgin daughters to the mob outside his house in order to protect his two guests. And then in 19:30-36 Lot was willing to drink too much wine and get drunk, which enabled his daughters to take advantage of him sexually. Perhaps Peter was willing to excuse those actions on cultural grounds, but they suggest at the very least that Lot was morally weak.
Finally, in verses 9-10a Peter applied the illustrations to the recipients of his letter and the false teachers. He wants the recipients to know that though they may undergo trials (like Noah and Lot), they will be delivered. And the false teachers, like all ungodly people, sooner or later will face certain judgment.
In our last study (2 Peter 1:12-21), we saw that Peter was anticipating his death. And there were certain things about his apostolic ministry that he wanted the recipients to know before he died. We noted three things. First, Peter wanted them to know that his ministry was one of remembrance. That is, based on all he had told them about knowledge of Christ and how to grow in that knowledge, he wanted them to know that he intended to keep reminding them about those important things. Indeed he would continue to remind them until he died.
The second thing Peter mentioned about his apostolic ministry was that it was an eyewitness testimony to Christ. Here we saw Peter’s first mention in the letter of certain false prophets and teachers who would seek to lead the recipients astray. They followed what Peter called “cleverly devised myths.”
But Peter’s teachings about “the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” had an historical rather than a mythical basis. He was an eyewitness to the ministry and majesty of Jesus. Of course many people had seen Jesus’ teaching and miracle-working ministry, though few had the up-close view that Peter had. In other words many could confirm the power of Jesus’ ministry. But Peter had seen not just his power. He also had seen Jesus’ majesty.
In verses 17-18 Peter offered an account of Jesus’ Transfiguration to substantiate his claim about Jesus’ coming. Peter was one of three disciples on the mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ glory was revealed there. Peter had seen the light radiating from Jesus body; he had heard the Father say, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased;” and he had seen and heard Moses and Elijah talking there with Jesus about Jesus’ coming death. Truly Peter had seen Jesus’ majesty.
Next we noted that Peter used the Transfiguration to affirm the second coming of Jesus. We noted that the Greek word translated “coming” in verse 16 is parousia, a term that has come over into English as a technical term for the second coming. Some apparently were beginning to wonder if Christ was coming back as he had promised, because it had been so long since the resurrection. But Peter taught quite clearly that Jesus is coming back. And Peter was convinced that the revelation of Jesus’ majesty on the mount of Transfiguration, which Peter personally had seen, supported the idea that Jesus would return.
The third thing Peter said about his apostolic ministry was that it was a confirmation of the message, or word (logos), of the prophets. Since the “word’ or “message” of the prophets was an early Church expression for the Old Testament, what Peter was saying was that his experience on the mount of Transfiguration confirmed, or made more certain, the Old Testament’s message that there would be a glorious coming of the Messiah, and that he would establish his kingdom. For Peter, the Transfiguration demonstrated that the prophets were correct.
Then in verses 20-21 Peter declared that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” We noted that scholars generally agree that Peter meant no individual is entitled to interpret Scripture according to personal whim. Proper interpretation comes from the One who inspired the Scripture in the first place, the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit has through the centuries inspired holy interpreters to know the best interpretations. And we have those interpretations to guide us.
In summary, Peter, while anticipating his coming death, told the recipients three things about his apostolic ministry. It was a ministry of remembrance of knowledge of Christ and growing in that knowledge; it was an eyewitness testimony to the ministry of Jesus; and it was a confirmation of the message of the prophets.
All right, our study for today is 2:1-3. This passage is brief, but it is packed with many “goodies.” In these verses we see false teachers described. Having just said in 1:20-21 that interpretation of Scripture must be controlled by the Holy Spirit rather than by individuals, in 2:1 Peter brings up the subject of false prophets.
Of course Old Covenant Israel had authoritative prophets. But she also had false prophets. Indeed Old Covenant Israel wrestled with the existence of false prophets for centuries. In Peter’s day the Church had authoritative teachers who paralleled Israel’s prophets. But Peter was saying that false teachers, like the false prophets of Israel, would arise to lead Christian people astray.
God himself defined a false prophet in Deut. 18:20 as “any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak.” That’s clear enough. Obviously any prophet who speaks on behalf of a false god is a false prophet. But the Lord also declared that anyone who speaks on behalf of the true God without the Holy Spirit’s supervision is a false prophet.
Still in verse one Peter indicates three things that false teachers do. First, they “secretly introduce destructive heresies (haireseis)” (NIV). In other words they introduce doctrines that are not true and that lead believers astray. One such false doctrine that we see in Peter’s letter is the teaching that Christ was not coming back. That was destructive for several reasons. For one thing, it wasn’t true, which caused confusion among the believers. For another thing, the teaching tore away the hope that believers rightfully had that Jesus would return and make everything right. And still further, the teaching undermined the authority of the apostles and authoritative teachers who taught that he was coming back.
Second, false teachers “deny the Master who bought them.” The “Master” is undoubtedly Jesus who by his death on the cross “bought” us all, that is, redeemed us all from sin and death. As he himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). And then in Rev. 5:9 the twenty-four elders sing a song of praise to the lamb: “”you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and nation.” This Son of Man, this slain lamb, is the one the false teachers deny. They deny Jesus by denying that he is the Son of God, by denying the inspiration of the Bible, the sinfulness of humanity, the sacrificial death of Jesus, and the reality of eternal judgment. Yes, the false teachers deny the Master who bought them.”
Third, false teachers bring swift judgment upon themselves. By “swift judgment” Peter meant end-time judgment. There is no quicker way to God’s displeasure than teaching religion in such a way as to lead others into sin. That’s why many cult leaders will face severe judgment. They not only make their own rules for their followers, but their rules lead their people into all sorts of sin.
Now then, in verse 2-3 we see two things the false teachers are, as opposed to what they do. We also see four results or consequences of their false teachings. The first thing the false teachers are is “licentious,” or as the NIV translates it, they follow “shameful ways.” “Licentiousness,” according to the dictionary, is lack of restraint in legal or moral matters, especially matters sexual. That is, licentious people have no sexual restraints. These false teachers evidently, and this is common in cults today, satisfied their sexual lusts under the guise of religion.
The second thing Peter says that the false teachers are is greedy. Greed always has been a besetting sin in religious circles. It seems that persons who are gifted in the flesh, as opposed to gifted by the Holy Spirit, are susceptible to licentiousness and greed. Some who legitimately are called of God also are susceptible to these sins. All of us have seen these very sins emerge time and time again in leaders of big-time, big money ministries. These charismatic leaders may begin with pure motives; but the fame, money and pressures often woo them into yielding to these particular sins. Thank God for Billie Graham who has proven one can lead a big-time, big money ministry for years and not yield to them.
Now then, we also see in verses 2-3 four results or consequences of the ministries of false prophets. First, many will follow them in their licentious ways. This is so sad, because it is quite true. There is no need to belabor the point. Many people have followed false prophets into sexual misconduct. This sinfulness ranges all the way from pastors who prey upon vulnerable women in their congregations to cults where sex with the cult leader is standard practice, to other cults like the Way in which cult members were, perhaps still are, taught to use sex to lure new members into the cult.
A second consequence of the ministries of false prophets is that the way of truth is “maligned,” or as the NIV puts it, the way of truth is brought into “disrepute.” The idea is that if one teaches a false way, then the way of truth suffers. The “way of truth” is an expression that represents the Christian way, the journey of the Christian life.
The NRSV translation, “maligned,” is much better than the NIV’s translation. “Maligned” carries the idea that false teaching attacks the way of truth in some way. That comes much closer to the meaning of the Greek word than simply bringing the way of truth into disrepute. Bringing the way of truth into “disrepute” merely communicates that the way of truth’s reputation is sullied. That’s certainly true, but the meaning of the Greek word goes much deeper than that, as the term “maligned” suggests.
A third result of false teaching is seen in verse three. False teachers exploit their followers with deceptive words. I like the NIV translation of this verse. It is a very free translation, but it grabs the thought of the Greek sentence really well. It says, “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” That is exactly what has happened to thousands and thousands of people.
One of the most visible and classic examples of this was Jim and Tammy Baker’s PTL network. They began with their hearts in the right place. I have no doubt they loved Jesus and wanted to serve him. But they got caught up in the web of big-time fame and finance. They constantly needed more and more money to feed their far-ranging empire; and they eventually turned to criminal activity to raise it. They made up stories about their ability to handle all of the people who were investing in PTL’s vacation wonderland. They sold more shares, or whatever they called them, than they had to sell. In addition Jim yielded to lust. And thus they fell into precisely the sins that Peter predicted.
The fourth and last result of false teaching also is found in verse three. The false teachers stand condemned, and they will be destroyed. A guilty verdict already has been pronounced against them. Such a verdict was pronounced in the Old Testament against false prophets in Deut. 13:1-5. And the same verdict stands against the New Covenant false teachers. They are guilty, and in the end-time, they will be destroyed.
We began our study of 2 Peter by noting that Peter’s salutation is fairly typical. He names himself as the author of the letter, addresses it in a very general way to those who believe in Jesus, and adds a Christian blessing.
In regard to authorship, we concluded that no one has successfully demonstrated that Peter could not have been the author of this letter. And so we accepted the letter as by the apostle Peter. As for the date of the letter, it was clear that if Peter wrote it, it would have been written before his death in the mid-sixties of the first century. In regard to the recipients, chapter three, verse one, suggests they were the same as for 1 Peter.
We saw Peter open the body of his letter with a discussion of knowing Christ in 1:3-11. And we saw that certain benefits come our way from knowing him. For example, his divine power gives us everything we need for life and godliness (verse three).
Knowing Christ also provides us with “precious and very great promises” that enable us to escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and to participate in the divine nature (verse four). We noted that the former point is of great importance in our modern-day, lust-filled culture and that latter point is the most awesome expression in the New Testament of our spiritual union with God in Christ.
After sketching the benefits of knowing Christ, Peter turned to the part we human beings have to play in the process (verses 5-7). He laid out one virtue after another and declared that we should “make every effort” to add them to our faith. According to Peter, this is a way to grow in the faith and thus in knowledge of Christ. All believers have faith, but we are to add to that faith “goodness,” “knowledge,” “self-control,” “perseverance” (“endurance” in NRSV), “godliness,” “brotherly love” (philadelphian) and unconditional love (agapen). We noted that these virtues have to do with moral development and that unconditional love is the capstone of the process.
In verses 8-11 Peter gave some results both of growth in the knowledge of Christ and lack of growth in it. Peter mentioned two positive results of growth in verse eight. If we have these virtues and they are increasing in our lives, we will be neither ineffective nor “unfruitful” (NIV “unproductive”) in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus. That suggests that we will be effective and fruitful in that knowledge.
On the other side, in verse nine, if we aren’t growing in these virtues, it will mean we are nearsighted, which leads to blindness and being “forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.” The main point is that those who do not pursue the virtues end up blind to spiritual truth. And that kind of blindness is self-imposed.
In verses 10-11 Peter called upon us to make our call and election sure by developing these virtues in our lives. By doing that, we will not stumble, and we will enter the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ.
In this study we take up 2 Peter 1:12-21. This segment tells us about Peter’s apostolic ministry. As you can see, Peter’s was anticipating his death. We know from Church tradition that Nero martyred him in AD 64 or 65. And that’s why we dated the letter about that time, shortly before Peter’s death.
You will recall that John informs us that Jesus told Peter how he would die. He said to him: “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” Then John adds, “He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God” (John 21:18-19).
Early Church tradition tells us that Nero crucified Peter. But Peter, who didn’t consider himself worthy of dying the same way that Jesus did, asked the Romans to crucify him upside down. And the request was granted.
Now the overarching content of this segment is three things about Peter’s apostolic ministry. Look at verse 12. As always, we must take note of a “therefore.” Therefore, says Peter, based on all I told you about knowledge of Christ and how to grow in that knowledge, “I intend to keep reminding you of these things.” So the first thing Peter mentions about his apostolic ministry is that it is a ministry of remembrance. He has reminded them, and he intends to keep reminding them, about knowledge of Christ and growing in it, even thought they already are fully aware of it. Remembrance of Jesus was woven into the very fiber of his ministry. It was what Jesus commissioned him to do. It was part of his commission to feed and nourish Christ’s lambs (John 21).
Therefore he will continue to remind them until he dies, for as long as he is in “this tent,” meaning in his physical body (verses 13-14). As he says in verse 15, he wants them able to remember these things “at any time” after he is gone. Of course Peter had no idea that his two letters would, after his death, become Scripture. But they did; and now they are in the New Testament to remind us of these things “at any time.”
Early Church tradition suggests that Peter was Mark’s source for the account of Jesus recorded by Mark in his Gospel. If that’s true, then the Gospel of Mark enshrines the remembrances of Peter, and Peter left us an even larger body of Scripture by which we can grow in the knowledge of Christ and his teachings.
The second thing Peter mentions about his apostolic ministry is that it is an eyewitness testimony to Christ. In verses 16-18, we see Peter’s first mention in the letter of certain false prophets and teachers who would seek to lead the recipients astray. They follow what he calls “cleverly devised myths.” By myths he means the classical definition: stories about the gods and goddesses that explain the origin of something such as the world, or a particular belief system and the like.
But Peter’s teachings to them about “the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” had an historical rather than a mythical basis. He was an eyewitness to the ministry and majesty of Jesus. Of course many people had seen Jesus’ teaching and miracle-working ministry, though few had the up-close view that Peter had. In other words many could confirm the power of Jesus’ ministry. But Peter had seen not just his power. He also had seen his majesty.
In verses 17-18 Peter offers an account of Jesus’ Transfiguration to substantiate his claim. Peter was one of three disciples on the mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ glory was revealed. Peter had seen the light radiating from Jesus body; he had heard the Father say, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased;” and he had seen and heard Moses and Elijah talking there with Jesus about Jesus’ coming death. What a witness! Truly Peter saw Jesus’ majesty.
Now then, an interesting aspect of this passage is the fact that Peter used the Transfiguration to affirm the second coming of Jesus rather than the resurrection. The Greek word translated “coming” in verse 16 is parousia, a term that has come over into English as a technical term for the second coming. In chapter three of the letter, we will find Peter teaching about the second coming. So it’s on his mind.
Some apparently were beginning to wonder if Christ was coming back as he promised, because it had been so long since the resurrection. But Peter teaches quite clearly, as we shall see, that he is coming back. And here Peter declares that the revelation of Jesus’ majesty on the mount of Transfiguration, which he, Peter, personally had seen, supported that.
Some have argued that the glory of the Transfiguration anticipated the resurrection of Jesus rather than the second coming. But this is one of those both/and situations. Jesus’ majesty on the mount of Transfiguration both anticipated the resurrection and supported the idea of the second coming.
All right Peter’s apostolic ministry was a ministry of remembrance and an eyewitness testimony to Christ. Third, Peter’s apostolic ministry was a confirmation of the message, or word (logos), of the prophets.
I like the NIV’s translation of the first part of verse 19: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain.” The “word’ or “message” of the prophets was an expression in use in the early Church for the entire Old Testament. And what Peter was saying was that his experience on the mount of Transfiguration confirmed, or made more certain, the Old Testament’s message that there would be a glorious coming of the Messiah and that he would establish his kingdom.
As Peter later indicates in chapter two, false teachers would seek to discredit the promises of Christ’s coming; but the message of the prophets is that he is coming. And the Transfiguration demonstrates that the prophets were correct.
Then in the second part of verse 19 Peter inserts a warning. Since Scripture has thus been confirmed, his readers would do well to pay attention to it, even though it is like “a lamp shining in a dark place.” The “dark place” is, of course, the sinful world in which it shines as a lamp. Peter’s statement brings Ps. 119:105 and Is. 9:2 to mind. Ps. 119:105 reads, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And Is. 9:2 reads, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” You might recall that Matthew quotes this verse from Isaiah in respect to Jesus’ ministry (Mt. 4:16).
Peter wants his readers to know that Scripture illumines the way for people. It gives guidance to those passing through the darkness of this world until “the day dawns” and “the morning star” rises in their hearts.
This sentence is full of meaning. The “day” here has two levels of meaning. On one level it refers to the dawning of the “day” of salvation, when the “the morning star” (who is Christ) rises in their hearts. Ii is a way of expressing the beginnings of the light of faith on one’s heart.
On another level the “day” is the day of Christ’s second coming. That is the day when the light of Christ will dissipate the darkness of the present evil age, just as the dawning of day banishes night. In other words the “day” of Christ’s coming here represents both his salvation and his judgment.
Then comes the famous words of Peter found in verses 20-21: “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” This is one of the two most important Scriptures regarding the divine inspiration of the Word of God. The other is 1 Tim. 3:14-17.
“Scripture,” as used by Peter, of course means the Old Testament. Although there is some controversy around these verses, scholars generally agree that Peter means that no individual is entitled to interpret Scripture according to personal whim. Proper interpretation comes from the One who inspired the Scripture in the first place, the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit has through the centuries inspired holy interpreters in regard to the best interpretations. We can rely on these interpreters to guide us to the correct interpretations.
In summary, Peter, while anticipating his coming death, told the recipients three things about his apostolic ministry. It was a ministry of remembrance of knowledge of Christ and growing in that knowledge; it was an eyewitness testimony to the ministry of Jesus; and it was a confirmation of the message of the prophets.