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.