Standing on the Promises--A Study of 2 Peter

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Standing on the Promises: Preface

Our Lord not only rebuked the religious leaders of His day for their false doctrine and for leading people astray, He warned us about such prophets and teachers (see Matthew 7:13-29; 23:1-37; 24:11; etc.). As the apostle Peter saw the day of his own death drawing near, he also warned of those false teachers who would arise, seeking to turn men and women from the faith. Second Peter begins with an exhortation to spiritual growth, and an affirmation of the reliability and authority of the Scriptures, as recorded by the apostles through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (chapter 1). He then goes on to warn us of false prophets, and to assure us of the certainty that God is able to “rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2:1-9). Peter describes not only the doctrinal deviations of the false teachers, but the tell-tale signs of spiritual deadness which is evident in their values and lifestyles (2:10-22).

As Peter warns us of the error which the false teachers disseminate concerning the end times, correcting these errors and exhorting us to stand fast until the coming of our Lord, as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (3:1-18). Peter’s last words are vitally important words for these “last days” in which we live. Let us hear and heed them as we study this great epistle.

The material in these sermons is available without charge for your personal study and to assist you in living, teaching and preaching God’s Word.”

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1. Second Peter Is Not Second Class

Introduction

1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:

1:12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased” -18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

3:1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.

3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (emphasis mine).

How would like to have a surgeon operate on you who took years to pass his medical exams and graduated at the bottom of his class? Vinny, the fellow being defended by his cousin in the movie, “My Cousin Vinny,” barely made it through law school. He took several tries before passing the bar exam; his grammar was bad and his manners were deplorable. Still worse, he had never even defended anyone. Yet Vinny was the one called upon by his cousin, who had been charged with murder by a small-town southern sheriff.

The Book of Second Peter carries some of these same characteristics. It was the last book of the New Testament to be accepted into the canon of Scripture. Biblical scholars criticize the author for his grammar and style, and even allege the author to be someone other than Peter, a man who lived in the second century rather than the first, and who wrote as though he were the apostle.

Second Peter seems to be the New Testament epistle which receives little respect1 even from evangelical scholars.2 It also appears to be the most neglected book in the New Testament. After reading a statement like the one from noted scholar William Barclay below, who would want to study 2 Peter?

The great interest of Second Peter lies in the very fact that it was the last book in the New Testament to be written and the last to gain entry into the New Testament.3

Barclay finds this epistle “interesting” because it is regarded as second class. Somehow, when viewed in this light, the book becomes less likely to be taken seriously. Simon Kistemaker, a conservative biblical scholar, observes:

From a survey of books and articles written in the twentieth century, we conclude that this epistle has suffered from scholarly neglect. This neglect can be attributed to a view, held by many scholars, that the apostle Peter did not write this letter. They affirm that a late first-century or an early second-century writer who assumed the name of Peter composed this epistle. Scholars who accept apostolic authorship also have taken insufficient notice of II Peter.4

Our purpose in this message will be to demonstrate the clear claim of the writer to be Peter, the apostle of our Lord and the author of 1 Peter. Our further purpose will be to show that this book is indeed no second class epistle, but a book which deserves our respect and serious study. Our final purpose will be to gain an overview of the overall message and structure of 2 Peter in preparation for studying the book.

Who Wrote 2 Peter?

The objections to Peter’s authorship may be summed up as follows,5 with a response to each objection.

(1) The early church was apparently reluctant and certainly slow to accept 2 Peter into the canon of Scripture. Barclay sums up the negative response of the ancient church to this epistle:

For long it [2 Peter] was regarded with doubt and with something very like misgiving. There is no trace of it until after A.D. 200. It is not included in the Muratorian Canon of A.D. 170 which was the first official list of New Testament books. It did not exist in the Old Latin Version of the Scriptures; nor in the New Testament of the early Syrian Church. The great scholars of Alexandria either did not know it or were doubtful about it. Clement of Alexandria, who wrote outlines of the books of Scripture, does not appear to have included Second Peter. Origen says that Peter left behind one epistle which is generally acknowledged: “perhaps also a second, for it is a disputed question.” Didymus commented on it, but concluded his work by saying: “It must not be forgotten that this letter is spurious; it may be read in public; but it is not part of the canon of Scripture.” Eusebius, the great scholar of Caesarea, who made a careful investigation of the Christian literature of his day, comes to the conclusion: “Of Peter, one Epistle, which is called his former Epistle, is acknowledged by all; of this the ancient presbyters have made frequent use in their writings as indisputably genuine; but that which is circulated as his second Epistle we have received to be not canonical although, since it appeared to be useful to many, it has been diligently read with the other Scriptures.” It was not until well into the fourth century that Second Peter came to rest in the canon of the New Testament. It is the well-nigh universal judgment of scholars, both ancient and modern, that Peter is not the author of Second Peter. Even John Calvin regarded it as impossible that Peter could have spoken of Paul as Second Peter speaks of him (3:15, 16), although he was willing to believe that someone else wrote the letter at Peter’s request.6

On a more positive note, A. T. Robertson writes,

It was accepted in the canon by the council at Laodicea (372) and at Carthage (397). Jerome accepted it for the Vulgate, though it was absent from the Peshito Syriac Version. Eusebius placed it among the disputed books, while Origen was inclined to accept it. Clement of Alexandria accepted it and apparently wrote a commentary on it.… There are undoubted allusions also to phrases in II Peter in Aristides, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Clement of Rome … Athanasius and Augustine accepted it as genuine, as did Luther, while Calvin doubted and Erasmus rejected it. It may be said for it that it won its way under criticism and was not accepted blindly.7

Our first response should be: “But they did accept it.” Because there were doubts and even some apparent reluctance makes its acceptance into the canon of Scripture even more impressive. An epistle which receives slow and careful scrutiny and then is received as Scripture surely has received the “seal of approval” by the ancient church.

Having said this, we must be perfectly clear that the authority of Scripture is not ultimately determined on the basis of human approval. Unbelievers cannot, will not, and do not receive the things of the Spirit of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Peter was slow to accept converted Gentiles into the church on a par with believing Jews, but this does not cast any doubt on the truth of this doctrine. Often, we are reluctant to acknowledge the truth because it condemns us and requires us to change. Peter’s second epistle may have been more cautiously considered because its teachings were hard to swallow.

(2) The contents of this epistle make it difficult to believe it came from the same pen as the First Epistle of Peter.

There is no mention of the Passion, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus Christ; no mention of the Church as the true Israel; no mention of that faith which is undefeatable hope and trust combined; no mention of the Holy Spirit, of prayer, of baptism; and no passionate desire to call men to the supreme example of Jesus Christ. If one took away these great verities from First Peter there would be little or nothing left, and yet none of them occurs in Second Peter.8

This charge is almost ridiculous. If Peter were writing for the second time to the same readers (3:1), would he say the same things he had said in his first epistle? Do we expect 2 Timothy to repeat 1 Timothy? Do we challenge Paul’s authorship of 2 Timothy because he does not speak of elders and deacons there as he did in the first epistle to Timothy? Of course the subject matter is different!

Yet, having said this, I do not mean to imply there is nothing in common between 1 and 2 Peter. Peter indicates in 2 Peter that he assumes the things he has written in 1 Peter. For example, in 1 Peter 2:1, he writes that those who teach destructive heresies are guilty of “denying the Master who bought them.” Surely Peter expects his readers to think in terms of the redemptive work of Christ, the teaching they received in the preaching of the gospel and in the reading of 1 Peter (see especially 1 Peter 1:18-21; 2:22-25; 3:18-22; 5:1).

A number of the great themes of 1 Peter are seen in 2 Peter as we shall later demonstrate. Even though they may not be restated, the themes of 1 Peter are assumed in 2 Peter. There is a very strong correspondence between 1 and 2 Peter, as we shall show.

(3) In style9 and character, there are notable differences between 1 and 2 Peter. Of course there are differences, and we should not be surprised by them. Peter told us his first epistle was written through Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12). No such reference to Silvanus is found in 2 Peter. Peter therefore appears to have written his second epistle with his own hand (compare Galatians 6:11). Second Peter is exactly what we should expect from the hand of an untrained writer such as Peter (see Acts 4:13).

(4) Peter speaks too fondly of Paul,10 and his reference to his writings can only suggest a late (second century) date for the writing of this epistle. Liberal scholars cannot fathom the unity of the body of Christ, and thus they look upon Paul and Peter as men whose personalities and theological positions clash throughout their lives. Even John Calvin seems to find this view tolerable.11 The Bible expects more of those who are filled with the Spirit of God,12 and though Paul had to confront Peter, this in no way set them at odds with each other. Indeed, after Peter is rebuked by Paul (Galatians 2:11-21), it seems his respect for Paul was even greater as evidenced by his words in 2 Peter 3.

That Peter seems to look upon the apostles as men of a by-gone era comes as no surprise. After all, Peter views himself in this same way (2 Peter 1:12-15). Some of the apostles (like James, see Acts 12:2) had already died, and others (like Peter) were not far behind. It was time for others to take up the torch. This same perspective can be found in Hebrews 2:1-4.

It is argued that Peter could not have spoken of Paul’s writings as he did, since these would not have been collected and considered a part of the New Testament Scriptures until the second century:

Above all there is the reference to the letters of Paul (3:15, 16). From this it is quite certain that Paul’s letters are known and used throughout all the Church; they are public property, and furthermore they are regarded as Scripture and on a level with ‘the other Scriptures’ (3:16). It was not until at least A. D. 90 that these letters were collected and published, and it would take many years for them to acquire the position of sacred Scripture. It is practically impossible that anyone should write like this until midway through the second century A.D.13

A moment to reflect on Barclay’s words here might prove helpful as they are typical of much that is written and taught in the name of scholarship. William Barclay is a scholar. His commentaries provide a great deal of helpful insight into the Greek culture and the background to biblical texts. He is also a liberal theologian, and as such he does not hold to all of what might be called orthodox theological positions. When we see statements like the one above, we should not be intimidated by his scholarship or the confidence with which he speaks.

Barclay’s comments fly in the face of what is written in this biblical text. Does the author of this epistle claim to be the apostle Peter? Yes, he does (1:1, 12-19). We are forced to conclude then that either Barclay or our author are wrong. I am sticking with the author.

Barclay’s conclusion simply do not stand under scrutiny. Consider these comments. (1) Peter does not list all of Paul’s writings; he simply refers to Paul’s “letters” (3:16). Barclay speaks as though all of his letters must be spoken of by Peter, which, in his mind, is impossible. (2) Barclay seems to have forgotten who helped Peter in the writing of his first epistle—Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12). Assuming that Silvanus is Silas (as Barclay does, p. 274), then we know he was closely associated also with Paul and the writing of at least two of his epistles (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). Peter would have ready access to at least some of Paul’s writings earlier than others. (3) Peter is an apostle, and as such he would greatly influence the church as to Paul’s apostleship and the inspiration and authority of his writings. Rather than seeing Peter’s comments about Paul’s letters as the result of the church’s acceptance of them as Scripture, I suggest that Peter’s words are a significant cause of the church’s acceptance of his epistles.

(5) A very obvious similarity exists between 2 Peter and Jude, causing some to conclude the author of 2 Peter may have borrowed, either from Jude or from a different source. There is a very close relationship between these two epistles:

A quick glance at the second chapter of II Peter and the Epistle of Jude proves to any reader the parallelism of these writings. Jude’s letter totals twenty-five verses; nineteen of these are paralleled in II Peter. This parallelism includes not only words and phrases; also the order of presentation is virtually the same.14

The Christian should not go beyond the Scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 4:6; Revelation 22:18-19). Christians are marked out by their common faith. They should not emphasize their idiosyncracies or strive for novel and unique interpretations (see 2 Peter 1:20-21). We are not to proclaim “new truths” (contrast Acts 17:19-21); we are to continue to proclaim “the old, old, story, of Jesus and His love” (as one song says, see Galatians 1:6-10; 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8). Peter may have employed the same source as Jude, or one may have borrowed from the other. There is no copyright on Scriptural truth. It is certainly not beneath Peter to have employed the material of another or to have written something very much like another.

The Authorship of 2 Peter According To The Author

If you are willing to take the words of this epistle at face value, the authorship of 2 Peter is clear and indisputable. The author is “Simon Peter,15 a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). He is a man who will soon die (1:14), just as Jesus had indicated to him in John 21:18-19. He is the Peter who, along with James and John, witnessed the transfiguration of our Lord (1:16-18; compare Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). This man assures us he is not writing a cleverly devised tale but the sure Word of God, brought about through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1:19-21). He further tells us this is his second letter (3:1), which squares perfectly with the writing and preservation of 1 Peter (1 Peter 1:1). Finally, in his closing words, Peter testifies to the inspiration and authority of Paul’s epistles as Scripture and warns of those false teachers who would seek to distort or deny them (3:14-16).

Let us compare the internal evidence (in the text of the epistle itself) for the authorship of 1 Peter with that we have considered in 2 Peter. In 1 Peter, there are but two references to the author: 1 Peter 1:1 and 1 Peter 5:1. Only the first is specific. The evidence for Peter’s authorship of 2 Peter is much stronger than it is for 1 Peter! Why do critics not challenge the authorship of 1 Peter? Why do they focus their attack on 2 Peter?

If we take the words of the writer of 2 Peter on face value, Peter is the author. We can therefore fix an approximate date for the time of its writing. Peter tells us his time of departure is near. Since Peter died around A.D. 67 or 68, this epistle must have been penned shortly before this time. The epistle would thus have been written shortly before the fall of Jerusalem and the scattering of the nation Israel.

The Implications of the Authorship of 2 Peter

The authorship of 2 Peter offers one of two choices with profound implications:

But the claim to Petrine authorship, if not genuine, leaves the Epistle pseudonymous. That was a custom among some Jewish writers and even Christian writers, as the spurious Petrine literature testifies (Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, etc.), works of a heretical or curious nature. Whatever the motive for such a pious fraud, the fact remains that II Peter, if not genuine, has to take its place with this pseudonymous literature and can hardly be deemed worthy of a place in the New Testament.16

On the authorship of II Peter only two views exist, and they color the interpretation of this epistle: either Peter wrote the letter or it comes in pseudonymous form from the hand of a forger or a secretary.17

We have two choices then. (1) We accept the epistle as it stands and its author’s claim that he is Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. If we do so, then we accept the authority of the writer and the epistle, and we dare not contradict it. (2) We reject the claims of the author, and reject this book as fraudulent. The issue here closely parallels our response to the claims of Jesus Christ to be the promised Messiah: either He is the Son of God, as He claims, with absolute power and authority, or He is a fraud, to be rejected and ignored.

Other Evidence of Petrine Authorship

A. T. Robertson concludes that Peter must be the author of this epistle, and that satisfactory explanations can be given for every objection:

“The writer makes use of his own contact with Jesus, especially at the Transfiguration of Christ (Mark 9:2-8 = Matt. 17:1-8 = Luke 9:28-36). This fact has been used against the genuineness of the Epistle on the plea that the writer is too anxious, anyhow, to show that he is Symeon Peter (1:1).… It is possible also that the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration may have been suggested by Peter’s use of exodus for his own death (1:15), the very word used by Luke (9:31) as the topic of discussion between Jesus and Moses and Elijah.” There is also in 1:13 the use of ‘tent’ (skenoma) for the life in the body, like Peter’s use of ‘tents’ (skenas) to Jesus at that very time (Mark 9:5 = Matt. 17:4 = Luke 9:33). In 1:14 Peter also refers to the plain words of Jesus about his coming death (John 21:18f.).”18

Kistemaker contends in his commentary on 2 Peter that many similarities are found between 1 and 2 Peter. He provides us with this comparison of the two epistles:

Similarities Between 1 and 2 Peter

1 Peter

 

2 Peter

1:10-12

inspiration of the Old Testament

1:19-21

1:2

doctrine of election

1:10

1:23

doctrine of the new birth

1:4

2:11-12

need for holiness

1:5-9

3:19

sinful angels in prison

2:4

3:20

Noah and his family protected

2:5

4:2-4

immorality and judgment

2:10-22

4:7-11

exhortation to Christian living

3:14-18

4:11

doxology

3:1819

I would add several other topics which are emphasized in both of Peter’s epistles:

(1) Fleshly lusts (see 1 Peter 2:11; 4:2; 2 Peter 1:4, 6; 2:2, 10-14)

(2) Prophecy, the Christian’s future hope (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:17-21)

(3) The revelation or second coming of Christ (1 Peter 1:13; 2:12; 2 Peter 3)

(4) The important role of the Scriptures (1 Peter 1:22–2:3; 3:1; 2 Peter 1:2-4, 17-21; 3:1-2, 14-16)

(5) The testimony of the O.T. to N. T. truths or doctrines (1 Peter 1:10-12, 14-16, 23-25; 2:5-9; 3:10-12;

(6) Peter 2:4-9, 15-16, 22; 3:5-7)

(7) Opposition to our faith and walk (1 Peter 2:11-12, 18-25; 3:14-22; 4:1-6; 5:8-10; 2 Peter 2:1–3:4, 14-16)

The Continuity of 1 and 2 Peter

Peter does deal with many of the same topics and themes in both of his epistles. The close relationship between these epistles can also be demonstrated by the continuity which exists in their teaching. The teaching of 1 Peter flows into that of 2 Peter. The Book of 2 Peter is not so much a repetition as an extension of Peter’s teaching in 1 Peter.

(1) In 1 Peter, the Christian is the one under attack. In 2 Peter, the gospel, or the Christian hope, is under attack.

(2) In 1 Peter, the attack against the church comes from without, from unbelievers (see 1 Peter 4:1-6); in 2 Peter the attack against the church comes from within, from those who at least profess to believe in the Lord Jesus (see 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22).

(3) In 1 Peter, there is an emphasis on the believer’s certain hope of glory at the return of Christ; in 2 Peter, there is the certainty of the condemnation of those who deny the gospel.

(4) In 1 Peter, the emphasis falls upon our Lord’s first coming and His suffering and death as the payment for our sins (see 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:18); in 2 Peter the emphasis falls upon the glory of our Lord as demonstrated at His transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-19).

(5) In 1 Peter, the believer is to fix his hope on the glory yet to be revealed at the coming of our Lord (1 Peter 1:13; 2:11); in 2 Peter the believer is tempted by false teachers to fix his hope on the present, with its fleshly pleasures, and to ignore the future (2 Peter 2:1–3:4).

Conclusion

Peter is the author of this, his second epistle. In 1 Peter, he challenges us to fix our hope on eternal things and to live in the present in light of eternity. He calls upon us to endure present suffering and to deny fleshly lusts, for the eternal glory our Lord will bring at His second coming. In 2 Peter, the apostle holds forth the Word of God and its teaching as our defense against false teachers, who are dominated by fleshly lusts and who appeal to these lusts in their followers. He turns us to Old Testament examples of God’s divine intervention in history to deliver His holy ones and to bring judgment upon those who are disobedient and unbelieving.

The principle problem underlying 1 Peter is suffering, brought about by the persecution of unbelievers. The Christian is to recognize suffering as a divinely ordained test of our faith, sent to strengthen us in our faith and to set us apart from others. Our faith is to manifest itself in fixing our hope on the glory that is to come at the revelation of Christ, in our present fear of God and commitment to holiness, in our submission to those in authority, and in our resistance to Satan.

The principle problem underlying 2 Peter is the seductive heresies of false teachers who pervert the gospel, distort the Scriptures, downplay eternity, and seek to entice followers who will join with them in their addiction to fleshly lusts. We are to overcome these men and their errors by standing firmly on the promises of God’s sure and certain Word, by personal growth and maturity in our faith, by taking note of God’s dealings with the righteous and the rebels in Old Testament times, by looking for our Lord’s return, and by taking heed to the inspired epistles of other apostles such as Paul.

Initially, I believed the principle theme of 2 Peter was false teachers, and that theme is indeed prominent. But this is a negative truth. If we are to carry out Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:8 and 9, we must set our minds on what is true and wholesome and edifying—not on what is false. When one searches for the positive theme of 2 Peter in this light, the theme becomes very obvious. The sufficiency of the Scriptures is the principle theme of 2 Peter. False teachers are the dominant topic in chapter 2, and the first few verses of chapter 3, but the truths of the Word of God dominate every chapter.

In chapter 1, the Scriptures are the basis for our growth and progress in the faith:

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of [the] divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:2-4).

It is the sure and certain Scriptures to which we do well to pay attention:

17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And [so] we have the prophetic word [made] more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:17-19).

In the last verses of chapter 1 and the first verses of chapter 2, we are warned concerning what false teachers will do to pervert the Scriptures in order to justify their sin and to seduce others to follow them:

20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in [their] greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Peter 1:20–2:3).

If these false teachers distort and deny the Scriptures, the Scriptures set us straight. The Scriptures instruct us over and over again about God’s intervention in history to deliver His saints and to keep the unrighteous under punishment, until God’s day of judgment comes.

4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and [if] He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing [them] to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; 7 and [if] He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard [that] righteous man, while living among them, felt [his] righteous soul tormented day after day with [their] lawless deeds), 9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:4-9).

The false teachers downplay eternity and deny a coming day of judgment:

3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Peter counters this by writing his inspired second epistle, exhorting them to remember and submit to the teachings of our Lord and His apostles:

1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior [spoken] by your apostles (2 Peter 3:1-2).

The Scriptures prove the false teachers to be in error, for they not only tell us the world was created by God separating the land from the water, but also that the world of Noah was destroyed as God flooded it with water, bringing judgment because of man’s sin (2 Peter 3:5-6). The Scriptures describe God as eternal, not time-bound, so that 1,000 years of human time is like a day to God. The delays in divine interventions which seem long to us are not long at all to God (2 Peter 3:8). God’s “slowness” in judging the world is due to His mercy and grace and not to His disinterest (3:9).

The Scriptures include the writings of the apostle Paul, to which Peter gives apostolic approval and recommendation (3:14-16). These Scriptures are not always easy to understand, and thus false teachers twist and destroy them. Nevertheless, the inspired epistles of Paul, like the two epistles from Peter, are designed to help believers stand in times of testing and temptation.

We should not at all be surprised that Peter would turn us to the Scriptures in light of his soon departure by death and the emergence of false teachers. This same emphasis can be found in the teachings of our Lord, shortly before His death (see John 14:24-26; 15:7, 10-12; 16:1-15; 17:14-17; 21:15-17). And it was also the emphasis of the apostle Paul:

28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build [you] up and to give [you] the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32; see also 2 Timothy 2:22–4:8).

False teachers abound in our day, and 2 Peter is a book we must study and apply to our lives. However, we should first, without reservation, accept this epistle fully as Scripture, just as it claims. We must also, as the epistle teaches, come to a greater appreciation of the sufficiency of the Scriptures for our every need. Peter does not seek to attract followers of his own. Rather, he challenges us to follow our Lord and come to a deeper and deeper love and appreciation for the Scriptures—the divine provision for knowing God and submitting to Him—and the provision for knowing and resisting fraud.

3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:3,4).


1 Second Peter is one of the neglected books of the New Testament. Very few people will claim to have read it, still less to have studied it in detail. E.F. Scott says, “It is far inferior in every respect to First Peter;” and goes on, “It is the least valuable of the New Testament writings.” It was only with the greatest difficulty that Second Peter gained entry into the New Testament, and for many years the Christian Church seemed to be unaware of its existence. William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 283.

2 “Every book in the New Testament is challenged by some one, as indeed the historicity of Jesus Christ himself is and the very existence of God. But it is true that more modern scholars deny the genuineness of II Peter than that of any single book in the canon. This is done by men like F. H. Chase, J. B. Mayor, and R. D. Strachan, who are followers of Christ as Lord and Saviour.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), VI, p. 139.

3 William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 288.

4 Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series, p. 213.

5 Essentially I am following the arguments against Peter’s authorship as outlined by William Barclay on pages 285-288.

6 Barclay, pp. 284-285.

7 A. T. Robertson, pp. 139-140.

8 Barclay, p. 286.

9 “There are some 361 words in I Peter not in II Peter, 231 in II Peter not in I Peter.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), VI, p. 141.

10 “This fact (3:15f.) has been used as conclusive proof by Baur and his school that Peter could not have written the Epistle after the stern rebuke from Paul at Antioch (Gal. 2:11f.). But this argument ignores one element in Peter’s impulsive nature and that is his coming back as he did with Jesus. Paul after that event in Antioch spoke kindly of Peter (I Cor. 9:5). Neither Peter nor Paul cherished a personal grudge where the Master’s work was involved.” A. T. Robertson, VI, p. 142.

11 Even John Calvin regarded it as impossible that Peter could have spoken of Paul as Second Peter speaks of him (3:15, 16), although he was willing to believe that someone else wrote the letter at Peter’s request. William Barclay, p. 285.

12 See 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Philippians 2:1-8; 4:2-3.

13 Barclay, p. 288.

14 Kistemaker, p. 221.

15 Literally, the text in verse 1 of chapter 1 reads, “Simeon Peter. . . .” This is even a more dramatic indication that it is the Peter of the Gospels. But this does not impress the critics. They scoff at this choice of words, saying the imposter is “trying too hard.” The critics do not make their decisions on the basis of the evidence; rather, they view the evidence in the light of their presuppositions.

16 A. T. Robertson, VI, p. 140.

17 Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series, p. 215.

18 A. T. Robertson, VI, pp. 140-141.

19 Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series, p. 220.

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2. The Gospel According to Peter (2 Peter 1:1-4)

1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (NASB emphasis mine).

1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (NIV).

Introduction

Fundamentally, false teachers attack the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the church today may be soft on such things, the apostles were not (see Acts 20:29-32; 2 Corinthians 11:2-4; Galatians 1:6-10). In chapters 2 and 3 of 2 Peter, Peter exposes the error of those false teachers who prey upon the churches. He focuses in chapter 1 on the positive dimension of the spiritual life, summarizing in verses 1-11 what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. In verses 12-21, Peter turns to the only source, and the only standard, for teaching and practice—the Scriptures as divinely revealed and authenticated to the apostles.

Our lesson will be restricted to the first four verses of chapter 1 in 2 Peter. In these verses, Peter distills for us the essence of the gospel. He indicates this is not just “his” gospel, but the gospel revealed through Christ, attested to by the Father, and consistent with the teaching of the apostles. To be able to recognize false teachers, we must first be crystal clear about the truth which they seek to undermine, pervert, and distort. Peter gives in these four verses the fundamentals of the gospel.

The Gospel According to Peter

When the Lord Jesus left His disciples to ascend and be with His Heavenly Father, He left the apostles in charge. It was to them and through them that His Word was to be conveyed to others (see Matthew 16:19; John 14:26; 16:12-15; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:1-4; 2 Peter 1:12-19; 1 John 1:1-4). In these first verses of his second epistle, Peter reminds his readers of just what the gospel is. These verses summarize the gospel according to Peter and the apostles, as opposed to the “new gospel” of the false teachers (2 Peter 2 and 3; see also Galatians 1:6-10; 2 Corinthians 11).

(1) Peter’s gospel is an apostolically defined gospel. Peter introduces his second epistle by identifying himself as an apostle (verse 1). Thus, the gospel he defines is the apostolic gospel. Defining the gospel was the mission of the apostles (Galatians 1:6-10; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). When a “false gospel” is introduced, it is often by “false apostles” (see 2 Corinthians 11:13). The true gospel is the gospel “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

(2) Peter’s gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel in which Jesus Christ is central. Man is not central in the first four verses of this epistle; the Lord Jesus Christ is central. It is His righteousness which saves us (verse 1). It is through knowing Him that grace and peace are multiplied to us (verse 2). It is His divine power which grants us everything necessary for life and godliness. True knowledge comes through Him who called us (verse 3). His precious and magnificent promises enable us to become partakers of the divine nature (verse 4).

The false gospels of the false teachers seek to turn us from Christ to something or someone else:

11 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity [of devotion] to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and [attaining] to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, [resulting] in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, [that is,] Christ [Himself], 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. 6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:1-8).

In these four verses, Peter presents the Lord Jesus as much more than a mere man. He is Peter’s Lord and Master, the One whom he serves (verse 1). He is not only a messenger of God, He is God. He has divine power (verse 3) and the divine nature (verse 4). He is God, “our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (verse 1).20

(3) Peter’s gospel proclaims a salvation which rests on the righteousness of God, made available to sinful men in the person and work of Christ (verse 1). Man’s problem is his sin, his unrighteousness, which has brought him under the condemnation of a holy God (see Romans 3:23; 6:23). Peter writes here of the “corruption that is in the world through lust” (verse 4). No man can meet the divine standard of righteousness, for there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). God’s provision for sinful man is in Jesus Christ. He died in the sinner’s place, bearing the penalty for man’s sins. More than this, He offers the sinner His righteousness, so that we might be justified in God’s sight. This salvation is available to all who trust in Him, by faith (Romans 3:21-26).

(4) Peter’s gospel is the manifestation of sovereign grace. Nowhere is these verses does Peter speak of what we do to merit God’s salvation. He speaks of God’s grace and of His sufficient provision for our salvation in Christ. This passage has nothing to say about man’s contribution and everything to say about God’s perfection, power, and provision. The righteousness of which we partake is the righteousness of God in Christ which was bestowed upon us (verse 1). It was not that we sought after God (see Romans 3:11), but that God chose us, sought us, and “called us by His own glory and excellence(verse 3).

Our salvation is a faith we have “received” (verse 1). The word “received” is the translation of a somewhat unusual term found only four times in the New Testament. It is an expression which gives no credit to the recipient of divine blessings. The term refers to a selection by the casting of lots. Note other passages where this term is used:

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense (Luke 1:9-10, NIV, emphasis mine).

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it” (John 19:24, NIV, emphasis mine).

“For he was counted among us, and received his portion in this ministry” (Acts 1:17, NASB, emphasis mine).21

If one were elected to office by a landslide vote, the winner might take pride in his election. But when one wins the lottery, the winner is elated at the victory but should feel no sense of pride in the outcome. His winning had nothing to do with him, his merit, or his worth. It simply fell to his lot to win. So it is with our “reception” of the gospel. It was given to us by grace so we could take no pride in it (see Romans 3:27; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 4:7).

(5) Peter’s gospel is available to the whole world; it is not an exclusive gospel available only to the Jews. Peter writes that we have received “a faith that is of the same kind as ours” (verse 1). This unfortunately is not a very good translation, as one can see from the rendering of this text in other versions:

1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours (2 Peter 1:1, NIV, emphasis mine).

The emphasis does not seem to be that the recipients of this epistle share the same kind of faith (as opposed to the false “faith” of the false teachers). The emphasis seems to be the quality of faith they share. The “us” would therefore seem to be (1) the apostles, (2) the Jewish saints, or (3) both. These Gentile saints are not second class citizens; they are full-fledged members of the household of faith, a truth Paul emphasizes in his epistle to the Ephesians:

11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

As seen in Acts 10 and 11, and again in chapter 15, this lesson did not come easily to Peter nor to the Jewish saints in Jerusalem.22 It is a lesson Peter momentarily forgot, one he was reminded of by Paul in Galatians 2:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he [began] to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how [is it that] you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 We [are] Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. 17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 For if I rebuild what I have [once] destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness [comes] through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:11-21).

The gospel knows of no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. This is because salvation is by grace and not of works. All men stand equal before God, because it is His righteousness in Christ which saves us and not our own righteousness.

(6) Peter’s gospel does not promise men everything they want or think they need; it does promise them all they truly need, in Christ (verse 2). The false teachers promise people what they want in the flesh:

1 I solemnly charge [you] in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:1-4; see also 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:1-7; Jude 4, 16, 18).

The gospel turns men from sin to righteousness. Unlike the false teachers, who turn the grace of God into a pretext for sin (Jude 4), Peter speaks of salvation as a deliverance: “… having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (verse 4).

The “needs” of the flesh are deceptive and corrupt and can be characterized as “lusts.” Their end is corruption and death. False teachers speak of God as the great “need-meeter,” as the One who “is there for us,” eager and ready to satisfy our fallen desires. Peter speaks of God as all-sufficient who has made provision for all our true needs. The provisions of which Peter speaks are:

  • faith (verse 1)
  • righteousness (verse 1)
  • grace and peace (verse 2)
  • everything pertaining to life23 and godliness24 (verse 3) and
  • His precious and magnificent promises (verse 4).

(7) The gospel Peter speaks of is a gospel which transforms men. Comparing the Peter we find in the Gospels and the new Peter we find in Acts and Peter’s epistles, we can readily see Peter was transformed by the gospel of which he writes. The man who once argued with his peers about who was the greatest now speaks of himself as a bond-servant of Christ (verse 1). The man who sought to rebuke his Lord and to prevent Him from suffering is now the man who writes of the glory of His suffering, and ours as well (see 1 Peter). The man who would not evangelize Gentiles (see Acts 10 and 11) and thought of Gentile converts as second-class saints (see Galatians 2:11-21) now speaks of them as equals (2 Peter 1:1). Peter indeed was not the same man we saw in the Gospels; Peter was transformed by the gospel.

The gospel did not just transform Peter; the gospel is the means by which God intends to transform every believer. It delivers us from the “corruption that is in the world through lust” and transforms us into the image of our Lord, so that we become partakers of His divine nature (verse 4). This is the teaching of Paul and John as well:

11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him, who is the head, [even] Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. 17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in [the likeness of] God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:11-24, emphasis mine).

29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29, emphasis mine).

2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2, emphasis mine; see also 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Peter 1:14-16).

(8) The gospel according to Peter leads to discipleship. The gospel is about man’s deficiencies and God’s sufficiency. It is about God’s provisions for life and godliness which men accept as a gift of grace, in Christ. Men contribute absolutely nothing to their salvation, for it is the work of God in Christ. While men may not strive to contribute to their salvation, they are challenged to strive to grow in their Christian walk as disciples of our Lord. The gospel of verses 1-4 is the basis for Peter’s charge in verses 5-7. God is the One who sets the lost and undeserving on the path of salvation. This path becomes for the believer a path of discipleship, where we diligently strive to please Him as we appropriate the resources He has provided.

The “false gospel” of the false teachers leads to a life of self-indulgence; the gospel of the apostles leads to self-discipline and self-denial. Those who have trusted in Him who died on the cross are those who are willing to take up their own cross to follow Him.

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Conclusion

That which stands out clearly in our text is the deficiency of man and the sufficiency of God. Man is unrighteous; God is righteous and He offers righteousness to men in Christ. Man is corrupted by worldly lusts; God is holy and offers men the opportunity to become partakers in the divine nature. We have nothing God needs or wants from us regarding our standing righteously before Him. And we have nothing which God does not have and which He has not made available to us. The gospel is about our need and God’s provision, in Christ.

Closely related to the emphasis on man’s poverty and God’s provisions is the important role of knowledge. Knowledge is referred to in verses 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8. Whenever man departs from God and from divine revelation, he is ignorant. Ignorance is the opposite of knowledge, and it is deadly. Peter told the Jews that when they murdered and disowned the Holy and Righteous One, the Prince of life, they acted in ignorance (Acts 3:14-17). Likewise, the idolatry of the pagan Athenians was ignorant (Acts 17:23, 30). Paul speaks of the ignorant unbelief of the Jews (Romans 10:3) and of his own ignorance as a persecutor of the church (1 Timothy 1:13). Peter has written in his first epistle that ignorance is evident in conforming to one’s lusts, while implying that knowledge leads to obedience (1 Peter 1:14). Peter also indicates that the resistance of unbelievers springs from ignorance (1 Peter 2:15). Later in 2 Peter we are told that false teachers are willfully ignorant of the reality of divine judgment in history (2 Peter 3:5). Ignorance is not bliss; it is death.

The New Testament instructs us that the cure for ignorance is knowledge. Let us note the emphasis on knowledge in verses 2, 3, 5, 6, 8. I take this to be doctrinal knowledge, for it certainly is knowledge of God and knowledge from God. It is scriptural knowledge, and it is true knowledge as opposed to false knowledge. This is the knowledge that protects the believer from false teachers and their teaching.

This knowledge is also the means by which grace and peace are multiplied to us (2 Peter 1:2). Everything pertaining to life and godliness is granted to us through the knowledge of Him who called us (1:3). Knowledge is one of the virtues the Christian should diligently pursue (1:5, 6).

The knowledge of which Peter writes is the knowledge of God as taught by the divinely revealed Word of God. It is also doctrinal knowledge, a propositional knowledge. Some tell us they do not worship doctrine—they worship Jesus. But, apart from doctrine, we cannot know which Jesus we worship. The maturing Christian is marked by his knowledge of God through the Scriptures (see Ephesians 1:15-23; 4:13; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; 2:2; 3:10; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1).

Knowledge can be perverted so that it becomes the enemy of love (see 1 Corinthians 8:1). Ideally, knowledge informs and regulates love (Philippians 1:9) and promotes godly living (Colossians 1:9-10). Godly teaching and instruction leads to love (1 Timothy 1:5). We also see from the Scriptures that knowledge of God leads to intimate fellowship with God:

10 That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

I ask you, my friend, do you “know God,” or are you still ignorant? The way to know God is through His written Word and through the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us about God, and the Lord Jesus revealed God to us in human flesh. He is God, manifested in human flesh; He died in our place and suffered the penalty for our sins. He is the righteous One who offers His righteousness to all who believe in Him, by faith. To know Christ is to know God and to have eternal life.

If you are a Christian, my question to you is a bit different. Are you growing in your knowledge of Christ? Do you know more of Him today than when you first believed? Is your walk with Him more intimate than before? Is there evidence of continued growth in your life? There should be. Our God is infinite, and our knowledge of Him in this life will never be complete. But we should be constantly growing as we feast on His Word and fellowship with other believers.

This message is about the gospel, as defined by Peter and the apostles. If you are a Christian, you may think you have already dealt with the gospel and therefore you do not have to consider this message. This is wrong thinking. The gospel is not just the truth we believe. It is not just the truth we proclaim to the lost. The gospel is the truth we live here on earth:

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him (Colossians 2:6).

Because the gospel is the truth, it is under constant attack by Satan, by our culture, and by false teachers. Consequently, we are inclined to forget the importance of the gospel and slowly drift away from it. For this reason, both Peter and Paul felt it necessary to remind Christians about the central truths of the gospel. Peter writes in his second epistle:

12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you [already] know [them], and have been established in the truth which is present with [you.] 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this [earthly] dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my [earthly] dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind (2 Peter 1:12-15).

And Paul writes to the Philippians:

21 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things [again] is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you (Philippians 3:1; see also 1 John 2:21).

This is one of the reasons we at Community Bible Chapel believe the Lord instructed us to remember Him weekly by commemorating His death at the Lord’s Table (see Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). May each of us be challenged to never allow this celebration to become routine or mere tradition. May the truths of the gospel never cease to warm our hearts, filling them with gratitude and praise toward Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. And may we grow in the “knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 2b, 3).


20 Even Barclay emphasizes the claim to Christ’s deity in this text: “The Authorized Version translates, ‘the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,’ as if this referred to two persons, God and Jesus; but, as Moffatt and the Revised Standard Version both show, in the Greek there is only one person involved and the phrase is correctly rendered our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Its great interest is that it does what the New Testament very, very seldom does. It calls Jesus God. The only real parallel to this is the adoring cry of Thomas: ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28).” William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 294.

21 My paraphrase of this verse would read: “For he was counted among us, and received his allotted portion of this ministry.”

22 Barclay comments on the uniqueness of the name “Symeon” found only in 2 Peter 2:1 and in Acts 15: “What has this to do with the name Symeon, by which Peter is here called? In the New Testament, he is most often called Peter; he is fairly often called Simon, which was, indeed his original name before Jesus gave him the name of Cephas or Peter (John 1:41, 42); but only once in the rest of the New Testament is he called Symeon. It is in the story of that Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 which decided that the door of the Church should be opened wide to the Gentiles. There James says, ‘Symeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name’ (Acts 15:14). In this letter which begins with greetings to the Gentiles who have been granted by the grace of God privileges of equal citizenship in the kingdom with the Jews and with the apostles Peter is called by the name of Symeon; and the only other time he is called by that name is when he is the principal instrument whereby that privilege is granted.” Barclay, p. 292.

23 The term Peter uses for “life” here is found 134 times in the New Testament in the King James Version. Of these 134 occurrences, hardly more than a half dozen speak of “life” in terms of physical, earthly life. Almost always they speak of “life” in its fullest sense--eternal life in Jesus Christ. And so Peter is here assuring us that the gospel is the promise of all that we need for true “life,” life in Christ. The following verses emphasize the eternal or spiritual dimensions of true life which comes from God by faith: Luke 12:15; 21:16-18; John 5:24-26, 39-40; 6:27, 33, 35, 54, 63, 68; 8:12; 10:10; 11:25; 12:25, 50; 21:30; Acts 2:28; 3:15; 5:20; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Galatians 6:8; Ephesians 4:8; Colossians 3:4; 1 Timothy 4:8; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:2; 3:7; James 1:12; 1 John 1:1, 2; 3:14, 15; 5:11, 12, 13, 16, 29; Jude 21; Revelation 2:7, 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 22:1, 2, 14, 17, 19.

24 See 1 Timothy 3:6; 4:7,8; 6:3,5,6,11; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 1:1; 2 Peter 1:3,6,7; 3:11.

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3. The Pursuit of Christian Character (2 Peter 1:5-7)

1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

Introduction

I have heard some incredible promises in my lifetime, just as you probably have also. Most often advertising promises far more than it delivers. But the promises of our text are completely reliable. Indeed, the benefits of heeding Peter’s words, and the consequences of neglecting them, are great:

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Peter 1:8-11).

Heeding Peter’s words keep us from being useless and unfruitful in our relationship with Jesus Christ (verse 8) and enables us to live in the present in light of our past conversion and our hope for the future (verse 9). Doing as Peter instructs can keep us from stumbling and assure us a triumphant entry into the kingdom of our Lord. Conversely, neglecting Peter’s instruction diminishes our perception and confidence in the salvation God has provided and sets us up for a fall.

Peter’s own words should convince us to pay careful attention, for the benefits pertain to our past, our present walk, and our future hope. May we approach our text with a deep sense of its importance and an open and willing heart eager to hear and heed what God’s Spirit has revealed.

Observations

In preparation for a more detailed study of Peter’s words, we must stand back and look at the big picture to understand the context for our further study. Note these observations about our text.

(1) Peter is writing to those who are saved about their sanctification, and not to the unsaved about their salvation. Peter does not challenge his readers to work hard in order to be saved, but to strive diligently because they are saved (see verse 1).

(2) Peter calls for diligent, disciplined, life-long effort on the part of the Christian (verse 5a). This is a discipleship text which requires discipline and self-denial. It is a challenge to every Christian for all the days of their lives. No Christian ever works his way through this text to move on to other pursuits.

(3) The Christian’s efforts are based on the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of His provisions (verses 1-4). Peter has already laid the foundation for the Christian’s exertion. In verses 1-4, Peter emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. Salvation has been accomplished by God, through Christ, apart from human works or merit. Peter also stresses the sufficiency of God’s provisions for our salvation and sanctification. God has provided all that is necessary for life and godliness (verse 3).

(4) Verses 5-7 contain a list of character qualities for which God has made provision and for which every Christian should strive. This is not a list of imperatives, duties, or activities. Peter is not writing about “how to,” but about the kind of person the Christian should strive to become.

(5) The character qualities we are to pursue are also the character traits of God. Peter has written in verse 4 that God has provided for us to become “partakers of the divine nature.” These character qualities he then lists are the particular character qualities of God which should also be evident in our lives.

(6) Peter gives us a list unlike any other list in the Scriptures. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul lists the “fruit of the Spirit.” First Timothy 6:11 has yet another list of godly qualities the Christian should pursue. None of the New Testament lists are exactly alike, which suggests that Peter has given us a selected list and that there are other character qualities to pursue. It also implies Peter’s list was compiled for a particular reason. I believe this list of qualities was chosen because of the false teachers who will seek to distort the truth of the Scriptures and seek to seduce men to follow them. If the character qualities of verses 5-7 are also the attributes of God, they are in dramatic contrast to the character of the false teachers and their followers.

(7) A purposeful order and relationship is evident in this list of character qualities. This list of character qualities is not presented in a way that suggests a random order. Each quality builds upon the qualities before it. The sequence of qualities begins with faith and ends with love. These qualities are similar to the ingredients in a cake recipe where all ingredients are needed, but they should be added in the proper order.

Characteristics of a Growing Christian

(1) Faith. The first characteristic of the growing Christian has a uniqueness to it—the Christian is not instructed to supply faith. Faith is a given, something upon which the Christian builds. According to Peter, faith is given, for the readers of this epistle are those who “have received a faith of the same kind as ours” (verse 1). Faith is something we have received, not something we are to supply—because faith is a gift from God (see Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-6; 2:8).

Faith begins as saving faith and then becomes the faith without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6); whatever does not originate through faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Our faith is based upon the revealed word of God (2 Peter 1:4; see Romans 10:8, 17). Our faith is tested, proven, and strengthened by the trials and adversity God allows to come into our life (1 Peter 1:6-7). Faith is not only the basis for belief but also the basis for our behavior (see Hebrews 11).

Our Lord Himself is the object and the source of our faith; Christ is also the model for our faith. It is easier to think of the Lord Jesus as the object of faith than to think of Him exercising faith. But His faith was exercised when He submitted to the will of the Father by taking on human flesh and suffering and dying at the hands of sinful men:

23 And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23, emphasis mine).

If you have not come to a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot possibly pursue the course Peter prescribes in our text. To enter into that “faith,” which is of the same kind as the apostles (verse 1a), you must know God through Jesus Christ and find the righteousness you desperately lack in none other than Jesus Christ (verse 1b). Knowing Him brings grace and peace (verse 2). Only by His power are we granted everything necessary for life and godliness (verse 3). The basis of our salvation is the work of Christ, and the basis for our future hope is the promises of God. All we need to know about these is recorded in God’s Word (verse 4a). Trusting in God’s provisions, as revealed in God’s Word, makes us partakers of the divine nature and delivers us from the corruption of fleshly lusts (verse 4b). Taking on the divine nature does not happen quickly; it happens by the process of sanctification (verses 5-11). While this sanctification is individual, it also takes place through the body of Christ, the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). The process of sanctification is completed not in this life, but when we are with Him in glory (Philippians 3:8-14; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 3:13; 1 John 3:1-3).

(2) Moral Excellence. Of all the virtues listed by Peter in our text, this is by far the most difficult virtue to grasp. Two problems have troubled me in my study of this quality. First, the precise meaning of the term rendered “moral excellence” by the New American Standard Bible. The difficulty in defining the word Peter uses here can be inferred from the various ways it is translated:

  • “virtue”—KJV, NEB, Berkeley
  • “resolution”—Moffatt
  • “goodness”—Goodspeed, Jerusalem Bible
  • “moral character”—Williams
  • “manliness”—Helen Montgomery—The Centenary Translation
  • “Noble character”—Weymouth
  • “real goodness of life”—Phillips

The second problem is that “moral excellence” precedes “knowledge.” One would think “knowledge” would be a necessary prerequisite to “moral excellence,” rather than the reverse.

The key to resolving these two problems seems to be found in the usage of this term in the Greek Translation of the Old Testament in the texts below:

  • “I am the LORD, that is My name;
  • I will not give My glory to another,
  • Nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8, emphasis mine).
  • Let them give glory to the LORD,
  • And declare His praise in the coastlands (Isaiah 42:12, emphasis mine).
  • “The people whom I formed for Myself,
  • Will declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:21, emphasis mine).25

When we compare these Old Testament uses of Peter’s term with all the New Testament occurrences of this same term, the meaning begins to come into focus:

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8, emphasis mine).

9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis mine).

3 Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3, emphasis mine).

The King James Version of “virtue” most often refers to a characteristic or quality of God. In the Isaiah texts, it is that for which God is praised or praiseworthy. In Isaiah 42:8 and 12, it is an expression poetically paralleled with the glory of God. God’s glory is His virtue, His excellencies, for which He is worthy of praise. No wonder Paul will instruct the Philippian saints to set their minds on that which is both “excellent” and “worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

If His excellencies are God’s very nature, His glory for which men should praise Him, then our condition as unbelievers is exactly the opposite:

23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Man in his sinful state refuses to give glory to God, deifying himself instead:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper (Romans 1:18-28).

God revealed His nature, His divine power and glory to sinful men, but they refused to give glory to Him. Instead of worshipping God their Creator, they worshipped created things. Instead of believing the truth, they believed a lie. As a consequence of their sin, God gave them over to a depraved mind so they could no longer grasp the truth. Apart from divine grace and intervention, sinful men were hopelessly lost.

The good news: God did act. He sought out sinful men and gave them faith in His Son. He enabled them to become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Since a part of this nature is His “own glory and excellence” (verse 3), it is little wonder this should become a part of our character as well. The “moral excellence” we are to “add” to our faith is the excellence of God’s nature, which He makes available to us in Christ. We are to “add” it to our faith by acknowledging it as good, as desirable, as worthy of praise, and as that which we wish to emulate in our own lives.

But why does excellence precede knowledge? I think we can understand this in light of Romans 1. Sinful men rejected the glory of God and established their own glory. As a result, they were darkened in their minds, unable to grasp divine revelation and truth. As a result of our salvation, we are now able to recognize the excellencies of our Lord and regard His excellencies as worthy of praise, embracing them as qualities we desire in our own life. When we embrace these virtues, we are then able to grasp the knowledge which comes next in the list of virtues. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in [the likeness of] God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:17-25; see also Ephesians 1:13-23).

To embrace the excellencies of God is to strive after them and then to express them in our lives to the glory and praise of God:

9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis mine).

Embracing and pursuing the excellencies of God means having the spirit of mind which exalts the Word of God and explores the Word for the knowledge of Him who saved us. Thus we see how “virtue” or “excellence” precedes “knowledge.”

17 “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or [whether] I speak from Myself” (John 7:17).

In summation, the excellence or virtue of God is God’s glorious nature, which is our ultimate good we should pursue as the goal of our character to the praise and glory of God. Doing so produces a mindset receptive to the knowledge of God revealed through the Scriptures.

“Excellence” is greatly emphasized these days in the secular culture and also in the church. I must say with deep regret that none of the excellence sought after today is that of which Peter speaks in our text. The “excellence” often sought by Christians concerns numbers and worldly standards and appearances rather than the moral character which emulates the excellencies of our Lord to His praise and glory. But this is not a new problem. This same mindset characterized the saints of old, causing King Lemuel to write about the “virtuous woman” in Proverbs 31:10-31, where he contrasted the worldly standard of physical beauty with the moral excellence26 of godly character:

29 “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, [But] a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:29-30).

(3) Knowledge. In our former state as unbelievers, we were not knowledgeable; we were ignorant:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance (1 Peter 1:14; see Ephesians 4:17-18).

The solution to our ignorance is having our minds transformed with the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, knowledge which comes from the Scriptures (see John 17:17; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24; Colossians 1:9-11) and is communicated through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Ephesians 1:17).

This is a doctrinal knowledge, a knowledge revealed in Scripture with clear biblical support. While it must be a doctrinal knowledge revealed in Scripture, it is also an experiential knowledge of God. This experience is not divorced from Scripture; rather, it is the experiencing of Scripture. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way:

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes [only] of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-14).

Paul writes:

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard [of it], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please [Him] in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:9-12).

This “knowledge” must also be understood as contrasting and contradicting the false knowledge of the false teachers who would undermine both the truth and the faith of the saints if they could:

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep… 17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:1-3, 17-19).

14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:14-18).

The knowledge of God is essential to our growth in Christian character and our ability to recognize and avoid those who teach what is false.

(4) Self-control. William Barclay informs us that the term rendered “self-control” means literally “to take a grip of oneself.”27 Self-control is the opposite of self-indulgence. As unbelievers, we are dominated by our physical appetites, enslaved as we are to them:

1 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance (1 Peter 1:14).

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

But we have been delivered from our bondage to the flesh:

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone [as] slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15-18; see Romans 8:12-13).

Living a godly life requires us to master the flesh and make it our servant, rather than our master:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but [only] one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then [do it] to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Sin uses the flesh to keep us in bondage (Romans 7:14-21). Satan and the world encourage us to live according to the flesh. But being a child of God requires that we live no longer for the flesh or in the power of the flesh. Our flesh still has a strong attraction, as Paul’s words in Romans 7 and our own experience make painfully clear. Only by God’s grace can we overrule fleshly lusts, and because of His provisions, we must diligently strive to do so. The prompting of the flesh must be brought under control, and we are to heed the prompting of the Spirit of God, as He speaks through the Word of God (see Romans 8:1-8; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; 3:16-17; 4:6).

False teachers appeal to fleshly lusts. They gather a following by proclaiming a gospel which indulges the flesh rather than crucifying it:

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.… 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; … 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:1-3, 9-14, 18-19).

Such false teaching is not uncommon in the pulpit today. The “good-life gospeleers” offer a different gospel than the apostles. Rather than proclaim a gospel which involves suffering and self-denial, they proclaim a “better” gospel of self-indulgence and success in life. They promise that those who possess enough faith can escape suffering and adversity and be guaranteed peace and prosperity. They promise that when one gives a little, one may be assured of receiving much more in return. These rewards are not looked for in heaven as much as on earth, now.

The gospel of the apostles was very different:

24 But some days later, Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him [speak] about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you” (Acts 24:24-25).

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 Envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:19-23).

Let us not dilute the gospel to make it attractive to men by appealing to their fleshly lusts. We must proclaim the message of the gospel in its fulness and its simplicity, knowing that only through the Spirit of God are men enabled to grasp the truth of the gospel and quickened to do so (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 14-16; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 3:1-11; 4:1-15).

(5) Perseverance.28Faith” brings us into relationship with God through Jesus Christ. “Moral excellence” seeks the character of God as the standard and goal for our own character. “Knowledge” describes what God is like, and what we should be like as well. “Self-control” enables us to curb our physical passions and to make our bodies servants of the will of God. The next character trait—“perseverance”—enables us to persist in our pursuit of godly character, even when we suffer for doing so.

If self-control has to do with physical pleasures, perseverance has to do with pain. Our natural tendency is to pursue pleasure and flee from pain. The gospel calls for us to identify with Christ, which includes identifying with Him in His suffering:

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting [Himself] to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25).

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of [this church] I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the [preaching of] the word of God, 26 [that is,] the mystery which has been hidden from the [past] ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:24-27).

Perseverance is the frame of mind and character which persists in doing what is right even though doing so may produce difficulties, suffering, and sorrows. Perseverance is the commitment to suffer in the short term in order to experience glory for eternity. Perseverance was exemplified by our Lord:

1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Perseverance also includes patience. In the light of eternity, suffering is light and momentary (see 2 Corinthians 4:17), but when our Lord’s tarrying seems to be endless, we desperately need patience to persist in the stewardship God has given to each of us. The false teachers point out that our Lord has not returned as proof that He will not. They urge men to live for the moment and to pursue fleshly pleasures, doubting the reality of a day of judgment or even our Lord’s return as told in Scripture (2 Peter 3:1ff.). Knowing that in God’s economy one day is as 1,000 years, and 1,000 years is like a day, we must patiently persist in doing what is right, looking for our eternal rewards when He returns.

(6) Godliness. The terms Peter employs here for “godliness” are infrequently used in the New Testament.29 This may be because the same expression was the most common word for religion in the pagan culture of Peter’s day.30 Godliness refers to practical religion, or, perhaps we should say, practiced religion. Godliness is the religion we practice in our day-to-day walk. It is … 

“… the attitude of reverence which seeks to please God in all things. It desires a right relation with both God and men. Godliness brings the sanctifying presence of God into all the experiences of life.… This characteristic distinguishes the true believer from the ungodly false teachers (2:5-22; 3:7).”31

The Old Testament Law related true faith to the daily aspects of living. The New Testament does the same:

14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.… 23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:14, 23).

27 This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [our] God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, [and] to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

We were once “ungodly” as unbelievers, ripe for the judgment of God (see 2 Peter 3:7). Now that we have come to newness of life in Christ, we must put off our old way of life and put on the new:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, [and] abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its [evil] practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Colossians 3:8-10).

(7) Brotherly kindness32 (Greek: Philadelphia33). “Brotherly kindness” is the love saints should have for one another as fellow-believers. It is a love based in part on what we share in common with the One we love. There is a certain element of reciprocity involved, for ideally we should be a blessing to our brother in Christ, and he should be a blessing to us.

This love, based on a shared relationship with Christ, can be sensed immediately even though two saints may never have met before. I well remember my first trip to India. Having arrived without anyone to meet me at the airport, I was very much alone. After a long train ride, I joined a group of Indian believers who were complete strangers. As we rode to our destination in an old van, we began to sing some of the hymns of the faith. A deep sense of brotherly love was evident as we found a bond of love in Christ.

This does not mean that brotherly love is a snap, that it is automatic. If it were, Peter would not have found it necessary to command us to pursue it with diligence, not only in his second epistle but also in his first:

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, (1 Peter 1:22, emphasis mine).34

Sin not only alienates men from God, it also alienates them from one another. Thus, when men come to faith in Christ, they are united with Him and also with their fellow believers. This union of believers with one another crosses every barrier, racial or social:

11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:11-16).

While God has removed the barrier between fellow-believers, this is something we must strive to practice and to preserve. It is a humanly impossible task for which God has provided the means to accomplish. As believers, we must diligently strive to practice brotherly kindness by employing these means.

(8) Love.35 This love is “agape love,” which might be called the highest love. It is also the capstone of all the virtues the Christian should pursue. Michael Green shows its uniqueness:

“In friendship (philia) the partners seek mutual solace; in sexual love (eros) mutual satisfaction. In both cases these feelings are aroused because of what the loved one is. With agape it is the reverse. God’s agape is evoked not by what we are, but by what he is. It has its origin in the agent, not in the object ... This agape might be defined as a deliberate desire for the highest good of the one loved, which shows itself in sacrificial action for that person’s good. That is what God did for us (Jn. 3:16). That is what he wants us to do (1 Jn. 3:16). That is what he is prepared to achieve in us (Rom. 5:5). Thus the Spirit of the God who is love is freely given to us, in order to reproduce in us that same quality.”36

While “Phileo love” is directed toward fellow-believers, “Agape love” is universal in scope. It is a love which applies both to believers and to unbelievers:

12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also [do] for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Agape love is not prompted by what the other person is or does, but by a love rooted in what God is. It is the love of God which flows through us.

19 We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Paul speaks of this love as the greatest of the Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).

As we love others we manifest the perfections of God to men:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on [the] evil and [the] good, and sends rain on [the] righteous and [the] unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more [than others]? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

Conclusion

This 2 Peter passage makes several contributions to the Christian. First, it shows that the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are not incompatible. We need not choose one in place of the other. The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are interdependent truths. Man cannot contribute to his salvation. Though the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. All we must do is receive it, and even this occurs by divine grace. But once we have come to faith in Christ, we are to diligently strive after godly character—for God has provided the means for “life and godliness.” We strive in our Christian walk because He has given us the means. The sovereignty of God should never be an excuse for passivity or inactivity; rather, His sovereignty is the basis for disciplined living. The Christian life is not: “Let go, and let God;” it is “Trust God, and get going!”

Our text also contributes lessons on discipleship for the Christian. Salvation is the first step of discipleship. We must first believe in the gospel and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. Having done so, we must then forsake our former manner of life and former manner of thinking and engage ourselves in the pursuit of holiness. We are not merely saved to be rescued from the torment of hell and enter into the blessings of heaven. We have been saved to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We have been saved to become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and, by so doing, bring glory to Him.

We must be careful that our presentation of the gospel does not minimize what salvation is all about. Jesus never did (Matthew 5:1-16; Luke 9:57-62), and neither did Paul (Acts 14:22; 24:25; 2 Timothy 3:12). While men and women are saved so they may enter into God’s blessings, they are saved primarily to bring glory to God by manifesting His excellencies to men and to celestial powers (Ephesians 1:1-12; 3:10).

How interesting that Peter speaks of love as the end product of the Christian’s striving and not the source of it. Many wait to “feel” love and then act upon it. Peter tells the Christian he or she has already received faith, and they are to act on it so the outcome is love. For Peter, love is a result and not merely a cause. It seems to me we must say from the Scriptures as a whole that love is both a cause and an effect. Peter would have us strive to obtain love by obediently pursuing the characteristics of the divine nature.

Our text provides the means for Christian growth and also the means for how stumbling can be prevented. I wish the Christian community would wake up and see how we have exchanged Peter’s inspired list for another list, a list provided not under inspiration but from the warped thinking of unbelievers. According to a distressing number of believers, the key to understanding success in the Christian life, as well as failure, is “self-esteem.” Poor self-esteem is the source of failure; good self-esteem is the basis of success. Not according to Peter. Who, then, will you believe?

This leads to one of the most significant contributions of our text. In Galatians 5, Paul lists the “fruit of the Spirit” (verses 22-23), the qualities God produces through the work of the Holy Spirit. The key to manifesting the “fruit of the Spirit” is to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).

Peter has a list of qualities which includes some in Paul’s list in Galatians 5. But Peter does not emphasize the work of the Spirit, as true and as essential as the Spirit’s work is. What does Peter emphasize as the basis for Christian growth? Peter emphasizes the Word of God. He speaks of our salvation and our sanctification as the result of knowing God through His revealed Word. This is the thrust of his entire first chapter. In chapters 2 and 3, Peter shows how false teachers seek to undermine the Word and turn saints from the truths of Scripture. How quickly, how easily we are turned from the truths God has revealed in His Word to the alleged “truths” of men, who appeal not to the spirit but to the flesh. Let us recognize that the knowledge of God not only saves us but sanctifies us. This does not happen independently of the Spirit, but through the Spirit, as He illuminates the Word of God in our hearts.

Our text also tells us that Christian growth is neither automatic nor is maturity merely a function of time. I fear many Christians have a “civil service” mentality concerning their Christian growth. They seem to think that time alone results in growth and maturity. This is not the case:

11 Concerning him we have much to say, and [it is] hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes [only] of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Christian growth does take time, but growth occurs as believers diligently and obediently seek to grow, in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the provision of the Scriptures. The writer to the Hebrews rebukes his readers for failing to grow. Growth results from the application of biblical truth to daily living. Growth occurs when we employ the resources God has supplied through His Word.

Failing to grow does not mean that we simply grow stagnant, never moving beyond where we are in our spiritual life. No; failure to grow means we move backwards. According to Peter, failure in striving toward Christian growth and maturity sets us up for a fall. That which we once possessed we can lose. This happened to the church at Ephesus, who lost their first love (Revelation 2:4). If we do not use what we have, we lose it:

24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides. 25 For whoever has, to him shall [more] be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him” (Mark 4:24-25).

Believer friend, I urge you: press on toward Christian maturity. Do not be content with where you are; press forward, even as the apostle Paul revealed about his own walk:

10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained [it], or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of [it] yet; but one thing [I do]: forgetting what [lies] behind and reaching forward to what [lies] ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same [standard] to which we have attained (Philippians 3:10-16).

Are you growing colder as you get older in your Christian life? Or, are you, like Paul, pressing toward the upward call, seeking to know the Lord Jesus more and more intimately? May we all press on in the power of the Spirit of God, and through the provision of the Word of God.


25 Even with all the difficulties the translators have in determining what word best conveys Peter’s meaning in 2 Peter 1:5, the translations of the same term in these texts in Isaiah are consistently rendered “praise.”

26 It should be pointed out that the term Peter employs for “moral excellence” is not found in Proverbs 31:10, but the thought is certainly the same.

27 William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 302.

28 See Luke 8:15; 21:19; Romans 2:7; 5:3; 8:25; 15:4; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 6:4; 12:12; Colossians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 1;3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:11; Titus 2:2; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:3,4; 5:11; 1 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 1:6; Revelation 1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12.

29 Acts 3:12, 1 Timothy 2:2; 3:16; 4:7, 8; 6:3,5,11; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 1:1; 2 Peter 1:3,6,7; 3:11.

30 “The word eusebeia is rare in the New Testament, probably because it was the primary word for ‘religion’ in popular pagan usage. The ‘religious man’ of antiquity, both in Greek and Latin usage (where the equivalent word was pietas), was careful and correct in performing his duties both to gods and men. Perhaps Peter uses it here in deliberate contrast to the false teachers, who were far from proper in their behaviour both to God and their fellow men. Peter is at pains to emphasize that true knowledge of God (which they mistakenly boasted they possessed) manifests itself in reverence towards him and respect towards men. There is no hint of religiosity here. Eusebeia is a very practical awareness of God in every aspect of life.” Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), revised edition, p. 79.

31 D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude (Greenville, South Carolina: Unusual Publications, 1989), p. 54.

32 “But godliness cannot exist without brotherly kindness. ‘If any one says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar’ (1 Jn. 4:20). Love for Christian brethren is a distinguishing mark of true discipleship, and represents yet another area where the false teachers were so distressingly deficient. ... Love for the brethren entails bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ; it means guarding that Spirit-given unity from destruction by gossip, prejudice, narrowness, and the refusal to accept a brother Christian for what he is in Christ. The very importance and the difficulty of achieving this philadelphia is the reason for the considerable stress on it in the pages of the New Testament (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thes. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 5:1).” Green, p. 79.

“‘Brotherly kindness’ . . . ‘the brother-love’ or ‘brotherly affection’ toward fellow members of the family of God is the fruit of the new life (1 Peter 1:22). The term expresses the warm, brotherly affection between those who are spiritual relatives in the family of God. It is more than a passing disposition of fondness for fellow believers; it manifests itself in overt acts of kindness toward them (Gal. 6:10). It was this affectionate relationship in the early Church among Christian converts, in spite of their diverse status and varied backgrounds, that amazed the pagans around them.” Hiebert, p. 54.

33 We find this term in Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13;1; 1 Peter 1:22 (see also 3:8); 2 Peter 1:7.

34 It should be noted that in 1 Peter 1:22, both the noun, Philadelphia, and the verb, Agape, are found. Some seek to make too much of the distinction between “Phileo love” and “Agape love.” These two terms are sometimes interchanged. This is true in John 21:15-17.

35 Matthew 24:12; Luke 11:42; John 5:42; 13:35; 15:9,10,13; 17:26; Romans 5:5,8; 8:35,39; 12:9; 13:10; 14:15; 15:30; 1 Corinthians 4:21; 8:1; 13:1,2,3,4,8,13; 14:1; 16:14,24; 2 Corinthians 2:4,8; 5:14; 6:6; 8:7,8,24; 13:11,14; Galatians 5:6,13,22; Ephesians 1:4,15; 2:4; 3:17,19; 4:2,15,16; 5:2; 6:23; Philippians 1:9, 17; 2:1,2; Colossians 1:4,8,13; 2;2; 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 3:6,12; 5:8,13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:10; 3:5; 1 Timothy 1:5,14; 2:15; 4:12; 6:11; 2 Timothy 1:7, 13; 2:22; 3:10; Titus 2:2; Philemon 1:5,7,9; Hebrews 6:10; 10:24; 1 Peter 1:8; 4:8; 5:14; 1 John 2:5; 3:1,16,17; 4:7,8,9,10,12,16,17,18; 5:3; 2 John 1:3,6; 3 John 1:6; Jude 2,12,21; Revelation 2:4,19.

36 Green, p. 80.

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4. A Secured Faith that Keeps the Saints from Stumbling (2 Peter 1:8-11)

1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

Introduction

One of my seminary professors announced to our class that he would be gone for a week. An excellent golfer, he had been invited to speak to a group of believers who were golf professionals. I asked if he planned to preach a “golf” theme similar to Billy Sunday who used to preach with a “baseball” theme. If so, I suggested his title might be, “Where will you be at the last hole?” I was rewarded with a chuckle from this southern gentleman, who pondered a moment before saying, “If you think of any more titles like that before I leave, give me a call.”

A “golf title” for the 2 Peter 1:8-11 text which we are considering in this message might be, “How to avoid the sand traps of the Christian life.” In the first four verses of his epistle, Peter lays a foundation for what follows by reminding his Christian readers of the sufficiency of the resources which our sovereign God has provided for our salvation and for our sanctification:

1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:1-4).

In these verses, Peter sets out the goal of our salvation and its means. Through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we have been given faith in Him, resulting in a salvation which destines us to become like Christ. Having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust, we are now destined to become partakers of the divine nature (see also Romans 8:28-29). The means by which God works in and through us is His Word, “His precious and magnificent promises” (verse 4).

In verses 5-7, Peter explains the method by which we work out our faith and strive toward Christlikeness. Beginning with faith, Peter sets out eight character qualities for which the believer should diligently strive:

5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

These verses go much further than a mere explanation of the steps to Christian maturity—they exhort us to exert ourselves in the pursuit of holiness. Contrary to the views of some (certainly not most Calvinists), the sovereignty of God is no excuse for laziness or inactivity. Indeed, inactivity is one of the evils from which we are to be delivered (see verse 8). The sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of His provisions are the basis for our diligent pursuit of Christian character as laid out in verses 5-7.

What a wonderful incentive to godly living we find in verses 1-7. God has saved us from our sins through the righteousness of His Son. He has purposed for us to be conformed to the image of His Son. He has made every provision for us, as we strive by His grace, to attain the divine qualities of verses 5-7. Now, in verses 8-11, Peter provides even further motivation for us to apply all diligence in supplying what God requires of us and produces in us.

The Structure of Our Text

Our text falls into two main parts. Verses 8 and 9 outline the negative benefits of pursuing holiness as previously described in verses 5-7. Verses 10 and 11 are another exhortation to believers to pursue holiness, with a two-fold assurance: those who do so will never stumble (verse 10), and those who do so will have an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (verse 11).

Assumptions

Looking at our text more broadly will help before we begin a detailed study of verses 8-11.

(1) This text is a battlefield. No one can approach this text with a neutral frame of mind. Each of us has our own preferences and presuppositions based upon our desires, our experiences, our previous exposure to teaching, our own personal study, and our own theological persuasions. In days gone by, the teaching of John Calvin influenced the way some interpret this text. In more recent times, the so-called “Hodges/MacArthur Controversy” has tended to polarize Christians into opposing sides, and this text is viewed as critical by both.

In studying this text over the past several weeks, I have been painfully aware that I have friends on both sides of this debate. I love and respect my friends on both sides. I feared that in my exposition of this text, I would side with one group and alienate the other. My apprehension has now increased as I came to the conclusion that I can side with neither position, and thus I may offend all.

If we cannot set aside our biases, at least we should acknowledge them, and pray that God may, through His Spirit, use this text to reshape our theology rather than allow our theology (or just plain prejudice) to warp our interpretation of this text.

(2) Peter assumes his readers are saved. While every audience of believers may include some who are lost, Peter writes to this group of saints as if they were true believers. Consider these statements in verses 1-12:

“… to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, … ” (v. 1).

“ … in your faith supply… ” (verse 5).

“having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (verse 9).

“Therefore, brethren, … ” (verse 10).

“… to remind you of these things, even though you already know them and have been established in the truth which is present with you” (verse 12).

In our text, Peter is not seeking to create doubt in the minds of his readers about whether they are saved. Rather, he is writing to them as though they were saved.

(3) In these verses, Peter does not teach that a person must work to earn or obtain their salvation. Verses 1-4 emphasize that we have been saved solely on the basis of the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. We in no way contribute to our salvation through our own efforts or works. Verses 5-7 call upon every Christian to diligently strive to supply the virtues which the grace of God makes possible for the saint. We do not work to be saved; we work because we have been saved. A living faith works (see James 2). But that faith has been received (2 Peter 1:1).

(4) The list of dangers Peter enumerates does not include “losing one’s salvation.” Just as Peter, nor any other biblical author, does not teach that one is saved by works, neither does he teach that one stays saved by works. All things are of Him, through Him, and to Him (Romans 11:36). We possess nothing spiritually which we have not received from God (1 Corinthians 4:7). Our salvation is certain because He is faithful and does not change, and no one shall pluck us from His hand (see James 1:17; Philippians 1:6; John 10:27-30).

(5) The list of dangers Peter enumerates in this text does not include “doubting one’s faith.” In the current faith/works debate, both sides seem to agree that 2 Peter 1:8-11 is about assurance. Those who emphasize faith insist that the believer’s assurance is to be found in God, in His sovereignty, and in the sufficiency of His provisions. Those who stress the necessity for works (as an evidence of faith) insist that there is some measure of assurance to be gained by obedience and fruitfulness. As we see God at work in our lives, we are more confident that our faith is alive and well, they say. I see a measure of truth in both positions, but I do not see Peter emphasizing assurance in this text. It is not assurance that is so prominent, but what we attain (an abundant entrance into the kingdom of God, verse 11) and what we avoid (uselessness, unfruitfulness, blindness, short-sightedness, forgetfulness, stumbling).

The Benefits of Pursuing Holiness

In 1 Peter 1:13-21, Peter exhorted the saints to leave behind their former manner of thinking and conducting themselves and to pursue holiness, because God is holy (see especially verses 14-16). In that text, Peter did not spell out how holiness was to be pursued to the degree that he now does in 2 Peter 1:1-11. Here Peter informs us that the goal is to “become partakers of the divine nature”—becoming conformed to the image of Christ (see also Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 4:13). The basis for this is found in the redemptive work God has accomplished in Christ and the provision of His Word. The means by which this is accomplished is our diligent pursuit of holiness, as we depend upon God and His provisions for our growth and maturity.

All of this has been spelled out in verses 1-7. Now, in verses 8-11, Peter enumerates some of the personal benefits the Christian gains from the pursuit of holiness. These benefits are described both negatively and positively. Peter begins with the negative benefits in verses 8-9 and then urges us to “be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure,” with the assurance that “as long as you practice these things,” you will never stumble, and you will have an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Benefits of Being Blessed By What We Avoid

Salvation brings with it two-fold blessings. We are blessed by what we gain just as we are blessed by what we escape or leave behind. For example, we are blessed by being justified, declared righteous through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are also blessed by what we leave behind or escape: our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Those who are saved gain entrance into heaven; we are likewise blessed by escaping the horrors of hell. In Peter’s words, we not only “become partakers of the divine nature,” we also “escape the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4). Let us consider those blessings which Peter lists that we experience by escaping evil and its consequences.

(1) The blessing of avoiding uselessness and unfruitfulness (verse 8). The term rendered “useless” may also mean “idle.” An “idle” person is unproductive and thus useless. One who is not diligently pursuing holiness, as Peter describes in verses 5-7, is idle and useless. One who diligently pursues holiness is being useful.

The “useless” or “idle” saint may not immediately appear to be either idle or useless. He or she may be very busy. They might be called “hard-working” or even a “workaholic” by their peers. The sluggard of the Book of Proverbs also works hard at what he likes, but he is idle with regard to those things that are demanding or disgusting to him. The one who pursues holiness is neither idle nor useless with regard to spiritual attitudes and actions.

Our Lord had some very harsh words for those who are lazy and idle. Consider His words to this steward:

24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no [seed.] 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no [seed.] 27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my [money] back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ 29 For to everyone who has shall [more] be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:24-30, emphasis mine).

This slave did not make use of what the master had given him. He was idle and unprofitable, and his punishment was severe.37

I understand the term “unfruitful” to be a synonym of “idle” or “useless,” further explaining what Peter meant by the first term. To be idle is to be unprofitable or unfruitful. Fruitfulness has always been regarded as characteristic of the saint and unfruitfulness a condition to be avoided (see Psalm 1:3; Matthew 3:7-10; 7:17-19; 13:23; John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 1:11). Our Lord’s cursing of the barren fig tree is indicative of His displeasure toward those who are unfruitful (see Matthew 21:19-22).38

(2) The blessing of avoiding blindness and short-sightedness (verse 9). Those who are not saved are blind to spiritual truth:

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

The Christian’s spiritual eyes are opened so that spiritual truth can be seen. The Christian is divinely enabled to “see” the “unseen:”

14 “And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 15 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Matthew 13:14-16).

17 “‘Delivering you from the [Jewish] people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me’” (Acts 26:17-18).

1 Now faith is the assurance of [things] hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1; see also Hebrews 12:1-2).

8 And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8).

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Spiritual sight is divinely given at the time of one’s conversion, and spiritual illumination continues to take place through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

As we have seen above, the “eye” is used of more than merely physical sight. The “eye” is used to refer to one’s perception and desires:

15 “‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:15).

34 “The lamp of your body is your eye; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness (Luke 11:34 NAS).

14 Having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children (2 Peter 2:14).

The key to understanding Peter’s words regarding blindness may well be found in this text in Matthew:

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 And He answered and said to them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him shall [more] be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 15 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM. ‘ 16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see [it]; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear [it]” (Matthew 13:10-17).

According to Jesus’ words here, the ability to continue to “see” as he should is dependent upon his response to what he has already “seen.” To fail to appropriate previous revelation makes one increasingly blind to spiritual realities. Practicing the truth one has received causes one to possess that truth and prepares them for “seeing” further truths.

This is what Peter teaches in our text. The pursuit of verses 5-7 is putting into “practice” the knowledge God has provided, a knowledge sufficient for “life and godliness.” To fail to pursue holiness is to become increasingly blind. Spiritual blindness manifests itself as short-sightedness.39 Instead of “fixing our hope” on the spiritual and eternal certainties which God has promised and provided for us, we see only in the present. No wonder this generation has been called the “now generation.” It is a sad statement of the spiritual blindness of our age, a blindness which has resulted from ignoring the truths of the Word of God. The pursuit of holiness keeps us from impaired spiritual vision.

(3) The blessing of avoiding forgetfulness concerning our purification from our sins of the past (verse 9). We have a neighbor who suffers from Alzheimers disease. She does not remember who anyone is, including her husband. Perhaps even worse, she does not remember who she is. Forgetfulness is a terrible ailment. I think we would almost rather be offended by someone, especially our mate, than be forgotten by them.

In one sense, Christians are to forget the past. We should not be haunted by guilt, for those sins which have been forgiven. We are not to rest upon the laurels of past achievements but “press on for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). But we should never forget what we once were apart from Christ, and what we have now become, in Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). We are to rejoice in our redemption. We are to be constantly filled with gratitude. We are to remember that our sins have been forgiven.

Paul never forgot who he was and what God had done in his life, forgiving him of his sins and trans-forming him from a persecutor of the church to a preacher of the gospel:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are [found] in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost[of all.] 16 And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, [be] honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

This message is being written on my computer which has several forms of “memory.” One form is known as “ram”—random access memory. This memory must be “refreshed” literally millions and millions of times, or it will be lost. When the power to the computer is turned off (or goes off in a thunderstorm), all “ram” memory is lost in a fraction of a second.

Our memory of spiritual things is just about as volatile and short-lived. This is why we are reminded so often in the Bible. How many times did Jesus repeat the same truths to His disciples? How many times in the Scriptures are we admonished not to forget what God has said and done? How many times are we encouraged to remember the great spiritual truths of the Bible?

Peter’s words indicate to us that the pursuit of holiness, as described in verses 5-7, is a divinely appointed means of keeping our memories refreshed, of preventing forgetfulness. When we cease to strive after holiness, we become forgetful of our forgiveness from our sins. A kind of spiritual Alzheimers disease sets in, and we become a different person than we once were when our spiritual memories were intact.

How does the pursuit of holiness refresh our memory? I think Paul tells us in Colossians 2:

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7).

The spiritual life should be pursued in the same way we were saved. Salvation is the way of the cross. Sanctification is likewise the way of the cross (see 1 Peter 1:17-21). Thus, we must “take up our cross daily” if we are to be our Lord’s disciples. To pursue holiness is to walk in the way of the cross, to die to self and to live out the life of Christ (see Romans 6:2-11; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 3:15-22; 4:1-2).

False teachers take forgetfulness to the extreme. They not only forget the Master and His redeeming work on Calvary, they deny Him (see 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22). But the individual of our 2 Peter 1:8-11 text is not one who doubts his salvation; he is one who so carelessly lives his life he does not even remember it. He goes about his daily life as though he were not saved, not a new creation, not a possessor of eternal life. His life thus becomes one centered about this world and what it has to offer (see 2 Timothy 4:10). Christians in this condition are indistinguishable from unbelievers, so far as their attitudes and actions can be judged by others.

Peter’s Exhortation and Assurances
(1:10-11)

With his introductory word “therefore,” Peter indicates that verses 10-11 flow out of the verses which precede them. The Christian not only seeks godliness, he shuns ungodliness (compare Romans 12:9). The Christian should therefore delight in Peter’s words in verses 8 and 9. We should all find the promise of avoiding uselessness and unfruitfulness, blindness or short-sightedness, and forgetfulness a great encouragement to the pursuit of holiness.

Peter’s exhortation is now put before the reader:

10a … be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you… 

I must admit I am not excited about the way the translators of the NASB have rendered this exhortation. Consider the ways other translations have rendered this text:

Wherefore then rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure (KJV).

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure (NIV).

All the more then, my friends, exert yourselves to clinch God’s choice and calling of you (NEB).

Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it (Jerusalem Bible).

Set your minds, then, on endorsing by your conduct the fact that God has called and chosen you (J.B. Phillips).

Exert yourselves the more then, brothers, to confirm your calling and election (Berkeley).

So, dear brothers, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen (Living Bible).

To properly interpret verse 10, we must do several things. First, we must locate every biblical passage which employs the terms renderedmake certain about” in the NASB. From all these texts and various uses of these terms, we must decide what the options are for translating this term. We must consider these options in the light of biblical theology. Finally, from the immediate context of verse 10, along with the broader context of the previous verses, we must decide which of these options best conveys Peter’s meaning here.

The term Peter uses in verse 10, rendered “make certain about,” is also found in Romans 4:16; 2 Corinthians 1:7; Hebrews 2:2; 3:6, 14; 6:19; 9:17; and 2 Peter 1:19.

One of the most critical texts is Romans 4:16:

16 For this reason [it is] by faith, that [it might be] in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:16, emphasis mine).

In this text, Paul not only employs the term “certain,” he also uses it in such a way that we can tell what Peter cannot mean where he employs the same term. Paul writes that God has designed “it” (justification) to occur “by faith,” so thatthe promise” (of justification or salvation) might be certain. In the context, Paul instructs us that if salvation were by our works, it would not be certain because it would depend on us. Justification by faith makes the promise of salvation—of the forgiveness of sins (see verses 7-8)—certain. We can therefore hardly suppose that Peter is now saying the opposite, namely, that we make our election and calling certain by our works, by working hard at the pursuit of holiness.

Now let us consider the other passages where the adjective40 “firm” or “certain” is employed:

7 And our hope for you is firmly grounded [“stedfast,” KJV], knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are [sharers] of our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:7, emphasis mine).

2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable [“stedfast,” KJV], and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2, emphasis mine).

6 But Christ [was faithful] as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end (Hebrews 3:6, emphasis mine).

14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm [“stedfast,” KJV] until the end (Hebrews 3:14, emphasis mine).

19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a [hope] both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil (Hebrews 6:19, emphasis mine).

17 For a covenant is valid [only] when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives (Hebrews 9:17, emphasis mine).

19 And [so] we have the prophetic word [made] more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19, emphasis mine).

From all the uses of this term in the Bible, it seems the expression refers either to setting something in motion—to activate or fix something securely—so it cannot be moved. A will is not activated—set in motion—until the death of the one who made the will (Hebrews 9:17). Christ set in motion the promises of the Old Testament prophets in such a way that they cannot be stopped (see Romans 4:16; 15:8). Paul’s hope for the Corinthians was firm; it was unshakable (2 Corinthians 1:7). The prophetic word has been made sure by the miraculous display of power which accompanied its origins (see Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:2, 3; 2 Peter 1:19) and thus we see that God’s promises are a solid foundation, something we can trust as sure and certain. Just as God does not change (see James 1:17), neither does His Word. We have “an anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19) which cannot be moved. We are therefore held fast and secure.

Peter is not urging us to “make certain about” our election and calling. Our election and calling are from God, and they are not reversible (see Romans 8:29-30; 11:29). On the one hand, the God who has called us will confirm us to the end:

4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4-8).

On the other hand, we are not to be passive in our salvation and sanctification. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the salvation God has provided through Him (see John 6:28-29; Acts 2:38; 16:31; Romans 10:8-15). Likewise, while faith is a gift from God (2 Peter 1:1), we must add to our faith through the provisions God has given to us (2 Peter 1:3-7).

I believe the exhortation in verse 10 is but an intensified repetition of that given in verses 5-7:

5a Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply … (2 Peter 1:5a).

10a Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure … (2 Peter 1:10a).

We are to continually strive to grow in our faith and in the godly qualities Peter spells out in verses 5-7. As we do so, we confirm, or establish, that which God began and which He is committed to establish in and through us. To make our calling and election sure is to make it stable. It is to set our lives on a course that cannot, and will not, be changed or moved away from the faith. It is to become so solid and stable that we will not be moved, especially by those who come to us with another gospel:

13 Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him, who is the head, [even] Christ (Ephesians 4:13-15).

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).

58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not [in] vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel (Galatians 1:6).

6 But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6).

Peter buttresses his exhortation to pursue holiness by summing up the benefits in two contrasting promises. On the one hand, the pursuit of holiness gives us a stability, a steadfastness which keeps us from stumbling. Since Peter is writing to Christians here, I do not believe he is referring to a “fatal fall” which results in the loss of one’s salvation. I believe he is speaking of the kind of stumbling which results in being useless and unfruitful, but not complete destruction.

24 When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Psalms 37:24).

14 The LORD sustains all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down (Psalms 145:14).

16 For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in [time of] calamity (Proverbs 24:16).

The term “stumble” is used elsewhere in Romans 11:11 and James 2:10; 3:2 (twice). In these texts “stumble” seems to mean “to sin.”41 Peter surely knew what it meant to “stumble.” And so do we. But sinning is not inevitable. It is avoidable, by the pursuit of godliness in the power and provisions of God. When we cease to grow in Christian character and conduct, we set ourselves up for a fall.

If our diligence to make our calling and election sure keeps us from stumbling, it also promises us something very positive—it promises us an abundant entrance into the kingdom of God:

11 For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Peter 1:11).

The Bible teaches that some Christians will enter into God’s kingdom by the proverbial “skin of their teeth:”

12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

5 [I have decided] to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5).

28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (1 Corinthians 11:28-30).

It is certainly possible for a Christian to live in such a way that God removes him from this life (1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:28-30). I do not think one would expect a “Well done, good and faithful servant!” upon his arrival in the presence of God. He will be saved, yet as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). For the Christian who pursues holiness, there is a far better entrance into the kingdom of God. It is an entrance we eagerly anticipate (see Philippians 1:19-23; 3:14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10). It is an entrance abundantly supplied to us. This is the reward of diligently seeking to confirm our calling and election.

Conclusion

While God has ordained that we will be conformed to the image of His son (Romans 8:28-30), we are to be actively involved in this process. There is a sense in which the growth process involves the entire body of believers. Paul speaks of this corporate growth in Ephesians 4:11-16 and elsewhere in relation to the concept of spiritual gifts. But there is also a sense in which spiritual growth is a life-long personal endeavor, to be strenuously engaged in by every individual believer. This is what Peter urges us to do in our text.

Each individual believer is to pursue holiness, actively striving to manifest the “divine nature” in his or her life, not only because this is our destiny but because it is our duty. And we are to actively do so not only because of what it promises but also because of what it prevents.

The dangers Peter speaks of here are very real dangers for the Christian. Who should know better than Peter himself? These things can and do happen to Christians. They do happen when we fail to pursue holiness, as urged in verses 5-7. When we pursue spiritual growth through God’s provisions, we begin to manifest the “divine nature” of God. When we cease to grow, we stumble, and we become hardly distinguishable from the false teachers described later, or even rank pagans.

The promises of God are just as certain as the warnings and threats of the Word. The threats or the promises of Scripture are “made sure” by our acting, either in obedience to the commands or in disobedience. Our actions activate the promises or the threats. We avoid the sandtraps of life, as outlined here by Peter, by pursuing holiness—the characteristics of God which He has purposed to be ours. We may possess the promises by making use of what God has provided:

24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides. 25 For whoever has, to him shall [more] be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (Mark 4 NAS)

11 Concerning him we have much to say, and [it is] hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes [only] of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

This text does not focus on doubt, but on faith and the proper aspirations and fears faith instills within the Christian. We are to remember what we once were and the redemption we have received in Christ. But we are not to be content with what we are now in Christ. We are to press on to a greater and more intimate knowledge of Christ and to a more complete obedience to His will and His Word.

Our motivation should be to become more like our Master and to fulfill the task for which we were chosen and called. Our confidence is in Him, in His character and His provisions for our growth, godliness, and final salvation. We labor and strive, not to earn our salvation but to demonstrate the salvation God has accomplished in Christ. Our dread should be in falling short of what God’s provisions have enabled us to become.

This text from the pen of Peter has caused me to think differently about what Paul has written to us in 1 Corinthians 10:

13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

I have always thought the “way of escape” was not evident until the time of crisis, and the escape was by some kind of divine intervention. Such “escapes” do take place occasionally, but we should not seek to force them by leaping from the pinnacle of some temple, as Satan sought to tempt our Lord, thereby forcing the Father to come to His rescue (see Matthew 4:5-7). I have heard Christians say, “If God doesn’t want me to do this, He will stop me.” The problem is that what they are doing is biblically wrong. They should turn from sin rather than expect God to rescue them from it.

Peter’s words, found in 2 Peter 1:5-11, are God’s “way of escape.” We do not have to enter into temptation. We should desire to stay as far from temptation as possible (see Matthew 6:13). The pursuit of godly character—the pursuit of holiness—as Peter has described it in these first 11 verses of his second epistle, is God’s primary means of escape. Growth in godliness keeps us from sin.

I would like to ask you two simple questions as we conclude this text.

First, have you been born again? If you have not been born again, then you do not have life in Jesus Christ, and thus you cannot expect to grow spiritually. Peter is writing to those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. If you have not yet trusted in Him for the forgiveness of your sins, then there is no need for you to think about growth. Peter urges us to add to the faith which God has given to us (verse 5). I urge you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved from your sins.

Second, I must ask you who are Christians, are you really growing? Christianity is not like civil service— the more time you spend, the better it is assumed you are at your job and thus the more you can expect to be paid. Christians do not grow automatically. Growth and maturity are not merely matters of time. No, spiritual growth and maturity are matters of disciplined, diligent effort, of discipleship. If you are not growing in Christian character, then you are becoming blind and forgetful and unfruitful. You are setting yourself up for a fall. Each of us should take these words of Peter to heart, and seek to obey them by God’s grace and to His glory.

Let these qualities be ours and increase so that we may be useful and fruitful, not blind or short sighted, forgetting our purification from former sins, but making certain of His calling and choosing, for as long as we practice these things we will never stumble, and in this way, our entrance into the eternal kingdom will be supplied to us. To God be the glory, great things He has done!


37 Some seek to explain this master’s sentence of judgment as the “loss of rewards” which results in “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I understand this to refer to hell and its eternal torment. This slave was not a true believer, which is evident by his conduct. His “one talent” seems to have been the gospel, which he did not embrace by faith. Thus, to fail to make use of the gospel was, for him, sufficient cause for eternal torment.

38 Once again, as with the “wicked, lazy slave” in Matthew 25:24-30, I understand the fig tree to represent the unbelieving Jews of Israel. They made profession of holiness, but they surely did not manifest its fruits, and thus they were worthy of divine wrath.

39 I understand “blindness” or “short-sightedness” to be virtually synonymous terms. To be spiritually blind is to see only physically and only in terms of this life. We do not view this life in the light of eternity. Next Peter will show that we not only fail to see ahead, we also forget the forgiveness of sins we have experienced in the past.

40 The verb form of this term is found in Mark 16:20; Romans 15:8; 1 Corinthians 1:6, 8; 2 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 2:7; Hebrews 2:3; 13:9.

41 “Literally the verb means ‘stumble’, ‘trip’, and so comes to mean ‘sin’ (so Jas. ii. 10; iii. 2).” J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969), p. 309.

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5. Peters Readiness to Remind (2 Peter 1:12-21)

12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind.

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Introduction

I never cease to be amazed at the tabloid headlines each time I pass the check out stands at the grocery store. They are unbelievable. Recent headlines reported that Abraham Lincoln had been resuscitated for nearly a minute. Headlines claiming that Elvis Presley is still alive or a woman had a baby with a monkey’s head rival other sensational headlines. The stories are so ludicrous no one believes them. We know better than to suppose such journalism should be taken seriously.

Biblical revelation is similar but dramatically different from tabloid truth. Biblical revelation may seem similar in that it too may be hard to believe. We read of God’s miraculous intervention in the lives of men, of promises of forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the presence of God—all which seem too good to be true. Yet Biblical truth is radically different from tabloid truth because it is always true—in the past, in the present, and in the future. Biblical truth is the basis for life and godliness; it is meant to be believed and acted upon by faith.

The apostles were convinced of the adequacy and authority of the Scriptures, including the Scriptures which came through their hands under the inspiration and control of the Holy Spirit. As our Lord approached the end of His earthly ministry, He began to emphasize the crucial role of the Scriptures (see John 14:25-26; 15:7; 16:12-14, 25-26; 17:17). As Peter and Paul approached the day of their departure, they too began to emphasize the importance of the Scriptures to those whom they would leave behind (see Acts 20:25-32; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 4:2; 1 Peter 1:22–2:2; 2 Peter 1:12-21).

In our text, Peter writes of his eminent death and his determination to remind them of the things recorded in the Scriptures. He speaks plainly of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures and their importance as God’s final revelation. Let us remember that the text we are reading is a part of that inspired revelation, given through the apostles, for our edification.

An Overview of 2 Peter 1

Verses 12-21 naturally flow from what Peter has written in verses 1-11. In verses 1-4, Peter has informed us that from His divine nature (power, glory, excellence, righteousness), God has provided all that is necessary for life and godliness (faith, grace, peace, knowledge, His precious promises), enabling us to escape from the corruption that is in the world through lust and to become partakers of the divine nature. In brief, God has provided everything we need for salvation and sanctification.

In verses 5-7, Peter calls for Christians to pursue the path of discipleship. We are to appropriate these divine provisions by diligently and energetically pursuing holiness (faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love). The things for which God has made provision, we are to make our pursuit.

In verses 8-11, Peter speaks of the benefits of the pursuit of holiness, as provided for by God (verses 1-4) and as pursued by the Christian (verses 5-7). As children of God, the pursuit of holiness assures us of avoiding what we should dread—uselessness and unfruitfulness, blindness and short-sightedness, forgetfulness of our former cleansing from sin and stumbling. The pursuit of holiness assures us of attaining what we greatly desire as saints—an abundant entrance into the kingdom of God.

Peter’s Readiness to Remind
(1:12-15)

12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind.

It is clear in verses 12-15 that Peter is intent on reminding his readers. He sets out to remind them of what they already knew and embraced as the truth. It is impossible to “remind” someone of what they never knew. He seeks to remind them of truths which they continue to embrace as the truth, and he reminds them of the things he has already written in verses 1-11.42

Peter’s commitment to remind his readers is not a passing fancy nor a fad. He is committed to “always remind them” (verse 12). It is clear from his words that he intends his reminding to persevere. He will continue to remind them as long as he has breath. He will do so with his dying breath.

In fact, Peter will even seek to remind his readers after he has drawn his last breath. Peter knows the day of his departure is near (verse 14) as our Lord indicated to him (John 21:18-23). As he writes, he seems aware that he is being used of God to pen Scripture and that his words will be used of God until the Lord Jesus returns to remind saints who have not yet been born. Writing this epistle greatly prolongs Peter’s ministry of reminding.

The Reasons for Peter’s
Commitment to Remind His Readers
(1:16-19)

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

Peter reminds us of those things vital to our spiritual lives, to our escape from the corruption that is in the world through lust, and to manifesting the evidences of the divine nature in our lives. His reminders are the “truth” (verse 12) which gives us “true knowledge” (verses 3, 8) of God. More importantly, these truths are God’s truth, truth from God (verse 21) and also truth which has been communicated by the Spirit of God (verses 20-21), through the Son of God and witnessed to by the Father (verses 16-19).

This “truth” has not been conjured up in Peter’s mind but is “truth” which has come from God. It is apostolic truth which God communicated through all of His inspired apostles—not just Peter (note the “we”43 in verses 16, 18, 19). It is the “truth” our Lord spoke to the disciples of which the Spirit reminded them:

25 “These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:25-26).

3 How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:3-4).

There are “false apostles” (see 2 Corinthians 11:13) who claim to speak for God but who are merely espousing “cleverly devised tales” (2 Peter 1:16). Peter contrasts these tales with the Scriptures God revealed through His apostles. To demonstrate the certainty (“more sure”) of the Scriptures revealed through the apostles, Peter turns to the transfiguration of our Lord which he, along with James and John (see Matthew 17:12), witnessed.

Like the Old Testament prophets, Peter and the other apostles wrote of the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 16). The apostles revealed that which was consistent with the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, but their writings were also “eye witness” accounts. The apostles did write of things they heard from our Lord, but they also wrote as witnesses of what they saw. At the transfiguration, they witnessed the “power and glory of our Lord’s coming.” Jesus Himself indicated they would:

27 “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. 28 Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28).

38 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” 9:1 And He was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 8:38–9:1).

At the transfiguration of Jesus, this is exactly what Peter and his two fellow-apostles saw:

2 And six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 And Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus (Mark 9:2-4).

It is also what Paul saw:44

6 “And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 And those who were with me beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do’” (Acts 22:6-10; see also Acts 9:1-9; 26:12-18; compare Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:1-11).

All of the apostles witnessed the glory and power of the Lord Jesus, the glory we too shall see when He comes to reign on the earth. The apostles were not “whistling in the wind;” they actually witnessed the things of which they write.

And so it is that the apostles, (“we,” verse 19) have a “the prophetic word made more sure.” I used to think the “we” here referred to “we saints,” but this does not seem to be the case. Peter asserts that they, the apostles (in contrast to false teachers), have a more sure word from God, a word to which “we” (“you,” verse 19) do well to heed. These apostles “saw the light,” the light, as it were, of the glory and power of our Lord. When we take heed to the Scriptures God has revealed through them, we have all the “light” we need. And this light will be sufficient for whatever period of time it takes for God’s purposes to be fulfilled and His kingdom to be established on this earth. We need no other “light,” particularly not the false “light” of “cleverly devised tales.” Peter’s words here strongly imply that the canon of Scripture is closed and that no further “prophecies” will be given.

The Danger of Polluting Prophecy
(1:20-21)

20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

The Scriptures are God’s “light” for men. Peter has already warned us about trusting in the “cleverly devised tales” of men, as opposed to the “more sure” prophecies of the Word of God. While some may lead men astray by other “revelations” than the Word of God, it is also possible for men to teach falsehood by distorting the Scriptures. This is the danger Peter addresses in verses 20 and 21. He will again speak of the distortion of prophecy in relation to Paul’s epistles in chapter 3:

14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord [to be] salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all [his] letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as [they do] also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:14-16).

The Constitution of the United States of America has been radically “rewritten,” not by the writing of a new constitution per se but by a radical interpretation of the old. The same thing happens to the Scriptures when men with twisted minds try to grapple with the “straight and narrow” of God’s Word. At times, the distortion of divine truth may be unwitting since the unbelieving cannot and will not receive divine truth (see 1 Corinthians 2). But some actually distort the Scriptures deliberately. Peter warns his readers against such twisting of Scripture.

If the Scriptures are to be interpreted correctly, they must be interpreted consistent with their origin and nature. Two essential elements of biblical interpretation are addressed in these verses.

(1) Biblical interpretation is not a “private” matter. That which attracts some people to certain interpretations is the very uniqueness of the interpretation. Peter warns us that uniqueness should serve as a red flag rather than an attraction. Think of it. How was biblical prophecy revealed? It has been revealed through a diverse group of men over a number of centuries. Peter has already indicated (1 Peter 1:10-12) that these prophets did not even fully understand their own writings. If God’s prophetic Word was revealed to a number of men, then how can its interpretation be “private property,” the exclusive possession of one man? Biblical prophecy is “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 1:10-12). There are many things over which Bible students disagree. We should be most confident about those matters with which a large number of saints agree, not just the saints of our age but those who have grappled with the Scriptures over the centuries of the history of the church. I would much rather embrace the interpretation for which godly men suffered and died than the new and novel interpretations which give men prominence and prosperity.

(2) Biblical interpretation can only be achieved through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Prophets did not originate prophecy; they were instruments of the Holy Spirit who used them to speak from God. Prophecy does not begin with man’s will but with God’s will. Thus, the interpretation of prophecy must not be subject to man’s will. Conversely, man’s will must be subject to the Scriptures, as the Spirit of God makes their meaning clear.

6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden [wisdom,] which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 [the wisdom] which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND [which] HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 10 For to us God revealed [them] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the [thoughts] of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the [thoughts] of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual [thoughts] with spiritual [words.] 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man (1 Corinthians 2:6-15).

The Holy Spirit is the key to accurate interpretation, and the accuracy of this interpretation will be indicated, in part, by the consensus of many interpreters.

Conclusion

Years ago, Joe Bayly wrote a book on death entitled, The View From A Hearse. In later editions, the title was changed to The Last Thing We Ever Talk About. Frankly, I like the first title best. I believe Bayly’s first title could also serve as the title for this message. Peter is writing from the perspective of his imminent death. This second and final epistle penned by Peter is his “view from a hearse.”

What a different man Peter is here from the Peter of the Gospels. In the Gospels, Peter resisted our Lord’s discussion of His death (see Matthew 16:21-28) and was none too excited about Jesus’ words concerning his own death (see John 21:18-23). Now, his death is not a dreaded possibility but an accepted certainty. Now, Peter views death through the hope of the gospel and the certainty of his future inheritance (see 1 Peter 1:7). In light of the limited time Peter has left, he is all the more intent on fulfilling his calling. He seeks to remind not only those living in his day, but those of us who read his epistle today of the life-transforming truths of the Word of God. When the perspective of the hearse is shaped by the hope of the gospel, we will see that the one thing which matters most is man’s relationship to God through Jesus Christ, and that this relationship must be based on the truths of the Word of God, not on the cleverly devised claims of men.

Just as Peter viewed his life and ministry from the hearse, so should we. We should recognize that the time is short and that only what is done for Christ will last. Paul put it this way:

4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of [the] day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Peter will close this epistle with these words:

11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:11-13).

As we live out our days, there is no higher calling than to remind one another of the truths of the Word of God. Men do not need our advice nearly so much as they need to heed God’s Word. Men do not need new truth, but to be reminded of God’s truth, the old, old story of God’s redeeming love in Christ.

Peter reminded his readers, including us, by writing this inspired epistle. If we are to be reminded of the only truths which are eternally important, that reminder will come from the Scriptures. And if we are to be reminded constantly, then we must constantly be in the Word ourselves, for this is where God’s reminders are found.

As Peter saw his days of ministry coming to their conclusion, he sought not only to employ his energy in that which would eternally benefit his readers, he sought to employ his efforts in such a way as to outlive him. Peter continues to minister to this day because he wrote this epistle which we are studying. Peter was “laying up treasure in heaven;” he was being a “good steward.” While you and I cannot minister beyond the grave by writing Scripture, there are ways we may invest our time, our gifts, and our resources so that our ministry outlives us. Let us give serious thought to how we may be good stewards of the gospel, as Peter was.

I believe Peter’s words in this text call into question any who would claim to have a “prophetic revelation” for men today. As I understand the Scriptures, God has spoken finally and fully in His Son and through the apostles (see Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-4). We need no additional revelation. What we really need is to continually be reminded of what God has already said in His Word. We need to seek to understand and apply these truths more fully.

And as we come to the Scriptures, let us not seek to make them conform to our will and our distorted perspective and desires. Let us come to them looking to the Spirit of God to illuminate our hearts and minds so that God’s truth transforms us into conformity with His divine nature.

The apostles are all gone, but their words are not. They were content to depart knowing they had fulfilled their calling by being used of God to speak for Him through their inspired writings. May you and I by God’s grace take heed to their writings as God’s “more sure word of prophecy.” And, “even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you,” may we be diligent to be in God’s Word so that we “may be able to call these things to mind.”


42 If this is the case, verses 1-11 provide us with a very concise summary of the truth of the gospel, those truths which are essential for salvation and sanctification (or, in Peter’s words, “life and godliness”).

43 It is apparent from 2 Peter 3:14-16 that Peter includes Paul among the apostles (“we”) through whom God has revealed His truth.

44 I have wondered why the account of Saul’s conversion was recorded three times in the Book of Acts. Was one account not enough? The account in chapter 9 (verses 1-9) is in the third person, while the accounts in chapters 22 (verses 4-11) and 26 (verses 12-18) are in the first person. But perhaps the primary reason is to emphasize the fact that Paul is a true apostle, having seen the risen Lord as did the rest of the apostles.

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6. False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1-3)

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Introduction

My wife Jeannette and I recently spent several relaxing days in northern Ontario with Bill and Marilyn McRae.45 During our visit, I installed sensor lights to come on automatically as they approached their cottage. When I removed the existing light fixture, I discovered some of the insulation from the electrical wires was missing. When I removed a piece of the siding to gain better access to the wires, I was greeted by a little black head peering over the siding. At first I thought it was a mouse, but when it screeched and spread its wings, I knew it was a bat. Indeed, several bats tumbled to the deck, creating quite a commotion especially with our wives. Although I had not realized it, those little creatures had crept in unnoticed, nibbling away at the wiring insulation and creating a very real unseen hazard.

Peter writes in the second and third chapters of his epistle about the unseen danger of false teachers who arise within the church. Such teachers are often unrecognized, especially in their earliest forms, partly because they profess to share a “like precious faith.” Yet, they secretly introduce false teaching, teachings which are destructive to themselves and to all who follow them.

When we think of “false teachers,” our minds immediately turn to false religions or the cults. We think of a man like David Koresh whose bizarre teachings resulted not just in his own death, but the fiery death of scores of men, women, and children at his Waco compound. False teachers do prey on the church from without, but they can also arise from within (compare Acts 20:28-30). These are the “false teachers” Peter warns us about in his second epistle.

These two chapters in 2 Peter very closely parallel the teaching which we find in Jude. Jude therefore provides an illuminating commentary on the Book of Second Peter. As we study chapters 2 and 3 of 2 Peter, we will refer to Jude’s epistle.

False Teachers Throughout History

False teachers and their teachings have always posed a danger to those in the household of faith (and those outside as well). After Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God warned that false prophets would arise:

1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; see also verses 6-18; 18:14-22).

False prophets did arise throughout the history of Israel (see 1 Kings 22:1-12; Isaiah 9:15; 28:7; Jeremiah 5:31; 6:13; 23:1-40; Ezekiel 13:3-4). The Lord Jesus also warned of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23; 24:11-28). The apostles also had much to say about false prophets and teachers (Acts 20:28-35; 2 Corinthians 11:3–12:13; Galatians 1:6-9; Philippians 3:1-2; Colossians 2:8-15; 1 Thessalonians 1:3-12; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; 3:2-8, 13; 4:14-18; Titus 1:10-16; 3:9-11; 1 John 2:18-29; 3:2-12; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; 3 John 9-10; Jude). In the first three verses of chapter 2, Peter begins to describe the false teachers who will arise. We must look carefully at his words, for such “wolves” as these will arise among us as well.

The Context of Our Text

In the first chapter of his epistle, Peter summarizes the all-sufficient work of our sovereign God in making provision for our salvation and sanctification (verses 1-4). Included in these provisions are the “precious and magnificent promises” of Scripture which make it possible to “become partakers of the divine nature.” Peter urges us in verses 5-7 to make use of these divine provisions and to pursue the character qualities of the divine nature. Verses 8-11 spell out the fruits of the pursuit of holiness in terms of what we avoid as well as what we gain.

Verses 11-21 stress not only the importance of the Scriptures but their certainty. In contrast to the “cleverly devised tales” of false teachers, the Scriptures are a “more sure word of prophecy,” which come from men who have witnessed the power and glory of the resurrected Christ (verses 16-19). Peter diligently reminded men of the truths of the Scriptures while he was alive, but he also writes so that we can be reminded after his death (verses 12-15). These Scriptures must be interpreted correctly, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and in a way consistent with the interpretation of godly saints throughout history (verses 20-21). (I am much more comforted by knowing that my understanding of a biblical text agrees with the interpretation of a saint of old, who suffered and died for his faith, than by embracing the bizarre interpretation of a Rolls Royce-driving televangelist who lives in Beverly Hills and whose only suffering is measured by the number of viewers his latest scandal cost him.

As in his first epistle (1:10-12), Peter calls our attention to the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets which find their fulfillment in the Christ of the Gospels. These prophecies are “sure” when interpreted correctly. But just as God raised up prophets, false prophets also arose as we see throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. Peter assures us that we likewise should look for false teachers to arise as they have done throughout history. In chapters 2 and 3, Peter describes these false teachers and their teaching so that we may avoid them and the errors they promote.

What We Need To Know About False Teachers
(2:1-3)

First, Peter strongly infers that we should regard anyone who claims to be a “prophet” as a false prophet. False prophets arose in earlier days, and we should expect false teachers to arise in our day. Why this switch from “false prophets” to “false teachers” in verse 1? The reason is evident from Peter’s teaching in chapter 1. The apostles were raised up as God’s instruments to record God’s full and final revelation in Christ. They saw the power and glory of the resurrected Lord. Their writings were superintended by the Holy Spirit, who caused them to remember all that the Lord had taught while He was with them. Their prophecies, like those of the Old Testament prophets, are thus a “more sure word of prophecy” which provides sufficient light for us until the coming of our Lord (1:19). Paul was the last of the prophets whose writings are also inspired and authoritative (3:14-16). Since these original apostles have accomplished their appointed task, no further prophets are required:

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away [from it.] 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

Second, Peter teaches us to expect false teachers to arise. Although the need for prophets has ceased, the need for teachers of the Scriptures continues. Among those who teach, we should expect some to be false teachers. They hold a Bible in their hands and tell us they are teaching the Scriptures, but their teaching is false. Their interpretation has not come from the Holy Spirit but from their own will (see 1:20-21). False teachers are no mere possibility; they are likely, and we must be watchful so we are not led astray by them. Our knowledge of Old Testament history should prepare us to be on guard against false teachers, for they will surely arise.

Third, Peter teaches us to expect false teachers to arise from within the church as well as from without. In Old Testament times, false prophets arose “among the people” (verse 1). So also in our time, false teachers will arise “among us” (literally “among you,” verse 1). It is easy to identify false teachers in other religions or in liberal or apostate churches. It is relatively easy to expect false teachers to arise from without. But Peter tells us they will also arise from within the community of believers, from within our own church. This same warning comes from Paul in the Book of Acts where he admonishes the elders of the Ephesian church:

28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build [you] up and to give [you] the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32, emphasis mine).

Fourth, the teaching of these false teachers is destructive to the teachers and to all who follow their teaching and practice. Peter calls the teaching of the false teachers “destructive heresies,” which will “bring swift destruction upon themselves” (verse 1). Their judgment is not “idle” nor is it “asleep” (verse 3).

Fifth, false teachers bring reproach upon true saints and the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of these impostors, “the way of truth will be maligned,” Peter says. We suffer from the presence of false teachers. “How?” you might ask. We suffer because these false teachers seek to gain status and recognition by identifying themselves as true saints and associating with true believers. In 1 Peter, we were instructed that unbelievers can be expected to react against the righteousness of the saints because they are threatened by it (1 Peter 4:1-4). We are to expect to be maligned for doing what is right (1 Peter 2:12, 15, 20). When the sin of false teachers is exposed, the unrighteous may almost delight in lumping all professing Christians together so that we are wrongly associated with the folly of fraudulent saints.

David Koresh is but one example of how this can happen. Koresh was not orthodox. One could hardly call him Christian (whether he or his followers did or not). While the evangelical community looked upon Koresh and his followers as a cult, the secular press has not been so discerning. Those who like to use the excuse, “The church is full of hypocrites,” see little difference between Koresh and his followers and mainstream evangelicalism. They leap at the opportunity to find a reason to ridicule us and reject our faith.

Sixth, these false teachers are not always readily apparent. False teachers certainly do not represent themselves as those who make a false profession of faith. They rise up as those who are one with us in Christ. As Jesus warned, they come as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). They carry out their ministry in Jesus’ name, and they are just as surprised at being called unbelievers as we are when we realize they do not share a “like precious faith” with us:

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn [bushes,] nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’“ (Matthew 7:15-23).

Our Lord’s words here indicate that we dare not attempt to distinguish false teachers from the true merely on the basis of their ability to perform mighty works. A true prophet need not perform great works. Such was John the Baptist, a prophet without mighty works but with mighty words (John 10:41). If a prophet declares that something will happen, and it does not, then he is a false prophet (see Deuteronomy 18:20-22). But the ability to perform great works does not prove one to be a prophet. His doctrine must also conform to the Word of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Jesus teaches that the “fruit” which distinguishes false teachers from the true is not just their mighty deeds. We must also take careful note of the fruit of their own character and that of their followers.

Seventh, false teachers can be identified by their morals and their motives. False teachers are driven by their own lusts rather than led by the Holy Spirit.46 Greed motivates their ministry—not grace (verse 3). They do not seek to give sacrificially to others; they seek to gain from others. They do not seek to edify others but to exploit them (verse 3). Their life is one of sensuality (verse 2), not true spirituality. More details will be given about the character and conduct of false teachers as Peter develops his argument in chapter 2. The false teachers of whom Peter writes are self-centered, self-serving, and self-indulgent (verse 10, 12-14). Worse yet, they are lost (verses 4-6, 12, 17-22; see Jude 4, 7-8, 12-13, 15, 19).

Eighth, false teachers can be recognized by their methods. When false teachers “arise,” their heresies are “secretly introduced” (verse 1). They “creep in unnoticed” (Jude 4). These false teachers are devious and deceptive, not wishing to be known for what they are. In some cases, they do not even recognize their own condition. They not only deceive, they are themselves deceived (2 Timothy 3:13; see 2 Peter 2:13). They rely on slick methods rather than on the Spirit of God and appeal to the lusts of the flesh (compare 1 Corinthians 2; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2).

Ninth, false teachers can be recognized by their message. False teachers deny the truth and deal in error. The “way of truth” is maligned, and their words are false (verses 2 and 3). Their doctrines are heresies which are “destructive,” while the truth leads to “life and godliness” (1:3). They claim to teach the Word of God, but they actually twist and distort the Scriptures so their interpretations justify their lifestyle and their lusts (see 3:16).

Both Peter and Jude inform us as to how far these false teachers will go:

1 … even denying the Master who bought them (2 Peter 2:1).

4 … ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).

Jude says they pervert grace, twisting it so that it becomes a pretext for sin. Peter might say that rather than seeing grace as an escape from our former lusts (1 Peter 1:14; 2:11; 2 Peter 1:4), it is an excuse for our former lusts.

The ultimate and most abominable error is that these teachers go as far as to “deny the Master who bought them.” I believe Peter’s words have their origin in the language of the Old Testament in reference to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Jude also ties the “purchase” of these false teachers to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt:

1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. 6 If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. 9 But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Deuteronomy 13:1-10, emphasis mine).

4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 1:4-5).

For some, 2 Peter 2:1 is a proof-text for their view of the atonement or at least a very crucial battle ground. Those who hold to an “unlimited atonement” (those who believe that Christ’s atoning death was for the sins of all men, saved or lost) point to this verse as proof for their position. They believe Peter is saying that Jesus died for the sins of even these unsaved heretics. Those who believe that the sacrificial death of Christ on Calvary was atoning only for the sins of the elect say otherwise. My personal opinion is that Peter is not trying to indicate the extent of the atonement here, but rather he is indicating the extent of the error to which false teachers will go. To focus on the debate over limited or unlimited atonement takes our eyes off the truth Peter is trying to teach us here—the danger of unbelieving false teachers who deny the Master.

Peter chose to describe the false teachers of our day against the backdrop of the false prophets who arose after the exodus. Just as there were false prophets in those days, there will most certainly be false teachers in ours. And just as those false prophets denied the Master who purchased them from Egyptian slavery, making them His slaves (see Leviticus 25:42, 55), so the false teachers go so far as to deny the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Just how do they deny Him? Peter seems to imply they deny His authority. The original word rendered “master” in our text can be transliterated “despot.” It is a term which describes the relationship of a slave to his “master.” The false teachers are arrogant, assuming authority which is not theirs. They have no respect for those in authority (2 Peter 2:10-11; Jude 8). They actively seek to undermine those in authority and to establish their own authority. As Satan rebelled against God’s authority, so he disguises himself as an “angel of light” by means of these, his servants (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Furthermore, the false teachers deny Christ as their Master by seeking to diminish His nature and attributes. They deny His humanity or deity (or both). They deny that He is the promised Messiah. They deny His promised return to punish His enemies and to reward the righteous. They deny His death and physical resurrection. They deny the sacrificial atonement which He accomplished at Calvary. As the false prophets rose up among the Israelites after the exodus and opposed Moses, so false teachers will arise among the saints and oppose the Lord Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

While visiting with Bill and Marilyn, Jeannette and I had a chance to discuss this passage, and Bill pointed me in a very helpful direction. Bill related that this last year he was asked to speak to a group of Christians and was assigned the topic, “Who is Jesus Christ?” He wondered why they had chosen this particular subject and why it was considered important for this group of believers.

A little later, Bill had the occasion to spend some time with a very popular Christian speaker and apologist on the college campuses across Canada. Bill asked him what he considered the most significant question on college campuses today. Without hesitation, the man responded, “Who is Jesus Christ?”

You see, there are many Jesus’ proclaimed today. There is Jesus the liberator and Jesus the revolutionary. There is Jesus the teacher and Jesus the example. There is Jesus the healer and Jesus the burden-bearer. Homosexuals and adulterers point to “an unconditionally accepting Jesus,” seeking to show that Jesus is on their side. Even the demons are willing to accept certain aspects of our Lord’s identity, but not His authority.

We want to have “Jesus the way we like to think of Him.” We would rather conform Jesus to our views and values than have Him transform ours. In his early days as a disciple, Peter believed in Messiah, but he wanted nothing to do with a suffering Savior. The Jewish religious leaders, along with the nation Israel, also looked for the coming “Messiah.” But it was not the Messiah the prophets described. So they rejected the true Jesus, because He was not their kind of Messiah. He was the wrong Jesus, and they liked their kind of Messiah better.

In the parable of the soils, two of the soils initially received “Jesus,” but when they learned what kind of “Jesus” He really was, they fell away (see Matthew 13:5-7). The crowds congregated around Jesus when they thought He came to give them a free meal (John 6:22-27). But when He began to speak of His death, the crowds vaporized (see John 6:60-65).

The false teachers speak of “Jesus,” but it is a “Jesus” of their own making, a “Jesus” with whom sinful men feel comfortable and affirmed. They wish to follow and imitate such a person, but they deny the real Jesus, substituting a more palatable Jesus. So it is that false teachers gain a following by tickling the ears of those who will not have the real “Jesus.”

How do false teachers arise? Peter does not tell us exactly, but we can suggest some ways false teachers might arise so that our Lord and Master is denied. First, they distort the emphasis of Scripture. They emphasize the “acceptable” aspects of our Lord’s nature and mission, while minimizing or denying those aspects of His being and ministry which sinful men find offensive. One can always point to Jesus as “our example” with little chance of being ill-treated for doing so.

Second, false teachers can deny Jesus by narrowing the field of maladies for which the cross of Christ provides the solution. In evangelical circles, the cross is still the solution for our sin and guilt. But it seems to be inadequate for our “addictions,” of which there are many with more being added daily to the list. Many of the problems we once thought were spiritual are now considered psychological, and thus they must be solved by “trained specialists” rather than by simply being cleansed by the shed blood of our Savior.

The Bible calls addictions “sin,” and our bondage to these sins is only broken through our identification with Christ and His cross (see Romans 6). A well-known psychiatrist wrote a book entitled, Whatever Happened to Sin? One might just as easily ask, “Whatever happened to the cross?” We sing songs with words like, “There is power, power, wonder working power; there is power in the blood of the Lamb.” But do we really believe this? If not, the false teachers have already arisen, and we have fallen for their false doctrines.

Peter speaks of false teachers in this text, but he is speaking to each of us. He warns those who would become false teachers of the destruction which lies ahead for them (compare James 3:1-12). He also warns every Christian to be on the alert, for false teachers will arise. While Christian leaders have a responsibility to guard the flock from false teachers (Acts 20:28-39; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 2 Timothy 2:23-26), this does not absolve us of our personal responsibility to be on guard for false teachers. There is only one way we will be able to spot false teachers: we must be knowledgeable concerning the truth of the Word of God. We dare not become lazy and expect others to do our studying and thinking for us (see 1 John 2:26-27).

Finally, this text speaks to those who may not truly know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. You may believe in “Jesus.” You may believe in Him as the Son of God, as a great healer, or a great teacher. You may believe that He was a great leader and that He cared deeply for sinners. But to be saved, you must believe in His atoning work on your behalf on the cross of Calvary. You must believe that He was the God-man who bore the penalty for your sins, and that, as the risen Savior, His resurrection is, for you, life from the dead. Not until you believe in the real Jesus of the Bible will you be saved. May God grant you ears to hear and eyes to see, so that you might turn to Jesus for salvation this day.


45 Bill was a fellow-student at Dallas Theological Seminary and a Bible teacher with whom I was associated at Believers Chapel in Dallas. He is now the Chancellor of Ontario Theological Seminary and Ontario Bible College in Toronto.

46 In fact, they are devoid of the Spirit (Jude 19).

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7. The Certainty of Deliverance and Destruction (2 Peter 2:3b-10a)

3b Their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; 7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority (2 Peter 2:3b-10a).

    Luke 17:26-30

    26 “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”

    2 Peter 3:3-7

    3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

    Jude 1:5-7

    5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. 7 Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

      Their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

      4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; 7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority (2 Peter 2:3b-10a).

      Introduction

      The movie “Pollyanna” portrays a preacher who is harsh and judgmental. Sunday after Sunday, he preaches “hellfire and brimstone” messages, virtually scorching his audience with the wrath of God. Pollyanna finally comes to his rescue by telling the preacher about her father who was also a preacher. Her father avoided the negative texts and instead preached the “happy texts,” those texts with words which seem to offer encouragement and comfort and leave one feeling good after hearing them.

      “Happy texts” can only be happy for those to whom they apply. Likewise, “unhappy texts” are those which desperately need to be heard and heeded by those who are in peril. The good news is that the “unhappy texts” warn men about destruction to bring them to repentance so that they will receive God’s salvation, which alone makes men truly “happy” (see Matthew 5:3-16).

      Our 2 Peter 2 text is one everyone desperately needs to hear and to heed, for it speaks both of the destruction of the wicked and of the deliverance of the righteous. Peter seeks to prove his point by turning our attention back in time to the ancient days described in the first half of the Book of Genesis. He draws upon two major events in ancient history, the destruction of civilization and the deliverance of Noah and his family at the flood (Genesis 6-9), and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah along with the deliverance of Lot and his two daughters (Genesis 18-19).

      The Context

      In the last part of chapter 1, Peter emphasizes that the apostles have a “more sure word of prophecy” (1:19), because they have seen the glory and power of the Lord Jesus Christ at His transfiguration. Thus, the Scriptures which Peter and the other apostles have penned are our guiding light until the time when the Lord comes and illuminates us fully (1:19). The Scriptures must be interpreted correctly, however, prompted not by the impulses of our flesh but by the Holy Spirit through Whose promptings the inspired Scriptures were written (1:20-21).

      True prophets were continually opposed by the false prophets of old, who rose up among the people to lead them astray. They secretly introduced false teaching which brought destruction on them and their followers. False teachers can likewise be expected in our time. They will do the same thing, enticing men with their sensuality and, in their greed, gaining from the following they attract (2:2-3). This error goes so far as these false teachers, like the false prophets before them, denying the Master who bought them (2:1). The judgment of such men “from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2:3b).47

      What does Peter mean when he says their judgment is not idle from long ago? He explains in verses 4-10a. The expression, “from long ago” is found elsewhere only in 2 Peter 3:5 (“long ago”). There, Peter speaks of the creation of the earth and the separation of land and water, later to be inundated by water in the judgment flood of Noah’s day (3:6). Peter is telling us that the events of ancient times have a great deal of bearing on the events of our own day. The deliverance of divine judgment on the wicked and the rescue of the righteous from temptation in ancient times is proof positive that God will not only deliver the righteous from temptation, but He will deliver the wicked to eternal judgment (2:9).

      The Structure of the Text

      The structure of our text is indicated by the words “if” in verses 4, 6, and 7, and “then” in verse 9.48 Verses 4-8 set down the destruction of the ancient world by the flood and of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire, along with the divine deliverance of Noah (and his family) and Lot (with his two daughters). Peter’s argument goes like this:

      “If God doomed the disobedient angels, destroyed the ancient world of Noah, and turned the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, does He not know how to deliver the wicked to judgment; and if God spared Noah and Lot and their families, does this not show us that God knows how to deliver the righteous from temptation?”

      Verses 4-8 are therefore written to document the statement that the destruction of false teachers has, from long ago, been a certainty, and at the same time reaffirms that those who diligently pursue godly character, God will not allow to fall but will rescue them from worldly temptations (see 1:8-11).

      Deliverance and Destruction at the Flood
      (2:4-5)

      4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness,49 reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; … 

      There are those who see the confinement of the angels in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 as unrelated to the events of the flood, and to these verses in Genesis chapter 6:

      1 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore [children] to them. Those were the mighty men who [were] of old, men of renown. 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 And the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:1-8).

      They believe the “sons of God” were men who were of the “godly line of Seth.” They believe the “fall” and subsequent incarceration of some angels referred to by Peter (2:4) and Jude (verse 6) occurred at some other time and is not related to the Genesis flood.

      I believe they are wrong and that Peter and Jude are referring to the “fall” of some angels at the time of the flood. The Scriptures never refer to a “godly line of Seth.” Nor does this merely human view of Genesis 6 explain the appearance of the Nephilim, those “supermen” of ancient times (verse 4). Neither does it square with the biblical use of the expression, “the sons of god.”

      That the expression “sons of god” sometimes refers to angelic beings can be seen in Job 1:6 and 2:1 (see also Psalm 29:1). That angelic beings can take on masculine (never feminine) bodies is evident in many texts. It is most clear in Genesis 19 where these “angel-men” were thought to be men and were so convincing as such that they were desired as men and sought out by the homosexuals living in Sodom. If Peter is not speaking of the “fall” of some angels as described in Genesis 6, then he is referring to an event not recorded in the Old Testament, and this seems hard to accept. How could Peter refer to an undocumented “fall” with the assumption that his readers will know what incident he is referring to as with the events related to Noah (Genesis 6-9) and those related to Lot (Genesis 18 and 19)? The intermarriage of angels and women would also explain the appearance of the Nephilim, the super race of Noah’s day. This inappropriate sexual union of angels and humans fits precisely into the contexts of 2 Peter and Jude, where sensuality and sexual aberrations is the reason for divine judgment.

      There is one further argument in favor of the fallen angels being the “sons of God” in Genesis 6. The main point Peter emphasizes is the certain doom of those false teachers whose doctrine and practice corrupts those who follow them. If the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are the angels referred to in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6, then their destructive involvement with the human race is very similar to that of the false prophets of old and the false teachers of more recent times. They themselves are immoral, and their teaching promotes immorality. If they had not been judged and placed in confinement, they would have destroyed the entire human race.50

      Consequently, I understand Peter to be referring to the judgment of fallen angels and the destruction of sinful men by means of the Genesis flood in verses 4 and 5. Regardless of whether or not you accept this interpretation, it is clear that certain angels fell and were subsequently placed in confinement awaiting their final day of judgment. God will deal in judgment with those who sin, especially those who seek to corrupt others. They are kept in confinement not only to await their final doom but to keep them from continuing their corrupting work until that day of doom arrives.

      The flood did not only concern fallen angels or the super race they seem to have been producing. It was also about the sinful men and women of Noah’s day. Interestingly, Peter does not emphasize the specific details of men’s sins, neither those of the civilization of Noah’s day nor those of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 6:5, the sins of that civilization are described in terms of the hearts of men and not in terms of their outward actions. Later in Genesis 6:11-13, the deeds of that society are summed up with the terms “corruption” and “violence.”

      It was a sinful and corrupt society. Yet God did not immediately wipe out that civilization. He gave the earth’s population nearly a generation to repent as the ark was being constructed. Finally, the wickedness of that generation reached full bloom, and the time for judgment arrived. With the flood, God wiped out every living soul. Only Noah and his family were spared by finding refuge in the ark which brought them safely through the flood. And so in the flood we see both divine destruction and divine deliverance.

      Destruction and Deliverance at Sodom and Gomorrah
      (2:6-8)

      6 And if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; 7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds).…

      Here Peter says plainly what he implies elsewhere in this text: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the deliverance of Lot and his daughters is an example, a prototype of future deliverance and destruction (verse 6). What happened “long ago” (verse 3) is not just an ancient story; it is written as a warning to the wicked of the days yet to come (verse 6) and as an encouragement to the righteous who will read of these events in future years as well (see Romans 15:4; Hebrews 11).

      A few chapters further into the Book of Genesis, we find man’s sin reaching full bloom once again in Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities. God chose to reveal His purposes concerning these cities to His friend Abraham:

      17 And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19 For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” 20 And the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. 21 I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:17-21).

      Abraham’s appeal to God is fascinating in the light of Peter’s argument:

      22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. 23 And Abraham came near and said, “Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep [it] away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are [treated] alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:22-25).

      Abraham rightly understood that justice required God to distinguish between the just and the unjust. It would not be right to destroy the righteous along with the wicked. God must distinguish between the two. And distinguish He did. God did not spare the wicked men of Sodom and Gomorrah. He destroyed them with fire, turning the cities to ashes. But He did spare Lot and his daughters. God delivered the righteous from judgment, and He delivered the wicked to judgment.

      Peter’s words recall the familiar account found in Genesis 18 and 19 concerning Lot and his daughters and their rescue from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. What is new and surprising to us is that Lot is identified by Peter as a righteous man. Peter is emphatic on this point. Three times in verses 7 and 8 he refers to Lot as righteous. We would hardly have expected this. Lot was the one who took the better (watered) land, leaving Abram with the less desirable land (Genesis 13:1-13). Lot offered his virgin daughters to the wicked men of Sodom and Gomorrah to use as they pleased, if they would not molest his guests (Genesis 19:8). Lot is made drunk by his daughters and then while in a drunken stupor, he becomes the father of their sons (Genesis 19:30-38).

      How then can Peter call Lot a righteous man? We must first recognize that Abraham appealed to God to spare the righteous. Only Lot and his daughters were spared. Therefore, we must assume that God considered them to be righteous. But Peter goes further. Clearly by divine enlightenment, Peter describes the response of Lot’s heart and soul to the sin of his society. Lot observed the wickedness of his fellow-citizens, and he was deeply grieved by what he saw and heard (verse 8). Not only did Lot grieve over the sins of his society, he grieved continually, “day after day” (verse 8). Would that I could say in all honestly that I am as deeply and consistently grieved by the sin of my day as Lot was by the wickedness of his. All too often we pride ourselves for not participating in the sin practiced all around us, and yet we take a kind of pleasure in seeing and hearing it (such as on television or in the movies).

      Too many want to judge the righteousness or wretchedness of a man by mere outward appearances. They want to judge a man on the basis of where he lives or in terms of with whom he associates. God judges a person on the basis of what is in their heart. Lot may have lived in a wicked city, among very wicked men, but he never loved the “world” in which he lived. He loathed their sin, and it brought him constant grief.

      We tend to think of righteous suffering primarily in terms of persecution. Peter, in his first epistle, has much to say about the suffering the ungodly cause us in reaction to the righteousness which God works out through our lives. But here Peter indicates a very different kind of suffering, a kind of suffering we (along with our Lord, see Mark 3:5; 9:19; 16:14; John 14:9; Hebrews 5:7) may experience in our souls—the suffering we experience from being in a fallen and imperfect world, a world tarnished by sin (see also Romans 8:18-25).

      The Lesson To Be Learned
      (2:9-10a)

      9 Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority … 

      If ancient history teaches us anything, let it be this: God knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and how to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment. Let us consider both statements Peter makes here, for they are vitally important truths.

      First, the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation. What the text does not say (but we are inclined to suppose) is that God knows how to keep the godly from destruction. It is easy to think Peter is making two contrasting statements:

      • God knows how to deliver the righteous from judgment.
      • God knows how to deliver the wicked to judgment.

      This is true, and it can even be seen in the stories of the rescue of Noah and Lot, along with their families.

      Peter is saying that God is able to keep the righteous righteous (this is no misprint), even when they are living in a most unrighteous environment. God was able to keep Noah and Lot and their families from succumbing to the temptation of their society, even when that corrupt and violent society was so corrupt it was ripe for divine judgment.

      Christians today are becoming too much like the Pharisees of old. They wrongly suppose that holiness is measured in terms of the distance we put between ourselves and “sinners.” The Bible speaks of holiness more in terms of our loss of affection for the world and its sinful lusts. We suppose that if we isolate ourselves and our families from the world, we will be untainted by it. What an encouragement we find in Peter’s assurance that God knows how to rescue us from temptation, even when we live in the midst of a society that is corrupt and violent, ripe for divine judgment.

      Second, God knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment. Once again, we may be tempted to jump to the wrong conclusion. Peter’s examples from ancient history are not intended to demonstrate merely that God has judged sinners or that God will judge them, though this is true. Peter’s examples are cited to prove that God not only knows how to keep the righteous from falling into temptation, but that He also knows how to keep the unrighteous for the great eternal judgment which is yet to come. The judgment of the society of Noah’s day, of those fallen angels, and of Sodom and Gomorrah is not complete. Their judgment is only partially complete, and they still await their final doom. They are being kept for judgment, a judgment still to come, a judgment described in the Book of Revelation:

      4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. 7 And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. 9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one[of them] according to their deeds. 14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:4-15).

      The ultimate judgment is not temporal but eternal. In the words of the Book of Revelation, the final judgment is not the “first death,” but the “second death.” Those who were judged at the flood and in the fire which came upon Sodom and Gomorrah experienced the first death. But this judgment is only temporal. It is but the “first fruits” of God’s judgment. The angels were cast into Tartarus,51 and not really into hell, which takes place at the end of time as described in Revelation 20. The term “hell” in 2 Peter 2:4 is a translation of the term TARTARUS, and not one of the terms employed for “hell.” The angels were put out of circulation, so that they could no longer corrupt mankind. They were confined, kept in solitary confinement so to speak, awaiting their final judgment at the return of Messiah. The same is true for the men and women who perished in the flood and in the fiery judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), our Lord describes Lazarus as entering into some of the bliss of his eternal rewards, yet without yet entering into heaven. He also describes the rich man’s torment while he awaits his final day of judgment. The wicked who perish as a result of God’s temporal judgment have not yet tasted His full and final judgment, but they are being preserved for it like a condemned murderer awaits the day of his execution while confined on death row.

      The wicked are kept “under punishment,” Peter tells us. That is, their doom is not only certain, it is sealed. They are now destined for destruction with no hope of rescue. Their destiny is irreversible. There are those who teach reincarnation. This false teaching makes a promise which it cannot keep—that men and women can have another chance after they die. The Bible teaches that death seals one’s fate. Our Lord taught this in Luke 16. The apostle John teaches this in Revelation 20. This is Peter’s teaching here. It is also what the writer to the Hebrews taught:

      27 “… it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

      And so Peter is not teaching us that the judgment of the wicked at the flood or at Sodom and Gomorrah is the final judgment; he is teaching that this temporal judgment demonstrated at the flood and at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, is a prototype of the final judgment yet to come. It is a demonstration that God both can and will judge the wicked, just as He can and will rescue the godly from temptation.

      Conclusion

      Our text has some important principles and implications of those principles for men today.

      (1) Peter makes it clear that the events of ancient times are relevant and applicable to us today. The judgment of the ancient world of Noah’s day and of Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot’s day is an example for men who live today (verse 6), an example which indicates that God is able and willing to deliver the wicked to judgment and to rescue the righteous from temptation.

      (2) The principle of judgment and deliverance, demonstrated in the flood and in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, is not one which Peter invented. It is a theme frequently referred to by the Old Testament prophets, by our Lord, and by other New Testament writers. The flood and the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah become symbols of divine judgment and of divine rescue. And so we see these themes frequently arising in the Old Testament and in the New. For example, the flood theme can be seen in Psalm 18 (all); 29:10-11; 32;6-7; 69:1-2, 13-15; 90:5; 124 (all); Isaiah 17:12-14; 43:107; 51;9-11; 54:9; Nahum 1:6-8. Sodom and Gomorrah become symbols of divine judgment, as can be seen in Deuteronomy 29:23; 32:32; Isaiah 1:9-10; 3:9; 13:19; Jeremiah 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Lamentations 4:6; Ezekiel 16:40-59; Hosea 11:8; Amos 4:11; Zephaniah 2:9; Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24; Luke 10:10-12; 17:26-30; Romans 9:29; Jude 7; Revelation 11:8. This is not the limit of the allusions to these themes in the Scriptures but rather a sampling of them.

      Perhaps the closest parallel to this passage in 2 Peter comes from the lips of our Lord Himself, where He refers to both these events as an example of divine judgment in the past. Jesus especially emphasizes the spiritual dullness of the doomed as they blindly continue pursuing the fleshly pleasures of life, aloof to the imminence of their own doom:

      26 “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30).

      How could Peter not have had our Lord’s teaching in mind as he turns our attention to these same two incidents?

      (3) Peter wants us to understand that biblical history is more than history alone; it is prophecy. Because God does not change, His character and His dealings with men do not change. The way God has dealt with sinners and saints in ancient times becomes a pattern for the way in which He deals with men throughout time and eternity. Old Testament history is therefore directly relevant to us and to our times.

      (4) This text should serve as a warning to the wicked that a day of judgment is coming which sinful men dare not ignore and cannot escape. There may well be a day of temporal judgment, for an individual or for a nation. But there is also the ultimate day of eternal judgment which every sinner will face.

      (5) The warnings which this Scripture and others declare to sinners are denied by false teachers. Not only will the wicked face divine judgment, they now seek to deny it. This is especially true of the false teachers:

      3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

      Ultimately, this denial of judgment comes from the “father of lies,” the devil, who from the very beginning sought to deny divine judgment. And so after God assured Adam and Eve they would die for partaking of the forbidden fruit of the garden, Satan sought to assure them otherwise:

      4 “You surely shall not die” (Genesis 3:4).

      (6) The sins which characterized the people of old, who were destroyed by the flood and by fire, seem no greater than those which characterize our nation today. Violence and corruption characterized these condemned societies. How different is our society from those which were doomed? I do not think the difference, if any, is great. Does this mean divine judgment is imminent for us? Personally, I think it is. The only ones who would disagree with this, in my opinion, are those who are false teachers.

      (7) The good news for sinners: there is time to repent and be saved from the wrath of God. God delayed His judgment on these corrupt societies. God had His witnesses in those wicked places. People were given an opportunity to repent, and they did not. The God who did not spare the people of Noah’s time and who did not spare the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, is also the God who did not spare His own Son, sending Him to die in the sinner’s place so that we might be declared righteous in Him and thus be delivered from sin and judgment:

      31 What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us (Romans 8:31-34).

      There is no need to perish in our sins, for Christ has died for sinners, bearing the wrath of God, bearing the punishment for our sin. To be saved from the wrath of God, all we must do is acknowledge our sin and trust in the Lord Jesus as our Sin-bearer, who died and was raised in our place. He bore our sins; He offers us His righteousness. All we must do is to receive it by faith. And when we do, we have the assurance that God will not deliver us to judgment but will deliver us from temptation.

      (8) The good news for the Christian: God will rescue us from temptation. We may live in a society so wicked that it is ripe for judgment. We may see and hear the evidences of the corruption and violence of our time, but we need not succumb to it. God’s grace is such that we will not only escape from the icy grip of temptation, but we will actually come to loathe it as Lot did.

      (9) The task of the righteous: practice righteousness and proclaim the good news of the gospel to a condemned people who face God’s temporal and eternal wrath. Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (verse 5), and so, I believe was Lot (see Genesis 19:9). This is our calling as well (see 1 Peter 2:11-12, 24; 3:15-16).

      (10) Thank God that those whom He makes righteous are not perfect. What a comfort to be told that Lot was a righteous man. We surely know that he was not perfect. His righteousness was not due to his good works but to Christ’s righteousness, which he believed in and received by faith. It was Christ’s righteousness which caused him to grieve over the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was Christ’s righteousness which was victorious over the temptations of that society. And, it is Christ’s righteousness which will save, sanctify, and keep us from temptation and judgment as well.


      47 See 1 Kings 18:27; Ps. 44:23; 121:4; Isaiah 5:27; see also Psalm 73:8-10.

      48 Technically, in the Greek text the “if” is only found in verse 4, but it has been employed in verses 6 and 7 because this is the inference of the original text.

      49 “These angels were cast down ‘to pits of darkness’ (sirois zophou). This reading is very uncertain. The manuscript evidence is about evenly divided between ‘pits’ (sirois or seirois) and ‘chains’ (seirais). The textual editors differ in their preference, and our English versions also vary.” Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude (Greenville, South Carolina: Unusual Publications, 1989), p. 97.

      50 It is also interesting to note that while the Genesis 6-9 incident (if angels are involved here) speaks of the corrupting influence of fallen angels, who prey upon the women of that day in Genesis 18 and 19, unfallen angels are the instruments of divine destruction and deliverance, and the male inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah seek to corrupt or destroy the angels.

      51 “Peter says that God condemned the sinning angels to the lowest depths of hell. Literally the Greek says that God condemned the angels to Tartarus (tartaroun). Tartarus was not a Hebrew conception but Greek. In Greek mythology Tartarus was the lowest hell; it was as far beneath Hades as the heaven is high above the earth. In particular it was the place into which there had been cast the Titans who had rebelled against Zeus, the Father of gods and men.” William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 321.

      Literally, the word is not a noun but a verb. God “tartarized” the angels; that is, He cast them into tartarus.

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    8. The Teachers’ Hall of Shame (2 Peter 2:10-22)

    10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;

    15 forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression; for a dumb donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.

    17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

    8 Yet in the same manner these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. 9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.

    11 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.

    12 These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. 14 And about these also Enoch, [in] the seventh [generation] from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” 16 These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their [own] lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of [gaining an] advantage. 17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

    Introduction

    Certain theological and textual problems in 2 Peter 2 may perplex the serious Bible student. But I do not wish to focus on what is unclear about our text, but what is becoming increasingly clear. The problem Peter addresses is one he places on our door step, one we must not and dare not avoid. Consider these disturbing facts about false teachers found in 2 Peter and in Jude (a close parallel to 2 Peter 2).

    (1) False teachers are not just a hypothetical possibility; they are a certainty. There have always been false prophets throughout Israel’s history, and just so there will most certainly be false teachers in our time as well (2 Peter 2:1-3).

    (2) These false teachers are not only to be expected outside the church but within the church as well. They are not just found in other churches but in our own. These false teachers arise “among us” (2:1); they exploit us (2:3). They practice their sinful ways in our presence (2:13), and even at the most sacred of all occasions, the Lord’s Table (Jude 12).

    (3) These false teachers are not secretive about their sin, but publicly flaunt it (2:13).

    (4) In spite of their openly fleshly lifestyle, even in the church gatherings, the saints seem oblivious to their sin, failing to recognize these people to be false teachers (Jude 4), and thus these false teachers feel free to continue in sin without any fear of rebuke or correction (“without fear,” Jude 12).

    (5) Rather than expose and expel these heretics, the saints seem content to embrace them as fellow-believers, and in the process provide them with prestige and a platform from which they subvert the faith of others, especially the weak and vulnerable (2:13-14, 18-19).

    In his first epistle, Peter speaks to the saints about suffering, showing that suffering should be viewed as a normative experience for the Christian, and one that can be endured with grace to the glory of God, certain of the glory yet to be revealed at the return of our Lord. The false teachers do not face up to the certainty (and glory) of suffering. In their appeal to fleshly lusts, they speak of success, of avoiding pain and enjoying pleasure. And so it was necessary for Peter to follow up his first epistle with a second. Second Peter deals primarily with false teachers and their teaching which denies that suffering is a part of God’s will for the saints, and which seeks to convince men that they may pursue fleshly lusts without any fear of judgment. First Peter speaks of earthly suffering in the light of eternal glory; 2 Peter speaks of the false teachers who promote sinful self-indulgence in this life while denying the future judgment to come.

    The first chapter of 2 Peter begins on a very positive note. Peter stresses the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of His provisions for life and godliness. He urges the saints to diligently pursue godly character, assuring them this is the way God has provided for us to be blessed and to be certain that we will stand in the trials and temptations of this life. He ends chapter one by emphasizing the sufficiency of the inspired Scriptures, a “more sure word of prophecy” due to the coming of Christ and the revelation of His glory.

    In chapter 2, Peter turns from the truth to that which is false. He contrasts the true prophets and their prophecies with the false prophets of old and their successors, the false teachers. In verses 1-2, Peter described the false teachers very briefly. These teachers are to be found in the church (among you,” 2:1). They will exploit the saints (2:3). They live in sensuality, and they promote it, finding many followers who are attracted by the wiles of the flesh (2:2). Their teaching and practice are heretical, destructive to all who follow them (2:1). These false teachers do great damage to themselves and to others and bring reproach on the way of the truth (2:2). These teachers, and those who follow them, face certain destruction although it is still future (3:3).

    In verses 4-10a, Peter turns back in time to similar situations in ancient history (namely the flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot’s day) to show that God knows how to deliver the righteous from temptation and how to deliver the wicked to eternal punishment (see 2:9-10a).

    Having assured his reader of the two-fold certainty of deliverance and destruction in verses 4-10, Peter now provides us with a description of these false teachers. Verses 10-14 describe the character and conduct of the false teachers. Verses 15 and 16 liken them to Balaam, an Old Testament prototype. Verses 17-22 describe these false teachers in terms of their destructive impact on those who follow them.

    In this lesson, we will begin by attempting to characterize the condition of the churches to which Peter wrote. We will also seek to clarify our understanding of the evil which was becoming rampant in these churches. We will seek to characterize the false teachers and their teaching, especially its impact on others. We will consider the destruction which follows in the wake of these false teachers and their teaching. Finally, we will explore the implications of Peter’s teaching for our own day.

    The Setting

    We have already pointed out some of the conditions in the churches to which Peter was writing. A few more conditions can be inferred from the text. The false teachers had little respect for those in authority (2:10; Jude 8). They were grumblers and complainers who created strife and division in the church (Jude 16). They were greedy and self-serving (2:14-15; Jude 12). They used people for their own purposes and gratification (2:13-14; Jude 12, 16). They were immoral to the point of having no shame for their sin; they proudly flaunted their sin (2:13-14; Jude 13). These teachers gathered their own following of vulnerable saints (2:14, 18). If they were recognized for what they were, they were not dealt with as they should have been (2:13-14; Jude 12).

    I can think of a church in the New Testament which sounds exactly like this—the church at Corinth. The church at Corinth was characterized by its factions (chapter 1), some of which even took members to court with one another (chapter 6). Some of the “leaders” of the church at Corinth seem to have belittled Paul and the other apostles, claiming apostolic authority for themselves (2 Corinthians 11). Paul’s suffering was cited as proof of his impiety, while the “spiritual giants” at Corinth knew only success (1 Corinthians 4:6-21; 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; 6:1-18; 12:7-13). Immorality was common (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), and even when the church knew of a man who lived with his father’s wife, they did nothing about it and were proud of their response to his sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). The saints at Corinth had made many questionable alliances with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Their ungodly leaders were “smooth talkers,” making Paul’s simplicity of speech pale in comparison (1 Corinthians 2; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 4:1-2).

    But the church in Corinth was not the only church which manifested these symptoms of spiritual sickness. Paul’s letters to Timothy indicate these symptoms characterized many churches (see 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-26; 3:1-13; 4:1-4). The letters to the seven churches in Asia, recorded in Revelation 2 and 3, are addressed to some of the same churches Peter addressed in his epistles (compare 1 Peter 1:1 with Revelation 2 and 3).

    Recent scandals involving prominent television preachers have become public in recent years and painfully parallel the description of false teachers given by Peter and Paul. But more than this, the descriptions of the church at Corinth and some of the churches in Asia are uncomfortably close to conditions in many of our evangelical churches today. Peter’s words to these saints of old are not mere history; they are prophetic words both of encouragement and of admonition for those who will hear and heed them. Let us listen well to what God has spoken through this inspired apostle.

    The Profession of the False Teachers

    False teachers do not wear name tags identifying themselves as such. They are hypocrites and deceivers, who have “crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4). They are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). They identify themselves as true believers, followers of Jesus Christ, and they profess to follow Jesus as Lord. They seem to operate in His power, and they do their impressive works in His name. They appear to oppose Satan (see Matthew 7:15-23).

    These false teachers attend the church and participate in its functions, including the Lord’s Supper (Jude 12). They appear to be “in fellowship” with the saints and are closely associated with them (2 Peter 2:1, 3, 13). They claim to be knowledgeable and are often regarded as leaders and teachers (see Matthew 7:15-23; 23:1-3; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:1-4).

    The Personal
    Morality of the False Teachers

    There can be little doubt about the spiritual condition of these false teachers. While they appear to be sincere Christians, they are not. They are “ungodly persons” (Jude 4) who are “worldly-minded” and “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19). They are spiritually ignorant (2 Peter 2:12; Jude 10), “slaves of corruption” (2:19), “children of a curse”52 (2:14). They are “doubly dead” (Jude 12). They are apostates, those who have heard the truth but have not embraced it and eventually turn away from it (2:15, 21).

    The attitude of the false teachers is consistent with their ungodly nature. They are arrogant (Jude 16) and iron willed, hell-bent and determined to stay that way (2 Peter 2:10). They are “mockers” (2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18), who have no regard for authority, whether demonic or divine (2:10-11; Jude 8-9).

    These false teachers are self-centered and self-serving, caring only for themselves (Jude 12). They use other people for their own self-gratification, rather than sacrificially ministering to them (Jude 16). Sexual immorality (including perversion, see Jude 7-8)53 is one of their primary characteristics, along with greed (2:14-16).54 This greed is not unconscious but a condition of heart that exists as a result of conscious development (2:14).55

    The root malady of these spiritual charlatans is that they are dominated by the flesh, enslaved by its corrupt desires and impulses (2:19-20). Driven by impulse and instinct, they hardly differ from animals (2:12). They sin persistently—non-stop (2:14). They are so deeply enslaved to sin that they no longer know any shame. Rather than carry out their fleshly desires in private, they find pleasure when they sin in public (2:13). The inference of the text is that some of the fleshly indulgence practiced by these pseudo-Christians is carried out publicly in the church gathering (2:13), even at the Lord’s Supper (Jude 12). From what we know of the Corinthian church (e.g. chapter 5, 11), this does not seem unreasonable.

    A word of clarification needs to be said at this point, due to some rather popular misconceptions concerning the fleshly indulgence of these false teachers. It is often thought and said that the evils described by Peter are “Gentile paganism.” The assumption is that Jews would not do the things described here but that Gentiles would.

    One would be hard pressed to prove this point from the Old Testament or the New. Old Testament patriarchs like Judah were guilty of immorality, a kind which seemed to even shock the pagans (Genesis 38:20-23). The Israelites frequently fell into practicing sins of the flesh. They quickly fell into sin after the exodus (see Exodus 32:1-6). Balaam was instrumental in the downfall of many Israelites. It would seem that he knew all too well their vulnerability to sexual seduction and immorality (see Numbers 25:1-3). Adultery and immorality was practiced not only by the Israelites but by their prophets as well (Jeremiah 23:10-14). One can safely say from the Old Testament record that there were virtually no Gentile sins which were not also, at some point in time, practiced by the Jews. No wonder the people of God are sometimes referred to as Sodom and Gomorrah (see Isaiah 1:9-10; 3:8-9; Lamentations 4:6; Ezekiel 16:44-59; Amos 4:11).

    The Jews may have thought themselves to be above fleshly indulgence, but Jesus did not allow them to think this way for long:

    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; 28 but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

    If the Jewish religious leaders thought Jesus was speaking of someone other than them, Jesus made Himself crystal clear on this point:

    25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28).

    14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16:14-15).

    When Paul surveyed the history of the Israelites, he made it very clear they were habitually guilty of fleshly sins:

    1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. 7 And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).

    Paul’s epistles give us further indication that fleshly indulgence is not merely a temptation promoted by Gentiles or to which Gentiles are more susceptible. A number of the warnings in Paul’s epistles concerning false teachers are clearly directed toward Jewish false teachers:

    3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than [furthering] the administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3-7).

    10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not [teach], for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth (Titus 1:10-14).

    There are hints in both 1 and 2 Peter that the false teaching of which Peter writes has at least a Jewish component. In 1 and 2 Peter, there is mention of Old Testament prophets and their prophecies (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:16-21) with whom he expects his readers to be familiar. There are numerous references to Old Testament texts of Scripture in 1 and 2 Peter. Especially significant are Peter’s citations from the Old Testament in 1 Peter 2:4-10. Here, Peter applies to New Testament saints (many of whom are Gentiles) Old Testament statements concerning Israel. In both of his epistles, Peter refers to Old Testament events (such as the flood—1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:4-5) with which he assumes his readers are familiar.

    In the third chapter of his second epistle, Peter’s warnings concerning false teachers seem to have a Jewish flavor:

    3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

    The expressions “the fathers fell asleep” (verse 4) and “the beginning of creation” (verse 4) have a distinctly Jewish (or at least Old Testament) ring to them. Why would we assume that some of the false teaching would not come from the lips of Jewish false teachers when other New Testament texts clearly warn Gentile churches of this danger?

    If we think the asceticism of some Jewish false teachers was an antidote to fleshly indulgence, we are wrong. Often such self-empowered, self-denial served to inflame fleshly passions rather than subdue them:

    20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all [refer to] things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, [but are] of no value against fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:20-23; see also 1 Corinthians 7:5).

    The Jews of Old Testament times were often guilty of the very sins Peter condemns in our text. The Judaisers of the New Testament were often promoters of fleshly indulgence. How then do we dare suggest the sins of which Peter warns us are sins of Gentile paganism, sins which are “typically Gentile,” and not typically Jewish? The error of which Peter speaks is neither “Gentile” nor “Jewish.” The error is one which is “common to man,” regardless of race or culture. Fleshly indulgence may take various forms, but it knows no racial boundaries. It is for this reason that Paul can seemingly condemn the sins of Gentile heathen (Romans 1:18-32), only to turn to the Jews and blame them for the same offenses (Romans 2:1-29).

    The Doctrinal Beliefs of False Teachers

    So much is said about the moral life of the false teachers that we may be surprised at how little is said about their doctrine. In brief, these false teachers promote false teaching or what Peter calls “destructive heresies” (2:1). He states that they “even deny the Master who bought them” (2:1).56 I understand Peter to be telling us the outer limit of their heresy, the extreme to which they will go. I further understand Peter’s words here to be broad enough to refer to “denial” of the Master, whether that be in word or deed. I believe the natural course of events is that men first deny God’s authority functionally (in practice) and then, eventually, verbally. To disregard God’s command (2 Peter 2:21) is to deny His authority over us.

    The false teachers forsake the right way, the way of truth. They reject the commandment of the Lord (2:21; 3:2), which I understand to be the gospel, as revealed through the apostles (see 1 Timothy 6:14; Jude 3). I would take it that the gospel is, in the final analysis, perverted both as to its origin (the atoning work of Jesus Christ, appropriated by faith alone) and as to its outworkings (the work of Christ in the believer, through the Spirit). In the context of Peter’s argument, these false teachers have distorted the grace of God through the gospel so that, rather than seeing the gospel as God’s provision for man’s freedom from sin, it is viewed as God’s provision for man’s freedom to sin (see Jude 4).

    Elsewhere in Scripture, we are given more specific examples as to how the gospel may be perverted by false teachers (see Galatians 1:6-10ff.; 2 Timothy 2:18). Here, Peter is very general in his description of the doctrinal errors of the false teachers, while he is much more specific in his description of the moral failures of these apostates. Why is this? I believe it is because the cults and perversions of Christianity have great diversity in their doctrinal views, but the moral and practical manifestations are very similar.

    By inference, it would seem Peter is suggesting that it may take considerable time for the false doctrines of the false teachers to become evident, while the moral failures of these folk are much more readily and quickly seen. Indeed, from what Peter writes about these false teachers, their moral collapse is evident to all (see 2:13; Jude 12). It is not that their sin is hidden but rather that it is not taken seriously enough (compare 1 Corinthians 5).

    The Prey of the False Teachers

    Just as wolves prey upon the young and the sickly of the flock, so these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” prey upon the vulnerable. This is what makes their sin so great:

    1 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,” Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat [sheep] without feeding the flock. 4 Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them” (Ezekiel 34:1-4).

    5 “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of [its] stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:5-7).

    We should not forget that in our Lord’s final words to Peter, He instructed him to demonstrate his love for his Master by tending the little lambs:

    15 When they had finished breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?” “Yes, Lord,” he replied, “you know that I am your friend.” “Then feed my lambs,” returned Jesus (John 21:15, Phillips; see also NASB).

    The most vulnerable members of the flock are those who need the greatest care. And it is these on whom the false teachers prey:

    “enticing unstable souls” (2:14).

    18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19a promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption … (2:18-19a).

    6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women57 weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6-7).

    The Methods
    of the False Teachers

    The false teachers are con artists par excellence. They have highly developed skills and the basest of motives. They are false. They are deceptive. They are evil.

    They conceal their true identity. They represent themselves as something they are not—true believers (2:1-3). They even go so far as to claim apostolic authority (see 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). They associate with and among believers (2:13). They participate as members of the congregation, even at the Lord’s table (Jude 12). They do not reveal their true agenda, but slip in unnoticed and “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2:1). They conceal their true identity and their agenda. They misrepresent themselves, their message, and their motives.

    The false teachers are trouble-makers. They constantly agitate and seek to undermine God’s program by turning the people of God against their leaders. The false teachers resist and oppose authority (2:10; Jude 8; see also 2 Timothy 3:8). They grumble and find fault (Jude 16). They create strife and division among the saints (Jude 19).

    False teachers oppose the truth. They deny the truth (3:3-4), or they distort it (see 2 Timothy 2:18). They teach falsehood (2:3), and they “reveal” truth which they falsely claim to have received from God (Jude 8; see also Ezekiel 13:9; 22:28; Zechariah 10:2). They distort the truth, such as by turning the grace of God into a pretext for sin (Jude 4).

    False teachers are deceivers. They promise those who follow them things which they themselves do not possess (2:19). They promise their followers things which they do not and cannot produce (2:17). They use persuasive methods (“puffed up words of vanity,” 2:18) and seductive appeals to fleshly appetites (2:18). They employ flattery to gain the advantage (Jude 16). They are masters of deceit, of which they are proud (2:13).

    The Impact of False Teachers

    False teachers are disastrous in their effects. They introduce “destructive heresies” (2:1). Many will follow them (2:2). Unbelievers are no doubt drawn to their teaching, but Peter is not as interested in this dimension of the ministry of false teachers. They defraud their followers by promising what they do not produce (2:17-19). Those who follow them are misguided, just as a sailor would be who navigates by “wandering stars” (Jude 13). These false teachers prey upon the vulnerable and the weak. They “entice unstable souls” (2:14); they “entice those who barely escape from the ones who live in error” (2:18). They identify themselves and their sin with the saints and the church (2:13), exploiting them (2:3) and bringing reproach on them (2:2, 13). They incite grumbling and division among the saints (Jude 19).

    The Fate of False Teachers

    The only ones who gain from the ministry of the false teachers are the teachers themselves, and this but for a short time. They themselves are doomed for destruction, though they seem not to know it, because in their deceiving others, they themselves are deceived (2 Timothy 3:13). As they introduce destructive heresies, they are “bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2:1). Their judgment is certain: “Their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2:3). The examples of the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah serve to demonstrate that God knows how to “keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2:9). Never is any other fate than destruction indicated for these false teachers (see 2:12, 14; 3:16). For such as these “accursed children” (2:14), “the black darkness has been reserved” (2:17; Jude 13-15).

    The judgment of false teachers is greater than it is for others. Their judgment is even greater for them than it was formerly. Their “last state has become worse than the first” (2:20). This is for several reasons. These false teachers receive greater condemnation because they lead the vulnerable (“little ones”) astray (Matthew 18:6-7). They are more culpable because they have known and rejected more than others (Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47-48) and because they claim to know the way (John 9:39-41). They have greater guilt and bear more responsibility because they are teachers who lead others astray (James 3:1).

    Peter’s words in verses 17-22 have perplexed many believers:

    17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

    These verses raise many questions, but they can be resolved by answering but one question: “Is Peter speaking here of the unbelieving false teachers, or of their naive, but Christian, victims?” The answer is actually both. I would suggest that the italicized references are to the unbelieving teachers, while the doubly underlined references are to their unsuspecting and naive Christian victims. I have reached this conclusion for the following reasons:

    (1) It is evident in verses 18 and 19 that both the unsaved teachers and their victims are referred to. The question is simply, “Which is which?”

    (2) According to Jesus’ reference to “dogs” and “pigs” in Matthew 7:6, we should conclude that neither are thought of as true believers. The false teachers must therefore be “dogs” and “hogs.”

    (3) When Paul speaks of “dogs,” he is referring to Jewish false teachers:

    2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision (Philippians 3:2).

    (4) The “victims” referred to by “those” and “them” in verses 18 and 19 are represented as believers, new Christians who are weak and vulnerable, but those who have escaped from the camp of unbelievers.58

    (5) Only the last state of the false teachers can be worse than the first. If a Christian falls into sin and is judged for it, he still remains a believer with the assurance of eternal life. Even when physically destroyed, he has the sure hope of heaven (1 Corinthians 5:5). The unbeliever never did have the hope of heaven. His last state of unbelief is worse than his first state because he has come to know “the commandment” (the gospel) and has rejected it. It is better to be judged in ignorance than in willful rebellion (see Luke 12:47-48).59

    Conclusion

    As we consider Peter’s description of false teachers, we should not expect that every false teacher will manifest every characteristic described. Rather, the characteristics Peter has given us should serve to cover the wide range of those who will arise as false teachers. In this regard, Peter’s list of characteristics of the false teacher is something like the description of the “ideal woman” in Proverbs 31:10-31. No woman will ever measure up to this “perfect woman” of Proverbs. I do not think it was ever thought any woman would or could. But in this picture of an ideal woman, we see qualities for which every woman should strive. So too Peter’s characterization of the false teacher is such that we see some of the earmarks of the false teacher who will arise in our midst.

    Carrying the imagery of Proverbs a bit further, I am most impressed with the similarities between the false teachers of Peter’s description and the “strange or adulterous woman” of Proverbs. In Proverbs, the way of truth and wisdom is symbolized by “dame wisdom” (see Proverbs 1:20-33; 3:13-26; 4:5-9; 8:1-21, etc.). “Madam folly” symbolizes the way of evil and the seductions of those who would lead us astray onto this path (see 2:16-22; 5:1-23; 6:24-35; 7:1-27; 22:14; 23:27-28).

    Notice, for example, the ways in which “madam folly” in Proverbs is like the characterization of the false teacher in 2 Peter:

    (1) She flatters (2:16; 7:5, 21; compare Jude 16)

    (2) Adulteress, immoral (2:16; 6:25; 7:5; compare 2 Peter 2:13-14)

    (3) Forsakes the right path (2:17; compare 2 Peter 2:15-16, 21)

    (4) Smooth talker and seducer (5:3; 6:24; compare 2 Peter 2:3, 14, 18)

    (5) Promise more than they deliver; promise pleasure but deliver destruction (7:16-27; 2:18; 5:5; 6:26; compare 2 Peter 2:17ff.)

    (6) Use people for their own gain (6:26; compare 2 Peter 2:3, 14; Jude 12)

    (7) Prey upon the naive, the vulnerable (7:7; compare 2 Peter 2:14, 18)

    (8) Boisterous and rebellious (7:11; compare 2 Peter 2:10-11, 13-14, 18)

    (9) Brazen and shameless (7:13; compare 2 Peter 2:10, 13-14)

    (10) Make sin look like a “religious experience” (7:16-18; compare 2 Peter 2:13; Jude 4, 12)

    (11) Sensual (7:16-18; compare 2 Peter 2:2, 18; 3:3)

    (12) Minimize consequences of sin (7:18-20; compare 2 Peter 3:1-4)

    (13) No sense of guilt for sin (Proverbs 30:20; compare 2 Peter 12-14; compare 1 Timothy 4:2)

    (14) Peter’s expose’ of false teachers helps me to better understand Paul’s personal convictions and conduct as he sought to disassociate himself from such folks as these. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul defended his right to be supported by those he taught, and then explained that he refused to accept such “support” for the sake of the gospel. Since some would have lumped him into the same category as the “religious hucksters,” Paul chose to clearly stand apart from them by being self-supporting (see also Acts 20:33-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). He was also most careful in the way he handled funds which were given to minister to others (2 Corinthians 8:16-24). Paul also sought to differentiate his preaching methods (not to mention his message) from that of the false teachers (see 1 Corinthians 2; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2).

    This text also helps to explain Paul’s emphasis on the importance of godly character in church leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:12-16; Titus 1:5-9). It explains why Paul makes so much of his own example in relation to his teaching (Acts 20:18-21, 33-35; 1 Corinthians 4:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 3:10-11).

    There is a very important principle underlying the teaching of the apostles as it relates to doctrine and conduct. It may be stated this way: There is an inseparable union between one’s doctrine and one’s conduct. While our doctrine should determine our conduct, it is most often true that sinful conduct is the first step to a perverted theology.

    This seems to be the sequence of events envisioned in 2 Peter. False teachers do not “introduce destructive heresies” in a Sunday School class or from the pulpit, at least not at the outset. They introduce “destructive heresies” by seducing the saints to pursue their fleshly lusts. Once men have become enslaved to their passions, they will quickly rearrange their doctrine to square with their conduct. This is not the way it should be, but it is the way it often works. I believe Solomon’s heart was turned to his foreign wives before his doctrine became corrupt. Balaam knew that the way to turn the Israelites against the Lord was to first entice them to commit sexual immorality (see Numbers 25:1-2). The young man in Proverbs 7:21-23 suddenly went in to the seductress, and, not so suddenly, changed his theology. The simple fact is: our morality often determines our theology, rather than our theology dictating our morality.

    Notice the close relationship between morality and theology in this passage:

    18 Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes (Isaiah 5:18).

    False teachers will become evident by their theology, but it would seem they are first evident by their ungodly lifestyle. This is exactly what our Lord is talking about in Matthew 7:13-29. False teachers (literally “false prophets”) will become evident by their fruits. These “fruits” are not found in their doctrinal statement. These “fruits” are not what we might expect. The false prophets of whom our Lord speaks claim to believe in Jesus as their Lord. They prophecy, cast out demons and perform miracles, all in His name (7:22), and yet our Lord will say that He never knew them. He will call them those who “practice lawlessness” (7:23). Those who are the children of God are those whose conduct is godly, those who are obedient to what they know of Him and His will (see 7:24-27).

    This text in 2 Peter was not written to make the Christian question their salvation or their eternal security. Peter has already indicated how the saints can avoid stumbling—through the appropriation of God’s provisions and through the pursuit of godly character (see 2 Peter 1:1-21). Peter has already assured us of this fact:

    9 The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:9).

    Paul has done likewise:

    19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and “Let every one who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2:19).

    And so has Jude:

    24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, [be] glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:24-25).

    What should Peter’s words say to us? First of all, we should recognize that spiritual growth is not automatic, and that there are those who are eagerly seeking to undermine our walk with the Lord. There are those who pass themselves off as Christians and who would pervert God’s Word, redefining the gospel and distorting the teachings of Scripture which require holiness. We should be alert to the characteristics of false teachers, and we should contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). We should exercise special care for the newborn believers, for the weak and the vulnerable as God’s little ones.

    We should look for false teachers; we should expect them, not only in other churches, and outside the church, but arising from within the church. We should expect false teachers in our church to claim to be Christians, to profess to serve the Lord Jesus and even to accomplish some impressive tasks. We should expect them to oppose Satan. We should recognize that spiritual leaders in the church should not be recognized too quickly and that Christian character is evident over time. We should recognize sin and immorality in the church not only as dangerous, but as one of the primary characteristics of the false teacher. We should see that self-indulgence leads to doctrinal deviation and ultimately to disaster. We should not give false teachers status and sanctuary in the church, but should put them out, protecting the flock from them and their devastating words and works.

    We should, as we read such passages as this one in 2 Peter, be deeply touched. On the one hand, we should recognize that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” We should see that the sensual lifestyle and distorted thinking of the false teachers was once ours, until God in His grace sought us out, saved us, and rescued us from the “corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4). We should realize that false teachers find many followers (2 Peter 2:2) simply because they tell a lost world what they want to hear (2 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:3-4). We should realize that we still struggle with the pull of fleshly lusts (Romans 7), but that we must abstain from them (1 Peter 2:11).

    We should commit ourselves to doing exactly what Jude requires of us:

    20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 1:20-23).

    As I conclude this lesson, let me remind you that the error which Peter describes is one that is “secretly introduced” (2:1). It is not immediately apparent, but only seen in time. Fleshly indulgence is dramatically apparent when men and women live in adultery and sexual perversion. Fleshly indulgence was readily evident in Sodom and Gomorrah. But I fear that fleshly indulgence is all too common in evangelical churches. Not so much in open immorality (though that is becoming all too common), but in sensuality and self-indulgence that is more subtle, even spiritual in appearance.

    This morning, as I was driving to a Bible study, I heard a missionary organization speaking of its ministry as “fulfilling.” We speak to the lost about “finding what they have been looking for” in Jesus. When we raise funds, we often appeal for motives which are fleshly (we will give a “free gift” in return, or we will put their name on a plaque for all to see). Jesus constantly spoke of His cross, and of the fact that those who would follow Him must take up their cross, daily. Why are we talking little about the cross we must bear, and so much about the fulfillment and satisfaction we can find, as Christians? While our fleshly indulgence may not have reached the dramatic proportions we see in the world, or in places like Sodom and Gomorrah, it is “alive and well” in the saints and in the church. This is not the way of the gospel, the way of the cross. May God give us the grace to heed Peter’s words.


    52 “‘Children of a curse!’ The expression children of is Semitic and occurs in a number of forms: For example, ‘children [objects] of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3), ‘children of light’ (Eph. 5:8), and ‘children of obedience’ ((1 Peter 1;14).” It is similar to the phrase “sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2; 5:6, NKJV).” Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series, pp. 302-303.

    53 “Instead of shunning defilement, these false teachers take great pleasure in moral impurity. A literal translation, therefore, has the reading ‘those who walk . . . in the lust of uncleanness’ (NKJV). The Greek word translated ‘uncleanness’ refers to the act of polluting oneself and others. It is preceded by the term lust and forms the phrase lust of uncleanness. The phrase means a ‘hankering after unlawful and polluting use of the flesh.” Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series, p. 295.

    54 Commenting on verse 14, Barclay writes,

    “The Greek literally is: ‘They have eyes which are full of an adulteress.’ Most probably the meaning is they see a possible adulteress in every woman, wondering how she can be persuaded to gratify their lusts. ‘The hand and the eye,’ said the Jewish teachers, ‘are the brokers of sin.’ As Jesus said, such people look in order to lust (Matthew 5:28).” William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 331.

    55 “They have their hearts trained in unbridled ambition for the things they have no right to have. We have taken a whole phrase to translate the one word pleonexia which means the desire to have more of the things which a man has no right even to desire, let alone have. The picture is a terrible one. The word used for trained is used for an athlete exercising himself for the games. These people have actually trained their minds to concentrate on nothing but the forbidden desire. They have deliberately fought with the conscience until they have destroyed it; they have deliberately struggled with their finer feelings until they have strangled them.” Barclay, p. 332.

    56 As explained in an earlier lesson, I understand Peter to be saying that these rebels against all authority reject God’s authority over their lives, even though He has the right to demand and expect complete obedience. This statement, couched in terms of the exodus, does not emphasize the atonement of our Lord in particular so much as it does the authority of God in general, which the false teachers, like the false prophets who preceded them, reject.

    57 I do not think Paul is being chauvinistic here, suggesting it is only women who are weak and burdened down with the guilt of their sins, making them vulnerable prey for false teachers. Peter’s instruction in our text helps us to understand Paul’s words more clearly. These false teachers are men, men who are immoral, men who have “eyes full of adultery.” Who else would we expect such depraved men to prey upon? They seek out weak women, not because there are not weak men, but because they want to use these women to satisfy their lusts. Unfortunately, the more corrupt these teachers become, the less likely they are to be drawn only to women.

    58 If “the ones who live in error” in verse 18 are the false teachers, then this verse assures us that the weak and vulnerable saints will escape, although barely so.

    59 How can these unbelievers, under sentence of eternal damnation, be said to have “escaped” in verse 20? They have not escaped from the camp of unbelievers, as have the vulnerable saints (verse 18); they have escaped, to some degree, from the defilements of their sinful and indulgent lifestyle by their association with the truth of the gospel and with the church. But their “escape” was neither full nor final.

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    9. Scoffers, the Second Coming, and Scripture (2 Peter 3:1-13)

    1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.

    3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

    5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

    8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

    10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

    11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

    Introduction

    We Americans do not handle delays very well as we saw in the recent airline attendants’ strike. When numerous flights were canceled and many others were delayed, no one found the delays pleasant. Our culture simply does not like to wait. Yet we wait less today than men have ever waited. We travel at high speed waiting less to arrive at a distant place. Communications which formerly took months now are completed in seconds. Meals which used to take hours to cook are now done in minutes in microwave ovens. People used to have to wait until they had cash to purchase a new car or home. Now these things are bought on credit. We do not have to wait. Fewer and fewer people are willing to wait until marriage to enjoy the pleasures of sex. We Americans are not accustomed to waiting.

    Men do not enjoy waiting for anything, or anyone, including God. But the trust is men have been waiting on God all through history. Noah waited a good 100 years or so for the flood to come upon the earth (compare Genesis 5:32; 6:10; 7:6). Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for the birth of the son God had promised them (compare Genesis 12:4; 21:5). Abraham did not even possess the promised land in his lifetime, and it was more than 400 years until his descendants took possession of it (compare Genesis 12:1-3; 15:12-16). Asaph felt for a time that he had waited too long for God’s promised blessings (Psalm 73).

    From their constant questions about the coming of our Lord’s kingdom, it was evident the disciples were not excited about waiting either. When Jesus tarried three days before going to the place Lazarus had fallen sick and died, both Martha and Mary cautiously chided Jesus for coming too late (see John 11:21, 32).

    God’s promises never come too late; in truth, they are never “late” at all. When the Scriptures indicate a time for God’s actions, the fulfillment is always precisely on time (see Exodus 12:40-41). When Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would be expelled from the land and held captive in Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), the fulfillment of this prophecy would take place precisely at the end of 70 years. Knowing this, Daniel prayed accordingly (Daniel 9:1-3ff.). Likewise, the birth of the Lord Jesus came about exactly on schedule (see Daniel 9:24-27; Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4-5; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

    God is never “late;” He is always “on time.” But there are mockers60 who seek to convince themselves and others that the promise of our Lord’s second coming is false based upon the passage of much time and compounded by no visible evidences that He will come at all. In the college classroom, students allow an instructor five minutes to arrive for class, and then they leave. A full professor, being more important, is given up to ten minutes to arrive after the bell has rung. Mockers believe they have given God plenty of time to fulfill His promise to return and thus have now concluded that His time is up. “If He hasn’t come by now,” they say, “He simply isn’t coming.”

    In chapter 3 of his second epistle, Peter exposes these mockers, along with the folly of their denials. He does so by reiterating his commitment to remind his readers of the truths of the Scriptures as revealed through the Old Testament prophets, the Lord Jesus, and His apostles (3:1-2). Peter then describes the mockers of whom he warns his readers, both in terms of their lifestyle and their creed (3:3-4). Verses 5-7 he expose the folly of their thinking, especially as it relates to the role of the Word of God in Old Testament history and in prophecy.

    Peter then turns his attention to the saints in verses 8-13. While mockers deny the Scriptures, true saints base their hope and their conduct on the promises of the Word of God. In verses 8 and 9, Peter gives a divine perspective of time and presents a very different explanation for the apparent delay of the Lord’s return. This he does by focusing on God’s attributes: His eternality, His omnipotence, and His mercy.

    In verses 10-13, Peter explains why the nearness of the “day of the Lord” is not evident to unbelievers and how the Lord’s return should impact the saints who look forward to the “new heavens and a new earth.” Verses 14-18 conclude this chapter and the entire epistle with some final exhortations to the saints regarding their relationship to the Scriptures.

    Peter’s Ministry of Stirring Up the Saints
    (3:1-2)

    1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment61 of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.

    In his first chapter, Peter exhorted his readers to diligently pursue holiness (verses 1-11) and then conveyed his resolve to remind his readers of the truths of the inspired Scriptures:

    12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you [already] know [them], and have been established in the truth which is present with [you.] 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this [earthly] dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my [earthly] dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind (2 Peter 1:12-15).

    Peter reminds us in verses 16-21 of his certainty in turning our attention to the inspired Word of God. Because of the Father’s testimony concerning the identity of His Son at the transfiguration, we have the “prophetic word made more sure,” a word “to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (1:19).

    Now, once again, Peter speaks of his intention to remind his readers of the truth of God. Here it is not the certainty of that Word but the source which seems to be in view. Peter strongly implies that no longer is new revelation needed and that what God has revealed is entirely sufficient. There once were “false prophets,” but now there are only “false teachers” (2:1). These false teachers do not communicate new revelation from God; rather they seek to deny and distort the Scriptures which have once for all been revealed (see 2 Peter 3:4, 16).

    The natural man is always more interested in something “new” than in being reminded of that which is “old” (see Acts 17:19-21). Our technological age sees “old” as inferior and “new” as better. When I recently tried to order a laptop computer to take with me to India, laptops rated as “best buys” three months earlier were already obsolete! The “new” laptops were indeed superior. But we not find this so with respect to truth. Here, the “old wine” is better, and the new is the first to be forgotten.

    Peter has little “new” for his readers. Like the rest of the apostles, he continually turns his readers to the truths of the Scriptures. There is a continuity and a climax to Scripture because God has progressively revealed His truth to men in the course of history. This revelation culminated in Christ, God’s “final word,” which was communicated to us by the apostles (Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-4). The truth of God is therefore found in the writings of the “holy”62 Old Testament prophets, whose teachings are affirmed, clarified, and further explained by our Lord, whose teachings were recorded by the apostles. There is no need for any additional revelation (see Revelation 22:18-19).

    Peter wants us to view the Scriptures as sufficient, as reliable, accurate, and true. He also wants us to see these Scriptures as authoritative. These are not merely words which claim to be true; they are the only absolute truth God has revealed. But they are not truths submitted to the bar of human judgment. They are not divine suggestions; they are divine “commands.” You will remember that in the so-called “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20) of our Lord, He instructed His disciples to teach “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). God spoke not just to inform us but to instruct us about what we are to believe, and thus how we are to behave. To disregard God’s word is to disobey Him.

    Mockers: Their Lifestyle and Their Logic
    (3:3-4)

    3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

    It should come as no surprise that men would arise who deny the second coming of our Lord. One of the most common falsehoods referred to in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2), this false teaching had an adverse affect on some of the saints (2 Timothy 2:18). To deny the second coming is not only to deny the Christian’s future hope but also to deny the judgment of sinners at the return of Christ. No wonder these “mockers” denied the second coming. These were those who were “following after their own lusts” (verse 3). How much more comfortable it was to practice sin with the false assurance that they would not give account to God.

    How ironic are Peter’s words. In the last days, mockers will come with their mocking. Dominated by their own lusts, they will deny the second coming. Yet their very existence is a fulfillment of Scripture and confirmation that indeed we are living in the last days. These mockers point to the nearness of the day of judgment by mocking it. In the last days there will be mockers. There are mockers. These are the last days.

    The term “mockers” is found elsewhere only in Jude 18. I understand these “mockers” as the equivalent of the “scoffers”63 referred to in Proverbs. Proverbs speaks of those who are simple, naive, and easily led astray due to their youth, thus a lack of knowledge and experience. Some are fools, who are more willfully ignorant and morally stupid. But the scoffer is a hard-core fool, a fool who vehemently opposes truth and wisdom.

    Peter wants us to “know” something first of all: expect “mockers” in the last days. We see that he believes we are living in the last days.64 These mockers were compelled to deny the second coming of Christ, not by the weight of the evidence, but due to the guilt and deceit produced by their sin. They are led astray by their impure lusts, not by pure logic.

    Peter summarizes their argument in verse 4. Like so many heretics, their doctrine is posed in the form of a question. This use of a question well suits their character as mockers.65 Their logic appears to be:

    (1) The “day of the Lord” will entail a cataclysmic change.

    (2) There has been no such change since the death of the patriarchs (“the fathers”),66 and there is no indication that there will be.

    (3) Since the Lord has not returned for such a long time, and since there is no indication that He will, we must conclude He is not coming.

    (4) Since the Lord promised to come to establish His kingdom on earth and He has not, we must conclude His promises are not reliable, and His word cannot be trusted.

    This kind of logical process is not new. We see the same reasoning in Asaph’s description of the wicked in Psalm 73:

    3 For I was envious of the arrogant, [As] I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pains in their death; And their body is fat. 5 They are not in trouble [as other] men; Nor are they plagued like mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them. 7 Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of [their] heart run riot. 8 They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. 9 They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return to this place; And waters of abundance are drunk by them. 11 And they say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” 12 Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased [in] wealth (Psalm 73:3-12).

    The wicked may have gone about their sinful ways tentatively at first, but when they perceived that no punishment was meted out to them, they became arrogant and blasphemous. They publicly sinned and mockingly declared that God either did not exist or He did not care.

    Notice the apparent piety of the language of denial in verses 3 and 4 of our text. These mockers have used all the right theological buzz words. They deny the faith with stained glass words. They speak of the “fathers,” of the “promise,” of the creation of the world, and they even speak of death as “sleep.” They use orthodox terminology, but they have created a heretical theology.67 Truly these are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). These are those who wish to appear orthodox, who will “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

    Peter is about to show the fallacy of these mockers’ theology in the following verses. But before moving on to consider his rebuttal, notice a very subtle but important inference contained in the statement of the mockers’ theology. No direct reference is made to the Lord Jesus Christ here. These heretics make a sweeping statement covering a large expanse of history going all the way back to the “beginning of creation.” They insist there is no evidence to support the Lord’s promised “coming,” but there is not so much as one word about the first “coming” of the Lord Jesus. “Nothing of any significance has happened,” they maintain, “which would support the biblical promise of the Lord’s coming.” The first coming is not even given so much as an honorable mention. Yet it was during this first coming that Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration and beheld the glory and splendor of His second coming. It was at this time that the Father testified to the identity of the Lord Jesus as the promised Messiah (2 Peter 1:16-19).

    When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels spoke these words to the disciples:

    10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; 11 and they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11).

    The worst form of insult is ignored: the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, His miraculous birth, His sinless life, His mighty miracles, His amazing teaching, His death and resurrection from the grave; none of these seem to have any significance to the scoffers. Jesus does not even merit an “honorable mention.”

    These scoffers daringly said nothing of significance had happened since the time of the creation to lend credence to the promise of God to come and establish His kingdom on the earth. They looked back to the beginning of time. But in so doing, they overlooked the coming of Christ just a few short years before. What an amazing oversight. In the following verses, Peter points out a number of biblical truths which must be overlooked (see verses 5 and 8) if one doubts or denies the certainty of the second coming.

    Leaks in the Logic of the Mockers
    (3:5-7)

    5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice68 that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men [emphasis mine].

    If I understand Peter correctly, the false teachers of whom he wrote are unbelievers, whose fate is eternal destruction (2:1, 3-13, 17). While they represent themselves as true believers and even participate with the saints in worship (2:1, 13; Jude 12), they are not really believers. Jude tells us they are “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19). This being the case, false teachers lack saving faith.

    The mockers’ lack of faith is evident in their response to our Lord’s apparent delay in coming to establish His kingdom on earth. If they had faith, they would believe not in what they see but in what God has said; they would believe God’s Word (see Hebrews 11:1-3). But lacking such faith, they live only on the basis of their interpretation of what they see and touch and smell. Worse yet, lacking experiential knowledge, they act purely on impulse, or as Peter says, “instinct” (2 Peter 2:12).

    In contemporary terms, we might say these men do not live by faith but by the scientific method. Please do not misunderstand: I am not opposed to the scientific method as long as it is applied to scientific investigation. But I am opposed to the scientific method as the basis for one’s spiritual life. The Christian’s life is based solely on what God has said, on God’s Word. The scientific method looks only at what can be seen, analyzed, and tested. It is unwilling to take anything on faith.

    We see much reliance today in Christian circles on the scientific method when dealing with the spiritual life. Their banner: “All truth is God’s truth.” “Christian experts,” whose training and experience is dominated by the secular world, speak with authority about matters of Christian living. All too often, they Christianize secular principles, using more spiritual labels and often sprinkling their words with a few biblical terms or concepts. Their listeners buy up their advice as though it came straight from God, when they might hear the same advice from an unsaved expert minus the spiritual verbiage.

    Peter’s words in verses 5-7 dramatically demonstrate how different the Christian’s perspective is, based upon the Scriptures, from the perspective of the unbeliever who will believe only what he can see. In verses 5, 6, and 7, Peter concentrates on the “Word of God” in relation to creation and judgment.

    Do these mockers doubt and even deny the Word of God? How can they claim to be orthodox in their doctrine and speak of the creation of the world without acknowledging that the world was created by the Word of God? In the seven-day creation account of Genesis 1, every step of the creation began with the spoken Word of God. Each day begins with the statement, “And God said … ” (see Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24), shortly followed by the statement, “And God called … ” (see Genesis 1:5, 8, 10).

    The “beginning of creation” to which these apostate mockers refer was a dramatic demonstration of the power of God’s Word. When God spoke, He spoke creation into existence. God’s Word transformed the chaotic mass of land and water into a world that would sustain life. It is the same “Word of God” which reversed the process of creation at the flood so that the land was covered with water, destroying all life by those saved by the ark (2 Peter 3:6). The same expressions found in the creation account of Genesis 1 (“God said” and “God saw”) are now repeated in Genesis 6 (see Genesis 6:1-8). The Word of God which created all life was now the Word by which all life was destroyed.

    Creation and the flood both involved “water.” The “promise of God’s coming,” which the scoffers deny, involves “fire.” In verse 7, Peter reminds us that the present heavens and earth are “being reserved for fire.” It will take but a word from God, and this judgment will take place. Until that time, it is the Word of God which sustains creation as it is.

    Once again, scoffers miss the point the Word of God makes so clear. They point to the constancy of life on this planet as evidence of God’s lack of involvement and proof that His Word is not true. Peter points to this same continuity (sameness) as proof of the sustaining power of God’s Word. He is the living Word, who not only created this world but who also sustains it:

    16 For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

    What we “see” should not cast doubt on our trust in the promises of God and our hope of His coming. What we see, when interpreted in the light of God’s Word, is further evidence of the power of God’s Word. By His Word, the world as we know it was created. By His Word, the world was destroyed by the flood. And by His Word, the present heavens and earth are being preserved for the day of judgment which God promised.

    The “promise of His coming” is the promise of Scripture.69 The promise of His coming is the word of God. Peter’s rebuttal in verses 5-7 focuses on the power and reliability of the word of God. From the scoffers’ perspective, history provides ample evidence the Word of God is impotent. From the perspective of the Scriptures, history provides ample evidence the Word of God is certain, because God is omnipotent.

    The Word of God and the Character of God
    (3:8-9)

    8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

    Verses 8 and 9 continue Peter’s argument against the scoffers’ contention that the second coming will not come to pass and that God’s promise and His Word are not trustworthy. Peter continues also to remind his readers of things which may have escaped their notice. But there is a clear and important change beginning at verse 8. Verses 3-7 focused on the mockers and their mocking the second coming. Now, beginning at verse 8, Peter focuses more on the saints than the scoffers. He changes pronouns from “they” and “their” to “you.”

    The scoffers have rejected and ridiculed the Word of God, the very Word which could deliver them from the wrath to come by pointing them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Since they have rejected the Word, there is nothing more that can be said to them or of them. And so Peter turns to the saints and to the Scriptures to explain biblically why the Lord’s return has taken so long and has not yet occurred.

    In verses 8 and 9, Peter explains the Lord’s “delay” by reminding us of the character of God. Viewed from the divine perspective, what the scoffers see as a deficiency in God’s character is actually a display of His infinite wisdom, power, and grace. In verse 10, Peter refutes the error of the scoffers from the nature of divine judgment, especially the final judgment of the “day of the Lord.”

    Peter challenges us in verse 8 to look at the “delay” in our Lord’s coming from a divine perspective rather than our very limited human perspective. From a human perspective, the mockers noted that considerable time had lapsed from the time of creation to their day, and yet the Lord had not come as promised. Worse yet, in their minds, there were no indications He would come. They thus concluded God was not coming and that His promises were untrue.

    Peter challenges us to look at these same facts from a different perspective—the divine perspective. We must view the length of time God has tarried from the standpoint of who God is rather than from our own limited vantage point. God is eternal; we are mere mortals. God has no beginning and no end. If we live 70 years or perhaps a few more, we think we have had a full life. George Burns may make it to his 100th birthday, but what is 100 years compared to eternity?

    Peter derives his theology from the Old Testament. Verse 8 draws heavily from the psalm written by Moses in which he meditates on the meaning of time and eternity:

    1 (A Prayer of Moses the man of God.) Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. 3 Thou dost turn man back into dust, And dost say, “Return, O children of men.” 4 For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or [as] a watch in the night. 5 Thou hast swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes, and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades, and withers away. 7 For we have been consumed by Thine anger, And by Thy wrath we have been dismayed. 8 Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret [sins] in the light of Thy presence. 9 For all our days have declined in Thy fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is [but] labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. 13 Do return, O LORD; how long [will it be]? And be sorry for Thy servants. 14 O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us, [And] the years we have seen evil. 16 Let Thy work appear to Thy servants, And Thy majesty to their children. 17 And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And do confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands (Psalms 90:1-17).

    One cannot help but wonder at what point in the life of Moses this psalm was written. I am inclined to think it was later in his life, when the first generation of Israelites were dying off in the wilderness. What a time to ponder the finiteness of man in contrast to the eternality of God.

    Peter draws upon the meaning of time to the eternal God as described in verse 4: “For a thousand years in Thy sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or [as] a watch in the night.”

    To God, who is eternal, there is no hurry. We are in a hurry for God to establish His kingdom on the earth because our time is running out. Our days are numbered; His are not. We are in a hurry to see things happen; He is not. For one who lives less than 100 years, a thousand years is a long period of time. But to God, a thousand years is but a drop in the bucket.70

    Time does not limit God in any way. A long period of time in the eyes of men is nothing in the eyes of God. Conversely, a very short period of time in our sight is not short in God’s sight. This truth is based not only upon God’s eternality, but also on His great power, His omnipotence.

    Time and ability are very much related. Few of us can buy a new house and pay for it in cash. But given enough time, we can buy a home far beyond our immediate ability to pay. What we are not able to do in a short time, we can do over a longer period of time. Conversely, we may be able to do some things for a short period of time that we cannot do for a longer time. For example, we cannot go on vacation for 11 months of the year because we cannot afford it. We have to work. God can take all the time He pleases, because His resources are unlimited.

    God has no need to hurry, because He is not only eternal, He is omnipotent. He can do in a very short time that which would take us forever. For example, God was able to “compress” an eternity of judgment into those few hours our Lord suffered on the cross of Calvary. Yet, God was also able to delay the fulfillment of His promises to the patriarchs for thousands of years so we and they might experience the fulfillment of God’s promise at the same time (see Hebrews 11:39-40).

    Peter challenges us to view the length of time our Lord has tarried in terms of just who God is rather than in terms of who we are. When viewed from the standpoint of who God is—His attributes—the time He has apparently delayed is inconsequential. Only from a human perspective can it be deemed “too long.”

    In the mockers view, this length of time reflected badly on God’s ability or unwillingness to bring His kingdom about. In truth, the delay reflects the opposite as Peter moves in verse 9 to another of God’s attributes directly relating to His apparent “delay”—the patience of God. The length of the Lord’s delay in coming to establish His kingdom is directly proportionate to His patience and longsuffering toward sinful men.

    9 The Lord is not slow71 about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

    The patience of God is toward His elect. In Peter’s words, He is “patient toward you (emphasis mine). God’s judgment will fall upon the wicked, but His grace is toward those hearts He opens, who therefore turn to Him in faith (see Acts 13:48; 16:14). The sovereignty of God in salvation may be difficult to accept for some, but it is certainly true, and it involves His longsuffering toward those who are doomed as well as toward the elect:

    19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:19-24; see also Romans 3:25).

    Our response toward the patience of God should be to regard the delay in terms of salvation (verse 15). The delay of God in judging sinners has made possible our salvation. It also provides the opportunity for others to be saved and for us to be instruments in their salvation by proclaiming the gospel. How beautiful the “delay” of God’s kingdom now appears in light of God’s patience and the salvation of lost sinners, including us.

    These words of Peter in verse 9 are sometimes misinterpreted:

    9 … not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9b).72

    Does this mean that for God “wishes” do not come true? Does this mean that God wants all men to be saved, but He is not able to do so? Some sincere Christians say so, but I believe they are wrong. What God purposes will take place. Period. Neither man’s unbelief, his apathy, his rebellion, or his weakness will prevent it from happening. God causes all things to “work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Even when men sin against Him, they achieve His purposes (see Acts 2:22-23; Romans 11). God does as He pleases:

    3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalms 115:3).

    6 Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps (Psalms 135:6).

    35 “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And [among] the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ (Daniel 4:35).

    Peter shows in this text that God does not delight or take pleasure in the suffering of men but in their salvation (see Isaiah 28:21; Lamentations 3:33). Our Lord, in one sense, did not take pleasure in His death at Calvary, but He submitted to it as the Father’s will (see Matthew 26:39, 42). The Father surely did not delight in the suffering and torment of His Son. God’s sovereign will includes that which gives Him pleasure as well as that which does not. Peter is simply telling us that God does not desire (as a pleasurable thing) that any should perish in their sin, but He does purpose it (see Romans 9:1-23; 1 Peter 2:8; Revelation 13:8; 17:8).

    God’s pleasure would be the salvation of every sinner, but Peter knows full well His purpose is to save some. The delay in the return of the Lord Jesus to subdue His enemies and rule over His kingdom is not so that someone might come, but so that He might draw His elect to Himself (see John 6:44; Acts 13:48; 16:14). Specifically, Peter says the Lord’s delay is so we (literally, “you”) might be saved (verse 9). God is patient toward us (“you”). Our salvation is the result of His patience and longsuffering. The unsaved may attempt to explain God’s delay as a flaw in His character, but the Christian can only praise Him for withholding His wrath until we are brought to faith. The “delay” of our Lord is not a pretext for accusing Him but another occasion to adore Him.

    6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6).

    15 But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth (Psalm 86:15).

    4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).

    22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22).

    20 Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through [the] water (1 Peter 3:20).

    The Day of the Lord as a Day of Destruction
    (3:10-12)

    10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

    The coming day of judgment is now called by its Old Testament name: the “Day of the Lord.”73 The day of the Lord is a day when destruction is dramatic and intense:

    “He uses one very vivid phrase. He says that the heavens will pass away with a crackling roar (roizedon). That word is used for the whirring of a bird’s wings in the air, for the sound a spear makes as it hurtles through the air, for the crackling of the flames of a forest fire.”74

    It is a dramatic destruction, a destruction by fire involving great heat so intense it literally melts the earth and the elements (verse 11). And the passing away of the heavens is accompanied by a noise, a roar.

    The “Day of the Lord” is a day of destruction such as has never been seen before. At first, verse 12 appears to be a mere repetition of verse 10 at first, but it is more than this for it describes a destruction unlike any ever before. It is not all that difficult to imagine an entire city like Sodom, for example, being burned up. But Peter says that while the destruction of the Day of the Lord will be by fire, this “fire” will destroy things which do not appear to be flammable. The heavens will be destroyed by burning and so will the elements of the earth. Peter describes a fire so intense that seemingly indestructible matter is completely destroyed.

    We have no way of likening this fiery destruction to any previous “fire” of judgment. It is beyond demonstration, let alone human comprehension. We have only one reason to believe it will happen, and that is because God has said it would. Our belief in the coming Day of the Lord is based solely upon our confidence in God and His Word. No wonder those who do not trust in God or His Word mock the possibility of such a day of divine judgment.

    God’s judgment in the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly on a scale never before witnessed in the history of mankind. The flood destroyed all mankind (except those on the ark) and much of nature. But the earth remained, and when the waters subsided, life went on. Cities like Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, but life went on. But when the Day of the Lord comes, all God has created (as recorded in Genesis) will be destroyed. All of life, all of the elements, and even the heavens. Nothing will be spared. All previous judgments are examples of divine judgment, but none convey the magnitude of the judgment yet to come.

    The Day of the Lord is a future day which will come upon an unsuspecting world “like a thief.”16 Life will be going on as usual with men going about their normal routines (see Matthew 24:37-39). Do mockers reject God’s Word because the world goes on as usual with no indications of impending doom? That is exactly as our Lord said it would be. Yet there is a warning message. Now, as in days of old, God has sent His messengers to proclaim a two-fold message of coming judgment and of salvation and deliverance. If men will be saved, they will be saved by believing in God’s Word, and not by signs and wonders (see Luke 16:27-31).

    Peter’s words about the nature of the Day of the Lord are written to us, the saints. Apart from divine enlightenment, his words fall on deaf ears as far as the unsaved are concerned. But what do these words say to us? How can we apply them to our lives? Peter sums our responsibility in verses 11 and 12:

    11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

    The first application for believers is godliness. Early in Peter’s first epistle, we were called to holiness, a theme Peter never ceases to emphasize:

    14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

    9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe [them,] glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:9-12).

    8 To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For, “LET HIM WHO MEANS TO LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING GUILE. 11 “AND LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. 12 “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL” (1 Peter 3:8-12).

    1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).

    5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in [your] knowledge, self-control, and in [your] self-control, perseverance, and in [your] perseverance, godliness; 7 and in [your] godliness, brotherly kindness, and in [your] brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7).

    Peter points out in chapter 2 of 2 Peter the sharp contrast of the believer’s holiness to the fleshly indulgence of the false teachers. The one without hope beyond this life gives full indulgence to the flesh (see 1 Corinthians 15:32). But the one who lives in hope denies fleshly lusts, in light of the blessings God has promised in the life to come (1 Peter 2:11-12).

    In verses 11 and 12, Peter is not talking about the blessings of the coming kingdom of God but the outpouring of God’s wrath upon sinners. He is speaking of the devastating consequences of sin and its corruption. Even though the Christian will not experience this judgment, he should learn from this. The Christian should be reminded of the holiness of God and His hatred of sin. If God deals with sin in His creation this way, how does God feel about sin in our lives? We must learn to hate what God hates. We must seek to be holy, as He is holy. We must flee from sin and its corruption and live godly and holy lives.

    The horror of that day for sinners, and the finality of their judgment, should greatly motivate us to bear witness to our faith and seek to turn men from God’s wrath to His salvation:

    22 And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23 And others save with fear, pulling [them] out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23).

    9 Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences (2 Corinthians 5:9-11, emphasis mine).

    A second application of the Day of the Lord should be “looking for and hastening” its coming. We believe that Day is coming because God’s Word tells us so. We need no “signs and wonders” to prove its imminence; we know because God’s description of the “last days” indicates the day is near. Let us not be caught by surprise when that great day arrives, for we know it is coming, and the time is near. Let us be watching for that great day, as our Lord and His apostles instructed us (Matthew 24:42-43; 25:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 3:2; 16:15).

    We can more easily understand how we are to “look for” the “Day of the Lord,” but how do we “hasten its coming?” Before answering, let us also consider another question: “Why would the Christian want to hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord?” It is a horrible day for the wicked, a day of complete destruction. Why would we ever wish the hastening of this day?

    The answer might best be found in the Psalms. That day is the day justice is accomplished on the earth, when wrongs will be made right, and evil-doers will receive just punishment.

    1 O LORD, God of vengeance; God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 Rise up, O Judge of the earth; Render recompense to the proud. 3 How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked exult? 4 They pour forth [words], they speak arrogantly; All who do wickedness vaunt themselves. 5 They crush Thy people, O LORD, And afflict Thy heritage. 6 They slay the widow and the stranger, And murder the orphans. 7 And they have said, “The LORD does not see, Nor does the God of Jacob pay heed” (Psalms 94:1-7; see also 6:3; 13:1-6; 35:17; 74:4-11).

    The Book of Proverbs also explains why the righteous rejoice at the thought of the coming of the Day of the Lord, the day when the wicked are punished and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Righteous King, rules over all creation:

    10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, And when the wicked perish, there is glad shouting (Proverbs 11:10).

    15 The execution of justice is joy for the righteous, But is terror to the workers of iniquity (Proverbs 21:15).2 When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan (Proverbs 29:2).

    The New Testament Book of Revelation portrays the rejoicing of the righteous at the judgment of the wicked:

    4 And the third [angel] poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it. “ 7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments” (Revelation 16:4-7).

    1 After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER” (Revelation 19:1-2).

    The saints rejoice at the thought of the coming Day of the Lord, for God will punish the wicked and establish His throne in righteousness. We may wish that day would come soon. Peter does not list how we may “hasten its coming,” but he expects us to know. Among the ways we can “hasten His coming” are these:

    (1) By living righteously and suffering unjustly for doing so. The Lord hears and heeds the cries of His people, who suffer for living as saints.

    4 Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 5 [This is] a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:4-9, see also 1 Peter 2:12).

    (2) By proclaiming the gospel to lost sinners.

    14 “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14).

    (3) By praying. Our Lord Himself instructed us to pray in this way:

    9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).

    The Positive Side of the Day of the Lord
    (3:13)

    13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

    Peter does not leave the subject of prophecy on the somewhat sour note of the destruction of creation. Instead, he turns once again in verse 13 to the “blessed hope” of the believer. We are not those who await judgment; we await God’s salvation. The destruction of this present creation is a necessary step in preparation for the “new heavens and a new earth” which are to come. The destruction of this creation in the Day of the Lord is like the demolition of an old building to make way for the construction of a new one in its place. Our hope is not just for God’s judgment but for the kingdom He will bring in which righteousness dwells. And since that kingdom is one characterized by righteousness, we should live in a manner consistent with our destiny (compare 1 Peter 3:8-12). We should live righteously.

    Conclusion

    Borrowing from the words of Francis Shaefer’s book, “How Then Shall We Live?”, how should the truths of this passage affect the way we think and the way we live out our lives on this earth? Consider how these implications might apply to your lives.

    First, our text tells us a lot about false teachers so that we can more readily recognize them—and then avoid them. False teachers will certainly deny and distort the Scriptures. One doctrine they will attack is the believer’s future hope. They will emphasize the here and now, and minimize, if not deny, the hereafter. Rather than exhorting us to live now in the light of eternity, they will encourage us to live for the present, as though there were no eternity, and indulge the flesh. They will surely deny the Scriptural teaching of divine judgment. Their teaching is but a thinly veiled excuse for their own self-indulgent lifestyle. They are those who “follow after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).

    These false teachers seem to have far more questions than answers. And the very things which should cause them to trust God and praise Him are the things for which they accurse Him. Turning reality upside-down, when the Lord tarries graciously, giving men the opportunity to repent, these mockers accuse God of forsaking or at least failing to fulfill His promises. And when the world (and the universe) continues to function in the way it has since creation, they do not praise the Lord for sustaining it (see Colossians 1:16-17) but condemn Him for not giving any spectacular indications that the end is near. Ironically, even the presence of these false teachers is one of the indications that we are in the “last days” (see 3:3).

    This text has so much to teach the Christian. Peter not only instructs us about false teachers, he also repeatedly reminds us of the truth. To Peter, as should be so for us, the Scriptures are foundational and fundamental. In both of his epistles, he turns our attention to the truths of the Word of God, truths which have been consistently taught by the Old Testament prophets, the Lord Jesus, and His apostles (3:1-2). It is the Word of God which false teachers attack and deny (3:3-7); if they cannot do this, they will attempt to distort them (3:14-16).

    To Peter, the Scriptures are absolutely vital to Christian growth and stability. They are the source of divine revelation. They are the standard to which all teaching and practice must conform. They are absolutely sufficient, providing the believer with “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” They are the basis for our faith and hope and the believer’s sole source of revelation concerning the future. They speak of the Lord’s return to judge the wicked and destroy the existing creation. They speak as well of the glorious kingdom He will establish after this.

    As the basis for our faith and hope, the Scriptures also give us a perspective which enables us to see through the distortions and deceptions of this world. We do not view the truths of the Word of God through the cloudy eyes of our culture or of this age. Indeed not! We view this age through the clear-eyed perspective of the Scriptures. The world is not as it seems; reality is revealed through the light of the Scriptures.

    The prophecies of Scripture play a significant role in the life of the believer. They reveal all that we can now know about the future and assure us the Lord will return to this earth to judge the wicked and to establish His kingdom. The Scriptures stimulate us to godliness, knowing how God will deal with sin and its effects. Prophecy should also motivate us to evangelize, knowing the time is short and that sinners will suffer the eternal wrath of God. Prophecy informs us that materialism is folly, for all the things of this world will be burned up. Only God’s Word and people will endure for eternity, and these must be our priorities. Prophecy enables us to deny ourselves and to endure persecution for the sake of the gospel, for these cannot compare to the glory which lies ahead.

    Our text also shows us the relationship between time and eternity. A long time may have passed, but it is put into its proper perspective when seen in the light of eternity. Time is our opportunity to enter into eternal life and to invest our lives for eternity. It is also our opportunity to tell others of the salvation God has provided through Christ.

    This passage underscores the importance of viewing life from the vantage point of the character of God. The attributes of God are not abstract theological assertions of truth; they are the ultimate basis for our faith and hope. Prophecies (the promises of God) are of little value if God is not sovereign and omnipotent (all-powerful) and able to bring them to pass. Promises made centuries ago would have little value unless they were made by an eternal God, who is not bound by the limits of time. And a delay of centuries would seem to be cause for concern unless we view it from the standpoint of God’s patience, His mercy, and His grace.

    Indeed, the attributes of God are no mere propositions; they are the description of the nature and character of the God whom we worship and serve. When life brings difficulties which seem to have no answers (even clear, biblical ones), we may rest confidently in who God is and what He is like. We see this often in the Psalms where the psalmist frequently cries out to God, presenting his problems, and lamenting no solution. But in the final analysis, the psalmist finds comfort and consolation in who God is, and thus he trusts in God and worships Him even though his immediate problems may remain. The great question in life is, “Whom do you trust?” We see from the attributes of God that we can only trust God.

    The psalmists were not reticent to ask God questions. But we know from the Psalms they did not always receive a quick answer. This is why they based their trust and hope in God’s character. But there are different kinds of questions, and some should not be asked. Scoffers ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” The godly ask, “How long, Lord, how long?” A world of difference exists between these two questions. One is a question rooted in sin and unbelief. The other is founded on faith and hope.

    I dare not conclude, my friend, without asking you about your eternal future. Do you look forward in hope to the “new heavens and a new earth,” or is your destiny eternal destruction? The difference between these two destinies lies in your response to Jesus Christ. He came to the earth and died on the cross of Calvary to die for sinners, to bear the penalty of God’s eternal wrath. Those who trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins need not fear the coming “Day of the Lord,” but may look forward to it and even seek to hasten its coming. Those who have not received Jesus Christ as their Savior will face Him as their Judge when He comes to the earth again. Have you trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and as God’s provision for eternal life? I pray that you have. And if you have not, I pray that you will—even now.


    60 While it is difficult to tell for certain whether these “mockers” are the same group of individuals spoken of earlier as “false teachers,” it certainly appears to be so. In my opinion, the false teachers Peter has referred to earlier are “mockers,” but there may be other “mockers” included here by Peter, in addition to the false teachers. These “mockers” make it their business to actively ridicule the Christian hope in order to validate their wicked lifestyle. From the beginning of the creation, the certainty of God’s promises have been denied by mockers, beginning with Satan, who assured Eve that God’s promise of death for eating the forbidden fruit was untrue (see Genesis 3:4).

    “On the content of the commandment, there are three possible views. Peter may be telling them to remember God’s revelation in general through apostles and prophets. Alternatively, it may be a specific reference to the parousia, certain because it is founded on the teaching of both Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles: so most commentators, and the contents of the chapter could support this view. Or it may be simply a reference to Peter’s own warnings. This would preserve the natural connection with verse 3.” Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), revised edition, pp. 124-125.In my opinion, the expression, “the commandment,” is best viewed as referring to the gospel. See 2 Peter 2:21; 1 Timothy 6:14; Jude 3.

    61 The “holy” prophets who, by inspiration, wrote the Old Testament Scriptures, are contrasted with the “unholy” false prophets of old, and the false teachers who follow in their footsteps.

    62 “Scoffing should not be confused with jesting. Jesting depicts frivolity, but scoffing is a sin that is deliberate. Scoffing occurs when men show willful contempt for God and his Son.” Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series, p. 325.

    63 “His coming to the world was the decisive event in human history. It was the ‘fulness of the time’ (Gal. iv. 4), ‘the end of the days’ (Heb. i. 2). With the advent of Jesus the last chapter of human history had opened, though it was not yet completed. In between the two advents stretches the last time, the time of grace, the time, too, of opposition. For the prediction of false teachers in the last days, see Matthew xxiv. 3-5, 11, 23-26, 2 Timothy ii. 1 ff., James v. 3, Jude 18.” Green, p. 126.

    64 “That was a form of Hebrew expression which implied that the thing asked about did not exist at all. ‘Where is the God of justice?’ asked the evil men of Malachi’s day (Malachi 2:17). ‘Where is your God?’ the heathen demanded of the Psalmist (Psalm 42:3; 79:10). ‘Where is the word of the Lord?’ his enemies asked Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:15). In every case the implication of the question is that the thing or the person asked about does not exist.” William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 338.

    65 One can hardly take the expression, “the fathers,” in any way other than its most common sense--the patriarchs:

    “However, since every other reference to ‘the fathers’ in the New Testament (cf. Acts iii. 13, Rom. ix. 5, Heb. i. I, etc.) means ‘the Old Testament fathers’, such I take to be the probable meaning here. For it is not said that things continue as they have done since the coming of Christ, but since the beginning of the creation.” Green, p. 129.

    “In the New Testament, the expression our fathers signifies the Old Testament fathers (compare John 6:31; Acts 3:13; Rom. 9:5). Because this was a standard expression, we are not amiss in asserting that Peter appears to conform to the usage that was current in his day.” Kistemaker, p. 326.

    66 “Their comment that the fathers ‘fell asleep’ (ekoimethesan) suggests that the mockers formulate their argument against the Parousia in the language of orthodox faith. . . Having been so used by the Master Himself (katheudo), Mark 5:39; koimao, John 11:11), the usage naturally passed into the language of believers as a witness to their faith concerning those who died in Christ (Acts 7:60; 1 Thess. 4:13-14; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 29, 51).” D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude (Greenville, South Carolina: Unusual Publications, 1989), pp. 144-145.

    67 The NIV renders this expression “they deliberately forget.” Overlooking the biblical evidence was not a sin of ignorance, but an act of willful disregard for the Scriptures from which the evidence derived.

    68 For some of the “promises of His coming, see Joel 2:30; Psalm 50:3; Isaiah 29:6; 30:30; Isaiah 66:15-16; Joel 2:1-2; 2:28-32; Nahum 1:5, 6; Malachi 4:1; Matthew 3:1-12, 17; 10:23; 16:28; 24:3, 32-36; Mark 9:1; Acts 1:11.

    Kistemaker writes, “The writers of the New Testament consistently teach the doctrine of Jesus’ return. ‘In fact, it is found in every N[ew] T[estament] book except Galatians and the short Philemon, 2 John and 3 John.” Kistemaker, p. 327, citing Leon Morris, “Parousia,” ISBE, vol. 3, p. 667.

    69 It is interesting to see this imagery used in Isaiah 40:15. There, the contrast between finite men and God is not played out in terms of time, but in terms of wisdom, power, and significance.

    70 “‘Is not slack’. . . denies that slackness is a real feature of God’s actions. The verb, which Paul used of himself in 1 Timothy 3:15, means ‘to delay, be slow, loiter’ and implies lateness in reference to an appointed time. Such dilatoriness may be due either to indifference or to inability to perform. . . . With Him ‘there is no dilatoriness; He waits, but is never slow, is never late.’ It is always within His power to fulfill His promise as He sees fit.” D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude (Greenville, South Carolina: Unusual Publications, 1989), p. 154.

    71 See also Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; Ezekiel 18:23.

    72 See Isaiah 13:6,9, 10-13; 24:19-23; 34:1-17; Jeremiah 46:10; Lamentations 2:22; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7, 8, 14, 18; 2:2.

    73 Barclay, p. 344.

    74 Here, Peter is echoing his Master. See Matthew 24:43.

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    10. Peter and Paul (2 Peter 3:14-16)

    14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

    Introduction

    A friend I met a number of years ago when our church hosted a Prison Fellowship Discipleship Seminar will graduate soon from Wheaton Bible College. Chuck and I frequently talk on the phone, and as we finish our conversation, he ends by saying, “Appreciate ya’.”

    These two words convey a lot more meaning to me than they would to others. We might say they are a “he-man’s way” of expressing brotherly love. But they are also a reminder of the depth of our relationship which has developed over the years. Our friendship began with a shopping trip to buy a pair of shoes while he was on furlough. This led to a number of conversations related to biblical decision-making. Our friendship grew over the months as we talked nearly once a week when Chuck called from prison where he was still incarcerated. Our bond grew as I attended his mother’s funeral and made several trips to visit him in Chicago. Though only two words, they bring tears to my eyes or to his, and sometimes to both.

    In our text, Peter says only a few words about Paul, but I can assure you they are but the tip of the iceberg. We could easily pass by them almost unnoticed, but we would be overlooking so much. Some time ago, a liberal school of thought sought to show that Paul and Peter were arch rivals, and that the New Testament must be understood in light of their polarizing conflict. Our text might seem to put the final nail in the coffin of such a theory, but this is hardly the case. Some consider these words spoken of Paul in 2 Peter 3 as proof this was not the “real Peter” who wrote this epistle, but someone else writing as though they were Peter.

    Our contention is that the Peter of the gospels is the author of both 1 and 2 Peter. Our conviction also is that Peter’s words reflect not only Paul’s apostolic authority, but also Peter’s acknowledgment of the tremendous impact Paul had on the church and on the gospel.

    Having come to the final verses of 2 Peter (2 Peter 3:13-18), our study of these verses will be carried out in three parts:

    (1) Peter’s endorsement of Paul’s writings

    (2) Peter’s warning of Scripture twisters

    (3) Peter’s final exhortations

    This particular lesson focuses on Peter’s endorsement of Paul and his epistles. We will seek to show that the Peter of the Gospels, and even the Peter of the Book of Acts, would not write the things concerning Paul written in these closing verses of his second epistle. We will also see that Paul profoundly influenced not only Peter but the rest of the apostles as well, and that his ministry played a major role in the definition and declaration of the gospel from New Testament days until now.

    The Peter of the Gospels

    From the very beginning, tt was obvious that Peter would play a key role in the Gospels and a key role as a disciple of our Lord (see John 1:42). Peter was one of the three in the inner circle of our Lord (Peter, James, and John). They were privileged to participate in things from which the others were excluded (see Matthew 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37). If the three were set apart from the rest of the twelve, Peter was even set apart from James and John, due to his “great confession.” Peter would play a crucial role in the establishment of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18-19).75 John’s reaction to the “unauthorized” ministry of one who was not one of the twelve may well reflect Peter’s sentiments (see Mark 9:38). Even Peter’s words in John 21:20-21, his last exposure in the Gospel of John, seem to reveal a competitive spirit with respect to his fellow-disciples. One can hardly envision this Peter of the Gospels welcoming Paul into the circle of the apostles with open arms.

    Peter and Paul in the Book of Acts

    The Book of Acts portrays a very interesting relationship between Peter and Paul. While Peter is prominent in the first part of Acts, Paul clearly dominates the latter portion of the book. Peter is to Paul in Acts what John the Baptist is to Jesus in the Gospels. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

    In Acts 1, Jesus instructed His disciples to wait until the promise of the Spirit had come before they left Jerusalem (1:2). It was Peter who took the initiative to fill the vacancy among the apostles by selecting a new apostle from those in their midst—from the candidates they put forward (Acts 1:15f.). One cannot say with certainty the selection of Matthias was wrong, but one certainly can say that Paul had far more impact as an apostle than Matthias did.

    In Acts 2, filled with the Spirit, Peter stepped forward to preach the sermon at Pentecost (2:14f.). In chapters 3-5, Peter and John are the dominant personalities among the apostles. In Acts 6, things begin to change as the leadership of the church begins to shift from the “native Hebrews” (those Jews born in Israel) to the “Hellenistic Jews” (those Jews born elsewhere whose native language and culture was “foreign”). A rift develops between these two factions of Judaism in Acts 6 due to the perception at least that the Hellenistic Jewish widows were getting second-class treatment compared to the native Hebrew widows (Acts 6:1).

    When tensions reached the boiling point, the apostles were forced to intervene. The apostles understood their primary calling to be “prayer and the ministry of the word” (6:4). To devote most of their energies to the care and feeding of the widows was to fail to fulfil their stewardship as apostles. They thus charged the congregation of believers to select seven men of high character and ability who would oversee this matter, leaving the apostles free to devote themselves to the priority they had been given.

    I believe the apostles did the right thing. They would have failed to fulfill their stewardship as apostles had they allowed the care of the widows to consume their time and energies. They were right to concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word. But it is ironic that the apostles were not on the cutting edge of fulfilling the Great Commission. The apostles were not the ones who first took the gospel to the Gentiles, even though it seems that Jesus’ words could require nothing else:

    18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

    The seven were chosen and appointed to oversee the care of the widows so the apostles could pray and preach the word. And yet the apostles were not those on the cutting edge of evangelism, especially among the non-Jews (i.e. Samaritans and Gentiles). Indeed, two of the seven men selected to free up the apostles to minister the word were the ones who played a major role in carrying the gospel to the Gentiles. Stephen’s preaching was powerfully underscored by the signs and wonders God performed through him (6:8-10), and his death was the catalyst which brought about a great persecution against the saints in Jerusalem, prompting all except the apostles to flee the city (Acts 8:1).

    After Stephen’s death and the scattering of the saints, evangelism began to take place among the Samaritans and the Gentiles. Even this was not due to the efforts or encouragement of the apostles. It was through the zeal of a few noble saints who could not keep the faith to themselves:

    19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and [began] speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).

    Philip, one the seven “deacons” selected in Acts 6 (verse 5), began to emerge as an evangelist (see Acts 21:8) and was used of God to win large numbers of the Samaritans to faith in Christ (Acts 8:5-13). In response to the salvation of the Samaritans, the Jerusalem apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria, where they laid hands on the believers who received the Holy Spirit (8:14-17). Philip then was directed to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch, bringing about an ever wider spread of the gospel—this time to a man who was clearly a Gentile God-fearer.

    Luke records in Acts 9 the salvation of a prominent Hellenistic Jew named Saul. Three times in the Book of Acts Saul’s conversion is reported: the first time in the third person (Acts 9), the second and third times in the first person (Acts 22, 26). In Acts 22, Paul (formerly Saul) gives his personal testimony to his fellow-Israelites and in chapter 26, he testifies of his conversion before the Agrippa. In so doing, Paul fulfills the purpose of God for him revealed at the time of his salvation:

    15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

    From this point on in the Book of Acts, Peter’s presence declines, and Paul becomes prominent. It was not from Jerusalem that the purposeful evangelization of the Gentiles was commenced, but from Antioch. And the leadership and initiative was not from the Jerusalem apostles, but from men like Barnabas and Paul and other Hellenistic Jews (see Acts 13:1f.).

    This is not to say God let the native Hebrew apostles off the hook that easily. Contrary to his preferences and prejudices, Peter will play a crucial part in God’s purpose to involve the apostles in Jerusalem in the evangelism of Gentiles. And so in Acts 10, God orchestrated the visions of Cornelius and Peter, compelling Peter to go to the house of this Gentile where he then preached the gospel. God gave Cornelius and those gathered there faith to believe and baptized them with His Spirit, just as He had done with the Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost (see Acts 11:17). Peter could do nothing else than to baptize them with water (Acts 10:47-48).

    When the Jewish church leaders in Jerusalem (which had to include some of the apostles, directly or indirectly) heard of Peter’s actions regarding Cornelius and the salvation of these Gentiles, they did not rejoice—they were incensed. How dare Peter preach to the Gentiles and share salvation with them! He was summarily called on the carpet to explain his actions.

    Peter’s explanation of the events leading up to his visit to the home of Cornelius, along with his description of what took place as he preached, was too convincing and compelling for the Jerusalem Jewish church leaders to deny. They acknowledged with some measure of surprise that God was actually saving Gentiles as well as Jews. This should not have come to them as new revelation. As Paul will demonstrate in Romans 9-11, the Old Testament clearly foretold this, and so did our Lord. What else could our Lord have meant by these words:

    18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

    “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

    The surprise of the Jerusalem Jewish saints is more an indication of their racial and religious biases than of genuine ignorance. The Jews had forgotten they were “stewards” of the gospel of God’s grace—not its owners. This mentality carried over into the church so that even Christian Jews (if we dare use such an expression) felt a kind of smug superiority to Gentile believers.

    Even the apostles were infected with this “superiority complex” and reticent to accept that God had indeed chosen to save Gentiles as well as Jews. But even when they reluctantly acknowledged the truth, only a handful of unknown Hellenistic Jews actually shared their faith with Gentiles (Acts 11:19-21). Only after Gentile saints came to faith (no thanks to the Jerusalem Jews and even the apostles, save Peter) did the apostles respond by sending Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22-26). It was the Hellenistic Jews like Philip, Paul, and Barnabas who were on the cutting edge of Gentile evangelism. It was from the Gentile church of Antioch and not Jerusalem that world-wide evangelism was purposefully begun (Acts 13:1-3).

    So far as Luke’s account is concerned, the “first missionary journey” was completely independent of the church in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God spoke to and through the leaders of the church at Antioch, and Barnabas and Paul were sent out (Acts 13:1-4). It was not as though Paul and Barnabas were neglecting the unsaved Jews, because they always sought to preach “to the Jew first,” and then to the Greeks (Romans 1:16). It was only as a result of the rejection of the gospel by the Jews that Paul and Barnabas focused their attention on Gentile evangelism (Acts 13:44-52).

    The salvation of many Gentiles brought about a problem so serious that the Jewish leaders of the Jerusalem church, which included both the apostles and the elders, could not ignore it. Some unbelieving Jews opposed the preaching of the gospel; others sought to distort the gospel by insisting that Gentile converts be forced to submit to the Law of Moses as indicated by circumcision.

    1 And some men came down from Judea and [began] teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, [the brethren] determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue (Acts 15:1-2).

    At the end of their first missionary journey while Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, some Jews came down from Judea insisting the only way a Gentile could be saved was to convert to Judaism, as well as to trust in Christ. They insisted the only way a Gentile could enter into the blessings of the kingdom of God was to become a Jew, that is, a Jewish proselyte.

    We know the Jerusalem Council decided that “keeping the Law” was impossible for the Jews and that striving to do the works of the Law could only condemn and not save (Acts 15:10-11). Gentile saints were therefore not required to be circumcised nor to keep the Law. The only requirements of the Gentile believers were these:

    28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:28-29).

    It is most interesting to note who played the dominant role as this decision was reached. According to Luke’s account, Peter was the first to speak. His argument is allotted five verses (7-11) by Luke. James spoke last, and he is the one who proposes the verdict which the council should reach. The account of his participation takes nine verses (13-21). James, the half-brother of our Lord, was not one of the twelve apostles. James, the apostle, was put to death by Herod earlier as recorded by Luke in Acts 12. And yet James is the one who seems to carry the greatest weight among the Jerusalem brethren.

    How much weight did Paul carry among these Jerusalem Jewish saints? Very, very little. The participation of Paul and Barnabas is recorded in but one verse (12) in this chapter. And you will notice here the order of the two apostles to the Gentiles is listed in the reverse: “Barnabas and Paul.” This is also the order of the two names in verse 25, part of the text of the letter the Council sent out to the Gentile churches.

    Why “Barnabas and Paul” rather than “Paul and Barnabas?” The order of these two names reflects the ranking of these two men in the minds of the speakers (or writers). In Acts 13:1, when the leaders of the church in Antioch were listed, Barnabas was named first and Paul last. This should come as no surprise. The apostles in Jerusalem were about as attracted to Paul as a cat to a dog. As an unbeliever, Paul was an extremist and hardly less as a Christian. The apostles were hesitant to accept him as a new believer (Acts 9:26). They seem hesitant to accept him as a leader, let alone as a peer. His input to the Jerusalem Council was not that of a spiritual heavyweight. There, it was James who carried the day.

    The Jerusalem Council did endorse Barnabas and Saul and disassociate themselves with those who had gone out to Antioch insisting that Gentile converts be circumcised. Nevertheless, the pressure applied by these lobbying legalizers never completely subsides. Their presence is somehow always lingering in Jerusalem in particular, but also even in the Gentile churches.

    In Acts 21, Paul returns to Jerusalem bringing with him some representatives from the Gentile churches who carried contributions for the poor from grateful believers who had come to faith in Christ. The church leaders received Paul pleasantly; among them were James and all the elders (Acts 21:18). They rejoiced at the report Paul gave of his ministry among the Gentiles (verse 19), but they were very quick to turn the subject to the concerns of the more legalistic brethren, based upon false reports of his teaching and ministry (verses 20-21). They urged Paul to take their advice, and in so doing to put the minds of the more legalistic brethren at ease. As you know from the Scriptures, it did not produce the desired result. Instead, it led to a riot and ultimately took Paul, in chains, to stand before Caesar in Rome.

    My concern here is James and the elders seem to have had too much interest in pacifying those who tended toward legalism. They are willing to take the initiative in dealing with Paul, but not so willing to take on the legalists, indeed, even the Jewish heretics such as we saw in Acts 15:1. The best that can be said of the Jerusalem church is they were on the lagging edge of Gentile evangelism, and they seemed to drag their feet in dealing decisively with the error of the legalists with whom they seemed to be too closely associated.

    Peter and Paul in Galatians

    If Acts’ description of the relationship between Paul and Peter and the other disciples/apostles, leaves us troubled concerning the apostles’ response to the Jewish heretics and the all too closely related legalistic Jewish Christians, Paul’s words in Galatians 1 and 2 do little to give us comfort concerning this situation. Indeed, Paul’s description of his relationship with the apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem may make us even more uneasy.

    When Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, he spoke first of those who are like the false teachers of 2 Peter 2 and 3 in that their “gospel” is not the true gospel, and their destiny does not seem to be heaven:

    6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is [really] not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).

    So much for those who preach or hold to adifferent gospel,” but what of the apostles in Jerusalem? How does Paul speak of them? An unbiased reading of Galatians 1 and 2 would lead us to say Paul did not speak of them with reverential awe. They were not “heavyweights” to him as seen in his words concerning them:

    6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter [had been] to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in [his] apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we [might go] to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 [They] only [asked] us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do (Galatians 2:6-10).

    Paul had little contact with the apostles or with the Jerusalem church leaders, especially in the early years after his conversion (Galatians 1:17-19). He was saved and “discipled” independently of them. His contacts with them were few and far between and of short duration. When he and Barnabas did go up to Jerusalem after 14 years, they took Titus with them. Those whom Paul calls “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4) sought to compel Paul to have Titus circumcised. Paul refused, because it was clear they believed in a salvation by works and not by grace. Where were the apostles and church leaders while all this debate was taking place? They seem strangely silent. Paul seems to have to stand alone, along with Barnabas and Titus, in his confrontation with these legalistic Jewish heretics. I am puzzled that the Jerusalem Jewish saints do not seem to take a prominent role in this conflict.

    Even the endorsement of Paul’s ministry seems tongue-in-cheek and less than whole-hearted. Paul is given the “right hand of fellowship” by Peter, “James” (the half-brother of our Lord and prominent leader in the Jerusalem church), and John, but this is as one who is the “apostle to the Gentiles” (2:8). Peter, on the other hand, is regarded as the “apostle to the Jews,” or more accurately, the “apostle to the circumcised” (2:7).

    I am not sure I see so great a distinction between the ministries of Peter and Paul that I would want to characterize Peter as the “apostle to the circumcised” and Paul as the “apostle to the uncircumcised.” Paul always preached to the Jews first and then the Gentiles. Up to the end of the Book of Acts, Paul persists in seeking to reach lost Jews for Christ. Conversely, Peter does not just preach to Jews in Acts. His preaching in Acts 2-5 is surely more directed toward the Jews, because he was living among Jews and speaking to them. But in his preaching to the household of Cornelius, his ministry is to Gentiles. And in his writing to the saints in his two epistles, Peter is ministering to many Gentiles.

    I fear the distinction of Peter as the “apostle to the circumcision” and Paul as the “apostle to the Gentiles” is equivalent to the Supreme Court decision which established what has become known as the policy of “separate but equal” (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1898). The high court ruled that so long as the quality of education was the same, whites could be educated in all-white schools, while blacks could be taught in all-black schools. This decision sanctioned segregated schools, so long as the schools were “equal.” It was finally struck down by a 1954 ruling of the high court (Brown v. the School Board of Topeka). Separate, but equal, was simply not good enough.

    I believe this is precisely the policy the Jerusalem saints (including their leaders) wanted. They wanted Jewish churches and Gentile churches. They wanted apostles for the Jews and apostles for the Gentiles. In some ways the Jerusalem saints and their leaders seem to be more tolerant of the false brethren than they do of their Gentile brethren, or of men like Paul and Barnabas and others who preach to the Gentiles.

    Look at what happens in the last half of Galatians 2.

    11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he [began] to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-13).

    Peter came to Antioch, the Gentile church which had become the launching pad of Gentile evangelism. Paul was there as well, along with Barnabas and others. When Peter first arrived, he associated freely with the Gentile saints, eating his meals with them. And then “certain men from James” arrived. These were of the circumcision party. Whether they were legalistic Christians or “false brethren” (cf. Galatians 2:4) is not altogether clear. They do seem to have come from Jerusalem, from the church, and “from James.” Once again James and the Jerusalem church leaders seem to be closely and not uncomfortably (to them) associated with those who distort the gospel.

    With the arrival of these men “from James,” Peter’s conduct suddenly changed. He distanced himself from the Gentile believers, and this “out of fear for the party of the circumcision” (2:12). Can you imagine this? Peter was afraid of what these Jewish visitors thought! He was so intimidated by them that he acted hypocritically. He would rather offend his Gentile brethren than offend these legalists who might not even be saints. And by his actions, Peter influenced others to do likewise. Even a man like Barnabas was drawn into this disaster.

    Paul had just written that he was no man-pleaser (1:10f.). He would not be intimidated or awe struck by those whowere of high reputation” (2:6). Publicly, Paul rebuked Peter face to face. He accused Peter of hypocrisy. I doubt Peter was surprised by this charge. But Paul pressed this error to its ultimate and most despicable roots—it was a denial of the gospel.

    The gospel declares all men to be sinners, under the wrath of God and doomed to eternal punishment. The Law saves no one by law-keeping but condemns Jew and Gentile alike. When men are saved, they are saved by faith in Christ, apart from good works. The Jews can claim no merit, they can take no credit, with respect to their salvation, and thus they are no better than Gentile saints. The gospel makes equals of every saint, for the only righteousness which will get a man to heaven is Christ’s righteousness, received by faith, apart from works.

    The Jews thought that being Jews made them better than Gentiles. They looked upon Gentiles as sinners and upon themselves as saints (2:15). They therefore thought they had the right to establish standards for the Gentiles who would be saved. And the standard they set was to be circumcised as a symbol of their commitment to keep the Law.

    When Peter withdrew his fellowship from the Gentile saints and associated himself only with the Jews, he identified himself with the error they embraced and the self-righteousness in which they gloried. And in so doing, Peter functionally denied the very gospel by which he and every other Jew was saved. To be saved, Gentiles do not have to embrace Judaism with its self-righteousness through law-keeping. To be saved, Jews cannot embrace self-righteousness through law-keeping, but must trust only in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Peter, the “rock,” the disciple who was one of the three disciples most intimately associated with the Master, the one who preached the gospel so clearly and forcefully to the Jews at Pentecost and who also preached to the Gentiles at the home of Cornelius, now denies that very gospel. And he is rebuked by Paul for doing so.

    Peter and Paul in 2 Peter 3

    Paul’s relationship with Peter was not the same as his relationships with men like Barnabas or Timothy. Even though these two men travelled in different circles, Peter and Paul did encounter one another from time to time. But there were other links between these two men as well. For example, Silvanus was Peter’s amanuensis (1 Peter 5:12), but he was also Paul’s travelling companion (2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; see also Acts 15:22, 40).

    From Peter’s words in our text, we may infer that Paul’s writings were already being collected. Peter indicates that he is familiar with Paul’s writings, and his mention of Paul and his epistles is far from casual. Indeed, they have a very clear purpose. We could sum up Peter’s words concerning Paul and his letters with the following statements:

    (1) As Peter has been speaking of those who are false teachers, his words here are intended to inform us Paul is not to be considered one of them.

    (2) Peter’s words indicate he wants us to regard Paul as more than a mere teacher: Paul is an apostle like he and the other disciples (or apostles) chosen by our Lord.

    (3) Since Paul is an apostle, his epistles are the inspired Word of God. They are Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures and the New Testament Scriptures as well. If Paul’s epistles are distorted by false teachers, it is not his fault. His words are twisted by false teachers just as the rest of the Scriptures are (verse 16).

    (4) All of Paul’s collected epistles are the inspired Word of God. Peter speaks not of one of Paul’s letters, but of “all his letters” (verse 16).

    (5) The teachings of Paul do not disagree with those of Peter or the other apostles. Paul writes just as also Peter has written. These men are both in agreement in what they have written on many matters. There is a harmony and a consistency between Paul’s epistles and the rest of Scripture, as there most certainly must be (see also 3:2).

    (6) Paul’s writings are inspired and authoritative in matters where he goes beyond that revealed by the other apostles, through whom God also revealed Scripture. While each author of a book in the Bible must be consistent with previous revelation, each one also makes a unique contribution to the Bible as a whole. Because we believe in progressive revelation, we expect later inspired writings to go beyond that revealed by earlier writers. There is a world of difference between going against previous Scripture and going beyond it. Paul’s writings are completely consistent with the Old Testament Scriptures and with the New Testament Scriptures, but Paul was also privileged to reveal things which were not clear until this point in time.

    1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 [to be specific], that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power (Ephesians 3:1-7).

    (7) Paul’s writings are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, though hard to swallow, even for the other apostles. This principle is derived not only from the history of Peter and Paul outlined previously, but from these words of Peter in our text:

    15 Just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (emphasis mine).

    For a long time, I have understood Peter’s phrase, “some things hard to understand,”76 to refer to some perplexing texts which are hard to interpret like this one:

    29 Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them (1 Corinthians 15:29, emphasis mine)?

    I no longer believe this is what Peter actually meant. Peter also had obscure texts in his writings which cause students of Scripture to scratch their heads (such as 1 Peter 3:18-22). It is true that cultists attempt to build doctrines on their interpretation of such texts. But I am more inclined to think Peter means that false teachers distort the texts they do not like, ones they do not want to understand at face value so they can avoid changing their thinking and their lifestyle.

    We often find it impossible to understand those things we do not like or do not want to acknowledge as true. For example, when a husband (like myself) finds it impossible to “understand my wife’s point of view,” it is not really because she has failed to communicate clearly, but because I am not receptive to the message. My wife is completely clear, and I am totally stubborn. Much of the communication gap between opposing viewpoints, between mates, between generations, is simply a refusal to hear the other side for fear we might have to admit it is true or we might have to change.

    Some say, “I cannot understand how a God of love would condemn anyone to hell.” What they really mean is: “I don’t want to believe in a literal hell. Its existence would take much of the pleasure out of my sin, because I would know that someday I will have to pay the price. Therefore I refuse to believe in hell, and any passage in Scripture which says there is a hell is too vague, too obscure, or inconsistent with too many other texts.”

    What might one find “hard to understand,” or rather, “hard to accept” in Paul’s writings? The answer is simple: the mystery of the union of Jew and Greek, in Christ, without distinction. Here is the truth which God revealed through Paul to the church (including the at least initially reluctant and later forgetful apostles):

    11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

    Is this not the truth the “false brethren” (Galatians 2:3-5)—legalists whose salvation is not absolutely clear (Acts 15:1-2)—and even some of the Jerusalem church’s Jewish giants (Acts 10-11; Galatians 2:11-13)—were reticent to receive?

    Conclusion

    Peter’s words are most significant. The apostles (certainly including Peter) were reluctant to believe that Paul was saved (Acts 9). And certainly they were reluctant to believe that Gentiles should be evangelized (Acts 10-11). They were less than zealous to initiate the preaching of the gospel to Gentiles—even after they acknowledged God’s purpose was to save the Gentiles, and even after the Lord’s commission to do so (see Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

    By his words in 2 Peter 3, Peter indicates that Paul is not one of the “false teachers” described in his second epistle, and that Paul is an apostle, an apostle whom God independently saved and “discipled,” apart from the other apostles the Lord had chosen as His disciples. He is declaring to his readers that Paul’s epistles are the inspired Word of God.

    But in addition, Peter is admitting he was wrong, and Paul was right. Paul was right in his teaching in Ephesians 2 and 3. Paul was right in his definition of the gospel and of the relationship between Israel and the church (see all of Romans, especially chapters 9-11). Paul was right to rebuke Peter for his hypocrisy in Galatians 2. Peter learned much from Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and so can his readers.

    It is one thing to admit we are wrong and another person is right, which Peter does in effect by his words in our text. But Peter goes even further to say that he and Paul were not enemies. Indeed, Peter looks upon Paul as a brother—and ever further still—Paul is a beloved brother. Paul is regarded as such by Peter, and he should be so regarded by all the saints. Paul is (or should be) our beloved brother.

    Paul was God’s chosen instrument to define, proclaim, and protect the gospel. Paul was God’s divine provision to offset the prejudices and even the sins of the other apostles. It was Paul who was ordained to write the clearest definition of the gospel in the Word of God, as found in the Book of Romans. Paul was raised up to offset the legalism not only of the heretics but also of the Jerusalem Jewish church leaders, including the apostles.

    Paul was the perfect counterpart to Peter and the other apostles. Peter and the other disciples were Galileans who naturally tended toward provincialism. Paul was a well-travelled man of the world, a man who knew more than one language or culture. Peter and the others were “untrained and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13), while Paul was a man of great learning. So great was his learning that Festus said, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad” (Acts 26:24). Peter and the other Galilean disciples were not a part of the Jewish religious hierarchy; Paul was one of the most devout, the most dedicated, the most prominent and the most promising leaders of the Pharisees. They were outside the religious system; Paul was from within. Who could better critique Judaism than this “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5)? What a perfect balance Paul was to the other apostles.

    Even though we have come this far, we are only just beginning to grasp the point Peter strives to make with its implications. Remember, this is Peter’s closing punch line—words which have much to say to us. Consider the following ways Peter’s reference here to Paul applies to the church and to individual saints. Here, as J. Vernon McGee used to say, the “rubber meets the road.”

    (1) The principle of human fallibility. Neither Peter, nor his fellow-disciples, nor Paul, were infallible. All of the Jerusalem disciples seem to be racially biased with respect to the Gentiles and far too tolerant of the errors and even heresies Jewish legalists sought to impose of the church.

    Peter’s words in our text should certainly serve as a benchmark for assessing the truth of the doctrines claimed by the Roman Catholic Church regarding the pope. While I am no expert in the study of Catholicism, my understanding is that no Catholic leader would dare say the pope is sinless and his every word inerrant and authoritative. They would, however, say some statements have full divine authority. I do not believe this is true, and our text seems to support my conclusion. The next principle will suggest how God deals with the fallibility of men, including prominent church leaders.

    (2) The principle of plurality. Why did our Lord choose twelve men to be his apostles? Why not just one apostle like Peter who could be the spokesman for God and a kind of pope? The answer, in part, is that one man cannot have full authority because he is a sinner like all other men. In the Book of Acts, when the church had to make critical decisions and declarations, it was never done by only one person, no matter who he was. All crucial decisions in Acts were made collectively, by a group.

    In chapter 1, the filling of the vacancy of the twelfth apostle (rightly or wrongly) was one made by the whole group of one hundred and twenty (see Acts 1:15). In chapter 2, we are told that the church devoted themselves to “the apostles’ [plural] teaching” (verse 42), not the apostle’s [i.e. Peter’s] teaching. In chapter 5, Peter alone rebuked Ananias and Saphira for their deception, and they died, but there was no pronouncement of doctrine here, no precedent-setting action (so that this kind of sentence continued to be pronounced by an individual). It was, so to speak, an isolated event, rich with implications, but with no new doctrinal revelations. In Acts 6, the problem of the alleged preferential treatment of certain widows was handled by the apostles collectively, and in such as way as to involve the whole church (6:2, 5).

    When Peter was divinely directed to the house of Cornelius where he preached the gospel, it would seem the whole church (or at least a good representation from the church) was present when Peter made his defense, accompanied by the six men who went with him and witnessed the salvation of these Gentiles (Acts 11:12, 18). When the church at Antioch was born, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to minister to these new believers (11:22). When the Holy Spirit designated Barnabas and Paul as missionaries to the Gentile nations, His will was made known to the church leaders who collectively laid hands on them and sent them out (13:1-4).

    The salvation of a large number of Gentiles and the birth of predominantly Gentile churches brought a defensive reaction from the Jewish brethren, who were Pharisees and had not yet renounced this as Paul had done (see Philippians 3:1ff.)—they insisted that Gentile converts be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 5).77 The process by which the decision of the so-called “Jerusalem Council” was reached included the entire congregation (15:22). The advice given to Paul in Acts 21 was that of James and all the elders (21:18).

    The principle of plurality is necessary because individuals are fallible. Plurality is also necessary because of what we might call God’s spiritual “separation of power.” Our government recognizes that the concentration of power in any one institution or in any one individual is dangerous, given the sinfulness of men. God has practiced this separation of powers in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, there were prophets, priests, and kings. In the New Testament, spiritual gifts are spiritual abilities (powers) to accomplish vital spiritual tasks in the body of Christ. No one possesses all the gifts. No one is given all the power.

    The church is not a mere collection of individuals. It is the body of Christ. There is “wholeness” only as all of the individual members of the body of Christ are a functional part of the church:

    14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace (Ephesians 2:14-15, emphasis mine).

    11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13, emphasis mine).

    Even those who possess the same gifts and similar callings are not given “full power,” but power to perform a portion of the task our Lord gave to His entire church. No one member of the church should dare think of himself independently of the rest of the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-21). Even those with the same spiritual gift each have a unique calling and role to play (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

    The principle of plurality applies not only within a local church but also outside the local church. No one local church is likely to have all the spiritual gifts necessary for the on-going of its ministry or for the spread of the gospel. God may well intend to edify our church through the ministry of someone from outside our flock. We need to be on guard against isolationism and unnecessary fear of those outside our local congregation.

    The principle of plurality can be seen at work in the ministry of the twelve apostles.  Jesus did not choose just one apostle, but twelve.  He did not send them out to do solo ministries, but sent them out in pairs.  Even in Acts this principle of plurality is evident in the partnered ministry of Peter and John, and later in the ministries of Paul and Barnabas and their missionary teams.  It is not surprising that the churches that were founded were led by a plurality of elders.

    Jesus instructed His disciples that they would continue the work He had begun.  He indicated to them that they would remember and record His words.  Just how many of the twelve actually authored a New Testament book?  Matthew and John authored the Gospels bearing their names.  Two of the disciples -- Peter and John -- authored a total of 6 books beyond the Gospels (1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation).  Mark, Luke, James, Jude, and Paul (and the unnamed author of Hebrews) wrote the remaining New Testament books.  The non-writing disciples not doubt supplied information for those who did write, and they also bore witness to the truth of what their colleagues wrote (see 1 Corinthians 15:5-7).  Each book has its own unique approach and emphasis, just as each Gospel does.  And together, we have one gospel message, articulated by a multi-faceted New Testament.  The same thing could be said for the Old Testament.

    Even those men whom God chose to author Scripture are inter-dependent on the other authors of Scripture. Any Scripture must be consistent with the prophets and with the teachings of our Lord and His apostles (2 Peter 3:2). Those who were chosen to write Scripture reveal not only what is consistent with earlier texts of Scripture, and the writings of their inspired contemporaries (e.g. Daniel and Jeremiah, Daniel 9:2; Peter and Paul, 2 Peter 3:15-16), but they were also privileged to reveal that which goes beyond the writings of the others and yet remains fully consistent with Scripture. Paul was given the privilege of revealing the mystery of Christ and His church (Ephesians 2 and 3; 5:32). Paul’s writings are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, but they must be considered in the context of the whole Bible. Biblical revelation is both progressive (sequentially revealed over a long period of time) and plural (multiple authors).

    The principle of plurality applies not only to the origination of Scripture (authorship) but also to its recognition and interpretation. The author of Scripture claims or implies his epistle is divinely inspired and authoritative (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 14:37-38). But recognition of the inspiration and authority of any book of the Bible requires more than just the author’s claim. (Many cultists claim their works are the inspired “word from God.”) The inspiration and authority of Scripture is a process that involves plurality. Surely the fact that Peter endorsed Paul’s epistles as Scripture lends weight to their recognition as such by the church.

    Not only is the recognition of a certain work of Scripture a matter for a plurality, but its interpretation also calls for plurality. Having already stated that no Scripture is a matter of private interpretation, he indicates it should carry the weight of the collective study and contemplation of the church (1 Peter 1:20-21). The church collectively embracing an interpretation gives much more weight to that interpretation.

    (3) Closely related to the principle of plurality is the principle of accountability. We see the principle of plurality applied to leadership in the Scriptures, having already shown that God used a plurality of leaders in both the Old Testament and the New. In the New Testament, when but one leader is dominant, and exclusively followed, this is rebuked (1 Corinthians 1). Following but one leader leads to trouble. Often a leader who has been given singular power will fall into error and sin, for he is also often considered above and beyond rebuke. But even Peter was not above rebuke, and his words concerning Paul reflect the impact of Paul’s words of admonition and correction.

    Occasionally, a Christian leader loses sight of the principles of plurality and accountability and may say, “I get my orders from God.” This very pious sounding statement flies in the very face of Scripture. Ultimately, we are accountable to God, and there are times when we must obey God rather than men. But God has so structured His church that He also speaks to a saint through other saints. Those who claim to get direct orders only from God may find the source of their “guidance” other than divine.

    (4) Putting the principle of submission in perspective. Just as the principle of plurality means no one individual’s authority is absolute, no one’s submission is absolute either. How often I have seen a Christian wife fail to rebuke her husband for sin, as the Scriptures instruct her, because her husband is in authority over her. When the Scriptures instruct us to correct a brother or sister overtaken by a fault (see Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 15:14; Galatians 6:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14), this does not mean only our peers. It means anyone. Our final authority is the Word of God. We dare not ignore sin in the name of submission. Paul sought to submit himself to the church leaders in Jerusalem, but he did not hesitate to rebuke Peter when his actions were a denial of the gospel.

    Here Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:1-3 come into focus, and here Paul’s obedience to the council given him in Acts 21 makes sense. We are all to obey our leaders, to be in submission to those in authority, so long as there is no contradiction to a clear biblical imperative or truth. But we are not told to accept everything a leader says or does simply because they are a leader. They should be biblically and doctrinally right. When they are, we should obey them if at all possible. But when they are biblically wrong, we should speak out against the error as we refuse to go along.

    Some differences among Christians, especially in regard to their understanding of the Scriptures, are not matters of great eternal importance. Where the gospel or other fundamental doctrines are not compromised and Christian morality is not adversely affected, differences over minor areas of truth should not be allowed to divide or undermine Christian unity (see Romans 14; Philippians 3:15; Titus 3:9). May God give us a repentant heart when we are corrected and a gracious spirit toward those He uses to point out our sin, just as He gave Peter toward Paul.


    75 We understand the “rock” on which the church is built to be the “Rock” of Peter’s confession, the fact that the Lord Jesus is God’s promised Messiah. But this was surely not clear to Peter or to the disciples at the time Jesus revealed it to them in Matthew 16. Thus, Peter no doubt understood the Lord’s words in a way which gave him hope of a prominent role in the kingdom of God. Did this in any way prompt James and John to seek the place of prominence at our Lord’s right and left hand (see Matthew 20:20-28)?

    76 The NEB renders this expression, “though they contain some obscure passages.”

    77 I am tempted to think these legalistic brethren were a bit hypocritical as they seem to have strongly insisted that the Gentile converts be circumcised in order to be saved when they were in Antioch. But when they stood before the church in Jerusalem, they toned down their demands, insisting only that it was necessary to be circumcised and to observe the Law of Moses. But it was not said that this was necessary for salvation, as had been previously demanded.

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    11. Scripture Twisters (2 Peter 3:14-18)

    13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

    Introduction

    Peter believes the Scriptures play a vital role in the life of the Christian (see 1 Peter 1:22–2:3; 2:8; 3:1; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 12-21; 2:21; 3:1-7, 14-18). And he does not cease challenging us to turn our attention to the Scriptures. Even while Peter points us to the Word, he warns that some will seek to turn us from the truths of the Scriptures by perverting the teaching of Scripture. He does not look for false prophets to arise, apparently because prophets are no longer necessary. After all, God has spoken fully and finally in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-4). But he does warn us false teachers will arise. They may not claim to reveal new truth from God on the level of Scripture, but they will seek to distort the Scriptures, twisting them to teach something vastly different from the intended meaning of the Bible.

    In these closing verses of his second epistle, Peter draws our attention one final time to the Scriptures and the crucial role they play in our lives. He wants us to know that Paul’s letters are part of the inspired Word of God and that Paul is not one of the false teachers, although some distort his words to mean something far from what he intended. If Paul is blamed for teaching error, Peter wants his readers to know Paul is not the one at fault. Paul’s teaching is in agreement with the revelation God gave through the Old Testament prophets, with the teaching of our Lord, and with the writings of the other apostles.

    We sometimes hear someone say, “Your interpretation of Scripture is but one of many interpretations.” If we want to convince someone our interpretation of the Scriptures is correct, they might respond that the Bible is capable of meaning whatever one wants it to mean. This, of course, could be said of any writing.

    We must not wrongly conclude that men’s failure to interpret Scripture accurately proves God did not clearly reveal Himself and His message to men in the Bible. Neither is it true that the meaning of Scripture is so obscure it is virtually impossible to discern.78 There is one correct interpretation of Scripture, and the rest is often the result of Scripture twisting, whether intentional or not.

    Our purpose in this concluding lesson of Second Peter is to note the characteristics of Scripture twisters so we may be alert to their presence among us. Further, we will identify the most common ways men twist the meaning of Scripture to help us avoid those errors in our study and interpretation of the Bible. In this way, we will be able to sharpen our interpretive skills and “accurately handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

    What We Should
    Know About Scripture Twisters

    From Peter’s warnings in his epistles and what we are told elsewhere in Scripture, we can summarize what we should know about Scripture twisters:

    (1) We should expect Scripture twisters to arise within the church. We can expect to arise from within the church those who will twist the meaning of Scriptures as they interpret, apply, and teach the Bible. Peter warns us concerning false teachers in chapter 2, verse 1. Paul warns of the same danger in Acts 20:30. False teachers will arise from among the saints, twisting the truths of God’s Word and thus leading some astray.

    (2) We should also know the most likely areas for error to be introduced. Peter informs us that Scripture twisters deny a coming day of judgment (3:1-4), even though their judgment is sure (2:1, 3, 9, 12, 17). It would seem from 2 Peter 2:1 that Scripture twisters twist the Scriptures concerning the person and the work of Jesus Christ in that they “deny the Master who bought them.” In addition, Scripture twisters undermine the Biblical teaching on holy living (2 Peter 2:2; contrast 3:11, 14).

    (3) Those who twist Scripture will twist any or all of the Bible, but they will often base their teachings on an obscure or problematic text. Peter acknowledges that some of Paul’s writings are “difficult to understand” (verse 16). These seem to be the starting point for the truth twisters. They begin with a problematic passage, developing their unorthodox doctrines, and then turn to the clear, emphatic texts, denying what they dogmatically teach.

    False teachers do not stop with Paul’s writings but distort the Scriptures as a whole. Problem passages written by Paul are only the tip of the iceberg. These perverters of Scripture do not stop here; they are not content unless they have twisted “the rest of the Scriptures” as well. Since the Scriptures agree, then one who sets aside the teaching of one author must, to be consistent, set aside other texts as well.

    (4) Those who twist Scripture are described by Peter as “untaught and unstable.” The term “untaught” is rendered “ignorant” by the translators of the King James Version. The two terms “untaught” and “unstable” are introduced by a common article. This seems to indicate these two terms are to be viewed as interrelated. Like “love and marriage,” these terms go together “like a horse and carriage.” In other words, those who are “untaught” are “unstable,” and those who are “unstable” are also “untaught.”

    In the Book of Ephesians, Paul emphasizes the other side of Peter’s words. Paul indicates the one who is stable is the one well-taught in the Scriptures. Both James and Peter make closely related statements:

    11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him, who is the head, [even] Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. 17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, (Ephesians 4:11-17).

    5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 [being] a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

    8 For if these [qualities] are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these [qualities] is blind [or] short-sighted, having forgotten [his] purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:8-11).

    (5) Scripture twisters have ulterior motives which are far from pure. The teachings of the Scripture twisters is self-serving and often rooted in greed and the desire for monetary gain (Titus 1:11; Jude 11, 16; contrast Acts 20:33; 1 Thessalonians 2:5-6; 1 Timothy 3:3; 6:3-5). For some, their twisted teaching is rooted in the ambition to have a personal following (Acts 20:30). Then there are those who twist Scripture to indulge their fleshly lusts (Titus 1:10-16; 2 Peter 2:10-22; Jude 18). Their approach to Scripture is not at all like that of David:

    17 Deal bountifully with Thy servant, That I may live and keep Thy word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law (Psalms 119:17-18).

    Instead, they are “following after their own lusts” (2:3). They exploit their victims out of greed (2:3) and not out of a genuine love and concern (see 2 Peter 1:12-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:3-12).

    (6) The appeal of Scripture twisters is in providing a pretext for self-indulgence and sin for their followers, as well as themselves. They entice those who are immature and vulnerable (2 Peter 2:14, 18; see 2 Timothy 3:6-7). While teachers of biblical truth call for the saints to “abstain from fleshly lusts” (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16, 24; 1 Peter 2:11), Scripture twisters assure men Christians can indulge the flesh (Jude 4) with no consequences.

    (7) Those who twist Scripture may include both teachers (Romans 1:18-32; 2 Timothy 3:8, 13) and their pupils (verse 16; 2 Timothy 3:6-7; 2 Peter 2:14). While the context of chapters 2 and 3 is false teachers, Peter’s words in verse 16 should not be restricted only to false teachers but to any who are “untaught” and “unstable,” who wish to justify their ungodly conduct.

    (8) Those who twist Scripture do so to their own destruction (verse 16; see also John 5:39; Acts 5:20; Romans 2:7-8; Philippians 2:16; contrast 1 Timothy 4:16). It is little wonder that Scripture twisters deny the second coming of our Lord and the judgment to come. After all, His coming is a day of judgment for them. But Peter’s teaching is clear. Those who distort the truth of God’s Word do so to their own destruction (3:16; see also 2:1, 3, 9-13, 20-22; 3:7).

    Sharpening our
    Sensitivity to Scripture Twisters

    Peter’s words are written so Christians will be on their guard, alert to those who twist the Scriptures. He expects the saints not only can, but should, be able to discern those who pervert God’s Word. Peter is not speaking only to church leaders or Bible teachers here; he is speaking to all the saints. Every Christian should be able to recognize those about whom Peter warns us. Peter indicates how Christians can be prepared to spot false teachers and turn from them:

    17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:17-18).

    The first thing necessary is for us to realize we have been forewarned that Scripture twisters are going to arise. They will arise not only from without but from within. Peter warns of the false teachers “among you” (2:1, see also 2:3, 13). Paul warns the Ephesian elders that some of them will depart from the truth, twisting the Scriptures:

    28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build [you] up and to give [you] the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:28-32).

    We must therefore be like the Bereans, always putting the teaching of others (even those whom we respect) to the test. Does the teaching we receive square with the truths of God’s Word (see Acts 17:11)? Bible teaching must never be a substitute for our own personal study of the Word of God; it is an enhancement to our own study. Good teaching should only encourage and facilitate the personal study of God’s Word, never discourage it.

    Second, the best preventative for false teaching by others is to actively pursue godliness and personal spiritual growth:

    17b Be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17b-18).

    These words sound very much like the words Peter began his teaching with in chapter 1:

    5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in [your] knowledge, self-control, and in [your] self-control, perseverance, and in [your] perseverance, godliness; 7 and in [your] godliness, brotherly kindness, and in [your] brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these [qualities] are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these [qualities] is blind [or] short-sighted, having forgotten [his] purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:5-10).

    Those who do not know God personally through faith in Jesus Christ are not able to comprehend the truths of God’s Word:

    43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? [It is] because you cannot hear My word. 44 “You are of [your] father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [nature;] for he is a liar, and the father of lies. 45 “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:43-45; see also 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

    Those who know God, and who desire to do His will, will be enabled to understand divine truth:

    16 Jesus therefore answered them, and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or [whether] I speak from Myself. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:16-18).

    Those whose walk with the Lord is stagnant are most vulnerable to false teaching. The teaching of God’s Word should cause the slothful saint to be uneasy. The twisting of Scripture is what the wayward saint will feel comfortable hearing. Spiritual health is the best preventative for the disease of Scripture twisting.

    12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession (Hebrews 4:12-14).

    Very closely related to what we are learning here is the personal pursuit of holiness, for pursuing holiness greatly contributes to our ability to discern and avoid Scripture twisters. It is precisely when we are “following our own lusts” that we will seek to distort the truth of the Word of God (2:3) to fit out desires. Those who are dominated by their lusts are the false teachers (2:10-22). Those who pursue holiness will discern those who lead unholy lives who encourage others to follow them. And so it is that Peter urges his readers to pursue godliness in the same text he warns us of Scripture twisters:

    14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless (2 Peter 3:14).

    Levels of Error

    Not all errors are alike. Some errors are more dangerous and even more culpable than others. Some errors stem from ignorance. We simply do not know the Scriptures well enough. It may be that we speculate where we should simply acknowledge our ignorance (see Deuteronomy 29:29) and study the Word to determine the truth. Some errors are errors of personal opinion or belief. For example, Christians may differ over the interpretation of a particular passage, especially a problematic passage. Everyone cannot be right. Perhaps no one is right. So long as we identify our interpretation as our opinion, I do not think we are in trouble. But when we teach our opinion as absolute truth, we are venturing into dangerous waters.

    We need to distinguish between our convictions, which we should not impose on others, and the teaching of God’s principles and commands which all are to accept and practice. Paul is very careful to indicate to his readers those matters which are his personal conviction and those which are not. We see this in 1 Corinthians 7. His conviction and practice is that he can better serve the Lord unmarried than married (1 Corinthians 7:8-9, 25-28). He does not, however, like some false teachers, condemn marriage altogether (see 1 Timothy 4:3). He simply points out that marriage can be a distraction and challenges us to consider the single life as an option. We should learn to recognize the difference between our own personal convictions (which we are told to keep to ourselves [Romans 14:22] and those truths which all Christians must embrace to be orthodox. The virgin birth of our Lord, for example, should not be considered a personal conviction but a doctrinal fundamental of the faith. Those doctrinal truths which are an essential part of the gospel are crucial to the gospel. When these truths are twisted, incalculable damage can be done, not only to ourselves but to others.

    I believe we should distinguish between those errors we sincerely hold as personal opinion or conviction and those we teach and advocate to others as God’s truth. Once we take on the role of teacher, we assume responsibility not only for ourselves, but for others, which is an awesome thing. No wonder James admonishes us that not many should become teachers (James 4:1). Those things we teach others as the command of Christ become matters of great importance, and if we err on this level, we err seriously, to our own shipwreck and that of any who follow us in our error. We should also beware of teaching in such a way us to set aside or undermine what God has given to His people as a clear command. We are told by our Lord to teach believers all that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20), so let us see that the commands of Christ are the curriculum of discipleship. To fail to teach these, or to teach them in error, is very serious business.

    Ways We Twist Scripture

    It is very clear in Peter’s epistles (and also Paul’s) that the Scriptures are of primary importance to the Christian. Nothing is more dangerous than twisting the truth of God’s Word. I would like to suggest some ways Peter’s words relate to us and how the Scriptures are being perverted in our time, even within evangelicalism.

    (1) We err greatly in our interpretation and application of God’s Word when we subordinate the revelation of God’s truth to our own reason. When God’s command is clear, it does not matter nearly so much that we understand why the command is given as that we obey it. Too many Christians refuse to believe or obey Scripture until it makes sense to them. Some think Christians should understand the “full depth of injury” that others have brought upon them before they forgive them. I understand the Bible teaches us to forgive to whatever degree we perceive someone has offended us at that moment and grant further forgiveness if and when it is required.

    Adam and Eve did not understand why God forbade them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not need to know this. In fact, eating of the tree is what would give them this knowledge. All they needed to know was that God had given this command and then to obey it. More faith is required to obey God when we don’t understand why than to obey when the reasons are glaring us in the face. All too often I hear Christians refusing to believe or obey God’s Word at a point where they fail to grasp the reasons for it. I would remind you that many of the distinctions between “clean” and “unclean” in the Old Testament seem to have no reason, except that God declared them to be such. The question is whether we will accept God’s distinction between good and evil, clean and unclean, truth and error. In the armed forces, boot camp is intended to teach recruits to obey their leaders, without question, and without the need to first know why. It is not we who have been called to pass judgment on the Word of God, but the Word of God which is to judge and to guide us.

    (2) We are on very dangerous ground when we seek to “integrate” God’s truth, as revealed in Scripture, with “man’s truth,” as currently understood and taught from outside the Scriptures. “All truth is God’s truth,” we are told. That statement has a dangerous tendency, as currently applied. It tends to put all “truth” on the same level. It suggests that what is currently believed to be “true” through science, for example, is just as surely true as the truths of the Bible. It suggests that such scientific truth is just as certainly true as biblical truth. It suggests that secular “truth,” as currently understood, is just as important and as necessary to apply as God’s truth.

    I do not believe this to be true. Only God’s truth—the truth God has revealed in His Word—is true truth, that which we can be assured is truth. Scientific truths continue to change. Biblical truth never changes. How sad to see Christians rushing back to the Scriptures to reinterpret them because modern science has apparently exposed some new truth which challenges God’s truth as taught in his Word. How sad to hear Christians who are alleged experts in some secular field proclaim these “truths” on the same level as the truth of God’s Word. Now the Bible is often not the primary text, the primary source of truth, but a secondary source. The Bible is used to illustrate or proof text what the secular sciences have identified as truth.

    The Bible is the only revelation of truth which is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. The Bible reveals every truth essential for life and godliness. It is not God’s truth (as revealed in Scripture), plus other “truth,” which we need to live godly lives; it is God’s truth alone. Any truth not found in God’s truth is subordinate to God’s truth, and it is secondary to God’s truth, if indeed it is true at all. No wonder Christians are reading so many books beside (and often in place of) the Bible. They think they will find truth which is more necessary and important there. They are wrong. If any book is of great value to the Christian, it will be one which turns our attention and allegiance back to the Book.

    (3) We twist the Scriptures when we “strain gnats and swallow camels.” This error was practiced by the scribes and Pharisees. They made much of the little details of the Scriptures, but they missed the main point. They put much emphasis on the specific commands of the Law but failed to grasp the major principles like justice and mercy, matters about which the prophets spoke. And so it was that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus interpreted the Law in such a way as to get to the heart of the Law. The Law not only prohibits murder, it requires us to deal with hatred by granting or seeking forgiveness. The Law not only prohibits immorality, it teaches us to deal with impure thoughts as sin. This is the reason David loved the Law of God and meditated upon it (see Psalm 119). The Law teaches us the principles of life and reveals to us the character and the heart of God. When we spiritualize the Scriptures, causing them to teach what they do not, we are beginning to twist the Scriptures.

    (4) We twist the Scriptures when we take them farther than they were intended to be interpreted or applied. The Judaizers of Paul’s day took the command to be circumcised and imposed it upon the Gentiles, insisting they must do so to be saved (cf. Acts 15:1-2). When we teach our own ideas and doctrines (which are not in Scripture) as though they were Scriptural truth, we go too far, twisting Scripture. Paul warned us about this very thing, for it was the cause of division and destruction in Corinth:

    6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other (1 Corinthians 4:6).

    Sometimes we twist the Scriptures by over-spiritualizing the text, interpreting its message to be something far beyond what the text itself teaches or requires. Whether in the interpretation or in the application of God’s Word, we must not go beyond what is written.

    (5) We twist the Scriptures when we accommodate our own culture in the interpretation and application of God’s Word. In its most blatant form, we find the Scriptures to be in error or invalid when our cultural values differ from what they teach. And so it is that some have set aside Paul’s teaching on the role women are to play in the church. Now, we ordain women as pastors and as overseers. We look down upon Paul for being a chauvinist. And in matters which are sensitive, we either play down or remain silent if the Scriptures collide with culture. And so the sin of homosexuality is no longer called sin and condemned as such. To do so would require that we exercise discipline on those who practice what God condemns. In order to have large, “successful,” happy churches, we do not hold to the same standards of marriage and divorce our Lord did. To do so would be to alienate and offend some and reduce church roles and budgets.

    (6) We twist the Scriptures when we isolate the teaching of one part of the Bible from the teaching of the rest of the Bible. We will distort the message of the Bible when we fail to harmonize a particular Scripture with other Scripture. The cults selectively use the Scriptures. Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he taught the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20, 27), and not just selected portions or truths. For example, some will distort the biblical teaching on prayer by making this promise their theme:

    19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).

    The fact that this promise is contained in a context dealing with church discipline is ignored. And the fact that other criteria and requirements also apply to prayer is also nicely avoided, texts such as this one:

    3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures (James 4:3).

    A husband and wife may agree they would like to own a mansion in Hawaii, but just because they agree in prayer does not obligate God to give them one. If we would pray as we ought, then we will pray in accordance with all the Bible teaches on prayer, not just on the basis of one isolated text, true though it is.

    Quite frankly, this is the way most Christians read and study their Bibles, in tiny segments, often in random sequence. Most daily devotional books are written in this manner. But this fails to incline us to read a whole book at a time and attempt to ingest large doses of Scripture. Let us seek to read God’s Word more often, in greater portions, and in sequence.

    (7) We twist the Scriptures when we fail to hold seemingly contradictory truths in tension. We like to have our truth in neat little packages, all nicely labeled and easy to keep separated. And so we, like the Pharisees of old, want truth to be one way or the other, but not both:

    16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:16-17).

    They wanted Jesus to tell them they should pay their taxes or they should not. They were trying to press Jesus into saying men should either obey Caesar or obey God. Either way, they could get Jesus in trouble. Jesus told them they should submit to God and to Caesar. They couldn’t have it all one way.

    Truths must be held in tension. God is sovereign. Nothing happens that is not a part of His sovereign decree. Yet we have been commanded to do certain things. We are humanly responsible for our decisions and actions. These two truths, the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, are both true and must be held in tension. Those who would seek to hold one truth and deny the other will distort the Scriptures.

    Some of the teachings of Scripture which appeared contradictory were also held in tension by the saints of old and now can be seen in a clearer light. The truth of the deity of Christ was taught in the Old Testament, and now in the New, as is also the truth of His humanity. These truths appeared contradictory, but in the incarnation we see they were not. Even now we do not fully understand this union of humanity and deity, but we believe it, by faith. Still there are those who cling to one and reject the other.

    The Old Testament prophets spoke of the suffering of Christ, and they also foretold of His glorious reign. The prophets themselves agonized as to how they might harmonize these two truths in tension (1 Peter 1:10-12), but they held to both. Now, in the light of the two comings of Christ, we understand there is no contradiction. Let us not reject one biblical truth (often the one we like the least) in a futile effort to remove the tension it creates with another truth.

    (8) We twist the Scriptures by privately interpreting them (2 Peter 1:20-21). Over the years I have observed many of these “independent” Bible students. In truth, they are arrogant and unteachable. The irony is they often are eager to teach others, and they often can be found attempting to straighten out the church. Peter teaches us that the Scriptures were not only inspired by the Holy Spirit, they are to be interpreted by the illumination of the Spirit. Why is it that the church at Antioch (and, in my opinion, most healthy churches) have more than one gifted teacher?

    The truth of God is for the people of God. If my understanding of a passage fails to fall within the mainline of conservative, evangelical teaching over the history of the church, then my view is suspect:

    36 Was it from you that the word of God [first] went forth? Or has it come to you only? (1 Corinthians 14:36).

    Those who have suffered and died for their faith and for the purity of biblical doctrine should not be ignored. Other gifted teachers should not be ignored. There is no place for individual autonomy in the Christian life. Those who think they can interpret the Scriptures on their own, disregarding all others, are highly suspect in their interpretation and clearly wrong in their attitude.

    Often, such people will (ab)use this verse as a pretext for their independence:

    26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27 And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him (1 John 2:26-27).

    Notice first of all that the context here is false teachers. These teachers are those, like many cultists today, who come to your door and try to confuse you about what you believe. They represent themselves as “experts” (who think they know the “original Greek” or whatever). They offer to teach a Bible study in your home. They are those who raise doubts about your ability to read the Word of God and understand its message. Let no teacher keep you from a personal study of the Word. And do not give an ear to any false teacher. A true teacher of the Word is one who stimulates you to study the Word of God and to find out if what he teaches is indeed from God. Such teachers do not use clever or manipulative techniques but rely upon the Spirit of God to convince you of what is true—from the Scriptures:

    11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, [to see] whether these things were so (Acts 17:11 emphasis mine).

    4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

    True teachers of the Word of God do not create a reliance on themselves but a reliance on the Word of God:

    32 “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build [you] up and to give [you] the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

    (9) We twist the Scriptures by the misappropriation of truth. Grace is now distorted to sanctify sin. Grace is our excuse for sin, rather than an escape from sin. Sovereignty is an excuse for inactivity and passivity, etc. The Scriptures are twisted to excuse sin rather than expose and eradicate it.

    (10) We twist the Scriptures when we selectively deny biblical teachings or commands. Sometimes this is a bold, outright denial of the truth of God’s Word. Satan did this in relation to God’s warning that if Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit they would die (see Genesis 3:4). The false teachers of Peter’s day did this in relation to the second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:3-4). We do it by setting certain Scriptures aside, not by denying their truth, but by denying their application to us. Some try to set aside the teaching of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount by dispensationalizing it, telling us this is truth for the kingdom and thus not directly applicable to us. Some set aside Paul’s teachings (not to mention Peter’s) on the conduct of women by telling us these teachings were for a different time and a different culture. In His Great Commission, Jesus instructed the church to make disciples by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). How many of our Lord’s commandments, as recorded in the Gospels, are taken seriously today, by evangelical, conservative Christians? By you?

    Many of the teachings and commands of the Bible are set aside by default—we simply are ignorant of them because we have not read or studied God’s Word. Ignorance is not bliss, and we will be held accountable for knowing and doing what God has commanded in His Word.

    Conclusion

    Peter knows he is soon to die. Knowing this, he is intent on calling his readers to continually remember and apply the truths of God’s Word (2 Peter 1:13-15). In this Peter is in agreement with the other apostles, like Paul (see Acts 20:17-35; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; 6:1-5, 20-21; 2 Timothy 3:1–4:8). No wonder Peter wishes his readers to know he endorses Paul’s writings as the inspired Word of God! How much nearer we are to the day of our Lord’s return. And how many are those who seek to twist the Scriptures to their destruction and, if possible, ours. Let us be men and women of the Word.

    Let us be on guard against error and be reminded that false teachers will not only arise from without but from within the church. It is the task of leaders to protect the flock from error, but it is also true that error may come from within the leaders (see Matthew 23; Acts 20:28-32). When we look only to our leaders to discern the truth and tell us what is biblical, what is right and wrong, when our leaders go astray, we are in trouble because we blindly follow them. This is what has and is taking place in many denominations. We are individually responsible to discern error and to respond to it biblically.

    As the last days approach, let us fix our hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us seek to live holy lives, so that we practice and proclaim the excellencies of God before a godless world. May we be men and women of the Word, encouraged in our study of the Bible by faithful teachers and turning from those who are false. May we not be guilty of twisting the Scriptures in our own study, but, like David, turning to the Word of God to know God and to live lives which are pleasing in His sight.


    78 I am speaking with regard to the meaning of Scripture in areas of major Bible doctrines and truths and not with regard to the problematic areas where the Scriptures are either silent or unclear (see Deuteronomy 29:29).

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