Sometimes you will hear people say, “I wish that the church now could be like the early church in the Book of Acts!” Thousands were coming to faith in Christ. The gospel was going out to new frontiers. The church enjoyed the powerful teaching of the apostles. Miracles were commonplace. It must have been wonderful! The implication is that it was an ideal church, with relatively few problems.
But a more careful reading of Acts or the epistles shows that the early church faced multiple problems. When you’ve got people, you’ve got problems! Those from religious backgrounds, such as the Jews, brought their baggage, which often included legalism and spiritual pride. Those coming to Christ from completely pagan backgrounds brought other sorts of problems. But all of the early churches had problems. That’s why the New Testament epistles were written—to deal with numerous problems. We face many of these same problems.
In 2 Peter, the apostle is about to die (1:14). As he sees his life and ministry coming to a close, he is deeply concerned for the churches. In 1 Peter, he wrote to strengthen the saints to endure persecution from without. Many were suffering and dying for their faith. Peter wanted them to endure and stand firm. But in 2 Peter, he writes to steel them to withstand what he sees as a growing, insidious threat from within: false teachers who will seduce many into destructive errors. These false teachers professed to be Christians, but they were dangerously deceptive. Their lives were marked by sensuality and greed. They promised their followers freedom, but they themselves were slaves of corruption (2:19). They scoffed at the idea of Christ’s coming in judgment (3:1-7).
Peter wants his readers to be firm in the foundation of their faith, which is to know God more deeply through Jesus Christ as made known through the apostolic witness. He begins by writing (1:2), “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” He ends by saying (3:18), “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Throughout the letter, two Greek nouns and verbs for “knowledge” or “know” occur eleven times (1:2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 20; 2:20, 21 [2x]; 3:3, 18). Knowledge is a key theme.
So we could sum up the theme of 2 Peter by saying, “Growing Christians will be knowing Christians.” We will be growing to know sound doctrine. (Peter shows that holding to false doctrine always results in final judgment.) But also, we will be growing to know God as He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, through the apostolic witness to Christ, contained in the New Testament.
J. Sidlow Baxter (Explore the Book [Zondervan], 6:309, italics his) writes that the purpose of the letter is, “by reminder and re-emphasis, to ground its readers more firmly in the epignosis or ‘full-knowledge’ of saving truth as it is in Christ Jesus; and thereby to reinforce their faith against the imperiling counterfeits of that time.” Kenneth Gangel (The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], 2:862) writes, “The purpose of 2 Peter is to call Christians to spiritual growth so that they can combat apostasy as they look forward to the Lord’s return.”
With that as an overview of the purpose of 2 Peter, here is a basic outline of the flow of thought:
Opening greeting: The foundation for our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, through whom we receive all the blessings of salvation (1:1-2).
For the rest of this message, I want to zero in on the introduction (1:1-2), which is far more than an opening greeting. Peter is laying out the foundation for our faith:
The foundation for our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, through whom we receive all the blessings of salvation.
He makes four points that we need to understand:
He begins (1:1), “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” There is good manuscript support that the name here should be Simeon, rather than Simon. It is a common Hebraic form of the name, stemming from Jacob’s second son. The only time it is used of Peter in the Bible is by James (Acts 15:14). Peter means “rock” in Greek. The Aramaic is Cephas. Jesus gave Simon that name after he made the confession about Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-18).
Alexander Nisbet (An Exposition of 1 & 2 Peter [Banner of Truth], p. 222) applies the use of both names by saying, “it is very necessary to carry with us to the end of our time the sensible remembrance of what we were before Christ manifested Himself to us, and of what His grace has made us, that we may go to Heaven both humble and thankful.”
The use of Peter’s name at the beginning of this letter draws us into a huge scholastic controversy. Second Peter is the most disputed book, in terms of authorship, of any book in the New Testament. It was one of the last books to be accepted into the canon. It is first specifically mentioned by Origen (ca. A.D. 240), who wrote (cited by Everett Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 386), “Peter has left one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is disputed.”
The reasons for it being disputed then may have to do with the fact that there were numerous writings during the second century that purported to be written by Peter and other apostles, but were false (called pseudepigrapha). So the early church was cautious about accepting anything claiming to come from an apostle. Also, the style of Greek between 1 and 2 Peter varies so much that many critics say that the two books could not have been written by the same man.
A third major issue is that 2 Peter seems to depend heavily on Jude, or Jude on 2 Peter. Most scholars think that 2 Peter depends on Jude, and that an apostle of Peter’s stature would not have done such a thing. Also, they say that this would put the dating of 2 Peter after his lifetime. But who is to say whether Peter would have relied on Jude or not? Even if he did, Jude could have been written before Peter’s death. And, a good case can be made that Jude relied on 2 Peter (see John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Peter and Jude [Moody Publishers], pp. 145-146; Daniel Wallace, “Second Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline,” p. 8, on www.bible.org). Peter seems to be predicting that these false teachers were about to come, whereas Jude indicates that they have arrived.
There are many other arguments that you can read in commentaries or background works on the New Testament. Suffice it to say that many New Testament scholars deny that Peter wrote 2 Peter. They would date it from sometime late in the second century, written by someone using Peter’s name. For sake of time (and because it would bore most of you), I will not go through all these arguments.
For me, it comes down to this: Peter claims to have written it and he claims to be an eyewitness of the transfiguration (1:16-18). Either Peter wrote it (as claimed) or it was written by an imposter falsely claiming to be Peter, in which case we need to remove it from the New Testament. As Charles Simeon argues (Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible [Zondervan], 20:285), “no bad man would have written it; and no good man could have been guilty of such a forgery as that of assuming the name and office of this inspired Apostle.” (John Calvin and John MacArthur make similar comments in their commentaries.) As for the difference in style between 1 and 2 Peter, it is easily explained by the fact that Peter used Silvanus to help him write 1 Peter (5:12), whereas in 2 Peter he either wrote it himself or used a different secretary who had some freedom to put Peter’s thoughts onto paper.
It also should be noted that the church fathers in the fourth century, such as Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine, who were aware of the difficulties surrounding 2 Peter, came to full agreement that it was authentic (Harrison, p. 389). Harrison adds (p. 390), “When II Peter was accepted as canonical by church councils of the fourth century, this can hardly have been done with eyes closed to the objections raised against it.” So I think there are solid reasons to affirm that Peter wrote the epistle as stated.
Before we leave this opening statement, note that Peter identifies himself further in two ways: “a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” “Bond-servant” is a bit weak; the word (doulos) means, “slave.” One scholar writes that the slave in New Testament times “owed his master exclusive and absolute obedience…. His work earned him neither profit nor thanks…. The distinctive thing about the concept of the doulos is the subordinate, obligatory and responsible nature of his service in his exclusive relation to his Lord” (R. Tuente, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Zondervan, 1978], ed. by Colin Brown, 3:595, 596).
So Peter is demonstrating humility in calling himself a slave of Jesus Christ. He did not say, “I am His Holiness, Pope Peter. You may kneel and kiss my ring.” He recognized that first, above being an apostle, he was a slave of Christ. He had been bought with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Thus he was not his own. He had to serve Christ, no matter what the cost or inconvenience.
We need to understand and apply this today. We have the wrong concept when we think that we should “volunteer” to serve the Lord. Volunteers have a choice in the matter. They can be selective. They can serve when it is convenient or opt out when they’re too busy. Volunteers expect recognition for their service. But slaves have a different mindset. They must obey their master. True, they can’t do everything and they need to figure out where the Master wants them to serve. But for those who have been bought by Christ’s blood, serving Him isn’t an option. It isn’t done for recognition or personal gratification. It is the obligation for every slave of Jesus Christ.
Peter also calls himself an “apostle of Jesus Christ.” In some instances, the term refers to those who are sent out by the church (“apostle” means “sent-out-one”). But here it refers specifically to those whom Christ called and appointed to preach the gospel and found the church (Eph. 2:20). It carries with it the note of authority. Peter is not writing his opinions or suggestions, which we’re free to take or leave as we see fit. He is giving us the Lord’s authoritative, inspired Word. The inspired apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, which we possess in the New Testament, is the foundation for our faith (see John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:9-12).
“To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” (1:1). Peter does not identify his readers geographically, although in 3:1 he mentions that this is his second letter to them. If we assume that the first letter was 1 Peter, then the recipients were mostly Gentile churches scattered around the various provinces of modern Turkey (1 Pet. 1:1).
Rather, Peter says that his readers “have received a faith of the same kind as ours.” “Faith” could refer objectively to “the faith,” the body of truth centered on the gospel that every Christian must believe. But probably here it refers to the subjective sense of faith, the personal faith in the gospel that is necessary for salvation.
By “ours,” Peter could be referring to the Jews, but almost all commentators take it to refer to the apostles. The Greek word translated “same kind” (NIV, “a faith as precious”) means “equal standing.” It is the only time the word is used in the New Testament, but it was used elsewhere to refer to foreigners who had been granted equal privileges of citizenship (Gangel, 2:863). The idea is that although Peter is an apostle, his readers’ faith was of the same kind as his faith. Saving faith links us with the person of Jesus Christ. When we believe in Him, we receive the same eternal life, the same “precious and magnificent promises (2 Pet. 1:4), and the same access to the Father. Granted, some believers are stronger in faith than others, and thus enjoy the privileges of salvation to a greater extent. But we all share the same faith in the risen Savior.
Note, also, that we receive this faith. The Greek verb is a rare word that means to receive something by lot or by divine will (since God controls the outcome of the lot, Prov. 16:33). It means that faith is a gift that we receive from God. It is not due to human effort, intelligence, or merit, but rather due to God’s sovereign grace. In our natural condition of spiritual death, we may hear the words of the gospel, but we won’t understand it unless God opens our ears to hear and our blind eyes to see (Matt. 13:14-15). He must raise us from the dead and grant us the repentance and faith to believe (Eph. 2:1-9; Acts 11:18; 16:14). So while we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31), if we do believe it is not due to anything in us. Rather, we received the gift of faith from God. We cannot boast in our faith.
Thus the foundation of our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. The beginning of our faith is when we receive a faith in Christ of the same kind as that of the apostles.
Peter continues (1:1), “by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The word “by” may also be translated, “in.” The phrase may mean that our faith comes by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who perfectly obeyed God and died as our substitute on the cross. That is, it comes to us through His righteous life and sacrificial death, which satisfied God’s justice.
Or, it may mean that our faith is “in the righteousness” of Jesus Christ, not in our own righteousness. When we trust in Christ, His perfect righteousness is credited to our account. So we stand before God as righteous as Jesus is because our faith is in Him. Peter knew and agreed with the writings of the apostle Paul (2 Pet. 3:15-16), who set forth this doctrine so clearly in Romans (1:17; 3:22) and Galatians (3:6-14). If your hope of heaven rests in your own righteousness, you’re in trouble! Saving faith lays hold of Christ as your righteousness.
Maybe you say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus.” That’s good, but make sure that your faith is in the Jesus of the Bible. Peter here describes Him as “our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The Greek grammar is clear that Peter is calling Jesus God. In verse 2, Peter distinguishes Jesus from the Father, but here he plainly asserts His deity. (There are a number of other New Testament texts that plainly declare Jesus to be God: John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8.) If Jesus is not fully God and fully man, then He cannot save us from our sins. He had to be fully God for His death to satisfy the perfect justice of God. Bishop Moule once said that a Savior who is not God is like a bridge broken at the farther end. But, also, Jesus had to be fully man for His death to atone for the sins of fallen people (John 1:29).
“Savior” is one of God’s names in the Old Testament (Ps. 106:21; Isa. 43:3). Here, Peter applies it directly to Jesus, whose very name means, “Yahweh saves.” The angel told Joseph to give that name to Mary’s son, adding (Matt. 1:21), “for He will save His people from their sins.” Thus when Jesus was born, the angels announced to the shepherds (Luke 2:11), “for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Peter uses “Savior” to describe Jesus five times in this short book (1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18). It means that Jesus rescues us from God’s wrath and judgment on our sins (1 Thess. 1:10). We cannot save ourselves. Our good works can never save us. Only our God and Savior Jesus Christ can save us when we trust in His sacrificial death and resurrection as our righteousness.
So the foundation for our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. We must believe in Him as our God and Savior. But Peter goes on to enumerate some of the blessings that flow to us when we believe in Him:
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2). As I said, in verse 1 Peter calls Jesus God, but here he distinguishes the Father and the Son. By calling Jesus “Lord” here, Peter clearly attributes full deity to Him. Yet, He is distinguished from the Father. In verse 21, by the way, he mentions the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament is clear that God is one God, yet He subsists in three distinct Persons, each of whom is fully God. Peter may distinguish Jesus from God the Father here because he is talking about knowing God and the only way we can know the Father is through the Son. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus made the astounding claim, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” In John 17:3, He said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
Grace is the means by which we come to know God. It refers to God’s undeserved favor. We all, by virtue of our many sins, deserve God’s judgment. But by grace, He raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life and bestows on us all of the riches of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-9). Peace is the result of experiencing God’s grace in Christ. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1; see Eph. 2:14). These qualities are multiplied, or grow, as we grow to know God better. This knowledge involves both the content of knowing God in Christ as revealed in His Word and also the experience of fellowship with Him as we trust Him each day.
Since Peter is here laying the foundation for the rest of his letter, he wants his readers to be experiencing multiplied grace and peace in the knowledge of God and of Jesus as Lord. He will devote all of chapter 2 to warn about the danger of false teachers. As Michael Green states (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 62), “A deeper knowledge of the Person of Jesus is the surest safeguard against false doctrine.”
Make sure that these truths are not just theoretical for you. Have you received genuine faith in Jesus, the same kind of faith that the apostles had? Have you trusted in Him as your only basis for being righteous in God’s sight? Do you know Him as your God and Savior? Are you submitting to Him as your Lord and Master? Do you experience His grace and peace on an increasing level? Are you growing to know God through knowing Jesus as Lord? This is the foundation for our faith: the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, through whom we receive all the blessings of salvation.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2009, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation