David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
2 Peter 2
The Rise and Fall of False Teachers
A. Facts about false teachers.
1. (1) The presence and work of false teachers.
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
a. But there were also false prophets: Even as there were holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), so also there were false prophets and false teachers then and today. Peter stated this as a fact and not as a possibility; and he said they were among you, not only on the outside of the church.
i. "There were not only holy men of God among the Jews, who prophesied by divine inspiration, but there were also false prophets, whose prophecies were from their own imagination, and perverted many." (Clarke)
b. Who will secretly bring in destructive heresies: False teachers work secretly. It isn't that their teaching is secret, but the deceptive nature of their teaching is hidden. No false teacher ever announces himself as a false teacher.
c. Destructive heresies: False teachers bring in destructive heresies that destroy by telling lies about Jesus Christ and His work for us and in us. By these heresies people are hurt and destroyed. Heresy isn't harmless.
d. Even denying the Lord who bought them: False teachers deny the Lord who bought them. In this Peter says that at the very least, they appear to be saved. Otherwise Peter would never say that the Lord bought them. At the same time, they are false, destructive teachers.
i. Even a person who has what appears to be a godly walk and relationship with Jesus Christ can still bring in destructive heresies. Often times good men who teach lies do the worst damage. Their lies are accepted far more easily because of the good character of these men.
e. Bring on themselves swift destruction: False teachers are promised swift destruction, even though they aren't judged fast enough in the opinion of many.
2. (2) The popularity of false teachers.
And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.
a. Many will follow their destructive ways: This reminds us that false teachers may be popular. Just because something succeeds in attracting a crowd of followers, it doesn't mean that it is of God. We know that God's work will always bear fruit, but the devil's work can also increase.
i. The most distressing aspect of the work of false teachers is not that they are among you (2 Peter 2:1). False teachers always have been and always will be among Christians. The most distressing fact is that so many Christians will follow their destructive ways.
b. Because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed: When false teachers are at work and when crowds are following them, the way of truth is blasphemed. God's holy name and honor are disgraced.
3. (3) The strategy and destiny of false teachers.
By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.
a. By covetousness: False teachers use covetousness - both their own and in their followers. Many false teachers, both today and in previous times, present a gospel that has self-gratification at its core. All this is presented with deceptive words because false teaching never announces itself.
b. Their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber: Peter assured us that false teachers will be judged. Even though it seems they prosper, their judgment is not idle. God's wrath pours out on them even in allowing them to continue, thus heaping up more and more condemnation and hardness of heart in themselves.
B. God knows how to take care of both the righteous and the ungodly.
1. (4-6) The ungodly will be judged.
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;
a. If God did not spare the angels who sinned: God judged these wicked angels, setting them in chains of darkness. Apparently some fallen angels are in bondage while others are unbound and active in the earth as demons.
i. The sin of angels can be thought of in two main ways: in the original rebellion of some angels against God, and in the sin of the "sons of God" described in Genesis 6:1-2.
ii. It is clear that at some time, angelic beings had a period of choosing and testing when their future destiny would be determined. "How long that probation was to last to them, and what was the particular test of their fidelity, we know not; nor indeed do we know what was their sin; nor when nor how they fell. Jude says they kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation; which seems to indicate that they got discontented with their lot, and aspired to higher honours, or perhaps to celestial domination." (Clarke)
iii. It may be that the sin of Satan and his angels (Revelation 12:4, 12:7) was occasioned by the plan of God for mankind.
Man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and angels are not. Satan and his angels resented this plan to create a being that would be more closely connected to God than they were.
Though mankind is beneath the angels in dignity (Hebrews 2:6-7a, 2 Peter 2:11), it is the job of angels to serve mankind (Hebrews 1:14, 2:7-8, Psalm 91:11-12). Satan and his angels resented a plan that would command them to serve lesser beings.
Redeemed mankind will be lifted in honor and status above all angelic beings (1 Corinthians 6:3; 1 John 3:2). Satan and his angels resented a plan that would glorify these lower beings to places above them.
iv. "It sprang from the admiration of their own gifts, it was confirmed by pride and ambition, it was perfected by envy, stirred by the decree of exalting man's nature above angels in and by Christ." (Trapp)
v. At the same time, we cannot conclusively say we know why the angels sinned because the Scriptures do not give us more than hints.
b. Cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness: By not keeping their proper place, they are now kept in chains of darkness. Their sinful pursuit of freedom put them in bondage.
i. Those who insist on freedom to do whatever they want are like these angels: so "free" that they are bound with chains of darkness (a powerful poetic description of their miserable bondage). True freedom comes from obedience.
ii. Cast them down to hell: The ancient Greek word translated hell is literally Tartarus. In Greek mythology, Tartarus was the lowest hell, a place of punishment for rebellious gods. Peter borrowed this word to speak of the place of punishment for the angels who sinned.
iii. Angels have a high office and a high service of God; yet it was still possible for them to fall. We should take warning from this. As well, we can understand that in some ways we can sin worse than these angels did. "I answer that the devil never yet rejected free grace and dying love; the devil never yet struggled against the Holy Spirit in his own conscience; the devil never yet refused the mercy of God. These supreme pinnacles of wickedness are only reached by you who are hearers of the gospel, and yet cast its precious message behind your backs." (Spurgeon)
c. And did not spare the ancient world: God judged the ancient world, the world before Noah's Flood, because the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).
d. And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction: God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, making them an example of His judgment, because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave (Genesis 18:20).
e. Making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly: These three examples of judgment show us the important principle that Peter wants to highlight.
God judged the angels who sinned, so no one is too high to be judged.
God judged the ancient world before the flood, so God doesn't grade on a curve, only comparing man among other men.
God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, so even the prosperous can be judged.
i. Therefore the ungodly have no reason to think they can escape God's judgment. Their coming judgment is certain. As Jesus said in Luke 10:10-12, for those who reject the truth "it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom."
2. (7-9) The righteous will be delivered.
And delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds); then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment,
a. And delivered righteous Lot: Peter already told us how the Lord delivered Noah (2 Peter 2:5). Now, he shows us that the Lord delivered righteous Lot.
i. "The preservation and deliverance of Lot gave the apostle occasion to remark, that God knew as well to save as to destroy; and that his goodness led him as forcibly to save righteous Lot, as his justice did to destroy the rebellious in the instances already adduced." (Clarke)
b. And delivered righteous Lot: Lot was righteous in God's eyes, though perhaps it was hard for others to see his righteousness. Yet the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah tormented his righteous soul from day to day.
i. Lot's soul was tormented, but he failed to follow through with godly actions and separate himself and his family from the ungodliness of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord delivered Lot because of his righteous soul; yet Lot lost everything else because of his too-close association with those wicked cities.
c. Then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations: Even as the Lord delivered Lot, He knows how to deliver us from the temptations we face, and He knows how to reserve the unjust for the day of judgment. We can trust in God's deliverance of the godly because it is just as certain as His judgment of the ungodly.
i. The Lord knows how: We can take great confidence in this. Many times we do not know how, but the Lord knows how. This is a good principle for both life and doctrine. "For instance, sometimes we meet with perplexing doctrines; perhaps we endeavor to effect reconciliation between the predestination of God and the freedom of human action. It is better not to wade too far into those deep waters, lest we lose ourselves in an abyss. 'The Lord knoweth.'" (Spurgeon)
ii. The unjust have reservation made for them: they are reserved for the day of judgment. But believers have no such reservation. God will deliver us from the very day of judgment, from the very time of wrath that He pours out on the earth (Revelation 3:10).
iii. "According to the Revised Version, and I think that translation is correct, the punishment has begun already. The Lord knows how to go on even now punishing the ungodly." (Spurgeon)
iv. "Peter (if any man) might well say, 'The Lord knoweth how to deliver his;' for he had been strangely delivered, Acts 12." (Trapp) In Acts 12, God wonderfully delivered Peter from prison and He painfully delivered Herod to judgment. God knows how to do both.
C. A description of the ungodly among them.
1. (10-11) They are fleshly and proud.
And especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.
a. And especially those who walk according to the flesh: These ungodly ones are especially reserved for judgment. They live according to the flesh, not the spirit, and are marked by uncleanness.
b. They are presumptuous, self-willed: These ungodly ones are proud, despising authority. In their presumption they will even speak ill of spiritual powers (Satan and his demons) that the angels themselves do not speak evil of, but the angels rebuke them in the name of the Lord instead.
i. Much of what goes on under the name of spiritual warfare shows this kind of pride and presumption. While we recognize our authority in Jesus, we see that it is only in Jesus that we have it - and we leave the reviling accusations to Him alone.
c. Whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation: Here Peter contrasted the behavior of those who walk according to the flesh with angels, that is, faithful angels. The faithful angels did not slander or exaggerate in what they said or how they represented the sins of others; these who walked according to the flesh did.
2. (12-13a) Their spiritual doom is sealed.
But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime.
a. Like natural brute beasts: Since they function in the flesh, not the spirit, they are like animals. They are fit only for destruction (made to be caught and destroyed) and they are ignorant.
b. And will receive the wages of unrighteousness: The ungodly will be "paid" for their evil - and their fleshly lives will be paid the wages of unrighteousness.
i. "What these evil men, who were troubling Peter's people, were doing, was to say that they loved and served Christ, while the things they taught and did were a complete denial of him." (Barclay)
3. (13b-17) A list of the sins of the false teachers.
They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man's voice restrained the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
a. Carousing in their own deceptions: These ungodly false teachers are a dangerous and corrupting presence in the body of Christ, not only deceiving others but deceiving themselves also.
i. "The word here rendered riot [carousing], comes of a root that signifies to break, for there is nothing that doth so break and emasculate the minds of men as rioting and reveling; luxury draws out a man's spirits, and dissolves him." (Trapp)
b. Having eyes full of adultery: Their heart is set on the flesh, and their eyes on adultery, both spiritual and sexual. They prey on the unstable to join them in their ways (enticing unstable souls).
i. Literally, Peter wrote that their eyes are full of an adulterous woman. "They lust after every girl they see; they view every female as a potential adulteress." (Green)
c. They have a heart trained in covetous practices: They are equipped, but not for ministry, only for selfish gain - they are truly accursed. We all train our hearts in something, either training them in covetousness and lust, or in godliness.
i. "The metaphor is taken from the agonistae in the Grecian games, who exercised themselves in those feats, such as wrestling, boxing, running, etc., in which they proposed to contend in the public games. These persons had their hearts schooled in nefarious practices; they had exercised themselves until they were perfectly expert in all the arts of seduction, overreaching, and every kind of fraud." (Clarke)
d. Following the way of Balaam: They are like Balaam, who was guilty of the greatest of sins - leading others into sin, and that for the sake of his own gain. Balaam had to be restrained by a dumb donkey because he would not listen to God.
e. These are wells without water: These ungodly false teachers are empty - as useless as wells without water - and like clouds that bring only darkness, and no nourishing rain.
4. (18-19) The allure of the false teachers.
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
a. They speak great swelling words of emptiness: The message of the ungodly false teachers is empty of real spiritual content, though it is swollen big with words. Their allure is to the lusts of the flesh in their audience, just as the crowds who wanted bread from Jesus, but didn't want Jesus Himself (John 6:25-27, 6:47-66).
b. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves: They promise freedom, but freedom can never be found in the flesh, only in God's Spirit. Freedom isn't found in what Jesus can give us, but only in Jesus Himself. When we seek freedom in the wrong way, we become slaves of corruption (decay and death).
c. By him also he is brought into bondage: In being overcome by the flesh and the false teachers, these unfortunates became slaves to both.
5. (20-22) The danger of falling away and following after false teachers
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
a. The latter end is worse for them than the beginning: It is better for a person to have never known a thing about Jesus than to hear some truth, hold to it for a seaon, and then later reject it. Greater revelation has a greater accountability.
i. Their end is worse . . . than the beginning because they have returned to the pollutions of the world. "These [pollutions] are called miasmata, things that infect, pollute, and defile. . . . St. Augustine has improved on this image: 'The whole world,' says he, 'is one great diseased man, lying extended from east to west, and from north to south; and to heal this great sick man, the almighty Physician descended from heaven.'" (Clarke)
b. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness: Peter described a picture that certainly has the appearance of people losing their salvation.
He speaks of those who have escaped the pollutions of the world.
He speaks of those who did this through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
He speaks of those who at one time had known the way of righteousness.
i. Christians warmly debate the issue of whether or not it is possible for a true Christian to ever lose their status as a true Christian and fall away to damnation. Perhaps the best way of understanding the issue is to say that it is certainly true that those who appear saved - those who fit the description of Peter here - can end up in a place where it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness.
ii. Regarding these, those with a Reformed perspective will say that they were actually never saved; those with an Arminian perspective will say that they were actually saved and lost their salvation. To bitterly divide along the lines of this debate - which focuses on things that are unknowable to outside observation - seems to fall into the category of being obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, as in 1 Timothy 6:4.
c. A dog returns to his own vomit: The nature as dogs is displayed by the way he returns to the vomit of the flesh and the world. He is like the brute beasts described in 2 Peter 2:12, more animal than godly because he lives for the flesh.
i. "The dog which has got rid of the corruption inside it through vomiting it up cannot leave well enough alone; it goes sniffing around the vomit again." (Green)
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