A Warning against the False Teachers of All Times.
The false teachers and their judgment:
v. 1. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
v. 2. And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
v. 3. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you; whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
Having emphasized the excellence of the true prophecy, the apostle now gives a description of false teaching, whose characteristics in the various ages of the world do not change: But there appeared also false prophets among the people, as also among you there will be false teachers, such men as will introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master that redeemed them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction. That there were true prophets, such as had actually been sent by the Lord, among the people of Israel in former days, the apostle had stated in the first chapter. But there were also such as were not sent by the Lord, in whose mouth there was a lying spirit, against whom the Lord was obliged to hurl His bitter curses. History repeats itself in this respect. Also in the New Testament, the apostle declares, there would be false teachers, men who would falsely claim a commission from the Lord, who would not hesitate to introduce corrupting, destructive heresies, doctrines that would be sure to lead the people professing them to eternal damnation. Such heights would their pretensions reach that they would even deny and disown the Master, the Lord who redeemed also their souls with His own precious blood. The result and punishment, in their case, would therefore be a sudden destruction; damnation would strike them before they would be aware of their extreme peril. The description is too general to permit an identification of the particular sect to which the apostle had reference, there being such bodies as the Ebionites, the Nicolaitans, and the Gnostics in existence before the end of the first century; but he undoubtedly had in mind also the Judaizing teachers, in whose opinion the redemption of Christ was not sufficient, but had to be supplemented by a fulfillment of the Law. Note: The redemption of Christ, as here expressly stated, was not only for those that would believe and remain faithful to the end, but it was gained and is ready even for those that reject the salvation through His blood.
The apostle now states a truth with regard to these false teachers which experience has amply demonstrated to be true: And many will follow their acts of lasciviousness, on account of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed; and in avarice, with lying words, they will make merchandise of you, to whom the sentence from long ago is not delaying, and their destruction is not sleeping. It seems strange, but history has amply confirmed the fact, that the characteristic of many false teachers is lascivious behavior, combined with a calm insolence that resents all interference. On account of their behavior the truth, the pure doctrine of the Gospel, is blasphemed by the unbelievers. For the latter judge by outward appearances, not knowing the difference between true and false believers; and since these men invariably have the audacity to appropriate and use the designation "Christian" for themselves, the outsiders judge the entire Christian religion by the example offered here, Act_9:2; Act_19:9-23; Act_22:4. What is particularly strange, however, is this, that such people will always find adherents, and in no small numbers at that, and that these followers will permit themselves to be systematically exploited, to be made gain of. It is peculiar to such sects (Dowieites, Christian Scientists) that their leaders are covetous, that they set out to make money from their adherents, and that they succeed in this beyond the dreams of avarice. But, as Peter says, their sentence of condemnation, which was really passed long ago, is not delaying, it is coming slowly, but surely; and their destruction, their damnation, is wide awake upon their trail. They may believe themselves altogether secure, but the time is coming when they will find out to their sorrow that God will not permit such blasphemy to go unpunished; they are steadily moving forward to their impending doom.
Examples from History:
v. 4. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto Judgment;
v. 5. and spared not the old world, but saved Noah, the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the Flood upon the world of the ungodly;
v. 6. and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;
v. 7. and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked;
v. 8. (far that righteous man, dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)
v. 9. the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the Day of Judgment to be punished;
v. 10. but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government.
St. Peter here substantiates his statement concerning the punishment which is sure to strike the false teachers by a reference to history, which shows that God's avenging hand always finds those that are guilty of wickedness. The apostle's first example is that of the evil angels: For if God did not spare the angels that had sinned, but, committing them to pits of darkness, bound them over, reserved for judgment. God had created all angels good and holy in the beginning. But a great number of them, filled with pride, rebelled against His government, became guilty of wickedness. Their punishment was swift and terrible: He committed them to the chains and pits of the darkness of hell. This is, of course, not to be taken literally, since the angels, as spirits, cannot be held with physical chains. But the evil angels have been deprived of the blessed fellowship with God, they have been shut out forever from the hope of eternal bliss in the presence of the Lord; and though they have some liberty of movement under God's permission, they stand convicted, they are being reserved for the time when God will pronounce the final judgment upon them.
A second example is that of the Flood at the time of Noah: And if God did not spare the ancient world, but kept Noah, the herald of righteousness, as the eighth one, when He brought on the Deluge on the world of godless men. The Lord had shown a great deal of patience in the case of the men of the ancient world. Even after repeated warnings He had granted them a further respite of one hundred and twenty years, during which time Noah made every effort, by the preaching of righteousness, to bring men to repentance, Heb_11:7. But finally the patience of the Lord was exhausted. He spared only Noah, as one of eight, Noah and his family. All other men were swallowed up in the terrible cataclysm which came upon the world in the Deluge. The picture is that of an unloosing of forces which had been held back only with difficulty, and which now, being released, swept everything before them.
A third example is that of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah: And reducing the cities Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, He carried out His sentence by a devastation, thus setting an example for those that are determined to lead a godless life, and delivered the righteous Lot, who was severely afflicted by the lawless people, by the lasciviousness of their conduct; for day after day, by seeing and hearing, the righteous man living among them vexed and distressed his righteous soul at their lawless deeds, Gen_19:1-38. The judgment of God upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, rightly considered, is one of the most awful examples of His avenging justice. So great was the cry of these two cities in the ears of Jehovah, and so very grievous was their sin, that He visited them with a devastating earthquake, at the same time sending down fire from heaven. Thus the cities were completely overthrown and reduced to ashes in a most terrible catastrophe, the effect of which is plainly noticeable to this day. The Dead Sea with the country surrounding it is a warning example to all men that are determined, in spite of all warnings of the Lord, to continue in their godless life. Only one man was found in the cities who was righteous in the sight of God, Lot, the nephew of Abraham. And Lot was able to testify to the insolent lasciviousness of the conduct of Sodom's citizens. Day after day he had been obliged to see the most revolting sins, to hear the most horrible and filthy talk. The vexation and distress which he thus incurred was magnified, at least in a measure, by the fact that Lot himself had chosen this city for his abode and continued to live there on account of the temporal gain which the rich country brought him. It was a misery and affliction for him to be in the very midst of so much lawlessness and immorality. But God again made a distinction between the just and the unjust by delivering the righteous Lot, thus affording a great measure of comfort to the believers, of all times, Mal_3:13-18.
The apostle now draws his conclusion from the examples offered: The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, but to keep the unjust for the Day of Judgment under punishment, but especially those walking according to the flesh in the lust of pollution and despising authority. From the discussion presented in the chapter up to this point this double conclusion stands out very plainly. In either case the Lord knows how to deal with the situation. He has ways and means to deliver the godly, those that fear Him and walk righteously before Him, out of the temptations which are due to their surroundings, to the unbelievers in whose midst they are living. But, on the other hand, the fact that He will not be mocked, but that He knows how to avenge any offense to His honor is seen in His keeping the unjust, the unrighteous, in punishment and pain until the great Day of Judgment, Psa_16:4; Heb_2:15. Just as the evil angels are even now condemned to the darkness of hell, so the unrighteous will enter the same damnation, according to their souls, just as soon as they die. And they will be kept in this suffering until the Day of Judgment, when the sentence upon them will be confirmed and their sufferings will continue according to both soul and body throughout eternity. This punishment will be especially severe in the case of such unbelievers as live in open sins of the flesh, in the various forms of immorality, in unnatural lusts as practiced in Sodom, whereby both soul and body are polluted, Rom_1:26-32 and at the same time openly despise all authority, divine as well as human, particularly the Lordship of Christ.
A further characterization of the false teachers:
v. 10. Presumptuous are they, self. willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
v. 11. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.
v. 12. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption,
v. 13. and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the daytime. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;
v. 14. having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls; an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children.
This is a harsh, but true description of the false teachers, showing just how the Lord regards people that do not hesitate to steal His honor: Insolent, arrogant creatures, not shrinking in their blasphemy of glories. The expressions are heaped up to indicate the overweening pride which actuates these men. They are foolhardy, haughty, insolent, presumptuous creatures, without the slightest feeling of reverence for either God's or man's authority. ALL glories, all dignities, everything that is heavenly, divine, is to them only the butt of a coarse jest; they delight in blasphemous speeches, which are all the more dangerous since they are veiled by specious talk. "Their tendency seems to have been to make light of the Unseen, to foster a sense of the unreality both of sin and of goodness, and to reduce the motives of conduct to a vulgar hedonism."
What the Lord thinks of such presumption is shown in the next words: Whereas even angels, being greater in power and strength, do not bring a defaming accusation against them before the Lord. The false teachers arrogate to themselves the privilege to do what even angels, who most certainly exceed them in greatness and power, would never have dreamed of doing. For the good angels did not bring a defaming accusation against their former brethren, the evil angels, before the Lord. Not even the greatest of them all, the Angel of the Lord, Gen_16:7-12, Jehovah, the Son of God Himself, spoke the sentence upon Satan in the vision of Zechariah, saying merely, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, Zec_3:2. Now if this is true, how may one adequately portray the insolence of those that despise the divine Majesty and blasphemously assume to themselves the honor which belongs to the Lord alone!
The apostle uses another strong comparison to characterize their arrogance: But these, like irrational brutes, born creatures of instinct, made to be caught and slaughtered, speaking evil in things which they do not understand, will also be destroyed in their corruption, receiving the reward of unrighteousness. The men whom the apostle has in mind are past all use of reason and common sense, like animals that have only their instinct to follow and cannot apply any intellect, whose only worth is in the flesh gotten from their slaughter; Their own corrupt and foolish conduct will prove their undoing, their destruction; they will be given that just reward which their unrighteousness merits to the full extent.
One phase of their conduct is now described at length: Deeming reveling in the daytime their highest pleasure, spots and blemishes, dissipating in their deceits while they feast with you. The thoughts of such people are centered in the sensual delights which they aim to enjoy. They do not shrink back from reveling and carousing even in broad daylight, living in every form of dissipation, a disgrace to the entire community. And the money for such delicate living, for such rioting and reveling, these men obtained from their dupes, some of the readers of this letter, by deceit. That is the first form in which their unrighteousness appears.
Closely associated with this sin is another: Having eyes full of adultery and that cannot give up sin, seducing infirm souls. The evil desire of the heart is shown in the lustful glances of their eyes, which even so commit adultery. Sin has taken such a strong hold of them that they are fully in its power, they cannot shake it off, they are its slaves: they must yield to every form of uncleanness and harlotry. So they make it a practice to seduce the souls of women that are easily beguiled, their hearts being as yet not established in the faith. Under false pretenses and with glittering promises their victims are led astray, to serve the men who profess an interest in their spiritual welfare. That is the second form which their unrighteousness takes.
And, finally, the apostle characterizes them: Having a heart exercised in covetousness, children of the curse. This point is usually very prominent in the false teachers, their lust for money, their insatiable greed; it is not the hearts and souls of their followers that they are concerned about, but about their money, namely, how they may get as much of it as possible into their own possession. They are thus truly an accursed generation, people upon whom the curse rests, who will finally feel the weight of God's curse. These three points, then, stand out most strongly: a life of luxury, unchastity, and covetousness; the one or the other is found with all false teachers, and some sectarian heads combine all three in themselves.
v. 15. Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness,
v. 16. but was rebuked for his iniquity; the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet.
The character and the motive of the false teachers is brought out strongly by the comparison with the behavior of Balaam: Having left the right way, they have gone astray, by exactly following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, but received a rebuke for his transgression; the dumb ass, speaking with the voice of a man, hindered the prophet's senseless behavior. The manner in which most false teachers go wrong is exemplified by Balaam, Num_22:5-41; Num_23:1-30; Num_24:1-25. Although the Lord had expressly told him that he must not curse the children of Israel, yet the bribe money which was offered by Balak, king of the Moabites, induced him to make an attempt at cursing Israel. His greed for money was stronger than his obedience to God. He was conscious that he was tempting God in setting out on his mission, and an evil conscience made him irritable. When his ass tried to crowd out of the way at the appearance of the angel, he beat her unmercifully, until the Lord Himself opened her mouth and rebuked Balaam for his transgression, for his foolish, senseless behavior, for his madness. Thus it is madness that has taken hold of the false teachers when they put aside all virtue and become adepts in every form of unrighteousness, at the same time drawing with them the souls of men.
The spiritual slavery of the false teachers and its consequences:
v. 17. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever.
v. 18. For when they speak great, swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
v. 19. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
v. 20. 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 therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
v. 21. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
v. 22. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.
The apostle opens this paragraph by picturing the deceitful manner of alluring men which the false teachers use: These are springs without water and fogs driven by a storm-wind, for whom the gloom of darkness is reserved. In the teaching and preaching of the false prophets there is much sound, sputtering and bubbling, but there is no substance which will quench the thirst of the soul, a characteristic which is demanded of the true teachers, Isa_58:11; Joh_7:38. The false teachers are like banks and billows of fog as it rolls in from the ocean, driven by a strong gale, but all their promises do not result in such a rain as is needed to cause spiritual fruits to grow, Isa_55:10-11. Their end, therefore, will be everlasting destruction in the darkness of hell.
The manner of teaching affected by the false teachers is now described: For, uttering ponderous things of vain speaking, they deceive by the lascivious lusts of the flesh those that had but recently escaped (from) those that live in error. Here the heartless heinousness of the offense is brought out with great force. The false teachers use great, swelling, but empty words and phrases; their sophistry is clothed in language whose grandeur is designed to impress the unlearned. But the bait which they use is, after all, filthy lust, the sensuous desires of the flesh. Thus they caught people, managed to win them for their views, who had but recently been impressed with the truth of the Christian religion, but who had not yet found strength to separate themselves from their old surroundings and customs. The glittering compromises offered by the false teachers were just the thing to impress such as had but recently escaped their old heathen companionships and were loath to give up all their former delights.
For the insidiousness of the danger lay in this: While they promise to them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for to that by which a man is vanquished, to this he is a slave. The false teachers themselves confused liberty and license, and in this sense made alluring promises to those whom they could persuade to listen to them. They held out to possible converts freedom from all legal restraint, intimating that the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free consists in this, that everybody acts as he likes. But herein lies the service of sin; in this respect these men were themselves slaves of corruption, of destruction. For since they willingly performed the lusts of the flesh, deeming this the proper expression of their Christian liberty, therefore they were in subjection to the flesh, they were slaves of sin and on the way to damnation.
The consequences of such behavior are brought out in a striking manner by St. Peter: For if, after having escaped the pollutions of the world in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again taken captive and vanquished by these, their latter state is worse than the first. The men whom the apostle had in mind had probably been converted to Christ in all good faith. They had fled from the pollutions, the profanations, the sins of the world, and taken refuge in the redemption of Christ. Having learned to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they had truly abhorred their former sinful life. It is for this reason that the apostle speaks such solemn words of warning. For if a person has had the sound, saving knowledge of Jesus the Savior, if he has chosen Jesus as his Lord, and then deliberately turns back to his former lusts, permits himself to be governed by the sinful desires which he knows to be wrong, then, indeed, his spiritual state after such defection is worse than it was before his conversion, Mat_12:45. Note that the false teachers are described as belonging to the truly converted Christians, to the Christian congregation. It is the false teachers that have fallen away from the truth which they formerly confessed that are the most dangerous, the most hostile to the truth.
Therefore St. Peter rightly says of them: For better it would have been for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to know it and yet to turn from the holy commandment committed to them. The people that never hear anything of the way of salvation, that have never heeded the voice which bids them search for the true God, Act_14:17; Act_17:27, will indeed receive stripes, Luk_12:48. But he that has become acquainted with the way of righteousness, that knows the way of salvation, and then deliberately spurns the will of God and refuses to be obedient to the Gospel-message, will be in greater condemnation and will be subject to a worse fate, Luk_12:47. In the case of such people, as St. Peter writes with some show of irony: It happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit; and the sow, having been washed, to her wallowing in the mire. As a dog will eat what he himself has just vomited, as swine delight in wallowing in the deepest filth, even though they have just been washed, so people such as have just been described will leave the purity and the glory and the salvation of the Gospel-message and of a life of sanctification and return to the filth of a life of sin and shame. What a stern warning to all Christians not to sell their immortal souls for a few bits of dross, not to abandon themselves to the sins which they have so freely renounced!
In warning against the false teachers of all times, the apostle depicts them and their punishment, substantiating his statements by examples taken from Old Testament history; he characterizes them as followers of Balaam and describes the curse of their spiritual slavery.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 2 Peter 2". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany