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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Peter 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-4

Chapter 19

THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PETER

THE SAVING KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

2 Peter 1:1-4

IN the salutation of this second letter the Apostle describes himself in fuller form than in the first: "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ." Some have seen in this description a testamentary character, as though the Epistle contained his parting counsels. The words form an epitome of his whole life. As Simon, son of Jonas, he lived his life in Judaism until Christ’s call summoned him to be a fisher of men. "Peter" is the Christ-given name, which marked an advance in spiritual illumination, an advance that fitted him to be one of the chief heralds of God manifest in the flesh. As a servant (or rather, bondservant) of Jesus Christ, he stands on the same level with those to whom he writes, though the service to which he has been called may be in character different from theirs. Jesus had said to the Twelve, and through them to the whole body of believers, "One is your Master, even the Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant". [Matthew 23:10-11] And here comes forward that other aspect of Christian service. The servants of Christ are, for His sake, servants to all the brotherhood. [2 Corinthians 4:5] As an apostle he speaks with authority, an authority greater than can be possessed by any future age. The solemn character of the office is stamped by Christ’s words, "As My Father sent Me, even so send I you"; and the Churches are reminded, as they think of the apostolic office, that the Lord who commissioned the Twelve to be His servants said, "He that heareth you heareth Me, and He that despiseth you despiseth Me."

St. Peter does not, as in his former letter, name the Churches to which he is writing; but afterwards [2 Peter 3:1] he states that this is his second letter to them. We may therefore conclude that the same persons are addressed as before. Here he speaks of them as "them that have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." Some have thought that here the Apostle’s words are specially addressed to those among the converts who had been won from heathendom, and now were made partakers of the same faith with himself and others who, like him, had been born Jews, and so heirs in part to God’s precious promises. But, as he has just made mention of his apostolic office, it seems easier to refer "us" to the Apostles. If this be the sense, then-though in the allusion to his office and authority they must have recognized the points wherein his communing with Christ had made him to differ from them-these words set forward that aspect of the Christian life wherein all the faithful are equal. The graces, gifts, and opportunities which God bestows are according to men’s power to improve them; but faith, in its saving efficacy and preciousness, is the same for every believer. And when he speaks of this faith as being in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, we see that he is thinking of righteousness in that sense in which he uses the word afterwards in this Epistle: [2 Peter 3:13] as that perfect righteousness which belongs to the new heavens and the new earth, and hence to God Himself.

To this righteousness each "stranger and sojourner" in the world is striving to attain by faith, and by each exercise thereof he is raised nearer to his lofty aim. His faith, like the patriarch’s of old, is counted unto him for righteousness. The fruit of each man’s faith will be ισοτιμος -"alike precious"-when the journey is ended. For it will be salvation in the presence of the perfect righteousness. As in the Savior’s parable the welcome was the same to him who had rightly used his two talents as to him who had done the like with five, so each faithful servant of Christ, working righteousness according to his power here, shall be called up into the joy of his Lord. For the joys of heaven all will not have the same capacity; but for each, according to his power to receive it, there will be fullness of joy. Nor should the word "obtained" pass unnoticed. It is the word used of Judas, [Acts 1:17] who obtained part of the apostolic ministry on the call of Jesus. So here, too, the call into the faith is of God; and it is when men obey it that they progress in Divine graces and go forward unto righteousness.

"Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." The first words are the same with the Apostle’s prayer in the opening of the First Epistle. And to no stage of the Christian life can such a wish be inappropriate. To grow in grace, and so in peace, is the Christian’s daily bread; and the thought of this seems to be uppermost in St. Peter’s mind in this letter, that thus the falling away, to which he sees the converts are likely to be exposed, may be counteracted. The danger was arising from the boastful parade of a knowledge ( γνωσις) falsely so called. [1 Timothy 6:20] Before this letter was written teachers had risen within the Church who professed to have a deeper and more mysterious interpretation of the doctrines of the Gospel. This esoteric enlightenment they specially named "knowledge," and led men astray by profitless inquiries concerning the absolute nature of God and the manner of His communication with the world. To this teaching St. Paul is referring when he speaks of "foolish questions" and "endless genealogies," and it is this which St. Peter rebukes so vehemently in the next chapter of this letter. As an antidote for the poison, he urges the converts to seek after a true and full knowledge ( επιγνωσις) of the Father and the Son. No single word can adequately represent this term, which became the watchword of all the Christian teachers. It is that knowledge of the truth which St. Paul so often commends to Timothy [1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:7] and speaks of as that acknowledging of the truth, allowing it to be effective on the life, which follows repentance; [2 Timothy 2:25] it is specially the knowledge of God and of things Divine; it is that knowledge which must temper religious zeal [Romans 10:2] that it may be effective; it is the knowledge against which if a man sin [Hebrews 10:26] he is verily reprobate. And this true knowledge can only come of faithful service. He shall know the Lord who loves to do His will. Do the works, and ye shall know of the doctrine.

"Seeing that His Divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness." The work, though great, becomes not impossible; the dangers and difficulties, though abundant, are not insurmountable. For it is not on us that the victory depends. God hath begotten us again unto a lively hope through Christ’s resurrection; and Christ has promised to be with His servants all the days, even unto the end of the world. There is a free gift of Divine power for all our needs, everything to foster the spiritual life and to guide into the way of holiness. Wisdom will be given that we may understand God’s will and choose aright, strength to persevere in the midst of trial, boldness to make confession of the Lord before men, and watchfulness lest we, as did the teachers of error, wax overconfident. All things are granted; all things may be ours.

"Through the knowledge of Him that called us by His own glory and virtue." Here the same full knowledge ( επιγνωσις) of which the Apostle has just been speaking is to become the channel of all our blessings: to know God, who has made Himself to be known through Christ Jesus. God’s glory and virtue-that is, His Divine power-have been manifested in Him. The disciples beheld them in Christ’s miracles. "This beginning of His signs did Jesus, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed on Him," [John 2:2] and of His whole life St. John says, "We beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten from the Father. He dwelt among us full of grace and truth". [John 1:14] This is what St. Peter means by "virtue." And still in the hearts of men through the Spirit the same manifestation is given. He illumines them, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

"Whereby He hath granted unto us His precious and exceeding great promises." In Christ God has offered men all the blessings of the new covenant: repentance; faith; justification; eternal life. He, with the Son and the Spirit, comes unto the faithful and makes His abode with them. Thus they are made members of Christ’s mystical body. He dwells in their hearts by faith; He gives them power to become sons of God; they are adopted of God, who sent His only-begotten Son into the world that they might live through Him. These are the precious promises granted, but not forced upon men, set forth in all their greatness in the life and love of Jesus; and men are invited to choose them. And the choice is made by patiently doing the will of God so far as it is revealed to each man; after that we shall receive the promises. [Hebrews 10:36]

"That through these ye may become partakers of the Divine nature." This is the Divine scheme for man’s restoration; this is the change of which St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians, [2 Corinthians 2:1-8] and which he illustrates by the glorified face of Moses. The prophet was called up into Mount Horeb, and drew near to the presence of Jehovah; the Lord spake with him face to face out of the midst of the fire, and his countenance was illumined by the eternal glory. But the radiance was bestowed on Moses alone; the people might not draw near; and the glory shed on him was transient, so that he veiled his face lest the people should mark its passing away. But since the manifestation of God in Christ all men may draw near, and be made partakers of unfading glory. It is not with Zion as with Sinai. The way is open to all, nor will the glory pass away from those who have been blessed with it. For now we all, with unveiled face, reflect as a mirror the glory of the Lord, and, with progress in holiness, are transformed into the same image, as from the Lord the Spirit. Thus men become-for it is a gradual process-partakers of the Divine nature, and being drawn more near to God while they live here, are fitted through His mercy, when the last call comes, to go up higher and sit down at the marriage-supper of the Lamb, their life having been a constant putting on of the wedding garment.

"Having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust." This is the victory that overcometh the world, but it is a conquest which men cannot win unaided, nay, where the truest bravery, the surest hope, is in speedy flight. Like Lot from Sodom must the Christian hasten away from the lusts of the world, casting no look behind him, nor tarrying to dally with them for a moment. For the flesh is weak, and the prince of this world is mighty in his evil domain, and, that he may lead men astray, will ofttimes transform himself into an angel of light; and within the soul of man he has his confederate powers, the cravings of this human nature, which thinks the baits of the enemy are pleasant to the eyes, and it may be they look fit to make one wise. And so in the eyes of the tempted ones, as in the eyes of the senseless bird of the Proverbs, the net seems spread in vain; in their own fancy they seem able to go on without being entangled, and Satan encourages the delusion. After that the stages are easy, but they are all down hill. Men first walk after their own lusts; then they are led by them, then obey them, and at last become their slaves. This is the corruption, the ruin, from which the Christian is aided to flee through seeking the glory of God as it is set before him in the Savior’s works and words. Drawn by these, he turns away his gaze from the world and its lusts; his eyes no longer behold vanity to love it. He has begun to learn of Jesus, and every new lesson makes him stronger in the faith; and by degrees he is enabled to bring forth into light, and bear witness to, the knowledge which he has gained of the glory of God as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ. So not he alone, but those who behold his escape and mark his growth in grace, may give God the praise, saying, "This hath God wrought," for they shall perceive that it is His work.


Verses 5-11

Chapter 20

WHO SHALL ASCEND INTO THE HILL OF THE LORD?

2 Peter 1:5-11

THE Apostle has just set forth in all their fullness the riches of Divine grace: the precious faith, followed by the bestowal of all helps toward life and godliness, and with the large promises of God to rely on for the future, promises whereby those who seek to renounce the things which are not of the Father, but of the world, may become partakers of the Divine nature. These blessings are assured, are in store, but only for those who manifest a desire to receive them. How this desire shall be shown, how it shall constantly grow stronger and be ever fulfilling, until it attain perfect fruition in Christ’s eternal kingdom, is the next instruction. "Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue." The plenteousness of the Divine bounty is proclaimed that it may evoke an earnest response from all who receive it. What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done, and is doing, unto me? is to be the heart’s cry of the feeblest of God’s saints. For the boundless Ocean of grace asks that there should be mingled with it some drops of human duty. God will heal the bite of the serpents in the wilderness, but to gain the blessing the wounded ones, even in their suffering, must turn their eyes to the appointed symbol of healing. Christ’s power will cure ten lepers, but He first sends them away to do their little in the path of obedience: "Go, show yourselves to the priest." Thus the Apostle’s exhortation here, "Adding on your part all diligence." The diligence of which he speaks is that sort of endeavor which springs from a sense of duty: an earnest zeal and will to accomplish whatever it finds to do; that does not linger till some great work offers, but hastens to labor in the immediate present. This is the spirit in which Christian advance will be made. And the lines on which such progress will go he now describes as though each new step were evolved from, and were a natural development of, that which preceded it. The faith which the Christian holds fast is the gift of God, and it contains the germs of every grace that can follow. These the believer is to foster with diligence.

St. Peter begins his scale of graces thus: "In your faith supply virtue." Here virtue means the best development of such power as a man possesses. It may be little or great, but in its kind it is to be made excellent. And here it is that the Christian workers in every sphere must surpass others. They work from a higher motive. What they do is a constant attestation of their faith, is done as in God’s sight, and in the confidence that in every act it is possible to give Him glory. There can be no carelessness in such lives, for they are filled with a sense of responsibility, which is the first fruit of a living faith. And in St. Peter’s figurative word the believer is said to supply each grace in turn because he contributes by his careful walk to wake it into life, to make it active, and let it shine as a light before men. "And in your virtue knowledge," he continues. For, with duty rightly done, there comes illumination over the path of life: men understand more of God’s dealings, and hence bring their lives into closer harmony with His will. And we have Christ’s own assurance, "If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching". [John 7:17] And the same is true not only of the Lord’s own lessons, but of all the promptings of the Spirit in men’s hearts. If they hearken to the voice which whispers, "This is the way," it will become at every stage plainer, and there will be shown to them not only the how, but the wherefore.

"And in your knowledge temperance." There is a knowledge which puffeth up, giving not humility, which is the fruit of true knowledge, but self-conceit. Of the evil effects thereof the Apostle knew much. Out of it grew extravagance in thought, and word, and action; and its mischief was threatening the infant Churches. Against it the temperance which he commends is to be the safeguard, and it is a virtue which can be manifested in all things. He who possesses it has conquered himself, and has won his way thus to stability of mind and consistency of conduct. "His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord," and so he can go forward to the Apostle’s next stage of the heavenward journey: "And in your temperance patience." This is the true sequence of spiritual self-control. Life is sure to supply for the godly man trials in abundance. But he is daily striving to die unto the world. The effort fixes his mind firmly on the Divine purposes, and lifts him above the circumstances of time. He is a pilgrim and sojourner amidst them, but is in no bondage to them, nor will he be moved, even by great afflictions, to waver in his trust. He can look on, as seeing Him that is invisible, and can persevere without being unduly cast down.

"And in your patience godliness." The mystery of godliness-that is, Godlikeness-was made known by the Incarnation. The Son of God became man, that men might through Him be made sons of God. And godliness in the present world is Christ made manifest in the lives of His servants. Toward this imitation of Christ the believer will aspire through his patience. He takes up the dross and bears it after his Master, and thus begins his discipleship, of which the communion with Christ waxes more intimate day by day. Such was the godliness of St. Paul. It was because he had followed the Lord in all that He would have him to do that the Apostle was bold to exhort the Corinthians, "Be ye imitators of me"; but he adds at once, "as I am of Christ". [1 Corinthians 11:1] And when he sends Timothy to recall his teaching to their minds he says, "He shall put you in remembrance of my ways which are in Christ." By such a walk with Christ His servants are helped forward towards the fulfillment of the two tables of the moral law, to which St. Peter alludes in his next words: "And in your godliness love of the brethren; and in your love of the brethren love." The last-named love ( αγαπη) is that highest love, the love of God to men, which is set up as the grand ideal towards which His servants are constantly to press forward; but from this the love of the brethren cannot be severed; nay, it must be made the stepping-stone unto it. For, as another Apostle says, "he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, cannot love God, whom he hath not seen". [1 John 4:20] But love of the brethren is not to be narrowed, in the verse before us, or elsewhere, to love of those who are already known to the Churches as brethren in the Lord. The Gospel of Christ knows no such limits. The commission of the Master was, "Go ye forth into all the world." All mankind are to be won for Him; all are embraced in the name of brethren. For if they be not so now, it is our bounden duty to endeavor that they shall be so. And in thus interpreting we have the mind of Christ with us, who came to seek and to save them that were lost, to die for the sins of the whole world, and who found His brethren among every class who would hear His words and obey them. We have with us, too, the acts of God Himself, who would have all men come to the knowledge of the truth, and who, with impartial love, maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth His rain upon the just and the unjust, that thus even the evil and unjust may be won to own His Fatherhood. Such Divine love is the end of the commandment, [1 Timothy 1:5] and terminates the list of those graces the steps whereto St. Paul has more briefly indicated when he says the love which is most like God’s springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. In this way shall men be borne upward into the hill of the Lord.

The knowledge of Christ is a lesson in which we cannot be perfected till we behold Him as He is, but yet through it from the first we receive the earnest and pledge of all that is meant by life and godliness, and the culture of the Divine gifts, will yield a rich increase of the same knowledge. "For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Men in this life can draw nearer unto this full knowledge, and the bliss of each new gain prompts to more zealous exertion. There can be no relaxation of effort, no remissness, in such a quest. For hope is fostered by the constant experience of a deepening knowledge, and receives continual pledges that the glory to be revealed is far above what is already known. The enlightened vision grows wider and ampler; and the path, which began in faith, shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The world offers other lights to its votaries, but they lead only into darkness. "For he that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins." He who has taken no heed to foster within him the light which is kindled by faith, and which can only be kept alive by the grace of the Divine Spirit, is blind-yea, blind indeed, for he is self-blinded. He has quenched the inward light which was of God’s free gift, and made the light within him to be darkness, a darkness, like Egypt’s, which may be felt. Such a man has no insight into the glories of the celestial vision, no joy of the widening prospect which captivates the gaze of the spiritual man. He can see only things close at hand, and is as one bowed downward to the earth, groping a dreary way, with neither hope nor exaltation at the end. For he has forgotten-nay, St. Peter’s words are stronger and very striking- ληθην λαβων-he has taken hold upon forgetfulness, made a deliberate choice of that course which obliterates all remembrance of God’s initial gift of grace to cleanse him from his old sins. Unmindful of this purification, he has admitted into the dwelling where the Spirit of God would have made a home other spirits more wicked than those first cast out. They have entered in, and dwell there. There is a marked contrast between this expression and the word used for God’s gift of faith (2 Peter 1:1). That a man receives ( λαχων) as the bounty of his Lord’s love; and if treasured and used, it proves itself the light of life for this world and the next. The wrong path he chooses for himself ( λαβων), and its close is the blackness of the dark.

"Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure." "Wherefore, brethren"-because such terrible blindness as this has fallen upon some, who left their first grace unimproved and allowed even the memory of it to fade away-do you give the more diligence in your religious life. The true way to banish evil is to multiply good, leaving neither room nor time for bad things to spread themselves. When the peril of such things is round about you, it is no time for relaxed effort. Your enemy never relaxes his. He is always active, seeking whom he may devour, and employs not the day only, but the night, when men sleep, to sow his tares. Let him find you ever watchful, ever diligent to hold fast and make abundant the gifts which God has already bestowed upon you. In the foreknowledge of the Father, you are elect from the foundation of the world; and your call is attested by the injunction laid upon you, "Ye shall be holy, for I am holy." Your inheritance is in store where nothing can assail it. God only asks that you should manifest a wish, a longing, for His blessings; and He will pour them richly upon you. He has made you of a loftier mould than the inanimate and irrational creation. The flower turns to the sun by a law which it cannot resist. From the Sun of righteousness men can turn away. But the Father’s will is that your eyes should be set on the hope which He offers. Then of a certainty it will be realized. Lift up your eyes to the eternal hills, for from thence your help will come. The promise is sure. Strive to keep your hope equally steadfast. For now you belong to the household of Christ; now you are through Him children of the heavenly Father; to this sonship you are elect and have been called, and to it you shall attain if you hold fast your boldness and the glorying of your hope unto the end.

"For if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble." The way will be hard, and may be long, the obstacles in your path many and rugged, heaped up by the prince of this world to bar you from advancing and make you fainthearted; but down into there a ray which shall illumine the darkness and make clear for you the steps in which you ought to tread, and the rod and staff of God’s might will support and comfort you.

"For thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." In his first words in this passage the Apostle exhorted the believers to supply something, as it were, of their own towards their spiritual advancement; but when the demand was fully understood, behold God had made ready the means for doing everything which was asked for! Within the precious faith which He bestowed was enfolded the potentiality of every other grace. There they lay, as seeds in a seed-plot. All that men were bidden to do was to give them culture. Then God’s Spirit would operate as the generous sunshine, and cause each hidden power to unfold itself in its time and bloom into beauty and strength. In this verse the Divine assistance is more clearly promised. What men bestow shall be returned unto them manifold. Do your diligence, says the Apostle, and there shall be supplied unto you from the rich stores of God all that can help you forward in your heavenward journey. The kingdom of God shall begin for you while you are passing through this present life. For it can be set up within you. It has been prepared from all eternity in heaven, and will be enjoyed in full fruition when this life is ended. But it is a state, and not a place. The entrance thereto is opened here. The believer is beckoned into it; and with enraptured soul he enjoys through faith a foretaste of the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man conceived, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him. Over those joys Christ is King, but He is also the door; and those who enter through Him shall go in and out, and shall surely find pasture, even life for evermore.


Verses 12-18

Chapter 21

THE VOICE HEARD IN THE HOLY MOUNT

2 Peter 1:12-18

UP to this point the Apostle has spoken of God’s abundant grace and the consequent duties of believers. And he has set forth these duties in the most encouraging language. He has pictured first the gift of Divine power, and the precious promises of God, whereby men may be helped to walk onward and upward; and when the labor is ended he has pointed to the door of Christ’s eternal kingdom, open to admit the saint to His everlasting rest. Now he turns to describe the duty which he feels to be laid upon himself, and faithful is he in the discharge thereof. "Strengthen thy brethren," is constantly ringing in his ears. "Wherefore," he says, "I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things." He dreads that taking hold of forgetfulness-that ληθην λαβων-of which he has spoken before, and against which constant diligence is needed. So far as in him lies, the perilous condition shall come upon none of them. The verb in the best texts expresses far more than that which is rendered in the Authorized Version, "I will not be negligent." It implies a sense of duty and the intention of fulfilling it; it bears within it, too, the thought (which is strengthened by the word "always") that there may be need for such reminding, if not from internal weakness, yet by reason of external dangers. And to bring to the mind of the Churches the gracious bounty of God in Christ, and to set down the steps whereby the graces bestowed should be fostered and increased, is a subject worthy of an Apostle, a theme which no amount of exhortation can exhaust, and one which ought to prompt the hearers to gratitude and obedience.

"Though ye know them, and are established in the truth which is with you." Knowledge of things that pertain unto godliness is barren unless it be wrought out in the life. Yet knowledge and practice do not always go hand in hand. This was one of the lessons taught by Jesus as He washed the disciples’ feet: "If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them." [John 13:17] St. Peter longs that the converts should make this blessedness their own. His life’s work is to watch for them, that they be not remiss in doing. To none can such a duty more peculiarly belong than to him who holds Christ’s special commission to feed the flock. By "the truth which is with you" the Apostle appears to be alluding to the varying degrees of advancement which there must be among the members of the Churches. All have traveled some way along the road which he has shown them; all have some of the truth within their grasp. They have set their feet on the path, though they be planted with different degrees of firmness. What is needed for each and all is to press forward, not to rest in the present, but to hasten to what lies beyond. For the truth of God is inexhaustible.

Perhaps, too, he thought, as he spake of the truth present with them, that he was of necessity absent and would soon be removed altogether, and the only way by which he could serve them was by his epistle. He could never forget that among those to whom he was writing were the Galatians, over whose falling back from the truth St. Paul had so greatly lamented: who had run well, but had fainted ere the course was over; who had received some truth to be present with them, even the faith of the crucified Jesus, but had been beguiled into letting it slip. Thought of these things shapes his words as he writes, "I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance." He rejoices that they are "established," but yet sends them an admonition. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

"And I think it right." The word marks the solemn estimate which the Apostle takes of his duty. It is a just and righteous work. Danger is abroad, and he has been made one of Christ’s shepherds. Many motives prompt him to write his words of counsel and warning. First, his love for them as his brethren, some of them, perhaps, his children in Christ. Like St. Paul, he has them in his heart. Then, he will fulfill to the utmost the charge which the Lord gave him. He is conscious, too, that opportunities for the fulfillment of his trust will soon come to an end. "As long as I am in this tabernacle," he says. It is but a frail home, the body; and with St. Peter age was drawing on. He saw that the time of his departure could not be far off, and this left no excuse for remitting his admonitions. He must be urgent so long as he can. "To stir you up by putting you in remembrance." The work of the Apostle will be thoroughly done( διεγειρειν), and be of that nature for which the Holy Ghost was promised to himself and his fellows. "He shall bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you". Thus [John 14:26] would St. Peter, like St. Paul, impart unto the converts some spiritual gift, that he, with them, may be comforted, strengthened, each by the other’s faith. So he proceeds to dwell on that Divine manifestation by which his own belief had been confirmed. And there would be memories of St. Paul’s lessons also to call to their minds, and many of these would be awakened by an appeal like this. The falling away of the Galatians had been from a different cause, but the memory of the past would warn, and might strengthen, them all in the future against their new dangers.

"Knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me." Such a motive makes the appeal most touching. He will soon be removed. To this he looks forward without alarm. His concern is for them, not for himself. He regards his death as the stripping off of a dress: when its use is past it is parted with without regret. To him, as to his brother Apostle, to die would be gain. But he must have had constantly in mind the Master’s prophecy, "When thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thine hands, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not". [John 21:18] And in the word "swiftly" he ‘no doubt alludes, not only to the old age in which the end would naturally come, but also to some sharp stroke by which his departure would be brought to pass. The stretching out of his hands would be a preliminary to the prison and the cross. In the Gospel it is said that Christ’s words give the sign ( σημαινων) the indication, by what death he should die, The Apostle employs a stronger word ( εδηλωσε) here: "made it evident." The English version renders both verbs by "signify," but St. Peter’s own expression marks how growing age had made clearer to him the manner in which his death should be accomplished. And the mention of Jesus brings vividly before him the thought of the scene he is about to describe, so vividly that some of the language of the Transfiguration scene is reproduced by him.

"Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance." Jesus is related [Luke 9:31] to have conversed with Moses and Elias of His decease ( εξοδος), which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. The word is rare in this sense, being commonly used, as in Hebrews 11:22, of the departing of the children of Israel from Egypt. But it is deeply printed in St. Peter’s mind; and he, who looks forward to drinking of his Master’s cup and dying somewhere as He died, employs the same word concerning his own end. And the word is another indication of the calm with which he can look forward to his death. As with Christ, there is no reluctance, no shrinking. The change will be but a departure, a passing from one stage to another, the putting off the worn garment of mortality to be clothed upon by the robe which is from heaven.

His letters are the only means whereby he can speak after he has been taken from them. Hence his earnestness in writing. "I will give diligence." I have urged diligence on you; I will apply the lesson to myself, and make it possible that afterwards on every occasion you may have it before you. When dead, he will yet speak to them; so that in each new trial, in each time of need, they may strengthen their faith or be warned of their danger. "At every time," he says; and thus his strengthening words of admonition are a legacy through the ages to the Church for evermore. "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables." Here the Apostle speaks in the plural number, and it may well be that he means to include St. Paul with himself and James and John. For the evidence which converted that Apostle, though not the same as that vouchsafed to St. Peter, was of the same kind. The Lord had appeared unto him in the way, had made His glory seen and felt, and fixed for ever in the Apostle’s heart the reality of His power and presence. His cry, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" came from a heart conquered and convinced. He too followed no cunningly devised fable.

By the word ( σεσοφισμενοι), which is rendered "cunningly devised" we are reminded of the ( σοφια) wisdom which St. Paul so earnestly disclaims in his first letter to the Corinthians. "I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom," he says; "my preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." The wisdom which he speaks is not of this world, but God’s wisdom in a mystery. [1 Corinthians 2:1-7] St. Paul also warns against giving "heed to fables, which minister questionings rather than a dispensation of God which is in faith." [1 Timothy 1:4; of. also 1 Timothy 4:7 and 2 Timothy 4:4] In another place [Titus 1:14] he calls them "Jewish fables," a name which is of the same import as the "Jewish vanities" of Ignatius, a name by which he intimates that they darken and confuse the mind. The legends of the Talmud, the subtleties of the rabbinical teaching, and the allegorizing interpretations of Philo are the delusions to which both the Apostles refer. The evidence on which they ask credence for their teaching is of another kind. "That which was from the beginning," is the testimony of another Apostle, "that which we heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life that declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us". [1 John 1:1-3] St. Peter had seen, and so had St. Paul; and they constantly appealed to, and rested their teaching on, facts and the historic reality of Christ’s life and work. "When we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the contrast to that mythic and allegorical teaching to which he has just alluded. From it men could derive neither help in the present, nor hope for the future. It generated superstition, and its followers believed a lie. Often it denied the continuity of revelation, and cast aside all the records thereof. Like theosophic dreams in every age, it was always unprofitable, nearly always pernicious. On the other hand, the teaching of Christ’s Apostles proclaimed a power which could save men from their sins, and imparted a hope that stretched out beyond the present, looking for the time when the Lord would reappear. All power Is given unto Christ. He is made Redeemer and Lord, and is to be at last the Judge of men. The assurance of His coming had been proclaimed by St. Peter in his former letter as a consolation under affliction. Faith, tried by suffering, will be found unto praise, and glory, and honor, at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 1:7] This is the climax of the glad tidings of the Gospel. But Christ comes to His people through all the days; and they are conscious of His coming, and inspired thereby and enabled for their work.

"But we were eye-witnesses of His majesty." He has already [1 Peter 3:22] spoken of the fact of Christ’s ascension; he is now about to describe what was seen on the holy mount. These things are facts and verities, and not fables. But yet there was more revealed in them than either eye could grasp, or tongue could tell. They were God’s truth in a mystery, which supplied new thought for a whole lifetime. So for "eye-witnesses" the Apostle uses a word akin to that which twice over he employs in the former Epistle [1 Peter 2:12] to describe ‘the effect which Christian lives, when fully scanned, shall have upon the unbeliever. They shall have power to stop the mouths of opponents and to win them to the faith which before they maligned. Such deep insight into the power, and work, and glory of Jesus was imparted to the Apostles at the Transfiguration. They were initiated into the wisdom of God, and henceforth became prophets of the Incarnation; they were convinced that the Jesus with whom they companied was very God manifest in the flesh. The voice from heaven proclaimed it; it was attested by the glorified presence of Moses and Elijah, and by the majesty which for a moment broke through the veil of Christ’s flesh. Later on they saw Him risen from the dead, beheld His ascension into glory, and heard from the angels the promise of His return. Not without much meaning does the Apostle use a special pronoun ( εκεινου) as he dwells on this scene of His majesty. For he would impress on his converts the identity of that Jesus whom he had known in the flesh with the very Son of God sent down from heaven.

"For He received from God the Father honor and glory." For the bright cloud which overshadowed them on the mountain-top was the visible token of the presence of God, as of old the cloud of glory had been, where God dwelt above the cherubim; while the honor and glory of Jesus were manifested when He was proclaimed to be the very Son of God. "When there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. "To express the magnificence of the glory which he beheld, the Apostle uses a word not found elsewhere in the New Testament. The Septuagint has it to describe the splendor of Jeshurun’s God, who rideth in His "excellency" on the skies. [Deuteronomy 33:26] And it is this outward brightness of the shroud of the Godhead which tells all that human powers can receive of the majesty which it hides, just as His palace, the heavens, declares constantly the glory of God. The words spoken by the heavenly voice vary here from the records of each of the three Gospels. In one case the variation is slight, but there is no precise agreement. Had the Epistle been the work of some forger of a later age than St. Peter’s, we may rest assured that there would have been complete accord with one Evangelist or the other. There is a like diversity in the records of the words of the inscription above Christ’s cross. Substantial truth, not verbal preciseness, is what the Evangelists sought to leave to the Church; and their fidelity is proved by nothing more powerfully than by the diverse features of the Gospel narratives.

"And this voice we ourselves heard come out of heaven, when we were with Him in the holy mount." We learn here why the Apostles were taken with Jesus to witness His transfiguration. Just before that event we find [Matthew 16:21;, Mark 8:31;, Luke 9:22] it recorded by each of the Synoptists that Jesus had begun to show unto His disciples how He must suffer and die at Jerusalem. To Peter, who, as at other times, was the mouthpiece of the rest, such a declaration was unacceptable; but at his expression of displeasure he met the rebuke, "Get thee behind Me, Satan." He, and the rest with him, felt no doubt that such a death as Jesus had spoken of would be, humanly speaking, the ruin of their hopes. What these hopes were they did not formulate, but we can learn their character from some of their questionings. Now, on the top of Tabor, these three representatives of the apostolic band behold Moses and Elias appearing in glory, and Christ glorified more than they; and the subject of which they spake was the very death of which they had so disliked to hear: the decease which He was about to accomplish ( πληρουν) in Jerusalem. [Luke 9:31] The verb which the Evangelist uses tells of the fulfillment of a prescribed course, and thus St. Peter was taught, and the rest with him, to speak of that death afterwards as he does in his former letter. "Christ was verily foreordained" to this redeeming work "before the foundation of the world." They heard that He who was to die was the very Son of God. The voice came from the glory of heaven; and from henceforth their hearts were still, even Peter’s voice being less heard than before. Down from the mountain they brought much illumination, much solemn pondering. We can feel why it was that "they held their peace, and told no man in those days any of the things which they had seen"; we can feel, too, that from henceforth the scene of this vision would be the holy mount. God’s voice had been heard there attesting the Divinity of their Lord and Master; the place whereon they had thus stood was forevermore Holy Ground.


Verses 19-21

Chapter 22

THE LAMP SHINING IN A DARK PLACE

2 Peter 1:19-21

THE rendering of the first words in this passage must be reckoned among the distinct improvements of the Revised Version. As the translation stands in the Authorized Version, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy," it conveys a sense which many must have found perplexing. The Apostle had just dwelt on the confirmation of faith, both for himself and those to whom he preached, which was ministered by the vision of the glory of Jesus and by the proclamation of His Divinity by God’s voice from heaven. Could any prophetic message vie in his estimate with the assurance of such a revelation? Now what St. Peter meant is made clear. "And we have the word of prophecy made more sure"-more sure because we have received the confirmation of all that the prophets spake dimly and in figure. The Apostle and the rest of the Jewish people had been trained in the ancient Scriptures, and gathered from them, some more and some less, light concerning God’s scheme of salvation. There were, however, but few who had attained a true insight into what was revealed. They had dwelt, as a rule, too exclusively on all that spake of the glory of the promised Redeemer and of His coming to reign and to conquer. That there should be suffering in His life, they had put out of sight, though the prophets had foretold it; and so when Christ spake of His crucifixion, soon to come to pass in Jerusalem, St. Peter exclaimed-and he had the feelings of his nation with him-"That be far from Thee." The voice on the holy mount and the words of Moses and Elias had opened their eyes to the full drift of prophetic revelation; and by the illumination of that scene of glory, where yet the lot of suffering was contemplated as near at hand, there had been given to them a grasp of the whole scope of prophecy, and their partial and distorted conception of the work of Christ was banished forever.

"Whereunto ye do well that ye take heed." The idea of a volume of New Testament Scriptures had not entered St. Peter’s mind. He knows that St. Paul’s letters [2 Peter 3:15-16] are read by some, who do not all profit by the privilege; and his own letters he intends to be an abiding admonition to the Churches. The need, too, of a record of Christ’s life and works, a gospel, must have begun to be felt. But yet he points the converts to the ancient records of Israel as a guide to direct their lives. They had heard the Gospel story from the lips of himself and others. Thus they had the key to unlock what hitherto had seemed hard to understand, and could study their prophetic volume with a new and perfect light. This he means by "ye do well." Ye go to the true source of guidance, drink of the fountain of true wisdom, and gain strength and refreshment-when it is much needed. Duly to take heed of these records is to search out their lessons and labor after that deeper sense which is enshrined beneath the word. Given as they were at various times and in various fashions, and given to point on to God’s purposes in the future, these Scriptures must needs have been dark to those who first received them, nor could the men whom God chose to deliver them have been fully conscious of all they were meant to declare as the ages rolled on and brought their fulfillment nearer. Nor are they all luminous even yet, but they grow ever more so to those who take heed.

"As unto a lamp shining in a dark place." Spite of all the light we can compass, the world will always be in one sense a dark place. It is a world of beauty, full of the tokens of God’s handiwork, the indications of His love. But evil has also made an entrance: and the trail of the serpent is evident in the sorrow, the disease, the wickedness, that abound on every side. And problems continually present themselves which even to the saints are hard to be solved. Many a psalm records the conflict which has to be passed through ere God’s ways can be reconciled to men. We must go into His house, draw near to Him, feel to the full His Fatherhood, ere our hearts can be contented. Nay, the disquiet breaks out again and again. So God, in His mercy, has provided His lamp for those who will use it; and to those who take heed it furnishes ever-new light. The history, the prophecy, the devotion, the allegory, of the holy volume are all full of illustrations of the firm purpose of redemption, of the eternal, unchanging love of Jehovah, thwarted only by the perverseness of those whom He is longing to save from their sins. And to call God’s revelation in His word a lamp is a striking and instructive figure. It is something which you can take with you, and carry into the dark places whither your lot may send you, and use its light just where and when you need it. But its light must be fed by the constant oil of diligent study, or its usefulness will not be found to the full.

And the truth is the same if we apply the lesson to nations and Churches as it is for individuals. The records were given to a nation chosen to keep the knowledge of God alive in the world. The word spoken did not profit, as it was meant to do, because it was not mixed with faith in them that heard it. And there is the same faith needed still. The light of a lamp in a dark place shines but a little way; but by the rays of the Divine lamp men are to walk, in faith that the steps beyond will become clear in their turn. And thus alone will the problems of life be really solved, the religious contentions, the social difficulties, the trials of family life, the individual doubts and fears: all are elements of darkness; all need to be illumined by the lamp which God has provided. Oh that men would burnish it by diligent heed, and keep its radiance at the full by constant seeking thereunto!

"Until the day dawn, and the day-star arise" in your hearts. They day has begun to dawn for those who will lift up their hearts to its breaking. The day-star from on high hath visited the earth in the person of Christ, but the full day will not be till He returns again. Yet His coming into the world was meant to lighten every man, and to win all men to walk in His light. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me," is His own promise. And in that decease of which He spake with Moses and Elijah. He has been lifted up. But He has left it to them that love Him to lift Him up constantly before the eyes of men, to exalt Him by their lives; and our lax performances make the progress of His drawing all men, to halt. We fail to make due use of the lamp which He has put ready to our hand, and which only needs to be grasped. The perfect day will not come to us in this life, but He gives to His faithful ones glimpses of the dawn. They learn the presence of the Sun of righteousness, though as yet they see Him only through the mists and darkness of life; and they are cheered with the certainty of the coming day. And the day-star of the Spirit is kindled in the hearts of those who ask Him to dwell there; and they are led forward into greater and greater truth, into richer and fuller light. And for the same end the Spirit is promised to the Church of Christ: that she may be enabled, having used the lamp first given with all faithfulness, to open to men the ways of God more fully, and, amid the changes of times and varying vicissitudes and needs of men and nations, to prove that the only satisfaction to the soul is the increasing knowledge of the oneness of God’s purpose and eternity of His love. To such a power she will be helped by giving heed to the lamp in every dark place and seeking in its light the elucidation of all hard questions.

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation." The Greek words need to be taken account of before we can gather the true meaning of this clause. That which is translated "is" is much more frequently rendered "comes to pass," and bears the sense of "arises," "has its origin." "Interpretation" is the translation of a word which occurs here only in the-New Testament, and implies the "loosing" of what is complicated, the "clearing" of what is obscure. The lesson which the Apostle would give relates to the right appreciation of the Old Testament Scriptures, which contain the prophecy which he has called above "the lamp in a dark place." He intends to say something which may incline men to follow its guidance. The prophetic writings furnish us with illustrations how the problems which arose in the lives of the men of old time, both about events around them and also about the dispensations of Divine providence, found their solution. Thus they furnish rules and principles for time to come; and that men may be induced to confide in their guidance is the object of St. Peter’s words. He bids the converts know that these unravellings and clearings of the ways of God are not men’s private interpretation of what they beheld. This was not the manner in which they came to be known. They are not evolved out of human consciousness, pondering on the facts of life and the ways of God, nor are they the individual exposition of those whom God employed as His prophets. They are messages and lessons which came from one and the same impelling power, from one and the same illuminating influence, even from God Himself, and so are uniform in spirit and teaching from first to last; and He from whom and through whom they are given can say by the mouth of the last of the prophetic body, "I am Jehovah; I change not." [Malachi 3:6]

Although the Apostle uses in this Epistle the word "Scriptures" [2 Peter 3:16] for the writings of New Testament teachers, it is not likely that he in mind included them among the prophetic Scriptures of which he here speaks. We, knowing the flood of light which the Gospels and Epistles pour upon the Old Testament, can now apply his words to them, fully perceiving that they are a true continuation of the Divine enlightenment, another spring from the same heavenly fountain.

Those who would explain "interpretation" as the judgment which men now exercise in the study and application of the words of Scripture forget the force of the verb ( γινεται) "comes to pass," and that the Apostle is exalting the source and origin of the words of prophecy, that he may the more enforce his lesson, "Ye do well to take heed to them."

"For no prophecy ever came by the will of man." Prophecy makes known what never could have entered into the mind or understanding of men, nor were the prophetic words that have come down to us written because men wished to publish views and imaginations of their own. Man is not the source of prophecy. That lay above and beyond the human penmen. Nay, men could not, had they so willed, have spoken of the things there written for the enlightenment of the ages. These are deep things, belonging to the foreknowledge of God alone, by whom His Son was foreknown as the Lamb without spot before the foundation of the world. Of this the book of prophecy tells from first to last: of the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent’s head; of the family from which a seed should come in whom all the earth should be blessed; of the rod to spring from the stem of Jesse; of the king who was to rule in righteousness; of the time when the kingdom of the Lord’s house should be established on the top of the mountains, and all nations should flow into it: of the day when all men should know the Lord, from the least to the greatest, when the earth should be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Such tidings came not into the thoughts of men except as they were put there from the Lord; and they tell of things yet to come that are beyond the grasp of men unless they be spiritually-minded and enlightened. For not only are the prophetic Scriptures God’s special gift: the insight into their full meaning comes also from Him. Beyond the physical sense it is true, "The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord is the Maker of them both". [Proverbs 20:12]

"But men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost." The Authorized Version translates a text which had, "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." And this repetition of an adjective is after St. Peter’s manner, though the oldest manuscripts do not support it here. Compare the thrice-repeated "righteous" in the notice of Lot in the next chapter. [2 Peter 2:7-8] And the Authorized Version describes most truly the agents whom God chooses. He will have none but holy men to be the heralds of His truth. A Caiaphas may be constrained to utter His counsels, but as His prophets God takes the holy among men. These can grasp more of His teaching, and we receive more than we should through other channels. By their zeal for holiness they are brought nearer unto God, and made more receptive of the teaching of the Spirit, who Himself is holy. But "men spake from God" conveys a true idea of prophecy. Even one who was not holy could feel that the power given to him was not his own, nor could he speak after this own will. "What the Lord saith unto me, that must I speak," was the confession of Balaam, though his greed for gain prompted him to the opposite. And there are many expressions in the Old Testament which bear witness to the effective operation of God’s power, as when we read of the Spirit of the Lord coming mightily upon those whom He had chosen to do His bidding. And the same lesson is to be found in St. Peter’s words here. "Being moved" is literally "being carried." An impulse was given to them, and a power which was above their own. This is betokened, too, when the Old Testament prophets tell how the Spirit of the Lord carried them to this place or that, where a revelation was to be imparted which they should publish in His name. Thus were they moved by the Holy Ghost, and thus were they able to speak from God.

Such is St. Peter’s lesson on the nature and office of prophecy. It is an illumination to which men could not have attained by any wisdom of their own, nay, could not have framed the wish to attain unto it. For it lay hid among God’s mysteries. It is imparted from the holy God to holy men, as His mediators to the less spiritual in the world; it has received abundant confirmation through the incarnation of the Son of God, but yet it has many a lesson for mankind to ponder and seek to comprehend. It is their wisdom who follow its guidance and bear it with them as a lamp amid the dispensations of Providence, which still are not all clear, and amid the darkness which will often surround them while they live here. That men may be prompted to its use, God is a God that hideth Himself, yet through it He will lead those who follow its light along the road to immortality.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Peter 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-peter-1.html.

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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