When Satan attacks the church from the outside, with persecution for example, we can usually see him coming and so are prepared to some degree to meet the attack. When he attacks from within the church, however, it can be more difficult to see and guard against his efforts. Often the attack takes the form of false teaching. We now consider 2 Peter 2:1-10a Be on your guard.
1. The danger of error
After speaking of true prophets (1:21), Peter recalls a darker fact regarding OT Israel – ‘there were also false prophets among the people’ (v1). Now it is no different – ‘just as there will be false teachers among you’. This applies to the whole church throughout its history, increasingly so as the return of Christ approaches (Mark 13:22). They will ‘secretly introduce destructive heresies’ – suggesting the subtle introduction of error alongside the truth. This is an ‘undercover operation’, subverting the truth from within. Many branches of the professing church have succumbed to error, their spiritual life sapped, their witness destroyed. There is need for constant watchfulness. They profess to believe the truth, then reject it – ‘even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them’ (that is their profession, not their actual status). As so often, false teaching is bound up with ungodly living – ‘greed’ (v3), ‘follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature’ (v10). ‘Many will follow their shameful ways’ (v2) – error can be deceptive and attractive, and sadly it can ‘bring the way of truth into disrepute’.
2. The certainty of judgment
The Lord is not inactive in the face of these attacks – ‘he who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps’ (Psalm 121:4). In his perfect time, he will bring judgment on false teachers – ‘Their condemnation has long been hanging over them and their destruction has not been sleeping’ (v3). Their teaching has brought destruction on others and so they themselves will experience destruction. This lesson is reinforced with historical examples – the fall of angels (v4), the judgment of the flood in Genesis 6 (v5), the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. These constitute examples of abiding relevance – God will ‘hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment’ (v9). There is punishment in this life and in the life to come. It is a reality no unrepentant sinner can avoid.
3. The power of grace
Interwoven with the theme of judgment is that of divine grace – ‘the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials’ (v9). Whatever the trial – affliction of spirit, temptation to lapse, etc. Again a historical example is given: God ‘rescued Lot, a righteous man’ (v9). Despite his compromises, living in Sodom, he was a man of faith, even though living an inconsistent life. Unworthy as he was, he was one of the Lord’s people and the Lord did not leave him to perish. Our reliance on the Lord should be total – ‘the Lord knows’ (v9), with infinite wisdom and power. Whatever befalls is for his glory and our good. He will protect his own from finally falling to false teaching.
Do you ever think, ‘I wish I had been present at some of the great events of the life of Jesus’? Would it not be so much easier to believe if you had seen for yourself? Sometimes having to rely on the accounts in a book – the Bible – seems second best. Peter, however, was an eyewitness to most of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he was present at the great events of the Saviour’s life and death, yet he says some very striking things about the place of the written record for God’s people. We now consider 2 Peter 1:12-21 The light of revelation.
1. The need for instruction
The survey of the Christian’s salvation that Peter has set out in the opening verses contains many deep truths and sin and weakness cloud our minds. There is therefore a need for constant instruction – ‘So I will always remind you’ (v12). Peter never regards this work as complete, ‘even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have’. They have been well instructed but as long as he lives, Peter will ‘keep stirring up’ (v13, lit) their recollection. This is most important in view of his approaching death. He may even be thinking of a written record (v15). Constant instruction even in the basics of the Christian faith is necessary. We easily forget what we hear, as Israel often did. Repetition gives a firmer grasp and we see new facets of a doctrine when we consider it again. Though he uses human teachers, it is God himself who teaches us (Psalm119:102).
2. The eyewitnesses of majesty
There is a solid foundation for the apostolic witness in historical events, in contrast to ‘cleverly invented stories’ (v16). Christian faith is based on what has actually taken place – the apostles were ‘eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (v16; see also 1 John 1:1). The revelation at the Transfiguration deals with ‘the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Three disciples were privileged to see the glory that was normally hidden, the very glory of deity. It was a foretaste of his return in glory at the last day. We have the Father’s authoritative endorsement of the Son in the voice from heaven – ‘We ourselves heard’ (v18). One day his glory would no longer be veiled.
3. The authors of Scripture
The dramatic events on the mountain were confirmed by God’s revelation in the written word: ‘we have the word of the prophets made more certain’ (v19). It is not that there was any doubt about God’s spoken word, but the written word has greater scope and is just as trustworthy. The witness of the spoken word and the written word are a perfect unity, deserving our full trust. True prophecy could not be manufactured by the prophet, but rather ‘men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’ (v21). The Spirit did not abolish the personalities of the writers but used them as he had prepared them. Scripture is given for obedience – ‘you do well to pay attention’ (v19). The Spirit is the perfect interpreter (v20), preparing for the day of Christ’s return (v19).
Satan constantly tries to undermine the truth regarding the way of salvation. He often tries to convince sinners that they must make some contribution to their salvation, thus obscuring the truth that salvation is God’s sovereign work. At other times encourages the belief that a person can claim to be saved without his life being any different from those in the world around. Both errors are dealt with in 2 Peter 1:3-11 Calling and election.
1. An effectual call
Peter begins his comprehensive view of the Christian life by looking back to what God has done for believers: he ‘has given us everything we need for life and godliness’ (v3). The Lord has provided everything necessary for the fulness of life and growth in holiness. Salvation is described in rich terms: that ‘you may participate in the divine nature’ – not some mystical experience, but sharing in the perfections of God, such as holiness, truth and love. The work of forming these characteristics in believers has begun. The definitive change has taken place: ‘we ‘escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’ (v4). Again knowledge is prominent (v3) – not mere head knowledge, but living knowledge that leads to trust and commitment. The emphasis is on God’s initiative – he #called us by his own glory and goodness’. This is an effectual call that imparts new life and makes sinners willing to come to Christ. It comes with ‘divine power’.
2. A transformed life
What God has done in the past is a stimulus to present activity – ‘For this very reason’ (v5). Maximum effort is required – ‘make every effort’, relying, of course, on the Lord’s strength. There is to be growth and progress in our spiritual life. Peter lists vital areas of concern – faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (v5-7). All of these are to be cultivated together, not one at a time. We are to develop as full-orbed Christians, striving for maturity in Christ. The result – ‘they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive’ (v8). Instead there will be faithful service and increasing likeness to the Lord. The careless Christian becomes ‘blind’ (v9), losing capacity to appreciate truth, perhaps even closing his eyes to truth (‘short-sighted’?).
3. An urgent summons
The Lord commands, ‘make your calling and election sure’ (v10). It is not that God’s decree of salvation is uncertain – it is eternally fixed – but we cannot penetrate his counsels. How may we be assured of salvation? Growth and progress are tokens that we belong to him. We can have confidence – ‘if you do these things, you will never fall’ (v10). Obedience does not earn a secure interest in Christ, but proves we have it (see James 2:26). The future prospect for the believer is full enjoyment of the Kingdom of God – ‘the eternal kingdom’ (v11). The faithful believer will ‘receive a rich welcome’. The Lord provides lavishly without cost to us. We should always marvel at God’s grace and generosity. It is a glorious prospect for those who have experienced the new birth.
In the history of the early church the place of some books of the New Testament has been disputed. The place of e.g. Hebrews and Revelation was often debated as the NT gradually took shape. Our confidence is in the supervising providence of God, ensuring that only the ‘God-breathed’ books were accepted. No book was more strenuously debated than 2 Peter, partly because its style is so different from 1 Peter. We need have no doubt, however, that it is by the apostle Peter, written around AD66, shortly before his martyrdom. We begin with 2 Peter 1:1-2 Introducing 2 Peter.
1. The writer identified
The letter begins with a simple statement ‘Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle’. He identifies himself as one of the original group of disciples. Note:
Authority: he is an apostle, chosen and commissioned by Christ, with the Lord from the start of his public ministry (John 1:40), one of the inner group of disciples, present at the transfiguration (Mark 9:2) and a witness to the resurrection (Luke 24). He occupied a prominent position among the disciples and was one of the first to suffer imprisonment for his faith.
Humility: he says first that he is a ‘servant’ – supremely of Christ but also of the church. He serves as a ‘fellow elder’ (1 Peter 5:1), not claiming a privileged position, exercising leadership for the glory of God and the benefit of the church. Peter is a testimony to the grace of God transforming an impetuous and sometimes weak man, moulding him into the ‘rock’. He was an ordinary man saved and changed by the Lord.
2. The recipients described
The description is spiritual: ‘To those who…have received a faith as precious as ours’ – united with Peter in the same saving faith in Christ. The faith is to be ‘received’ – from the Lord himself (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is receiving and resting upon Christ for salvation, trusting in him (Acts 16:31). It is based on ‘the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ – a powerful testimony to his deity, which is essential if he is to save us from sin. ‘Righteousness’ (or ‘justice’) ensures that all believers are equal in spiritual standing before God. Jew and Gentile believers share the same saving faith as that of Peter, an eyewitness of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord.
3. The greeting conveyed
It is a profound greeting in the form of a prayer: ‘Grace and peace be your in abundance’.
Grace: the entire Christian life must be lived by grace (2 Timothy 2:1). Without the grace conveyed by the Holy Spirit, there will be no growth or progress.
Peace: a balanced, rounded life in fellowship with the Lord. This can be enjoyed even in trials, known only to those walking with the Lord (Philippians 4:7).
Note ‘through the knowledge…’ – the vital place for a godly use of the mind to get to know God better. It is never to be divorced from obedience and love, butt thinking through the application of our faith is vital to glorifying God and growing in grace.
Rev. Malcolm Ball
Rev. Malcolm Ball