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.