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Based on the First Edition published by LOIZEAUX BROTHERS, INC.,
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Chapter One. THE BLESSINGS BESTOWED UPON BELIEVERS THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
Chapter Two. INCREASING APOSTASY AND THE CALL TO RIGHTEOUSNESS
Chapter Three. LOOKING ON TO THE CULMINATION
HOW much time elapsed between the writing of the two Petrine Epistles we have no way of determining. But certainly when one says, "This second epistle ... I now write unto you" (3:1), it implies that the first one had been sent on just a short time before. This was true in regard to Paul's two letters to the Corinthians, those to the Thessalonians, and the two pastoral letters to Timothy.
Paul was, in all probability, already with the Lord when Peter wrote, or else he was enduring his last imprisonment just prior to his martyrdom; for Peter mentions "all his epistles" as being in circulation already. This is important, inasmuch as some have sought to minimize the importance of Peter's written ministry in order to enhance the value of Paul's letters. But God does not set one apostle against another in this way. All Scripture is divinely inspired, and all is profitable. And as Peter was led of God to write these letters possibly after Paul's ministry had come to a close we dare not under-estimate their value. They contain precious and important truth which the Church can neglect only at its peril.
It is true that in early days some sought to cast doubt on the authenticity of this Second Epistle, but there can be no question now as to this. It bears every mark of inspiration and, as such, has been accepted by the Church since the second century at least, and by many reliable witnesses from the first; beginning, that is, from the time when it was first circulated, somewhere about A. D. 66 to 70.
Like all Second Epistles it is corrective. In the First Epistles we hear the voice of the teacher. As a rule in Second Epistles it is rather the prophet or the exhorter who speaks.
The theme of this letter is "Faithfulness in a Day of Apostasy." The three chapters form three distinct divisions.
Chapter 1.--The blessings bestowed upon believers through the righteousness of God. Section 1: Vers. 1 to 11.--Blessings received and growth in grace. Section 2: Vers. 12 to 21.--The hope of the coming kingdom. Chapter 2.--Increasing apostasy, and the call to faithfulness. Section 1: Vers. 1 to 10.--Lessons from the past for the present age. Section 2: Vers. 11 to 17.--Characteristics of apostate teachers. Section 3: Vers. 18 to 22.--Turning away from the truth to the false philosophies of the world. Chapter 3.--Looking on to the culmination. Section 1: Vers. 1 to 7.--Forgetting the past and denying the future. Section 2: Vers. 8 to 14.--The day of the Lord and the day of God. Section 3: Vers. 15 to 18.--A final warning.
We should be very grateful to God that He has given such a faithful portrayal of conditions which He foresaw from the first, in order that we might not be disheartened when these things actually developed in the professing Church.
AS we begin our consideration of this Second Epistle it is well for us to remember that it is in the nature of a final message from Christ's venerable servant, the Apostle Peter, who wrote in view of his forthcoming martyrdom, in order to warn believers of the oncoming flood of error and apostasy which was to sweep over Christendom, and which would necessitate real confidence in God and His Word on the part of those who were to be called upon to meet such disturbing conditions.
In a very blessed way the Spirit of God first puts before us the blessings that are ours as Christians, and the importance of growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ that we may have strength to stand against the evils threatening the Church.
>BLESSINGS RECEIVED AND GROWTH IN GRACE
"Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ"--vers. 1-11.
Peter addresses himself to the same scattered saints as mentioned in his first letter, but without indicating them according to the lands of their dispersion, as before. But verse 1 of chapter 3 makes it clear that this second letter was sent to the same persons as the first one.
He simply writes to them as those "that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
Verse 1.--Note the word "precious," which we have seen is one of frequent occurrence in his letters. He writes of faith through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. This stands out in remarkable contrast to the theme so frequently dwelt upon by the Apostle Paul--"The righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). This expression refers to that righteousness which God imputes to all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who has met every claim of the throne of God in regard to the sin question. But Peter dwells on an altogether different aspect of things: since Christ has died for all men, God, in His righteousness, has opened the door of faith to everyone who desires to enter. It would be unrighteous of God to refuse to save anyone who desired to avail himself of the result of the work of the cross. The very righteousness of God demands that faith be extended to all men. This is the very opposite of what some High Calvinists teach. They would have us believe that faith itself is a gift which God grants only to a limited number; that all men have not faith because it is not the will of God that they should have it. This is the very opposite of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. God desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The reason that some men have not faith is that they will not give heed to the Word, and "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Where men are ready to hear, God can be depended upon to see that they obtain this precious gift of faith. It would be unrighteous in Him to do otherwise.
In the second verse we have again the apostolic salutation, in which Peter prays that grace and peace might be multiplied unto the believers through the full knowledge, or super-knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is a completeness of knowledge which only the Holy Spirit Himself can give. It is interesting to observe how frequently Peter uses mathematical terms in both his Epistles. The word "multiplied," for example, is found not only here but also in 1:2 of the First Epistle, where it is used in a similar connection. There is an abundance of grace and peace available for all who rest in simplicity of heart upon the testimony God has given. His divine power has bequeathed to us everything that is necessary for spiritual life and piety, but this can never be divorced from the knowledge of Him who has called us, not exactly to glory and virtue, but by His glories and virtues. In other words, it is as we become better acquainted with God revealed in Christ that we grow in grace and become more like Him with whom our souls are occupied.
In verse 1 the Apostle is speaking of precious faith; in verse 4 he reminds us that God has given us His surpassing great and precious promises. As we lay hold of these and dare to act in accordance with them we, who have been born again by believing the gospel, manifest the divine nature in our practical lives, having thus found deliverance from the corruption into which the whole world has been brought through lust: that is, through unlawful desire; for the word "lust" should never be limited simply to fleshly concupiscence, but includes covetousness and every sort of yearning after that which God, in His infinite love and wisdom, has forbidden. As we thus act upon the truth of the Word we will be prepared for that which follows in verses 5 to 7. Here again, according to our Authorized Version, Peter writes from a mathematical standpoint as he tells us of the graces that should be added to our faith. A better figure perhaps is that of a growing tree: an acorn, for instance, falls into the ground; the seed germinates, strikes its roots downward, and its branches shoot upward; and that acorn becomes an entire oak-tree with all its various parts. Faith is like the acorn--a living faith, that should characterize us as devoted Christians. So Peter says, "Have in your faith virtue." The virtue of which he speaks here is not simply chastity, as some might think, but it is really valor, which is the outstanding virtue of a soldier, and we are called to be soldiers of Christ. Then he adds, "And in virtue knowledge." There can be no proper growth without a deepened understanding of spiritual realities. "In knowledge temperance," or self-control. A Christian who gives way to evil tempers, or careless habits of any kind, is not growing in grace in self-control. "In temperance patience"--that which enables one to endure without complaining, even though exposed to circumstances that are very distasteful to the natural man. "In patience godliness," which is really "God-likeness," or true piety, as we have seen in considering the First Epistle. In godliness we will have brotherly kindness--consideration for all who belong, through the grace of God, to the Christian brotherhood. Last of all he adds, "In brotherly kindness charity," or "love." This is the full fruitage of faith, for Paul tells us that faith worketh by love (Gal. 5:6).
If these things are found in a believer, and that not in scanty measure but in abundance, the effect is to make him neither idle nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Authorized Version renders it, "Neither barren nor unfruitful," but these terms are synonymous as ordinarily used. "Idle" or "inactivity" is a better rendering of the original than the word "barren." One who does not manifest these fruits of faith is designated here as blind, or myopic. He is unable to discern spiritual things; and though once truly born of God, he forgets the sins from which he has been purged and is likely to lapse into them again, thus coming under the government of God because of failure to go on with the Lord.
Peter concludes this exhortation in verses 10 and 11 by urging those to whom he writes to give diligence to make their calling and election sure; that is, in the sense of manifestation. No one has any reason to believe that one is numbered among the elect of God unless he is characterized by faith which brings forth fruit unto God; but where this is true there will be constant victory over tendencies toward evil, "For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." A promise is given that the final result will be an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Observe, it is not an entrance into heaven as such that is here put before us. Heaven is the Father's house, and to that all believers have exactly the same title; it is the home of the Father's children, and the weakest and feeblest of saints will be as welcome there as the strongest and most useful. But the everlasting kingdom is another sphere: it speaks of reward, and our place in the kingdom is determined by our devotion to Christ in this scene.
THE HOPE OF THE COMING KINGDOM
In verses 12 to 14 Peter refers to what the Lord had told him concerning his martyrdom.
"Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me"--vers. 12-14.
Jesus had made it very plain, in speaking to Peter on that morning by the seaside when He publicly restored him to the place of apostleship, that in his old age he should die for Christ's name's sake. Many years had passed since that memorable conversation, and Peter was now well advanced in years. He knew he could not remain much longer in this world; therefore, he was desirous of leaving behind what written ministry he could in order that the saints might be helped by it and established in the needed truth for the present hour of testing.
Notice how he puts it in verse 12, "Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth." He was not writing to young believers who were ignorant of the precious things of which he desired to remind them. But he knew the value of repetition because of the fact that we forget so easily. He considered it suitable or important, therefore, as long as he remained in his fleshly tabernacle--that is, in his body, to stir up the saints by bringing these things to their remembrance. And he knew well that in a very short time he would be obliged to put off his tabernacle in accordance with what the Lord Jesus had revealed to him. Observe that he had no thought of going to sleep in his tabernacle as some modern materialists, masquerading under the Christian name, would have us believe. While alive on the earth Peter himself, the real man, dwelt in the body which he calls his tabernacle; when death came he would move out of the tabernacle, and, as Paul puts it, go home "to be with Christ; which is far better" (Phil. 1:23). A comparison of this passage with 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 will prove most illuminating in connection with the truth concerning the believer in life and in death. Scripture leaves no room whatever for the doctrine of the sleep of the soul, but only the sleep of the body until the Lord Jesus returns, when the dead will be raised and the living changed (1 Thess. 4:15-17).
We have seen already that these two Epistles of Peter's were linked with two great experiences in his life during the earthly ministry of our blessed Lord. We have considered the first one in connection with the Lord's declaration as to the building of His Church upon the truth that He was the Son of the living God. Now Peter refers to that other great experience which took place on the Mount of Transfiguration.
"Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount"--vers. 15-18.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, Peter was unfolding truth which the Lord could use in after days for the comfort and sanctification of believers. He speaks of his own death as an exodus. The word rendered "decease" is really the same as the title of the second book of the Old Testament. This agrees with what we have pointed out already. At death Peter would be moving out from the body and going into the presence of the Lord. In view of the imminence of this event he endeavored to make certain things clear which would be for the enlightenment of the saints. He denies having followed cunningly devised fables when he and other inspired apostles had made known the power and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were eyewitnesses of His majesty when, on the Mount of Transfiguration, He was metamorphosed before them, and the glory from within shone out through the very raiment which He wore. Moses and Elijah appeared with Him at that time, as we know, and spake of His decease which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. When Peter suggested making three booths or tabernacles that they might tarry there, a cloud covered the scene, and a voice came from the Excellent Glory, saying, "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). This was not a dream, nor was it the effects of a wrought-up imagination; but Peter said, "This voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount." It was there that God vouchsafed to Peter, James, and John a view of the kingdom in miniature. They beheld the Lord as He will yet be when He returns to take His great power and reign.
What they saw and heard on the Mount confirmed the word of prophecy given in the Old Testament. To that, Peter refers in the closing verses.
"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost"--vers. 19-21.
As we have it in the opening clause of the nineteenth verse in the Authorized Version we might suppose that Peter was telling us that the word of prophecy was even more sure than the Father's voice or the glory that the disciples beheld; but that is not exactly what he says. We might better read, "We have also the word of prophecy confirmed, and to this prophetic word believers do well to take heed in their hearts, for the lamp of prophecy is as a light that shineth in a dark place." It is intended by God to illumine our paths and give light in our souls until the day dawn, and the day star arise at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is all important, then, that we give heed to that which has been revealed in the prophetic scriptures; but on the other hand, we need to be careful lest we take some of these scriptures out of their connection and endeavor to interpret them according to specific incidents, rather than in accordance with the entire plan of God, as revealed in His Word. No prophecy of the Scripture is of its own interpretation; none can be fully understood apart from the rest. Rome takes this condemnation of any private interpretation as forbidding the individual believer to study the Word of God for himself and being guided by it directly, rather than through the interpretation put upon it by the church and its councils. But it is not that at all that Peter had in mind, but rather the folly of taking some portion of the prophetic Word and endeavoring to apply it to some special circumstances, while failing to note its context and its connection with the general trend of prophecy as a whole. This is a snare to which many students of prophecy have been exposed, and numbers of them have failed at this very point. It means much to see that prophecy is one whole, and "known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18); and "the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved (or borne along) by the Holy Ghost." While it has not pleased Him to give in any Old Testament book a complete unfolding of the future concerning the glorious kingdom of Messiah and the events leading up to it, yet by searching the writings of all the prophets and comparing scripture with scripture one is able to see, with at least a measure of clearness, the wonderful harmony of the prophetic Word and the marvelous way in which God is unfolding that purpose of the ages, which will result eventually in heading up all things in Christ, when, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, He will be manifest as King of kings and Lord of lords.
FALSE doctrines had begun already to make serious inroads into the churches scattered throughout the world, as Paul's later letters give evidence, and as that of Jude also bears witness. Peter had this in mind when he gave his final message to the saints; but he foresaw even greater apostasy in days to come, and so gave an inspired word of warning in order that the believers might not be carried away by the personality and persuasiveness of false teachers masquerading as servants of Christ.
The close connection between this chapter and the Epistle of Jude has been noted often, and has given rise in some quarters to the idea that one is but a mutilated copy of the other. What we need to keep in mind is that the Holy Spirit Himself inspired both of these writers to portray conditions which the Church of God would have to face in years to come. While they cover the same ground to some extent, there is one very striking difference between them: Peter emphasizes the spread of unscriptural theories; whereas Jude dwells more particularly upon the effects of these, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness; thus they give a twofold warning designed to save the elect of God from being misled. When once we realize that the Holy Spirit Himself is the Author of all Scripture we will not be surprised to find that He speaks in similar terms through different servants; in fact, we should naturally expect this. "The testimony of two men is true," we are told; and by this double testimony God emphasizes those things which we need to keep in mind.
LESSONS FROM THE PAST FOR THE PRESENT AGE
In verses 1 to 10 Peter turns our minds back to conditions that prevailed in former days which have important lessons for us. Let us look at this passage with particular care.
"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. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 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. 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; 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; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities"--vers. 1-10.
After God brought Israel out of Egypt false prophets rose up from time to time to controvert the truth which He revealed through His specially anointed servants, from the days when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram opposed Moses right on down to the period immediately preceding the captivity of Israel and Judah under Assyria and Babylon respectively. God's true servants were opposed by these false prophets who sought to foist their own dreams upon the people instead of the truth as declared by those who were divinely enlightened. Similar conditions had begun already to prevail in Christian circles even in apostolic times, and God foresaw that false teachers would rise up throughout all the centuries prior to the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. These false teachers come in under cover. They bring in heresies privately or secretly. It is never customary for teachers of error to declare and oppose the truth openly in the beginning. As a rule they work in an underhanded way, seeking to gain the confidence of God's people before they make known their real views. Such false teachers often hide their doctrinal peculiarities by using orthodox terms to which, however, they attach an altogether different meaning than that which is ordinarily accepted. Once having wormed their way into the confidence of the people of God they go to the limit, even denying the Lord who bought them, and so exposing themselves to the judgment of God. If they alone were thus dealt with it would be comparatively a small thing, but the sad result of their unscriptural ministry is that the weak and uninstructed readily follow the pernicious ways of these misleading representatives of Satan, and because of this the way of truth--that is, "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints"--is derided and evil spoken of.
We could instance many such cases today in various circles where the greatest and most precious things of God are spurned and held up to ridicule by those who have imbibed false views through giving heed to these heretical teachers. Heresy is like leaven. As the Apostle Paul tells us when combating Jewish legality which was spreading among the Galatians, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9). Leaven is corruption, and its nature is to corrupt all with which it comes in contact. So it is with false doctrine.
Back of every system of error is the sin of covetousness. Men seek to draw away disciples after themselves in order that they may make gain of them, and so as Peter here explains, "Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you." If it were not for the money question one wonders how long many systems of error would survive. Alas, that any should be so sordid as to seek to enrich themselves through the credulity of the souls whom they lead astray. The judgment of such is like a Damocles sword hanging over their heads, and though it seems to slumber for the moment it will not be long before it falls with terrible effect upon all such blind leaders of the blind.
In verse 4 we are referred to the apostasy of angels. These who were created innocent, followed the lead of Satan and sinned even in heaven. God has spared them not, though they were beings of so high an order; but He cast them down to Tartarus, which is the lowest depth of hell. There they are held in chains of darkness, awaiting the final judgment. It seems very clear that Scripture contemplates two distinct angelic apostasies. While Satan is the leader in both, yet they did not each occur at the same time. Satan himself is not yet bound in Tartarus, nor will he be until he is cast into the bottomless pit, which is prior to the millennial reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we learn from Revelation 20:1. The angels that followed him in his first rebellion seem to be identical with the demons who have ever been the opponents of the truth of God and who were specially active in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ when He was here on earth. Satan is called the Prince of the power of the air, and he and his cohorts are still at large and are described as wicked spirits in the heavenlies. They are thus able to carry on constant warfare against the saints. The sin of the angels mentioned here in Second Peter, and also in the Epistle of Jude, seems to be of a special character and may be that which is referred to in Genesis 6:2, where we read, "The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose." This is admittedly a very mysterious passage, but many have understood it to mean that certain angelic beings, such as are referred to in the book of Job as "sons of God," forsook their own habitation and came down to earth and took possession of the bodies of men, stirring them up to unlawful lusts, which resulted in that corruption and violence that brought about the deluge.
When that flood spread over all the world of the ungodly, destroying those who persisted in their opposition to the truth, God saved Noah and his family, making eight persons in all. Noah is spoken of here as a preacher of righteousness. He preached, doubtless, not only by word of mouth but also by his actions. It has been well said that every spike that Noah drove into the ark was a sermon to that ungodly generation, declaring that judgment was about to fall.
Next we have reference to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrha. These cities gave themselves over to such vileness that God could no longer tolerate their inhabitants, and so He overthrew them, destroying them with fire from heaven, making them an example or a warning unto those who should in after days live in the same ungodly manner. When God overthrew these cities of the plains He delivered just Lot, who, for years, had dwelt in Sodom, though distressed by the filthy behavior of the wicked. We might never have thought of Lot as deserving to be called a righteous man, but the Holy Spirit so speaks of him here. He was a righteous man living in a wrong place; as a result he was in a constant state of vexation; his righteous soul was disturbed continually by what he heard and saw among the people with whom he dwelt. It is noticeable that though he is here designated as "just" and "righteous" we do not find his name in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It never could have been said that "by faith Lot dwelt in Sodom": it was rather lack of faith that took him there. He hoped thereby to better his worldly circumstances. Finally, when the judgment fell he was saved out of it all but so as by fire. The conflagration destroyed everything for which he had labored during all those years that he had lived in Sodom.
Even as the Lord delivered Noah and Lot before the judgments fell, so now He never forgets His own; and He knows how to deliver the godly out of trials and temptations, persecutions, and tribulations of every kind, and to reserve the unjust until the day of judgment to be punished. Often it seems as though the more wicked men are, the more they prosper in this world; whereas the righteous suffer almost continuously. But God permits trial to come to His own for their discipline; whereas He allows the ungodly to have their fling now, as we say, but they will be judged according to their deeds when at last they appear before Him.
In verse 10 we have certain characteristics brought before us that mark out these false teachers. As there is no power to hold the flesh in check in the untruths which they proclaim, they secretly and often openly live in the lust of uncleanness, making excuses for their evil behavior. They despise authority and do not desire to be subject to anyone. They are presumptuous, venturing to attempt to explore mysteries which even the most godly dare not look into; they are self-willed, determined to have their own way, and are not afraid to speak evil of those of highest rank, so lifted up are they in their own pride and conceit.
CHARACTERISTICS OF APOSTATE TEACHERS
In verses 11 to 17 we have further evidence of the true nature of these apostates.
"Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. 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; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the yages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever"--vers. 11-17.
While these ungodly men vaunt themselves against all authority, human, angelic, or divine, the elect angels--those who have been preserved by God from falling into sin, who are greater far in power and might than men here on the earth--do not presume to bring railing accusations even against those of their own order who have apostatized from God. Jude tells us that Michael the archangel did not bring against Satan a railing accusation but simply said, "The Lord rebuke thee." But these apostate leaders behave like natural brute beasts who are made to be taken and destroyed. These brutes, not possessing intelligence, act in accordance with their own vicious appetites and are imitated by the false teachers against whom Peter warns, who rail against things which God has made known in His Word but which they do not understand. In refusing the truth they, of necessity, will be left to perish in their own corruption, and in due time will be rewarded according to the unrighteousness of their lives. They have lived as though their greatest object was to satisfy the desires of their own hearts. They have counted it a pleasure to riot in the daytime: the night will find them utterly unprepared for the judgment which they have so richly deserved.
As these teachers of error mingle among the people of God they are spots and blemishes, marring and disturbing the fellowship of the saints, giving themselves over to self-indulgence as they feast with Christians as though they belonged to the family of God. Because there is no power in error to subdue nature's sinful lusts they are described as having eyes full of adultery; they cannot cease from sin. It is only the might of the Holy Spirit which can subdue and hold in check the lusts of the flesh. False doctrines never do this. While beguiling or leading astray unstable souls--that is, those who are not well-grounded in the truth of God, they prove themselves to be an accursed generation whose hearts are exercised not unto godliness but with covetous practices.
Verse 15 tells us that having forsaken the right way they have gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. While pretending to be subject to the Lord, Balaam craved the riches which Balak offered him if he could curse Israel for him. As Balaam hastened on his way, lured by the desire of gain, even the beast on which he rode rebuked him, as it beheld an angel of God in the way who sought to turn back the covetous prophet from his path. Men may ridicule and sneer at the idea of an ass speaking with a man's voice, but he who knows the Lord will remember that with God all things are possible.
While the propagators of unholy and unscriptural theories profess to have just the message that men need, they actually have nothing that can give victory over sin or relief to a troubled conscience. They are like wells without water which only disappoint the thirsty who go to them, or like clouds that look as though they might soon pour down refreshing showers but are carried away by gales of wind, and so the land is left as dry and arid as ever. The doom of these misleading teachers is sure. The mist of darkness is to be their portion forever. The sad thing is that even among professing Christians so many are ready to listen to these pretentious vendors of false systems only to be destroyed at last when they find that they are left without anything upon which the heart and conscience can rest for eternity.
TURNING AWAY FROM THE TRUTH TO THE FALSE PHILOSOPHIES OF THE WORLD
"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. 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. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 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. 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"--vers. 18-22.
It is one thing to accept Christianity as a system; it is quite another to know Christ as Saviour and Lord. Of all who are truly born again it can be said that "greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4). These are kept from error as they go on in dependence upon the Word of God as it is opened up to them by the Holy Spirit. But those who have merely taken up with a system of doctrines, however sound, are always in danger of giving them up for some other system and so becoming apostates, ensnared by the vainglorious language of false teachers who allure through the lusts of the flesh by presenting doctrines that appeal to hearts already turned wanton. Those who at one time had seemingly been completely delivered from sin and its folly are easily misled, and made to think that they are taking up with something superior to that which they already possess. But while these teachers promise their dupes liberty they themselves are slaves of corruption, because they know nothing of the liberty of grace, but rather are given to license instead. Overcome by sin they are brought into bondage.
Verses 20 and 21 have been taken by some as teaching that after people have been truly born again they are in danger of ceasing to be children of God and becoming once more the seed of Satan. It is well to observe that the Spirit of God is not contemplating reality here but simply profession. He speaks of those who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; that is, having accepted the doctrines of Christianity they have professedly given up the world, its sins and its folly, but there has never been a new nature imparted. They have not been born of God. Consequently, there is always the desire to gratify the lusts of the flesh, and when they come in contact with these false teachings they are easily entangled therewith and overcome, and so their latter end is worse with them than the beginning: that is, having given up the profession of Christianity and taken up with some false and unholy system of teaching they throw off all restraint as to their lusts and live even more vilely than they did before they made a profession of conversion. Of these Peter says, "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." Anyone who becomes acquainted with the teachings of Christianity knows the way of righteousness. Men may give adherence to that way for the time being who do not actually know Christ for themselves. Of those who have thus apostatized we read, "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." Charles H. Spurgeon well said on one occasion, "If that dog or that sow had been born again and had received the nature of a sheep it never would have gone back to the filth here depicted." The dog is used as a symbol of false teachers on more than one occasion in Scripture.
The sow is the natural man who may be cleansed outwardly but still loves the hog-wallow, and as soon as restraint is off he will go back to the filth in which he once lived.
AS Peter looked forward to the day when he should seal his own testimony for Christ by laying down his life, as the Lord had foretold, he was the more anxious to arouse the saints generally to the importance of maintaining their confidence in what God had revealed concerning the prophetic future, or as we say, "the last things." He had already reminded those to whom he wrote that prophecy is a lamp to lighten the pilgrim along the dark road as he pursues his way through this world to the Canaan rest which will be his at the end of the journey.
Now Peter stresses the importance of keeping the testimony of the prophets and apostles in mind, when many will spurn them entirely.
>FORGETTING THE PAST AND DENYING THE FUTURE
"This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: that ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men"--vers. 1-7.
In writing this Second Letter, guided by the Spirit of God, Peter was not endeavoring so much to open up new vistas of truth as to stir up the minds of the saints to the tremendous importance of keeping in memory what they had learned already. The words which were spoken in Old Testament times by the holy prophets, and the additional revelations communicated through the apostles of the new dispensation, should never be forgotten. Peter himself wrote as one of the latter group, having been definitely commissioned as an apostle by the Lord Jesus, and recognized by his brethren as being peculiarly adapted to make known the gospel to the Jews. When Paul tells us in the Epistle to the Galatians that the brethren at Jerusalem acknowledged that the gospel of the uncircumcision had been committed to him as that of the circumcision had been committed to Peter (Gal. 2:7) we are not to suppose that he meant thereby that there was any fundamental difference in the messages themselves. It was rather that God had fitted Paul in a very definite way to carry the gospel to the Gentiles; whereas Peter was more adapted to minister the Word of grace to the Jews. As a result of his ministry many of the dispersion had been brought to know the Lord. And in obedience to the command given Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee he undertook to feed these sheep and lambs of Christ's flock both by word of mouth and in these Epistles. He puts before them, therefore, in the strongest possible way the necessity of keeping in mind the Holy Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament had been complete for centuries, but the New Testament was not yet complete; nevertheless many of its books were in circulation already, and among them were all the Epistles of Paul, as we shall see later in considering the closing verses of this same chapter. Recognizing in these books the testimony of God Himself who, by the Holy Spirit, had inspired the human authorship of each portion of the Word, Peter urges the saints not to neglect the Scriptures but ever keep them in their hearts, in order that they may shed light not only on the present pathway but also on the future to which they were hastening.
It had been predicted again and again by both prophets and apostles that in the last days there would be those who would utterly repudiate the truth of a divine revelation as to the return of the Lord. These scoffers would hate the truth because it interfered with their own selfish desires, and would sneer at the very possibility of the second advent of the Saviour. That of which Peter spoke as being in the future and as that which would be manifested in the last days we now see fully developed all around us. Everywhere we find men walking after their own ungodly lusts, deriding the doctrine of the imminent return of the Lord as though it were something utterly ridiculous and not to be considered for a moment by sober-minded people. Even in the pulpits of professedly orthodox churches there are many ministers today who take this stand, either denying that the Bible itself teaches the second coming of Christ, or else maintaining that even though predicted by Christ and taught by His apostles, it is all to be looked upon as an idle dream. These men ask contemptuously, "Where is the promise of His coming?" They declare that "since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation"--that is, they insist that there is no evidence whatever in the history of the past or in conditions prevailing at the present time that indicate the fulfilment of any prophetic declarations. Though wise as to the things of this world, they are absolutely ignorant of the signs of the times--signs which spiritually-minded and godly men discern readily, but which these carnal and sensual leaders of religious thought ignore completely. As in the days before the flood the men of Noah's day refused to give credence to the testimony of the Lord in regard to a coming judgment and knew not until the flood came and took them all away, so will it be with many in this generation who contemptuously discard all that Scripture teaches in regard to the coming day of the Lord; while all the time the world is rushing forward into the fearful vortex of that day of wrath.
Many have forgotten that "by the Word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." The men who lived in antediluvian times said unto God, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways" (Job 21:14). As Eliphaz reminded Job when he said, "Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: which said unto God, Depart from us: and what can the Almighty do for them? Yet He filled their houses with good things: but the counsel of the wicked is far from Me" (Job 22:15-18). So it will be with many in this age. They are willingly ignorant of God's dealings with men in the past, and therefore refuse to believe in any predictions of judgments to come.
There is something very striking in the expression, "Kept in store, reserved unto fire." The passage might be translated "the heavens and the earth are stored with fire, awaiting the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." We might have some conception of what this means as we think of the fearful catastrophe produced by the atomic bomb, which was, even to those who discovered it, a terrible revelation of the powers for destruction which are reserved in the heavens. When earth's long day has run its course there will come not another flood but a universal conflagration which will sweep this globe clean of all that men have built up during the millennia of the past, and prepare for a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
THE DAY OF THE LORD AND THE DAY OF GOD
"But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless"--vers. 8-14.
Because these wilfully ignorant men do not see the evidences of this they deny what they do not understand, and, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil," as we are told in the book of Ecclesiastes (8:11). If judgment seems to tarry it is not because God has forgotten, but rather because of His deep concern about lost men whom, in His loving-kindness, He still desires to save. Our thoughts are not His thoughts, neither are our ways His ways, but as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). A thousand years may seem a long time to men whose span of life very seldom reaches a century, but one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Not two days have passed, therefore, according to the divine reckoning, since the Lord Jesus went away after giving the promise, "I will come again" (John 14:3). It is not, then, that the Lord is slack regarding His promise, as men are disposed to think, but His heart still goes out to those who are persisting in rebellion against Him; and He waits in grace still proclaiming the gospel message, and offering salvation to all who turn to Him in repentance, because He is not willing that any should perish.
But when at last the day of grace is ended the day of the Lord will succeed it, and that day will come to unbelievers as a thief in the night. The day of the Lord is not to be confounded with the day of Christ, which refers to the return of the Lord in the air to call His saints to be with Himself, when they will appear before His judgment seat to be rewarded according to the measure of their faithfulness to Him while they have been pilgrims here below. The day of the Lord follows that. It will be the time when the judgments of God are being poured out upon the earth. It includes the descent of the Lord with all His saints to execute judgment on His foes, and to take possession of the kingdom so long predicted, and to reign in righteousness for a thousand glorious years in this very world where He once was crucified. As that great day of the Lord closes the heavens and the earth shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. This last expression is far easier understood today than it ever has been in past centuries, because of recent discoveries in connection with the explosive power of certain elements, such as uranium, when brought under terrific pressure. Following the destruction of the created heavens and this lower universe as we now know them, will come the fulfilment of the prediction of Isaiah (65:17) concerning a new heaven and a new earth wherein righteousness will dwell forever. This eternal condition is the day of God, in view of which the present created heavens and earth will be destroyed. The day of God is unending; it includes all the ages to come when sin will be forever banished from the universe, and righteousness will be everywhere manifest. Righteousness suffers during the present age. Those who would walk in obedience to the Word of God often are persecuted by those who seek to maintain the present order of things. In the millennium righteousness will reign: the authority of the Lord Jesus will be everywhere established, and evil will be held down; but in the eternal state righteousness will dwell, for all evil will have been banished to the lake of fire.
A FINAL WARNING
"And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen"--vers. 15-18.
So then God's patience and long-suffering with mankind throughout all the centuries of human history are ever with a view to the salvation of any who will turn to Him, confessing their sin and believing the message of His grace.
Peter adds, "Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you." This is very clearly an authentication of the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. There can be no other writing to which he refers in this verse. As we have seen, Peter himself was addressing converted Jews or Hebrews. He tells us that the Apostle Paul had written a letter to the same people. There is no other of Paul's letters addressed to converted Jews but the Epistle to the Hebrews. And in that Epistle to the Hebrews Paul corroborates the testimony of Peter in regard to these eschatological truths which he has just been unfolding. In Hebrews 12:25-29 we get this corroborative testimony: "See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire." Here we have set forth exactly the same truths that the Apostle Peter has been stressing. There should be no question, therefore, but that Peter was declaring that Paul was the author of this particular Epistle.
Then Peter goes on to say that in this special letter to the Hebrews, as also in all his Epistles, Paul had spoken of these things; and in these letters there are "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." In this way Peter acknowledges Paul's letters to be accepted by all believers as the very Word of God. There are, in the Epistle to the Hebrews particularly, a number of passages which have caused untold distress to those who have but a feeble understanding of God's great plan. Take such passages, for instance, as Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31. How often has the devil used these scriptures to trouble unstable souls with the awful thought that perhaps they have committed some unpardonable sin and so are hopelessly beyond the reach of mercy! While the passages themselves suggest nothing of the kind, yet they have been used of the enemy to disturb many. In others of Paul's writings there are passages which have been misused in the same way, but more notable in Hebrews than in any other Epistle.
Peter closes with two admonitions. In verse 17 he says, "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." No one will ever thus fail who keeps his eyes on Christ and his heart fixed on those things that are above where Christ sits at God's right hand. Doctrinal error of a serious character is almost invariably connected with some moral failure. As we walk before God in holiness of life we will be preserved from destructive heresies, and as we walk in the truth we will be kept from sin in the life.
The final admonition is found in the last verse: "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." This is the unfailing panacea for all spiritual ills. As we go on to know Christ better and become increasingly like Him, and as we feed upon His Word, and it has its sway over our hearts, our progress will be consistent and continuous.
The final doxology is a very brief but a very precious one: "To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen." How Peter's own heart must have been moved as he wrote these words! He had known Christ intimately in the days of His flesh; he himself had failed so grievously on the night of the betrayal; he had been restored so blessedly, both secretly and publicly, by the Lord Himself: so that Christ had become the all-absorbing passion of his soul. He alone deserved all the praise and all the glory, and that to the age of ages--the uttermost limits of that day of God, the day of eternity of which we have been reading.