The New Testament book of 2 Peter was written to warn Christians about false teachers and to exhort them to grow in their faith in, and knowledge of, Christ. In his previous letter, Peter had written to comfort and encourage believers in the midst of suffering and persecution – which was an external onslaught. However, only three years later, the experienced, courageous and faithful apostle was writing to warn believers about an internal onslaught – the onset of heresy and complacency. In this letter containing the last words of one who had eyewitnessed the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Christ, he spoke of holding fast to the non-negotiable facts of the faith, of growing and maturing in the faith, and of rejecting all who would distort the truth. To follow this advice would ensure Christ-honoring individuals and Christ-centered churches.
After a brief greeeting (1:1), Peter gives the antidote for stagnancy and short-sightedness in the Christian life (1:2-11). Then he explains that his days are numbered (1:12-15) and that the believers should listen to his messages and the words of Scripture (1:16-21). Next, Peter gives a blunt warning about false teachers (2:1-22). They will become prevalent in the last days (2:1-2), they will do or say anything for money (2:3), they will spurn the things of God (2:2, 10, 11), they will do whatever they feel like doing (2:12-17), they will be proud and boastful (2:18-19), and they will be judged and punished by God (2:3-10, 20-22). Peter concludes this brief letter by explaining why he has written it (3:1-18) – to remind believers of the words of the prophets and apostles that predicted the coming of false teachers, to give the reasons for the delay in Christ’s return (3:1-13), to encourage them to be aware of heresies and to grow in their faith (3:14-18).
Because the letter is addressed to those who “have received a faith as precious as ours”, 2 Peter is written for all believers past, present and future. The world since Christ is filled with false teachers and prophets who claim to have the truth, but who clamor only for attention, allegiance and personal monetary gain. The bottom line is that anything that is inconsistent with the Word of God, and with His only begotten Son who gave His life for our sake, must be rejected.
The Layout of 2 Peter
Guidance for growing Christians:
This is concentrated in (1:1-1:21) … Peter wrote to Christians to provide a sure path for them to follow with regard to detecting and rejecting false teachers and false teachings.
Danger to growing Christians:
This is concentrated in (2:1-2:22) … In his first letter, Peter assisted believers in withstanding persecution (trials from without); in his second letter, Peter assisted believers in withstanding heresy (trials from within).
Hope for growing Christians:
This is concentrated in (3:1-3:18) … Peter indicates that false teachers are often deceitfully subtle, and his letter reminds believers that they must be always on their guard against false doctrine, heresy, and cult activity to have the hope of eternal life that is promised in Jesus Christ.
Themes: Explanation and Importance
If our faith is real, it will be evident in our faithful behavior. If people are diligent in Christian growth, they won’t backslide or be deceived by false teachers.
Growth is essential. It begins with faith and culminates in love for others. To keep growing we need to know God, keep on following Him, and remember what He taught us. We must remain diligent in faithful obedience and Christian growth.
Peter warns the church to be aware of false teachers. These teachers were proud of their positions, promoted sexual sin, and advised against keeping the Ten Commandments. Peter countered them by pointing to the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures as true Christian authority.
Christians require discernment to be able to resist false teachers. God can rescue us from their lies if we stay true to His Word, the Holy Bible, and reject those who distort the truth.
One day Christ will create a new heaven and new earth where we will live forever. As Christians, our hope is in this promise. However, with Christ’s return comes His righteous judgment on all who refuse to believe.
The cure for complacency, lawlessness and heresy is found in the confident assurance that Christ will return. God is still giving unbelievers time to repent. To be ready, Christians must keep on trusting in the promises that God has made, and resist the pressure to give up waiting for the return of Christ.
A Closer Look… 2 Pe. 1:1-21
Peter opens with a benediction:
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Pe. 1:1-2)
Peter explains why our calling and election as Christians is sure:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Pe. 1:3-4)
Peter explains what we must do because we have been given these gifts, and why; note the addition of virtues, one upon another, an increasing of belief, faith and resultant actions:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pe. 1:5-11)
Peter speaks regarding the prophecy of Scripture, in this foretelling his own soon-to-come departure from the world:
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (2 Pe. 1:12-15)
Peter explains why the Holy Scriptures are the divine revelation of God, ably refuting the volume of criticisms throughout the ages that it is mere fiction, the invention of men:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pe. 1:16-21)
A Closer Look… 2 Pe. 2:1-22
Regarding false teachers, Peter gets right to the point:
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Pe. 2:1-3)
Peter explains that God is just, citing examples of God’s standard of judgment to indicate that there is no one and nothing exempt from it:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. (2 Pe. 2:4-11)
Peter condemns these “bold and arrogant” men:
But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed – an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey – a beast without speech – who spoke with a man’s voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Pe. 2:12-19)
Peter goes on to explain why this is so dangerous:
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Pe. 2:20-22)
A Closer Look… 2 Pe. 3:1-18
Peter speaks of “the Day of the Lord”… note the sober warning regarding those who cannot and will not believe in the return of Jesus Christ:
Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Pe. 3:1-7)
Peter explains that God is ‘out of time’; that He does not see time as we do, therefore we mistake His purpose:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pe. 3:8-9)
The warning, and the lesson to be learned from it, remain:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Pe. 3:10-13)
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Pe. 3:14-16)
Peter ends his letter with a caution and with a task that will consume the lifetime of the believer:
Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Pe. 3:17-18)