We saw last week how Peter was warning his readers about certain false teachers who had come along and who were introducing destructive heresies into the church. And Peter described them in various ways and spoke about how they will be condemned in the end if they continue to rebel against the Lord and to teach these false ideas and practices. And last week I said that we might be tempted to ask why Peter needs to be so negative and why does he need to criticise these false teachers and speak so much about the judgment to come? Why not give us a positive and uplifting message instead of a negative and depressing message about false teachers and their end? We all prefer a bright and happy message; why not give it to us, Peter?
If you were thinking that last week, then you’ll be thinking it even more this week, because, as you can see, Peter spends the rest of chapter 2 writing about the false teachers. In verse 10b, he complains that they’re bold and arrogant; and in verse 22, he likens them to dogs returning to their vomit and to pigs returning to the mud. In fact, if you look at the whole letter, you’ll see that one third of it is taken up with criticising these false teachers: the first chapter was about making our election and calling sure; the third chapter is about the coming of the Lord; the entire second chapter is about the false teachers. And so, we perhaps want to say: Come on, Peter! Do you have to spend so much time on this negative message?
Well, if you think like that, or if you know people who think like that, then it’s a reminder — isn’t it? — that our ways are not God’s ways and our thoughts are not his thoughts. We like to think we know what we need; we like to think we know what is best for us; we like to think we know intuitively how the world works and how the church works and what’s best for the world and the church. We like to think we know these things. But then God’s word comes to us and very often, very often, God’s word contradicts what we think. What’s best — we say — is a positive message: Give us a positive message, Peter!
But what you need to hear once again — says God in his word to us — is a warning about these false teachers and their false doctrines and practices.
It can be humbling to open God’s word and to discover that we don’t always know what’s best for ourselves and others. It can be humbling. But we ought to humble ourselves before the Lord and look to him and to his word to guide us. So, let’s do that now. Let’s humble ourselves and let’s turn to God’s word once again to see what God says we need to hear.
And today’s passage can be divided into three parts. In verses 10 to 16 Peter outlines for us the character of the false teachers: the kind of people they really are. And in verses 17 to 19 Peter outlines for us their impact on the people: how they lead others astray. And then in verses 20 to 22 Peter outlines for us the trouble they’re in. And let’s look at those three parts now.
Verses 10b to 16
Let’s look at verses 10b to 16 first of all and to the character of these false teachers. And first up, Peter refers to their bold arrogance and to how they’re not afraid to slander celestial beings. When he says ‘celestial beings’, he’s probably referring to angels. Now, in the Bible, when people encounter an angel, very often they’re terrified by the experience. Think of the shepherds on the night when the Lord Jesus was born, and how they were terrified because of the angel and the bright light which was shining in the sky. Or, when the women went to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday, we read how there was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord came down from heaven. His appearance was like lightning and the guards who were outside the Lord’s tomb were so afraid of the angel that they shook and became like dead men. People are normally afraid of angels. But not these false teachers. They’re bold and arrogant and unafraid to slander them.
Why would they be slandering angels? It’s not clear, but since the false teachers denied the coming judgment, then perhaps they were slandering and ridiculing the role the angels are to have in the judgment. Think of what the Lord said about the day of judgment in Matthew 13. He said that, when that great and terrible day comes, he will send out his angels to gather sinners to be punished and to gather his people to enter eternal life. Or in Matthew 16, the Lord spoke about how he will come in his Father’s glory and with his angels to reward his people. Or in Matthew 24, he spoke again of how the Lord will come again and will send his angels to gather his elect. Do you see? Angels will accompany the Lord when he comes again; and they will assist him in judging the nations. And so, if these false teachers said the Lord is not coming again, and if they said there won’t be a day of judgment, then we can imagine them scoffing at those who spoke about the angels and their role in the judgment.
So, these false teachers were slandering these celestial beings. What did the angels do about it? Did they retaliate in kind? Well no, says Peter in verse 11. Although the angels are stronger and more powerful than the false teachers, they did not bring slanderous accusations about them before the Lord. So, the mighty angels didn’t retaliate; on the other hand, the false teachers continued with their bold arrogance and they continued to blaspheme in matters they don’t understand.
Did you notice that? They were being bold and arrogant about matters they don’t understand. Well, we come across this kind of thing all the time, don’t we? People who talk, talk, talk about things they don’t know or understand. If it’s your neighbour who is pontificating about the state of the world, then it’s no big deal; they’re just wasting your time. If it’s someone at work who is going on about something, it’s no big deal: they’re just wasting your time. But if it happens in the church, and people start to listen to all this talk, talk, talk, then it’s a real danger, because those who are talking and teaching and speaking about things they don’t understand will only lead others astray.
They’re like brute beasts, says Peter in verse 12: creatures of instinct, who are only driven by their wants and desires. That’s what brute beasts are like: you don’t expect a sheep or a pig to act sensibly or with intelligence; you expect them to follow their instincts. And that’s what these false teachers are like: following their sinful and shameful desires. But they’re like brute beasts in another way, says Peter. Just as brute beasts are caught and slaughtered, so these false teachers will one day be caught and punished by the Lord. And so, says Peter in verse 13, they will be paid back by the Lord for the harm they have done.
But that’s not all. Peter continues to describe them. He says that their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. Pleasure, of course, and what causes us pleasure, can be good or bad. Many of us take pleasure in perfectly innocent things. But given the context here, no doubt Peter means that they’re taking pleasure in things which are sinful. And look how bold and shameless they are: normally those who take pleasure in sinful things do so when it’s dark, because the darkness covers them; but these false teachers are so bold and so shameless that they’re happy to pursue their pleasures in broad daylight. They’re not ashamed of what they’re doing.
And they’re blots and blemishes in the church. In verse 14 of chapter 3, Peter urges his readers to make every effort to be found spotless when the Lord comes again. In other words, we’re to resist temptation and we’re to fight against sin and we’re to get rid of everything impure. But these false teachers aren’t concerned about moral purity. And so, they’re only blots and blemishes, spoiling the purity of the church because of their sinful and shameful lives. And then Peter complains because they revel in their pleasures while they feast with you. So, the church has gathered together for a fellowship meal. You know, it’s the church picnic. But while everyone else is enjoying simple and innocent things — some good food, a game of football, a snooze in the sun — these false teachers are doing what’s wicked and shameful; and the fellowship of the church is ruined because of them. Their eyes are full of adultery, because they’re looking around to see who they can seduce. And they’re experts in greed: so instead of becoming experts in restraint and instead of practicing self-control and contentment, they have become experts in wanting more and more and more for themselves. And so, they’ve become like Balaam. Do you know the story of Balaam from the book of Numbers? He was some kind of prophet who lived in the days of Moses; and the king of Moab hired Balaam to curse the people of Israel. So, because of his greed, and his desire for more and more money, this false prophet was willing to speak against God’s people. Well, that’s what these false teachers are like: because of their love for money, they’re prepared to preach and to teach all kinds of lies. Well, if you know the story of Balaam, you’ll know the Lord sent an angel to stop him. Balaam didn’t see the angel, but the donkey he was riding saw the angel; and miraculously, the donkey was enabled by God to speak to Balaam and to warn him. The stupid donkey was wiser than Balaam; and these false teachers are just as foolish and just as corrupt as Balaam ever was.
So, these false teachers are bold and arrogant; they talk and blaspheme about things they don’t understand; they’re like brute beasts in that they only follow their instincts and sinful inclinations; they’re shameless in the way they pursue their sinful pleasures; they’re spoiling the purity of the church and ruining the fellowship of God’s people; and they’re greedy for gain. But go back to verse 14 again, because in the middle of that verse Peter warns how they seduce the unstable. The word ‘seduce’ is really ‘entice’ and it comes from the world of hunting and fishing. where the fisherman will entice and capture the fish with some bait. But under the bait, of course, is a deadly hook. Well, these false teachers are able to entice those believers who are unstable or unsteady in the faith and who are unclear of what their duty is before God. So, these false teachers come along and entice them with something appealing: they dangle in front of them something they want: sex, perhaps; money, perhaps. But, of course, underneath the bait there’s a deadly hook.
Verses 17 to 19
That’s what they’re like. What impact do they have on the church? That’s what the next verses are about. And according to verse 17, they’re like springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Imagine you’re travelling through the desert and you’re desperate for water. You’re tired and weary and feel like you’re going to collapse in the heat. But then, in the distance, you see what looks like a spring. And your spirit lifts, because now you’ll get some water, now you’ll be refreshed. But how broken-hearted you are, how broken-hearted and disappointed when you discover that the spring is empty. Well, these false teachers promise so much, but in the end their teaching is worthless. They’re only mouthing empty, boastful words. So they make great claims; they make great boasts: Listen to me. Follow me. I’m able to teach you things no one else can teach you. I can tell you heavenly secrets which no one else knows.
But their words are empty, because all they’re teaching are lies. And Peter once again explains in verse 18 how they appeal to our basic instincts and to the lustful desires inside our sinful hearts. So, instead of teaching us to be self-controlled and to put to death our sinful desires, instead of teaching us to mortify the flesh, as we used to say, and to say no to everything that is ungodly, they tell us that it’s okay to give in to temptation and it’s okay to do whatever we please and it’s okay to follow our own sinful desires. They promise us freedom, says Peter in verse 19. What kind of freedom? Well, probably Peter is referring to the way they promised their followers freedom to do what they like. Follow your instincts; indulge your desires; pursue your pleasures; do whatever you like. And so, we can imagine them saying: Jesus Christ is not coming again; there’s never going to be a day of judgment; so, don’t worry about being condemned; enjoy yourself; eat, drink and be merry.
They promised their followers freedom to do what they liked. But that way only leads to slavery: slavery to depravity and slavery to sin.
So, they promise so much; but in the end, their words are worthless. They claim so much, but it’s all lies. They say they can give us freedom, but their way only leads to slavery to sin.
Verses 20 to 22
Having described their character and having described the impact they have on others, in verses 20 to 22 Peter describes the trouble they’re in. And so, look at verse 20. First of all, he says about them:
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ….
From these words, it seems that the false teachers once professed faith in Christ. They professed faith in Jesus Christ and they were added to the church and so they appeared to be among those who have been delivered from this sinful world which is destined to perish. So, they once professed faith. But, of course, we know — don’t we? — that not every profession of faith is a genuine profession of faith. The Lord’s parable of the seed and the sower teaches us that this is the case, because the seed that fell on the shallow soil and the seed that fell among thorns stands for those who make a profession of faith but who later fall away and give up the faith. And no doubt we all know someone who once professed faith in Christ and who used to join us here on Sundays to worship the Lord, but who have now given up the faith. Not every profession of faith is genuine. And that seems to be the case here with these false teachers, because look what Peter goes on to say about them:
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome….
So, they once professed faith and they appeared to be among those who had been delivered from this sinful world. However, they have now gone back to their old life and to their old ways and they have once again become caught up and entangled in this sinful world which is destined to perish.
Since that’s the case, says Peter, they are worse off now than they were at the beginning; and 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. The sacred command is probably the command to follow the ways of the Lord and to do his will. Why does Peter say it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness? Well, they’re worse off because very often those who once professed faith but who later gave it up, are hardened to the gospel and they’re less likely to listen to the gospel again. And, of course, they’re worse off now, because their only fate — now that they have turned away from the Saviour — is the eternal punishment that is waiting for them when the Day of Judgment comes. As it is, right now, they’re like dogs who return to its vomit and they’re like pigs who return to the mud, because they have returned to their old life of sin and shame, having once been given a glimpse of the glory of Christ.
These false teachers promised the people so much. They promised them freedom, but it’s clear from what Peter said about them that they were slaves to sin and to all that is shameful and wicked; and those who listen to them and follow them will likewise become slaves to sin. And in the end, it will lead to condemnation and eternal punishment.
Well, that’s the false teachers. But the true message of the Bible which true preachers preach is encapsulated for us in verse 20 where it says:
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
You see, this is the true message of the Bible which true preachers preach. The true message of the Bible which true preachers preach is that — through faith in Jesus Christ who died and was raised — we are set free from this sinful world which is destined to perish so that we might live holy lives, lives of obedience to God, lives which reflect the glory of heaven which is where we now belong. This is the message true preachers preach.
Listen to what Paul said in Galatians:
[The Lord Jesus Christ] gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of God the Father.
So, he died on the cross, and he was raised again, in order to rescue us and to raise us up from this evil age which is destined to perish.
Listen again to Paul, writing this time to the Ephesians:
you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…. [W]e are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So, once we walked in sin and shame, following the ways of the world and the Devil. But God has now made us alive with Christ and raised us with Christ so that we now belong with him in heaven. And as a result, we’ll walk in obedience to God who created us in Christ Jesus to do good works.
One more, this time from 2 Corinthians:
and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
He died and was raised so that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for his glory and honour.
This is the true message of the Bible which true preachers preach. The false preachers told the people to do whatever they liked, because the day of judgment will never come. But the true message of the Bible is that Jesus Christ the Son of God died to pay for our sins and he was raised again afterwards; and all who trust in him are raised up with him from this evil age and from this sinful world which is destined to perish, so that we might live a new life now — a life of obedience to God and a life which reflects the glory of heaven — and then, one day, when he comes again, we’ll live with him in the new heavens and the new earth which will last forever. The false teachers say: Do whatever you like.
But they and all who follow them are destined to perish, whereas the true message of the Bible is that all who trust in Jesus Christ are raised up from this evil age and this sinful world which is destined to perish; to live a heavenly life now and to look forward to living with God for ever and for ever in the glory to come.