2 Peter 2

False Teachers in the Christian Profession
2 Peter 2
2 Peter 2. The last two chapters of 2 Peter are warnings to the saints to beware of two evils: first, false teachers who would enter into the Christian profession wreaking moral havoc on their listeners (ch.2), and second, the increasingly materialistic and skeptical world around, characterized by denying the return of the Lord in judgment, an influence which can impact the walk of the believer. Peter takes up the more serious of the two evils first, as that which does evil under the banner of Christianity is a greater offense than rank unbelief. The chapter is divided into three parts. Peter speaks of the false teachers and their effect on Christendom; to divide the saints and lead many into error. Then he gives three examples from the Old Testament to show that God is serious about judging wickedness. Finally, he describes the character of the false teachers and how they make victims.

The Source of the Evil and the Terrible Effect on Christendom (2:1-3)

1 But there were false prophets also among the people, as there shall be also among you false teachers, who shall bring in by the bye destructive heresies, and deny the master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction; v.1 False teachers. Peter reminds the Jewish believers of something they knew well, that one of the problems that continually plagued the children of Israel was false prophets who would rise up among the people pretending to speak for God, but in reality would lead the people astray (Deut. 13:1-3; 18:20; Neh. 6:10-15; Jer. 14:14). Peter says there would be the parallel to this in Christianity. Instead of false prophets, the saints would be plagued by false teachers from within who come in the name of Christ, but the effect of their doctrine is to divide the saints, and damage the testimony. They are a contrast to the “holy men” at the end of ch.1. These men would be unbelievers posing as Christians, and getting themselves into a position of influence among believers, then using that position for their own gain, all the while being used by Satan to corrupt and divide that which is precious to the heart of God. These men would do their work gradually and secretly, so as not to be noticed; “who shall bring in by the bye destructive heresies”.
The scripture speaks of two kinds of rifts between believers; inward and outward. We get both in 1 Cor. 11:18-19. There are inward rifts (Greek ‘schismata’); called divisions (or “schisms”). This is where there is great internal tension and breakdown of fellowship. If the root of these divisions is not judged, it leads to an outward rift (Greek ‘hairesis’); called heresies (or, “sects”). This is where the inward division, because it is not judged or repaired, eventually leads to a formal break between groups of believers. Not all heresies stem from evil doctrine, although most do have a doctrinal issue at the core. This is what Peter is speaking of: false teachers working to form sects wherein professing Christians are led away into a system of evil doctrine which is destructive to faith. A heretic is one who forces his own will to the point where he causes a heresy. Such a person is generally self-important (though often humility is feigned), seeking to have a following, with the goal of drawing away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:30; Rom. 16:18; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). Any heresy is destructive to unity, but here a “destructive” heresy is one that binds souls in darkness, perverts the truth, or disparages the Person of Christ. Peter says that these false teachers “deny the Master that bought them”. The allusion is to a slave purchased at a slave market, who refuses to own the rights of the master over them. This doesn’t mean they were saved and then lost (which would deny eternal security). To be purchased by Christ is a different thing than being redeemed by Him. Redemption is something only true believers have in Christ. Rather, these false teachers never had a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, but only made a profession of faith, and then denied Him by their actions. Christ is still “the master that bought them” as He died to purchase and become Master of everything that has fallen under the influence of sin (Heb. 2:9; Matt. 13:44). Such persons seek to “corrupt the temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:17), and will come under the judgment of God (vv.4-9). 
2 and many shall follow their dissolute ways, through whom the way of the truth shall be blasphemed. v.2 Their Followers, and their Effect on the Testimony. The way the false teachers would bring about the “destructive heresies” is by drawing away followers after them. Scripture distinguishes between the leaders and those led. The leaders have a greater responsibility, but the followers are not without fault. We are all responsible to consider who we are listening to, and the influence they are having over us. Once these false teachers (heretics) got a following, a large group would be drawn into their dissolute or immoral practices. The result of all of this would be that the Christian testimony – called here “the way of the truth” – would be brought into disrepute. The credibility of the true teachings of Christianity would be undermined through the doctrine and more specifically the practice of these individuals.
3 And through covetousness, with well-turned words, will they make merchandise of you: for whom judgment of old is not idle, and their destruction slumbers not. v.3 Their Motive, Means, and Judgment. Now we get the motive of the false teachers: it is through covetousness that they do what they do. They are looking to “make merchandise” of the saints, to profit financially from them. The means of gaining a following is “with well-turned words”, and thus they sway the hearts of the people away from the truth. Paul shows the same thing: “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18). Their judgment is inevitable! God takes perversion of the truth seriously. We see in the Old Testament that same “judgment of old” unleashed on those who corrupted what God had established.

Three Old Testament Examples of God’s Judgment on Wickedness (2:4-9)

Old Testament Illustrations. In addressing the danger of false teachers, Peter refers frequently to Old Testament scripture, which the Jewish believers were quite familiar with, so that his audience would follow him. He makes three references to the book of Genesis, showing that judgment on wickedness is no new thing with God. Each of these judgments that are referred to are connected with moral evil, yet the subject in vv.1-3 is concerning evil teachers. As we see in v.11-end, moral evil is very often associated with doctrinal evil, as practice flows from doctrine! The false teachers Peter was speaking of were characterized by great moral wickedness. Scripture is full of examples of times when God has judged wickedness once it burgeoned to maturity. 
4 For if God spared not the angels who had sinned, but having cast them down to the deepest pit of gloom has delivered them to chains of darkness to be kept for judgment; v.4 The Angels Who Sinned. The particular evil that is described in this passage (also in Jude) is
almost certainly what Genesis 6:1-2 speaks of. Peter says the angels “sinned”, but Jude adds that they “kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation”. Fallen angels are the minions of Satan, who is himself an angel (a spiritual being), and is the leader of the fallen. Many of these fallen angels, called demons, are still free to roam the earth, work their evil, possess people, and engage in warfare in the heavenly places (Job 1:6-7). When Christ appears to judge the world, He will bind Satan and his demons in a temporary confinement, called the Abyss, or Tartarus (Rev. 20:1-2; Isa. 24:21-22; 2 Peter 2:4). The demons know that Christ will do this eventually, yet still they cling to their temporary freedom (Matt. 8:29; Luke 8:31). A subset of these fallen angels went a step further than the rest, in the years before the flood. By connecting v.4 with v.5 (the flood), and comparing with Genesis 6, we gather that the fallen angels referenced in 2 Peter 2 and Jude are the same as the “sons of God” who intermarried with the daughters of men, and copulated, giving birth to a mixed-race of extraordinary ability (Gen. 6:4). They “left their own dwelling”; i.e. came down to inhabit earth. They left their God-given “original state” as sexless beings (Mark 12:25), and began to live as men. This was a level that even Satan and his demons have not gone to. It was this extreme wickedness, and its effect on the earth, that precipitated the great flood of Noah’s day. God expedited the imprisonment of these angels, putting them in chains, and casting them into the Abyss (Tartarus, “the deepest pit of gloom”), where they remain until their final judgment. Ultimately, Satan and all the fallen angels will be cast into the Lake of Fire, which is their permanent prison, created by God for their eternal confinement (Matt. 25:41).
5 and spared not the old world, but preserved Noe, the eighth, a preacher of righteousness, having brought in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; v.5 The World of Noah’s Day. The second example of judgment is that of the flood, which God brought “upon the world of the ungodly”. We read in Matthew that the days of Noah were characterized by complete indifference to God and to preaching (Matt. 24:37-38). Not only were man’s deeds wicked, but “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The world became so “ungodly” that God was no longer pleased with mankind. However, there was one godly man, whom God preserved though the means of an ark. Noah was “the eighth” and final person to enter the ark before the door was shut and the rest of the world condemned to drown. Peter alone shows us that Noah did more than build the ark during the 120 years leading up to the flood. He is called “a preacher of righteousness”. In Noah’s actions and words, he preached to the perishing world, such that mankind had an opportunity to repent, but they would not. That world, before the flood and before the institution of government, was called “the old world”. Different from our own world in many ways, its judgment is a power example of God’s judgment on wickedness.
6 and having reduced the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha to ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, setting them as an example to those that should afterwards live an ungodly life; 7 and saved righteous Lot, distressed with the abandoned conversation of the godless, 8 (for the righteous man through seeing and hearing, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul day after day with their lawless works,) vv.6-8 Sodom and Gomorrah. The third example that Peter gives of God’s judgment on wickedness is that of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is recorded in Genesis 19. The “lawless works” and “ungodly” lifestyle of the people dwelling in the cities of the plain at the time of Abraham are well documented in the book of Genesis, and referenced throughout the rest of the Bible. God takes evil seriously, and He will judge it unsparingly, as He did with those cities which were reduced to ashes! Sodom and Gomorrah represent the state of the world shortly before God’s judgment falls (Luke 17:28-30). Similar to “the days of Noah” (Luke 17:26), the Lord correlates “the days of Lot” and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah with the judgment of the world at the appearing of the Son of Man. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, the world today with its moral corruption is carrying on in total independence from God, and will be seized by sudden and unexpected wrath, although those of faith will be saved.
Lot depicts a life of compromise, association with the world, and total shipwreck in the end. Lot was in an inconsistent position. He wanted the prosperity of Sodom, and was willing to live in the city in spite of its evil. This was the end of a course that began years earlier, when he pitched his tent toward that place. The angels found Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom” (Gen. 19:1). Those sitting in the gate of a city were those who took a responsible place in leadership in the city. It was a place Lot wanted for himself, but he was really an outsider. Peter shows us that Lot was himself a “righteous man”, and the wicked deeds of the Sodomites “tormented his righteous soul day after day”. Perhaps Lot sought a seat in the gate to try to correct the immoral behavior of Sodom, the sentiments of which he expressed; “I pray you, my brethren, do not wickedly!” However, Lot’s ambitions were not welcomed by the men of Sodom (Gen. 19:9). Abraham had more power interceding with God outside the city than Lot had sitting in the gate with the leaders of Sodom. Nevertheless, Lot was saved from the overthrow. But the judgment of those cities stands as a warning to all “that should afterwards live an ungodly life”.
9 the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of trial, and to keep the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished; v.9 Conclusion. Peter gives a conclusion from the three Old Testament examples for Christians today. The Lord knows how to separate the godly from the unjust, such that the godly are delivered and the unjust are judged. As in both the cases of Noah and Lot, they were delivered out of the trial while the unjust were left behind for judgment. Noah and Lot are types of the believing Jewish remnant who will be preserved by God through the Great Tribulation while the wicked are judged. But all three examples are a powerful witness of God’s righteous judgment on wickedness, and an encouragement to the Christian to steer clear of false teachers.

The Characteristics of the False Teachers (2:10-22)

10 and specially those who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise lordship. Bold are they, self-willed; they do not fear speaking injuriously of dignities: 11 when angels, who are greater in might and power, do not bring against them, before the Lord, an injurious charge. vv.10-11 Their Disregard for Authority. The believer walks “after the Spirit”, but these false teachers walk “after the flesh”. The flesh is scriptural term for the desires of the fallen sinful nature that we all inherited from Adam. We cannot be rid of the flesh, but we can crucify it, and by grace and through faith have deliverance from it. These ones walk directly after the unclean desires of that nature, showing that they are void of a new nature that would oppose the flesh, and the Spirit of God who gives us power to act on those right desires. The first characteristic of the false teachers is that they “despise lordship”. They reject any kind of authority, be it Divine authority, or human authority. Without fear, they insult those God has put into a position of authority: parents, teachers, magistrates, kings, etc. Peter shows that even the angels are careful to not accuse their superior servants before the Lord.

But these, as natural animals without reason, made to be caught and destroyed, speaking injuriously in things they are ignorant of, shall also perish in their own corruption, 13a receiving the reward of unrighteousness;
vv.12-13a Their Ignorance. The next characteristic is ignorance of God. Man was created with a spirit; capable of spiritual intelligence or reason. Animals were not created thus, and therefore are a lesser form of creation. You will not see a cow thank God for his grass, nor a deer petition God for protection from a predator. It is proper for animals to be “caught and destroyed” as is necessary in hunting, fishing, and food production, because their existence is of a lower order. Humans are created to have an intelligent relationship with God. But humans can act like “natural animals”, when they display spiritual ignorance. These false teachers display their animal-like ignorance by speaking about things (especially speaking against authorities God has set up) without an understanding of them. In the irony of God’s government, He will allow the corruption of these individuals to be their own downfall, thus demonstrating ultimately their ignorance!
13b accounting ephemeral indulgence pleasure; spots and blemishes, rioting in their own deceits, feasting with you; 14 having eyes full of adultery, and that cease not from sin, alluring unestablished souls; having a heart practised in covetousness, children of curse; vv.13b-14 Their Desires. These false teachers are exposed for living in temporary fleshly pleasure. They are spots and blemishes in the Christian testimony. Their lifestyle is described as wild partying, while at the same time feasting with believers. The word “deceits” in the manuscripts is surrounded by numerous corrections, and it might better be replaced with the word “love-feasts”. This was a practice in the early church of having a fellowship meal in honor of Christ, where food would be share by all. Peter alludes to the deceitful use of these love-feasts by false teachers to indulge the flesh. The expression “eyes full of adultery” would perhaps go beyond the moral sin of adultery, though it may include it, to allude to spiritual adultery; the illegitimate union of Christians with the world. The way an adulteress would tempt a man, so these false teachers allure unestablished souls into a system of evil. The motive comes from their heart that is “practiced in covetousness”. They are “children of curse” because, having rejected the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, they were not ceasing to sin at the expense of grace.
15 having left the straight way they have gone astray, having followed in the path of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the reward of unrighteousness; 16 but had reproof of his own wickedness — the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the folly of the prophet. vv.15-16 Their Wayward Path (Covetousness). The path taken by these false teachers is really unoriginal. They have left the straight way, and instead followed the path of Balaam. The way of Balaam is that of teaching error for reward. Read about Balaam in Numbers 22-24; 31:8. He spoke many words in his own defense, but his deep motive was exposed – covetousness – “who loved the reward of unrighteousness”. Balaam knew that it was wrong to curse Israel, but the offers of money from Balak swayed him to attempt the wicked project, not once but four times! On his way to do the wicked deed, his own donkey reproved him in the path of wickedness; “the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the folly of the prophet”. Balaam has boasted of being “the man whose eyes are open” (Num. 24:3), but he could not see what the donkey could see: the angel of Jehovah standing in the way. It was a striking witness of the folly of going against God’s will, and of the terrible sin of doing it for reward. These false teachers were falling into the same track that Balaam forged hundreds of years before.
17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by storm, to whom the gloom of darkness is reserved for ever. v.17 Their Worthlessness and Destination. A spring ought to be a source of refreshment, and every truth believer has the Spirit of God in them as “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). These false teachers are like “springs without water”, they have the pretense of refreshment but hold nothing of spiritual value. Rather than illuminate and direct as the stars do for mariners, they instead obscure sight and orientation as “mists driven by storm”. The gloomy “darkness” of a lost eternity is the solemn judgment reserved for those who have rejected God and chosen a path of wickedness.

For while speaking great highflown words of vanity, they allure with the lusts of the flesh, by dissoluteness, those who have just fled those who walk in error, 19 promising them liberty, while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a man is subdued, by him is he also brought into slavery.
vv.18-19 Their Way of Making Victims. Next we have the way the false teachers make their victims. First, they come speaking “great highflown words of vanity”, or appealing speeches without substance. These pleasant words invite souls into their audience. Second, they mix into their teaching that which appears to the “lusts of the flesh”. For example, telling people that they are good, or teaching that following a certain teaching will lead to riches. Often these kind of false teachers teach, in words or by example, that you can live however you want; that we can live dissolutely (immorally) at the expense of grace. This teaching appeals to the flesh, and therefore draws away souls though nefarious means. Third, they target souls that are newly converted or are not established; “those who have just fled those who walk in error”. These immature believers are easier to sway than others. Fourth, the false teachers promise their victims liberty but instead bring them into bondage. They present a broader path, more indulgence in the things of the flesh, as wonderful liberty. In reality, they themselves are “slaves of corruption” and therefore unable to give their adherents freedom.

For if after having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, again entangled, they are subdued by these, their last state is worse than the first. 21 For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But that word of the true proverb has happened to them: The dog has turned back to his own vomit; and, The washed sow to her rolling in mud.
vv.20-22 Their True Nature Exposed. Returning again to speak of the false teachers, Peter says that they had “escaped the pollutions of the world” initially when they made a profession of Christianity, “through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. That is, they came out of the world with its lusts and defilement when they took their place as a Christian – but it was in name only. The key here is to see that it is knowledge as opposed to faith that they had. Faith will be accompanied by a life of works, whereas these false teachers demonstrated by their life that they never had true faith. This was made obvious when they became “again entangled” with the very traps they had escaped, and were “subdued by these”. But it is a serious think to “have known the way of righteousness”. Peter uses ‘epi-gnosis’ here, or full knowledge. It wasn’t merely a passing acquaintance with Christianity, but a full and accurate knowledge of the way of righteousness. God only knows what amount of light a person has, and the more knowledge they have, the more responsible they are. These apostate teachers were immensely responsible, but the knowledge was only in their intellect. What is described here is apostasy; falling away from faith once professed. Hebrews 6 and 10 show us that there is no hope for an apostate to be saved when they fall away. Hence, Peter says their “last state is worse than the first”. They were less responsible before they made a profession and came into the light of Christianity.
Peter gives a “true proverb” that applies to the case of these apostate false teachers. The first part is found the book of Proverbs about the dog returning to his vomit (Prov. 26:11). He adds the second part about the washed sow returning to rolling in the mud. Vomit represents the defilement that comes from within ourselves, and mire represents the corruption from without. Man in sin loves both. Temporary outward cleanness does not indicate the possession of a new nature. Both the dog and the sow have a nature that is unchanged, and they betray that unchanged nature by returning to those disgusting practices that they are naturally inclined to. Human vomit is revolting to a human, but a dog will eat its own. It has a dog’s nature. True believers are the sheep of Christ, and they will never become a dog or a pig, though they may slide into old behaviors from time to time and need restoration. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). These false teachers manifested by their life but they were never true sheep of Christ.
Jude vs. 2 Peter 2. A common question arises about the similarity between the epistle of Jude and the second chapter of 2 Peter. These two portions are very similar, but there is a key difference. Peter’s epistles deal primarily with the issues of sin and righteousness, godliness and ungodliness, and therefore he addresses more broadly the unrighteousness of the false teachers that were coming into the Christian profession. Jude sees the unrighteousness (generally), but specifically notices the apostasy; the fact that there was a falling away from a former position. In 2 Peter the false teachers are an insult to righteousness, and in Jude they are an insult to His grace; “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”. Of the three Old Testament examples, Peter and Jude both use two in common. But in the other case they differ. Peter speaks of the flood which came upon the world of the ungodly, while Jude speaks of the people judged in the wilderness. The world of the ungodly is more a general thing; God judging the world because of general wickedness. Jude notices a people who outwardly occupied the place of privilege, yet turned the grace of God into lasciviousness. Another example is that Peter speaks of “the angels that sinned” whilst Jude notices that they “kept not their original state”. The two go hand in hand, but they view it from a different angle.1
  1. We have already noticed this difference between the epistle of Jude and the second of Peter, that Peter speaks of sin, Jude of apostasy, the departure of the assembly from its primitive state before God. Departure from the holiness of faith is the subject that Jude treats. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.