2 Peter 2: A trip to the dark side!

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Bible Study from 2 Peter 2:1-9

A trip to the dark side!

by I Gordon


2 Peter chapter 2 stands in great contrast to the first chapter. While chapter 1 was about that which is true, chapter 2 is about that which is false. Chapter 1 was about that which you should add to your faith, where as chapter 2 is about that which you should avoid. In short, chapter 2 is a trip to the dark side of false teachers, exposing their motives, characteristics and their end. This study will focus mainly on verses 1-3 but I will comment briefly on 4-9. Let's have a look.

The problem is not new, but it is true.

2 Pet 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.

The first obvious point from this verse is that the problem of false teachers is not a new one. The enemy of God has been around from the beginning continually sowing his tares among the wheat. Because it is an old problem, we often need old advice, and right from the early days of Israel becoming a nation, God gave His people commands on how to spot and deal with the false prophets that were sure to rise among them.  [1] 

So while the problem isn't new, it's certainly true. It is the certainty. 'There will be false teachers among us' is what the scripture above tells us. Now this makes it all the more relevant for our age. For when the disciples came to Jesus and asked him, 'what is the sign of the end of the age and your coming?', can you remember what was the first thing that Jesus responded with? He replied with 'see to it that no one deceives you'. And Jesus went on to speak about false prophets more than any other sign of the last days. (See Matt 24). In fact, all the major writers of the New Testament spoke of a great increase in false teachers in false prophets in the last days. So this makes the command given in Deuteronomy chapter thirteen all the more important.

Not without, but within!

The final point we should note from this first verse in second Peter two is that the problem is not without, but within. It's pretty easy to spot false religions, but Peter sees that they shall be among you. Jesus also said that they would look like the real thing. So they don't turn up wearing badges, labels, or funny clothing. They are wolves alright, but dressed in sheep's clothing  [2]  .

 Matt 7:13-20  Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart  . You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You don't pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. A healthy tree produces good fruit, and an unhealthy tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.  Yes, the way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit  [3]  that is produced 

The gospel of grace is now the gospel of greed!

2 Pet 2:1b-3 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.

The next thing we should note from the verses above is that the false teachers introduce error very secretly. So beware of religious jargon! For example, almost any of the 'Christian' cults would agree that salvation is by grace through faith. And yet those very terms are redefined in such a way to deny the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ  [4]  .

But the problem is not just theological. It is also moral. Many, it says, will follow their shameful ways and the way of truth will be brought into disrepute. In my parents generation the term 'evangelist' was one of respect. Even amongst non-Christians by and large. Today, it is a label of contempt. Ask a non-Christian what comes to mind when they hear the word evangelist and they would probably say things like 'greedy, hypocrite, money lover, adulterer'. For those that don't know Christ, evangelist simply means 'Tele-evangelist' and that is becoming more and more linked with scandal and greed  [5]  . The way of truth has been maligned.  [6] 

As I entitled this section, in many cases the gospel of grace has become the gospel of greed. And the scary thing is that there are more and more so called teachers that are turning up to endorse these things and to feed their hungry sheep this poison  [7]  . As someone has said 'you know you're in trouble when the Shepherd starts speaking well of the wolf!' But we are not in the dark. The characteristics and motives of such people has been described and detailed in 2 Peter chapter 2 and other passages in the Bible and the word of God should act as a light for our path  [8]  .

The Lord watches, judges, and saves.

2 Pet 2:4-9 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.

I'm not going to comment on this passage very much because I have already done so in the studies on 'As it was in the days of Noah', and 'As it was in the days of Lot.' But just briefly, this passage shows us that God watches and He deals justly according to what He sees. To quote the above 'the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgement.' He showed this in the days of Noah. He showed it in the days of Lot. And nothing has changed! The false teachers may think that they can say what they want, live like they want, and disgrace Christianity as much as they want, but as it says in verse three  'their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.' 

The real thing

While 2 Peter 2 focuses on the false teachers and their heretical teachings, I just wanted to close this study by drawing your attention to the attitude, beliefs, and heart of a true Shepherd. As you read this passage, look for the things in Paul that stand in direct opposition to those of whom we have read in 2 Peter 2. In particular, note his dedication to the truth of the gospel; note his intense desire to complete the tasks that God had given him; note his concern for the flock in the face of the wolves that he knew would inevitably come; note his emphasis on grace; and note his lack of greed and covetousness. That, my friends, is a real man of God!

 Acts 20:22-37 And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. 25 'Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. 32 'Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'' 36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 

[1] ↩  For example, Deut 18:20-22 is a very common commandment concerning false prophets. Deut 13:1-5 is probably less well known but it is just as critical in the age we live in. In short, even if someone prophesies something that does come to pass, we still have to weigh up whether it is true to the ways and word of the Lord. This will become all the more important in these last days as we shall soon see.

[2] ↩  This rams home to us the necessity of knowing the real thing. I once heard a story how the students in zoology class decided to play a practical joke to trick their professor. What they did, was to create a bug from the parts of several different bugs. They put it together in such a detailed and careful way, that it looked like an entirely genuine new type of bug. They then took it to the professor and said to him 'we found this bug, but cannot identify it. Have you seen it before?' The professor looked very carefully at for some time. Finally he said to them that he had identified it. 'I know what it is' he said. 'It's a humbug!' Like this 'humbug', Christians need to be careful because the counterfeit is made up of parts that are real, but the sum of those parts is not.

[3] ↩  We should always remember that the fruit of someone's life is not their giftings or ability to perform the miraculous. It is their character. In the last days especially, Jesus said that the false prophets will be performing signs and miracles. To the extent even, that the elect would be deceived if possible. So look for character. The difference between the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit is easy to see as outlined in Galatians chapter five.

Just as a side note, straight after talking about wolves in sheep's clothing, Jesus goes on to speak about those who believed that they were the real thing because of the works that they did, but on judgement day Jesus had to say to them ' depart from me, I never knew you.' This would indicate to me that some of the false teachers do not realise that they are false, but are caught in the web of deception. See also 2 Tim 3:13.

[4] ↩  Actually, in his book 'The Kingdom of the cults' Walter Martin spends a whole chapter discussing this very thing before focusing on any of the cults. The chapter is called 'Scaling the language barrier.' Here's a quick quote: 'It is possible for a Jehovah Witness, a Christian Scientist, or a Mormon for example to utilise the terminology of Biblical Christianity with absolute freedom, having already redesigned those terms in the theological framework of their own liking, but almost always at direct variance with the historically excepted meanings of those terms.'

[5] ↩  Was in a Christian book shop recently and I saw a book by the leader of the church denomination that I used to attend. So I started flicking and sure enough, it wasn't long before I was reading how the Lord wants the Christian to be materially prosperous. The author wrote that Jesus took poverty to the cross so that we can be rich. This he based on 2 Cor 8:9. He said in the book that every commentary he has read takes this verse to mean spiritually rich, and not materially rich. But, in actual fact, he wanted to now reveal that it does mean materially rich. What a load of rubbish! He goes on to say that Moses was paid tithes of what he estimates to be around 52 million a year. Again, what a load of rubbish! As the New Century Version translates 2 Pet 2:3 'Those false teachers only want your money, so they will use you by telling you lies.'

[6] ↩  I once heard someone say that to weigh up the validity of a ministry you need to ask yourself whether you would place a brand-new Christian under that ministry so that they are taught exclusively by that ministry. For what it's worth the Christian shows on TV in my country include Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Brian Tamaki, Creflo Dollar, Charles Stanley, and Robert Schuller. If I had led someone to the Lord recently, the only ministry out of that lot that I would trust is Charles Stanley.

[7] ↩  Ok, ok... I'll get off the whole greed in the footnotes thing soon. But there is an interesting passage in Jeremiah that I would like to draw your attention to. It is Jer 6:13-17. Verse 13-15 gives you the conditions in the land at the time. Sound familiar? Verse 16 shows the way back onto the right road. Sound familiar? Verse 17 shows their response and their desire to stay off the right road. Um, sound familiar?

[8] ↩  When the FBI train their agents to spot counterfeit money, they get them to focus primarily on the real thing - the actual real notes and not the counterfeits. When the agent is completely familiar with the real notes, it is a lot easier for them to spot the counterfeits. This is a useful illustration in dealing with the Biblical truth and it's counterfeit. You don't have to be an expert in all of the cults. Focus on what is true and you will be able to spot the false teachings a lot easier.