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- 2 Peter 1:1 - 2
If you are wanting to get away for a few days or a week, you have 2 options. You can go somewhere you have never gone before, maybe hiking in the Smokies or taking the double decker bus through New York City or climbing a fourteener in the Rocky mountains. Another option is to choose something that you have done before, something you know you will enjoy, perhaps stay close to home. Both options are good options. One has intrigue of the unknown. The other has familiarity of home.
As we begin a journey through Peter’s second letter, I think we are choosing the first option. We will be going to new places perhaps never before traveled, at least not by me (beyond simply reading it). There are topics and themes and even words in the book that are unique to II Peter and are not found anywhere else in the New Testament. That should not frighten us but should rather heighten our curiosity and interest in what God is saying to us through this perhaps easily overlooked letter.
Some serious themes
II Peter is a unique contribution to the canon of Scripture, the 66 books of the Old and New Testament. The themes in the book are not really peppy and happy and lighthearted. The themes are rather quite serious, somber and even a bit jolting. There were things happening in the churches that needed to be addressed right now. And so we will see some urgency in the mind of Peter to take on some influences and influencers who were turning the spotlight of the church off the Lord Jesus Christ and onto other things.
The Creator was being pushed out of center view and that which has been created was taking precedent in the church. And we will get more to that in a minute.
Who wrote it?
First off, let’s just answer a few basic questions about the letter. Who wrote it? The obvious answer to this would be Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. Throughout the letter, Peter sprinkles in subtle autobiographical information, like in chapter 1:14. There he tells the church that he is about to die. The Lord Jesus had made this known to him. This is the second prediction of Peter’s death. The first was in John 21 when Jesus tells Peter that a day would come when someone else would dress him and lead Peter to the place he did not want to go. It appears that here at the end of Peter’s life, that prediction or prophecy that is about to happen.
The glory of the Christ
We also see Peter retelling the story of the transfiguration in 1:16-18. There he saw the majesty of the Christ. That experience catapulted his mind to the excellencies of the Son. He saw God’s glorious light. He saw the unveiled eternal Son of God and he was changed forever. He also says plainly in chapter 3:1, that this is his second letter. So all of these things and many more things contribute to the belief that Peter, the former fisherman turned apostle actually wrote the letter attributed to his name.
And yet there is a bit of dispute over this. The letter is very different in style, vocabulary and content than I Peter. The wording and phrasing is heavily influenced by Greek thinking and Peter of course was a Jew. And the quality of the writing is not on par with the quality of I Peter. It apparently does not have the sophistication of his 1st letter. There are other reasons to doubt that Peter was the author but those are just a few.
How to answer these objections
So what do we make of these objections? First of all, the human capacity to explore, develop and articulate thoughts on different themes is vast and expansive. Peter wrote a great first letter, covering various topics. There is no reason that he could not write another great letter covering other various topics. Second, the things happening in these churches needed to be addressed immediately. There is no time for sophistication. This has the feel of a sermon perhaps even more than just a letter. The situation Peter wrote into required a level of urgency and rawness that comes out in his writing.
The Holy Spirit wanted another letter
And third, the Holy Spirit of God is ultimately responsible for the writing, crafting and preserving of all Scripture. So there is no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit could not use Peter to write another letter that would bless the church then and now. This is what I believe the Spirit did. The prophets were carried along by the Spirit and so was the apostle Peter.
When it was written
So when was the letter written and to whom was the letter written? It was probably written around A.D. 60 to 68, roughly 1,950 years ago. The fact that it still exists today and still speaks today further authenticates its divine inspiration. Old things are not irrelevant things. The Bible unlike many things never gets old, never wears out, can never be overused to the point of losing its usefulness. It is the living, abiding, breathing Word of God.
To Gentile churches
This letter was written to the churches of Asia Minor or modern day Turkey, Armenia and perhaps other surrounding countries in the Middle East. It was written to Gentile, not Jewish churches. This tells us that Peter’s ministry took on a new shape or new focus later on in his life. He was the apostle to the Jews. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. However, Peter’s life and ministry ended with a clear call to pastor, shepherd and oversee Gentile churches. What this says about life and ministry is that we don’t need to think small when it comes to ministry.
A changing ministry
Perhaps your ministry has been your kids for many, many years. Or perhaps you have had a clear, distinct call to reach out to certain friends or neighbors. Or maybe you have been a part of a ministry for a long time and that ministry is coming to a close for various reasons. What the gospel consistently causes us to do is to ask the question, what’s next? What more can I do to respond to the beauties of the gospel?
Peter’s ministry took shape as he grew and developed in his understanding and appreciation of what Christ had already done. Jesus had told Peter already that he and the disciples would “be my witness in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” That is what we are seeing here.
So what were the current issues that Peter was addressing in these churches? There were really big elephants in the room or in the church called false teachers or opponents of the gospel. Peter knew about it. He didn’t like it. And that is a big reason why this letter was written. There is perhaps no concern that stirred more emphatic, intense urgent preaching than the presence of false teachers in the church.
Like Leader, like Follower
Jesus was not a big fan of false teachers in His day, who falsely represented the true gospel of God. And Jesus’ followers, the apostles had the same visceral response to a misrepresentation of the gospel. It is perhaps the highest goal of all church leaders, preachers and teachers to have the eternal words of God preserved and un-hindered. When that is not happening, letters (like II Peter) get written and preachers get preaching the true gospel.
These false teachers, opponents of the gospel were not outside the church. They were rather inside the church, posing as Christians. That is what made them so dangerous. And Peter does not have very nice names for them. He calls them: blots and blemishes, waterless springs and mists, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed and the list goes on. The reason for such a graphic description of these opponents is not because they were in a worse category of sinner that anyone else or that they were too bad to be redeemed.
Claiming to be saved
Instead, these people were claiming to be saved, to be redeemed, to be a part of the community of God. They were self-deceived and Peter is warning the church not to buy into their self-deception. He is helping believers to recognize these opponents (these elephants) as outside the true church even though they appeared to be in the church. The seriousness of the situation is matched by the seriousness of the letter.
What were they saying
So what kind of teachings or beliefs were these opponents injecting into the church. The first and most obvious one is the denial of Jesus’ return. They say in chapter 3:4, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” In other words, as far as we can see things are not really changing in the world. Jesus hasn’t returned. As far as we are concerned, He never will return. So we can just carry on with our lives because nothing is ever going to change.”
They were empiricists, creatures of instinct, those who denied the whole teaching of the Scripture and replaced it with personal experience, here and now type thinking.
Denying future judgment
This denial of Jesus’ return led to a denial of future judgment and the sovereign rule of God in the world. To the opponents, Jesus was not ruling King. He was not around anymore and would never come around again so they could live their life as their own little, phony gods (waterless springs and mists). They did not deny the existence of Jesus. They denied the rule and authority of Jesus. And this led to a libertine lifestyle. No present rule of Jesus and no future judgment meant freedom to do and think whatever they wanted to.
And the buzzword that they used for this was freedom. They in fact promised freedom (2:19) but were themselves “slaves of corruption.” And this is where it got bit confusing for the real believers in the church because Christian freedom is real and beautiful and good. However Christian freedom is not the freedom to do whatever a person wants. It is the freedom to live underneath the rule and reign of King Jesus, eagerly and joyfully obeying His good commands, which lead to our good. Freedom is only possible when submitted to the Savior. Submission to anything other than the Lord is a form of bondage.
This is why Peter says, “they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”
Jesus the ruling King
Peter needs to step in and nock down this phony version of freedom by promoting the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just the One Who gets us saved and then disappears from the universe. He is the ruling and reigning Lord Who is working in the world, building His church, spreading His gospel, interceding for His beloved, and Who will return to judge the living and the dead. Jesus is alive and well.
The imminent return of Jesus is a critical teaching that Jesus Himself elevated as having enormous importance. He told plainly of His return. He told parables about His return. And He informed His disciples of His return and here Peter is passing on these words of Christ. Jesus is coming again. What that means for Christians is that our life is moving toward a clear direction: life forever with God in the new heavens and the new earth.
God is patient
To the argument the elephants made that nothing ever changes in the world, Peter says in 3:8-9, “but do not overlook this one fact beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.” The opponents thought that a perceived delay in Christ’s coming again was a sign of God’s absence in world. Peter is saying that the perceived delay in Christ’s coming is not a sign of God’s absence but the presence of His mercy and patience.
God is in some way, restraining His wrath or pushing back the day of judgment so that more can be brought into the Kingdom.
What God does when He waits
On a smaller scale, we can trust that God’s perceived delay in doing what we want Him to do is not a sign that He is aloof or uncaring but that He is working things out on broader scale than we can imagine. Lazarus’ death was thought of as oversight on Jesus’ part. But Jesus proved it to be intended to bring God glory when Lazarus is raised from the dead. God never delays or fails to act. It’s just that His actions have higher purposes than we can immediately see.
No real category
One of the many ways these false teachers or opponents confused the church was by promoting a philosophy or false religion that had no real category. They were not easy to pin down. One theologian calls there belief system “the heretics’ river” or “a river of heresies” and in this river was dumped all kinds of bad teaching that made the water muddier and muddier. This is what makes bad teaching so tricky to spot and identify. It is slippery and confusing and usually has a good deal of the Bible thrown into it.
What floated in it
Some of the things floating in this river of heresy were: the denial of Christ’s presence as Lord and King right now, the freedom to do whatever feels right in the moment, the dismissal of the entirety of biblical teaching and prophecy, bold confidence in topics and subjects of which they know nothing about and an un-willingness to submit to the sovereign will of God and instead assume that the world has no point and no clear end for which we have been created: namely for the glory of God.
Why he wrote it
If this sounds a bit intense and over bearing and judgmental, let’s remember why Peter is writing this letter. It is a warning not to drink from the heretic’s river because it will make you sick and bring about your own destruction. To form a system of belief that is based on empirical evidence, instinctual feelings and personal experience is to choose a very confused and eventually destructive life. We are created to be led. We are created to have a Lord. We are created with an enormous, eternal need for God and God has offered us His Leadership, His Lordship and His love. That is what Peter is promoting. And it takes a whole lot of demoting of the wrong thing so that the beauties of a life submitted to the King can be brought into center view and enjoyed.
We all have influences
Some of the descriptions that Peter gives to the opponents may not fit us perfectly. However we all have some influencers and influences in our life either now or in the past that do not align with Christ’s teaching. I don’t think that should be a big shock to anybody. One of the beautiful tasks that we have as believers is to identify wrong ways of thinking that lead to wrong ways of living and to put those things up against the Scriptures, to see ourselves in the light of King Jesus and be changed.
Know what is right
This is one of many reasons these New Testament letters were written: to demote the wrong and promote the right. Wrong ways of thinking are not always seen as obviously wrong. We get to know the wrong in part by seeing and learning that which is right; By hiding the Word deep in the heart, by meditating on the law of God day and night. Know the real thing and the counterfeits begin to show themselves very quickly.
Some themes: The Word
This leads to a few major themes in Peter’s second letter. The first is knowing and affirming the Word of God. Sometimes we think of knowing the Word as a religious duty. We memorize Scripture because we have to or because we get a star in Sunday School or a pat on the back from mom and dad. I don’t think those are primary reasons for knowing the Scripture. I think the main reason we learn, memorize, absorb and love the Word is because we are in a battle, at war. And this is not a battle with physical things, like people, creditors, the law, insurance companies or any other visible thing. The battle is with unseen things over which physical weapons are powerless.
That is what Paul says in Ephesians 6. We do wrestle but not against flesh and blood but against unseen spiritual forces in the heavenly places. And in II Corinthians 10 he says, “…..though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” This ability to demolish arguments and ideas and thoughts that are not submitted to King Jesus comes from knowing the Word of King Jesus.
And that is what Peter wants the churches to know. He says in 1:19, “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed to which you will do well to pay attention to as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Knowing the Word is not a duty. It is a necessity, an opportunity and a delight for those who know and love King Jesus.
Second theme: Christ’s return
A second major theme in the letter is the return of Christ and our inauguration into the new heavens and the new earth. Peter does not think of future glory as some far out reality that has no bearing on our life now. He sees future glory as a major impetus for living with Christ in center view right now. Our life right now is to reflect in small ways what our life will look like then.
New heavens and a new earth
Peter uses the phrase “new heavens and a new earth” where righteousness dwells in chapter 3:13. Sometimes we very quickly summarize the after life for believers as going to “heaven.” However, a broader look at the eternal state must include the experience of life in a new earth, a re-created earth, a renewal of all that has been corrupted. Revelation 21 also describes it this way, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
God will dwell
Instead of thinking of the afterlife as an ethereal, spirit world, we are to think of it as a recreation of the earth or a new earth where God will come and dwell with His creation. God will come down and dwell with man. However, we will also meet Him in the air (I Thessalonians 4:7.) How can both things happen? Will we go to God or will God come to us? And the answer is yes. Welcome to another beautiful mystery.And welcome to the invitation to join us as we study II Peter together this fall.
Our experience in the after life where righteousness dwells is to be a goal for our life now. Because Jesus is the King of this life and the life to come.
What we know
What we know for sure within the mysteries of which we will continue to learn about is this: Christ came, Christ lived, Christ died, Christ rose again and Christ will return so that after we live and die, we will be raised to live forever with Him. That is what Holy Scripture teaches and that is what we believe. God is leading this world to a beautiful and purposeful end: His glory and our forever happiness in being with Him.
Christ our light and vision
We get a glimpse of that in Revelation 21:22-25, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” If Christ will be our vision then, it makes sense for Christ to be our vision right now. Let’s pray.