The Letter of Peter 2

Background

The second letter from Peter was written shortly before his death in about 64 AD. While the focus of the first letter was persecution from outside, this one deals more with false teachers among the believers.

Outline

  1. A 1:1–4 Greetings and praise
  2. B 1:5–11 Our response to the gift of Jesus
  3. –– C 1:12–19 Reminder: the first days
  4. ––– X 1:20–2:22 False prophets
    1. ––– Xa 1:20–2:9 Their practices and judgment
    2. ––– Xb 2:10–14a Their self-destruction
    3. ––– Xc 2:14b–19 Their doom
    4. ––– Xd 2:20–22 Their true colors
  5. –– C’ 3:1–10 Reminder: the last days
  6. B’ 3:11–16 Our response to what is coming
  7. A’ 3:17–18 Final warning and farewell

A 1:1–4 Greetings and praise

Peter begins with encouraging remarks about the power of God to give us everything we need for living holy lives. So we should not be content to remain newborns, but to grow in maturity and knowledge. This will result in endurance, holiness, and a tender heart for other believers.

B 1:5–11 Our response to the gift of Jesus

This is the “fruit” of the Christian disciple; it validates to the others that we are saved and faithful. This is a public confirmation of salvation, not a means of attaining it. Some mistake it to suggest that we have to produce this outward evidence in order to stay saved, but that is not what the text says. Others would do well to be concerned about us if we have no works, but the Bible clearly says we are saved solely by faith, plus nothing.

C 1:12–19 Reminder: the first days

We all need refresher courses sometimes, even in subjects we know well. Likewise, Peter sees value in reminding them of what they already know. He is all the more eager to do so because he has the impression that he will not be on the earth much longer.

He relates his personal witness of Jesus having been raised from the dead by God’s power; it was not a clever fable or second-hand story. He also personally witnessed Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration (Mark 9), and he heard the voice of God. Certainly, at the end of his life, if Peter had been deceived or lying he would have confessed by this time, but he sticks to his story even knowing he will be executed for it. This is but one of many powerful evidences for the truth of the gospel.

X 1:20–2:22 False prophets

This is the crux or central point of the letter. Peter introduces the topic with a statement about true prophets.

X 1:20–2:9 Their practices and judgment

First we see a frequently misunderstood statement taken out of context, typically translated as “no prophecy is of private interpretation.” Some take it to mean that individuals, “ordinary” believers, cannot interpret the scriptures for themselves but instead must bow to some “infallible interpreter” such as the Catholic Magisterium or some other governing authority. These verses ripped out of context are used as a means of suppressing dissent, which is an insult to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all believers. Instead, the obvious meaning in context is that Peter is validating the testimony of the prophets. They, like he, did not invent prophecies but got them straight from God via the Holy Spirit.

Most translations give the idea that the phrase about the Holy Spirit means the Spirit “carried them along”, but the Greek shows two parallels of the verb for “carried”: by the prophets, and then by the Spirit. It points to the subject of the phrase in each case: not carried on by people, and carried on by the Spirit. That is, the prophets were not doing their own work but that of the Spirit. It is the message that’s being performed or “carried on”, not the prophets that are being carried.

After making a point about true prophets, Peter warns that there were also false prophets who did make up their own stories. And such would soon invade the churches. They would introduce wrong thinking and bold heresies, and draw away many after themselves. History has borne this out, and it continues to this day. But God will surely judge them, all in his good time.

Not even Messengers who sinned could escape judgment. Here Peter mentions the same ones as that of Jude 1:6, and identifies the place of their prison as Tartarus. As proven also with Noah’s Flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, God will only wait so long before paying everyone back for their wickedness. But notice that he spared Noah by keeping him safe in the midst of the deluge, and Lot by snatching him out of harm’s way at the last minute. These are types or pictures of how God will keep the believing Jews safe for the final three and one half years, and also how he will take his Congregation out of the world before the his wrath is poured out. God knows how to rescue his own and not let them suffer his judgment.

X 2:10–14a Their self-destruction

God reserves justice for a future time, when he will finally deal with those who despise him and only think about this life. They speak abusively against beings much more powerful than themselves, yet even the Messengers do not presume to say such things. They are like brute beasts, born to be caught and killed.

X 2:14b–19 Their doom

Those false teachers are doomed and cursed, consumed by greed. Deep darkness is the eternal fate they have chosen for themselves, victims of their own traps.

X 2:20–22 Their true colors

Now we come across a controversial statement related to the issue of whether a believer can be lost. Who is Peter describing here, true believers or fake believers? He just talked about the latter at great length, but were these people ever saved? Look at verse 22 for the answer: they never changed; they were always “dogs and pigs” who were merely bathed and dressed up, but their nature had never changed. But why does Peter say they had turned their backs on the “holy precept”? Peter is telling us that these people heard the gospel but never accepted it. They knew the way but did not follow it; they chose a different path and were trying to bring believers with them.

C’ 3:1–10 Reminder: the last days

Now Peter returns to reminding the people about the true prophets and Ambassadors, whose teachings came through Jesus. Just as the early believers devoted themselves to the teachings of the Ambassadors (Acts 2:42), we can still do that by diligently following their written words.

Next Peter adds some prophecy about the end. “The last days” are described as a time of deception and mocking. Many today are literally saying, “So where’s this return you keep talking about? Everything has stayed the same for all time; nothing has changed.” But God made the world out of water, then used some of it to produce the Flood. Is this not a characteristic of our time? Even the churches have bought into the lie that Genesis and Revelation are just moral lessons rather than history or prophecy. It is surely a sign of the end, and instead of water, this time God will destroy it all with fire.

The statement about a thousand years is another scripture that is frequently taken out of context. Is Peter giving us a formula for predicting the time of the end? Some say yes, and even use it to argue that the days of creation were really periods of time ranging anywhere from a thousand to a gazillion years (take your pick). But there is no reference here to creation week, only to the Flood. The topic is the last days, not the first days. Others take it as a blueprint for the total length of history, where seven days means seven thousand years from creation. But Peter does not give the formula, “one day is equal to one thousand years“, but only that one day is “like“ a thousand years, and vice versa.

All Peter is saying is that we must not become discouraged by these mockers who have deluded themselves into thinking that if nothing has apparently changed, then nothing ever will. God is not constrained by time as we are, so it’s immaterial whether he waits one or a thousand years to do something he promised. He is not late or slow as we count time, but is being patient. And the reason he is patient is because he doesn’t enjoy destroying people; he wants everyone to be saved. This refutes the Calvinistic notion that God hates most people and sends them to hell “for his good pleasure.”

B’ 3:11–16 Our response to what is coming

That Day will surely come, and afterwards the earth will be no more. The universe will be replaced with a new heavens and earth. Knowing all this, we should be all the more diligent in our Christian lives to be faithful servants. The way we can hasten the time when we’ll be given our inheritance is by spreading the Gospel and living holy lives that honor God. This is the mark of the true Christian disciple: to spread the Gospel while eagerly hoping for the Master’s return.

God’s patience is for man’s benefit, just as Paul had written. Speaking of Paul, Peter not only acknowledges his wisdom but also that his letters can be hard to understand. What an understatement! But it’s no excuse for people twisting his writings, which Peter equates with “the other scriptures.” Here we have an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection calling Paul’s letters “scripture”, which is a pretty good rebuttal against the claims of some today that Paul was a false teacher.

A’ 3:17–18 Final warning and farewell

At the end of his letter, Peter gives a last warning about these false teachers and wishes increased wisdom and knowledge for the people.