The Third in a Series of Sermons on 2 Peter
Peter is writing to warn those reading his second epistle of serious doctrinal error in the churches. Knowing that he does not have long to live, Peter leaves us with his testament (this epistle). In extending to us his final words, Peter includes an exhortation that Christians must strive to manifest those God-given virtues which flow from that eternal life given to us as a gift by the power of God. The desire to see these virtues manifest in the lives of God’s people stands in sharp contrast to the desire to serve the flesh, which is characteristic of the lives of those who have departed from the truth. But in order to properly rebuke the false teachers, Peter must first establish his apostolic authority, as well as that of the prophetic word (the Scriptures). Peter has seen the glory of Jesus with his own eyes. The Apostle relates how the glory he has seen on the holy mountain is but a foretaste of much greater glory yet to come when Jesus returns at the end of the age. In Jesus Christ the prophetic word (the Old Testament) is confirmed because all such prophecy comes from God, not from the will of men. God’s prophets are carried along by the Holy Spirit, giving to us that to which we commonly refer as “Holy Scripture.”
As we continue to work our way through 2 Peter, we come to that section of this letter identified by some as Peter’s “purpose statement” (to use a modern expression), or better his “testament.” We read in verse 14 of the first chapter that the Apostle is well aware of his impending death. In light of this fact, verses 12-15 serve several important purposes. In his farewell “testament” Peter refers back to his previous “mini” sermon in verses 3-11, in such a way as to assure his readers that the exhortation in verse 10 (“therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall”) is intended as a pastoral reminder, and is not intended as a threat to those Christians with a troubled conscience. Peter’s testament also serves as a literary bridge from the previous discussion of those virtues which ought to be manifest in the Christian life (vv. 5 -7), to the lack of such virtues apparent in the lives of those who teach false doctrine, or who have been taken in by it (chapters 2-3). The contrast between the virtues spelled out in verses 5-7, and the godless conduct described by Peter in the second chapter of this epistle could not be greater.
A “testament” such as we find here is not unusual in the ancient world. Peter’s “testament” mirrors several of those found in the Old Testament, like those of Jacob (Genesis 49), Moses (Deuteronomy 33), Joshua (Joshua 24 ), and David (1 Kings 2). There are also a number of extra-biblical testaments which may have been known to Peter, or to those reading this short epistle. These “testaments” include the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the testaments of Job and Moses. There are also final testaments in the New Testament, for that matter. We think of Jesus’ “farewell” discourse given in the upper room shortly before Jesus’ arrest and trial (John 13-16), and even Paul’s “farewell speech” to the Ephesians elders recounted in Acts 20:17-35.
Such farewell speeches usually include the following elements: 1). A prediction of death, 2). A prediction of future crises for those the dying person leaves behind, 3). An exhortation to greater virtue, 4). The promise of God’s blessing or the giving of a divine commission, and then finally, 5). A reference to the legacy the departing dying person leaves behind. The structure of this epistle and its obvious differences in style and speech from 1 Peter, can be easily explained if 2 Peter is the Apostle’s “testament” (final words) to the churches. To fulfill his apostolic office, Peter is compelled to warn the churches of the dangers of false doctrine.
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