The Fourth in a Series of Sermons on 2 Peter
It is not a question of if, but a matter of when. False teachers and false prophets have come, they will come, and they will continually seek to introduce destructive heresies until the Lord returns. In his 2nd Epistle–which is Peter’s “testament,” i.e., his final words to the churches–Peter warns the churches of his day that false teachers and false prophets were already working their way into the churches and wreaking havoc. Peter tells us that these false teachers will speak false words and utter false prophecies. They blaspheme God and they seek to secretly introduce destructive heresies. They wilfully seek to exploit the people of God–looking for any struggling saint weak in faith, or for those who have even the slightest bit of apathy regarding the truth or Christian doctrine. Their doctrinal errors provide justification for indulging the lusts of the flesh, instead of manifesting those Christian virtues which Peter has described in verses 5-7 of the first chapter of this letter. As Peter has told us in verse 19 of chapter one, we have the prophetic word (the Scriptures) which is more sure than any human opinion and which is the light shining in the dark, and the standard by which we discern truth from error.
As we continue our series on 2 Peter, we come to Peter’s dire warning (in this chapter and in the next) about false prophets and false teachers who will arise, infiltrate the churches, and seek to lead the people of God astray. There is a very good reason why believers need to be concerned with how they live, and why they should live their lives in eager anticipation of Jesus’ return–so as to contrast themselves with those who have been deceived. The false teachers and false prophets described by Peter were undermining the very foundation of the Christian life–that God has saved us from the wrath to come, and then called us to reflect his glory through our conduct. Even as they encourage professing Christians to live no differently than the pagans around us, the false teachers are denying one of the fundamental doctrines of Christian theology; the bodily return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age, to judge the world, raise the dead, and make all things new.
If it is true, as the false teachers claim, that Jesus is not going to return a second time, then there is no basis for Christian ethics, nor is there any foundation for the Christian life. Not only is Christian preaching false when we proclaim that Christ will come again, but if Christ does not come again then there is no final judgment, no resurrection from the dead, no new heaven and earth, no eternal Sabbath rest for the people of God, and no heavenly inheritance. The proper motivation for the Christian life, which is that we live our lives in gratitude in light of these things, completely vanishes. If Christ is not returning, then critics of Christianity, like Nietzsche, are right–all we can do is live our lives carpe diem and “seize the day.” The past is irrelevant, the future remains to be written, there are no absolute standards of right and wrong, so all we have are the realities we face and the choices we must make in the present. And if Jesus is not coming back, and there is no judgment, then why not do as we please, indulge the lusts of the flesh, and seek to do what is right in our own eyes? If no one is watching, why worry about anything other than our momentary needs and pleasures?
But as Peter has told us in verse 16 of the previous chapter of this epistle, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter was present throughout much of the messianic ministry of Jesus. Since Peter saw and heard Jesus in person, Peter (and the other apostles) do not need to invent myths or fables as do the false teachers and prophets. Since Peter was an eyewitness to the majesty of Jesus, the Apostle speaks the truth, while all the false teachers can utter are clever myths which they have devised to suit their own sinful ends. As Peter reminds his readers, he was with Jesus up on the Mount of Transfiguration. “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, `This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” Peter was with Jesus. He saw our Lord’s glory. He heard the Father’s voice.
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