Read the Passage: 2 Peter 2:1-22
False Teachers’ Presence (2:1–3)
In 2 Pet. 1:21 Peter had noted that in times past “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” In continuing his teaching, in 2 Pet. 2:1 the apostle notes that “there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you” (cf. Acts 20:29–30). By way of overview of the false teachers’ methodology, Peter notes here that false teachers “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1a). Ultimately, however, false teaching is rooted in “denying the Lord” (2 Pet. 2:1b). The word “Lord” that is used here is not the usual New Testament term translated “Lord.” Rather this word (despotēs), which only appears ten times in the Bible, refers to one who has absolute authority. False teaching, then, has many different manifestations, but is built upon a denial of Jesus’ lordship and a prideful exaltation of self.
In 2 Pet. 2:2–3 Peter notes two effects of false teaching—namely, (1) the leading astray of many, and (2) the blaspheming of the gospel. Of course, it is impossible for true Christians to be led astray in the sense of losing their salvation (cf. Matt. 24:24; John 10:4–5); however, immature believers may be deceived, even if only for a season. Cultural Christians and others with a false faith may be led astray in an ultimate sense. This, of course, tarnishes the gospel. Since God is consumed with His name and His glory (cf. Isa. 43:7, 25; Ezek. 36:22), the blaspheming of the way of truth is of great concern. In 2 Pet. 3:3 Peter reveals the ultimate motive behind false teachers’ doctrine—that is, covetousness, which is the uncontrolled desire to satisfy personal cravings. By way of encouragement, Peter notes the false teachers’ destruction is already in the works.
False Teachers’ Destiny (2:4–17)
Having already mentioned the false teachers’ destruction in 2 Pet. 2:1–3, in 2 Pet. 2:4–11 Peter expands upon this thought, showing from prior revelation (i.e., the Old Testament record) that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:9). The examples that Peter appeals to are: the sinning angels (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4), the ancient world (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5), and Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. 2 Pet. 2:6–8). While we may wish to know more about these events, Peter’s point here is not to explain these proceedings in detail, but rather to show that God’s pattern is one of judging the ungodly and delivering the righteous. In this passage Peter mentions God’s deliverance of Noah (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5), Lot (cf. 2 Pet. 2:7–8), and, by implication, the holy angels (cf. 2 Pet. 2:11).
In 2 Pet. 2:12–17 Peter explicitly states that which he had already implied in appealing to God’s past judgments—that is, the fact that false teachers will eventually be destroyed. It is significant that Peter makes a point to again mention that these false teachers were in and among the church, writing that “they feast with you” (2 Pet. 2:13), which is surely a reference to the heretics being present at the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Note, as well, the reference to Balaam (cf. 2 Pet. 2:15–16). Like the false teachers, Balaam was one who appeared to be doing the Lord’s work; yet, in actuality he was a false teacher operating solely for his own glory (cf. Num. 22:20, 22, 32). Peter’s analogies and the language he uses to describe the false teachers is interesting. Peter describes the heretics as beasts, blemishes, adulterers, accursed children, dry wells, and empty clouds.
False Teachers’ Influence (2:18–22)
In 2 Pet. 2:18–22 Peter discusses the way in which false teachers influence the church. Peter is specifically addressing those who are around the church, but not yet in the church—that is, those who have “knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:20), and have been exposed to “the way of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:21), but have not yet put their faith in Jesus. Peter notes that when these individuals are led astray by false teachers’ arguments, appeals to human appetites, and seduction, they follow a false doctrine and are essentially inoculated against the true gospel. Surprisingly, Peter writes that it would have been better for such individuals, if they had never known the way of righteousness, than to know it and be deceived by false teaching. Note Peter’s teaching that while false teaching promises liberty, it actually produces bondage (cf. 2 Pet. 3:19).
- What does it mean to be crucified with Christ or to be a slave of Christ? In denying Jesus’ lordship, whom do false teachers consider to be lord?
- How concerned are you with protecting God’s name—including your reputation as a Christian and the good of the church?
- When you are undergoing a trial, do you ever think about how God has delivered you and others in times past?
- How can we distinguish between unbelievers, weaker brethren, and false teachers—all of whom may appear in the church?
- What are some specific examples of false teaching that you have heard in the modern church? Why is the topic of false teaching avoided in many churches?