2 Peter 2:1-22
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you…
I. OBJECTS OF PUNISHMENT.
1. On account of their anti-christian character. "But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." The connection of thought seems to be the following: There were prophets that" spake from God;" but there arose false prophets also among the people, i.e., in ancient Israel; as in that which was typified by ancient Israel, viz. in the New Testament Church, there were to be false teachers. Where, then, those teachers are, there is generally an imperfect condition of religious society which gives rise to them. Under similar conditions, similar manifestations may be expected. The false teachers rising up among them ("of your own selves shall men arise," Acts 20:30), these would have the opportunity of (literally) bringing in by the side of, i.e., by the side of the authoritative teachings, their heresies. The authoritative teachings they would not openly seek to combat; for that might lead to their being silenced, even in their speedy ejection from the Christian communities. Their policy would rather be to keep up connection with the Christian circle, and to bring in a spurious Christianity, having resemblance in form, but denial in substance. The authoritative teachings were of a saving nature; what these would seek to bring in would be heresies of destructions, i.e., not put forward with the professed intent to destroy, but from their nature fitted to conduct men to destruction. Their heresies would be soul-destroying; for they would "deny even the Master that bought them." The language is altogether remarkable. Christ is regarded as having paid the purchase money, which is not here mentioned, but is to be under stood, according to 1 Peter 1:19, of his precious blood. By that buying he has become Possessor and Master, i.e., with the right to command. The startling thing is that he is represented as the Master, through purchase or redemption, of the heretical workers of destruction. Nothing could more signally set forth the world-wide character of the atonement. The Master that bought them they, having once acknowledged, were to deny, to put away from them, to supplant by a counterfeit Christ. But it is dangerous to deny Christ; by doing so, in the counter-working of providence, they would only "bring upon themselves swift destruction." It is true that Christ represents the Divine slowness to wrath. Peter knew that every denial does not bring instantaneous destruction. It is only when it has been made abundantly clear that the denial is the settled habit of the mind, that swift, or rather sudden, destruction descends.
2. On account of their sensuality followed to the prejudice of Christianity. "And many shall follow their lascivious doings: by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of." It was to be an aggravating element in their punishment, that they were to be successful in spreading immorality. Sensuality is the charge which Peter brings up again and again. They were to allow themselves illicit gratification; and their example would be followed by many. This would be greatly to the prejudice of Christianity; for it would lead to its being misrepresented as pointing out the way of truth, i.e., the way of life, corresponding to the truth. Men outside, unable to distinguish between what properly belonged to it and what did not properly belong to it, would very naturally say of it, from what they saw in its professed representatives, that it encouraged licentiousness.
3. On account of their mercenary character. "And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingereth not, and their destruction slumbereth not." Money is needed for the purchase of illicit pleasure. Covetousness was to surround the false teachers as an atmosphere. Continually breathing it, they were as teachers to use feigned words - not bound fast to the truth, but artfully adapted to man's prejudices. The end of teaching is to do good; it was to be to the disgrace of the false teachers that they were to have as their end to make merchandise of those over whom they obtained influence. But these teachers, who were to add to their other faults their being mercenary, would not go unpunished. Peter, in impassioned language, represents punishment as already on the way to them. "Their sentence now from of old lingereth not, i.e., the sentence against such has gone forth from of old, and, not delaying, it will in its course overtake them; and" their destruction slumbereth not," i.e., not delayed by sleep, as it were, it will follow hard on the sentence. Let them not think, then, that they will escape.
II. ANCIENT EXAMPLES OF PUNISHMENT.
1. Stated conditionally.
(1) The fallen angels. "For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." This was the most ancient example that there was to go back upon. Peter does not say what the sin of the angels was. Jude is more informing, and suggests that they did not place the right value on their own principality, on their proper habitation. There was something else that they placed before what they had, and, reaching after it, they fell from their high estate. God, it is said here, spared them not when they sinned, near though they were to him, but cast them down to Tartarus. This is, strangely, a word connected with heathen mythology, and is to be understood of that division of Hades which is the place of preliminary punishment, as distinguished from Gehenna, which is the place of final punishments. In Tartarus God "committed them to pits of darkness." There was an irony in the appointment. They loved not the brightness in which there was no feeling of being wailed in; and so they were cast down to be wailed in on every side by gloom. In Tartarus they are waiting judgment; and if they are imprisoned in gloom before judgment, what must their state after judgment be! There is no relieving of the picture here as in the other two examples that follow.
(2) The Flood. The dark background. "And spared not the ancient world." This ancient example comes home to us, as relating to our own flesh and blood. It is the most disastrous thing that has happened in the history of the race; it was so extensive stud overwhelming in its sweep. God spared not the ancient world. Men multiplied on the earth for sixteen or seventeen centuries, and then the Flood swept them away as though they had never been. The darkness relieved. "But preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly." The antediluvians were ungodly, i.e., had lost a salutary impression even of the existence of God, and had cast off Divine restraints. They did eat and drink; they lived a life within the world of sense. There was one notable exception. This was Noah, who is here styled "a preacher of righteousness," i.e., in the midst of the prevailing ungodliness he had so much of the fear of God on his mind as to credit and proclaim, by word and act, that, if they did not repent of their ungodliness, the righteousness of God would be manifested against them in their destruction by water. And so God preserved Noah, and seven others on account of their connection with him, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.
(3) The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. The dark background. "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, having made them an example unto those that should live ungodly." The description in Genesis is, "The Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities." Peter marks punitiveness in the completeness of the work of destruction. God turned the cities into ashes, and thus punitively overthrew them, i.e., so that they were obliterated as cities. Nor was this an exceptional procedure. God dealt thus with the cities because of their ungodliness, and he dealt thus with them that the ungodly of after-times might know what to expect from ungodliness. The darkness relieved. "And delivered righteous Lot, sore distressed by the lascivious life of the wicked (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds)." There is not brought into view the fact that Lot made choice of Sodom from considerations of worldly advantage, and without considering religious privileges. He was to blame for being in Sodom, and yet, though he should never have been there, he is called righteous Lot, i.e., one who strived to live according to Divine rule. He was righteous in the midst of those who had no regard for law either human or Divine, as seen especially in their sensual behaviour. This had a wearing-down or wearing-out effect on righteous Lot. That righteous man, dwelling among them, was forced to see and hear things which tormented his righteous soul, and so he was worn out. When one has put himself in a wrong position, it is often difficult to get out of it. But because Lot did not allow his godly sensibilities to be blunted, God, with a certain sharpness, effected for him a deliverance.
2. Conclusion drawn.
(1) The bright side. "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation." Peter has been dwelling on the bright side, so as to throw the thought out of form; he now puts the bright side into the conclusion. Noah and Lot were godly; their temptation lay in their being in the neighbourhood of the ungodly. But the Lord found ways and means of delivering them; the one deliverance involving the preservation of the human family, and the other deliverance signifying rectification of position. The Lord that delivered Noah and Lot out of their temptation will deliver all that, like them, are godly out of their temptation, whatever it is, when he sees it to be for his glory.
(2) The dark side. "And to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment." Three classes have been instanced of the unrighteous, i.e., those not right toward God. The Lord found ways and means of checking them; so all like them will be checked. The time will come when God will place them under punishment, to be kept under it unto the day of judgment. Let us, then, be warned off the rocks on which men long ago perished and are perishing still.
III. OBJECTS OF PUNISHMENT.
1. On account of sensuality. "But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of defilement." This is connected with the thought of punishment. The teachers are now thought of as already present. The evil had already commenced, though it had not reached its height. They are singled out for punishment on account of their walking after the flesh in the lust whose object is that which defiles.
2. Or, account of lawlessness.
(1) The lawlessness described. "And despise dominion. Daring, self-willed, they tremble not to rail at dignities." They arc next singled out for punishment on account of their lawlessness. There is the same association in Jude. They "despise" (Jude's word means "set at naught") dominion or lordship (especially in Christ). In their objection to be ruled they go great lengths ("daring"), making self their rule ("self-willed"). In their presumption and self-assertion they tremble not - though it should make them tremble - to rail at dignities (adopting Jude's expression). The reference seems to be to dignities belonging to the heavenly world. They pay no regard, in what they say, to rank bestowed by God.
(2) The lawlessness condemned. "Whereas angels, though greater in might and power, bring not a railing judgment against them before the Lord." Here Peter seems to assume acquaintance with what Jude says. Michael the archangel, with all self-restraint, and having regard to the original dignity of Satan, in contending with him simply said, "The Lord rebuke thee." Peter brings forward the angels (good) generally as greater in might and power than men are, and asserts that they do not retaliate upon the railers in what they bring up before the Lord.
(3) The lawlessness punished. "But these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals, to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed, suffering wrong as the hire of wrong-doing." Here Peter flashes out against the false teachers. He thinks of irrational brutes, born with nothing higher than an animal nature, to be taken and destroyed. They are also irrational in railing in matters beyond them, and shall have a similar fate. In their destruction as responsible beings they shall surely be destroyed, getting their reward in wrong inflicted on them for wrong done by them (in railing).
3. On account of luxurious living. "Men that count it pleasure to revel in the daytime, spots and blemishes, reveling in their love-feasts while they feast with you." The reference is to luxurious living. Such living shows itself chiefly in banquets whose natural time is the night. To regard banqueting in the daytime with peculiar zest was the sign of a very diseased state of mind. It was a more serious thing to connect luxurious living with the love-feasts. That made the false teachers spots of dirt, blemishes, at those holy gatherings at which they were present, while they feasted with Christ's people.
4. On account of sensuality. "Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; enticing unsteadfast souls." There was the sensual look, apparently, even at the love-feasts. This was accompanied by restlessness in sin, reflected also in the eye. Those to whom the bait was held out, and who became their prey, were souls not yet established in faith and the pursuit of pure pleasure - men, according to the after-representation, only a few paces from heathenism.
5. Or, account of covetousness.
(1) How their covetousness is regarded. "Having a heart exercised in covetousness; children of cursing." Here, again, greed follows on sensuality. Spiritual gymnastic is needed to counteract the greed of the heart; gymnastic was employed by these teachers to the increase of the greed of the heart. As greed increased, the blight came down on their spiritual nature. The ripe result was that, in the ravenousness of greed, they became "children of the curse." That is the Hebrew way of saying that the curse found its way deep into their nature.
(2) Comparison with Balaam. "Forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beer, who loved the hire of wrong-doing; but he was rebuked for his own transgression: a dumb ass spake with man's voice and stayed the madness of the prophet." Balaam, forsaking the right way, went astray. It was wrong for him ever to think of going to Barak, who wished him to curse Israel. "Thy way," he was told, "is perverse before me." He was swayed from the right way by loving the hire of wrong-doing. "And God's anger was kindled because he went." He was rebuked for what was not forced upon him, but was his own transgression. It was a telling rebuke to be stayed in his mad journey by the dumb animal speaking with man's voice. Like Balaam, these men were prostituting their powers in the service of gain, and would not fare better in the end.
6. On account of false promises.
(1) Comparisons. "These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved." Under strong feeling, Peter seizes on natural imagery to describe the false teachers. To a traveler in a desert nothing can be more grateful than the appearance of a well; but, when he comes up to it, and finds it without water, he receives a bitter disappointment. In a protracted drought the farmer keenly scans the face of the sky; a misty cloud is hailed by him, and he watches its changes and course, but it is driven past by the storm-wind, and not a drop of rain descends. So those false teachers held out promises which they did not fulfill; and in another natural appearance he sees their end foreshadowed - a meteor seen for a little, and then passing into the blackness of darkness.
(2) Sensual promises. "For, uttering great swelling words of vanity, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by lasciviousness, those who are just escaping from them that live in error." Their words are regarded as swollen out beyond the ordinary size, while they are filled with emptiness. It is in a sensual condition of mind that they use their swollen words. The bait they hold out is sensual gratification. "Their guilt is exhibited as aggravated by the fact that the persons whom they plied with the vile bait of sensual indulgence were those least fit to resist it; not men who were established in the new faith, but men who had but recently broken off from the ranks of heathenism, or who had as yet got but a few paces, as it were, in the process of separating themselves from their old pagan life" (Salmond).
(3) Promising liberty, while themselves bound. "Promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage." In swollen language they promised liberty: but were they themselves free? No; they were the bondservants of destructive lusts. When their lusts were destroying them, and they could not cease gratifying them, what was that but bondage?
7. On account of their apostasy.
(1) Last state worse than the first. "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first." Peter thinks of them, in conclusion, as punished in their moral degradation. They were once the prey of the miasmata - the defilements - of the world. There supervened a blessed time of escape. This was when they had knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (the name being appreciatingly dwelt upon). The word is used which means "appreciative knowledge;" and it would seem to be implied that there was reality in their spiritual experience. But the time came when they were again entangled in the miasmata of the world, and overcome by them. In that case they were the worse for the experience through which they had come. We cannot have conviction of sin and appreciation of Christ, and put away from us that experience, without our bringing evil into our nature far beyond what we were capable of in our former state. Judas was a worse man that he had come into such nearness to Christ, than he would otherwise have been. Therefore let us be careful how we treat visitations of the Spirit, solemn experience.
(2) Preferable evil state. "For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them." The false teachers again are represented as having known the new life of Christianity, as having turned to the holy commandment delivered to them. Better that they had remained in heathenism than, after knowing the new life, to turn back from the holy commandment upon which it depends. Therefore let us be careful how we treat Christian rules of conduct. There is a sacredness about them which is not to be trifled with.
(3) Proverb explanatory of relapse. "It has happened unto them, according to the true proverb, The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire." This double proverb is not explanatory of the last state being worse than the first, but simply of the being again entangled and overcome. Though they knew the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they were not beyond temptation to sensuality. Their relapse took place in their giving the old nature the ascendency. The comparisons employed are not complimentary. The false teachers are compared to the dog and the sow - animals abhorred in the East. They have returned to the filth of heathenism as the dog to its vomit, as the sow that had washed to its wallowing in the mire. Therefore let us be careful not to give in to the old nature. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
WEB: But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction.