“There Will Be False Teachers Among You” (2 Peter 2:1-10) – Words of Warning and Comfort from Peter to the Pilgrim Church (Part Four)
There will be false teachers among us, seeking to exploit us for their personal pleasure. But all they have are myths, fables, false words and false prophecies, which appeals to human sensuality. We have the prophetic word made sure, a word which contains the authoritative word of Jesus Christ–the very thing false teachers and prophets reject, because in that word we find the gospel, the declaration that Jesus has died for our sins, and by rising again from the dead, has forever broken sin’s power over us. Jesus died to set us free. The false prophets seek to enslave us again to our passions.
Peter Continues to Warn the Churches
It is not a question of if, but a matter of when. False teachers and false prophets have come, they will continue to come, seeking 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 willfully 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 of 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 to study 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 raise the dead, judge the world, and make all things new.
What If Christ Does Not Return?
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 correct–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.
True Prophecy Originates in the Will of God, Not Man
This is why the apostle affirms with great boldness, “And we [i.e., God’s people] have the prophetic word more fully confirmed.” The prophetic word is a reference to the Old Testament (and likely to the soon to be written New Testament), as confirmed by those things accomplished by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, as well as through the glory he revealed to Peter, James, and John, while with them up on the Mount of Transfiguration. Having seen but a glimpse of Jesus’ eternal glory, Peter knows with the certainty of a faith grounded in first-hand experience, that Jesus will return a second time, when the Lord’s glory is revealed not just to three hand-pickled disciples, but universally, to the whole earth.
Because of the authority of the prophetic word (Scripture), Peter reminds those receiving this short epistle, “you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” Scripture (i.e., the prophetic word) does not originate in the human will, for as Peter makes plain, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” True prophecy comes from God, and is given through the work of the Holy Spirit. True prophecy, therefore, stands above all human opinion. It is Scripture which judges all our thinking about God, as well as the way in which we live our lives. To depart from the certainty of the prophetic word, and to instead speak false words about God, or to utter false prophecies to his people is, as Peter will tell us throughout chapter two, a serious offense against God, and is certain to bring down God’s wrath.
False Teachers Will Arise
In verse 1, of chapter 2, Peter addresses the specifics of the crisis facing the churches to whom this epistle is being sent. The apostle warns his readers/hearers, “but false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” If Christians should heed the teaching of the prophetic word made more certain (Scripture), then Christians should likewise be very leery of those who seek to introduce destructive heresies (false words and prophecies).
In the preceding verses, Peter has already claimed authority for apostolic teaching (vv. 16-18), as well as for the Old Testament (vv. 19-21). Peter singles out two groups who do not have such authority and whose teaching and prophecies are to be rejected. These are the false prophets (2:1a) and false teachers (2:1b-3). There is significant Old Testament background to be considered here, since false prophets have plagued God’s people throughout the course of redemptive history. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, YHWH warns the people of Israel,
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
A similar warning is found in Deuteronomy 18:15–22, where Moses tells the people of Israel in verses 15 and 18, “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen . . . . I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him,” before going on to warn the people in verses 20-22,
but the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.’
Such a prophet is only giving his sinful opinion. God will deal with him.