2 Peter 2:1-22 Lesson Three – A Warning on False Teachers
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and the way of truth will be blasphemed because of them. 3 They will exploit you in their greed with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.
4 For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment; 5 and if He didn’t spare the ancient world, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others, when He brought a flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He reduced the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes and condemned them to ruin, making them an example to those who were going to be ungodly; 7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, distressed by the unrestrained behavior of the immoral 8 (for as he lived among them, that righteous man tormented himself day by day with the lawless deeds he saw and heard )— 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 especially those who follow the polluting desires of the flesh and despise authority.
Bold, arrogant people! They do not tremble when they blaspheme the glorious ones; 11 however, angels, who are greater in might and power, do not bring a slanderous charge against them before the Lord. 12 But these people, like irrational animals—creatures of instinct born to be caught and destroyed—speak blasphemies about things they don’t understand, and in their destruction they too will be destroyed, 13 suffering harm as the payment for unrighteousness. They consider it a pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, delighting in their deceptions as they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery and are always looking for sin. They seduce unstable people and have hearts trained in greed. Children under a curse! 15 They have gone astray by abandoning the straight path and have followed the path of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness 16 but received a rebuke for his transgression: A donkey that could not talk spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s irrationality.
17 These people are springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind. The gloom of darkness has been reserved for them. 18 For by uttering boastful, empty words, they seduce, with fleshly desires and debauchery, people who have barely escaped from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them. 20 For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy command delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to its own vomit, and, “a sow, after washing itself, wallows in the mud.” (HCSB)
Although this is a long passage, it’s important to tackle it in its entirety. Peter now addresses one of the main themes, if not the main theme, of the letter…false teachers. These false teachers had emerged within the church teaching that there was no second coming of Christ and, therefore, there wasn’t a need to live godly lives. This message was timely for Peter’s audience, as well as for us today, with many false teachers arising and with teachings contrary to what is contained within Scripture.
There are three characteristics of false teachers (prophets):
- They lack divine authority.
- They promise peace with God talks about judgment for disobedience.
- They will be judged harshly by God.
The phrase “even denying the Master who bought them” indicates that these are not pagans from outside the church. These were individuals within the church who claimed faith in Jesus. They may very well have been faithful Christians at one point, but they had now turned away from the truth. There are two theological issues in interpreting this verse:
- Can genuine believers commit apostasy and lose their salvation?
- Was Peter teaching unlimited atonement, Christ died for all but only those who believe receive the benefit of atonement?
Let’s tackle the first question through the use of Scripture.
- 1 Peter 1:5 – You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
- Romans 8:28-39 – We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? 33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. 34 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. 35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. 37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, 39 height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
- 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 – He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Philippians 1:6 – I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to the completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
Scripture confirms that those who genuinely belong to Jesus are secure in their salvation. Peter is describing those within the church who professed faith but never really submitted to the lordship of Jesus. They may have appeared to be Christians, but there was never a heart change. As challenges occur, they will be revealed as wolves within the flock, those whom Jesus never knew.
- Acts 20:29-30 – 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 And men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them.
- Matthew 7:21-23 – 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’
- Matthew 13:20-22 – 20 And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
The second question will be addressed later in this study.
Despite the false teachers speaking heresy, many will be attracted to the message that they speak. The phrase “unrestrained ways” refers to reckless sexual behavior that was being taught by the false teachers. In Greek culture, sexual activity outside of covenant marriage was acceptable, which is in direct conflict with Scripture. However, the false teachers had brought what was acceptable in their surrounding culture into the culture of the church. We need to ask ourselves if we see the same thing happening in our churches today. The church should help to shape our surrounding culture and not culture shape the church.
Peter now identifies the main focus of the false teachers, personal gain at the expense of the flock they were supposed to shepherd. These false teachers were only concerned about using religion as a means to make money. They commercialized Christianity for their own gain. We need to be careful about the churches and ministries that we support with our time, skills, and finances. Are they genuine, or is it a way for the leaders to fill their own pockets? The prosperity gospel is an especially dangerous false teaching, which, unfortunately, many have fallen into their trap. The promise of good health and financial gain does not align with what Jesus taught in Scripture. It doesn’t mean that God won’t bless some of us, so that we can bless others, but that we shouldn’t expect it. Many of the prosperity gospel “preachers” are living lavish lifestyles, well beyond expectations. What would Jesus, Paul, or any of the Apostles say about how they live?
In these verses, there are three illustrations that prove God’s judgment in the past. They get progressively smaller in scale.
- Cosmic – against the angels for their pride and rebellion.
- Worldwide – the flood for their apathy and disobedience.
- Local – against Sodom and Gomorrah for the uncontrolled lust of the men of the cities.
The third illustration appears in various places in Scripture, and each time they represent sin and rebellion at its highest level. The illustrations describe a pattern of events; sin that is not confessed will lead eventually to judgment and destruction. The God of the Bible is the God of justice, His character is just, and He will not allow the scales of justice to remain out of balance as that would compromise His integrity, and that is something he will not and cannot do.
Peter points out that grace is always available to us. God’s judgment on sin is inevitable, but it is not inescapable. Let’s dig a little deeper into the reference to Lot. On a surface level, we may not consider Lot as a righteous individual. When it came to which land to settle and Abraham gave him a choice, it is easy to conclude that Lot was selfish in choosing what appeared as “prime real estate.”
But God knows our heart, including Lot’s, while we live in a sinful environment. Peter’s letter stated that Lot “tormented himself day by day” by what he observed around him. The Greek word can also be translated as “tortured.” It is not hard to imagine that Lot was worn out by the depravity that he observed on a daily basis.
Yet despite all Lot went through, God rescued a godly man from the trials he was experiencing. Although God can and does rescue believers from trials, it is not the norm, nor is it a biblical promise.
- James 1:2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials.
The first part of verse 10 concludes this section of the passage. It makes it clear that the unrighteous, including the false teachers, will be included in God’s judgment. They are so self-centered that they exalt in their sinful behavior, and they “despise authority.” This is a telling statement as “despise” means to look down upon someone. In the case of the false teachers, they are looking down upon the rule of Jesus and denying His power and majesty.
Peter is describing the attitude of the false teachers in two very strong words.
- Bold – someone who tramples on the rights, opinions, and interests of others…both human and divine.
- Arrogant – someone who can’t be reasoned with, no amount of conversation with them will change their behavior, they will go on doing or teaching what they want, they believe they are correct, and everyone else is wrong.
God’s angels, superior to human beings, don’t criticize the fallen angels, even though it would be deserved, as God has already passed judgment on them. However, the false teachers knew no bounds, slandering both angels and God demonstrating their utter lack of reverence.
Although the false teachers have a disproportionally inflated image of their intellect, their understanding of spiritual matters is no different than irrational animals. Just like animals repeat their actions, these false teachers will do the same, and at some point, they will be caught and punished.
Peter also implies two deaths (destruction/destroyed). The first is their physical death, and the second is their eternal spiritual death being separated from God.
Peter reinforces the concept that they will face judgment and eternal torment for their actions. Although the pagan world had many sinful practices, they were normally conducted after sunset. However, these false teachers were even worse than the pagans. Not only did they start their activities before sunset, but it also appears that they turned the church’s fellowship meals and communion celebrations into a drunken celebration.
The phrase “eyes full of adultery” should be interpreted as lusting after every woman they saw and being unable to look upon a woman without some sexual fantasy being visualized. It seems that they had some measure of success as Peter says, “they seduce unstable people” as well as being skilled in the ways of greed, never satisfied with what they had.
Peter now used an illustration from the Old Testament, the story of Balaam. Balaam was supposed to be a prophet of God, yet he loved money more than he loved God. This drove him to pursue fame and fortune and not obedience to God. He also taught immoral behavior. Because of this, he was rebuked by a donkey. Although we may chuckle at the idea of a donkey rebuking Balaam, the deeper meaning here is that a simple animal rebuked someone who had been intended to be a prophet for God and instead turned away from God.
These false teachers are unable to provide anything of lasting substance because their teaching has no foundation and is based upon falsehood. Their fate awaits them, the “gloom of darkness” for all eternity, a thick, fierce, and comfortless isolation without end.
We now see that the false teachers were at least partially successful with their empty words as they caused some to fall back into old habits that should have been left behind. The pagan world was ripe with sexual immorality. The false teachers, understanding how attractive these behaviors were, twisted the concept of Christian freedom to be understood as the freedom to pursue whatever activity they desired without consequences. They were able to seduce the weak by teaching that religious freedom was the freedom from all authority and moral demands of the Christian faith. However, Christian freedom is the ability to do what is right, based upon God’s Word.
As we consider these verses, we need to remember that two categories of people who are in the church; true followers of Jesus and those who are false Christians. The false teachers Peter is warning about in this passage clearly fall into the second category. The knowledge referenced in verse 20 is head knowledge and not heart knowledge. They could speak the language, but they really didn’t understand its meaning or embrace it. Being able to “speak the language” allowed them to lead some astray with their false teaching.
The last two verses in the passage indicate that they had become so consumed in their pursuit of greed and sexual immorality that they had lost the ability even to enjoy the sin that they had been pursuing. They were worse off because they had deliberately rejected the truth they had learned, rejecting the way of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the path to heaven. They chose hell over heaven, confirming the judgment Peter pronounced in verse 17.
- Have you examined the teaching at the church you attend? Does it align with Scripture, or are there things that raise questions or don’t make sense? I’ve said it before in lessons, and I’ll say it again, we should always check what we are being taught. Peter is very clear, as is Paul in his writings that there were and still are false teachers that will lead believers away from the faith. That is why it is critical that we feed continuously on Scripture. The more we know what Scripture says, the easier it is to spot false teachers.
- If we are one of those false teachers or false Christians, we need to repent and submit to the Lordship of Jesus. Forgiveness is always available if we humble ourselves and are repentant.
- When we see or hear false teaching, or if another believer passes along teaching that is false, do we challenge it? We should never tolerate false teaching or teachers, and we need to warn others when this occurs.
- If you currently are part of a congregation that contains false teaching and your challenges meet with resistance, or you are ignored, it is time to find a new church and warn others in the congregation of the danger they are in.
- One cautionary note. None of the previous application points gives us a license to act in an unChristlike manner. We also need to make sure that it is clearly false teaching. If you are a Calvinist and the church follows Arminianism, if they teach pre-tribulation rapture and you believe in pre-wrath or any similar doctrinal disagreement points, these are not false teachings. We must agree on the basics of the Christian faith and salvation but extend grace on those points where theologians have different positions.