Peter knew the alarming nature of his prophecy, so now he encouraged his readers with examples of God’s judgement of evil, and rescue of God’s own. The first example had been God’s decisive action concerning the angels who had taken human women for sexual pleasure.
Now, Peter would present his second and third examples, God’s cleansing the whole earth of abject wickedness, yet rescuing the tiny remnant of righteous ones.
Example #2: The Cleansing of Earth
And did not spare the ancient world, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.2 Peter 2:5 (NRSV)
Peter’s text again came from Genesis, the great flood God sent after judging the fallen angels.
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
So the Lord was sorry that [God] had made [humankind] on the earth, and [God] was grieved in [God’s] heart.
Then the Lord said, “I will wipe out [humankind] whom I have created from the face of the land; [humankind], and animals as well, and crawling things, and the birds of the sky. For I am sorry that I have made them.”
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for humanity had corrupted its way upon the earth.
Then God said to Noah, “The end of humanity has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of people . . .God to Noah, Genesis 8:5-8, 11-12 (NASB)
Peter’s point concerned
- God’s righteous judgment.
- God’s patience with the earth until nothing righteous was left, and only desperate evil filled the earth like terminal cancer. God’s cleansing would come as the necessary and only possible response to the vile and violent corruption that permeated humankind and everything it touched.
- God’s kindness and care in rescuing eight people—out of the entire earth—the family of Noah, who, as the writer of Genesis recorded, was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.
Peter’s audience was also a remnant living in a hostile and corrupt world. They were to be reassured that God knew their faith, that they were a righteous people, and that they walked with God.
[Peter would revisit this theme of cleansing the earth at the end of his letter.]
Example #3: The Judgment of the Cities of the Plain
And if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly.2 Peter 2:6 (NRSV)
Peter’s third text also came from the Book of Genesis, but this time in the life of Abraham.
The Lord said [to Abraham], “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.”
. . . Abraham approached and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?Genesis 18:20, 23 (NRSV)
Abraham negotiated with God for the Cities of the Plain, praying (without saying so) for his nephew Lot and Lot’s family. At the end of Abraham’s prayer, God said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.”
But there were not even ten people in all the lush Valley of Siddim (which means salt) who could be spared.
Sodom and Gomorrah were surrounded by verdant pasturelands, and prosperous settlements, and Sodom was the jewel of the plain. Sodom was resplendent it its magnificent walls, with their generous and well-fortified gates. Within it was a well-planned lattice of streets, fine homes, and palace and temple complex rivalling all the other cities, including Gomorrah.
But amid all that wealth and comfort was corruption. Scriptural references to the cities of the plain point out sexual perversion, denial of basic human rights, and a rapacious appetite for deviance.
Their vine comes from the vinestock of Sodom,Moses, Deuteronomy 32:32-33 (NRSV)
from the vineyards of Gomorrah;
their grapes are grapes of poison,
their clusters are bitter;
their wine is the poison of serpents,
the cruel venom of asps.
they commit adultery and walk in lies;Jeremiah 23:14 (NRSV)
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from wickedness;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.
. . . You must bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the Lord.Ezekiel 16:48-50, 58 (NRSV)
Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they [the fallen angels], indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.Jude 1:7 (NRSV)
God had shown great grace to the Cities of the Plain, bringing Abraham and Lot to their region, that they might learn of God and God’s righteousness. God had permitted invading armies to take the people captive and plunder their cities, so that in rescuing them, Abraham would reveal God’s mighty power and glory. Finally, God had sent heavenly messengers to rescue Lot and his family, and any others who heeded their warning.
In the end, only three—far fewer than the ten Abraham had prayed for—could be spared.
First Century Sodom
Jude added a note to this section,
Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.Jude 1:9
It is a somewhat cryptic remark. Who are the dreamers? In what manner are they defiling the flesh? And who are the glorious ones they slander?
One likely interpretation understands the dreamers to be part of the Gnostic movement that was even then infiltrating the Christian assemblies. There is some evidence in Paul’s letters, and later in John’s, that indicate the disruption the Gnostics were causing with their complicated schema of the spiritual realm, many strata of angelic beings, and a dichotomy between the flesh and its desires, and the spirit and the spirit’s desires.
Gnostics—as their name indicates—believed there was special knowledge that connected one to the spiritual realm. This special knowledge was gained through ecstatic visions and expressed through the speaking of angelic languages and rapturous worship practices.
Defile the Flesh
Some Gnostic sects became ascetic, starving and subduing the body in order to experience a pure spiritual state. Other Gnostic groups indulged every appetite with increasing licentiousness, claiming the body was merely material, and what happened with the body did not matter, for it would soon die. Both of these approaches were a defiling of the flesh.
Paul’s letters indicate the authoritative teaching of the apostles, and the facts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension were being rejected and denied by some, for they claimed their own higher authority, received directly from the angelic beings occupying the complicated spiritual hierarchy the Gnostics believed in.
Paul would, however, explain,
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.1 Timothy 4:1-2 (NRSV)
Jude confirmed this with his note.
Defamation of Angels
Jude continued with an example of the archangel Michael saying even that most powerful of angels, when in a confrontation with Satan, did not dare slander this enemy of God.
But these people slander whatever they do not understand, and they are destroyed by those things that, like irrational animals, they know by instinct!Jude 1:10 (NRSV)
Like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, these first century Gnostics scoffed at God’s heavenly messengers, defaming them and the message they brought, but to their eventual doom.
God knows, God cares, and God is at work, Peter was saying, with his examples.
[Peter Paul Rubens, Lot fleeing Sodom (1615 ca.). | By Peter Paul Rubens – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=158561%5D