2 Peter 2:4-10 is actually one long sentence—an “if/then” clause that posits:
- IF God did not spare the angels who sexually exploited human women, and
- IF God did not spare the ancient world, but rather sent the flood and rescued Noah and his family alone, and
- IF God severely judged the Cities of the Plain, rescuing only Lot and his family, and
- IF the only righteous one left was Lot, but God rescued him,
- THEN . . .
Today’s post is about Peter’s conclusion, what all these “IFs” logically point to.
THEN The Lord Knows How to Rescue . . .
. . . then the Lord knows how to
— rescue the godly from trial,
—and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment2 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)
Peter’s examples showed God’s righteousness and mercy at work in stories so well-known he did not have to give the details. Jesus had also pointed to these stories as illustrations of past mercy and judgment that indicated a still future time of final judgment. Jesus was encouraging the first group, the godly on trial, who would need to drop everything and
On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back.Luke 17:31 (NRSV)
. . . And To Judge
But, for Peter’s original audience, it was this second group, the unrighteous under punishment, that was the most concerning. Peter went on to describe them more closely.
. . . especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.
Bold and willful, they are not afraid to slander the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not bring against them a slanderous judgment from the Lord.2 Peter 2:10-11 (NRSV)
Jude also added his own notes.
In the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.Jude 1:8 (NRSV)
Jude went on to use an illustration to show just how contemptuous these dreamers were of authority, particularly spiritual authority.
When the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”Jude 1:9 (NRSV)
The story Jude was drawing upon may have been an amalgam of several sources, some apocryphal, but one focusing on a scene in the Prophet Zechariah’s book.
Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan.”Zechariah 3:1-2 (NRSV)
The ancient Christian theologian Origen attributed this story to the first century apocrypha “The Ascension of Moses,” writing—“’The Ascension of Moses’ (a little treatise, of which the Apostle Jude makes mention in his Epistle).”
The point Jude was making, regardless of his source, was in comparing the arrogance and scorn of these (most likely Gnostic) false prophets for certain spiritual beings, with the Archangel Michael. The archangel had so vastly much more power and knowledge of truth yet was careful to respect the God‑given dignity of even a fallen angel.
When Corruption Completely Corrupts
What Peter had next to say about this second group makes for some pretty rough reading, but I think for that vulnerable first century church, trying to navigate increasingly treacherous times, Peter’s strong words came as bracing truth that could gird them up, giving them the firm courage they needed to steer clear of these rapacious wolves draped in the trappings of righteous sheep.
These people [the second group], however, are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed. They slander what they do not understand, [but] when those creatures [the second group] are destroyed, they [the fallen angels] also will be destroyed, suffering the penalty for doing wrong.2 Peter 2:12-13 (NRSV)
I hear Peter explaining, in summary,
These false prophets will impress you with their spiritual sounding words about
- life and death
- the spiritual realm
and other great themes, but they do not really understand what they are talking about. In the end, they will suffer the same destruction as the ones they now misrepresent fallen angels).
They count it a pleasure [sensual delight, sometimes translated as lust] to revel [engage in debauchery] in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation [literally “deceit” or “delusion”] while they feast with you.
—They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.
—They entice unsteady souls.
—They have hearts trained in greed.
Accursed children!2 Peter 2:13-14 (NRSV)
They were so self‑deceived they actually thought they were celebrating their freedom in Christ with whatever it was Peter meant by “debauchery” when believers would gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (called “Love Feasts”)!
The word “entice” in Greek means “to catch with bait.” These false teachers openly encouraged “unsteady” believers to indulge their lusts as they saw these false teachers do, freely and shamelessly, saying this was acceptable Christian behavior. They beguiled these weaker brethren and sistren, luring them into the kind of dissipation—which is to say drunkenness and sexual deviance—the false teachers were promoting.
And apparently, it seems these false prophets were somehow also making money off of God’s lambs, for they have hearts trained in greed.
Perversion of the Gospel
Today, we might think Peter was using overly pejorative language. We try not to be so condemning and derisive in our criticism of others, even when we think what they are doing, or saying, or represent, is reprehensible. But Peter remembered well Jesus’s own words for those who led his beloved lambs astray.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”Jesus, Matthew 18:6 (NRSV)
The Apostle Paul had also used strong language when he lambasted a different group of false teachers who were leading new Christians astray, burdening them with the very Law Jesus had set all free from.
I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!Paul, Galatians 5:12 (NRSV)
Paul was making a play on words, for the false teachers among the Galatian believers were insisting they had to be circumcised in order to be truly saved. Earlier in the same letter, Paul expostulated,
. . . there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!Paul, Galatians 1:7-8 (NRSV)
To the apostles, there was nothing worse than the perversion of the Gospel, for that had eternal consequences. It was the same as Jesus had taught,
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.Jesus, Matthew 20:28 (NRSV)
A Clearer Picture
As I thought for a while about Peter’s strong language—and Paul’s, and Jesus’s—I remembered how Peter had begun this letter.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.
For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with
— and goodness with knowledge,
— and knowledge with self-control
— and self-control with endurance
— and endurance with godliness
— and godliness with mutual affection,
— and mutual affection with love.
For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.
For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.2 Peter 1:3-11 (NRSV)
These were newish Christians, still in the early stages of having their faith anchored in truth. What a precarious time it was for the first century church.
[Jacob’s Ladder | William Blake, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]–> I chose this image because it illustrates angels going up and down from heaven to earth. Gnostic thought centered around a complex hierarchical system of angels, claiming special and secret knowledge was gained through communion with certain of these angels through ecstatic trance.