II Peter 2:1 – 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.
At the end of chapter one, Peter spoke about prophesy as proof of the truth of the Christian religion/gospel message.
BUT (notice it’s a big but) not everyone who claims to be a prophet is a true messenger of God. Just as there were false prophets under the Jewish dispensation, there will be false prophets and false teachers in the Christian church. Rather than prophesying by divine inspiration, they prophesy and/or teach from their own vain imaginations, and they ensnare and corrupt many.
One source of false teaching during the second century was Gnosticism. Gnosticism is difficult to define exactly because it has many forms that vary widely. It is a topic that could be studied for months on end, and still not fully understood. Obviously, we can’t do an in depth study of it in a short post. So for our purposes, we are going to look at some very basic ways to define it.
In general, we can define it as a mystic belief system that combines certain Christian ideas (particularly that of redemption through Christ) with speculations/imaginings/opinions of men derived from a medley of sources (Buddhism, Platonism, Greek or Jewish philosophies, religions, theosophies or mysteries).
For example, all Gnostics believe in the essential separation of matter and spirit, with matter being the source of all evil. Now that may not sound like a big problem on the surface. After all, Christians also believe that the spirit is separate from the flesh. We believe that mankind is fallen and has a sinful nature.
But look where the subtle lie of the Gnostic leads you: Human flesh is matter, so by default it is evil. Since God cannot have any direct contact with evil (matter), then the incarnation of God in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is inconceivable. Therefore, the incarnation and the true human life of Jesus never took place at all; consequently, his suffering and death on the cross cannot be real (according to the Gnostics).
See how their vain speculations twist and pervert the gospel message?
Another belief common among Gnostics is that they have secret spiritual knowledge obtained by mystic revelation, which other believers do not/cannot understand. Based on this alleged ‘superior knowledge’ they try to form sects or divisions within the church which exclude ordinary believers.
Pretty soon the body is divided with one part being faithful to the gospel message, and another part believing some far out or twisted interpretation of the gospel based on secret mystical revelation. And you see the danger here, right? A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Now, let’s take this one step further. There was a particular sect of Gnostics who called themselves Nicolaitans. I am sure you have read about them in scripture. This group professed to be Christians, but they advocated ideas which abuse the doctrine of grace.
Grace is the divine favor of God towards man; the mercy of God (as opposed to his justice), and any benefits his mercy imparts such as love, pardon, divine favor, etc.
As we well know, Christians still sin, but because of grace God forgives us when we make mistakes or break his laws. All we need to do is truly repent and confess our shortcomings. Under the genuine doctrine of grace, we can be assured that God will see our repentance and forgive us.
The Nicolaitans, however, twisted the doctrine of grace. They attempted to introduce a false freedom or licentiousness (behavior unrestrained by law or morality, characterized by abuse of freedom, excess, surpassing boundaries) into the church. Basically, they subtly reasoned that ‘anything goes’ for the Christian, because no matter what they did, God would forgive them because of grace.
There can be no doubt that this was a false doctrine:
Romans 6:1-2 – What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer in it?
Their false teachings seemed to particularly contradict the laws set down by Holy Spirit at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. As you recall, the Jerusalem Council freed Christians from observing the hundreds of laws/traditions observed under the Old Covenant. Basically, the church was bound to abstain from idol meats and sexual sins.
The Nicolaitans so twisted the message of grace, it appeared to Christians that they could, and even should, eat meat sacrificed to idols during pagan feasts. These feasts frequently ended up in orgies which the false teachers also labeled as permissible through grace. Thus, these false teachers introduce evil doctrine and practices into the church by perverting the true words of God. All this is done through a myriad of twisted reasoning and vain speculation, supported by ‘secret’ truth.
Now that we have at least a basic idea of false teaching, lets discuss the idea of ‘bringing in destructive heresies’.
Heresy can refer to either an opinion that is in opposition to established doctrine, or the sect that promotes these beliefs (like the Nicolaitans). Normally, people who have doctrinal differences split off from a group to form a new organization. But in this case, they stayed within the church, creating divisions within Christianity by the introduction of subtle lies and deceptions into true doctrines.
Interestingly, the Greek word translated ‘bring in’ literally means to ‘lead in by the side of others’. In other words, they did not openly renounce the gospel. Rather, their false beliefs were like a poison added to the gospel with cunning and craftiness, which would be fatal to the spiritual life of those who believed it.
But scripture assures us that false teachers who sow crops of heresy will eventually reap a harvest of swift destruction.
As true Christians, we need to make sure we are never caught up in heresy.
Christians in every generation should always be on guard against false doctrines. The more familiar you are with the bible, the easier it will be for you to spot a lie or the half truth of a false teacher. If you are listening to a teacher and something they say feels wrong to your spirit, don’t ignore it. Stop right there. Pray for Holy Spirit to pinpoint the problem. Search the word. Root out the lie. In this way, you can protect yourself from false teaching.
II Peter 2:2 – And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
We need to make a very important point here: Heresy is NOT honest error. It is the intentional perversion of religious truth designed to open doors of licentiousness and sin for those who believe it.
Why are these false doctrines so enticing? How is it possible that they can lead ‘many’ astray? The answer is simple: They allow people to have their cake and eat it too.
These people call themselves Christians, and thus try to lay claim to all the vast and wonderful promises of God without the holy living that God truly requires. In their belief system, there is no need to control your lustful desires or to restrain yourself in any way. There is no need to work at adding Christian graces to your life, or to become more like Christ, or to love your neighbor as yourself, or to live a holy life, or to endure persecution for the sake of the gospel.
Sadly, heresy brings disgrace, calumny and defamation to Christianity. Because of it, the name and doctrine of Christ will be open to the reproach of the very people who need it the most. Even true Christians will be misrepresented as hypocrites and the gospel message is reduced to a bad joke. Thus, people like the Nicolaitans bring blasphemy upon the name of Jesus and the gospel message.
II Peter 2:3 – And in their greed, they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
We have an example of this in the bible – Judas Iscariot! Notice, he identified with the apostles, but in reality he was a friend of the devil. The narrative of the woman with the alabaster box reveals that Judas was very greedy:
John 12:5-6 – Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he [Judas] said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bore what was put therein.
Peter is saying that all false teachers are the same – they are greedy. They are looking for money to fund their indulgent lifestyles and in order to get it, they will lie and deceive.
So on the one hand, there are devout Christians who are willing to give everything (including their money) to the cause of Christ. On the other hand, there are false teachers who devise smooth and artful speeches designed to deceive believers into giving them money. The outcome is obvious. This has often been described as ‘fleecing the flock’, or treating believers as merchandise, which can be sold for profit.
Sadly, this still occurs. I think we can all recall public figures who sell healing or prosperity to true believers by using deceitful reasoning.
Peter not only warns us of the existence of these practices, he warns us about the judgment they bring. From the beginning, God has promised to pour out his wrath and indignation on the wicked. Although those punishments were predicted long ago, they are not impotent or asleep; they are alert and active, hurrying to overtake those who deceive God’s children.
Notice that Peter is slowly and methodically building up an airtight case against false teachers. By showing what they do and what their final outcome will be, he gives true believers the strength and wisdom to reject their enticing teachings.
II Peter 2:4 – For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;
Peter now continues to give further proof that the wicked will be punished. He is going to give us three separate examples: the angels, the world during the time of Noah and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Angels were created as holy, and they had the experience of actually walking in the presence of God. Although we don’t know the exact details, we can discern that through their own choice/free will they rebelled against God.
As a result of this sin, they were punished – cast down to hell and held in chains of darkness, reserved for the final judgment. That is where they are right now. The darkness that binds them is so dense and so strong that it cannot be broken. They cannot deliver themselves, nor can they be delivered by others. At the final judgment, they will forever (permanently) be excluded from the presence of God.
Peter’s point is this: If God did not spare these angels from judgment, he will not spare false teachers either.
II Peter 2:5 – if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
We have all read the story of Noah and the ark (Genesis 6-7). We know that the world had rejected God and become corrupt and sinful:
Genesis 6:5 – And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Because of their rebellion against God, he brought upon them swift destruction in the form of the flood. Like the judgment of the angels, there was no possible way for these people to deliver themselves or be delivered by anyone else.
Notice that the numbers did not make a difference to God. Though the unrighteous were numerous, they were all slain. Though the righteous were but a few, they were well protected by God.
Peter’s point is this: If God did not spare great numbers of sinful antediluvians from judgment, he will not spare the wicked false teachers either.
II Peter 2:6 – If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
SODOM and GOMORRAH
This is the third example of God’s punishment of the rebellious and wicked. Again, we are familiar with the story. Sodom and Gomorrah were so corrupt, God couldn’t even find ten righteous people within the city (Genesis 18:23-28)!
Because of their rebellion against God, he brought upon them swift destruction in the form of fire and brimstone, which burned them into ashes. Like the angels and the antediluvians, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were incapable of saving themselves, or being saved by others.
The only exception was Lot and his family, the only righteous people in the city. We note that God spared those who serve him; he postponed the destruction of the city until they moved to a place of safety.
Peter’s point is this: The awful and final judgments that came upon the rebellious and licentious people of Sodom and Gomorrah are plain proof of divine condemnation. Unlike man, God judges fairly and equitably. If the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not spared for their rebellion, neither will the false teachers of Peter’s day.
The angels, the antediluvians and the people of Sodom were incapable of saving themselves. No one could save them from the wrath of God either. The same will be true of false teachers.
II Peter 2:7-8 – and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);
There are several observations we can make from this passage.
- We know that Noah and his family as well as Lot and his family were saved from the destruction which overtook those around them. This demonstrates how God makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (Psalms 91).
- As bad as Sodom was, there was still at least one righteous man in it. God does not leave himself without a witness in even the vilest and most wicked places (I Kings 19:18). Maybe sin prevails in your place of employment or your school. You may be tempted to leave that place, but stop for a minute and carefully consider your position.
Is it God’s will for you to leave? Or is this an opportunity to let your gospel light shine even brighter so that others may see your good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16)?
- The scripture says that Lot was vexed/wearied/burdened by the unrestrained sin and excessive wickedness of the people of Sodom. If you think about it, that is a really incredible statement and it reveals a lot about him.
How many of us are desensitized to sin because we rub shoulders with unbelievers every day? Do we cringe if we hear cursing, or are we so used to it that we don’t even notice it anymore? When people around us are proud to have taken advantage of others, are you grieved by their sin, or do you simply not care? We could give many more examples, but the point is this: Lot held God’s laws in such high esteem, that he was grieved or burdened by the sin around him. He was actually wearied by it. Are we grieved by the sin we see every day? What does that say about us?
- Furthermore, Lot lived in the midst of a culture that accepted extreme licentiousness as the ‘norm’. Yet, as long as he lived in Sodom, he maintained his integrity and personal holiness. What about us? Are we more influenced by our culture or God’s word?
II Peter 2:9 – then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement,
We can take comfort in knowing that God has a perfect and exact knowledge of both the righteous and the wicked.
THE RIGHTEOUS – First, let me offer you this word of encouragement: You can be sure that every good work you have done has been seen by our Father and he delights to bless you both in this life and the next.
We can also be sure that God is not only able to deliver his children from trials and temptations, he fully understands the best way to do it. He sees a way to do it, even if we do not; he can deliver in ways we never thought possible.
- He can send angels to assist us.
- He can remove or destroy our enemy.
- He can give us earthly friends to strengthen us.
- Or, he can completely deliver us from trouble by taking us to heaven.
1 Corinthians 10:13 – … God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
THE WICKED – It may seem as though the wicked escape from trouble, but that is an illusion. Sin carries its own penalty in this life and punishment will reach its maximum fulfillment in hell. There will be no escape from the judgment of God.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Are you in a trial that seems like it has lasted forever, and still has no end in sight? I think we have all been in that position from time to time. In these situations, we should follow the example of King David. The Bible says he ‘encouraged himself in the Lord’:
1 Samuel 30:6 – And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.
When you are in the midst of a long trial, all you need to do is begin to read the word. The Bible is filled from cover to cover with testimonies of how God loves his people. He parts the sea for them. He slays entire enemy armies in the dead of night. He opens prison doors. He provides water from rocks. He makes axe heads float. The list goes on and on and on… Keep reading the word until it really sinks into your spirit that God loves you with an everlasting love and is going to make you victorious and deliver you, one way or another. Let your faith rise up and grasp the victory!
Let me offer you some relief and strength:
False teachers and prophets appear in every generation, including ours. Satan would love to ensnare you in a lie and make you ineffective in the kingdom of heaven. But we can avoid that trap by listening to Holy Spirit, knowing the word, and by testing the word that teachers/preachers give.
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Just because someone says they have a word or revelation from God does not make it so; we must listen to their word to see if it lines up with scripture and bears witness with our spirits. If we seek the wisdom of God on these matters, he will be sure that we are not fooled by false teachers.