The Liars' Condemnation
2 Peter 2:1-9
THE LIARS’ CONDEMNATION
Those of us who own computers discover sometimes to our dismay that there are ways for others to infiltrate the good programs we have on our computers. We hear about “viruses” that infect our computers and cause a good deal of mischief and damage. So we buy anti-virus programs to protect us from them.
There’s another way to attack your computer as well. Unlike the virus the so-called “Trojan horse” does not multiply. I’m told that the Trojan is some form of simple coding that is placed secretly on a computer. Later a hacker is able to tap into that coding and infiltrate your computer, stealing vital information. You’re in trouble.
The point of reference for the Trojan is the story from ancient Greece and the destruction of the city of Troy. According to the story a siege of almost 10 years did not bring down the city. The surrounding Greek armies built a large wooden horse, secretly placed some commandoes inside, and then pretended to sail away. The people of Troy took the horse as a trophy of war and pulled it into their heavily fortified city. In the cover of darkness the wooden horse spilled out the commandoes and the city was destroyed—from inside.
The point of the modern computer Trojan and the ancient Trojan is the same. Apparently innocent things can do serious damage internally what external things cannot produce. And that is where Peter moves in chapter 2 of his second letter.
Lest we think we can relax a bit in our attention, the warning in these verses actually builds on the call of God to be firmly grounded in the inspired truth of his word. Insiders, appearing to be sincere, can lead and have led unsuspecting, good people away from the truth. But God isn’t fooled and he will bring his judgment. That’s a comfort to the faithful and a warning to the faithless; the liars who claim to be bringing the truth will meet their doom.
Dangerous teachers (vs. 1-3)
In November 1978 we were all shocked to hear about a place called Jonestown in the South American country of Guyana. The shock came from the news that a pastor named Jim Jones had led his followers to commit mass suicide. We were horrified and wondered how such a thing could have happened. In a spiritual Trojan Horse Satan infiltrated the church.
Jones was an ordained pastor in Disciples of Christ; he pastured a Methodist church. CNN archives report that he was a man of strange behavior. His initial messages were honorable enough in calling people to racial reconciliation.
The messages attracted many people who followed him ultimately to South America. The story ends tragically as over 900 people took their lives or who were killed upon orders from Jones, who also died.
Peter has just answered the harsh attacks on his message. In verse 16 he said, We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…
In the next verses we saw how he appealed to his own eye- and ear-witness account of Christ’s glory, a witness supported of course by James and John who were with him on the Mount of Transfiguration.
His most convincing witness to the glory of Christ was the testimony of the Old Testament prophets and their inspired testimony of course is the Holy Scriptures. Through the work of the Holy Spirit the witness is established and made authentic. Believers come to know God and to grow in Him.
In chapter 2, however, Peter moves from the defensive to the offense and he attacks the liars, the dangerous teachers who are inside like Trojan horses. Notice how Peter takes the same categories of prophet and teacher and accuses these liars of “making up their own stories.” It’s almost as if Peter is saying, “Do you want to hear about prophets and teacher who supposedly invent stories? Look at the false prophets and teachers who have made up their own stories!”
Peter’s warning is simply this: in the history of God’s salvation mission of grace there have been false teachers before among the people of God and in the future as well there will be false teachers and prophets among the people of God.
In Matthew 24:24-25 Jesus warned, for false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. The apostle Paul is stunned to see in the church of the Galatians Christians who had been so easily lured away into a different gospel.
Though we may recognize that fact in our experience, the urgency of being alert is no less heightened. Like the Trojan horse of the computer world, the lies are secretly introduced. What makes their attacks so sinister is that the teachings are lies or as Peter says, destructive heresies.
The heresy of the greatest destructive impact was the denial of the sovereign Lord. The term Peter uses for Lord is not the usual one, kurios; the word he uses instead is the same one from which we get our word “despot,” a master who owns servants. Peter is thinking in just this one verse of the sad history of God’s people in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 32 Moses reminds the Israelites of God’s saving work in their exodus from Egypt. He asks, do you thus repay the Lord, o foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.
Recalling that helps us understand Peter’s thoughts here. Peter had gone through the extremely painful episode of his own denial of his Lord. He by grace had been restored but these false leaders were like the ancient Jews who refused the lordship of God over them and had gone their own way.
In that lordship of Christ comes the authority to rule and to judge. By denying that lordship they were also denying any judgment on their actions; they could do as they wished. Peter says that ironically the very judgment they deny will crash on them.
What are the false teachers of today? The flags that ought to alert us to false teachers are:
- Unorthodox teaching—teachings that don’t measure up to the Bible’s inspired truth. Their not seeking the Holy Spirit’s lead.
- Shameful ways—the same word in v.7 is translated “filthy”, having to do with the sensual. There are those who exploit women because of their position of authority as leader.
- Great popularity—they attract a following that has nothing to do with the truth of God’s word, perhaps promises of quick wealth.
- Suspect motives—they exploit people. Many will follow…
The sad stories of popular leader and preachers today who follow the money and not the truth brings disrepute on the gospel message.
God notices; he’s awake says Peter. God has not dozed off. The Bible is clear that God’s holiness and justice demands payment for sin. In his sovereign grace he banned Adam from the Garden but also promised the delay of the judgment until the seed of the woman would bear the punishment.
That message of grace, however, must not lull anyone to believe that God is weak or asleep. He doesn’t just speak a good word but fail to apply it. The next verses show that. He begins verse 4 with the word “For”.
Doomed teachers (vs.4-9)
Verses 4 to 9 in the Greek are actually one continuous sentence. The NIV translation rightly smoothes out the translation with the word “if”. The conclusion in verse 9 is the heart of the teaching. Keep that in mind.
Peter has three examples of God’s wise judgment in these verses. The first example is the judgment of the angels. Remember the false teachers believed they were beyond God’s righteous judgment. Peter’s answer: not even the angels have escaped that judgment. Who do they think they are?
Immediately our curiosity is piqued, isn’t it? What did Peter have in mind? It’s not clear. Some think he’s referring to the strange story of Genesis 6 where reference is made to the sons of God having sexual relations with the daughters of men. Probably better is to remember several references the prophet Isaiah to the fall of the angels. The point is clear. They sinned and they were judged and will be judged, something already done and something yet to come.
The second example is that of Noah. God condemned the wicked to destruction in the flood. However, note the reference to God’s grace in sparing believing Noah. In Genesis and in Hebrews Noah is recognized as faithful. Peter mentions that he was a “preacher of righteousness.”
God’s judgment was inevitable but in his grace, as seen in Noah, that judgment can be escaped.
The third example is Lot in the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here Peter’s point is again God’s judgment against sin. This time Lot is a picture of God’s grace. We learn more about Lot here than we did in Genesis. The point is that God’s judgment is a sure thing against sin. The righteous, as they await that final judgment, are going to have a tough time.
The overall conclusion to this section is finally in verse 9. In the midst of the heavy message about God’s sure and just judgment against sin is God’s gracious protection for the godly or the righteous. Let’s conclude by looking at that.
The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials… God’s grace protects those who are his children. As difficult and as challenging as our lives might be, God will protect his own. We must at the same time be alert, following the example of Noah and Lot to stand out against the lies of the enemy. We may see evidences already of God’s judgment as we see the violence in our communities bringing extreme grief to people. We may have to wait. God’s call to us is to remain faithful.
The psalmist in different spots wonders how it is that the ungodly seem to prosper while the righteous suffer. The conclusion, however, is that God will reverse that picture. Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, said, “If God does not one day judge America, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”
And judge he will. V.4 reads, Held for judgment. V. 9 reads, “…and hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. God will prevail. In the meantime we may have to experience the effects of the filth around us. God is faithful and rescues his own.