2nd Peter 2: 1-11
Has it ever seemed to you that God is not doing much at all to curb or to punish evil? That perspective is not new and the injustice of runaway evil is as old as history itself. It seems harder and harder for Christians not to be swallowed whole by a world estranged from God. The world as we know it and left to its own devices actually is on its way to hell.
Which has us asking, “where is God in all of this?” How can he just stand by and let it happen?
That is not a new question. Habakkuk said pretty much the same thing, way back when Israel was pagan. What he wanted to know was…
How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted. (Hab.1:1-4)
The prophet was saying, that our country is a mess. Bad people rule the day and the really bad ones own the night. So, Lord, why are you doing nothing? Are you always going to do nothing?
That is the question that Peter is answering here in 2nd Peter 2. And as it turns out, God has answered that question over and over. From way back before the world was created, God has been dealing with sin. He did it first in the heavenly places…and then again here on earth.
2nd Peter chapter one closes with a warning about false prophecy. Counterfeit messages have always competed with the real thing. Satan started the ball rolling and he is still at it, both in person and through his servants. So Peter gave us an advanced warning that still applies. In his day, false teachers were coming. They would deny that Jesus is our Saviour. And if he’s not our saviour then he is also not our lord.
False prophets are all about what they can get. They want you to give them whatever they ask but have nothing to give in return. Nothing except their permission for you to do whatever you want.
Now they can’t just up and say that Jesus is no longer the boss, without changing the basic message of the New Testament. So they part company with Biblical authority to introduce destructive heresies. They claim to be prophets sent from God, with a new and better gospel. They do it to control and exploit you. Their moral behaviour is so bad, that even non-believers are shocked.
Which brings us back to the question; what is God doing about it? Or as the man on the street puts it: ‘what the hell is God doing?” To which, the bible answers – well, now that you mention it, hell is one of the things that God is doing about it. Hell is real, because the God who exists is entirely and eternally good. Because God is good, the consequences for evil are severe. And because God is eternal, the consequences are eternal as well.
Let me suggest then that verses 4 to the end of chapter are all about what God has done. And then chapter 3 is all about what God has yet to do.
By the way, when we get to chapter 3, part of the answer to our question is: God is giving the world more time because he doesn’t want anyone to be lost. And he is using us to get that message out.
But chapter 2 is all about what God has done in the past. Because the past is a lot like what lies ahead. The trajectory of God’s reaction to evil is unwavering – he is undeterred
Now what follows are a series of conditional sentences all beginning with the word if. Look at verses 4,5,6 & 7…and then there’s the conclusion in verse 9.
When it comes to the wicked, Peter says: “…their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep”.
The word for condemnation is krima…Its the word for verdict. In other words, God’s verdict has not been idle. There is a final day of judgment, yet judgment actually begins, here and now
God is not asleep at the wheel. He is not on vacation nor is he oblivious. God not simply out there doing nothing. So what follows are examples of judgment and destruction beginning in space and time.
But Peter’s point is that these are not merely point-in-time. Judgment is ongoing and destruction is having it’s way as we speak. Evil people did not pass out of existence. They are still alive while punishment persists.
Let’s take a look at this series of conditional sentences. Peter says….If this and this and this and this is true, then here’s the conclusion that follows.
Peter begins with angels, who as a matter of fact were the first to rebel. There was sin in heaven, before the clock started running on earth. Satan has been a rebel, right from the start of human history.
So Peter says of angels:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment
The word for hell is the Greek word Tartarus. This is the only place in the New Testament where the word is used. In Greek thought, Tartarus was the lower realm of the dead where departed spirits were punished.
Peter is not referring to hell…this is not a final place of punishment. He is talking about the place of detention…preparation for judgment. He describes this place as ‘pits of nether gloom’. Tartarus is a dark place. It is a place without God and therefore without hope. It’s the place where fallen angels are kept, until God’s final judgment. God put them there when they sinned and they have been there ever since.
Of course, implicit in all of this is, that this is not what happens to good angels. But then 2nd peter is not written for angels.
Next in Peter’s historical slide presentation, is the generation of Noah.
“…and (if He) did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly…”
Peter puts danger and deliverance side by side…because God distinguishes between good and bad. God does not treat the righteous as he does the unrighteous. The day of salvation for one is the day of destruction for another. Just like Noah, you and I are either preachers of righteousness or false prophets. Our lives are saying something. We either promote godliness or rebellion. Noah was a true prophet
Back in the day, you couldn’t tell right from wrong, by counting noses. The majority was rarely righteous and Godly standards have never depended upon public opinion. This one godly man was right and the rest of the world was wrong. The majority has historically been wrong, because sinners have always outnumbered saints.
This is how bad things were in the days of Noah: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
People were bent on doing evil. They imagined it and wanted it so bad they could taste it. They got up out of bed every morning to do evil and never gave it a rest. So God acted. He wiped them from the face of the earth. Condemnation was universal and the population of the world drowned, while God preserved eight righteous souls.
Anytime that good and evil are next-door neighbors, good is in danger. Which is why God comes to the rescue. God is guilty of discrimination. He wiped out the wicked, and spared the righteous.
So, there appears to be a single order of justice…at work both in heaven and on earth. For God rules both.
And then Peter turns to Sodom and Gomorrah. (vs. 6-8). You have to wonder why people did not learn the lesson of the flood? They were all descended from Noah. I mean, what did this family talk about anyway? Was it just about how to design better life-jackets?
All the same…Peter writes
“…and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds)”
Sodom and Gomorrah have become bywords. The words sodomy and sodomites are still in our vocabulary. Sodom & Gomorrah have become synonyms for the most degrading forms of sexual sin. Sexual perversion, rape, violence. Pervasive lust and out of control human desire. These places have become symbols for the things that God calls, abominations.
Peter says, that what happened to those cities must be understood as – God at work in history. Some were guilty while others innocent.
Like Lot. He was innocent. His righteous soul was tormented by what he saw and heard. And God rescued him from among them. When the cities went up in smoke, the angels saved Lot. God does not treat the innocent as he does the guilty.
But lest we miss the point…ideas have consequences. What we believe determines what we do. False prophecy plays a shell game with the truth. It distorts our view of God, claiming to lead us into his presence while making us objects of his wrath.
The Sodomites did not think that they were doing anything wrong. They were just fine with homosexuality. They practiced it and defended it. They promoted it with pride. When visited by angels from the presence of God, and right on the eve of their destruction, they demanded sexual access. They didn’t even give up, after the angels of God used divine power to strike them blind
God’s verdict was a never in doubt.
Now if God did all of those things…and he did, then here’s the conclusion:
“then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority”
It’s worth noting that the same God who rescues the godly keeps the unrighteous under punishment. The word ‘keep’ is the same verb as in verse 4, where God keeps disobedient angels in Tartarus. The unrighteous who are alive on earth and even now stand condemned. And those who have passed from this life are detained and being punished.
This is not idle talk. 1st Peter 3:19 describes those spirits who are now in prison. They were disobedient back when Noah was building the ark. And they are still alive today – if you can call what they have, living. Living in the place of the dead and punished non-stop from moment to moment.
I think that what Peter wants to get through to us is, that life is always lived in the present tense. Faithful Christians are saved right now. They are pleasing to God and death is not going to change that. But rebels are dead. They are dead men walking and separated from God. And physical death just makes that state of separation permanent.
Any way that you cut it, life can only be lived in the here and now. Which is why God’s judgment is not idle. It’s not just out there in the future. It is here and now.
Peter wanted to be crystal clear. This is the spiritual ugliness of sin, undressed. It is the polar opposite of the Christian virtues that he began with in chapter one. No wonder then that ungodly people despise authority. They are self-willed and headstrong. They don’t respect God or the messengers of God. They do what only God has the right to do…when they condemn others, even telling angels to go to hell.
They’re like animals, brute beasts who are driven by instinct. They curse and abuse what they do not understand. They have no shame. They party and carouse. They take pride in deception.
Peter uses a profound phrase that sums up their morality…“having eyes full of adultery…they never cease to sin”
They lust. They desire and never get enough. There is never enough wanting, nor ever enough getting. Which by the way, is the nature of sin. Sin is hardly ever, a one time thing. Sin mixed with lust and all baked together is usually a lifelong thing.
So Peter warns that these sinners target the weak and gullible. They hunt down unstable souls, often targeting those who have just been saved.
They are greedy. Life is all about what they want and not at all about what God wants. In this way, they bring themselves under the curse of God. They’re like Balaam, a prophet of God…who sold out for a fist-full of dollars. Not even an angel could change his heart. And when God forbid him to curse Israel, Balaam taught the Moabites how to get Israel to sin. In the end, 23,000 men died for one man’s greed. It was spiritual madness for a prophet of God to so fully serve Satan
But he was just like, every other false prophet. Arrogant and vain. A slave of sin – promising what he could never give. False prophets know how to reel you in. They bait the hook with human desire and get you addicted to sensuality. This ancient world of sin and lust is the postmodern world all around us. It is still, sex-saturated and self-centred. It’s all about me…and the only rule is that there are no rules.
Peter has us imagine that we lost at sea. We pull out a sextant and take a reading on a planet, instead of a star. Or, imagine that you are dying of thirst. Exhausted, you drag yourself to an oasis only to find it dry. That’s what its like to follow a false prophet. The only thing that they can guarantee is that you will stay forever lost and never get what your soul really needs. .
So back to our original question….what is God doing about them? Well, black darkness has been reserved for them and those who follow.
Let’s remember that Peter is writing to Christians. The last 5 verses are all about selling out…about renouncing our faith.
Here’s what that is like:
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.
It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire
There actually is something worse than never being saved. Its being saved and then going back to being lost. It’s having faith in Christ and knowing the assurance of being saved. It’s knowing peace with God and love for your brother. It’s about holding eternal life in your hands…and then letting it slip.
The reason that you are worse off is…that you been inoculated. God has no other plan of salvation. There is no other sacrifice for our sins. And if what you once had in Christ is not enough, then nothing ever can be enough…to save you again.
So let us hold onto what we have in Christ. For God has made us partakers of his divine nature. He will protect us from temptation and shelter us from harm.