Chapter two of Second Peter brings the whole topic of false teachers. Ever since the time of Christ there have been those who twist the teachings of Jesus and the doctrines of the church. At times these differences have brought about greater understanding and clarity involving theology, like during the Reformation. Other times brought about significant deviation from the truth, which have been called heresies.
- Why do people follow false teachers?
- What are some false teachers they have been aware of in the last few years.
- What motivates false teachers to work their way into churches? (Several of Paul’s letters are written to refute false teaching and false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:3–15, Galatians 2:1–5; 1 Timothy 6:3–5).
- What kind of tactics do false teachers use to gain followers?
- Why will there be certain punishment for those who turn others away from God?
Jesus was warning the people of His day to be on the lookout for gifted leaders who would take advantage of them and lead them astray. They would be men who looked good on the outside but were corrupt on the inside. They would perform well. To put it bluntly, great preachers are not necessarily great Christians.The people can be fooled and led astray.
The best picture of what a Spirit-filled man looks like is Christ. His life was characterized by the Fruit of the Spirit in the midst of a world characterized by just the opposite of those characteristics.
- Jesus stood up to His opponents when it was appropriate, but He also knew when to be silent.
- He had the courage and wit to take on the intellectuals of His day on their turf according to their terms.
- He spoke with authority.
- People, especially children, were attracted to Him. Even sinners loved to be with Him.
- He was a very secure man. There was nothing pretentious or intimidating about Him.
- He didn’t need those props.
- At the end of His life He tackled the toughest account of all—death. And He won!
Questions to Consider:
- What makes false teachers popular today?
- How can we recognize false teaching?
- There are times when we need to confront and expose sin in the life of other believers. What are some guidelines for deciding when that is appropriate?
Peter warned his readers of the false teachers who presented a message contradictory to that of the apostles. He wrote of the characteristics of false teachers, the consequences of their teaching, their conduct, and their condemnation.
The Characteristics of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1–3)
False prophets in Old Testament times sought to lead God’s people away from the revelations of the true prophets, and false teachers in Peter’s time tried to lead God’s people away from the teaching of the apostles. The heretics added some of their own false teaching to the orthodox faith, thereby denying the One they professed to submit to as Christians. Their judgment would be sudden. Reckless and hardened immorality would accompany their doctrinal error. False teachers typically desire to satisfy themselves rather than God, which leads them to take advantage of their audiences. God is never late or asleep in executing justice, though He is patient (see 2 Peter 3:9).
The Consequences of False Teaching (2 Peter 2:4–10a)
Peter next described the consequences that follow false teaching to help his readers see the importance of avoiding it. He gave three examples of apostates in the past.
- His first example is the angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4), an example of how the devil works.
- His second example is the unbelievers of Noah’s day (2 Peter 2:5), an example of the world.
- The third example (2:6) is the turning of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, an example of the flesh.
All three examples show that God will not only punish the wicked, but will also rescue the righteous from the judgment He will send on the ungodly who surround them.
The Conduct of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:10b–19)
Peter emphasized the conduct of false teachers in order to motivate his readers to turn away from them. Rather than behaving as good angels do, the false teachers acted like animals. Peter believed the false teachers therefore deserved treatment similar to that of animals. God will give them punishment in keeping with their crimes. Their practices were similar to stains on the clean fabric of the church, blemishes on its countenance, since the practitioners claimed to be Christians. The false teachers sinned without restraint and lured people not firmly committed to Jesus Christ to join them. They were also trying to get the Christians to participate in idolatry and immoral practices. Like the springs and mists Peter described (2 Peter 2:17), the false teachers failed to deliver what they promised and so were hypocrites. They appealed to their audiences with boastful words, promising more than they could deliver. They appealed to people who were only just escaping from those who live in error, probably new Christians and/or older carnal ones who were still in the process of making a final break with their pagan practices.
The Condemnation of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:20–22)
Peter focused in these verses on the false teachers’ final doom to warn his readers of the serious results of following their instruction. The false teachers in view had evidently heard the gospel preached and fully understood the apostles’ teaching that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior but had rejected it. They only escaped the defilements of the world in the sense that they had understood the gospel, which liberates sinners. But they had thrown away their key to deliverance and had thereby become entangled and overcome again by the defilements of the world. Their first state was also eternal damnation without having heard the gospel, but their final state was eternal damnation for having rejected the gospel.
It would have been better for the false teachers never to have gained full knowledge of God’s commandment regarding holy behavior than having gained it to reject it. Dogs return to corruption that comes from within themselves, and pigs return to filth they find outside themselves. False teachers do both things.