The Certain Rise and Fall of False Teachers
Text: 2 Peter 2:1–10a
Main Idea: Cling to the gospel you have received because God is going to judge everyone who persists in unrighteousness.
I. The Certain Arrival of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1–3)
II. The Certain Fate of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:4–8)
III. The Certain Rescue of the “Righteous” (2 Peter 2:5–10)
As I was preparing for this week’s sermon, I was reminded of Winston Churchill’s pointed assertion that, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In this he was reminding the British parliament that history is so much more than a list of long-dead people and dusty old stories. Rather, it’s a lens through which we can better understand the present, in that, history records glorious feats of sacrifice and victory right beside horrific accounts of miserable failures and the most reprehensible deeds. History warns us that certain paths lead to safety and success, while others inevitably lead to insecurity, injustice, and catastrophic failure.
Now, I realize that many of you are instantly thinking about how this quote applies to our current moment in history as a nation, and I understand why. BUT if we are going to grasp the true gravity of our passage in 2 Peter today, we are going to have to set aside the broader concerns of our nation for moment. Because this passage points us to something that is of greatest importance— the white-hot wrath of a holy God.
But this leads us to the question why? Why is Peter shifting so quickly from the Gospel’s call to AND power for godly living (in chapter 1) to an extended diatribe about wrath and judgment? It’s because Peter doesn’t want his readers to abandon the sin-conquering gospel of Jesus Christ for the sin-excusing heresy of false teachers. So in an effort to help his readers see “the clear and present danger” of the present he reminds them of God’s judgment in history past.
- In verses 1–3 he warns them of The Certain Arrival of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1–3)
- In verses 4–8 he reminds them of The Certain Fate of the Ungodly (2 Peter 2:4–8)
- In verses 5–10 he concludes with The Certain Rescue of “Righteous” (2 Peter 2:5–10)
Main Point: Cling to the gospel you have received because God is going to judge everyone who persists in unrighteousness.
The Certain Arrival of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1–3)
The Pattern (2:1a)
The first thing that we see as we transition to chapter two is that Peter is transitioning from his call to pursue gospel-powered good works to one of the greatest barriers to our pursuit of Christ-exalting good works— the heretical teaching of false teachers.
The second thing that we see, is that Peter is trying to prepare his readers for this very problem byreminding them that, The New Covenant people of God share a common experience with the Old Covenant people of God.
Just as God saved his Old Covenant people, Israel, from slavery in Egypt, entered into a covenant with them at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and called them to a life of good works through Moses’ teaching and his law carved onto tablets of stone. So also, God has saved his New Covenant people from their slavery to sin by grace, through faith in the sacrificial death of his Son Jesus Christ so that they might pursue a life of grace-empowered good works (2 Peter 1). This is the fundamental message of the gospel as proclaimed by those who personally witnessed Jesus’s ministry and transfiguration, like Peter(2 Peter 1:16–18). And even better, as recorded in the authoritative, sufficient, and unchangeable revelation of God in the Bible itself (2 Peter 1:19–21). Which is far superior to any witness or teaching of man.
But, the similarity does not end here does it? It doesn’t end in salvation. It doesn’t end in covenant. It doesn’t end in God’s direct revelation to man. No, the similarity is this: Just as Law-perverting false prophets arose among OT Israel and led them into patterns of ever-increasing sin and ungodliness. So also, Christians must be ready for the certain arrival of gospel-perverting false teachers that will led Christians into patterns of ever-increasing sin and ungodliness.
History repeats itself… which is why he wants his readers to know that they need to carefully weigh the words of those who teach.
Notice, the true danger of false teachers is not that they openly deny the gospel. No. Deniers are easy to spot. The true danger is that false teachers look and sound like faithful teachers when they are, in fact, secretly adding destructive heresies to the gospel (2:1). To quote a line from Shai Linne’s song “False Teachers:” You think that they are not the dangerous type because some of their statements are right. But that only proves that Satan comes as an angel of light.
In fact, as we look at verse 2, what kind of gospel-perverting heresy does Peter have in mind? Sensuality— which is any form of sexual expression that does not conform to God’s express revelation in the Bible. (Premarital, extra-marital, or homosexual sex). Don’t miss this, they are not attacking the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, or the substutionary atonement. They are arguing that the Christian is free to pursue every manner of sexual pleasure. And we see the very same thing in the church today. Don’t we? Popular teachers and preachers in America are trying to tell the world that:
- The gospel has nothing to do with what consenting adults do behind closed doors.
- The gospel calls us to love BUT it has nothing to do with who you love or how you express your love.
Yet, in all of this they are openly denying God’s express revelation in the Bible.
Friends, why is false teaching so powerful? Why does it capture so many people. It’s because false teaching plays to our indwelling sin and sears our conscience with a “new-found” path to personal satisfaction, fulfillment, and freedom… and it stamps it with God’s approval!!!!
But, as we turn our attention back to the text, we quickly see that Peter’s ultimate concern is not that false teachers seduce countless people into sin. His greatest concern is that are actively promoting a “gospel” that leads to nothing but wrath, judgment, and eternal ruin
Their Certain Condemnation (2:1c; 3b)
Notice, the primary difference between faithful teachers and false teachers in these opening verses is not that one leads to godly living and the other leads to sin (even though that is true); it is that one leads to life and the other leads to certain condemnation and destruction.
- Verse 1: they are secretly bring destructive heresies into the Church BUT they are, in fact, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
- Verse 3: Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
And as if these warnings were not enough, Peter goes out of his way to emphasize their certain fate by citing three examples from history past, in a complex “if-then” sentence that stretches from verse 4 through 10.
Now, I realize there is a lot going on in these verses and that we could spend hours probing the specific accounts in each of these examples. But, Peter isn’t really focused on the details of these events; rather he is focused on a two-fold historical pattern:
- The Certain Fate of the Ungodly
- The Certain Rescue of the Righteous
The Certain Fate of the Ungodly (2 Peter 2:4–8)
The Angels (2:4)
In fact, as we look at Peter’s first example in verse 4 we quickly discover that this principle extends to the entire realm of creation, no one is exempt. Just think about it, angels are in a completely different class than humans; they are the most glorious and powerful beings in the universe apart from God himself. We see this, in that, when humans encounter angels they tend to either fall at their feet in miss-guided worship OR fall apart in utter terror.
But, this presses us into the question, “How how did these angels sin?” Well, according to Genesis 6:1–4 (and especially Jewish interpretations of Genesis 6) their sin seem to be that they abandoned their rightful positions of authority so that they could marry human women and producing offspring with them. This is their sin.
Now, I know that a number of you want me to press deeper into the specific manifestations of this sin but I’m not going to at this point in time. Because Peter wants us to see God’s unyielding response to their sin. God “cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). And when this judgment arrives, according to Revelation 20:10 they are going to be consigned to the “lake of fire and sulfur to be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
See the lesson in this first example is this: If angels could not escape God’s judgement, no one can escape his coming wrath.
The Ancient World and Sodom and Gomorrah (2:5–8)
In fact, as we turn to the second and third example of God’s judgment (The flood and The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), we see this very lesson played in the lives of everyday humans. Just as God did not spare the angels of Genesis 6 when they sinned, God did not spare (notice Peter uses the same word) the ancient humans of Genesis 6 when they gave themselves over to ever-increasing sin and ungodliness. God didn’t spare them, he judged them with a world-wide flood.
And even more, as we turn to Peter’s third example we see the very same truth in the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah. An act of judgment that was fueled by their godless sexual sin and sealed in the fact that God could not find 10 righteous people between the two cities (Genesis 18:32).
- Genesis 19:24–25 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
- Genesis 19:27–28 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.
Please stay with me here. I know texts like these can be hard to fathom because they are in direct conflict with the values and beliefs of the post-modern and post-Christian culture in which we live. But, biblical history records these event for us to that we might grasp the true character and nature of God. In fact, according to verse 6 this record of judgment past is supposed to have an impact on every generation that follows.
2 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 (in the future).
Notice, Sodom and Gomorrah is not the story of an angry and wrathful OT God who lost control and flew off the handle. No! The historical account of Sodom and Gomorrah is a warning to men and women of every age that a much greater judgment will happen at the end of the age if they remain in their sin and rebellion against God.
Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
When it comes to false teaching this is what’s ultimately at stake! Yet, as we read our Bibles we quickly discover that history is more than a record of God’s wrath and judgment against the ungodly…(Amen?) It’s a record of God delivering the “righteous” from To put it another way, Human history is a record of God’s steadfast faithfulness to rescue the “righteous” WHEN he judges the ungodly.
The Certain Rescue of the “Righteous” (2 Peter 2:5–10)
Just think about it, when we teach about the flood account in Genesis 6–9 what do we focus on the most? We normally emphasize God’s grace and deliverance, and Noah’s faith.
Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Notice, Noah is not righteous by virtue of his perfect obedience. He is righteous because he believed God’s warning about the flood and it was this belief that compelled him to build the ark. And according to Peter, Noah didn’t turn his back on everyone else as he built the ark. NO. He spent his time warning his neighbors of the coming judgment and proclaiming the only path to safety.
Yet, despite 120 years of preaching the only people to survive the flood were Noah and his family because they were the only ones in the ark.
But, as we turn to the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s rescue of Lot doesn’t really mirror that of Noah. does it?. After all, Lot just doesn’t seem very righteous and we don’t see the kind of faith that we see in Noah. In fact, it’s easy to assume that the only reason that Lot gets saved is because “God is doing a favor for Abraham.” Yet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Peter tells us something about Lot that Genesis doesn’t!
- 2 Peter 2:7–8 God rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (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).
Don’t miss this, does Lot have clear and obvious faults? Yes! But, these verses are telling us that God rescued him from imminent destruction for one reason and one reason alone— his heart andhis behavior were proper alignment to God. Lot wasn’t restraining himself from the sexual immoral behavior in his culture while secretly savoring their sin and wishing he could participate. No, he refused to actively join OR passively endorse their wickedness because he was “greatly distressed” and “tormented” by their conduct.
This is why God rescued Lot and his two daughters from his rightful judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Principle (2 Peter 2:9–10a)
So as we turn to our final two verses, what does Peter want his readers to learn from these historical examples of judgement and deliverance? He wants his readers (both past and present) to understand that ifGod did these things in the past, then he will certainly do them in the future.
- If God did not spare the angels
- If God did not spare the ancient world BUT preserved Noah
- If God turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ash BUT rescued righteous Lot
2 Peter 2:9–10a THEN the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Now, the most important thing to see in these two verses is that even though the same two groups exist (the godly and the unrighteous), the time scale has changed— Peter isn’t promising a temporal judgment of the wicked, he is pointing beleaguered Christians to the final judgment with a two-fold promise.
- God will preserve true Christians through this life so that they will not experience his judgment on the last day.
- False teaching and sinful behavior will ultimately lead to judgment, suffering, and disaster on the last day.
And in this he is saying, Christian hold on to the gospel. Yes, it’s hard to faithfully walk in righteousness in a world that hates Jesus. Yes, it’s hard to grow in godliness when false teachers are doing everything they can to sear your conscience by redefining the very nature of righteousness! And yes, it’s especially hard to remain faithful to Christ when your Christian friends cave into false teaching and pressure you to join them.
Christian, he knows that we are going to be tempted countless times in our lives to stop fighting for real-life change and just give ourselves over to ever-increasing godlessness… which is why he is encouraging us to remember that only one path leads to salvation and everlasting joy.
So as I close this morning, I want be very clear about this thing we call gospel so that no one can mistake the ultimate difference between the righteous and the unrighteous.
First, if we look at what Peter has told us in this book we can see three things about means to be a Christian.
- They stand in the righteousness of Christ on account of their faith in Christ NOT their good works (2 Peter 1:1)
- They are able to live righteously because they have received everything that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3–4).
- They are called to confirm their calling and election in Christ by progressing in gospel-driven, Christ-exalting real-life change (2 Peter 1:10).
Second, as we turn to the broader witness of God’s Word we are confronted with the truth that the gospel is a two-fold promise.
- On the one hand, no matter how hard humans try to keep God’s commands we can never keep enough to meet his perfect standard of righteousness. In fact, our so-called good works are incapable of saving us from God’s judgment because they are nothing more than filthy rags in his sight. And on account of this every single one of us are facing certain doomed at the final judgement.
- But on the other hand, judgment isn’t the end of the story. Yes, judgement is coming BUT God, in his mercy and grace, provided a way for sinful humans to escape his judgment in his Son, Jesus Christ.
- Jesus lived a perfect life, was wrongly condemned to death, and bore God’s white-hot wrath against our sin on the cross. So that all who receive his free gift of forgiveness by faith might be credited with his infinite righteousness and restored to a right relationship with God so that we might be delivered from the judgment to come!
We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone and not our works of righteousness. And our acts of righteous flow from our new standing in Christ.
Don’t miss this, the cross does not erase or lower God’s standard of righteousness as recorded in his Word. Nor does the cross of Jesus Christ rescue people from the final judgment while freeing them to live a life of godlessness. No. The cross is a warning to every man woman and child that if God did not spare his only Son but gave him up for our sin, he will not spare you if you cling to your sin instead of his Son.
 It is generally accepted that he was paraphrasing writer and philosopher George Santayana who had said in 1905 ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
 “The Greek verb translated “secretly bring in” (pareisagō) was used in ancient literature to describe the introduction of “new doctrines” to a preexisting set of beliefs;” ( Matthew S. Harmon, “2 Peter,” in Hebrews–Revelation, ESV Expository Commentary, ed. Iain M Duguid, James M Hamilton, and Jay Sklar [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018], 386).
 “The imperfect tense of the verb here portrays the torment of “his righteous soul” as continual, caused by “their lawless deeds that he saw and heard;” (Harmon, “2 Peter,” 390).
 Dieudonne Tamfu, 2 Peter and Jude, ed. Samuel Ngewa, Africa Bible Commentary (HippoBooks, 2018), 53. Harmon, “2 Peter,” 390–91.
 Michael P. Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 100.
 Adapted from Charles Spurgeon.