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II Peter 2:1-22 – Identifying and Exposing False Teachers – Pastor Joshua Stevens

The Wednesday evening youth Bible study from December 9, 2020, by Pastor Joshua Stevens.

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The book of II Peter is the apostle’s final address to the church before his death. Yet surprisingly, his primary subject in this book is not the fiery trials or persecutions which the church was facing in those days, but rather a problem posing an even greater threat to the church in the long-run: those seeking to corrupt the church’s doctrine from within. This is why Peter mostly describes these false teachers in a future tense. He is speaking prophetically of challenges to come.

Throughout church history, there have been no lack of false teachers and heretical schisms that have broken away from the true church. Also, churches that were once bastions of the Christian faith, have now gone apostate due to false teachers infiltrating. So, while the church may not always face the threat of physical violence from without, the church is constantly facing doctrinal violence. Satan knows that corrupting doctrine is a far more subtle and effective way to destroy the church than persecution. Therefore, in his last words to the church, Peter gives us a descriptive warning against false teachers to help us identify and expose them. As we look forward and long for the Second Advent of Christ, laboring for the salvation of all nations, we must diligently protect the purity of the church’s doctrine–the purity of the gospel!

The Text

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

II Peter 2:1-3

There are three parts to this passage. First, in verses 1-3, we see Peter describe the methods and doctrines of false teachers. Second, in verses 4-9, Peter gives three vivid examples of God’s historic judgment upon sin. Lastly, in verses 10-22, Peter describes the corrupt behavior of false teachers, helping us to identify them when they show up.

Their Methods and Doctrines (vv. 1-3)

In verse 1, Peter reminds us that this kind of crooked activity has been common since the beginning. There have always been false prophets among God’s people.

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

II Peter 2:1

Peter begins chapter 2 with the word “but,” showing a sharp contrast between what he just said, and what he’s about to say. At the end of chapter 1, Peter described the true prophets of God, who were “holy men of God,” “moved by the Holy Ghost.” But just as God sent true prophets to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, there were also false prophets among the people. This was critically dangerous, because throughout the Old Testament era, and during the formative years of the church, God directly communicated to his people through the prophets and the apostles. And in order to mud up the waters, Satan always has his counterfeit prophets and ministers to promote false doctrines among God’s people. And Peter warns us: just as there were false prophets among Israel in the Old Testament, there shall be false teachers in the church.

They are Subtle

But false teachers, we must understand, are far more dangerous than false prophets. They are more subtle and harder to spot. Anyone calming to be a prophet today is false, because Gabriel told Daniel that vision and prophecy would be “sealed up” before the destruction of the second temple (Daniel 9:24-27), which happened in 70 A.D. So, false prophets today are easy to spot. But false teachers–they creep into our seminaries and churches and gain people’s trust. Peter says that they shall privily bring in damnable heresies. To do something privily means to do something discretely or quietly. No false teacher will come to a church, wearing his false teachings on his sleeve. Instead, they come discretely, like the serpent in the garden bringing their damnable heresies with them. The word damnable that Peter uses simply has the idea of being eternally destructive. Their teachings will lead people to be eternally condemned. The word heresy comes from a Greek word meaning to divide. In other words, these false teachers cause division and disruption in the church. Where ever there is smoke, there is fire. Likewise, where ever there are divisions or schisms in the church, there are heresies. Listen to Paul’s words in I Corinthians 11:18-19:

“For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”

I Corinthians 11:18-19

They Deny Jesus in Persecution

Furthermore, Peter tells us that they even deny the Lord that bought them. In other words, these false teachers will come in, claiming to be true Christians, claiming to be bought by the blood of Christ, but when trial or persecution comes, they will deny and disown Jesus. For those of us who are familiar with what Peter himself did on the night Jesus was arrested, the irony here is not lost on us. This was probably very painful for Peter to write. But Peter shows us that one of the ways that false teachers expose themselves is that they will deny Jesus in persecution. Jesus describes this type of person in his famous parable of the sower:

But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.

Matthew 13:20-21, NKJV

As I said before, persecution will have a purifying effect upon the church. When the fiery trial comes, and being a being a Bible teacher is no longer popular or profitable, false teachers will cut and run. Peter also warns that they bring upon themselves swift destruction. God will see to it that their activity comes to an abrupt end, and they are destroyed. Their true colors will be revealed eventually. Yet the danger for the church is that they can do a tremendous amount of damage before that time comes.

They Damage the Reputation of the Church

And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

II Peter 2:2

Sadly, false teachers are often successful. Many will follow their pernicious ways. The word pernicious means eternally destructive. False teachers always succeed in gaining followers. Entire cults and heretical denominations are started by false teachers, and they gain enough traction to get the attention of unbelievers. Sadly, unbelievers will not normally discern the difference between true Christians and heretical groups. They lump us all into the same category. To the world, Roman Catholics and Protestants are both seen as legitimate. And whenever cult leaders do evil and strange things, they too are often associated with legitimate churches. People will sometimes point to cult leaders like Jim Jones and say, “See! Religion is evil and destructive!” So, not only do false teachers lead their own followers down destructive paths, but they are also guilty of becoming a stumbling-block to irreligious people.

 They are Motivated by Money and not Ministry

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

II Peter 2:3

False teachers are covetous and motivated by the love of money or power. They don’t care about your soul, only your wallet or pocketbook. They are smooth-talkers, using feigned words to make merchandise of people. When you look today at these so-called Word of Faith prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, or Kenneth Copeland, note how disgustingly filthy rich they are, and you’ll realize their true motives. They use feigned words to make merchandise of people. Joel Osteen made his fortune not by preaching the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but by preaching the “good news of you.” He preaches a false gospel of self-esteem or the power of positive thinking. And through the success of his feigned words, he now has a net worth of over $100,000,000. Yet, when Jesus walked this earth, he had no place to lay his head, no possessions other than the clothes on his back, and his earthly ministry ended in his brutal and bloody execution. So when you look today at these so-called preachers who live in huge mansions and own private jets, I hope that that’s a tell-tale sign of their true nature.

At the end of verse 3, Peter warns that their judgment now of long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. In other words, they aren’t going to stick around to enjoy all that wealth. They live in comfort now, but when they draw their last breaths, they will find themselves cast out into outer darkness.

Their Judgement is Assured (vv. 4-9)

For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:

II Peter 2:4-9

Here, Peter gives us three vivid examples of God’s historic judgment upon the wicked. First, Peter begins with the example of the fallen angels–the angels that sinned. And we’re told that God did not spare them. God showed them no mercy. He cast them down to hell–in the Greek, Tartarus, the lowest hell. There, they are bound and chained in darkness as they await judgment day. Now, this particular example of God’s judgment raises questions we probably can’t answer. We aren’t given a tremendous amount of detail about the angelic rebellion and fall. Nor are we told here why God chained up some demons in hell and allowed others to roam the earth. But that’s beside Peter’s point. Peter’s point is that if God did not spare the angels that sinned, nor will he spare these false teachers. If fallen angels were cast from the highest heavens to the lowest hell, how then can sinful humans escape God’s judgment?

The second example of judgment Peter gives us, is the world prior to the flood. God also did not spare the ancient world. He brought the flood upon the entire world of the ungodly. God has demonstrated historically that he will judge sin. Yet at the same time, he saved Noah and his family through that judgment.

Then the third example of judgment Peter gives us is Sodom and Gomorrah. God turned those cities to ashes. He condemned them to utter destruction and wiped them off the map by raining fire and sulfur from heaven upon them. The very mention of the names of these cities is synonymous with God’s judgment. Those cities became an example–a warning for those who would afterward live ungodly. And yet again, there is also a promise here of deliverance for the righteous. Although Abraham’s nephew Lot had compromised by living in and near these wicked cities, God was gracious to him and saved him, because he was a believer. So, God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, while reserving the wicked for the day of judgment.

So, Peter’s point with these examples of judgment, is that God knows how to deal with the wicked without also destroying the righteous along with them. God is able to distinguish between those in the church who are his and those in the church who aren’t. That should be comforting to true believers, but it should be terrifying to the frauds and false teachers. You can fool people, but you can’t fool God. You can’t hide among believers to escape God’s judgment. God will find you, and judgment will come without fail. As God says in Deuteronomy 32:35, “their foot shall slide in due time.”

Their Wicked Conduct (vv. 10-22)

But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

II Peter 2:10-22

Peter’s message in the latter half of chapter 2 is simple: you shall know the false teacher by his fruits. This is very similar to what Jesus said at the end of his famous Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:15-20 the Lord warns us:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Matthew 7:15-20

Peter shows us that the same can be said of false teachers. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly they may look like one of us, but inwardly they are predators. Yet you may identify them by their works. By their fruits you shall know them. Here in verses 10-22, Peter describes their rotten fruits in detail.

They Follow their Lusts and Despise Government

In verse 10, Peter says that they walk after their flesh, or according to the flesh, lusting for that which is unclean. In other words, their personal lives aren’t clean, whether it be sexual misconduct or something else. Also, Peter says that they despise government. They disregard the laws of the land. They are presumptuous and self-willed, meaning that they are very brazen and arrogant in their opposition to government. They aren’t afraid to speak evil of dignities or civil authorities. They bring railing accusations against them, which is something that not even the angels feel comfortable doing. So, beware of so-called preachers or teachers who are like this. That of course doesn’t mean that preachers shouldn’t address and speak out against the sins of government officials. John the Baptist, of course, preached against Herod’s adultery with his brother’s wife. Jesus called Herod a fox, because the Herods were viscous predators. Likewise, we should preach against the sins of our own government. But Peter is describing people who slander or falsely accuse governing authorities. Beware of preachers and teachers who run their own smear campaigns.

They are Predatory Beasts Preying on the Weak

In verse 12, Peter compares them to brute beasts, who follow their animal instincts, made to be taken and destroyed. In verse 13, he describes them as those who indulge in debauchery and revelry, openly during the day time, while being a spot and a blemish upon the churches into which they creep. Their eyes are full of adultery, verse 14, and they cannot cease from sin. When they do what they do, they are simply following their nature. They cannot cease from sin, because they don’t have the Spirit of God within them. They beguile unstable souls, meaning that they prey upon those who aren’t firmly established in the Christian faith. They are like predators who attack a flock from behind, and catch those who are the weakest and smallest. Their hearts are trained in covetous practices. They are expert charlatans and hucksters. They know how to get these unstable souls to open their wallets to them.

They are Modern-day “Balaams”

In verse 15, Peter tells us that have forsaken the right way, and have gone astray, following the way of Balaam. Balaam, of course, was that “prophet-for-hire” that we meet in Numbers 22. As the story goes, Balak, the king of Moab, was terrified of the nation of Israel when they came up out of Egypt in the Exodus, and so he hired Balaam to pronounce a curse upon Israel. But God showed Balaam very clearly that he was not to curse Israel. However, King Balak offered him great rewards if he took the Job. So, Balaam went along with Balak’s men anyway, knowing that God didn’t want him to, just to see if God wouldn’t change his mind. And as he was riding his donkey in the way, the Angel of the Lord appeared in the path with his sword drawn, but his donkey saw the Lord and stopped. And while Balaam was beating his donkey for stopping, God opened the donkey’s mouth and it rebuked him, and warned him that God was about to kill him because of his greed. So, Balaam was motivated by money, not by the truth. He was a “prophet-for-hire” who greedily chased after reward. And Peter warns us that false teachers are just like Balaam.

They are Slaves to Corruption

False teachers make grand promises to those who follow them, but they don’t deliver. They are wells without water, verse 17. They are clouds without rain, reserved for eternal darkness. Their words are lofty, but they are empty. In verse 18, we are told that they appeal to the desires of the flesh in order to gain their followings. They promise people that they can just live however they want to live without any danger of punishment; and thereby succeed in pulling people back in, who had left their old sinful lifestyles behind. They promise people liberty and freedom, verse 19, but they are the servants or slaves of corruption. Back at the beginning of chapter 1, Peter tells us that God has made us partakers of his divine nature, and has given us everything that we need to escape the corruptions of the world. But these false teachers are slaves to corruption. Slaves don’t have the power to offer others freedom. These cannot escape corruption, because they aren’t partakers of the divine nature. We as Christians, on the other hand, have escaped. We are no longer slaves.

So, again, Peter informs us that we will be able to identify these rotten trees by their rotten fruits. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. It’s not capable of doing so.

They All Show their True Colors Eventually

What’s frightening about verses 20-22, is that Peter describes these false teachers as those who had initially escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Christ; yet they were entangled and overcome by the world once again. In other words, some of these false teachers appear to have been genuine believers at one point, yet they had turned back to the pollutions of the world. Now we know from plenty of other Scriptures that all true believers will persevere in the faith to the end. I don’t believe that Peter is teaching us here that true believers can ultimately fall from the faith. In 1 Peter 1:5, Peter tells us that true Christians are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” But Peter is describing here those who have had an apparent conversion experience, yet they ultimately fell away. I know people who have done this. These are people who have heard the gospel–perhaps were even raised in church from a young age–having an intimate knowledge of the Bible and of God’s holy commandments, but in the end they turned away.

So, Peter describes these individuals as people who couldn’t keep up the ruse. They all show their true colors eventually. They are like dogs that vomited up what made them sick in the first place, but then turned back and ate the vomit again. They are like pigs that were washed clean outwardly, but then couldn’t resist the urge to go back to wallowing in the mud. That’s because they haven’t experienced a change of their nature. Pigs wallow in the mire, because it’s their nature. Sinners love sin, because it’s their nature. These have turned back to the pollutions of the world, because they haven’t received a new nature. They were “Judas Iscariots” among us all along.

The Effect of Rejecting God’s Truth

Peter warns us that the latter end will be worse for them than the beginning. They were better off not knowing the way of righteousness, than they were knowing it and turning away from it. You see, when people encounter the truth of God, and they turn away from it, they don’t remain the same as they were before. They become worse and worse off. Before they encountered God’s truth, they were simply an ignorant sinner. Yet after encountering God’s truth, and they choose to continue in sin, they become a presumptuous sinner. They become more brazen and hardened in their sin, and sink to even deeper depths of depravity. This is what happened, for example, to the Jewish people who rejected Jesus. Jesus describes this vividly in Matthew 12:43-45:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Matthew 12:43-45

Jesus came to the Jews, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons. Yet the Jews rejected him. And Jesus warned that after rejecting him, they wouldn’t simply go back to being the way they were before Jesus came to them. They would become even worse. Instead of being possessed by one demon, they would be possessed by seven. You even see this play out in real time in the Gospels. The Jews progressed from merely opposing Jesus verbally, to plotting his death in the end. But that’s what happens. When you encounter God’s truth, and you reject it, you become worse than you were before. You become more solidified and hardened in your sin. You will sink to new depths of depravity.

So, this passage is full of sober warnings for us. For true believers, we are warned about the presence of false teachers among us. There will arise those who seek to corrupt the doctrine of the church, and to draw followers after themselves. But we will be able to recognize them by their corrupt fruits. They will show their true colors eventually. But there is also a warning for unbelievers as well–for those within churches who may be keeping up a ruse. It is an eternally dangerous and deadly thing to sit under the preaching and teaching of God’s word, and yet turn away.

Take heed how you listen.