Faith until the End

Posted: May 5, 2016 in 2 Peter, Route 66, Uncategorized

Route 66: 2 Peter, “Faith until the End”

It’s never fun to say good-bye.  But when you do, what do you want someone to remember?  Last words are important.  Last words have a tendency to stick with us, so it’s important to make those last words count.  The New Testament contains a number of “final thoughts” (so to speak) ranging from Jesus’ last commission to His disciples prior to ascending to heaven, to Paul’s final letter to Timothy just before his execution by order of the Roman emperor.  It contains another one here, with Peter’s final letter he sent to the Church.

So what was so important for Peter to say?  What was it that he wanted to get across to the people, that would stick in their minds as he left this earthly life?  In a word: endure.  He wanted them to persevere – to stick to the faith that they had received, never wavering from it no matter what.  They might wait until the day that Jesus returns, and that’s ok.  They needed to keep their faith all the way to the very end.

Obviously, so do we.  We live in a world that is topsy-turvy, to say the least.  What is right has become wrong, and what was once unthinkable is now the societal reality.  No matter the arena: politics, the family, the church, whatever – it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain a Biblical Christian in this day & age.  Yet we are called to endure – to persevere.  Don’t give up the faith – don’t be deceived away from the faith – stay in it, maturing in it, all the way to the end.

BACKGROUND:
The letter repeatedly claims to have been written by Peter, but this claim has been doubted by many.  It’s been often observed that 2 Peter, more than any other book of the New Testament, has had its authorship questioned throughout the centuries.  It is, undoubtedly, the most questioned book.  Why?  Primarily due to the writing style.  If 1 Peter was indeed written by Peter (as we believe it was), 2 Peter is drastically different in style.  It is almost as if you look at two paintings with different brush strokes and different color palettes, and yet claim the same artist.  It’s certainly possible, but unusual.  In addition to stylistic issues, scholars note that the Church Fathers are virtually silent in their quotations from 2 Peter throughout the 2nd century, and don’t really begin quoting it until the 3rd & 4th centuries.  Historically speaking, the early church was indeed slow to recognize 2 Peter as authentic, and those doubts have persisted to this day.

That said, the church may have been slow to recognize 2 Peter, but they did recognize it.  The difference in writing style can be explained by the change in the method of writing.  1 Peter was plainly written via an amanuensis (secretary/scribe – Silvanus, 5:12), whereas 2 Peter acknowledges no such assistance.  It seems quite possible that Peter wrote this particular epistle with his own hand, which would explain why it reads so differently.  Some object to the idea, saying that Peter was an uneducated Galilean fisherman with no ability to write in such fluent Greek, but that’s a pretty flimsy argument considering that Peter would have left fishing in Galilee some 30 years prior, traveled extensively among Greek-speakers, lived in Rome preaching passionately for Jesus, and more.  IOW, Peter may have started out uneducated in Galilee, but he certainly didn’t remain that way.  In addition, some scholars note that there are certain words/phrases found in 2 Peter which are only echoed in the New Testament in the letter of 1 Peter, and in Peter’s sermons within the book of Acts.  Thus the writing style might be different, but the vocabulary is not.

Although the Church may have been slow to recognize 2 Peter as authentic, they had every reason to proceed cautiously.  It didn’t take long in Church history for fake pseudonymous texts to arise (letters written under a pretended name), and several of these letters were attributed to Peter.  They needed to take the time that was necessary to ensure that what was included in 2 Peter was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.  They universally discarded pseudonymous texts, so the very fact that they did not do so with 2 Peter gives tremendous credibility to the idea that Peter actually wrote it.  Besides, if 2 Peter was written under false-pretenses, it would be truly ironic & hypocritical considering that so much of the letter condemns false teaching and deception.  Why would an author decrying deception actually himself deceive?  All in all, despite repeated criticism, 2 Peter has stood firm, with answers to every objection.  There’s little doubt the letter was authored by the apostle Peter.

With that in mind, the letter can be easily dated to around 65AD, or whatever date one assigns to Peter’s execution in Rome.  Peter himself acknowledges that the time of his death is at hand (1:14), which was one of his purposes in writing, so a date of the mid-60s is best.

His audience is technically unnamed, but can readily be identified as the same 5 regions of modern-day Turkey to which Peter sent his 1st letter (3:1).  These were not regions in which Peter had personally ministered; Paul had plowed the ground there.  Yet Peter wrote to these same Christians, perhaps encouraging them after Paul’s execution.  Earlier, Peter had written to warn them of the trials that would soon come upon them from the outside.  Now he writes to them to warn them of trials that would arise within their own congregations – from the inside.  Yes, Peter is again writing to the Gentile church (actually a mix of Jew & Gentile), but he does so with the authority of an apostle desiring them to continue on in the things that they were already taught by another apostle (Paul).

ISSUES:
One particular issue that needs to be addressed is the relationship between 2 Peter and Jude.  Quite a number of verses are almost identical in the two letters, and identical in the same order as well.  Although it’s possible that both Peter and Jude quoted a common source, it seems far more likely that one author quoted the other.  Who quoted who is the question.  Early church theologians believed that Jude quoted 2 Peter, primarily based on the authority invested in the apostle Peter.  The objection to the idea is based in motivation.  Why would Jude quote Peter so extensively, yet write such a brief letter?  It would seem more logical for him to simply pass along the letter that Peter already wrote, although of course he might have wanted to highlight just a bit of it.  The majority of scholars today believe that Peter quoted Jude, which makes sense considering his longer letter.  That Peter would quote someone else is not outside of his character.  The apostle might have started out life has prideful & headstrong, but he didn’t continue his ministry that way.  It wouldn’t be at all unusual for him to defer to someone else who wrote something in a certain way that was valid.  In the end, we simply do not know who was first in writing.  Jude’s letter gives us no clue for dating, so this is a mystery we cannot definitively solve.

GENERAL OUTLINE
The letter of 2 Peter is substantially shorter than 1 Peter, containing only three chapters.  And unlike 1 Peter’s outline which went beyond the traditional chapter divisions, 2 Peter divides relatively easily along those lines.

  • The Mature, Sure Faith (1) – God has called us to faith in Jesus Christ, but we are to grow in our faith, walking in all that God has for us.  The faith we have received is certain & sure, passed down to us by those who have seen & walked with the glorified Lord Jesus.
  • The Deceivers within the Faith (2) – Not every teacher in the church is a trustworthy teacher of God’s word.  Warnings are given of the rise of false teachers, and their condemnation will come by the judgment of Almighty God.
  • The Finality of Faith (3) – Just as false teachers await the judgment of Christ, so we await the coming of Christ, and the final Day of the Lord.  That Day is coming, so stand strong.  Persevere to the end, when we will see His glory revealed.

The Mature, Sure Faith
Introduction & blessing (1:1-4)
The letter begins both similarly and differently than 1 Peter.  Again, Peter identifies himself as an “apostle,” though not in an overly authoritatively way.  His authority is known, but he doesn’t browbeat his readers with it.  And again, Peter prays that grace and peace “be multiplied” unto them in the “knowledge of God.” (1:2)  All of this is familiar wording for Peter.  At the same time, there are some key differences.  In 2 Peter, he introduces himself by his full name “Simon Peter” (actually Simeon Peter in Greek), which makes sense if Peter is the person doing the actual writing.  He also describes himself as a “bondservant/slave” of Christ as well as an apostle.  And again, it makes perfect sense if Peter is actually penning this himself.  He isn’t promoting himself; he’s just describing himself as he sees himself: both as a slave and as one who was sent by God.

  • On that note, we’re not really any different.  We are all servants/slaves of the Most High God, giving our allegiance to our King Jesus.  And He has indeed sent us out into the world to be His ambassadors, taking His message of the gospel to those who are lost.  What Peter did on his level, we do on ours.  We do with the people God has placed in front of us, serving Jesus as we give them the good news of salvation.

In fact, Peter places himself on the same level as his readers, in that they have “obtained like precious faith.”  Peter was saved no differently than anyone else in the body of Christ.  There is no special grace given an apostle that is not available to the least-known of all Christians.  And that grace is wonderful!  God brings us into the Christian faith by His power (1:3), which causes us to know Him and all things that are good, and grants us the right to receive precious promises (1:4) even to the point of partaking in the divine nature of God.  We have been saved out from the world, and saved to be sons and daughters of God.  Amazing!

  • Keep in mind that this is exactly what the word “church” refers to.  We are the εκκλησια – the “called out ones.”  We have been called out from the world, and called to a relationship with God through Jesus.  That is indeed impossible through our own power, but not through the power of God.  His power makes it possible, which is why we call it grace!

So that is what we’re given in Christ – that is what we are called to.  What do we do with it?  That’s what Peter goes on to write…

Growing a mature faith (1:5-11)
We are saved by faith alone, but we are not to let our faith remain alone.  Peter writes that we are to “add” to it (1:5).  This isn’t the idea of legalism – it’s the idea of maturity.  When we believe upon Jesus as Lord & God, that is the start of our faith – but that isn’t the end of our lives.  We don’t immediately drop dead & go to heaven.  There is life to be lived for the glory of God, and for that, we need to have more than just the basic knowledge about the gospel.  It’s good that we know how we are saved, but what do we do with our lives beyond that?  Peter writes to add to our faith things like virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (1:5-7).  IOW, grow in maturity – grow in the fruit of the Spirit.  Christians who are jerks & bullies have little business claiming that they’re actually “Christians.”  They may know the truth of the gospel, but they show little evidence of it in their lives.  Peter would say that those people are “barren & unfruitful” (1:8), and that’s not what God desires for us.  When we act that way, we’re acting as if we’re blind & still unsaved (1:9).  At that point it doesn’t matter what we might claim with our lips – our actions testify to something other than Jesus.  (A tree is known by its fruit! Lk 6:44)

To what do our actions testify?  That’s why Peter writes that we need to me our “call and election sure” (1:10).  We need to make sure that we’re actually in the faith that we claim.  Anyone can raise his/her hand during an invitation – anyone can check off a questionnaire box claiming to be a Christian of some sort.  What does your life proclaim?  Do you have more than simply faith professed?  Do you have faith that has borne fruit?  Add to your faith the fruit of the Spirit!

Peter’s soon death (1:12-15)
Part of the reason Peter felt the need to write the letter was because he knew he was about to be executed.  He felt the urgency to “remind” the church of these things (1:12), even though they already knew them, just to ensure they did not fall short.  After all, there were false teachers among them that would proclaim otherwise (something Peter will get to in a moment), and Peter knew that as long as true apostles still existed, they still had the opportunity to teach the truth.

Peter’s sure testimony (1:16-21)
And what the apostles taught was (is) true!  These things weren’t “fables” (1:16) or some other sort of fiction.  The things the apostles taught of Jesus were things borne out of their own eyewitness testimony.  They walked with Jesus – they talked with Jesus – they ate with Jesus – they slept beside Jesus.  For three years they witnessed His ministry & miracles.  And even a few of the apostles witnessed a greater glory – something that Peter references when he writes of Jesus’ transfiguration (1:17-18).  The fact that he saw Jesus glorified ought to give extra credence to his testimony about Christ, because it points to an even greater testimony.  Peter heard with his own ears the testimony of the Father about the Son, and that (combined with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead) is the ultimate standard of truth.

As Peter goes on to write, the “prophetic word” was confirmed (1:19) – everything written about Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament is true.  And what is written is the final standard.  It’s not what men could make up; it’s what God had written down.  Anyone can make up a prophecy; only God the Holy Spirit can inspire someone to write Scripture, which is exactly what happened in the pages of both Old and New Testaments.

  • BTW, this combined with 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is some of the clearest teaching regarding the inspiration of Scripture in the Bible.  The Bible was penned by men, but it was not ultimately authored by them.  The words we read are the very words intended to be there by God.  At the same time, what these men wrote was not written simply out of dictation.  Instead, they were “moved” upon, as the Holy Spirit worked within their hearts and minds.  That’s why David’s psalms read differently than Paul’s letters, which read differently than Moses’ law versus Luke’s history, etc.  All of the author’s various personalities come through, yet every word they wrote was still intended by God for them to write. 
  • Because God inspired it, we can trust it.  The Bible is without error in its teaching, and it does not lead us astray into falsehood.  Thus we say it is inerrant & infallible.  It is not a science textbook, but what it teaches about science is true.  It is not strictly a history book, but what it teaches about history is accurate.  It IS a theological book, but it is far more than a mere devotional or how-to manual…it is the very word of God.

Of course, not everyone teaches the word of God – certainly not everyone teaches it accurately.  That’s what Peter goes on to address…

The Deceivers within the Faith
Reality of false teachers (2:1-3)
Peter is blunt in his warning.  False teachers will come.  The ancient Hebrews had to deal with false prophets; the NT Church has to deal with false teachers.  The original apostles of Jesus Christ had not yet all passed from the scene before false teachers arose.  In fact, the first churches were still being planted when Paul (and others) had to deal with false teaching among them.  Christians are fooling themselves if they believe that every teacher they hear is anointed by God to teach.  That has never been the case; not even from the very beginning of the Church.  From the start, they denied the Lord (2:1), caused people to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2), all motivated by their own greed and covetousness (2:3).  It was that way then, and it’s that way today.  We don’t have to wait long after turning on Christian TV to find so-called teachers & self-proclaimed prophets doing exactly the same thing.  They deny the Lordship of Christ Jesus & the truth about the fellowship of His suffering – they cause people to blaspheme God by thinking that they can be their own little gods commanding things by their will – and they are motivated almost solely by greed as they bilk well-meaning Christians out of their money.  (And of course, they’re not all on TV!  Look around & you’ll find them in every city across America.)

Future of false teachers (2:4-11)
God knows these false teachers, and He will deal with them in His own timing & His own way.  As Peter writes, “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned…” (2:4), how will mere men escape His righteous judgment?  Fallen angels were chained within the bottomless pit – fallen men were condemned in the global flood, of which Noah and his family alone escaped – the fallen cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were turned to ash, and more.  God’s judgment will come upon these false teachers.  He knows their heresies & He knows their names.  They will be held to a stricter judgment, and from it there will be no escape.

There is, however, escape for those who have found themselves caught within their lies.  God knew how to save Noah & He knew how to save Lot.  Thus “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations,” (2:9).  There IS escape for the godly, but they have to seek out and listen to the God who offers to save them.  The examples of Noah and Lot are interesting, in that their deliverance required obedience.  If Noah hadn’t built the ark, he wouldn’t have been saved.  If Lot hadn’t gone with the angels (and indeed, he almost stayed behind! Gen 19:16), he would have perished.  Yes, God knows how to deliver the godly, but we need to be willing to listen.

  • Too many professed Christians are not willing.  They hear the warnings about false teachers and false political saviors, etc., but they simply don’t care.  They want the promise of a quick fix and teaching that tickles their ears rather than the truth from God’s word.  Beware!  God does save and preserve His own, but sometimes He allows those who ignore Him to face their own consequences.

Sins of false teachers (2:12-22)
At this point, Peter goes into a lengthy description of how bad these false teachers were.  What exactly the heresy of these teachers was, we don’t know.  Peter doesn’t detail their doctrine – and he didn’t really need to do so.  Heresy takes ever-shifting shapes and forms (though it always seems to come back to a few key things: doubt in Jesus as God, doubt in Jesus’ bodily resurrection, doubt in Jesus’ grace, and doubt in the Bible as God’s word).  We don’t need to know the details of every single false teaching out there in order to know what heresy is.  The best way to identify a lie is to be so well-versed in the truth that the lie is evident.  (IOW, know your Bible!)

Peter doesn’t describe their doctrine, but he does describe their character.  Again, a tree is known by its fruit, and false teachers bear the fruit that we would expect of someone working against the gospel of God.  They were known as partiers (carousers), with eyes full of adultery (lust), who tempt people to engage in lusts in the same way (2:13-14).  They’re greedy (covetous), having made themselves like the ancient false-prophet-for-hire Balaam (2:15).  As long as they get paid for what they say, they don’t care what it is they say.  They are prophets-for-profit (so to speak).  They’ve got nothing to offer the believer except trouble – as Peter writes: 2 Peter 2:17, "These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever."

  • Don’t waste your time on false teachers!  This was so important to Peter that he spent his last letter to the church warning people about this very thing.  Too many Christians get swept up in false teaching.  It sounds good, and it looks promising, and it is taught by such a charismatic & dynamic speaker.  Understand that it would have to look & sound good, otherwise no one would listen!  It doesn’t matter how skilled a speaker might be, if he/she doesn’t speak the truth.  Be careful that you don’t get swept up in the lie, and find yourself partaking in a similar judgment.

Before Peter leaves this entirely, he gives one more sober warning: those who fall away from the faith (apostasize) put themselves in a position of remaining in that state.  IOW, those who fall away from Christ were potentially never with Christ in the first place.  Whatever their state may have been before, now they are exponentially worse off.  As Peter says, 2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”  These are people who knew the facts of the gospel, knew what they were turning away from, and still willingly did it.  Now their hearts are hardened, and they have little hope in ever coming back.

  • Question: Is Peter saying that salvation can be lost?  This verse is often used in support of that idea, but that’s not really the question that Peter was asking.  Peter’s talking about slavery.  The gospel of Christ promises freedom from the slavery of sin & corruption, but not everyone walks in that freedom.  Some see the freedom that’s offered to them & consciously reject it.  Like kidnapped prisoners who fall victim to Stockholm Syndrome, they prefer their abuser rather than their potential deliverer.  Except this is something the person chooses.  This isn’t a victim of his/her circumstance; this is a choice he/she makes.  Just like Pharaoh hardened his heart against the work & word of God, so do people today still harden their heart against the gospel of Christ.  Those who reject it after they’ve heard it and understood it would have been better off never knowing.  After all, they will spend eternity in hell knowing what could have been.
  • The point is not to waste the opportunity we’ve been given!  Neither should we ignore the gospel now, nor buy into charlatans selling false doctrines and heresies.  Whatever it is that gets your eyes off of Christ, get rid of it.  It isn’t worth the risk.

The Finality of Faith
The Day is soon (3:1-9)
The warning given, Peter begins to wrap things up with an encouragement.  This was his second letter (3:1), and again he mentions his reason for writing was to remind the Church of the things that they had already been taught (3:2).  Just like false teachers needed to be mindful of the judgment they would receive in the end, so do true Christians need to remember that we are living in the Last Days. 

Question: What does the Bible mean by “last days?”  After all, the Church is almost 2000 years old, and Christians have been talking about the last days since literally the day Jesus ascended to heaven.  Since the “last days” seem to last so long, many people have wondered if Jesus is ever coming back.  There were “scoffers” in the days of Peter (3:3), and there are scoffers today.  Those who are skeptics routinely point fingers at Christians & laugh at our beliefs regarding Jesus’ return, because they believe He will never come.  There are even some segments of Christians who do the same thing.  So what does the Bible mean by “last?”

Last means “last,” but last doesn’t always mean “immediate.”  For example, someone driving cross-country can enter California as the “last” state in the coastal US, but still drive for hours & hours before ever seeing the Pacific Ocean.  Someone can be in the “last” half of a marathon, but that still means 13.1 more miles to run.  When the Bible says that we are in the last days, it means that we are in the last phase of history that God has prior to Jesus’ return.  God worked one day during the initial days of Creation & in the Garden of Eden – He worked another way among the Hebrew nation – He worked still another way when Jesus walked the earth – and now He works in a different way during the age of the Church.  That age has lasted a long time, but it’s still the last age prior to Jesus’ return.

That said, just because it doesn’t mean immediate doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen immediately.  Jesus could come at any moment.  He could call the Church to Himself in the event called the rapture, and start off all of the final events of the end times.  That could literally happen at any given moment of the day or night.  Nothing prevents it – thus we must be ready, always.

That’s Peter’s point here.  Those who scoff aren’t ready.  They never have been, not even in the days of Noah.  Noah preached the coming judgment of God for years on end, and no one listened…but the judgment still came.  Likewise, we also preach the judgment of God, as we have for years…and the judgment WILL come.

Why is it taking so long?  Not for the reason the scoffers suppose.  Jesus is fully capable of coming back at any moment.  It’s not His power that restrains Him; it is His love & mercy.  2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  IOW, God isn’t lazy; He’s merciful.  He’s giving anyone and everyone the chance to repent and to put his/her faith in Christ to be saved.

  • Have you received of the opportunity God has given you?  I praise God He waited long enough for me – for my bride – for my daughter.  Every day God gives us is another day He gives someone to be saved.  Don’t waste it!  Even if Jesus doesn’t come back tomorrow, we’re not guaranteed tomorrow.  Any one of us might die tonight and see Jesus face-to-face.  We need to be ready for that time.

The Day is powerful (3:10-13)
What will it look like when Jesus returns?  It will be a powerful transformation of the created universe!  The book of Revelation goes into the details of the days and years that lead up to it, but Peter jumps ahead straight to the end when Jesus returns in power & glory & eventually the entire earth is consumed & remade.  The Bible talks about a day in which there will be a new heavens and new earth, because the previous ones had passed away (Rev 21:1).  What Peter writes is of their passing…and it will be powerful!  He’s written several times of Noah & the flood, and at that time the earth was destroyed with water.  In the future, the method of destruction will be fire.  The earth & everything in it will be burned up (3:10) – it will be completely dissolved (3:11-12).  Nothing that we know of now physically speaking will remain – everything will be transformed.

That being the case, why is it we tend to put so much value on the stuff that is physical?  Don’t misunderstand – it’s not that material stuff is inherently sinful…some of it is quite enjoyable.  But none of it is going to last.  All the money that we pour into our homes & cars is all (literally) going to burn.  All of the stuff we spend so much time acquiring is all going away.  The only things that we can take into eternity is (1) our faith, (2) people.  That’s something that ought to help us when it comes to assigning our priorities.  (1) Does it build me up in the Lord?  (2) Does it build up someone else in the Lord, or help introduce them to the Lord?  That’s the stuff that matters, because that’s the stuff that’s eternal.

That leads to the close of the letter…

The Day is motivating (3:14-18)
Because we know the end is approaching – because we can be sure that Jesus is returning & that these things will pass away – Peter says to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace” (3:14).  Keep pressing on – keep staying faithful in the faith – keep maturing & growing as God calls us to do.  As Peter wrote earlier, make your call & election sure that we are IN Christ & not falling away from Him.  Time is short, and there’s none to waste.

What Peter was writing was nothing new.  Paul (who had planted these churches) had written much the same things to them (3:15-16), which indeed he had.  Paul’s letters are filled not only with doctrine, but calls to action – calls to persevere – calls to examine ourselves and ensure that we are in the faith.  Peter went so far as to acknowledge that Paul’s letters are themselves Scripture (3:16) and ought to be considered just as carefully as anything that God had written through the Old Testament prophets.

Peter wraps it up quickly & simply: grow & grace, being careful not to fall away.

Conclusion:
If there is one thing that any pastor would want to impart to his church congregation, it is that same thing.  Stay grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Grow in your knowledge of Him.  Grow in your love & devotion, being intentional in your maturing and walk with the Lord God.  As you do so, beware of the dangers around you.  Attacks can certainly come from the outside, but the more insidious ones arise from within.  There is no lack of false teachers among the church today, and we need to be careful not to be deluded by them.  Don’t buy into their lies; don’t fall away from the truth – persevere in the gospel that you have received.

Those who persevere are ready to see Jesus.  Are you ready?  He IS coming back, and that’s something in which we can rejoice! 

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