The Way to Deepest Darkness Is Found in the Light (2 Peter 2:17–22)

“For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.” —2 Peter 2:17 (ESV)

Dante’s Inferno sets forth nine circles of hell, with the innermost being the most hellish. Working our way in those circles are Limbo (where virtuous pagans reside), Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery.  Though The Divine Comedy is imaginative it is fitting that we find Socrates in Limbo and Judas near the center just shy of Satan. 

While Dante’s work is fanciful, here we learn who the “gloom of utter darkness” is reserved for—false teachers. Not false teachers as in pagan philosophers, like Plato, nor those false teachers of false religions who never learned of Christ such as Gautama Buddha. They are in hell, but not the hell of hell. Peter is speaking of false teachers who have risen within the church. Inside the church, one finds the door to the darkest pit of hell. There is no safer place for the saints than the church, and, there is no more dangerous place for hypocrites than the church.

False teachers are overcome with a particular and tragic kind of slavery. Having come within inches of freedom, they reject that freedom for slavery. It is one thing to walk in the darkness, another to refuse the way of righteousness. When an Ammonite king burned his child as an offering to Molech it was a horrid evil, but it was far more evil when Manasseh did likewise, for he, knowing the way of righteousness, turned from the holy commandment of God. False teachers exchange a slavery of ignorance for a slavery that rejects the true knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It is worse to sin in the light than in the dark. It is a sin worthy of an eternal hell to sin against the light of the finite Sun, that is, the light of natural revelation as it declares the glory of God. It is a sin worthy of the hell of hell to sin against the more radiant light of the eternal Son, the light of special revelation, the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.

The way to deepest darkness is found in the light. Be warned not just of false teachers, nor only of heeding them, but of becoming one. Before any are false teachers, they are false believers. As you sit under the preaching of the gospel, that gospel will be either your great salvation or your great damnation.

“They’re (like) Animals” (2 Peter 2:10b–16)

“But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV).

Long before President Trump described the members of MS-13 as animals, Peter used that word to describe a far more deadly gang. False teachers are like animals in that their behavior is irrational and instinctual. Paul spoke of this instinct which we all have in Adam as the “passions of the flesh” and “the desires of the body and the mind.” This impulse in false teachers is set loose and wed to audacious arrogance (2 Peter 2:10). Some false teachers may appear intellectual and have many academic accolades but what really drives them isn’t the mind, but an animal like lust, craving, and desire.

Additionally, their blasphemy, for that is what their false teaching is, is a further expression of their animal-like, irrational instinct for they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Consider how often false teachers make a big deal of obscure and vague passages in the Scriptures. Their claims of new revelation are really just a cover-up for ignorance. One of fresher laid piles of heresy is known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). People like Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding California are regarded as new apostles, just like those of old. John MacArthur quips concerning the NAR, “It is not new, it is not a reformation, and it is certainly not apostolic.” Their arrogance is a guise to veil their ignorance—blasphemous ignorance.

Because our theological walls are down, these animals are allowed to arise within the church (2 Peter 2:1). Peter pulls back the sheep’s clothing to reveal the hideous wolf beneath. Peter’s description of these animal-like predators is meant to revolt, somewhat like watching a predator tear into its prey on a nature documentary. This is not a pleasant chapter, but it is a most necessary one.

We Must Pummel (2 Peter 2:1–10a)

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV).

In the second chapter of his second letter, Peter unleashes, not on false teaching, but false teachers. One commentator aptly captures the tone writing, “ ‘Refuting’… is not quite the word for Peter’s language; pummeling, denouncing, castigating, condemning, attacking, and assaulting are more accurate descriptions of what Peter does to his opponents. He offers a few arguments in response to false teaching in chapter 3, but chapter 2 is mainly occupied not with refutation but denunciation of the most severe sort.”

Though Peter is writing this letter near his death (1:14), the apostle could still grow fiery hot, though now, in contrast to his youth, we see the beauty of a sanctified flame. The potentially dangerous wildfire has become a useful blowtorch. This is the most extended and intense treatment of false teachers in the New Testament and it is blessedly brutal.

How far are we from making any denunciations of false teachers that approach this? Something is seriously wrong if you think Peter unloving or unChristian. That so many do think this wrong demonstrates how unloving and unChristian we are.

Consider how incapable the contemporary church is of even identifying or understanding the danger. The late R.C. Sproul well diagnosed the epidemic upon us writing:

“We are living in perhaps the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Christendom—not anti-academic or anti-scientific but anti-mind. I doubt if there has ever been a time in church history when professing Christians have been less concerned about doctrine than they are in our day. We hear almost daily that doctrine does not matter that Christianity is a relationship, not a creed. There is not simply indifference toward doctrine but outright hostility, which is exceedingly dangerous and lamentable. We cannot do even a cursory reading of the Word of God without seeing the enormous emphasis accorded to doctrine and that unsound doctrine and false teaching are not merely errors in abstraction but are profoundly destructive to the life of the people of God.”

We cannot identify the false because we don’t know the true, nor do we care.

In addition to animosity towards doctrine, we are indifferent to history. Few Christians have any knowledge of heresies such as  Arianism, Pelagianism, or Unitarianism. The church has fought heresy, condemned it, and crafted creeds and confessions in response, but we’re so ignorant that these weeds are allowed to sprout up again and again unnoticed. If we will not learn from history, we must be prepared to be one of her lessons.

False teachers will rise, and false teachers will fall. We must know this, and must recognize them lest we share in their destruction.

No Backwater Fishing Hole (2 Peter 1:1–2)

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“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:1–2 ESV).

2 Peter is regarded by some as a backwater fishing hole, aptly, but inaccurately attributed to the uncouth fisherman from Galilee. “2 Peter has been termed the ‘ugly stepchild’ of the NT,” writes Peter Davids. “It is not just that the extended prophetic denunciation is unpalatable to some people and the apparent description of the destruction of the universe in ch. 3 is disturbing, but that many readers wonder whether the book is genuine and belongs in the canon at all.”

It might be surprising to learn that the first two seemingly innocuous words of this letter are likely it’s most controversial and among some of the most contested in the New Testament. There are multiple arguments against Petrine authorship, but I’ll just pick out only a couple since they’re all equally ridiculous.

Some say there are too many unique terms in this letter for it to have been written by Peter. Some 57 words are found here and nowhere else in the New Testament. We have two short letters bearing Peter’s name, each with a different focus, and from so small a sampling can we draw such a conclusion? When R.C. Sproul received his first assignment for doctoral studies in Holland it included 25 titles in Dutch, a language of which he knew nothing. He painstakingly began the task by consulting his Dutch-English dictionary and writing each Dutch word that he came to on one side of a card with a corresponding English word on the other. The first day he worked through just over a page. The first two books Dr. Sproul read in this way were by the same author on the same subject and when the final tally was in, there were over 5000 words in the second volume that were not in the first. Such objections make me think of Dr. Budziszewski’s remark that, “Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve.”

Akin to this, others say that the style of 2 Peter is too different from 1 Peter for him to have written it. Many critical scholars also argue that the Greek of 1 Peter is too refined for Peter to have written that letter. So we have the same pool of scholars telling us that Peter couldn’t have written 2 Peter because its style is too different from that other letter he didn’t write. Huh? Further, it is not as if the church has never known someone who could write children’s fantasy, adult science fiction, popular apologetic works, and critical academic pieces. No, C.S. Lewis could not have written the Narnia tales, the Perelandra series, Mere Christianity, and Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

Let’s turn from the opinions of modern scholarship to that of the church. The best Biblical scholarship has historically been done within the church. The Trinitarian orthodoxy of the early creeds cannot be improved on or matched and it was produced not by some isolated scholars operating in institutions of education, but by churchmen serving the church. Michael Allen and Scott Swain argue that “Christian theology flourishes in the school of Christ [meaning the church]… The Spirit of Christ teaches the church in sufficient and unmixed verity such that the church need not seek theological understanding from any other source or principle.” They liken the church to the Spirit-cultivated field God designed theology to grow in.

Though some in the church have wrestled with the authenticity of 2 Peter the overwhelming testimony has been that of affirmation. We should listen to this testimony not because the Bible is determined by majority vote, nor because the church stands over the Word as Rome argues. We should listen to the opinion of the church because it is to her that the self-authenticating Word bears witness. Sheep shouldn’t ask goats for their opinion concerning food. 

Scholars who deny the authenticity of 2 Peter are the scoffers Peter goes on to speak of.

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:1–4 ESV).

Such scoffers speak with a snake’s lisp asking, “Did God really say?”

This is no backwater fishing hole. It is an ocean of grace upon grace (1:2). It is scoffer-scholars who would have us drink from the stagnant waters of human autonomy.

Why Beg for Crumbs when you Have the Bread of Life? (Colossians 1:24–29)

The mystery of the gospel isn’t very mysterious for the saints, therefore, beware of the mysterious. The mystery religions of Paul’s day had a hierarchy of knowers. One ascended the ladder by means of rites, experiences, and acts of piety. It seems that false teaching blending pagan mystery religion and Jewish mysticism was attempting to make inroads at Colossae (i.e. Colossians 2:18–19). Be certain, it’s made its way well into the church today. Beware of spiritual Christian caste systems.

You don’t need the mysterious when the mystery entrusted to the apostles has been revealed to you. Jesus is sufficient. This means the Scriptures are sufficient. You don’t need angels, saints, or oil to get a spiritual high. Talk of second blessing is laughable when the first one gave you everything. Prophecies are puny compared to the revelation of the mystery given to the church through Christ’s apostles. Anxiety for a fresh word is like the billionaire worrying if his social security will come through. Why beg for crumbs when the apostles hold forth the Bread of Life?

Sarah Young says she hears from Jesus. Like a modern apostle, she passes along her revelation in a book she titled Jesus Calling. It’s sold over ten million copies. Therein she says, “This practice of listening to God has increased my intimacy with Him more than any other spiritual discipline, so I want to share some of the messages I have received. In many parts of the world, Christians seem to be searching for a deeper experience of Jesus’ Presence and Peace. The messages that follow address that felt need.”

Jesus is the final word and His apostles are His final word on Himself as the final Word. No others are necessary.

In contrast consider John Piper’s testimony of hearing God speak to him. He begins, “Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God.” After many paragraphs that could cause concern that Piper is siding with the likes of Young, he clarifies:

“And best of all, [these words] are available to all. If you would like to hear the very same words I heard on the couch in northern Minnesota, read Psalm 66:5–7. That is where I heard them. O, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.”

You don’t need more than Jesus. You don’t need more than His word.

Fighting Like a Gentleman (1 Timothy 6:11–14)

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. —1 Timothy 6:11–12 (ESV)

Timothy is told to flee and pursue. These two always go together, they must. If you don’t do both, you don’t do either. If you only flee sin, and don’t pursue Christ, then you’re only fleeing from one sin to another. If you only “pursue” Christ, but don’t leave your sin, you’ll find a judge instead of a Savior. These are inseparable twins. They often go by different names in Scripture. In Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 they go by “put off” and “put on,” as well as “old man” and “new man.” Romans 6 speaks of us dying to sin and being raised in Christ. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and follow him. Most familiar to us is the language of repentance and faith.

Timothy is to flee the things of the false teachers and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness; which basically means that Timothy is to flee sin and pursue Christ. The righteousness Timothy is to pursue is a righteousness before God and for God. Godliness, by definition, means devotion or piety towards God. The faith Timothy is to pursue, is faith in God. Love may mean love toward man (I don’t think that’s Paul’s intent), but if so, it must mean love toward man as an expression of love toward God. Steadfastness is faithfulness to God and His Word. And then there is gentleness. Gentleness seems like that odd cousin at the family reunion. Where did he come from? But he’s actually the one who brings everything back into contextual focus.

Gentleness is the cousin that relates the family of v. 11 to the family of v. 12. From gentleness we go into fighting. How does gentleness relate to fighting? Perfectly. Biblically. Gentleness is coupled with fighting so that the fighting is godly and righteous. Fighting is coupled with gentleness so that the gentleness isn’t compromising, and thus ungodly and unrighteous. There is a time to call wolves wolves, but there is also a time to plead with them. 1 Timothy 6:11–14 has a twin in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The resemblance is enlightening.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will [emphasis mine]. —2 Timothy 2:22–26 (ESV)

Wisely Spurgeon taught his Timothys,

Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.

Jesus called the Pharisees serpents, but at times he also pleaded with them both as a group and as individuals. Wisdom is called for. Here are two helpful principles. First, determine if the heart is hardening or softening. Lets your words match the heart. Second, love should always be the chief motive. If sheep are involved, love demands we yell, “Wolf!” Otherwise, be gentle, but firm; fighting for the faith. The faith that declares Jesus saves sinners.

Demon Duped about Demon Duping (1 Timothy 4:1–5)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…

Both the original audience (especially Jewish Christians), and we, can be numbskulls  concerning the threat of false teaching because we misunderstand the phrase “latter times,” but we are muttonheaded for different reasons. To see why, we must be clear as to when the “latter times” are. The Biblical answer may surprise you. Hebrews 1:1–2 says that God spoke in the past in various ways, but “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” If you think that “last days,” there is nothing more that a references to recently transpired events, you may find it harder to weasel your way out of 1 Corinthians 10:11 when Paul says that what was recorded concerning Israel was for our instruction “on whom the end of the ages has come.” Not to be outdone by Paul, John says it is the last hour (1 John 2:18).

The last days were inaugurated in the advent of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ incarnation is the presence of the future, the kingdom come. The language of the “last days,” in the epistles corresponds to the way the gospel writers speak of the kingdom. Sometimes the kingdom is future, sometimes it is present. The kingdom is here now but not yet. The kingdom is God’s redemptive rule and reign come in His Son. Redemption is here now, but not fully here yet. What would have shocked the Jewish Christian is that the kingdom and last days could be here and that there would be false teachers. They expected the kingdom to come all at once and mop everything up.

We have the opposite problem. We’re not bothered by the idea of false teachers at the end of the age. That is precisely when we expect them. We’re dull because we don’t think we’re in the last days. We are. What can we expect? Because Jesus is King, because He is risen, because He has ascended, because He is at the right hand of the Father, because He, with the Father, has sent His Spirit to empower and sanctify His church, because all enemies are being put under His feet, we can expect light to conquer darkness, but, because His redemption isn’t fully here yet, in these last days, we can expect darkness to be violently opposed to the light. Don’t be demon duped that this isn’t the time of demon duping.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. —1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)