What does God say about False Teachers?
© 2021 C. O. Bishop
2nd Peter 2:3-22
We left off, last week, with God’s warning about false teachers, and we discussed briefly what is and is not a false teacher. There are several questions to be addressed in this chapter: God points out a key idea; that the false teachers are “denying the Lord that bought them.” (v. 1) But that raises a question in many people’s minds, thinking, “they must be believers, otherwise how could it say he ‘bought’ them?” That sounds like a reasonable question, so, let’s answer that first:
Who did Jesus purchase with His Blood?
How many sins did Jesus die for at the Cross? 1st John 2:2 states that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world. It is not just “hinted at,” or “indicated;” this is not a “matter of interpretation:” God flatly says, he died “…not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (There is nothing “ambiguous” about it!) Jesus said the reason he came was that the World might be saved through Him. He also said that those who believe in Him “have eternal life,” and “are not condemned.” They who do not believe are “already condemned” and “shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on them.” (John 5:24, John 3:17, 18, and 36)
So, a false teacher is not a “believer” because the Lord “bought them:” they are human sinners, (just like us) because the Lord bought them. (He did not die for the sins of the angels who rebelled.) And, by the end of this chapter, we will see that the false teachers definitely are not believers. God draws sharp distinction between sinners who are believers and sinners who are not believers. But the next verse raises another question:
What about Hell?
4 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;
Here is another confusing passage. The word translated “hell,” here, is not the common Greek word “hades” meaning “the place of the dead:” it is the word “Tartarus”, meaning the abyss, or the “bottomless pit.” In fact, the word Tartarus is only used this one time in scripture, and the Greek word “abussos” (describing the same place) is only used nine times, and in all but one, the meaning is clearly not the place of the dead, but the “abyss;” the “bottomless pit” which is evidently reserved for angelic prisoners, not humans. (see Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1, 2, 11; also Revelation 11:7; 17:8, and 20:1, 3)
People have somehow gotten the idea that Satan “rules in Hell.” That is simply not so. Right now, he is tromping around, right here on earth! (Job 1:7) Hell (hades, or, in the Old Testament, sheol) always simply refers to the “place of the dead.” Sheol/hades was divided into two compartments…the place of the righteous dead, and the place of the unrighteous dead. But the place for angelic prisoners is a completely different location, called the abyss.
People have also somehow gotten the idea that Jesus “went to hell for our sins.” This also is not true! When Jesus made His final declaration of victory, from the Cross, the word He cried out, in Greek, was “Tetelestai!” It meant “Paid in full” It is translated “It is finished,” but that can have a variety of English connotations. I like the way it reads in the Spanish Bible: “Consumado es!” (“It is consummated! It is completed! The work I was sent to do is utterly finished!”) There was nothing left to pay for!
He had told the Jews that He would be spending three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. And he told the thief on the Cross: “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise!” (Not hell!) There were two “holding places” for the dead: the righteous dead waited in a place sometimes called “Abraham’s bosom,” as in Luke 16:19-31, or Paradise. In either case, it was the place of the righteous dead: the “waiting-room” for those who would eventually be admitted into Heaven, as a group. (When?) After the resurrection of Christ, at His ascension.
(Why the delay?) Until Jesus died, the way into God’s presence was closed, as pictured by the thick, floor-to-ceiling veil in the temple. When He died, that veil was torn from top to bottom, showing that the way was now open. When Jesus ascended, Paradise was literally transferred into Heaven. This explains why, years later, Paul described being caught up to “the third heaven” (remember, sky, outer space and God’s abode are all called by the same word in both Greek and Hebrew) He said he was caught up to Paradise: up, into God’s presence, not down, into the heart of the earth, where Jesus said He was going to be for three days and three nights.
So, these angels who were cast into the abyss were not in the same place where the unrighteous human dead are still awaiting the final judgment, in Revelation 20:11-15. This is also how we know that “hell,” translated from the Greek word hades, is not the “final” judgment: Revelation 20:14 says that death and hell are to be cast into the Lake of Fire. That is final! Hades is only the “waiting room” for the Lake of Fire, where the whole mass of humanity who rejected the Lord during their lifetimes will be cast, all at one time.
Who does God save, then? God saves believing sinners.
5 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;
Noah was a saved sinner: how do I know? Because Genesis 6:8 says “Noah found Grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Grace means “unmerited favor: un-earned favor.” Only sinners need Grace! Noah was saved by Grace through faith, just the same as you and I are. But those around him, whether good or bad (from human perspective,) gentle or violent, young or old, educated or ignorant, sick or healthy, weak or strong, were all unbelieving sinners. God categorized them with one phrase: “the ungodly.” And, because they did not believe the warning, when the flood came, they were all destroyed.
6 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; 7 And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: 8 (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)
Lot was a saved sinner! How do I know? Because God calls him “just:” righteous! I would never have considered Lot a righteous man from the Genesis account. He seemed to just be a sinner, all the way around. But evidently he believed in the God who blessed Abraham, because God calls him a righteous man. I had no doubt that the Sodomites were wicked: they proved it. But I had just assumed that God rescued Lot for Abraham’s sake. I didn’t see Lot as a righteous man: but God says that he was! And the only way to be called “righteous” by God is by faith.
What is a Saint?
How does God define His saints? The word “saint” means “holy one;” those whom God has set aside for His service. But where is the dividing line? Turn to Psalm 50:5 “Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” Those who had “made a covenant with him by sacrifice” are those He calls his “saints.” He has set them apart for His purpose, His exclusive use, and as His exclusive property!
The next question has to be: “What Sacrifice?” There were hundreds of them! In the Old Testament, many people brought sacrifices, but not all of them were making a covenant with God. Some were just “going through the motions.” They brought the “correct” sacrifice, because they were required to do so, but they had no heart for God. He was not deceived by their outward behavior: He saw their hearts, and He openly rejected such sacrifices. (Isaiah 1:11-13)
In Romans 3:25, we see that God has set forth Jesus to be a propitiation (a satisfying sacrifice) through faith in His Blood!” So, today, those who have “made a covenant with God by sacrifice” are those who have placed their faith in Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for their sins. And God says, that makes them His saints: His property; his children, and His ambassadors. If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, then all of that is eternally true of you!
That is the same basis upon which Noah, and Abraham, (yes, and Lot) were declared to be righteous. “Abraham believed God, and God declared him to be righteous on the basis of his faith.” (Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3)
Saints often Suffer
9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
Remember: in Job’s life, he had done no evil (God says so!) but much evil befell him. In his case, it was so that we could learn the righteousness and authority of God, and learn from the faith and endurance of Job. But, Naboth was faithful, too, and refused to sell the inheritance of his ancestors. Queen Jezebel had him framed for blasphemy, and stoned to death, so she could illegally take the land for King Ahab! Yes, God is faithful, but remember that He is also God: He allows his saints to suffer, for His glory and their eventual reward. Job was blessed and rewarded in his lifetime. Naboth’s reward will obviously have to be in eternity…but Ahab and Jezebel both died very ugly deaths for their wickedness…and eternal judgment still awaits them! And our reward is also not necessarily in this life!
What about those false teachers, then?
The rest of this chapter describes only the false teachers. I have underscored the pronouns in the passage. They are all third-person plural. The only exceptions are the pronouns regarding those with whom they interact. When they deceive believers, the believers are addressed as “you.”
10 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.
11 Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.
They speak bold, defiant words against all authority, slandering those in authority, when even angelic beings speak more circumspectly, not making wild accusations. And God says they will bring upon themselves the destruction they deserve.
12 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; 13 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;
Notice how they relate to real Christians: they deceive us! They think it’s fun (that’s what “sporting themselves” means) to “infiltrate” the local assemblies, take communion as if they were a believer, come to potlucks, sing the songs, pray the prayers, and fool us all! And we are pretty easily deceived: we want to believe the best of people, so it is hard for us to see through their deceit. But usually, there will be discrepancies that arise, because they also want the pleasures of the flesh. Eventually, their behavior and their words will show their real heart.
They are Not God’s Children!
14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:
I’ve often heard people say, “we are all children of God!” The Jews tried that with Jesus, and He told them that they were not children of God: rather, they were of their father, the Devil! (John 8:44) Yes, they were “cursed children!” But many assume that it means these had been children of God, and were now cursed. No: they had never been believers, had never entered into a covenant with God by sacrifice, and had never been reborn as children of God.
That is why they “cannot cease from sin!” Even believers can’t “eradicate their sin nature” and permanently cease from sin: But an unbeliever only has the one nature: They literally cannot cease from sin, (and “covetous practices”) because even when they do “good things,” they do so with wrong motives, trying to declare themselves righteous. Their relationship with Christ is based on knowledge alone; not faith (consider Judas as an example: he knew everything the other disciples knew: but he had never placed his faith in Jesus.) These false teachers knew the right way, and evidently made an outward attempt to conform (just like Judas), but then abandoned it, scorning it. (Keep in mind that Jesus confirmed that Judas was never born again…he was never cleansed. John 13:10,11)
15 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; 16 But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.
They are doing as Balaam did (following his way), choosing money, power, and position over a relationship with God. (Balaam was a genuine prophet…a real believer: but he “sold out” and he was killed with the enemies of God.) The false teachers don’t even have that final saving grace: they are phonies; only pretending to believe, just like Judas. “Waterless wells,” have nothing of eternal value to offer…nothing to quench the thirst of a soul desiring hope, and peace with God.
18 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.
19 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.
We can be deceived!
It is entirely possible for a false teacher to draw away real believers after themselves: when Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20:30, he warned that the false teachers would do just that! Believers can be drawn away into cults: they cannot be lost, but they can be rendered utterly ineffective, and unfulfilled. (When the holy vessels of God’s Temple were stolen by the Babylonians and used for the worship of false Gods, did those vessels become the “property” of those false Gods? No! They were still God’s Property, and He brought them back!) When Jim Jones led his followers into the jungle of Guyana and murdered them all, some of those had been members of evangelical Christian churches in the past, and very likely were real believers! But he was a persuasive speaker, speaking “great swelling words” as we just read in verse 18, and they were deceived! The result was a gruesome death for over 900 people.
But verses 20-22 are about the false teachers themselves, not believers: Notice, it says:
20 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.
Notice that there is no mention of “saving faith,” or any faith: We are not saved by knowledge; we are saved “by Grace, through faith.” The demons “know” Jesus! They recognized Him and called Him by name, when He was casting them out of the humans they had possessed. They knew Him as “the” savior, but not as their Savior. That “knowledge” could not save them. But how do we know these people were not believers?
21 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. 22 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.
Again, there is no mention of faith. That alone is important, but not necessarily conclusive. However, see what it also does not say: It does not say, “The sheep has turned back into a dog, and has gone back to eating vomit,” or “The sheep has turned back into a pig, and gone home to the hog-wallow!” No: God identifies these people, like Judas, as those who had never been cleansed…never been transformed, never been born again!
So, the false teachers in this chapter are unbelievers who masquerade as believers. Jesus warned (Matthew 7:15) against the false prophets, saying that “they come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Paul warned against the same people, in Acts 20:29, saying that “grievous wolves” would arise, even from among the flock, and draw away disciples after themselves.
Conclusion: We have been warned!
And the only safety we have is found in God’s Word and His indwelling Holy Spirit. We are told to “Be sober! Be vigilant, for your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour!” You cannot be lost, but you can be deceived. Study God’s Word, and arm yourself against the trickery of the enemy, who desires to damage your walk with God. We will continue to work to equip the believers in this assembly to stand fast against that enemy.
Lord Jesus, continue to draw us into a deeper relationship with you through your written Word, by the Holy Spirit, and through fellowship with God and the people of God. Make us strong, and teach us to do your work.