These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV
Peter is not yet done castigating the false teachers who were wreaking havoc in the local churches to whom he was writing. You can tell by the tone of his words that he is angry and unwilling to tolerate the damage these individuals are doing. Like Jude, he uses imagery from nature to describe just how valueless they are. He calls the waterless springs. It sounds like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. What is a spring that has no water? Is it still a spring? These people promise refreshment with their false teaching, but never deliver on their word. Like a dried up spring, they are incapable of doing so. Peter refers to them as mists driven by a storm. Once again, they seem to offer much-needed refreshment, but are completely susceptible to “every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
Jude used similar descriptions for false teachers, calling them “waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” (Jude 1:12-13 ESV). They are highly promising, extremely appealing, and pleasant sounding, but they bring no value to the table. Which is why both Peter and Jude say their judgment is going to be severe. They are misleading the people of God and they will one day pay for what they have done. Peter says, “For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” (2 Peter 2:7 ESV). Jude says virtually the same thing: “for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 1:13 ESV). Jesus had similarly harsh words for the Pharisees in His day. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15 ESV). False teaching is not to be taken lightly. And yet, in our day it is rampant. There are countless individuals speaking and writing today whose words do not conform with the teaching of Jesus and His apostles. They claim to be speaking on behalf of God and presenting the truth of God. But their words are false. They are teaching destructive heresies. They are contradicting the words of Jesus and the Word of God. And yet there are many who gladly listen to their words and buy into what they are teaching. Warren Wiersbe describes them well.
“The average person does not know how to listen to and analyze the kind of propaganda that pours out of the mouths and printing presses of the apostates. Many people cannot tell the difference between a religious huckster and a sincere servant of Jesus Christ.” – Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary
The problem with false teachers is that they use just enough truth to give their message credibility, but they mix in their own opinions and dilute it with erroneous assumptions and assertions. They mention the gospel, but it ends up being a different gospel. They speak of Jesus, but He ends up as little more than a caricature or loose characterization of the Jesus we know from the gospels. They deny the reality of hell. They downplay the judgment of God. They refuse to talk about sin, and in doing so, they accommodate and encourage immorality. They emphasize the here and now over the hereafter. They promote the good life over the life of righteousness. Their words comfort but never convict. They downplay the role of suffering in the life of the believer and accentuate the blessings of God in the form of earthly possessions and personal pleasure.
These people are slaves to their false doctrine. Their denial of judgment and refusal to acknowledge the reality of hell do not make either one of them go away. These people have to remain committed to their false teaching and end up being enslaved to a futile way of life that never delivers what the claim in promises.
In the last three verses of this chapter, Peter makes a very strong statement regarding these individuals. He claims that they had heard the truth of the gospel. “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 2:20a ESV). This does not necessarily mean they placed their faith in the truth of the gospel and became followers of Christ. They had heard the good news regarding Jesus and His offer of salvation. In that sense, they had heard the means by which they might escape the defilements of the world. But they had not believed. They had become enamored with the gospel, but not changed by it. In fact, it would seem that they developed their own version of the gospel and began to teach their own rendition of the truth and, as a result they found themselves “again entangled in them [the defilements of the world] and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20b ESV).
They had heard the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, but they had rejected it. And they were worse off than they had been before. Now they were guilty of misleading people by claiming to speak on behalf of God. They were willfully and deliberately twisting the truth of God for personal gain. Peter says, “it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21 ESV). They were without excuse. And Peter uses a couple of proverbs familiar to his audience to describe the fate of these false teachers. “‘A dog returns to its vomit.’ And another says, ‘A washed pig returns to the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22 ESV). They had been offered the hope of eternal life and the promise of forgiveness of sin. They had been told about the only means of being made right with God and yet, they had rejected it and returned to their old way of life.
C. S. Lewis describes the fate of these false teachers well:
It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is mean by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. ― C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
We will always be able to find teachers who will tickle our ears and tell us what we want to hear. We will always be tempted to find our satisfaction in this life. But false teachers offer false hope. They teach half-truths that are easily embraced by half-hearted individuals. Gullibility in the life of the believer is dangerous. We don’t ever have to fear losing our salvation, but we do need to recognize that the abundant life promised by Jesus can be squandered and the joy He came to bring can be lost – if we allow the lies of false teachers to replace the truth of the gospel.