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. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. – 2 Peter 2:1-3
False prophets had been a constant problem for the people of Israel. It seems that every time a God raised up a prophet and gave him a divinely inspired message for the people, a false prophet would appear on the scene, contradicting his message and misleading the people. These false prophets claimed to be agents of God, but had not been chosen by Him or given a message from Him. They were self-appointed freelancers. But God had stern warnings concerning these false prophets.
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. – Deuteronomy 18:20 ESV
Sounds a bit intense doesn’t it? But it reveals just how seriously God took the role of the prophet. They spoke for Him. They were His mouth pieces, speaking His words to His people. They were only to speak what they had heard from Him and nothing else.
During the last days of the kingdom of Judah, just after they had been defeated by the Babylonians and had begun their 70-year exile, a conflict arose between Jeremiah, the prophet of God who had warned the people that their defeat and deportation was eminent. They had been disobedient to God and He had warned them that He would use the Babylonians to punish them. Zedekiah had been placed over Judah as a kind of puppet king by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah, the prophet of God, was still in Judah, warning the king and the people to submit to their fate, because it had been God-ordained. But another prophet named Hananiah began to proclaim a different message. He gave the king and the people a message he claimed to have received from God:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord‘s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. – Jeremiah 28:2-4 ESV
Hanahiah’s message, while preferable to the one Jeremiah had been proclaiming, was false. It was not from God. It was what the people wanted to hear, but it was not what God had intended them to receive. It was a lie disguised as truth. And Hanahiah would learn that speaking lies on behalf of God was a dangerous game to play.
And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’” In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. – Jeremiah 28:15-16 ESV
So what does all this have to do with Peter and the recipients of his letter? Everything. Just as false prophets had been a problem for the people of God during Israel’s past, false teachers would show up in the body of Christ, claiming to speak for God. Peter warns that they “will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV). Jude, in his letter, uses similar wording. “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 ESV). Notice that Jude refers to sensuality. Peter does so as well. “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2 ESV). The Greek word Peter uses is ἀπώλεια (apōleia), which means “damnable or destructive” (“G684 – apōleia (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Not only was the teaching of these individuals false, but it was dangerous. It was based on greed and the desire for personal gain. They would use their false words to exploit and mislead the people of God. Their messages, while designed to be popular and appealing, were not of God. They were telling the people what they wanted to hear, but in doing so they were blaspheming the way of truth.
Peter claims that what they were doing, they did so “secretly.” It literally means “to introduce or bring in secretly or craftily” (“G3919 – pareisagō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). They were introducing their teaching subtly and surreptitiously alongside the teachings of Peter and the other apostles. This made it difficult to ascertain what was truth and what was falsehood. And much of what they were teaching seems to have contradicted the need for a change in the behavior of the people. Peter even accuses them of denying the Lordship of Christ Himself. Jesus dies so that those who believe in Him might be saved, but also be sanctified. His redemption includes our ongoing restoration into the image man once had before the fall. Jesus and the apostles all taught a death to self and a submission to the will of God. They called God’s people to live righteously and not sinfully. Peter has already told his readers that God “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV). But it seems these false teachers were proclaiming a different gospel that allowed for a life of sensuality and self-gratification. Which is why Peter will describe them as “blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” (2 Peter 2:13-14 ESV).
False teachers have always been a problem in the church. Paul had warned Timothy: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). Telling people what they want to hear may make a teacher or preacher popular and pack the pews, but it will not lead to true life change. Denying the truth of God in order to provide people with false hope is dangerous and destructive. The gospel is good news, but that does mean it will always sound good in our ears. It can be demanding and always requires death to self. Its truth lies not in its plausibility or popularity, but in its ability to transform hopelessly lost sinners into saints.