For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:4-10 ESV
Peter is not dispassionate when it comes to the topic of false teachers. He is deeply concerned and emotionally vested, and these verses give us a glimpse into just how seriously Peter took this matter. In his estimation, false teachers were to be expected, but not tolerated.
In the original Greek, these verses were actually one long sentence. It is as if Peter was speaking and was so intense and passionate, he failed to take a breath. He has two key points: First, God knows how to rescue the godly from trials. Secondly, God also knows how to deal with the unrighteous. There is a day of reckoning coming. God’s judgment is inevitable and unavoidable. And while we may suffer for our faith in this life, we will enjoy the blessings of God in the next life. But that is not the case for false teachers. Those who teach another gospel, attempting to discount God’s judgment or downplay the seriousness of sin, are in for a rude awakening some day. They may enjoy a certain degree of success for now and even gather a crowd willing to listen to their words, but the day of judgment is coming.
It is interesting to note the parallels between Peter’s letter and that of Jude. Jude uses a similar argument to deal with the issue of false teachers:
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. – Jude 1:5-7 ESV
There is a pattern in Scripture. Those who disobey God, who rebel against Him and who, rather than seeing their sin as an affront to a holy God, pursue their passions willingly, are all doomed to God’s judgment. Both Peter and Jude refer to the angels who rebelled alongside Satan. In the book of Isaiah, we get a glimpse into rebellion that Satan led. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah presents the king of Babylon as a type or symbolic representation of Satan himself.
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV
At one time, Satan, an angel of light, rebelled against God. Desiring to be like God, he let his pride and arrogance get in the way. Rather than willingly submit to God, he boldly proclaimed, “I will…” It became a matter of his will over God’s will. His desires and passions took precedence over God’s commands. And evidently Satan was able to convince a host of angels to follow him in his plot to overthrow God. But they were cast down by God.
And what about those who lived during the days of Noah? Moses writes, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). He goes on to describe just how bad things had gotten since the fall. “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:11-12 ESV). And so God determined to destroy the earth and all who lived on it, except for Noah and his family. Peter tells us that God “preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5 ESV). God rescued Noah, but destroyed the wicked. He preserved the righteous, but punished the unrighteous.
Then there’s the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two cities that had become the epicenters of unrighteousness during the days of Abraham. These two towns had reputations for wickedness, sexual sin and all kinds of immoral behavior. And interestingly enough, Lot, the nephew of Abraham had made his home in Sodom. While Abraham was living in tents as a nomad, Lot had chosen to enjoy the comfort and conveniences of city life. But Peter describes Lot as righteous. He was a God follower. And he was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7 ESV). Peter states that “he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8 ESV). So God determined to wipe out these two cities, but because of the prayers of Abraham, God spared Lot and his family. Peter tells us that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6 ESV).
Fallen angels. A corrupt world. Wicked men. What’s Peter’s point in all of this? It would seem that Peter wanted his readers to align themselves with the non-rebellious angels; with Noah, a herald of righteousness; and righteous Lot. The false teachers, like Satan and the rebellious angels, corrupt mankind and the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah, will receive their punishment in time. We must trust that God will deal righteously and justly in the end. He will right all wrongs. He will punish all unrighteousness. He will reward the faithful and rescue the righteous.
The author of Hebrews tells us, “without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:6-7 ESV). Living in this sin-filled world requires faith. It requires that we constantly keep our eyes focused on God. Like Noah and Lot, we are surrounded by sin and rebellion against God. Falsehood is everywhere. Wickedness is rampant. But we must continue to seek God and remember that He rewards those who seek Him. Our ultimate reward is eternal life. We may suffer for now, but we will rejoice forever. We may endure pain here and now, but we will one day enjoy pleasures forevermore.