1But 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 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 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 ESV
Wherever there is truth, you will always find falsehood. They are inseparable. When the truth of God shows up, the lies of the enemy are sure to follow. It has always been that way. Even in the earliest days of man’s existence, this battle between truth and falsehood was evident, as Adam and Eve were forced to decide between the words of God and those of Satan. Disguised as a serpent, Satan lured the first couple into questioning the veracity of God’s command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). Notice his strategy. He begins by attempting to confuse Eve over what God had actually said. She corrects Satan’s misrepresentation of God’s words by responding, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV). But then, Satan begins his clever and crafty deception of the two innocent creatures God had created. He flatly states, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV). First of all, he contradicts the words of God, for God had clearly said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV).
First, he rejected the word of God. Then he accused God of attempting to keep them from being like Him. He tried to convince them that God was denying them something that was rightfully theirs. He painted God as nothing more than a divine spoil sport who wanted to prevent them from being gods themselves. And the appeal of the fruit, mixed with the false promise of the enemy, was too much for Adam and Eve.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV
They bought into the lie of the enemy, but rather than becoming like God, they became filled with guilt, shame, and fear. With their newfound knowledge of good and evil, they became aware of the reality of sin and all the baggage that came with it. Instead of the unbroken fellowship they had enjoyed with God, they now found themselves hiding from Him. They tried to cover their sin, blaming one another and, ultimately, blaming Satan. But God held them responsible for their sin, placing a curse on the two of them for having listened to the lies of the enemy and rejecting the truth of His words.
Peter fast-forwards to the days of the Israelites, long after the exodus, when they were living in the promised land given to them by God. He provides some historical context, indicating that “false prophets also arose among the people” of that day. During the Old Testament period, God spoke through prophets, providing them with His words to deliver to the people of Israel. But each and every time a prophet of God appeared on the scene, Satan sent a false prophet, who delivered a contradictory, yet highly appealing message. And the one common denominator found in the messages each of these false prophets declared was falsehood. They claimed to speak for God. They tried to get the people to believe that they had received their message directly from God. But they were lying. Whatever the prophet of God said, they would counter with contradictory messages, declaring, “Surely, God has not said”. False prophets have to discredit the true prophets of God. For their message to be received, false prophets must first undermine the credibility of God’s prophets, by causing the people to reject their message. And one of the main ways they did this was by telling the people what they wanted to hear. When God’s prophets spoke of judgment and discipline from the hand of God, the false prophets declared just the opposite: God’s blessing and mercy.
This tactic of twisting the words of God or presenting a more palatable alternative was still going on in Peter’s day. But rather than false prophets, it was being done by false teachers. Which is why Peter warns his readers, “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). And notice that Peter indicates that these false teachers would come from among them. Jesus had warned against this very danger.
15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.” – Matthew 7:15-16 NLT
In the book that bears his name, Jude provides a similar warning.
…some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:4 NLT
False teachers do their best work on the inside, disguising themselves as part of the family of God and giving every appearance of having been sent by God. That is what makes them so dangerous. And Peter warns, “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT). False teachers will always find an audience to listen to their lies. There will always be those who are ready to hear what they have to say, regardless of the fact that what they say is not from God. Paul warned Timothy that a day was coming when people would seek out teachers who told them exactly what they wanted to hear.
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
But what Peter wants us to understand is that there is a deadly danger associated with listening to the false teachers. What they have to say may sound appealing. Their words may come across as godly and spiritual, but the end result of listening to their falsehood is deadly. Jude describes them in very blunt terms.
12 …they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT
Peter warns that many of these individuals are in it for the money. “In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money” (2 Peter 2:3 NLT). They are not out for the spiritual good of the people. Their motivation is purely selfish, aimed at amassing a large following, developing a powerful reputation, and lining their own pockets. In our day and age, they sell books, hold conferences, produce TV shows, and hawk their message to any and all who will hear it. And, sadly, they usually find a ready and receptive audience within the church. But Peter warns that “God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed” (2 Peter 2:3 NLT). God will not tolerate false teachers, so neither should we. We must see them as He does, as dangerously deceptive purveyors of pious-sounding platitudes that subtly contradict the Word of God. In Peter’s day, they were denying the reality of sin. They were promoting promiscuity and immoral behavior, stating that the body and the soul were separate, so whatever you did in the body didn’t matter. There were those who denied the resurrection of Jesus, stating that it was unnecessary. Others, who were Hebrews, were teaching that salvation was incomplete unless it included circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law. False teachers come in all shapes and sizes and promote ideas of all kinds. Yet, what they all share in common is that their messages sound appealing and convincing. But they are lies. They deny the truth of God. The reject the gospel in its God-ordained form. And they all share that very basic tactic pioneered by Satan in the garden: Casting doubt on the Word of God. When Satan asked his questions, “Did God actually say?”, he was placing a seed of doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve, causing them to question the veracity of God’s word. And doubt leads to disbelief. Disbelief results in disobedience. And disobedience brings the discipline of God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
– 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV