4 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; 5 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; 6 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; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (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); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:4-10a ESV
False teachers, they are an ever-present reality in the world. Wherever God’s truth exists, there will be false representations or variations of it. Those, like Peter, who speak on behalf of God, will always be opposed by others who contradict them, while claiming to be presenting the truth of God. But the truth of God is not up for debate and does not come in a variety of forms. God doesn’t send mixed messages. He is not a God of confusion and disorder. That is why Peter stresses the truth and the need for the people of God to know it well. It is extremely difficult to spot falsehood if you don’t have any idea what the truth really is. But Peter, as one of the original disciples of Jesus, and as a commissioned apostle of the risen Lord, knows false teaching when he sees it and he has strong feelings about those who propagate it. “God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed” (2 Peter 2:4 NLT). There was no tolerance on God’s part toward false teachers. They were dangerously deceptive and destined to destruction.
And we should not be shocked or surprised that God would react so strongly to these individuals and their false messages. Peter brings up a series of examples from history revealing God’s past dealings with rebellious angels and humans. Jude uses many of these same examples in his book.
5 So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful. 6 And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. 7 And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment. – Jude 1:5-7 NLT
Who were the angels that Peter and Jude refer to and what was their crime? They evidently participated in a rebellion against God’s authority. These were most likely the same angels who followed the lead of Satan himself, when he attempted to dethrone God and take His place. The prophet Isaiah gives a metaphorical glimpse into that event.
12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O shining star, son of the morning!
You have been thrown down to the earth,
you who destroyed the nations of the world.
13 For you said to yourself,
‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars.
I will preside on the mountain of the gods
far away in the north.
14 I will climb to the highest heavens
and be like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 NLT
Satan led a rebellion against God, that was easily thwarted and resulted in the casting out of heaven of every angelic being that participated in it. Peter indicates that God “cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4 ESV). Jude states that “God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment” (Jude 1:6 NLT). The actual word that Peter uses, which is translated in the ESV as “hell”, is the Greek word, tartaroō. The Outline of Biblical Usage states that this was “the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews.” This is the only place in the entire New Testament where this word is used. While we cannot be sure of the exact nature of the event to which Peter and Jude refer, we do know that they stress God’s evident delay in fully judging the guilty parties involved. That seems to be the point. Whether these angels are chained in actual hell or are relegated to an earthly existence, totally subjugated to God’s authority. The tartaroō to which these angels have been sent could be referring to their existence as demons, serving the wishes of Satan, and doomed to wait for their final judgment by God. Either way, these angels sinned against God and are waiting for God to mete out His full and just judgment.
Next, Peter brings up our antediluvian ancestors, who also sinned against God, and were ultimately destroyed by God in a great world-wide flood. Only Noah and his family were preserved from destruction by God. The book of Genesis describes just how bad things had gotten.
11 Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. 12 God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt. – Genesis 6:11-12 NLT
God had put up with the sins of mankind for some time before He finally destroyed them. And He showed mercy by sparing the lives of Noah and his family, giving them an opportunity to start over. But the bottom line was that God did not spare the sinners in Noah’s day, so He would not spare the false teachers in Peter’s day. They too, would face the judgment of God.
Then there were the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two wicked cities were destroyed by God for their rampant and willful sins against God. When God sent angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom, they told Lot, “Do you have any other relatives here in the city? Get them out of this place—your sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else. For we are about to destroy this city completely. The outcry against this place is so great it has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:12-13 NLT). And God did destroy Sodom, along with its neighboring city, and all the residents who resided in them. God had put up with the sins of the two cities for a long time, but judgment finally came, “making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6 ESV).
And interestingly enough, Peter uses Lot, the nephew of Abraham, as an example of the godly. He refers to him as “righteous Lot” and describes his condition as “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)” (2 Peter 2:7-8 ESV). While Lot had made the decision to move his family into the city of Sodom and expose them to the rampant wickedness of its inhabitants, he was still considered righteous by God. He still had a heart for God. So, God rescued him. And Peter uses Lot as an example of how God will “rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9 ESV). These were meant to be words of encouragement to the recipients of Peter’s letter, providing them with incentive to stay faithful to God, even in the face of growing persecution and in spite of the confusing and misleading teaching of the false teachers. Peter used Noah and Lot as examples of how God rescues the righteous. God completely destroyed the world, but spared Noah. He completely annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah and everyone in them, but spared Lot. God will one day judge the false teachers, and treat them as what they are, sinners and rebels against Him. But He will spare the righteous. So, Peter appeals to his readers to remain faithful to God. He wants them to reject the lies of the false teachers. He wants them to adhere to the truth of God’s Word, regardless of the pressures they may face to cave in. Their endurance would be well rewarded. They would not be disappointed in the end. It pays to obey. The rebellious angels fell. The wicked of Noah’s day drowned. The immoral and perverse of Sodom and Gomorrah died. But God spared the righteous.
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