Spirit-Filled, Not Self-Obsessed

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

Wake up and live carefully. That’s Paul’s simple but straightforward admonition to his readers. He is alerting them to their need for wariness and wisdom as they attempt to conduct their lives in this world. He has made it clear that their behavior was to be markedly different than that of their unsaved peers. They were to have discarded their former lifestyle of sin and replaced it with the Spirit-empowered capacity to model Christ-likeness and imitate God. Paul has already urged them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 ESV).

Their lives were to be characterized by love, moral purity, selflessness, and obedience to the will of God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, their lives were to appear as shining lights in the prevailing darkness that engulfed the city of Ephesus. Their very presence would provide a stark contrast to the immoral and godless behavior plaguing the city, exposing sin and providing living proof that the gospel of Jesus Christ was powerful and transformative.

But they would have to remain constantly vigilant and eager to discern the will of their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:10). That would require wisdom and insight. It would hinge on their willingness to submit their lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every moment of every day was to be considered an opportunity to walk in lockstep with God. But to live in keeping with God’s will they would need round-the-clock input from the Spirit of God. They were surrounded by evil. Their community was plagued by wickedness and their fellow citizens were enemies of God who had “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). The small band of Christians who made up the church in Ephesus found themselves surrounded and outnumbered but they were far from helpless. But the key to their survival was knowing and obeying the will of God. That’s why Paul told them, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV).

The wisdom of God was going to be essential to their success. And Paul asserts that failure to understand the will of the Lord is tantamount to foolishness.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:17 ESV

It is almost as if Paul has in mind Proverbs 1, where the author personifies wisdom as a woman crying out for someone to heed her offer of knowledge and counsel. She offers everyone the opportunity to become wise but she can find no takers.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

And later in the same Proverb, the author paints a sad picture of the fools showing up too late for the party. Having spurned wisdom’s original offer so they could live according to their own wills, fulfilling their own desires, they find the window of opportunity has closed.

“When they cry for help, I will not answer.
    Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me.
For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.
For simpletons turn away from me—to death.
    Fools are destroyed by their own complacency.
But all who listen to me will live in peace,
    untroubled by fear of harm.” – Proverbs 1:28-33 NLT

For Paul, the key to knowing the will of God is submission to the Spirit of God. Unlike the image painted in the Proverb where wisdom calls out to the people from the street corner, Paul portrays wisdom as having taken up permanent residence in the believer’s life in the form of the Holy Spirit. But Paul reveals a vital point regarding the Spirit’s presence within the life of the believer. Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that, upon His death and resurrection, He would send the Holy Spirit to live within them.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

According to Jesus, the Spirit’s presence would be complete and permanent. Earlier in his letter, Paul reminded the Ephesians that their salvation had been accompanied by the sealing of the Holy Spirit “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). But later, in chapter four, Paul stated that they could “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). The indwelling presence of the Spirit is guaranteed and permanent in nature. But that doesn’t mean that believers always live in obedience to the Spirit. That’s why Paul warned the Galatian church about the need to live in faithful reliance upon the Spirit’s leading.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. – Galatians 5:16-18 NLT

Like the woman portrayed in the Proverb, the Holy Spirit cries out, offering to believers the wisdom they need to live in keeping with the will of God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit provides all the power necessary to make obedience to the will of God possible. And in order to describe this reliance upon the Spirit, Paul uses the metaphor of intoxication. Oddly enough, he compares obedience to the Spirit with drunkenness.

To be drunk is to be under the control of alcohol. Once consumed, it dictates one’s behavior and virtually eliminates any capacity for self-control. A person who is drunk on wine, says and does things that are contrary to his normal behavior. His actions and attitudes change, usually for the worst. And Paul is suggesting that the filling of the Spirit should produce a kind of altered behavior that reflects the Spirit’s control.

“The baptism of the Spirit means that I belong to Christ’s body. The filling of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Christ.” – Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul attempted to portray the contrast between being filled with or under the control of the Spirit and living according to our sinful nature.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

When the believer ignores the Spirit, he ends up “drunk” on the influence of his own sinful will and the outcome is anything but pretty. But Paul goes on to reveal that the one who submits to or comes under the influence of the Holy Spirit produces a completely different set of outcomes.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

And to the Ephesians, Paul portrays this filling of the Spirit in terms of its corporate or communal aspect.

be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-20 NLT

The filling of the Spirit produces unity, joy, gratitude, and a spirit of worship. His indwelling presence flows out in praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done. The one who gets drunk on wine is ultimately self-consumed. He cares nothing about how his behavior will impact those around him. He is driven by his own desire for self-gratification and personal pleasure. But the one who allows the Spirit to fill and control him is under the influence of God’s will, which is always other-oriented. To imitate God (Ephesians 5:1) is to live a life of selfless, sacrificial love for others. It is to put the needs of others ahead of your own. And this will set up the next section of Paul’s letter, where he provides practical examples of what a Spirit-controlled life should look like. It all begins with submission to the Spirit but it shows up in submission to others. That’s why Paul prefaces what he is about to write with the sobering statement: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT).

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Prisoner of Christ

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:7-18 ESV

As Paul prepares to wrap up his letter to the Colossian church, he mentions the names of eight different men. Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Jesus (Justus), Epaphras, Luke, Demas, and Archippus. Each of them had played a vital role in Paul’s life and ministry. Two of them, Tychicus and Onesimus, had been chosen by Paul to deliver the letter once he had completed it. The first mention of Tychicus in the Scriptures is found in Acts 20, where Luke records his name, as well as that of Aristarchus, among those who accompanied Paul as he left Greece and made his way to Syria.

…he [Paul] decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. – Acts 20:3-6 ESV

Tychicus, like the rest of these men, had become a disciple of Paul and had aided him in his ministry. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul refers to Tychicus as his “beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:21 ESV). Paul had instructed Tychicus to deliver his letter to the Ephesian believers and bring them up to speed on his current situation (Ephesians 6:22). And Paul had entrusted Tychicus with the same responsibility when it came to the congregation in Colossae.

Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. – Colossians 4:7-9 ESV

He was accompanied by Onesimus, another disciple of Paul who, at one time, had been a runaway slave. Paul had befriended Onesimus in Rome, where Paul was imprisoned and the young man was hiding from his former master, a man named Philemon. while it is unclear how Paul and Onesimus met, we do know that Paul had the privilege of leading Onesimus to Christ. And after discipling his young friend for a period of time, he determined to send Onesimus back to his master. What makes this situation rather strange is that Paul knew Onesimus’ master well. He was a man named Philemon and the church in Colossae met in his home. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon, asking him to receive Onesimus back, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother in Christ.

I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.

I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf. But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced. It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:10-16 NLT

According to Colossian 4:9, Onesimus accompanied Tychicus back to Colossae. Tychicus was to deliver Onesimus and the letter from Paul to Philemon. We are not told how this reunion turned out, but it seems likely that Philemon heeded Paul’s advice and treated Onesimus as a “beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16).

Paul also mentions Aristarchus, a Greek who hailed from the city of Thessalonica (Acts 20:4). Paul refers to Aristarchus as his “fellow prisoner” (Colossians 4:10), but it seems unlikely that Paul was inferring that Aristarchus was also under house arrest in Rome.  Paul used the term “fellow prisoner” when referring to several of his co-workers in the ministry.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. – Romans 16:7 ESV

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. – Philemon 1:23-24 ESV

It appears that Paul used this term to refer to their shared captivity to the will of God. Paul opened up his letter to Philemon by describing himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:1 ESV). He used the same phrase when writing to the church in Ephesus, another Gentile community.

I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you… – Ephesians 3:1-2 ESV

Jesus didn’t consider himself a prisoner of the Roman government, but of Jesus Christ. He was where he was because he had been faithfully fulfilling the will of Christ. And he viewed these other men as fellow captives, who shared his commitment to carrying the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

In a sense, Paul was name-dropping, providing his readers with a list of individuals whom they knew well and whose reputations would further enhance and support the content of Paul’s letter. The believers in Colossae had never met Paul. They were probably familiar with his name and had likely heard about his miraculous salvation story and prolific ministry. But he was a stranger to them. Paul used the names of these men to assure the Colossians that his words could be trusted. Over time, the various churches had heard about the travels of Paul and the assistance he had received from various individuals, including John Mark and his cousin, Barnabas. That is why Paul mentions their names. John Mark had accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey. And Barnabas had been a part of the church since its earliest days in Jerusalem. Luke mentions his name in Acts 4.

Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. – Acts 4:36-37 ESV

Jesus Justus was one of several Jewish Christians (“men of the circumcision”) who made up Paul’s ethnically diverse ministerial team. Paul wanted the Colossians to know that when he wrote, “In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free” (Colossians 3:11 NLT), he meant it. Paul practiced what he preached.

Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT

Epaphras, a citizen of Colossae, had played a major role in the founding of the church there (Colossians 1:7). But he had left his hometown in order to minister alongside Paul. It seems that Paul had a small contingent of co-workers who had accompanied him to Rome and remained by his side while he was under house arrest and awaiting trial. This included Luke, the author of the gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Luke was Paul’s “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14 ESV) and remained by the apostle’s side throughout his confinement in Rome. Demas was also at Paul’s side in Rome, but the day would come when he would allow his love for the world to replace his commitment to Paul and the gospel ministry.

Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. – 2 Timothy 4:10 ESV

Paul closes out his letter by asking that it be shared with the church in Laodicea. And evidently, there was a letter he had written to the Laocidean congregation that he wished to be read by the Colossians as well. All of these congregations were in close proximity to one another and the letters Paul wrote to them were intended to be shared among them. The messages they contained were universal in nature and applicable in every one of the communities where local congregations were attempting to live out their faith in hostile surroundings.  Remaining faithful in the midst of a fallen and often antagonistic world was not easy. And nobody knew that better than Paul. That is why he closes out his letter by calling on his children in the faith to “Remember my chains” (Colossians 4:18 ESV). He wanted them to know that he had been imprisoned because of the gospel. He was not oblivious to their situation but was well acquainted with the suffering that accompanied the Christian life. And he rejoiced in the fact that God had deemed him worthy of the privilege of suffering as Christ had suffered – on behalf of His body, the church.

I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church. – Colossians 1:24 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Reality and Reliability of Reconciliation

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. – Colossians 1:21-23 ESV

Paul knew it was essential that the Colossian believers fully understood who Jesus was and what He had done for them. Their concept of Jesus was far too limited and had allowed false ideas about His identity and accomplishments to filter into their beliefs about Him. After Jesus resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, there was growing speculation as to His true identity and its implications for mankind. In His absence, His disciples continued to spread the news concerning the coming kingdom of God and the sole means of gaining entrance into it: By placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ.

But there were others who had begun to formulate their own concepts concerning Jesus and the implications of His life and death. The disciples had clearly spread the news that Jesus had risen from the dead and had returned to His Father’s side in heaven. Paul had boldly proclaimed the nature of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to the believers in Corinth.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NLT

But there were those who had begun to refute the disciples’ teaching concerning resurrection, declaring it improbable and even unnecessary. That’s what led Paul to warn the Corinthians about this dangerous heresy.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 NLT

There were others who had begun to spread the idea that Jesus had not been a real, flesh-and-blood human. Because these people deemed the flesh to be inherently evil, they could not accept the idea of deity taking on humanity. So, they rationalized it away by claiming that Jesus had only appeared to have a human body. So, His “death” was just a fiction. This heresy was later deemed Docetism, which comes from the Greek word dokein, which means “to seem.” But by voiding the humanity of Jesus, these false teachers were actually eliminating the heart of the gospel message. Without the humanity of Jesus there is no gospel. That is why the apostles boldly preached the reality of Jesus’ humanity.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

The doctrine of the bodily death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus became the litmus test for determining the veracity of those claiming to be teachers.

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:1-3 NLT

So, as Paul continues the introduction of his letter to the Colossian believers, he stresses the humanity of Jesus, reminding them that they had been “reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (Colossians 1:22 ESV). For Paul, that point was essential, because it explained how sinful human beings could be made right with a holy and righteous God. He even stressed the nature of their pre-conversion state, describing them as “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21 ESV). This concept of alienation and hostility was a common theme for Paul. He repeatedly stressed the formerly hopeless and helpless condition of those who now enjoyed a right standing with God. He wanted them to consider the almost incomprehensible scope of Christ’s sacrificial death and all that it had accomplished on their behalf.

since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. – Romans 5:9-11 NLT

The physical death of Jesus had made possible their spiritual transformation from enemies of God to friends of God. They had been reconciled to a righteous God by the undeserving death of His righteous and sinless Son. Paul reminded the believers in Rome of the remarkable nature of Jesus’ selfless sacrifice of His own life.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

And Paul told the believers in Colossae that, because Jesus had died in their place, He had been able to present them to God the Father as “holy and blameless and above reproach” (Colossians 1:22 ESV). Jesus had taken upon Himself the penalty for their sins and, in exchange, had placed upon them His own unblemished righteousness. Paul fully understood the significance of this “great exchange,” and boldly proclaimed His appreciation for it and his unwavering dependence upon it.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

For Paul, belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was essential for living the Christian life. He called the Colossians to reject any false teaching that might undermine their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and urged them to remain committed to the good news just as they had heard it from Epaphras.

…you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. – Colossians 1:23 NLT

Paul knew that false teachers would be a constant problem in the church. Each generation of believers would face a new wave of plausible but unreliable doctrines concerning the saving work of Jesus. He also knew that immature and poorly informed Christians would be easy targets for false teaching, ending up “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” and tricked by “lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT). For Paul, the best defense against false teaching was the truth. And he declared his firm commitment to continue doing what he had always done: Preach the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ to any and all who would listen.

The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it. – Colossians 1:23 NLT

Paul wanted the Colossians to know that they had been reconciled to God through the physical death of Jesus Christ. He had been a real man who lived a real life and died a real death on the cross – in their place. And by placing their faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus, they had been made right with God. Formerly enemies of God, they now enjoyed a new status as His sons and heirs. And no false teacher or faulty doctrine could take that away from them.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Letter of Love

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father. – Colossians 1:1-2 ESV

The ancient city of Colossae achieved its early prominence and prosperity due to its location along a major trade route that ran through the Lycus River Valley in the Roman province of Asia Minor (in what is today modern-day Turkey). But in time, the nearby and newer city of Laodicea replaced Colossae as the economic engine of the region. While the Co­lossians had made a name for themselves through the manufacture of the much-coveted crimson-colored wool cloth known as colossinum, the once-thriving metropolis became little more than a small village. It was in this environment that a small congregation of believers sprung up.

The founding of the Colossian church is unclear. At the time Paul wrote his letter, he had not been to the city of Colossae, but his missionary journeys had taken him to nearby Ephesus where he had spent an extended period of time spreading the gospel message and making converts. According to Acts 19:10, “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” It could be that one of the new converts from Ephesus took the good news of Jesus Christ to Colossae or a visitor from Colossae had been in Ephesus to hear the preaching of Paul. But whatever the case, the gospel made its way to the Colossians and, in time, a small congregation had been formed.

Because of its location along a major trade route, the city of Colossae had a population comprised of Greek colonists and native Phrygians. There would have also been a fairly large number of Jews living in the area because Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) had relocated hundreds of Jewish families from Mesopotamia to this region. So, this local congregation was likely a diverse mixture of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. This hybrid blend of diverse backgrounds, along with the influence of false teachers, was causing a great deal of confusion among the church’s young congregation.

It appears that Paul had received word of the situation in Colossae from Epaphras, a resident of the city. Whether Epaphras visited Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome is unclear, but the fellow minister of the gospel had somehow gotten word to the apostle about the state of affairs in his home city. According to verses 7-8 of chapter one, Epaphras had been instrumental in the spread of the gospel to his fellow Colossians.

You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf—who also told us of your love in the Spirit. – Colossians 1:7-8 NLT

But Epaphras had shared with Paul his concern for the spiritual well-being of the church. Without proper leadership and instruction, the fledgling congregation had found itself struggling to resist the temptation to syncretize their old religious ideologies with their new faith in Christ. And some of the Jewish converts were attempting to add their own blend of Judaistic ritualism and traditionalism. To top it all off, there were those who had infiltrated the church, posing as doctrinal experts and propagating a dangerous brand of false teaching that stood in direct opposition to the teachings of Paul and the other apostles. This is what led Paul to open his letter with a statement that established his apostolic credentials.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God… – Colossians 1:1 ESV

While Paul had not been one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, he had received his apostolic commission directly from the Lord Himself. Early on in his life, Paul had been a member of the Pharisees, a powerful and highly influentials sect of Judaism. At one point, he described himself as the poster boy for religious extremism and dedication.

“I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.” – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT

He was an up-and-coming member of the Pharisees who had been given a commission by the high priest to persecute and arrest members of “the way,” the name given to the cult of followers who worshiped the dead Rabbi, Jesus. As a devout Pharisee, Paul had been a zealous adherent to and defender of the Jewish faith, and he was determined to eradicate the memory of Jesus and eliminate every one of His followers. He would later describe to the Jews how he had been given a commission to hunt down and destroy Christians.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

But something remarkable had taken place as Paul made his way to Damascus. He had come face to face with the resurrected Jesus. A blinding light had stopped Paul in his tracks and a voice had spoken to him, saying, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting” (Acts 22:8 NLT). Unable to see but fully capable of hearing, Paul heard Jesus give him instructions to visit a man named Ananias, who would give him further instructions. And Ananias opened Paul’s eyes and revealed to him his new mission:

“The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.” – Acts 22:14-16 NLT

This “Damascus Road experience” transformed Paul’s life. He went from persecutor to proclaimer of the gospel. And he was appointed an official apostle or messenger of Jesus Christ, with specific instructions to take the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. And Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to understand that he had divine authority to speak to address the situation taking place within their local congregation. Paul spent a great deal of time defending his rights to speak on behalf of Christ because there were those who attacked his apostolic credentials. But Paul pushed back on these critics, declaring his God-given authority to speak on behalf of Jesus.

“I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.” – Galatians 1:1 NLT

So many of the churches that Paul helped establish were being targeted by men who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God but who were teaching false doctrines and leading the people away from the simplicity and integrity of the gospel. Many of these men were eloquent and influential speakers who derided Paul’s ministry and portrayed him as a charlatan. But Paul refused to let these individuals destroy what God had built.

“But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 11:12-13 NLT

So, as Paul wrote the believers in Colossae, he opened his letter with a declaration of his apostleship. He wanted them to know that what he was about to tell them was divinely inspired and not just the thoughts of a man they had never met. He was about to divulge to them the will of God concerning their situation, and it would pay for them to listen. And Paul let them know that he was not alone in his concern for them. His protégé and fellow minister of the gospel, Timothy, stood with him in his message of encouragement and admonition.

Paul refers to his audience as “saints,” using a Greek term (hagios), which means “those set apart to God.” He wanted to remind them that they had been consecrated by God for His use. They belonged to Him and had an obligation to live their lives in keeping with His will and according to His Word. They were not free to establish their own model for righteous living or to create their own system of religious rituals or creeds. They had been set apart by God and were to dedicate their lives to God. And the rest of his letter will address the specifics of their situation and the measures they must take to ensure that they continue to live faithful lives marked by God’s grace and peace.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Make the Most of the Time You Have

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:14-18 ESV

Peter has reminded his readers that they are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12 ESV) – a day when “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV). But that future day of divine destruction will be followed by God’s recreation of all things. And concerning that promise, Peter states, “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwell” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).

The apostle John was given a vision of that momentous day which he recorded for posterity in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” – Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

It is to this day that Peter seems to be when he writes, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). As his readers suffer through the trials and difficulties of this life, Peter reminds them of the divine promises that lie ahead. He wanted them to focus their attention on all that God had in store for them. As they waited, they were live godly lives marked by purity, perseverance, and peace. Their faith in God’s future promises should influence their present behavior.

That is why Peter encouraged them to emulate the life of Christ through their own “lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11 ESV) as they wait for the coming day of the Lord. Peter understood that the delay in Christ’s return was difficult to comprehend and had caused some to begin to doubt whether it was really going to happen. He also knew that living a godly life was not easy. And he knew how frustrating it could be to stand back and watch as the wicked sinned, and not only got away with it, but thoroughly enjoyed it. In every generation, Christ-followers must wrestle with the seeming inequities that exist between the children of God and the wicked. The psalmist put it in words to which we all can relate.

O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
    Why do you hide when I am in trouble?
The wicked arrogantly hunt down the poor.
    Let them be caught in the evil they plan for others.
For they brag about their evil desires;
    they praise the greedy and curse the Lord.

The wicked are too proud to seek God.
    They seem to think that God is dead.
Yet they succeed in everything they do.
    They do not see your punishment awaiting them.
    They sneer at all their enemies.
They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us!
    We will be free of trouble forever!” – Psalm 10:1-6 NLT

But despite the apparent disparities they might encounter in this life, Peter wanted his readers to stay committed and to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). As Peter has already stated, God’s seeming delay in sending back His Son was purposeful. He had a reason and His timing was perfect. Peter reminds them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15 ESV). In other words, rather than embrace the lies of the false teachers and mistakenly conclude that there would be no future judgment, the believers were to view God’s delay from a different perspective. The longer God waited, the more time there was for people to come to faith in Christ. Not only that, it provided believers with additional time to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior. It provided ample time for the divine process of sanctification to take place. It had not been God’s plan to remove every believer as soon as they placed their faith in Christ. Jesus left His own disciples behind and had commissioned them to carry on His ministry of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. They were to remain behind, acting as His ambassadors and emissaries. And the believers to whom Peter wrote had inherited this same divine mandate. Like Peter and the other disciples, their salvation was to be followed by their ongoing sanctification or growth into Christ-likeness. And for that to happen, Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit, which is why Peter could say that God had granted them “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had all the power they needed to live godly lives in the present as they waited for the future.

When Peter told his readers to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation,” he was echoing the words of Paul. He even admitted so. In his letter to the Romans, Paul warned his audience, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT). Paul was writing to Gentile believers. He wanted them to understand just how patient and gracious God was being with them as He provided with time to continue the process of salvation. Part of what God was accomplishing, through the work of the Holy Spirit, was exposing those areas of sin in their lives that need to be confessed. He was constantly saving them from themselves and redeeming them from the vestiges of the sin-filled lives they had once lived. He was in the process of transforming them into the likeness of His Son.

And the messages of Peter and Paul apply to us today. God has already justified us, declaring us positionally righteous in His sight. But now He is sanctifying us, making us practically righteous, by removing our old nature and replacing it with a new one. Paul puts it this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

So Peter reminded his readers to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). He wanted them to know that, contrary to popular opinion and the teaching of “the ignorant and unstable,” Christ was coming again. The false teachers twisted the Scriptures to make them say what they wanted to hear. But Peter warned that God was faithful and His Word was reliable. So they were to live their lives without spot or blemish, unlike the false teachers who he describes as being “blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions” (2 Peter 2:13 ESV). Peter didn’t want to see believers carried away by the tempting promises and slick sounding words of the false teachers. He wanted to prevent them from being “carried away with the error of lawless people” (2 Peter 3:17 ESV). And the antidote for spiritual error was spiritual growth. That is why he told them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

When we first come to know Christ, our understanding of Him is minimal at best. We accept Him as our Savior, but there is little else that we know about Him. We do not fully understand the magnitude of what He has done. We have a minimal understanding of and appreciation for grace. Our knowledge and awareness of all that He accomplished for us on the cross are limited. That’s why Paul told the Colossian believers:

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

We are to grow up in our salvation. We are to increase in our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done. We are to constantly expand our understanding of God’s will for us as we read His Word and listen to the inner promptings of His Holy Spirit within us. Spiritual growth is non-optional for believers. We find admonitions to grow all throughout the New Testament.

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. – 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 ESV

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. – Hebrew 5:12 NLT

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. – Hebrews 6:1 NLT

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind. – 1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT

We must stay the course. We must run the race to win. We must complete the task set before us. We must finish strong. As Peter stated earlier in this same letter, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). We can live godly lives in the midst of ungodliness. We can live righteous lives while surrounded by unrighteousness. We can live Christ-like lives among those who deny Him. But it requires growth. It requires constant dependence upon the One who saved us and a trust that He is continually sanctifying us.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Well Worth the Wait

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV

The false teachers were raising doubts about one of the most important doctrines the apostles taught concerning Jesus:  His Second Coming. They did so by questioning the reason for its delay.

Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” – 2 Peter 3:4 ESV

Peter and his fellow apostles had been teaching about the coming Day of the Lord ever since Jesus had ascended back into heaven. Before His departure, Jesus had repeatedly told them He would be going away but He also assured them would be returning one day. But it still had not happened yet, and its delay had caused the false teachers to question the validity of the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming. And because the members of the congregations to whom Peter wrote found themselves suffering for their faith, their hopes for Christ’s return had already begun to fade. This made them vulnerable to any teaching that cast doubts about some future day when Jesus would return and make all things right.

To make matters worse, the false teachers had begun to propagate the idea that there was no future judgment. This led them to mock and scorn the teachings of the apostles. With no fear of coming judgment, they followed their own sinful desires (2 Peter 3:3). They promised freedom but were slaves of corruption themselves (2 Peter 2:19). They seduced others to abandon godly living. Without the fear of God’s judgment, they promoted a lifestyle based on sinful passions of the flesh (2 Peter 2:18). They operated on the philosophy of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

But Peter had some bad news for these people. They were deluded by their misinterpretation of God’s future plans. Peter fully admitted that the return of Christ had not yet occurred, but that did not mean it should be ruled out altogether. Peter saw the delay as a sign of God’s patience and grace.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9 ESV

To those who were having to endure unexpected suffering for their faith, the delay in Christ’s coming seemed unfair and unnecessary. If His return was supposed to make all things right and restore righteousness to the world, why was He waiting? From their perspective, there was no better time than the present for Jesus to return and set up His Kingdom. But Peter reminds his readers to “not overlook this one fact … that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV).

Time isn’t an issue with God. Because He is eternal, He exists outside of time and is free from its constraints. From man’s temporal perspective, it appears as if God is taking His sweet time when it comes to the return of His Son and the final redemption of His creation. But God is in no rush. And Peter tells us why.

…he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

It is not God’s desire to destroy people. He does not love condemning the disobedient and rebellious to hell. But as a holy, just, and righteous Judge, He is obligated to do so. It is His moral responsibility to deal with the sinfulness of men. To not do so would be in violation of His godly character. He would love to see all men repent, but He knows that will not happen. As a matter of fact, without God’s sovereign intervention, no one would repent. Jesus Himself said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). In that same chapter, Jesus stated, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65 NIV). And He also claimed, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37 ESV).

Because all men are dead in their trespasses and sins, each is condemned to die and to spend an eternity separated from God. That is the righteous punishment reserved for them by God. But God has made it possible for some to be saved. His desire would be that all be saved, but that will not happen because not all will accept His offer of salvation through faith in Christ. But God is graciously delaying His judgment on all mankind until all who are going to be saved have been restored to a right relationship with Him. And according to Paul, God knows the exact number of those who will be saved. He assured the believers in Rome:

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. – Romans 11:25 NLT

There is a divinely appointed number of those who will be saved. And when all those who have been called by God have been restored to a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, then His Son will return. Jesus Himself said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV). So we should view God’s delay as a sign of His grace, not as a reason to deny to His coming judgment.

Peter assured his readers that God’s judgment was coming. There was no reason to allow its delay to lead to its denial. It would come according to God’s divine timeline and when it came, it would catch everyone unaware, like a thief in the night. Even Jesus had admitted to His disciples that He was not privy to God’s schedule for His own return.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:36 ESV

That’s why Jesus told them, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). And Peter gave his readers similar advice:

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. – 2 Peter 3:11-12 ESV

Jesus is coming back. Judgment is coming. God will finish what He has started. So, as we wait for the promised fulfillment of His plan, we are to live holy and godly lives. Our hope is based on God completing His redemptive plan for mankind and the universe. God is going to make all things new, but before that can happen, He will destroy the former things so that He can make a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).

Jesus spoke of this divine destruction and recreation of the heavens and the earth. He told His disciples, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35 ESV). He knew that His Heavenly Father had long-term plans to renew and restore all that He had made, including the heavens and the earth. And Peter reminds his readers, “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). He wanted them to understand that their hope was not to be based on this world. They were to focus their attention on the new world to come. Jesus was not coming back to fix all their personal problems or mitigate their present trials and suffering. God had a far greater future in store for them.

Peter wanted them to understand that God’s final judgment would have to take place before His plan for the glorification of His creation could happen. Just as Jesus had to suffer and die before His glorification could take place. As followers of Christ, they were having to endure suffering in their present life, but they could rest in the hope of their future glorification. And they could live with the end in mind. And the apostle Paul provides all believers of all times with these encouraging words:

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

This earth and all it contains will one day be destroyed. But, as followers of Christ, we know how the story ends. After the Second Coming of Christ, God will make a new heaven and a new earth. And then He will have the grand opening of His masterpiece, the new city of Jerusalem, which He has been preparing from before the foundations of the world. And in that remarkable city, God will make His permanent dwelling place with man, just as the apostle John described it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:1-5 ESV

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Wake-Up Call to the Spiritually Weak

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 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. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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

It seems readily apparent that Peter was influenced by the letter written by Jude or perhaps it was the other way around. Both men had strong opinions concerning false teachers and there are a number of noticeable similarities between the way they describe them. Jude wrote:

…these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. – Jude 10 ESV

And the same unflattering assessment is found in Peter’s letter.

But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction… – 2 Peter 2:12 ESV

Both men used stories from the Old Testament to highlight the judgment awaiting these false teachers. Peter and Jude each included the judgment that came upon the angels who chose to join Satan in his failed coup attempt against God.

…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… – Jude 6 ESV

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… – 2 Peter 2:4 ESV

Jude was unsparing in his criticism of these men, describing them as “hidden reefs…waterless clouds…fruitless trees…wild waves of the sea…wandering stars” (Jude 12-13 ESV). And Peter, while using a few less metaphors was equally as critical. He referred to them as “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm” (2 Peter 2:17 ESV). And both men declare the same fate for these deceptive and unreliable purveyors of falsehood. 

For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. – 2 Peter 2:17 ESV

for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 13 ESV

Peter and Jude both believed that these false teachers were guilty of something far more egregious than sharing opinions that differed from their own. According to Jude, they were “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4 ESV). Peter accused them of having “eyes full of adultery” and of being “insatiable for sin” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV). And he wasn’t done.

“They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” – 2 Peter 2:14 ESV

Like the apostles, the false teachers’ tool of the trade was words. They propagated their opinions through the use of their powerful oratory skills. That’s why Peter opened his letter by stating, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminded his audience that he had not come to them with “lofty words and impressive wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1 NLT). He proudly confessed: “my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 NLT).

When Paul had first arrived in Corinth, he had not tried to impress his audiences with his oratory skills or rhetorical acumen. In fact, he didn’t rely on human wisdom or his own personal speaking skills at all.

…we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. – 1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT

Peter accused the false teachers of doing just the opposite. Their words were “loud boasts of folly” with which “they entice by sensual passions of the flesh” (2 Peter 2:18 ESV). The Greek word that is translated as “loud boasts” is ὑπέρογκος (hyperogkos), and it literally means “over swollen” or “extravagant.” They used high-sounding language that was meant to impress and their listeners. And Jude used the very same word when describing the false teachers

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters [hyperogkos], showing favoritism to gain advantage. – Jude 16 ESV

But Peter points out that their over-inflated words were nothing but meaningless vanity. The Greek word is ματαιότης (mataiotēs), which means “what is devoid of truth and appropriateness.” While their words may have been impressive to hear, they were empty of beneficial content. Like waterless springs, they contained no life. To borrow from Shakespeare, the words of these false teachers were nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And Peter pointed out the folly of their self-proclaimed wisdom.

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. – 2 Peter 2:19 ESV

They were the enslaved promising freedom to their fellow captives. They were the blind leading the blind. And as Jesus so succinctly put it, “if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14 NLT).

What made these men so dangerous was their ability to coerce and convince others to walk away from the truth. Yet all the while, they were overcome by greed, lust, and the need for power and authority. And Peter knew that, if left unchecked, their powers of coercion would eventually drag others down with them.

many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2 ESV

This was Peter’s greatest concern. He feared that a steady diet of false promises and blasphemous teaching would eventually persuade weak-willed and spiritually immature believers to abandon the faith. Peter knew this was a very real possibility and he even described what it looks like when it happens.

…when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

It’s important to note that these false teachers were plying their wares within the local congregations. They were not disseminating their false doctrine among the lost, but among those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. They had targeted the body of Christ. Like the Serpent in Eden, these individuals had “crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4 ESV), and hidden within God’s garden – the church, where they were subtly and slyly asking, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). They were questioning the veracity of God’s word concerning Jesus, salvation, sin, and future judgment. They were encouraging infidelity and even immorality, and, ultimately, they were instigating open rebellion against God. And Peter warns his readers how devastating it would be if some of them bought into the lies and turned their backs on God.

It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life. – 2 Peter 2:21 NLT

There is a very real and serious question raised by Peter’s language. Is he promoting the idea that believers can somehow lose their salvation? What about once-saved, always-saved? Is Peter inferring that all those who buy into the lies of these false teachers will forfeit their citizenship as sons and daughters of God?

There are two possibilities here. First, Peter is suggesting that there are those within the local fellowship who have claimed to be Christ-followers, but whose faith was not genuine or sincere. Their willing association with the body of Christ had given them the false assurance of salvation, but they had never truly placed their faith in Christ. This made them highly susceptible to the lies of the false teachers.

But the second possibility is that there were within these local congregations, weak and immature believers whose faith was not yet strong enough to withstand the attacks of the enemy. They were those whom Paul referred to as “weaker brothers” (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). Within every local congregation, there will be those who are strong in their faith and able to stand against the enemy’s relentless attacks. But there will also be those who are spiritually immature and prone to fall back into the old, ingrained habits they embraced before coming to faith in Christ.

Peter opened his letter by reminding his readers that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). Then he went on to encourage them to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…knowledge…self-control…steadfastness…godliness…brotherly affection…and… love” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV).

In other words, Peter expected every believer to grow up in their salvation, continually adding to their character the attributes of Christ through the fruits of the Spirit. To not grow was unacceptable and, ultimately, dangerous.

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. – 2 Peter 1:9 ESV

Peter went on to remind them, “if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:11 ESV). This means that if they failed to practice these qualities, there was a very real possibility that failure was in their future. Falling away does not necessarily mean a loss of salvation. It can simply refer to a lack of fruitfulness in the life of a believer. It can and does happen all the time. When a believer fails to supplement their faith with the character of Christ made possible through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, they run the risk of remaining spiritual infants. The apostle Paul revealed that these weak and vulnerable believers were part of the local congregation in Corinth.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 NLT

Peter was addressing local congregations that were having to deal with the influence of false teachers. His concern was that the weak and spiritually immature among them might fall prey to the predations of these men. He wasn’t worried about believers losing their salvation. But he was concerned that they could be easily persuaded to embrace their former pre-conversion lifestyles. Peter knew that the old sin nature remained actively alive within every believer. And his greatest concern was for those who lacked the spiritual strength to resist “the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 ESV).

Peter had a strong desire to warn the weak and vulnerable within the local congregations because they were the most susceptible to the relentless attacks of the enemy.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Sincerely Wrong and Deceptively Deadly

10 Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. 2 Peter 2:10b-16 ESV

Who were these false teachers? What were they like? Peter gives us a rather unflattering portrayal of them and wastes no time trying to hide his true feelings about them. He describes them as bold (tolmētēs) and willful (authadēs), two words that portray them as presumptuous and self-willed. Having convinced themselves that their opinions are right, they boldly and arrogantly propagate those heretical opinions to anyone who will listen. And Peter even describes them as blaspheming the glorious ones. The Greek word he used is doxa, and it had a variety of meanings. It is most often translated as “glory,” but can also be used to refer to “that which belongs to God.” But when considering the context of this passage, it appears that Peter was using it to refer to the majesty or glory of angelic beings. Evidently, these false teachers had been in detrimental terms about angels, possibly even questioning their actual existence. This would have aligned their official doctrine very close with that of the Sadducees, a religious/political party that held the majority of the seats in the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish religious council of the day. The Sadducees had played a major role in the Sanhedrin’s opposition to and eventual elimination of Jesus.

These wealthy members of the Jewish aristocratic class were extremely self-sufficient and tended to downplay the involvement of God in everyday life. They also denied the doctrine of a bodily resurrection and they would later oppose the apostles’ preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead. Since they refused to accept the possibility of resurrection after death, they denied the existence of an afterlife, teaching instead that the soul simply perished alongside the body. So, it only made sense for them to conclude that there was no form of reward or punishment after life ceased. And this same way of thinking led them to deny the existence of a spiritual world, including the existence of angels or demons. Everything that was to be experienced and enjoyed had to take place in this life because there was nothing that would follow death.

It seems apparent that the false teachers to whom Peter refers had been influenced by this same kind of thinking. Far from shy and anything but unsure about their views, these over-confident “teachers” were promoting their man-made ideas among the vulnerable and sometimes gullible believers who populated the fledgling faith communities of the day. And Peter was genuinely concerned about their growing influence.

He compares them to “irrational animals, creatures of instinct.” Like wild beasts, these individuals were driven by their basest animal urges. Their behavior was motivated by their own self-satisfaction. Jude makes a similar accusation in his letter, saying, “these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude 1:10 ESV).

Because these men were so confident in their views, they spoke flippantly and facetiously about things they didn’t understand. There are some scholars who believe their disbelief in angelic beings had led them to speak satirically about the angels who fell alongside Satan when he attempted to rebel against God. The word Peter and Jude both used is βλασφημέω (blasphēmeō) which means “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile” (“G987 – blasphēmeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).

Again, Peter speaks of them blaspheming “the glorious ones,” using the term, δόξα (doxa), a term that be used to refer to angels. In this case, Peter could have been talking about those angels who fell from their once glorious position in heaven and were cast down by God. These false teachers were evidently belittling these fallen angels or denying their existence altogether. But as a way of contrast, Peter indicates that angels – ἄγγελος (aggelos) – “though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:11 ESV). Here he appears to be referring to those angels who still reside in heaven. These “good” angels do not speak reproachfully to God about those angels who have fallen. Yet these false teachers do. Jude explains that they blaspheme all that they do not understand. They discount or dismiss what they do not know. Peter says they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Blasphemy, at its root, refers to “stupid speech.” It is to speak authoritatively, yet ignorantly, about things you do not understand. And just like the false prophets to whom Peter referred earlier, these men would “be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:12-13 ESV).

It seems apparent that these overconfident purveyors of false doctrine were spouting opinions about a wide variety of matters. They were also conducting their lives in a manner that was inconsistent with true faith in Christ. Peter accused them of wrongdoing, of reveling in the daytime, having eyes full of adultery, and an insatiable appetite for sin. They were hedonistic, driven by their sinful desires, and addicted to the finer things in life. Peter’s reference to their eyes being full of adultery would seem to indicate that their minds were overflowing with thoughts of unfaithfulness to God. While it could mean that they were involved in literal adultery, it makes more sense within the context to see this as an indictment of their faithfulness to God and His Word. Their unfaithfulness was deceiving and leading astray those who had “unsteady” or unstable souls. The spiritually immature were especially susceptible to the teachings of these individuals.

Jude’s description of them is quite revealing.

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; 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 forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

They were like waterless clouds. They appeared to bring much-needed rain but were simply blown by the wind, never delivering that which they promised. They were like fruitless trees, dead and uprooted, capable of providing nothing in the way of real nourishment. They were like crashing waves, loud and impressive, but ultimately destructive. And like wandering stars, they were unreliable as guides to the lost. They could not be relied upon for direction in life because they were inconsistent and constantly changing their opinions.

Both Peter and Jude accuse them of following “the way of Balaam.” This refers to a story in the Old Testament when Balaam, a false prophet, was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the people of Israel. When God prevented Balaam from doing so, the false prophet counseled Balak to invite the people of Israel to join the people of Moab in a feast to honor their false god. The book of Numbers records what happened: “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 ESV).

The Moabites were known for their practice of prostitution as part of the worship of their god. The Israelites, under the deceptive influence of Balaam, soon found themselves participating in the immoral festivities associated with the worship of the false gods of Moab.

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. – Numbers 25:1-3 ESV

So the false teachers, like Balaam, were guilty of leading the people of God astray. He “loved gain from wrongdoing.” He had been in it for what he could get out of it. And like Balaam, these false teachers would obstinately walk in their own sinful state of delusion, refusing to listen to the words of God and the warnings of His prophets. These false teachers had developed a false sense of security, ultimately believing that what they were saying was true. Their greatest danger was the sincerity and sense of authority they evoked. They appeared to believe that what they taught was true. They came across as confident and sure of themselves. But as Jude describes them, they were like “hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12 ESV).

They were dangerous. They were subtle and seductive. They were self-serving and focused only on satisfying their own desires. So, Peter warned that these people were to be avoided at all costs. They were to be exposed and expelled from the church. They were not bad teachers. In fact, most of them were very good at what they did. The problem was that they were highly influential and inspirational. They were persuasive and their teaching came across as reasonable and right. But that was the hidden danger behind all their sophisticated rhetoric. The bottom line was that they had “wandered off the right road” (2 Peter 2:15 NLT). They had taken the wrong path and were teaching an errant gospel.

In what appears to be a rather humorous self-reference, Peter takes his readers back to the Old Testament story of Balaam. He reminds them that Balaam “was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice” (2 Peter 2:16 NLT). God had intervened and prevented Balaam from cursing the people of Israel. In a highly unlikely miracle, Balaam received a divine word of warning from his own talking donkey. God used this “irrational” and unthinking animal to declare truth to a revered prophet who was blind to the danger he faced. It seems that Peter was portraying himself as the donkey, an unlikely instrument in the hands of God, who was attempting to warn the blind and susceptible believers of the potential danger they faced.   

And, for Peter, that danger was both real and potentially deadly. That’s why he continued to express his strong feelings about these deceptively dangerous promoters of heresy.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

An Ever-Present Danger

1 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 ESV

Peter has just stressed the superiority of the Old Testament prophets and the God-ordained nature of their messages.

…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV

And Peter has confirmed that he and his fellow apostles had seen the validity of their words confirmed in the life of Jesus. In fact, Peter and his companions had received a personal lesson on Messianic prophecies from the lips of Jesus Himself. In one of His many post-resurrection appearances, Jesus surprised His followers by showing up unexpectedly in the room where they had gathered behind locked doors.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, using books of the law, the prophets, and even the Psalms, revealing every passage that had been written about the coming Messiah and how He had fulfilled each of them.

The prophecies found in God’s Word could be trusted because they had been proven true. But even during the days of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets of old, there had been other men who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. They had declared themselves to be divinely-appointed messengers but their words were contradictory to those of God’s chosen prophets. And the prophet Ezekiel delivered God’s stinging indictment against these charlatans.

Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Say to them, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!’” – Ezekiel 13:1-3 NLT

God exposed them as fakes and frauds. Their messages may have been clever, creative, and even convincing, but they were not from God. In fact, God went on to declare that their messages had been detrimental rather than helpful.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:5-6 NLT

These men were nothing more than liars and deceivers, and their false prophecies were giving the people of Israel false hope. While God’s true prophets were warning the people of Israel of pending judgment for their unfaithfulness and calling for repentance, the false prophets were declaring, “all is peaceful” (Ezekiel 13:10 NLT). God accused them of “whitewashing” the wall of rebellion that the people had built against Him. In other words, they were guilty of trying to put a positive spin on a very negative situation. And God warned them that they would suffer severely for their lies.

“Because what you say is false and your visions are a lie, I will stand against you, says the Sovereign Lord. I will raise my fist against all the prophets who see false visions and make lying predictions, and they will be banished from the community of Israel. I will blot their names from Israel’s record books, and they will never again set foot in their own land. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:8-9 NLT

With all that as a backdrop, Peter’s words take on a much more forceful tone. Just as God had not tolerated the lies and deception of the false prophets, Peter was not about to put up with the fakes and frauds of his day. He knew that whenever the truth of God was proclaimed, it would be accompanied by lies. Yet those who propagated the lies would claim to be speaking the truth.

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. – 2 Peter 2:1 NLT

It wasn’t a matter of if, but only when. Peter knew that when the truth of God was opposed or contradicted by lies, Satan was behind it all. He could still remember the words that Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of Israel.

“…you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

The enemy hates the truth and will do everything in his power to refute it with cleverly-worded counterclaims that are meant to confuse and mislead. That’s why Peter warns that these self-proclaimed truth-tellers “will cleverly teach destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). They will promote ideas that are inconsistent with the gospel of the Kingdom, as preached by Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles. But they won’t stop there. They will even “deny the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1 NLT). For Peter, this was the most egregious aspect of their deceitful plan. During Peter’s lifetime, he would hear of heretical teaching infiltrating the church that denied the deity of Jesus. These people taught that Jesus had been a man and nothing more. He simply lived an exemplary life that could be easily emulated by His followers. Others taught that Jesus had been divine and had only appeared to be a man. So, according to this teaching, His suffering and death had been simulated and not real.

All of these heresies were attempts to explain away Jesus’ claim to be the God-man, a truly unique individual who was 100 percent God and, at the same time, 100 percent human. Because men found it difficult to resolve this seeming contradiction, they began to use their imaginations to develop more feasible explanations. But in doing so, they were denying the clear teachings of the Word of God, and they were contradicting what Jesus had claimed about Himself.

In essence, they were teaching “a different Jesus,” which is exactly what the apostle Paul had warned the believers in Corinth about.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

And Paul was appalled to find out that the churches in Galatia had fallen prey to the same heretical teaching.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT

The enemy had been busy. Satan had raised up a host of false teachers who were disseminating his imaginative but wholly fictitious version of the truth. And Peter expressed his concern that “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT). He knew these false teachers would find a ready and willing audience to embrace their heretical ideas. The early church was filled with immature believers who were easily susceptible to falsehood. As Peter revealed in his first letter, many of these people were suffering persecution for their faith and struggling with doubts and fears concerning the gospel. Following Christ had turned out to be far more difficult than they had expected. So, when these self-proclaimed apostles or messengers showed up with their more reasonable and acceptable version of the truth, they were all ears. 

But Peter warned that these men were motivated by greed, not the gospel. They were marketing their pseudo-gospel for what they could get out of it. These prophets of profit were users and abusers, and Peter warned thatGod would hold them accountable for their actions.

In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 2:3 NLT

But it was not just the false teachers who would suffer. Peter wanted his readers to know that buying into their lies would lead to apostasy, a sin that has always resulted in serious and even deadly consequences. This matter was not to be taken lightly, and false teachers were not to be treated politely.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Consider the Source

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

In writing this letter, Peter was fully aware that its message might find an unreceptive audience. He knew that there were false teachers influencing the local congregations to whom he wrote and that these individuals had purposefully undermined his authority and questioned his teachings. They showed no regard for his position as an apostle of Jesus Christ, but instead, they contradicted and even refuted much of what he had taught. And even if one of the local congregations had not yet come under the influence of these false teachers, Peter knew it was inevitable. He had seen it happen time and time again.

That’s why he declared that he would continue to remind these local congregations of their need to display the character of Christ in their lives, and he would do so with his dying breath.

…it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live. – 2 Peter 1:13 NLT

And Peter reminded his readers that he was not just another teacher proclaiming his own personal version of the truth. He had been one of the original disciples of Jesus Christ. With his own ears, he had received the fateful invitation from Jesus: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:18-19). He had sat under the teachings of Jesus and had watched Him perform amazing miracles. Peter had been an eyewitness to some of Jesus’ most astonishing displays of divine power, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead. So, when he had declared the “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it had not been the “cleverly devised myths” of men (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). He had been speaking from first-hand experience. Which led him to boldly declare: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV).

And it seems obvious that, with this statement, Peter had Jesus’ transfiguration in mind. He, James, and John had been privileged to witness this unprecedented moment in the life of Jesus. Matthew records this seminal moment in his gospel account.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

Peter described that life-changing event in his own words.

We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. – 2 Peter 1:16-17 NLT

Of course, Peter conveniently leaves out the rather rash and presumptuous statement he made on that epic occasion.

“Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” – Matthew 17:4 ESV

Peter, blown away by the experience of seeing the long-since-deceased Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, had wanted to prolong the moment for as long as possible. But his words had been interrupted by a voice from heaven.

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” – Matthew 17:5 ESV

And it was to this word from God Almighty that Peter refers to in his letter.

…the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…” – 2 Peter 1:17 ESV

Peter had heard the voice of God, and he had seen the glorification of Jesus, the Son of God. But not only that, he had stood before two of the most revered prophets of God. So, the message he had declared to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia had been anything but a cleverly crafted story devised by men. Peter had been an intimate companion of Jesus Christ Himself. His words had more than ample credibility and validity because, as he put it, “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18 ESV). None of the false teachers could make the same claim. 

But the real point behind Peter recalling that story was that it provided him, James, and John with validation of the prophetic messages concerning the Messiah. He put it this way:

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. – 2 Peter 1:19 NLT

They had seen two of the Old Testament prophets actually conversing with Jesus, and Luke records what their discussion had entailed.

They appeared in glory and spoke about His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.… – Luke 9:31 BSB

These two men had a long-standing association with the coming Messiah of Israel. Moses had declared that the day would come when God provided another prophet who would lead His people.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV

“And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’” – Deuteronomy 18:17-18 ESV

And it was said of Elijah that he would be sent by God before the “great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). And the prophet Malachi went on to describe the role of this God-appointed herald.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

And Jesus would later declare that this prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Matthew 11:13-15 ESV

For Peter and his two companions, their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration had been a life-altering experience. It had provided a tangible and irrefutable link between the prophets of old and Jesus, their Rabbi and teacher. If there had been any doubt in their minds as to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, that moment had helped to eradicate it once and for all time. And Peter encouraged his readers to go back and search the Scriptures for themselves. He wanted them to pour over the prophecies concerning the Messiah and understand that Jesus had been the fulfillment for each and every one of them.

You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. – 2 Peter 1:19 NLT

One day, they too would see the glorified Jesus, just as Peter, James, and John had. But the event to which Peter referred was the Rapture of the church, the day when Jesus would return for His bride. The apostle Paul describes this end-times event in his letter to the church at Thessalonica.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The “morning star” was actually a planet (most likely Venus) that appeared in the pre-dawn sky and signaled the beginning of another new day. In the same way, the Rapture will signal the beginning of “the day of the Lord” – that point in human history when God will usher in the final phase of His redemptive plan.

The words of the prophets had not only declared Christ’s first coming, but they had pointed to His eventual second coming when He will right all wrongs and bring His Father’s redemptive plan to its consummate conclusion. That is why Peter argued that the words of the prophets were so important to understand and obey. They were divinely inspired and wrote of things they could not have understood without the help of the Spirit of God.

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT

And, in the same way, Peter and his fellow apostles had only been teaching and preaching what they had heard from Jesus. Their message had not been self-fabricated. It had come from the lips of Jesus, who had come from the throne room of God Almighty. And Peter’s main point will be that, just as there had been false prophets in the days of Elijah and Moses, New Testament believers would count on the presence of false teachers in their churches. It was inevitable but the deleterious influence of their message was avoidable.

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.

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