4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:4-10a ESV
Peter has made it clear that those who heretical doctrines and lead God’s people astray will not go unpunished. God’s track record of disciplining the rebellious, ungodly and immoral is well established and the false teachers will suffer a similar fate.
God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT
To prove his point, Peter reached back into history and brought forward three significant examples of rebellion against God that each ended poorly for all those involved. And he presented the various scenarios by utilizing a conditional statement, each sentence beginning with the word, “if.”
…if God did not spare angels when they sinned… – vs 4
…if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah… – vs 5
…if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction… – vs 6
In Greek, these sentences are in the first class condition, which assumes for the sake of argument, that what Peter has written is true. You could replace each “if” with the word, “since.” Peter is not questioning whether these events happened. Instead, he is claiming that they did and, as a result, they provide proof of how God deals with the rebellious and unrighteous.
Peter begins with a case that involved angels, heavenly beings created by God who determined to rebel against His authority. Some scholars believe that Peter was referencing the same event described in the book of Jude.
…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
And many of the same scholars believe this brief verse was an allusion to the fall of Satan from his place of glory and prominence in heaven, as described in the book of Ezekiel.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I exposed you before kings,
to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:13-17 ESV
In the book of Isaiah, there is another reference to this angelic rebellion against God, led by someone designated as “Day Star, son of Dawn” (Isaiah 14:12 ESV).
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV
Peter appears to be picking up on this story of Satan’s fall from grace, prompted by his ill-fated decision to make himself like the Most High. Evidently, Satan convinced a host of angelic beings to join him in his rebellion against God and, as Peter points out, God punished them all. And Peter’s inference is quite clear. Since God did not refrain from judging angels who bought into the lie of Satan and attempted to overthrow Him, He most certainly would not spare human beings who chose to follow the lies of the false teachers and reject the truth of His Word.
The second conditional statement involves the destruction of “the ancient world” at the time of the great flood. Peter is clearly referring to the story found in the book of Genesis.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV
Since the fall of Adam and Eve, the state of affairs on earth had degraded to the point where God was no longer willing to put up with mankind’s sinful disregard for His glory. They had completely abandoned their God-ordained mandate to be His image-bearers. And, once again, Peter points out that God did not spare them. Their rebellion against God resulted in their destruction at His hands, and His divine judgment took the form of a worldwide flood that destroyed all humanity – except for Noah and his family.
Peter brightens the dark news with a reminder that God spared Noah because he was “a herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5 ESV). Through his faithful fulfillment of God’s command to build the ark, Noah proclaimed the righteousness of God to his unbelieving neighbors. By obediently constructing the massive boat that God had ordained, Noah was “preaching the gospel” to those facing God’s wrath. Noah’s actions display his faith in the undeserved and unmerited salvation that God had ordained and, as a result, he and his family were spared. It seems evident that Peter was reminding his readers that they too had been spared from God’s judgment by placing their faith in the unmerited salvation provided by God through Jesus Christ. He had become their ark of sanctuary and salvation. But just as Noah’s unbelieving neighbors had ridiculed his ark, the false teachers of Peter’s day were attempting to downplay the judgment of God and minimize the saving nature of Jesus Christ.
The third conditional statement involved the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities that suffered the righteous judgment of God for their blatant and egregious immorality. Peter reminded his readers that God refused to spare these two cities, choosing instead to turn them both into a heap of ashes. And Peter doesn’t hide the point of this story.
He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people… – 2 Peter 2:6 NLT
The people who lived in those two cities got what they deserved. But, once again, Peter points out that God spared one man and his family.
God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. – 2 Peter 2:7 NLT
Lot was the nephew of Abraham. And while he had made some poor decisions in his life, Peter makes it clear that Lot was “a righteous man” who was grieved over the immorality and decadence of his neighbors in Sodom. Yet, against his better judgment, he had chosen to remain within the walls of the city. He had compromised his convictions and, as the story recorded in Genesis makes clear, he exposed his daughters to the effects of Sodom’s immoral culture. But Peter wanted his readers to know that God still spared Lot. He rescued this righteous, yet flawed man, providing him with a way of escape and sparing him from the judgment to come. And that is the hope of every follower of Christ. While the world in which we live faces the coming judgment of God, we have been exempted from that inevitable fate because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, false teachers would have us believe that a loving God would not destroy mankind. Instead, they would refute the reality of sin and reject any need for a Savior.
But Peter’s whole point in retelling these three stories was to remind his brothers and sisters in Christ that God cannot and will not spare the unrighteous and ungodly. The rebellious, ungodly, and immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But God will rescue those who remain faithful to Him.
…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials… – 2 Peter 2:9 ESV
God spared all those angels who refused to join in Satan’s rebellion. God rescued Noah and his family from the deadly effects of the flood. And He graciously removed Lot and his two daughters from the city of Sodom before His righteous wrath was poured out on its immoral inhabitants.
Peter has in mind two groups of people: Believers and unbelievers. And his primary point seems to be that there are two kinds of suffering. The temporal suffering of God’s children as they experience the trials associated with life in a fallen world, and the eternal suffering of all those who reject Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation and the means of reconciliation with a holy God. Peter points out that the unrighteous will be kept “under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9 ESV). In other words, they will remain under God’s holy and righteous wrath until the final judgment comes. This doesn’t mean that all unbelievers always get their just desserts in this life. Many of them seem to prosper while God’s children suffer. But while they may appear to be living the good life now, they remain under God’s pending and inescapable judgment to come.
One day, their temporal joys will be replaced by eternal suffering. And Peter adds that God’s judgment lies “especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10 NLT). This appears to be a direct attack on the false teachers who Peter will go on to describe in highly unflattering terms:
They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse. – 2 Peter 2:14 NLT
These people were immoral, ungodly, and rebellious. Like Satan and the angels who follow him, they despised the authority of God. Like the people of Noah’s day, their wickedness was great. And like the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, their love of immorality was insatiable and incorrigible. Yet while the wicked may appear to live charmed lives, they will all one day face the righteous judgment of God. But, as Peter points out, the Lord will rescue the godly.
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.