Peter’s second letter was written from a very practical standpoint in that Peter zeroed in on what he most likely considered to be the three most important aspects of successful Christian living: spiritual growth, awareness of false teaching, and the Lord’s return. Peter’s discussion of false teaching in the second chapter of his book, focused in on a particular group of people he referred to as the ungodly. According to Peter, the ungodly have known the way of righteousness, but have turned back “from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21). The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that knowing what sin is makes us accountable to its effect. Paul said, “I was once alive. That was when I did not know what the Law said I had to do. Then I found that I had broken the Law. I knew I was a sinner. Death was mine because of the Law. The Law was supposed to give me new life. Instead, it gave me death. Sin found a way to trap me by working through the Law. Then sin killed me by using the Law. The Law is holy. Each one of the Laws is holy and right and good” (Romans 7:9-12, NLV). Paul’s conclusion that the Law is holy meant that the effect of knowing the Law was an awareness of right and wrong. When Paul didn’t know what he was supposed to do, he wasn’t accountable for doing it, but after he did know, he was held accountable for his sin. James concluded in his letter, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).
One prominent feature of the book of Ezekiel is the declaration of individual responsibility (Ezekiel 3:16-21; 14:12-20; 18:1-32; 33:1-20). In Ezekiel 18:1-32, the Lord was setting aside an old proverb in Israel (Ezekiel 18:2, cf. Jeremiah 31:29, 30) and replacing it with one of his own: ‘The soul who sins shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). In the Old Testament, God’s people were treated as a national unit, and their sustenance and material prosperity were often affected by the sins of the minority (cf. Joshua 7:1, 4-11, 16-26). Consequently, God was just when he spoke of ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’ (Exodus 20:5). Ezekiel 18:1-32, however, looks beyond material ramifications and considers the eternal results of sin. This is implied by the use of the term ‘soul’ (Ezekiel 18:4) and the command to ‘make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’ (Ezekiel 8:31). Many righteous people were going to die in the siege, and many would be carried to Babylon (as Ezekiel and Daniel were). The eternal fate of each person, however, was determined by his or her individual relationship to God” (note on Ezekiel 18:1-32). Speaking through Ezekiel, God said:
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:21-24)
Hebrews 6:4-6 expands on the topic of individual responsibility by including the result of redemption that was made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It states:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
“This much debated passage likely discusses unbelievers who have ‘fallen away’ (v. 6) by consciously rejecting the spiritual enlightenment they have received (v. 4). They had experienced a taste of God’s goodness (v. 5) and may even have been part of the assembly. They had given intellectual assent to the truth of Christianity, but their apostasy demonstrated that their professed faith was not genuine. In turning away from the sacrifice of Christ, perhaps to return to the Judaism they previously espoused, they rejected the only means of salvation that God has provided. Their deliberate apostasy was so severe that they could not be ‘restored’ (anakainizein [G344]) to repentance. Judas Iscariot is an example of one who, although outwardly associated with the things of the Lord, ultimately chose to turn away” (note on Hebrews 6:4-6). Hebrews 10:26-27 adds, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
Peter received instruction from the Lord about the importance of doing God’s will once it has been made known to us. Luke 12:35-48 states:
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
Jesus used the role of a servant to emphasize the absolute obedience that was required of those in his ministry. The harsh treatment that the servant received from his master, he cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful, showed that he could not be restored to his former state of grace.
Peter argued that the ungodly were being kept under punishment until the day of judgment because they despised authority. He said, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. The Greek word that is translated authority, kuriotes (koo-ree-otˊ-ace) “denotes ‘lordship’ (kurios, ‘a lord’)” (G2963). In the King James Version of the Bible, kuriotes is translated government, suggesting that the ungodly are anti-government. It says in Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Doing what is right in ones’ own eyes does not necessarily mean that a person is anti-government. The ungodly are irreverent toward God and therefore, see themselves as the supreme authority.
An example of irreverence toward God can be found in Judges 17:7-13, which states:
Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”
Micah’s ordination of the Levite wasn’t prescribed by the Mosaic Law and his assumption that God would prosper him because he had a Levite as a priest was unfounded.
The Hebrew word that is translated prosper in Judges 17:13, yatab (yaw-tabˊ) appears throughout the book of Deuteronomy in connection with keeping God’s commandments. After reciting the Ten Commandments, Moses said to the people of Israel, “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well (yatab) with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” Peter described the ungodly as “bold and willful” and said that “they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones” (2 Peter 2:10). Blaspheme is the use of speech to bring down another’s value, honor, due-respect or to injure another’s reputation in the eyes of others (G987). Micah’s claim that the LORD would prosper him because he had a Levite as a priest (Judges 17:13) was blaspheme not only because it devalued the office of priest, but also because it dishonored God’s intention of blessing his people through their obedience to the Ten Commandments. Micah lowered God’s standing to that of a pagan god who was worshipped because of his supposed ability to control the seasons, weather, and grain (note on Judges 2:13).
Micah’s irreverence toward God was most likely rooted in his practice of idolatry. It says in Judges 17:4-5 that Micah had a carved image and a metal image in his house. “And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods.” Later, when the images, the ephod, and the household gods, along with the priest that he had ordained were taken from his home, Micah said to the men who stole them, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left?” (Judges 18:24). Micah’s response implied that he had lost all of his spiritual capability as a result of the images and the priest being taken from him. Judges 18:30-31 tells us, “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves and Jonathon the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.” The sons of Moses were not authorized to serve as priests. The priesthood was initially reserved for Aaron and all his descendants, but “God entered into a special covenant with Phinehas’ descendants (Numbers 25:13) following his zeal for God’s honor” (note on Numbers 25:6-13). God’s covenant with Phinehas was “an unconditional divine promise to maintain the family of Phinehas in an ‘everlasting priesthood’ (implicitly a pledge to Israel to provide her forever with a faithful priesthood)” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Along with that, the second commandment explicitly stated, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6). The mention of the carved image and the priests being set up until the captivity was probably meant to draw attention to the fact that the Danites’ idolatry was a contributing factor in Israel being expelled from the Promised Land.
Peter described the ungodly as being “like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12) and then, went on to say, “They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of darkness has been reserved” (2 Peter 2:14-17). The debauchery of the Israelites was evident not long after they took possession of the Promised Land and is clearly portrayed in the account of the Levite whose concubine was sexually abused while they were traveling from Bethlehem in Judah to the hill country of Ephraim. The men of Ephraim were from the tribe of Benjamin. An old man who saw the traveler in the open square of the city was concerned about his safety and invited the Levite to spend the night in his home. Judges 19:21-30 tells us:
So he brought him into his house and gave the donkeys feed. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank. As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”
The Israelites’ decline in morality after they entered the Promised Land was considered to be equal to their spiritual growth during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness at this point in time. Peter’s summarization of ungodly people’s behavior captures the essence of the Israelites’ situation. Peter said, “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. 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. 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 2:20-22).