2 Peter 1

2 Peter 1  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 10
IN HIS SECOND EPISTLE the apostle Peter addressed himself to the same believers—Christian Jews scattered throughout Asia Minor—as in his first. This fact is not directly stated in the opening verses, but the first verse of chapter 3 makes it quite apparent. In the salutation with which the Epistle opens he simply describes them as those who had received a like precious faith to himself “through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (ch. 1:1).
They had believed the gospel just as he had believed it, and such faith wherever found in the heart is indeed precious. Still the reference here is to the faith of Christianity which is precious beyond all words. The Jews religion could not be called a faith. It began with sight at Sinai. It consisted in a law of demand coupled with a visible system—“ordinances of divine service and a worldly sanctuary” (Heb. 9:11Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. (Hebrews 9:1))—which was a shadow of good things to come. They had turned from this, which looked like the substance but was only the shadow, to embrace the precious faith of Christ which looks to unbelievers like a shadow, but which is really the substance.
This precious faith has only come to us by the advent of the Lord Jesus as Saviour, and He came as the demonstration of the righteousness of our God. The word “our” should be inserted as the margin of a reference Bible will show, and it is worthy of being noted. Writing as a converted Jew to converted Jews “our God” would signify “Israel’s God” who had displayed His righteousness in His faithfulness to His ancient promises and intervened on their behalf, and on ours, by the sending of the Saviour, as the result of which so precious a faith is ours.
Now the Lord Jesus who came as our Saviour, according to verse 1, also is the Revealer by whom we have the true knowledge of God, as verse 2 indicates and all grace and peace is enjoyed by us in proportion as we really know God Himself and the Lord Jesus. Indeed it is through the knowledge of our Saviour God that all things relating to life and godliness are ours.
It will help to the understanding of this passage if you begin by noting that Verse 3 and the first part of verse 4 speak of things which are given by the power of God to each and every believer.
The latter part of verse 4 gives us the object God had in view in what He has given.
Verses 5 to 7 indicate the way in which we are responsible to work out into practical effect that which we have received, so that God’s object is reached. We are to be marked by expansion and growth. That which “divine power” (verse 3) has given, our “diligence” (verse 5) is to expand.
What has divine power given to us? All things relating to life and godliness. We have not merely received life but with it all these things necessary that the new life may be manifested in practical Christian living and godly behavior. The Apostle does not stop to specify the things given save to remind us that we have promises of an exceedingly great and precious kind. He really uses in fact the superlative word “greatest,” for nothing could surpass the hopes of the Christian which center in the coming of the Lord. Still a few moments’ reflection might serve to remind us of some of the gifts that divine power has conferred upon us: — the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Word of God written for us, the throne of Grace opened to us, to name but three. We have received however, not some but ALL things that have to do with life and godliness. Hence we are sent forth thoroughly furnished. Nothing is lacking upon God’s part.
All these things have reached us through the knowledge of God as the One who has called us “to” or “by glory and virtue” (ch. 1:3; see margin). We are of course called to glory (See 1 Peter 5:1010But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)). Here the point is that both glory and virtue characterize our call. We are called to live in the energy of that glory which is our destiny and end, and of that virtue or courage which will carry us through to the end.
These things, one and all, are ours that by them we might be “partakers of the divine nature” (ch. 1:4). Every true believer is “born of God” and in that sense partakes of the divine nature (See 1 John 3:99Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)); consequently he does righteousness and walks in love (See 1 John 2:29; 3:1029If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. (1 John 2:29)
10In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:10)
). The meaning of our passage however is not that by the things given to us we might be born again, for Peter was writing to those who were already “born again” (1 Peter 1:2323Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:23)). It is rather that by these things we might be led into a practical and experimental partaking of the divine nature. In one word, love is the divine nature and hence verses 5 to 7 depict the growth of the believer as culminating in love. “Charity” or love, the divine nature, is the ultimate thing. The believer whose heart is full of the love of God is truly partaker of the divine nature, in the sense of this passage.
All the corruption that is in the world is the fruit of lust. The word “lust” covers all the desires which spring from man’s fallen nature. The law of Moses came in and imposed its restraint upon man’s fallen desires, but instead of the law really restraining lust the lusts of men broke through the restraints of law and continued to spread their corruption around. All the corruptions of the world originate in man’s fallen nature. We, believers, are brought to partake in the divine nature, whence springs holiness, and hence we are lifted out of and escape the corruption. In the strength of what is divine we are lifted out of what is natural to us as sinners, and there is no other way of escape than this.
Now note the words with which verse 5 begins. “And beside this” (ch. 1:5). That is to say, beside all that is freely conferred upon us by “His divine power” (ch. 1:3) there is needed something on our side. And that something is “all diligence.”
The work, even in our hearts and lives as believers, is all God’s work, yet we must not because of that drop into a kind of fatalism as though there were nothing for us to do. We must rather remember that it pleases God to use human means in connection with much of His working, and that He has ordained that the way to spiritual prosperity for each individual believer should be by means of that believer’s own spiritual diligence. This is not surprising for it is quite in accord with what we see in natural things. In the book of Proverbs we have divine wisdom applied to natural things and there we read, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men” (Prov. 22:2929Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men. (Proverbs 22:29)).
Hence with all diligence we are to add to our faith virtue and all the other things enumerated in verses 5 to 7. Another version renders it, “In your faith have also virtue, in virtue knowledge” (ch. 1:5) &c. If the former translation gives the idea of building, as though one were adding brick to brick, the latter gives the idea of growth. The bud upon the apple tree in the spring has within it in germ the luscious apple that hangs in autumn time in the same spot. Yet in the production of the apple many things have played their part, the sunshine and the rain, and the life energies of the tree which have enabled it to suck up from the soil the required moisture and other matter. Without the life energy of the tree, all else would have been in vain as far as the production of an apple was concerned.
Now we are to be marked by diligent energy after this fashion. The beautiful traits of Christian character which lie in germ in every Christian are then expanded in us and in our faith is found virtue or courage. If there be not virtue which enables us to stand out clear and distinct from the world, our faith becomes itself a very sickly thing.
In virtue we are to have knowledge. Virtue imparts great strength to one’s character, but except strength is used according to knowledge, and that knowledge the highest and best of all—the knowledge of God and His will—it may become a dangerous thing.
In knowledge we must have temperance, or moderation. If ruled by knowledge only, we may very easily become creatures of extremes. The believer of great intellectual clearness may easily so act as to imperil the welfare of his less discerning brethren, as Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8 show us. Hence the need of temperance.
In temperance we are to have patience, or endurance. We are bound to be tried and tested. The believer of endurance wins through.
In patience, godliness, or piety. We learn to live in the consciousness of the presence of God. We see God in our circumstances and act as beneath His eye.
In godliness, brotherly kindness, for we are now able to adjust ourselves fittingly in regard to our fellow-believers. We view them too in relation to Christ and as begotten of God, and not according to our whims and fancies, our own partialities, our likes or dislikes.
In brotherly kindness we are to have charity, or love; that is divine love, the love that goes on loving the naturally unlovely, since now the fountain of love is within and hence love has not to be excited by the presentation without of what may appeal to one personally. The believer who by diligent spiritual growth loves after this fashion is a partaker of the divine nature in a very practical manner, and is fruitful as verse 8 plainly declares.
These things, you notice, are to be in us and abound. They are not like garments to be put on us, for then they might be put off on occasions. Like fruit, they are the product and expansion of the divine life within, and if they abound in us, they prove us to be neither “barren”—or “idle”—“nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ch. 1:8).
Idleness is the opposite to diligence. Which are we, idle or diligent? Some Christians are very diligent in money-making and even diligent in pleasure-seeking, but idle in the things of God. Is it any wonder they spiritually languish? Others while paying the necessary heed to their business or work are diligent in the things of God. No one need be surprised that they spiritually flourish.
Verses 8 and 9 of our chapter present to us a strong contrast. The diligent believer who grows spiritually, and in whom consequently the fruit of the Spirit is found abundantly, is neither idle nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. On the other hand, it is alas! possible for a believer to be, temporarily at least, both idle and unfruitful and to be consequently in the sad plight that verse 9 portrays. Such are blind and shortsighted, and their spiritual memory is decayed.
The backslider of verse 9 is evidently a true believer. It does not say that he never was purged from his old sins; much less does it say that having been once saved he is now no longer purged from his sins; but that he has forgotten the purging of his former sins. Purged he was, but he has forgotten it. We must distinguish, therefore, between the backsliding of this verse and the backsliding referred to in Heb. 6, and in the parable of the sower (see Luke 8:1313They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13)).
In Hebrews, the backslider is an apostate who falls away from the Christian faith into such a repudiation of it as involves the crucifying to himself of the Son of God afresh, and his case is altogether hopeless.
In the parable of the sower, the backslider is one who receives the word in the mind and emotions, without it ever penetrating to the conscience. Such profess conversion, but without reality, and presently fall away. Their case, though difficult, is not hopeless, for they may subsequently be really and truly converted to God.
Here, however, it is the true believer, and, if any were disposed to question whether these things could ever be true of such, we can point to a sad episode in Peter’s own history where he illustrated what he states in this verse. Had we seen Peter’s blindness as to his own weakness on the night of the betrayal, had we seen him shortsightedly running into the most perilous position as he warmed himself by the fire amid the enemies of the Lord, and then when entrapped by the maidservant, breaking out into a painful exhibition of his former sins of cursing and swearing, we should have seen how, for the moment at least, he had forgotten how he had been purged.
And we certainly are no better nor stronger than Peter. How often have we each sadly illustrated verse 9?
Our preservation from it lies, of course, in that diligence to which Peter exhorts us. The way not to go back is to go on. Having these things abounding in us (verse 8) and doing them (verse 10) we shall be preserved from falling, and thus it will be manifest that we are indeed the called and chosen of God.
How did the other disciples regard Peter after his disastrous backsliding? Probably they feared for a moment that he might prove himself to be a second Judas. Evidently they questioned if, indeed, he were really one of themselves. Hence the special message, “Tell His disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:77But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. (Mark 16:7)). They were not at all sure of his “calling and election” (ch. 1:10).
To the earnest, simple-hearted Thessalonian Christians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1 Thess. 1:44Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)). How did he so confidently know? Read the first chapter of the 1St Epistle and see what amazing progress they had made in the short time since their conversion. It was impossible, therefore, to doubt their election. They had made it sure.
The vitality and fruitfulness which mark the diligent believer not only give demonstration of his calling and election in the present, but also are full of promise for the future. Ahead of us lies “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (ch. 1:11), and though every Christian will enter that kingdom, it is the fruitful Christian who will have an abundant entrance, as verse 11 makes plain.
The “everlasting kingdom” (ch. 1:11) is not heaven. No one gains heaven as the result of diligence or fruitfulness; nor do some gain an abundant and others a meager entrance there. There is no entrance into heaven save through the work of Christ—a work perfect and available alike for all who believe—so that all who enter at all enter in the same way and on the same footing without distinction.
The everlasting kingdom will be established when Jesus comes again, and in connection with it rewards will be given as the parable of Luke 19:12-2712He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25(And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:12‑27) teaches us. There will consequently be great differences as to the places that believers will occupy in the kingdom, and our entrance into it may be abundant or the reverse. All will depend upon our diligence and faithfulness. The remembrance of this will certainly stir us to zeal and devotedness.
Knowing this, and knowing also how very easily and quickly we forget even the things that we are well acquainted with, the Apostle Peter, as a diligent shepherd of souls, reminded them of these things again and again. They knew these things; indeed they were established in the truth that had come to light in Christ—the present truth—yet what they needed was to be “put in remembrance” (ch. 1:12). How much more do we need these reminders, the object being as Peter said, “to stir you up.”
Take note of this! We may listen to addresses or read articles which contain no truth that is new to us. Let us not therefore despise them. The main function of a teacher may be to instruct in the truth of Christianity, truth which however old in itself, is largely new to those whom he instructs. The main function of a pastor or shepherd is to get at the hearts and consciences of believers, applying to them the things in which they have been instructed, stirring them up and keeping them in an exercised and watchful condition. Do not most of us need the latter ministry more than the former? To practice more consistently what we do know is probably for us a more urgent necessity than to enlarge the area of our knowledge.
Now Peter looked on to the hour of his death. The Lord Jesus had hinted at his death and the manner of it, as recorded in John 21:18, 1918Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. (John 21:18‑19). By this time he knew that it was to take place shortly. Is it not striking that Peter should need to be told that he is going to die? What a testimony to the fact that not death but the coming of the Lord is really the hope of the Christian.
But see what use Peter made of this knowledge, and how he practiced the diligence which in this chapter he has pressed upon others. Verse 15 more literally translated runs— “But I will use diligence, that after my departure ye should have also, at any time [in your power] to call to mind these things” (ch. 1:15)—and then he goes on to enforce the reality and certainty of the coming kingdom of which he began to speak in verse 11, without stopping to indicate just what he purposed to do. It is very evident, however that what he purposed and accomplished under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was the writing of the Epistle that we are now reading. By means of it we can now at any time call to mind these things, though Peter’s voice is long since silent.
Observe that there is here no mention of the rising up of a further race of apostles or inspired men, no apostolic succession. What is indicated as taking the place of the apostles is Scripture—particularly the apostolic writings, in other words, The New Testament. No teacher can possibly speak with the inspired authority of Scripture. If we neglect our Bibles, we shall listen to the best of men in vain.
We have just had our minds stirred up by the fact that diligence is to have its reward when the day of the everlasting kingdom of our Lord is come. Peter, however, was writing to people who had from the days of their fathers cherished the hope of Messiah’s kingdom, and who had lived to see Him rejected and crucified. Were they tempted then to wonder if after all the prophecies of His glorious and actual kingdom embracing both earth and heaven were to be interpreted as but figures of speech—glowing and poetic descriptions of what was after all but a spiritual and invisible estate in heaven? It may well have been so, for we are naturally creatures of extremes. People who once thought everything of Messiah’s promised advent in public glory and nothing of His advent in humiliation, are likely, when convinced of His coming to suffer, to think everything of that and nothing of His kingdom and glory.
The power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ so long foretold in prophetic testimony, is, however, no “cunningly devised fable,” (ch. 1:16) and Peter is able to bear such a witness to its substantial reality as is conclusive. In verses 16 to 18 he says to us, in effect, “The prophetic testimony is true and the kingdom foretold is a substantial reality to be displayed in its season, for we have seen it already in sample form.” He alluded, of course, to the transfiguration scene recorded in three out of the four gospels, and witnessed by himself, James and John.
Not many years ago a few men began to talk of a new kind of silky fabric produced not from the cocoons of a caterpillar, but from wood—of all things in the world! Folk were incredulous, it sounded like a fable. Proof was soon forthcoming though, of a quite conclusive sort. The stuff was produced in sample; not tons of it but ounces only. The substantial reality of artificial silk was as fully proved then by those ounces as it is now by the countless thousands of stockings displayed in shop windows all over the world.
The glorious kingdom of our Lord Jesus has long ago been seen in sample form by chosen witnesses. Indeed, the manifestation of it appeared not only to their eyes, but to their ears also. They were “eyewitnesses of His majesty,” (ch. 1:16) and also “this voice which came from heaven we heard” (ch. 1:18)the voice which came from the “excellent glory” (ch. 1:17) saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Some may, however, wish to inquire in what way the transfiguration scene was a sample of the “power and coming” (ch. 1:16) of the Lord, and thus confirmatory of His glorious kingdom? It was so, inasmuch as He was the central and glorified Object of all. Saints enjoying a heavenly portion were represented in Moses and Elijah. Saints upon earth were represented by Peter, James and John. The heavenly saints associated with Him, and entering intelligently into His thoughts in conversation. The earthly saints blessed by His presence, though dazzled by His glory. It was a sight of “the Son of man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:2828Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. (Matthew 16:28)); a sight of “the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:11And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. (Mark 9:1)); a sight of “the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:2727But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:27); Rev. 1:99I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:9)).
The glorious and everlasting kingdom of the Lord Jesus is then a blessed and substantial reality. It is certainly coming. We shall enter into it as called of God to its “heavenly” side (2 Tim. 4:1818And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18)). The question that remains to be settled is—in what way shall we enter it? Will your entrance and mine be an abundant entrance? Shall we enter like a trim and well-appointed ship entering port in full sail? Shall we enter rather as a battered and tattered wreck? The answer to that is going to be given by us each in the spiritual diligence or spiritual sloth and carelessness that marks us day by day.
The transfiguration of the Lord Jesus was not only a special and particular confirmation of the reality of His coming kingdom, but it also in a general way was a confirmation of the whole prophetic testimony of the Old Testament. This is what the opening words of verse 19 state, “and we have the prophetic word made surer” (N.Tr.). This is not difficult to understand if we search the Old Testament and observe how all its glowing predictions center in the Messiah’s Kingdom on earth, so that to establish the reality of His glorious coming Kingdom, was to establish the whole prophetic witness of the Old Testament.
These early Jewish Christians were perhaps somewhat inclined to ignore Old Testament prophecy, as though it were superseded by the developments as to the sufferings of Christ, so unexpected by them. The Apostle Peter here assures them of its value and importance, for it is as a “light [or, lamp] that shineth in a dark place” (ch. 1:19). The word in the original translated “dark” is one which means “squalid” or “filthy.” This world with all its clever inventions and elegant splendor is only a squalid place in God’s estimation, as also in the estimation of every Christian who is taught of Him. The only real light shed in the squalor is that which comes from the lamp of prophecy. Men indulge in vain imaginings as to the “millennium” which they will evolve from the present filth. Such imaginings are just a Will-o’-the-wisp. The lamp of prophecy brings us into the light of God’s purpose and God’s coming work of both judgment and salvation, and it enables us to see the squalor of the world that is, as well as the glory of the world to come.
We are to take heed to the light of the prophetic lamp “until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (ch. 1:19). “The day” is, of course, Christ’s day—the day of His glory—then the lamp will be no longer needed. Before the day dawns, however, the day star arises, and before it actually arises, it is to arise in our hearts.
The “day” or “morning” star is an allusion to Christ coming for His own, who wait for Him before He appears publicly to the world as “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:22But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. (Malachi 4:2)). As the day star He is distinctively the Christian’s hope, and when the day star arises in a believer’s heart, that believer is in the joyful expectation of the coming of his heavenly Saviour. We are to take heed, then, to the word of prophecy until the day of Christ’s glory dawns, and until we are led thereby into the full enjoyment of our proper Christian hope, for New Testament prophecy has brought into view that which was never mentioned in the Old Testament. To put the matter into other words, the end of prophecy is twofold—First, to shed its beams in the darkness until the day of Christ’s glory actually arrives. Second, to conduct the believer’s heart meanwhile into the full realization and enjoyment of his proper hope.
As a matter of fact, many Christians fight shy of prophecy altogether because, they say, it has become a mere battleground of rival schools of interpretation amongst true Christians, and too often a kind of hunting ground to the leaders of false religious systems, wherein they pursue their heretical notions. There is all too much truth in this, but the remedy is not to ignore prophecy but rather to take heed to it well, paying all attention to the first rule for its proper use as given in verse 20.
“No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (ch. 1:20) or, more literally, “of its own interpretation” (ch. 1:20). This does not mean as the Romanists pretend that no private person has any right to concern themselves as to what Scripture means, but only to trustfully accept what the Romish “church,” as represented by Pope or council, declares its meaning to be. It is rather a warning against treating each individual prophetic utterance as though it were by itself, a kind of self-contained saying to be interpreted apart from the mass of prophetic teaching. All prophecy is connected and interrelated and to be understood only in connection with the whole. It was never uttered by the will of man but by inspiration of the Spirit of God. He used different men in different ages, but His one mind pervades it all. Each individual prophetic utterance will only therefore be properly understood and interpreted as it is seen in relation to the whole, of which it forms a part.
If an artist in furniture designed an exceptionally fine wardrobe and entrusted the work in twelve sections to twelve different joiners, anybody who endeavored to “interpret” any one of the resulted pieces of joinery by itself would surely reach some strange conclusions. No reliable or satisfactory interpretation would be found until it was seen as related to the whole design. Thus it is with every prophecy of the Scripture, and here is found the reason of the many opinions and even heresies which we have to deplore.
Notice how inspiration is spoken of in verse 21. “Holy men of God” spake and wrote “moved by” or “borne along by” the Holy Ghost. They put their pens to paper under His power, hence He is the real Author of what they thus wrote.
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