False Teachers and Destructive Heresies

2 Peter 2  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Having, in the first part of the Epistle, set before us the practical life of godliness whereby we can resist the corruptions of the world, the apostle passes on to expose, and warn us against, these corruptions. Having sought to establish us in "the present truth" (1:12), he can proceed to warn us against present error. In the remainder of the Epistle, therefore, we are definitely warned against the two forms of evil that characterize Christendom in the days in which we live. First, in chapter 2, the apostle warns us against the destructive errors of false teachers; secondly, in chapter 3, we are warned against the unbelief of scoffers who deny the return of the Lord, and the setting up of His kingdom.
PE 2:1{(V. 1). In this chapter the apostle exposes and warns us against the appalling conditions arising in the Christian circle through false teachers. The first verse describes the character of the evil which arises, not from opposition without, but from corruption within the Christian profession. As in the days of old there were false prophets among the people of God, so we are warned, "false teachers" will arise in the Christian circle "among you".
These men profess to be teachers, and so deceive the simple, as one has said, by "weaving error and truth together so that the truth shall attract true souls, and thus put them off their guard against the error mixed with it". They are "among you", says the apostle. Evidently they had made a fair profession of Christianity that had deceived those who had admitted them into the Christian company. If, in the days that followed the apostles, such arose in the Christian circle, need we be surprised if, in our day, false teachers arise in the most enlightened companies of believers?
The errors of these false teachers are brought in secretly, or "by the bye", a statement that intimates that false doctrine is always introduced insidiously, not openly. This secrecy carries its condemnation, for there is no need to cover up the truth. There may indeed be times when certain companies of the Lord's people are not in a condition to appreciate the deep truths of God, as in the case of the Corinthian assembly (1 Cor. 3:22I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. (1 Corinthians 3:2)); but there was no secrecy as to the truths for which they were not prepared.
These errors secretly introduced are "destructive heresies". They are not simply defective views of the truth, but denials of the truth, errors that are fatal, or destructive of Christianity, which lead to the denial of "the Lord that bought them". This is lawlessness that throws off the authority of the Lord and opens the door to every form of self-will. The apostle does not say, The Lord that redeemed them: he does not admit that these false teachers are among the redeemed. The simile refers, it is said, to "a master who has purchased slaves at the market, and they disown and refuse to obey him". These men had professed the Lord's Name, and had been received into the Christian circle, but now taught errors that deny the Lord. They are not really the Lord's, and their end will be swift and overwhelming destruction. They had taught destructive heresies and they themselves meet "swift destruction".
PE 2:2-3{(Vv. 2, 3). We are next warned of the terrible effect produced on the mass of the Christian profession by the errors of these wicked men. "Many", we are told, "shall follow their dissolute ways". Connected with destructive heresies there will ever be found the grossest worldliness, for bad doctrine leads to bad practice. The mass may not understand or be able to follow their evil doctrines, but worldly ways the flesh can appreciate and follow.
Leavened with evil doctrine, Christendom has sunk into the gross worldliness that marks the Christian profession of the day, with the result that "the way of truth" is "evil spoken of'. The world may not be able to discern between error and truth, but it can at least see and condemn the dissolute lives of these professors. Judging of Christianity by these men, and their evil lives, it naturally speaks evil of the way of truth.
Moreover, this worldly-mindedness opens the door to worldly methods. Moved by covetousness, these false teachers by "well-turned words" make merchandise of the Christian profession. As of old the Jews turned the temple of God into a house of merchandise, so these false teachers use their profession of Christianity, and their natural eloquence, to make a living.
Under the influence of these false teachers, the great mass of Christendom has become lawless, denying the Lord, worldly, dissolute in its ways, and indifferent to the way of truth. Such a condition must inevitably call down the judgment of God upon these wicked men. It is not an idle tale that of old judgment fell upon the lawless and rebellious. For a time evil may appear to prosper without being judged, but God is not indifferent, as one in slumber, unconscious of all around. Judgment is surely coming!
PE 2:4-8{(Vv. 4-8). The apostle gives three solemn illustrations from actual history to prove that lawlessness and rebellion call down the overwhelming judgment of God. First, the angels that sinned have been cast into the deepest pit of gloom, held in chains, awaiting their final judgment. Secondly, in the days of Noah, the old world of the ungodly was overwhelmed by the judgment of the flood. Thirdly, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were condemned and overthrown. These solemn judgments, by which God intervened upon the ordinary laws of nature and the course of the world, are ensamples for the ungodly that come after. Heedless of these warnings, Christendom, falling into the same lawlessness and rebellion, will meet the same overwhelming judgment.
Nevertheless, the judgments of old that are a warning to the ungodly have in them encouragement for the godly. They plainly tell us that, in the midst of fearful evils, God had His elect who were saved from judgment. Nor is it otherwise to-day, for in the midst of the increasing corruptions of Christendom God has His true saints. Even so, the Spirit of God indicates that there will be a great difference between the separate saint living the life of practical godliness and the worldly-minded saint who, lacking the qualities of the godly life, slips back into worldly associations, only to vex his soul and bring sorrow upon himself.
Noah is an example of the separate saint bearing testimony to the world. We read that "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:99These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:9)). Peter tells us that he bore witness for God as a "preacher of righteousness". Lot is a picture of that large class of believers who, without faith for the separate path, settle down in the world and, though ultimately saved, are no testimony to God while passing through it. The apostle Peter tells us indeed that Lot was a "righteous man", yet, through "dwelling among" the wicked, he "vexed his righteous soul from day to day" hearing their filthy conversation and seeing their unlawful deeds. He knew nothing of a walk in peace and nearness to God.
PE 2:9{(V. 9). The apostle thus concludes that the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of trials and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment. Already the apostle has set before the believer "the day dawn" of the coming glory; now he warns us of "the day of judgment" for the wicked.
How solemn and searching is this picture of the condition of Christendom since those days. First, we are reminded that there will be false teachers bringing in destructive errors, lawlessness and -worldliness. Secondly, the great mass will follow their worldly ways, being lured on to destruction by their well-turned words. Thirdly, we are encouraged with the knowledge that, in the midst of all the corruption, there will be those who will be preserved from the evil and be a witness to the truth. Fourthly, there will be those who are truly righteous and saved from the judgment, and yet by reason of their associations are no witness for God.
The remainder of the chapter presents in greater detail the terrible characteristics of those who, in the Christian profession, come under judgment.
PE 2:10-12{(Vv. 10-12). Walking after the flesh in its unbridled lusts, these lawless men are naturally impatient of every form of restraint that would hinder the gratification of lust; they "despise lordship". Being marked by lust and lawlessness they are "bold" and "self-willed". The lust of uncleanness makes men bold in wickedness; lawlessness makes them self-willed. Their tongues are unbridled, for they "speak evil" of dignities in a way that angels would not dare to do. Like beasts without reason they "speak evil of the things that they understand not". Such will perish in their own corruption. Lust and lawlessness have in them elements of corruption that lead to the destruction of those walking in these things.
PE 2:13{(V. 13). The unbridled lust, lawlessness, boldness, self-will and corruption of the last days will be more terrible than any outbreak of evil in the past, inasmuch as it is found in the Christian profession, and exists in the full light of the truth. Men, usually, for very shame await the darkness of night for their evil deeds. These men, without shame, "riot in the day time". As one has said, "They have learned to face the light and defy it". They take their place with Christians; in reality they are only spots and blemishes on the Christian name. Without shame they make sport of the fact that they are deceiving others.
PE 2:14-17{Vv. 14-17. Carried away by the lusts of the flesh, they have eyes that cannot cease from sin, hearts filled with covetousness, and feet that have forsaken the right way. As with Balaam of old, God uses the very beasts to rebuke their madness. They are wells without water, to whom men turn for help and refreshment, only to find they have nothing to meet the need of the soul. They are "mists driven by storm" of their own passions, which obscure the light of heaven. For such the gloom of darkness is reserved forever.
PE 2:18-19{(Vv. 18, 19). In greater detail the apostle describes the effect of these false teachers upon others. Appealing to men with "great highflown words of vanity" that throw a glamor over worldliness and the lusts of the flesh, they allure those who have just escaped from evil. It does not say that such have come under the convicting power of the truth, or that they have been drawn to God, but at least they have a conscience as to evil. Such, coming under the influence of these wicked men, are promised liberty by those who, themselves, are the servants of corruption.
PE 2:20-22{(Vv. 20-22). In spite of the profession that they are the servants of the Lord, these false teachers with their swelling words of vanity are the servants of corruption. They had made a profession of Christianity and, through the knowledge of the Lord, had escaped for a time the pollutions of the world; but again being entangled and overcome, they prove that though they had known "the way of righteousness", they had not followed in the way, and after all their profession and high-sounding words, they are not truly among the sheep of Christ. They can only be likened to a dog that returns to its vomit, or to a sow that, though washed, is still a sow, and when occasion arises returns to her wallowing in the mire.