Maximum Effort Is Required

Explore the Bible Series

May 27, 2007

 

Background Passage: II Peter 3:1-18

Lesson Passage: II Peter 3:3-12, 14, 17-18

 

Introduction: The Apostle Peter expressed, in Chapters One and Two, grave concern about the theological issues that troubled the churches of Asia Minor, and the third chapter of II Peter gives clearer indication of the kind of false teaching Peter countered in these churches.In essence, these teachers led their followers astray in two related areas, and Peter clearly believed that their doctrinal aberrance constituted a very serious threat to the souls of his readers.Their errors, that is, were not peripheral, insignificant issues, and the apostle could not ignore these problems.

 

First, the root of the heresy traced to an inaccurate understanding of the Lordís return.Apparently, these men taught a doctrine similar, in some ways, to the errors of Eighteenth-Century Deism.God, in their understanding, created the world, but the Lord did not remain intimately involved with the cosmos; rather, having fashioned the universe, God left the world to operate according to observable physical laws. Therefore, these teachers insisted, Christians should not anticipate the literal, physical return of the Savior. Perhaps these men ďspiritualizedĒ the Second Coming, teaching that the Second Advent would occur only in some mystical, spiritual sense.

 

Second, the false teachers concluded that traditional, biblical ethics did not apply to First-Century Christians.The text does not make clear precisely how the heretics arrived at their ethical views, but the net effect of their doctrine is crystalline.Peter countered their teachings by highlighting the indissoluble marriage between eschatology (doctrines related to Christís return) and Christian conduct.

 

An old pastor friend used to remind me about an important aspect of Satanís tactics.He observed that Satan always plays the same hand, over and over.Christians are wise to study the Scriptures and Church History carefully, in part, because false teachings tend to resurface, and well-informed Christians can readily recognize and resist dangerous departures from orthodoxy.Sadly, false doctrine troubles the Lordís people today, and some contemporary problems bear a striking similarity to the issues Peter addressed in this epistle.Unfortunate speculation about the Second Coming permeates the evangelical culture of our day, and this conjecture has led to dangerous trends in regard to appropriate understanding of the moral law, inadequate views of the church, and aberrant directions in Christian ethics.The last chapter of II Peter gives invaluable counsel for recognizing and avoiding the doctrinal difficulties that confront the Lordís people.

 

A final introductory comment deserves emphasis.The problems faced by these churches were very serious.Peter was not an ill-tempered heresy-hunter trying to validate his own indispensability to the church; instead, the old apostle was like a loving father who sought to protect his loved ones from destructive teachings.Expressions of love surface more than once in this chapter, and those who exercise church guardianship today should evidence the same spirit as Brother Peter.

 

Outline of the Lesson Passage:

 

I.                   The Nature of the False Teaching (3:1-7)

A.    Peterís genuine concern for his readers (v. 1):Peter referred to a previous letter he had written to this audience.Itís possible that the apostle wrote an epistle that has not been preserved; therefore, in this case he references an unknown (to a modern audience) writing.It seems unreasonable to conclude that the New Testament contains everything written by the apostles, and, perhaps, Peter penned an earlier letter that the Holy Spirit did not preserve for posterity.It seems more probable that Peter, in this verse, referred to I Peter.These letters gave ample evidence of Peterís love for his dear brothers who struggled with this doctrinal crisis.In this writing, Peter had no intension of introducing new, innovative ideas; rather, he wrote to remind his readers of time-tested principles.

B.     A reminder of the importance of the teachings of the prophets and the Lord Jesus (vv. 2-3): Clearly, Peter placed the teachings of Jesus, as preserved in the work of the apostles, on a par with the Old Testament.This statement obviously has great bearing on the canonization of the gospel writings.The apostle grounded his theological views on the solid foundation of the prophets and the apostles. More pertinent to this text, Peter highlighted the prophecies concerning false prophets.Both the Lord Jesus and the Old Testament prophets predicted that false prophets would arise and pose serious threats to the spiritual health of Godís people. In verse three, Peterís reference to the ďlast daysĒ denotes that period that began with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

C.     The particular false doctrine that imperiled Peterís audience (v. 4): The false teachers taught a form of uniformitarianism (the belief that the cosmos is governed by physical laws without direct intervention from the Creator). They claimed that the world had continued, with divine interruption, since the time of the fathers.This reference to the ďfathersĒ probably denotes the great forefathers of the Old Testament. Therefore, the false teachers deduced that God would not intervene in human history by sending his Son again to the world.Peter did not specifically address this issue, but the First Advent undermines the teachings of these false prophets.God interrupted history by sending his Son into the world to carry out the divine redemptive plan.

D.    Peterís challenge to the false teachers (vv. 5-7):The apostle used two examples of Godís involvement with creation to refute the errant doctrine of the false teachers.From these examples Peter drew the conclusion that God has always exercised a glorious sovereignty over the affairs f the world and that same providence would eventually culminate in the return of the Lord Jesus.

1.      God created the world (v. 5): The false teachers deliberately overlooked the fact that God made the world by the creative power of his word.Peter used some unusual language (ďthe earth was formed from water and through waterĒ) but the message of this verse seems unmistakable.God created the world in an intimate personal way, by the very word of his mouth.

2.      God deluged the earth and destroyed much of the created order, just as he will devastate the heavens and the earth, with fire, at the end of the age. Peter expanded on this prediction of a fiery destruction of the world a few verses later (See vv. 10-12). In the end, the ungodly will be destroyed along with the present cosmos.

 

II.                Godís Sovereign Control Over the End of the World (vv. 8-13)

A.    Godís transcendence regarding time (vv. 8-10): Time, in a sense, is a human construct, and God is not constrained by time.Peter does not, in my judgment, intend that the phrase ďone day is as a thousand yearsĒ to act as a method of predicting the time of Christís return.Instead, Peter meant that the passage of time does not impinge on the sovereign purpose of God.Many years may pass between Christís earthly ministry and his return in glory; nevertheless, his promises remain secure and true.Godís plan for the ages includes his great mercy toward sinners and his desire to see men repent and come to a living, genuine faith in Jesus.Christians may disagree about what Peter meant by ďÖthat all may come to repentanceĒ (See v. 9), but all would agree that the verse portrays the Lord as gracious, loving, and patient.In my theological understanding, this phrase refers to Godís grace toward his elect, and the ďallĒ is controlled by the ďyouĒ that appears earlier in the verse.God will, in his time and way, fulfill all his promises, and the earth, as we know it, will be destroyed and remade (See v. 13).

B.     The believerís preparation for the end of the world (vv. 11-13): For Peter, consideration about the Apocalypse did not center on selling books or drawing an impressive following; rather, he wrote these things to engender growth in holiness among the Lordís people.Their godliness will, according to the apostle, hasten the return of Jesus and give hope to those who believe Godís promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

 

III.             Conclusion of the Epistle (vv. 14-18)

A.    A final appeal to holiness (v. 14): One final time, Peter rehearsed his central theme, the necessity of a godly life.

B.     Peterís affirmation of the Apostle Paul (vv. 15-16): It seems probable that the false teachers had appealed to some of Paulís writings to buttress their errors.Perhaps they referenced Paulís teachings about the law to excuse their antinomian tendencies.Peter commended Paulís doctrine by equating it to the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament, and assured his readers that both he and Paul preached the same gospel.Some of Paulís work was complex, and the heretics distorted some of his writings for their own twisted purposes.Peter, of course, condemned their misuse of Paulís letters.

C.     A final warning (vv. 17-18): Peter concluded the epistle with a final exhortation to reject the errant doctrine of the heretics and to continue to grow in the grace of God.