In my devotional reading a couple days ago I read 2 Peter 2, which I have read many, many times over the past 37 years. Reading this time, specifically vs. 3 stood out; and then 2 Peter 3:18 makes even more sense. Perhaps the events in Connecticut last week heighten the awareness of this text for me. We have many false prophets and teachers—even in our own midst! They may use “right words” but their hearts are far from God, leading people away from God’s grace in Jesus Christ. So what can we do?
2 Peter 2:3
NAS: and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
GW: In their greed they will use good-sounding arguments to exploit you. The verdict against them from long ago is still in force, and their destruction is not asleep.
HCSB: They will exploit you in their greed with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep.
REB: destruction waits for them with unsleeping eyes.
Despite the wide spectrum on translation approaches, all three translations provide the same translation of the last phrase. In fact, almost every translation I have looked at has essentially the same phrasing; I particularly like the REB on this. In addition to the above, I looked at NKJV, KJV, NET, NABRE, RSV, NRSV, NIV84, NIV 2011, CEB, and a few others. The exceptions:
NCV “and their ruin is certain.”
CEV “God doesn’t sleep.”
NLT: “And their destruction will not be delayed.”
And then I began to ponder that phrase: and their destruction does not sleep. First, “their” refers back to the false prophets/teachers 2:1) who work in the church to disrupt and discourage and lead people astray. Second, God’s judgment on them comes not in individual increments, but rather from long ago. The false teachers of the Old Testament stand in that line, condemned because they presumed to speak for God but did not know God.
I think of Jeremiah’s time:
“Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ — that you may do all these abominations?” (Jeremiah 7:8-10 NAS)
God’s judgment has always been against the false prophets and false teachers. That will not change, regardless of what happens in the present world. If a specific false prophet/teacher does repent and confesses Christ, then the judgment has passed (John 5:24), because Christ died for that sin, as well.
Sometimes it seems that false prophets/teachers go about unhindered in their deception, oblivious of any kind of problem they are causing. They leave in their wake, wounded, broken, hurting people. These people recognize something is wrong, but become withdrawn, resentful, and untrusting. (There are books written about this problem.)
But now, this text in 2 Peter 2:3 offers another perspective. In the immediate, it may seem as if the false prophet/teacher has escaped any kind of judgment. Peter tells us otherwise, and in rather oblique language: “and their destruction does not sleep.” We may not see the consequences of their false teachings, their seeming indifference to what is happening. Yet, this phrase lurks in the background as an encouragement to Christians. From our perspective, destruction may be delayed, may not be imminent, may even suggest God is nowhere in sight. Peter offers hope: “and their destruction does not sleep.”
Grace and Knowledge
If you have lived in the shadows of false prophets/teachers, then flee from the false prophet/teacher! If you have left that environment, good for you. God’s truth is there in his Word. He has not abandoned you, he has not turned a blind eye. And he has not forgotten his judgment of false prophets/teachers. Peter writes that to reassure you.
In contrast to that, Peter points to this:
…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 NAS)
Notice he does not say: “Go on a campaign to get that false prophet/teacher.” Rather, the key is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Two aspects of the false prophet/teacher are noticeable: changing grace into works and perverting the knowledge.
Grace is entirely a characteristic of God. The minute we read or hear someone talk about “our role in salvation” then we know that the person has moved away from grace. There are no “doctrines of grace,” only the grace of God in Jesus Christ. God has promised his grace through Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Confession/Absolution, and the hearing/reading of His Word.
Paul put it this way:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 NAS)
Many years ago, I remember a woman who struggled with grace and the corresponding forgiveness of her sins. She had been taught for decades that only as she did something could she receive grace. “How can it be free?” she often lamented. Months went on, as we studied together, and she worshiped and participated in Bible study. One day as she entered the church building for Bible study, she shouted (very loudly!!): “I’m free! I get it, Pastor, I’m really free!” It was life changing for her.
By studying Scripture, not commentaries, not the latest fads, etc. but studying Scripture itself, we can gain true knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done. It is not enough to turn from one teacher to another, believing everything or discounting everything the person says. Rather, we study the Word and check out whatever a teacher says:
The people of Berea were more open-minded than the people of Thessalonica. They were very willing to receive God’s message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11 GW)
If it is good enough for the Apostle Paul to be examined like this, so it is for everyone who claims to speak for God.
Many years ago, a person visited out worship services. I couldn’t help but notice that she began crying during the service: Scripture readings, sermon; and when she came forward for communion the tears were streaming. After service she agreed to meet with me. Her first comment was: “I suppose you were wondering about my tears on Sunday.” She told me that while she grew up in another church body, she began reading the Bible every day beginning at the age of 19. For the next 17 years she read, visited churches, and read. The reason for her tears: “I have finally found a church that really teaches what the Bible says.”
I think Peter says two important things: God’s judgment has been set against false prophets/teachers. Let God handle the when and how of that judgment: “and their destruction does not sleep.” God does speak to you through His Word. His grace is pure, free and entirely God’s. Receive what he gives in Jesus Christ.