After the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in December, 1941, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack, made the statement that has ever since been associated with him: "We have awakened a sleeping giant and instilled in it a terrible resolve." Yamamoto, who had attended Harvard and later served as a diplomat in America, was reluctant to go to war with the United States. He recognized that Japan did not have the resources for a protracted war with so formidable an enemy. Yamamoto was perhaps alone among the leaders of Japan in correctly realizing that war with the United States would bring a certain and terrible judgment.
Even more certain than the defeat of a small nation by a much larger one in war is the certainty that God’s judgment will eventually fall on those who oppose Him. It may seem as if a great deal of time has gone by without punishment coming from heaven on the evil in the world. The Apostle Peter, however, says very clearly, speaking of the false teachers, that their “judgment of old is not idle, and their destruction shall not slumber.” He adds this further explanation to the announcement he has already made in v. 1, that they would be “bringing on to themselves imminent destruction.” Now he proceeds to develop the idea of their certain judgment more fully with illustrations.
II. Beware the false teacherson whom certain judgement
restswho will try to lure you into their error.
4. Their destiny is sure and their destruction imminent. 1, 3b
has always punished unrighteousness and rescued the righteous.
He punished the rebellious angels. 4
He punished the ancient world and rescued Noah. 5
He punished Sodom and Gomorrah and rescued Lot. 6-8
The Lord knows how to punish the unrighteous and rescue the righteous. 9-10a
You may notice that the outline of this section uses ‘half-verses’ such as 3b and 10a. You probably know that the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible are not original. The early readers of epistles such as Second Peter had to unroll a scroll and read it as a whole or find the part they were looking for simply by the words. Centuries later, when the books of the Bible began to be collected, the chapters were added for convenience of reference. Then, finally, the verses were added. I have seen a 1614 King James Bible that had the chapter divisions but not the verses. The problem is that many chapter and verse divisions were placed without careful consideration of the context. There are even a few times when chapter divisions break up sentences. The great Greek grammarian, A. T. Robertson’s opinion was that the first thing we should do in Bible study is to throw out the chapter and verse divisions. A common joke is that the itinerant preachers who did these divisions were working as they rode their horses and every time the horse stepped in a hole we ended up with a crazy chapter or verse division. At any rate, the result for sure is ‘half-verses’ in an outline.
After Peter has made his announcement concerning the false teachers in vss. 1-3, concluding with their certain judgment, he explains (note the ‘for’) starting in v. 4 how we can know that their “judgment of old is not idle, and their destruction shall not slumber.” What we have in the text beginning with v. 4 and going through v. 10a is one sentence—not at all unusual in the Greek language. Notice, first of all, the ‘if’ in v. 4. This ‘if’ needs a ‘then’ somewhere to complete the structure. Although there is no word ‘then’ in the text in v. 9, all major translations supply the word in italics to show the reader that it is assumed. Greek writers sometimes left out a specific word when the sense was obvious.
Here's another way to lay out the text:
3b...whose judgment of old is not idle, and their destruction shall not slumber.
4) For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but by condemning them to chains of the dark place gave them over to be reserved for judgment,
5) and did not spare the ancient world but protected Noah (the preacher of righteousness) with seven others when He brought a flood upon the unrighteous world,
6) and condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when He reduced them to ashes by destruction, with the result that they were set up as an example to those who are about to be ungodly,
7) and rescued righteous Lot when he was tormented by the sensual lifestyle of those who were lawless 8) (for that righteous one tortured his righteous soul day after day while living among them by seeing and hearing their lawless words)
9) then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and how to keep the unrighteous punished until the day of judgment, 10) and especially those who go after the flesh with corrupt desires and despise lordship.
So the logical breakdown and parallel illustrations are as follows:
4 “if” historical event happened
5 “and” historical event happened
6 “and” historical event happened
9 [assumes ‘then’] future related event certain
The three parallel illustrations of God’s judgment are used by Peter to show that God will certainly judge the false teachers in the future. Although the certainty of their judgment is his main point, he does bring in the idea of the rescue of the righteous, in the case of Noah and his family in the flood, and Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. Introducing the idea of rescue is probably an oblique way of assuring us of God’s future rescue of those who maintain their focus on Him.
Three examples of God’s judgment:
The fallen angels, v. 4. Peter’s first illustration involves a great interpretive difficulty that cannot be solved here. Compare Jude 6—which is too close in the whole context to be different—where we find the fact that these angels did not stay where they belonged but “left their proper abode.” This appears to have constituted the ‘sin’ that Peter mentions. Compare Isa. 14:12-15. Jude also nails down the fact that these angels are chained now (“He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day”). This leaves us with the question why are they chained and others free to roam around and oppose God? There are many theories but all seem to leave some questions hanging. For the purpose of this study it is sufficient to conclude that the point of the illustration is intact: God’s judgment is certain.
The Noahic flood, v. 5. The second illustration involves the ancient world which resisted Noah’s preaching in Genesis 6-9. Gen. 6:5 is one of the most awful verses of the Bible: ” Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Verse 6 is one of the saddest: “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Mankind at that time richly deserved the judgment of God. It came in a worldwide flood. Of course skeptics dispute that it would be possible to flood the world completely. They believe that that much water could not have been found anywhere. First of all, as usual, skeptics by nature deny the power of God. But secondly, the mountains were likely not as high as they are now. After the intense geologic upheavals of the flood the mountains would have been lifted up. Again, Peter’s point is clear: The people listened to Noah for a hundred years and mocked him. But God’s judgment is certain.
Also introduced here, as has been said, is the idea of rescue of the righteous. Noah was graciously allowed, and instructed by God, because of his righteousness, to bring along with him his wife, three sons, and his sons wives (Gen. 6:8-10, 18). They constituted the future of mankind.
Sodom and Gomorrah, vss. 6-8. Gen. 18:20 tells us that "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave,” the Lord decided to go down and see for Himself, so to speak. On the way, He agreed with Abraham that He would be extremely patient (v. 32): “Then he [Abraham] said, "Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten [righteous] should be found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it for the sake of ten." But after the Lord had seen the wickedness in person, the final determination was reported by the two angels in 19:13 "For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it." Not even ten righteous persons were found in those two great cities. Lot’s sons-in-law wouldn’t even go with him, Lot was rescued with only his wife and two daughters. In this case, the judgment didn’t hold off long; but God still illustrated Peter’s point: His judgment is certain.
The whole argument is concluded in v. 9, where we infer the word ‘then’ to be used by Peter to introduce his conclusion: God knows how to both rescue the righteous AND punish the unrighteous. God has brought certain punishment in the past, and can be expected to do the same in the future. Peter has already noted, in v. 2, that sensuality will be one of the characteristics of these false teachers. As a kind of special emphasis at the end of his conclusion of this section he points out that, though the certain judgment applies to all, it will be especially true for “those who go after the flesh with corrupt desires and despise lordship.”
The judgment is not over, by the way. It will not be completed until the time detailed in Revelation 20:10-15, when the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire, along with everyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life. The solemn words of v. 11 should grip our hearts and our souls: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.”
Though Peter’s logical ‘if-then’ structure has been working toward the certain judgment of the false teachers, he seems increasingly to bring the rescue idea forward. He even mentions it first in his conclusion. So the encouragement for believers is clear: those who stay faithful to Him need not worry—their rescue is as certain and Noah’s and Lot’s. But the righteous can count on being rescued from what? The Greek word is peirasmos, and most often it has the overtone of a trial or temptation where the intended result is failure (compare Matt. 4:1). But it can sometimes be used of God trying His children, in which case the intended result is success (compare James 1:2 and 1 Pet. 1:6). In a way, these two senses for peirasmos seem to me to come together in 1 Cor. 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” At any rate, God’s intention for His child is different from Satan’s. By the way, God gives us this way of escape in advance—pursuing the virtues in 1:5-8.
It would be possible to make a case for either sense in the passage before us. But because both Noah and Lot lived in societies wholly given over to evil, I believe the probability is that their peirasmos was from Satan with the purpose of failure. They were tempted in order to get them to fall. Of course, in a sense it is, as has been said, a moot point since God’s intention in allowing the peirasmos is our being shown to be righteous. God is in overall control and it is He who rescues us.
Several things should strike us from this passage. We must be discerning. Paul says in Eph. 4:14 “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine….” You need to make sure you are “equipped for the ministry” (see the study on that subject on this web site) in the area of doctrine. But we can also, as we see the false teaching that is so rampant today, take heart that God will indeed see to it that all rebellion will be dealt with in the future. And, of course, we can be confident that He will rescue us from the trials and temptations that beset us.
Next study...a description of the false teachers's character and activity.
2 Peter Flow Chart
2 Peter 1:1-7
2 Peter 1:8-11
2 Peter 1:12-15
2 Peter 1:16-21
2 Peter 2:1-3
2 Peter 2:10b-22
2 Peter 3:1-6
2 Peter 3:7-10
2 Peter 3:11-16
2 Peter 3:17-18