2 Peter

How to read 2 Peter


    • Content: a "farewell speech" sent as a letter, urging Christian growth and perseverance in light of some false teachers who both deny the second coming of Christ and live boldly in sin

    • Author: the apostle Peter, although questioned both in the early church and by most New Testament scholars; possibly a disciple who wrote a kind of "testament of Peter" for the church

    • Date: ca. A.D. 64 (if by Peter); later if by a disciple

    • Recipients: an unknown but specific group of believers

    • Occasion: a desire to establish the readers in their own faith and godly living, while warning them of the false teachers and their way of life

    • Emphases: concern that God's people grow in and exhibit godliness; the sure judgment on the false teachers for their ungodly living; the certainty of the Lord's coming, despite the scoffing of the false teachers


The letter is in four parts that focus on godly living in light of the certainty of the Lord's coming, against the backdrop of those who deny the latter, with its concomitant judgments, and who thus live like pagans. Part 1 (1:3-11) is an exhortation to growth in godliness, thus confirming their "calling and election" (v. 10) so as to "receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom" (v. 11).

Part2 (1:12-21) is Peter's testament about the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 16), an event that both the transfiguration (w. 16-18), which Peter witnessed, and the reliable word of prophecy (w. 19-21) argue for.

All of this is set (in part 3) in the context of the greed and licentiousness of the false teachers, whose condemnation is certain (2:1-22). The main thrust of this section is to reaffirm the certainty of divine judgment on those who reject God by rejecting holy living; thus several Old Testament examples are brought forward by way of illustration. You may want to read Jude 4- 18 alongside this passage, since it reflects similar concerns and uses some of the same examples from the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic. These teachers "promise freedom" but are themselves "slaves of depravity" (2 Pet 2:19), who would finally have been better off never having followed Christ than to have followed and then rejected him (w. 20-22).

The false teaching itself is exposed and argued against in 3:1-18 (part 4). Against those who deny the second coming (w. 3-4) is the certainty of God's word, and thus the certainty of coming judgment, and a biblical view both of "time" and of God's patience (w. 5-10); the conclusion urges readiness, in obvious contrast to the recklessness of the false teachers (w. 11-18).


Watch for the two (interlocking) concerns that drive 2 Peter from beginning to end: (1) the false teachers as such and (2) their denial of the second coming of Christ. You will find the description of them in chapter 2 especially vivid. Besides their immorality (licentiousness, sexual immorality, disavowal of authority), note that they are especially scored for their greed (2:3,14-15) and the exploitation of the unsuspecting and unstable (2:3,14,18-19). And the twin pictures of their rejection of Christ are especially graphic-a dog returning to its vomit, a washed sow returning to wallow in the mud (v.22). Note also how those on the other side, who eagerly await the coming of our Lord, are exhorted to "holy and godly" living (3:11-12).

Regarding the certainty of the coming of Christ, which will include inevitable judgment on those who reject him by the way they live, be watching for the emphasis on the sure word of prophecy, both Old Testament and apostolic. This is the point of 1:16- 18 and 1:19-21, where the transfiguration of Christ itself was a prophetic foretaste of the future, and where true prophecy is completely reliable. The coming of the "false prophets" is also prophesied (2:1), while the final exhortation (ch. 3) begins by reminding the readers once more of the sure word of the "holy prophets" and the "apostles," with emphasis on the reliability of God's word-that the same word that brought the created world into being is preserving it for the day of judgment.




The salutation emphasizes both the "righteousness" that comes from God and the "knowledge" of God and of Jesus our Lord. You should make a mental note that these emphases go together and anticipate much that follows.


The Themes Stated: Godliness and the Eternal Kingdom

As you read this section, think about how it sets out the major concerns: (1) God's power is available for all that is necessary for "a godly life" (w. 3-4); (2) growth in godliness must be intentional (w. 5-7); (3) without these qualities of godliness one cannot be an effective believer (w. 8-9); and (4) the readers are thus urged to "make every effort to confirm your calling and election" (v. 10), with entrance into the eternal kingdom in view (v.1 1).


Peter's Last Testament

Note now how Peter's testament (w. 12-15) leads to an affirmation of the coming of Jesus, which is assured first by the transfiguration, which Peter witnessed (w. 16-18), and second by the reliable word of prophecy, which has its origin, not in human will, but in God through the Holy Spirit (w. 19-21).


The Indictment of the False Teachers

Following the emphasis on the trustworthiness of the prophets is the prophetic word of Peter about the coming of the false teachers, whose evil purposes and final condemnation are asserted at the beginning (w.1-3). What follows is so full of striking language and images that you will need to watch carefully for its "logic." First, the judgment on the false teachers and the rescue of the righteous are contrasted by means of Old Testament examples (w. 4-9), concluding (v. 10a) with the two specific reasons for their condemnation, namely, living for "the flesh" ("follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature") and despising authority.

These reasons are then elaborated with a series of images (w. 10b-18a) that concludes by condemning the false teachers for destroying others as well (w. 18b-19). Finally (vv.20-22), they are condemned for having turned their backs on Christ and returning to the "corruption of the world."


The Nature of the False Teaching: Denial of the Lord's Coming

This final section lies at the heart of things. It begins, you will notice, with another reference to prophecy, recalling now both the Old Testament prophets and the apostolic predictions about such false teachers (w. 1-4). Their scoffing, based on the lack of past judgment (nothing has changed since creation!), is responded to first by a reminder of the certainty of God's sovereign word (w. 5-7; note that creation began with water and ends in fire) and second by appealing to God's forbearance (w. 8-10; note how v. 8 echoes the reliable word of Ps 90:4).


Exhortation and Conclusion

The preceding warnings against the false teaching are now applied to the readers' situation by way of warning and exhortation (w. 11-15a); note that after the judgment by fire comes the new heaven and new earth prophesied by Isaiah (Isa 65:17). This is followed by an appeal to similar kinds oft hings said by Paul about patience and salvation (2 Pet 3:15b-16), suggesting that some of the false teaching came about by a distortion of Paul's teaching. The letter concludes on the note with which it began-a warning and an exhortation to grow in grace.

As Peter's last will and testament, 2 Peter is critical to the biblical

story declaring the certainty of the Lord's coming and thus pointing the

way toward the final book in the story, the revelation Jesus gave to John.