23. Condemnation

Meditations in 2 Peter : 23 :  Condemnation

2 Pet  2:10-12     This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

Peter has just said, “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” Thus when he continues, “This is especially true of those…” he is expanding his previous description of ‘the unrighteous’. Although we didn’t pick it up previously, he seems to indicate two sorts of God’s dealings with the unrighteous. The ultimate one is His judging them on the final day of judgment when they stand before him and will be condemned to hell. However there was also the reference at the end of that previous sentence: “while continuing their punishment.” This suggests that God does punish the ungodly and the unrighteous here and now.

The apostle Paul would agree with this way of thinking in his descriptions of God’s activity in Romans 1: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” (Rom 1:26,27) and “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom1:28). In other words all of these increasing levels of sin are God’s punishment!!!!!

This increasing licentiousness is in fact bringing bad into the lives of these people and it is a direct outworking of God lifting off His hand of restraint. Now the more you turn from God the more this works, for this is God’s way of trying to show foolish men and women the error of their ways so that they may, perhaps, come to their senses and turn back to Him.

This is especially so, says Peter, of those who follow their corrupt sinful desires, are arrogant  and despise authority, say stupid things about angels and heaven’s activities. Now this isn’t a particularly easy passage to understand. When he talks about these people slandering celestial beings, we might say they are slandering all that goes on in heaven. Now if we put it in such general terms as that, we immediately see that this is exactly what the crusading atheists of today are doing. Without naming any well known and obvious names, sometimes the boldness and arrogance that is seen in their writings and their pronouncements on TV or in the press, are breathtaking.

Some of these men seek to convey a respectability, and one well-known American atheistic writer started his last book off with the tone of an elderly sage who was graciously tolerating these religious children who he hoped would one day grow up and abandon their silly ideas. However as the book developed the underlying harsh, arrogant, spiteful and hateful attitude in this writer became more and more obvious. These men are writing out of self-centred, godless arrogance and Peter says they are like animals in that they are operating purely on instincts and, by implication, not rationally and reasonably thinking through the issues. Although the media currently give these men credibility, one day we may look back on them and see them for what they are and will wonder how anyone ever believed what they said. It is interesting to note that one of these well known crusaders is particularly good at throwing up ‘possibilities’ and making them sound ‘probabilities’ if not facts! Yet I observe that other credible scientists now casually say, “Of course the idea of …. has now been generally discounted,” so that within a few years of them being put up even these ‘possibilities’ are seen for what they are – hot air!

Whenever we teach on cults, we always say, don’t only look at their teachings but also look at the people who started them off, see their lifestyle, see their character, and then judge. Look at the spite and venom that comes out of these people, these crusaders, and think again.

The reason these people that Peter is talking about, are doomed to destruction, is not so much the silly things they say or do, but the attitude that is fixed and unmovable and not open to correction. These are the people who will be condemned in the long ruin for these people will not come to repentance and will thus not be saved. (Please understand that we are not saying that individuals cannot be saved, but that if you absolutely refuse to ever think openly, refusing God until the end means you have no hope for eternity.) Shocking words, but the truth!

22. God of Mercy

Meditations in 2 Peter : 22 :  God of Mercy

2 Pet  2:5-9  if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment

So we took the hard side of these verses in the previous meditation. He had cited two specific historical catastrophes that we find in the early part of the Bible – the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Previously we consider the validity of God’s judgements but now we find something else.

We find two other examples, examples of God saving men from those catastrophes. First there was Noah who was saved from the Flood and then there was lot who was saved from Sodom. Prior to the Flood we read, “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:6) This was the Lord anguishing over His world which was on a runaway course with Sin. But then we read, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9)  That explains why the Lord saved him, but when we come to Lot I find Peter’s description of him very gracious.

When you read the accounts of Abram and Lot, we find Lot choosing what, at first sight, seems the best part of the land, when they divided it up, and we read, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” (Gen 13:12,13) Clearly Sodom had a reputation and yet Lot still went and lived near there. Not long later we find he is living actually in Sodom (Gen 14:12). By the time God’s angels go to Sodom we find, Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.” (Gen 19:2). Now the gateway was the place that the elders of the city sat to preside over the affairs of the city – that was the extent to which Lot had now gone. I always feel, therefore that Lot doesn’t show up very well thus far. He certainly does take care of the two angels and protects them from the crowd, even been willing to sacrifice the purity of his two daughters to do it.

But it is to Peter that we turn for a fuller picture: a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).”   Peter portrays a man who has got himself to a place that he regrets, where the society is godless and unrighteous and this tormented him. Well that is good news. That paints a better picture of Lot.

So the Lord saved these two men (and their families) from the destruction that He was bringing because they were righteous. But Peter hasn’t finished. In fact he is about to bring us to the climax of his argument for all that we have considered so far is the basis for a logical conclusion to follow. See his “If… then…” argument. if this is so, then.”   If God rescued those two men from the judgments He was brining in their days, then we may conclude something else. What is that?  It is twofold.  First, the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.”   Even when the rest of the world is going bad, the Lord will save His righteous children from the midst of the judgment that He is bringing. That is the first part. The second part is, to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.”  The unrighteous may appear to be getting away with their unrighteousness but God is just waiting for the appropriate time to bring it to an end by bringing His judgment. The wicked will not get away with it!

These are the two crucial points that Peter has been working towards in this chapter. There has been a clear train of thought that started from, “I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (1:14,15) He then emphasized that the gospel wasn’t made up and he knew that because they had been eye-witnesses to all that had gone on. More than that, it all conformed to the prophetic Scriptures which had come through prophets inspired by God.

Then, as a continuation from all that, it’s as if he says, “But be careful because not all prophets are good prophets and there will be those who will teach wrong things and seek to lead you astray – and you will see much of that in the world – but hold onto this truth: while the world is going astray, as long as you remain faithful, God will keep you and save you and bring you through whatever days of judgment He brings, and don’t worry about the unrighteous, God will eventually deal with them. Their time WILL come. Understanding all this – be at peace!” That is the gist of what he has said so far.

21. God of Judgment

Meditations in 2 Peter : 21 :  God of Judgement

2 Pet  2:4-6  For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people….if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly

These following verses are a mixture of God’s judgment and God’s mercy so first of all we’re going to separate out the elements that point towards God’s judgment. It is not a subject that the modern Church likes facing and it is a subject that crusading atheists relish to show how horrible God is. We need to seek for understanding.

Now there is within the verses above, mystery and clarity. Some things are quite mysterious and some things are crystal clear. The area of mystery comes in the first part, the reference to the angels which is nowhere clarified anywhere else in the Bible. Perhaps Jesus taught the apostles about what had happened; we just don’t know. Note that it doesn’t say all angels but just refers to them in a loose sense. Some angels didn’t sin and perhaps some were sent to hell and some allowed to remain on earth as evil spirits to serve God’s greater purposes. In Revelation 12 there is allegorical language which seems to indicate that Satan rebelled and led astray a third of the angels who were cast out of heaven. Some, presumably, were sent to hell. Whether God uses them there in some capacity is a matter of speculation.

But the reference to the angels is just one of three references to God’s judgments. The other two were historical incidents recorded in Scripture – the Flood in the time of Noah, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Abraham’s time. Having considered the facts of the Flood in some detail my conclusion has been, first, that however bad we might think it is when confronted with the evidence from around the world of wars and violence at national levels and rising crime rates at the level of the individual and society today, this was obviously a time of unparalleled human abuse that was clearly getting worse and worse. The truth has to be that God, seeing the downward spiral of humanity, with the knowledge that only He has, saw that unless it was brought to an end now, it would result in ever increasing anguish from which the world would not recover.  The same would seem to be able to be said about the two cities that were utterly destroyed.

The point of clarity that I referred to earlier is that sometimes in history God sees that the ONLY course open to bring the best to the world is destruction that we call judgment!  God’s judgment is never the hasty, spiteful action of a capricious god as the crusading atheists would make out.  No, when God brings judgment it is always a calm, clinical action that is a necessity in the face of all the prevailing circumstances.  Whenever we talk about God’s judgment we always need to remind ourselves of what the Lord said: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and if we missed the import of it, He repeated it: “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32)

There in theses verses is the key to God’s judgment: when He sees that whatever disciplinary action He brings there is such a hardness of heart He can see there will never be repentance, and when He sees if left it will harm His earth, then and only then it appears in Scripture will He bring judgment that removes the individual or group of individuals. I think it is also worth while making the point that whenever I use the word ‘judgment’, I am referring to an act of God that removes the individual or group from the earth, i.e. they die. Otherwise what we see is disciplinary action designed to bring about change.

What is the essential sin that eventually incurs God’s judgment? Twice in the above verses Peter refer to ‘the ungodly’ meaning people who have set their hearts against God. What is the unforgivable sin of the New Testament? It is ongoing refusal to believe, unbelief that is set in concrete if you like!  Although ungodliness is the measuring stick it will always be accompanied by unrighteousness for the one always follows on from the other, and it is that harmful unrighteousness that God moves against.

The Bible clearly declares that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) but don’t let the unbeliever challenge you on that. A loving parent disciplines their children to bring change; a loving parent acts to protect their children, and where there is ultimate violent threat against his children, a loving father will demand the law steps in and takes away the threatening offender.  We pull down buildings with structural faults; we cut out malignant tumours and we demand that violent criminals be removed from our streets. It is all the same thing; it is just a matter of scale. We might even say that if God DIDN’T act to remove some people, that might raise questions about His love for the rest of us. Be clear in your understanding of this whole subject.

20. Led Astray

Meditations in 2 Peter : 20 :  Led Astray

2 Pet  2:2,3  Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

I think it was C.S.Lewis who said that if people give up believing in God, they will end up believing in anything. So much of what we have been reading in Peter’s second letter so far has been about the truth – the truth of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and then the truth of the testimony of the apostles who were witnesses to all that had happened with Jesus and what followed with the Holy Spirit.  As we said, the Christian Church is a unique body in that it has a unique body of truth, the Bible, that explains its existence. There is no other document like it in the world and the more you read it, the more you realise that. Let’s reiterate that statement because it does stand up under intelligent and honest scrutiny: there is no other document like it in the world and the more you read it, the more you realise that.

But Peter doesn’t live in an ivory tower or hasn’t been shut away like a hermit; he has lived in the world and he knows what is going on and he knows what will come in the days ahead. In the opening verse of this new chapter he had said, there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” There could almost be a link inserted between verses 1 and 2 – “And so…” and our verse now continues, “Many will follow their shameful ways.” but what was even more worrying it will appear that these teachers and these people departing from the truth will appear to be Christians and that will “bring the way of truth into disrepute.”

This has been, is now and always will be a problem – people who appear to be Christians but by their words or their lifestyles portray something else to the world, who often then criticise Christianity because of them. The fact that Christianity does not have a single ruling body means that all over the world individual Christians or individual groups are left to follow their own ‘brand’ of Christianity which may have wrong elements in it. Even the Roman Catholic wing of the Christian Church is not immune from this as the whole shameful episode of the revealing of paedophile priests shows. We, the Christian Church, have given the likes of Richard Dawkins, and other crusading atheists, large amounts of ammunition with which to criticise the Church (but NOT the Faith) and more often than not, the criticism is just. In terms of daily practical righteousness, many of us have a long way to go.

It sound incredible what Peter says: In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.”   Regrettably TV programmes have shown that even today such things happen. Even today apparent religious leaders dupe the flock with deception, with means and techniques that seek to get the flock to believe a lie – and then give their money! This is the side of religious life we would rather avoid or forget – Christians are still human beings and some of them go off the rails and their moral integrity slips. Wrong thingsARE done sometimes by those who purport to be Christians and, even worse, Christian leaders.

When Peter says, “their condemnation has long been hanging over them,” the first thing that strikes me is the word ‘long’. Unfortunately these things often go on for a long while. How can that be? I believe there are three answers.

First, people are gullible and so many simple-minded people who have not been well-taught believe such men, and flock to these people. Second, because of their apparent popularity and success, others of us hold back on criticizing what is patently obviously wrong. Third, because I believe the Lord holds back because He is waiting for His people to take action themselves. He would prefer that His own people grew up and disciplined those who have gone off the rails, rather than move in and deal with it Himself.

When Peter says,and their destruction has not been sleeping,” he is saying that the destruction that is due to these people, has not gone to sleep; it is just waiting in God’s hands. He will reveal the truth and modern history shows many men who have been revealed as charlatans or liars or cheats, and destruction (of their ministries and their lives) has come and some have even been imprisoned. It may take time, while God waits for His church to move, but history shows that again and again, when His church fails to move, He will and the individual’s sin is revealed to the world.

This is the dark side of the human race and of Christianity but we shouldn’t shy from it. Instead we should learn to be people who are discerning, who question and challenge that which is dubious, who aren’t afraid to challenge the freaky and weird. We will only be able to do that when we ourselves are well founded in the truth of God’s word and are living in the power of His Spirit. May that be so!

19. False Teaching

Meditations in 2 Peter : 19 :  False Teaching

2 Pet  2:1     But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves

Throughout the early centuries of the Church there were a number of battles going on, as the enemy sought to bring down that which Jesus had created. One of those battles which reigned then was over what we would today call heresy. The big problem for the early church was that there was no established body of truth. It was there but not yet agreed and written down. The Gospels were primarily written to establish this initial body of truth, starting with the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote numerous letters to the churches he had been involved with, and even with one he yet hoped to go to (Romans) and within these letters the body of truth grew. The apostles Peter and John also wrote, even more it would seem with an eye on the heretics of the day. More than any other body of people in the world, the Christian Church relies upon a body of truth and without it they are nothing. That is why Peter has been writing as he has.

As he came to the end of what we now call chapter one of this letter, he had been referring to the past and to the times of the prophets of Israel and it is to that time that he first refers now when he says, “But there were also false prophets…” Yes, there had been genuine prophets but wherever the genuine exists the enemy will always raise up counterfeits. The classic example of the false prophets in the Old Testament, were the prophets of Baal, those who apparently prophesied but worshipped idols.

At first sight we may think it amazing that worshippers of wood, stone or metal could appear to prophesy, but today we have mediums who claim to foretell the future and they are exactly the same.  With the rise of the Charismatic movement and the almost excessive use of ‘prophecy’ one has to wonder how much of what is spoken out in churches does actually come from God. Sadly, I believe, so much so-called prophecy is spoken to replace direct teaching about discipleship. Our starting point for truth must always be with the established written word of God. Are we teaching and obeying what is there in the pages of Scripture.  If we are not, all the fine sounding prophetic words that ‘God loves you and has a plan for you life’, are meaningless.

Peter was aware in his day of the teachers who went around who were not preaching the truth and in so doing denied Jesus who came with very specific calls to repentance and submission to God so lives would be changed. We have to ask today, are our churches filled with people whose lives are radically different from their unbelieving neighbours, lives that are filled with faith and goodness, lives which impart the love of Jesus in word, or prayer or action whenever there is the opportunity? Are these lives filled with a hunger for the Lord and for His word?

Peter’s complaint was against those heretics who taught things directly contrary to the truth as brought by the apostles, but it might be fair to ask, is any ‘teaching’ or church lifestyle that is less than the radical demand to follow him in all areas of life, any the less wrong? If your church life is simply to maintain meetings that perform religious ritual, with little signs of changes in the lives of the religious individuals and, even more, little or no changes in the surrounding society that has been impacted by the salt and light lives of believers in it, then we must be falling far short of the teachings of Jesus.

One of the ways that we fail to live by the truth, and the teaching that is imparted in the church is inadequate, is by failure to DO the things that Jesus taught. His parable of the house on the sand (Mt 7:24-27) corresponds with his ‘Great Commission’ which includes “teaching them to obey” all he had taught them.

We haven’t actually used the words ‘discerning the truth’ but this is what this is all about, and it goes much further that rejecting teaching that is diametrically opposed to Jesus teaching and the teaching of the apostles; it should also hold to account teaching that does not rise up to the level of the radical challenges of their teaching. A teaching that preaches peace at all costs, for example, is not the teaching of the New Testament. Teaching that says tolerate sexually lax morals similarly falls short. In many areas of church life around the world today, we may not see direct heresy, but we do see teaching that falls far short of Jesus’ desire for his people?  May we be truly discerning! May we truly be a ‘doing’ people, doing the works of Jesus at his leading!

18. Prophetic Confidence

Meditations in 2 Peter : 18 :  Prophetic Confidence

2 Pet  1:20-21  Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit

I never stop marvelling that our God is a God of communication. The Bible is a book of communication and it is all about God’s communications. The writer to the Hebrews sums it up: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2) it would be an interesting exercise to go through the Old Testament and count the number of times we come across, “And God said,” or “And the Lord said,” etc.

The Old Testament comprises a great deal of historical narrative, a little bit of poetry and other literary forms, and a great deal of prophecy. Seventeen of the thirty nine books of the Old Testament are virtually all prophecy. In the historical books there are references to prophets and prophecy. What are prophets? It is mostly men, the occasional woman, sent by God to speak His heart toIsrael, the nations aroundIsrael, and to the world.  What is prophecy in the Old Testament? It is the words spoken by the prophets under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Which brings us back to Peter who has just made reference to prophecy being the balancing factor to experience and testimony, but having put that emphasis on prophecy he now justifies or explains it. “Above all…” This is of supreme importance. “You must understand…” This is vital for you to take in. Look, he says, no prophecy that you might refer to in the Old Testament came because the prophet thought it was a good idea. No, he continues, no(real) prophecy is the will of man but the will of God.

This is vital to understand and arguments in scholarly circles down through the years have argued over this. Some say God doesn’t speak, that He can’t speak (despite what we’ve said earlier about the number of times the Bible says He did) and that therefore means that the entire contents of the Old Testament are made up and have their origins in the minds of the individual writers. THAT is the extent of the materialistically minded so-called liberal ‘scholars’ who say that God can’t speak. If He didn’t speak then the words that were spoken as prophecy foretelling what is coming, are all fraudulent and, in fact, if they correspond to what did happen, they must have been written afterwards. This is actually what some ‘scholars’ have said, but in so saying it they deny the very words that we find again and again throughout the Bible.

So Peter’s words here come as a warning really, a warning that was needed but has not been heeded by so many so-called liberal scholars of the end of the nineteenth and early parts and throughout the twentieth century. There will always be so-called ‘scholars’ who put forward new theories, new ideas, new suggestions, but notice that that they are not new facts. Every now and then a new ‘theologian’ (usually fromAmerica) comes up with a whole bunch of weird ideas that appeal to the materialistic and atheistic communities (and the media who like a bit of controversy) but which any genuine Biblical scholar sees is empty wind.

Peter emphasises it as an ongoing warning and reminder: God speaks, God stirs His prophets and God has spoken through them; THAT is why we have so much prophetic literature in the Old Testament, and if we dare take it at face value, we see God warning of things to come, to encourage us when they are fulfilled. Sometimes He will be speaking to warn us to change our ways, to change a potential outcome, but God, who stands outside time, speaks often of the future which is hidden from us. He knows what is coming and sometimes, when it suits His will, He speaks of the future for our edification.  So Peter looks to the past, which told so much about what had been happening in his lifetime, and declares forcibly that all that in the past had been men inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak out the things which they had now been witness to.

We need to see and understand this unity revealed in Scripture. There is God declaring His will – through Old Testament prophecy – and then there is God fulfilling His will – through New Testament activity that was witnessed by these apostles and recorded for our edification. The Bible is not a lot of distinct and disparate and unrelated books; no, there is a steady unity that holds it all together and that unity is God Himself who speaks and acts into His world, and if that simple but wonderful truth is beyond self-centred academics who are seeking for a reputation, then so be it. Receiving revelation isn’t about cleverness, it is about having an open heart, not that accepts all things blindly, but which is open to question while at the same time seeing the wonder.  If your cleverness or intellect keeps you away from God, it is simply because you are trying to be too clever. Look at the simplicity of what Scripture declares, read and read it and see the big picture and see that God speaks and God moves, and then bow down and worship!

17. Prophetic Basis

Meditations in 2 Peter : 17 :  Prophetic Basis

2 Pet  1:19  And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

There is, behind this verse and the previous ones, a reminder of the sureness of our beliefs. Before this verse Peter had basically been saying, we are sure of our beliefs because we were there and we saw it all.  I have often thought how powerful personal testimony is.  My favourite one is that of the blind man in Jn 9: Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (Jn 9:25)  You can’t beat that!  That’s what testimony does for you: I can’t explain it all but I know what happened.  All over the world millions of Christians live to challenge the beliefs of atheists, men and women who may not be able to explain it all, but whose lives have been transformed. Peter, John, Paul and many more encountered Jesus and were never the same again. You can say, “I don’t believe it!” as many times as you like, but you fly in the face of the evidence that says, “I was there and I know what happened!” It’s that simple.

But Peter doesn’t stop there. He may have started out as a humble fisherman, and we don’t know what teaching he might have received as a child in the local synagogue, but now he’s a man who stands on the basis of the Scriptures. He knows that back in what we call the Old Testament, men who became known as prophets spoke words from God and in the midst of those words came references to one who would yet come and deliver the people of Israel – except it wasn’t that simple for sometimes it seemed that he would come to save the whole world.   No, the prophetic words had not always been simple and straight forward.  Sometimes they seemed to refer to a conquering king, and other times to an abused servant.  The scribes and teachers really scratched their heads at how these two views could be reconciled.

But, says Peter now, we have the word of the prophets made more certain,” or perhaps, “We know the Old Testament prophecies were sure because we saw them being fulfilled.”  That basically is what Peter is saying here.  God spoke about Jesus throughout the Old Testament and now those prophecies have been fulfilled, over three hundred of them.  On the road to Emmaus, Jesus challenged the two unhappy disciples: “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”  (Lk 24:25-27)

On the day of Pentecost, while preaching, to confirm what he was saying, Peter found himself referring to the prophetic Scriptures surrounding David (Acts 2:25-36).  Shortly afterwards, preaching after healing the man at the Gate Beautiful, he declared, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” (Acts 3:18) and then, “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’ “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers.” (Acts 3:21-25) While preaching to Cornelius and his family and friends, Peter had found himself declaring, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts10:43).

The point is made quite clearly, the fact that the Old Testament referred again and again to the coming Messiah, was obviously well known by the disciples and this was a foundation stone of their teaching. Presumably Jesus, up in Galilee in the period between his resurrection and ascension, taught them all the same things he had said to the two on the road to Emmaus. The past and the present have now come together. The Old Testament scriptures declared it, and now Peter and the others have seen it all fulfilled.

Very well, Peter continues, “you will do well to pay attention to it,” to what we have been saying about God’s word spoken through the prophets, for it is like a light shining in a dark place, until the day.”   The day? The day whenever any prophetic word is fulfilled!  Any prophecy is like that.  It is the light of God, revelation from heaven, and once it has been spoken it just waits until the day when God fulfils it.  We’ve seen it fulfilled, says Peter, but (implied) it is an ongoing word that will be fulfilled and fulfilled throughout Church History until the great day when God winds up all things.  In the meantime it is simply revelation for those who have eyes to see.  If the things of God are unclear to you, ask Him to open your eyes that you may see and understand: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)

 

16. Witnesses (2)

Meditations in 2 Peter : 16 :  Witnesses (2)

2 Pet  1:16-18  We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Peter starts these verses, as we saw in the previous meditation, by denying that the Gospel accounts are made up stories and declaring that he had been an eyewitness to all that had gone on. We observed how the apostles John and Paul had similarly had this outlook, and noted that Christianity is based in history.

The apostle Paul when he was testifying to the Gospel record did it with some detail: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) That was an information packed paragraph.

Peter simply contents himself with one simple reference to what he had seen and heard: the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”

Now this testimony leaves no room for speculation. There had been a voice from heaven when Jesus was baptized: “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) On one other occasion there had also been a voice from heaven: “Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.” (Jn 12:28-30) But neither of those were the time that Peter refers to, for he speaks of the time “on the sacred mountain.”  This was obviously the time of Jesus’ transfiguration.

Referring to the mountain incident, we find this account in each of the Synoptic Gospels (John tended not to repeat what was clearly in the Synoptic Gospels): “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:5)

Now why was Peter referring to this incident? Well remember what he has just said:we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father.”   Basically Peter is saying, we didn’t make up all that we have said of Jesus, for we saw all that happened and we are of no doubt that he is THE Son of God, because we heard God the Father say so!

Now this is in fact an incredible testimony and must surely be one that sceptics and doubters struggle with. I have heard of people (rarely though) whose integrity I trust who have heard a real voice coming out of thin air from God but it does challenge those materialists who deny a spirit world. Three times this is recorded as happening in Jesus ministry and this particular one had so impacted Peter that he never forgot it.

Up on the mountain it had been Peter who had spoken out suggesting they build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, and the voice that had come had come almost as a challenge to Peter (and James and John) that this was God’s one and only Son they were with and as such he didn’t need any man looking after him and providing a shelter! That had clearly stayed with Peter and he’s reminded of it now. It is a supremely defining point for him, which established Jesus’ Sonship. As Peter looked back over the years to those three incredible years with Jesus, that was one particular moment that seemed to stand out above everything else to define who Jesus was. Oh no, this was no made-up story!

I think the apostle John had similar memories when, in old age as an aged leader probably in Ephesus, he reflected back on those years and with the clarity of memory that sometimes comes in old age (especially provoked by the Holy Spirit) he ‘saw’ things that stood out in his memory that the three writers of the Synoptic Gospels had passed by in those earlier years of recalling the things that had happened. That had prompted John to write his Gospel and that is why it is so different to the other three. Similarly now, Peter considering he has little time left, and with a desire to reiterate the truths they had received that needed to be passed on to the next generation, picks out that one amazing incident that had been unique to he, James and John, and which had stood out so clearly. Jesus was and is the Son of God because God the Father had said so! End of story!

15. Witnesses (1)

Meditations in 2 Peter : 15 :  Witnesses (1)

2 Pet  1:16  We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  

In the previous meditation we considered how Peter, John and Paul, all quite clearly sought to ensure that the good news was passed on to the next generation. Sometimes unknowing people make silly comments about the New Testament – it’s all just made up, Christianity is just wishful thinking, a crutch for weak people. Actually nothing can be further from the truth. In today’s verses and in a number of other verses in the New Testament we are confronted with hard fact, down to earth concrete facts of history. Peter actually addresses the silly voices that would come down through the centuries. Observe!

We did not follow cleverly invented stories.”  All that these men wrote, these writers in the New Testament, was not made up stories. No, we are dealing with HISTORY here, things that actually happened in time and space. If you could time travel and go back to that time, you would have seen all the things in the New Testament actually happening. I don’t know how many times I have written these things but like Peter I will delight in repeating them whenever the opportunity comes up, for the silly talk is just that, silly talk that is spoken in the face of ignorance.

No, says Peter, “when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that was based on fact because “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” i.e. we saw Jesus and we saw something of his splendour that was revealed in the things he did. When Peter had been preaching, years before on the day of Pentecost, he had spoken of this: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)  In a moment he’s going to refer to one special time when Jesus’ glory was revealed, but in reality it was being revealed throughout his ministry. As Jesus told John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) Who else but the majestic Son of God could have done all these things, day after day, month after month for three years?

No, says Peter, this was not made up stuff, we were actually there, we were eyewitnesses and saw it all happening in those three incredible years. The apostle John wrote in similar fashion: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” (1 Jn 1:1-3) You really can’t get any more specific testimony than that!  That is the language of a witness: I was there, I saw it, I heard it, I touched it and was part of what went on. That is the language of one who saw factual history.

The writer Luke hadn’t been there but listen to the language he uses: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:1-4)  This is the language of a careful investigator who is concerned for the integrity of what he writes. That is Luke’s Gospel!

The apostle John writes at the end of his Gospel: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:24,25) I was there; you can believe me and what I’ve written here is only a tiny bit of what he did!

We cannot emphasise enough that we need to keep on making this point, that what we find in the New Testament is accredited history. Read the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel, for example, and you find that he goes to some lengths to identify times and places and people. It is geography and history wrapped up together as they always should be. The things that happened, happened at certain and specific times, and they happened in specific geographic locations on this planet. The Gospel – the whole of Christianity – is based in historical fact. The writers of the New Testament wrote to show that and so we should declare it loud and clear. 

14. Reminders (2)

Meditations in 2 Peter : 14 :  Reminders (2)

2 Pet  1:14,15    because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

We have just previously considered the whole question of God knowing that we need reminders and saw how both in the Old and New Testaments He made provision for that.  Thus Peter had said that he would continue to remind them of the things he had written about, even though they knew them. Now in many ways that is looking back – this is what you were taught and what we want you to remember, which is one of the reasons why he had written. But there is also a concern for the future.

Yes, he also has another reason for reminding them of the things he’s been writing about: “I know that I will soon put it aside.” The ‘it’ refers to his body that he spoke about in the previous verse. Peter has an awareness that he is not going to be around for much longer. Why? Because Jesus has given him that awareness.  Now we don’t know how or when this was. Some suggest it refers to Jesus’ words back in Jn 21:18-19 when Jesus spoke about Peter’s future, but these present words have a time element about them – ‘soon’.  No, sometime recently Peter has received a sense from his Lord that his time on earth is limited. This has left him with a desire to do all he can for the Church before he leaves. So what is he going to do?

“I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” How will he achieve that? At least by writing them down and sending them in letter form to be read in the churches (it may also have been by teaching in the churches while he still had the opportunity). It may be that he has already helped Mark to compile the second Gospel (as tradition has it). He is mindful that the apostles who had been with Jesus are dying off or being martyred. It is vital that the truth about what had happened in those wonderful years with Jesus is conveyed to the next generation.

The apostle John also thought the same way obviously when he wrote his letters: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” (1 Jn 1:1-3)  These are the words of men who are very mindful that the truth must be passed on.

The apostle Paul thought similarly when he instructed Timothy: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim 1:13,14). If we aren’t sure of that, he continues later, “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim 2:2) So, first of all, hold on to it and then, second, pass it on to others so that they in turn may pass it on. Then, “Keep reminding them of these things.(2 Tim 2:14). Later he continues, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:14,15) But he doesn’t stop there: “I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:1-5)

All of these are words of men who wanted to ensure that the truth was passed on. Do we see this? It is not only that people come to the Lord and receive the truth, but the truth is accurately passed on from one generation to the next. We may think that because we have the Bible we don’t have this same call, but it is a call to ensure that the Bible’s teaching is received, taken in, believed, and passed on. It is not enough that there are Bibles by the thousand on shelves in the West. We need to ensure that the truth therein is being taken out of the book and applied.

Do those of us who are leaders or preachers have this same awareness of our calling? It is to make sure that we do all we can to pass it on to the next generation so that they receive it, understand and live it, and are then able to pass it on to those who follow them. May that be happening!