False Prophets — The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
The main body of Peter’s second epistle begins with Peter’s replies to several objections to his eschatological doctrine (1:16–21). The first objection apparently raised by the false teachers is that Peter’s eschatological teaching concerning the coming of Christ and of judgment is merely a myth (vv. 16–18). Peter assures his readers that the apostles did not follow cleverly devised myths, but were eyewitnesses of Christ’s majesty. At the Transfiguration of Jesus, they were even witnesses to a foretaste of the glory to be revealed at the Second Advent (vv. 17–18). Peter also argues that the eschatological doctrine of the apostles is based on the writings of the Old Testament prophets (v. 19), men who spoke the very word of God (vv. 20–21).
Peter introduces the main topic of his letter in 2:1–3a, explaining, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” Just as false prophets arose during the Old Testament era to obscure the eschatological message of the true prophets, so too will false prophets obscure and debate the eschatological teaching of the apostles. That these false prophets would arise had been predicted by the apostles.i In verses 3b–10a, Peter explains that God reserves these false prophets for judgment, but he rescues godly men.
The false prophets, according to Peter, are characterized particularly by their arrogance (2:10b–13a) and by their sensuality (vv. 13b–16). Peter strongly denounces this godless behavior. Richard Bauckham explains the meaning of verses 17–22.
The two metaphors with which this section begins condemn the author’s opponents as people who purport to be religious teachers. Like dry wells which disappoint the thirsty, and hazy mists which are blown away without relieving the heat of the atmosphere, these people have in reality nothing to offer those who look to them for spiritual sustenance.ii
The arrogance and godlessness of these false prophets combined with the uselessness of their teaching renders them fit for judgment on the last day.
In chapter 3, Peter tells his readers that they need to remember the predictions of the Old Testament prophets and know “that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (vv. 3–4). Peter responds to such statements by noting that the scoffers fail to take into account the judgment that occurred at the time of the flood (vv. 5–6). He assures his readers that the world will be judged again (v. 7). It is being preserved by God until that time.
Peter continues, saying, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (3:8–10).
These verses have been used in the past to support numerological interpretations such as those that view all of world history in terms of a six or seven day period of time with each “day” lasting one thousand years. Such interpretations are based more on reader imagination than authorial intent. In the context, Peter is responding to those who are saying that God is slow to fulfill his promises. His response is threefold. First, Peter asserts that God’s perspective on time is not the same as man’s perspective (v. 8).iii Second, he explains that what the scoffers count as slowness is really God’s patience on display (v. 9). He is providing the opportunity for repentance. Finally, Peter warns his readers that God will not delay his judgment forever (v. 10). Judgment will come. The language Peter uses to describe the coming judgment in verse 10 is the kind of highly figurative language the Old Testament prophets used to describe coming judgments (cf. Isa. 34:4; Joel 2:31).
Peter concludes this section saying, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (3:11–13). The judgment that is coming is to provide grounds for holy living now. But Peter also explains that the judgment will also be accompanied by renewal. There will be new heavens and new earth, a recreation as it were (cf. Gen. 1:1).
i Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, WBC 50 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 243.
ii Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 280.
iii As Michael Green (The Second Epistle of Peter, TNTC 18 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 146) and Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter, 309) demonstrate, this interpretation has parallels in the Jewish literature of the first century.