Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of which the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.”
Knowledge is essential. It is absolutely essential for the being and for the well-being of every child of God. This is the knowledge of faith, which holds for truth what God has revealed in His Word. The better that one knows God and what He has revealed, the better will be the spiritual life and experience of that child of God.
Peter has been emphasizing the importance of knowledge in the first chapter of this, his second, epistle. Grace and peace come through knowledge of God and of Jesus (II Pet. 1:2). What we need for godly living comes through the knowledge of Him who called us (II Pet. 1:3), knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is fruitful and will increase our faith (II Pet. 1:5-8). Peter committed himself to making sure that the new Christians to whom he was writing would continue to be established in the truth (1:12).
Peter assures these new saints that this knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ is not based on fables cunningly devised by himself and the other apostles (II Pet. 1:16). Rather, this knowledge is derived from the sure and certain prophecy of the Scriptures as they were given by God Himself when He moved holy men to write them (II Pet. 1:19-21).
This certain knowledge was and is threatened. In the old dispensation there were false prophets. So also here, Peter affirms that there will be false teachers who will dispense wrong and damning information. Our text warns about the presence of such false teachers. To be forewarned concerning them is to be forearmed.
“There shall be false teachers among you” even as “there were false prophets also among the people.” Long ago Moses warned God’s people about false prophets who would call them away from the God who had redeemed them and away from a complete love for and obedience to Him (Deut. 13:1-5). They are instruments of the devil to distract attention from Jehovah. However, Moses shows God’s people that these same false prophets were instruments of their sovereign God to test and prove them, and thus to strengthen His people in their cleaving to Him.
The false prophets and the false teachers introduce “heresies.” A heresy is a chosen course of thought and action that varies from the true exposition of Scripture. It departs, or differs, from God’s Word, which is the measure or standard for all truth. Whatever is contrary to the sure word of prophecy is heresy, and whoever promotes it is a false teacher.
There are heresies that are faced by the church today. Many are old…in new garb. They must be faced and answered. There is the old/new heresy that God loves more than those who are saved, and that Jesus died for more than the number saved. The totality of man’s depravity is denied when an unnecessary distinction is made between absolute and total depravity. There is the heresy that man is able to choose an offered salvation. There is the heresy that justification requires in some way man’s works. There is the denial that the Bible is inspired and infallible, when it is said to be a mixture of the word of God and the word of man.
The Reformed church requires that faithful elders and ministers of the Word alert God’s people to false doctrines and errors. “To ward off false doctrines and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings, the ministers and elders shall use the means of teaching, of refutation or warning, and of admonition, as well in the ministry of the Word as in Christian teaching and family-visiting” (Art. 55 of the Church Order).
Peter calls these heresies “damnable,” that is, worthy of destruction unto the misery of eternal hell. The use of this word emphasizes the seriousness of departures from the sacred Scriptures and declares that such heresies have their origin in hell, that is, with the devil. And the “ways” of the false teachers are as bad as their heresies. Interestingly, Peter used the same Greek word to describe those ways as he did to describe the heresies—though in the translation the one is “pernicious” and the other “damnable.” Clearly, how the false teachers present their heresies is as damnable as what they present.
What are these pernicious ways of the false teachers? First, Peter says that they bring in their heresies “privily.” This means that they do so secretly or with craft. They are not open and forthright, but are deceptive. It is possible that there are some false teachers who do so in ignorance (still inexcusable), but the devil is always aware of his methodology. Peter says they speak with “feigned” words. This is an interesting word in the Greek, for we get the words “plastic” and “plaster” from it. The idea is that their words have a form that looks real, but is not (just like plastic can be made to look like metal or wood). What the false teachers present is made to look as if it is biblical, the real thing, but it is not. The false teachers are deceptively presented by Satan as being very pious. They look like the real thing, claiming the authority of the Bible. But they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. And their heresies are presented deceptively.
What adds to the deception is the fact that they are “among you.” That is, the false teachers (like the false prophets of old) arise from within the church, not from outside of it. They outwardly confess that they have been purchased by the redeeming blood of Jesus (“the Lord that bought them”). They claim to be servants of the Lord—claiming that Christ died for them.
The way that Peter is inspired to present this shows the seriousness of the activity of the false teachers. They declare that Jesus is the Savior, but their activity as false teachers denies that Jesus is their Savior. Salvation is that Jesus came to redeem unto Himself a people, over whom He is now Lord, so there is always the necessary result that the saved love and obey Him, and that they clearly teach the same. The false teachers say that Jesus is Lord, but what they teach is not in harmony with the word of the Lord. They do not teach obedience to His word! And their manner denies that they love Him!
Peter goes on to declare that the motive of the false teachers is “covetousness” and to “make merchandise of” God’s people. Their motive is greed. It may not be a greed for money per se, but what they are after is their own honor and advancement in the eyes of men. They are obviously not seeking the honor and glory of God, nor the spiritual good of God’s adopted children.
This carnal motive and method results in the way of truth being “evil spoken of.” The cause of God’s Word, of His Son, and of His church is reviled and reproached—blasphemed. Unbelievers mock when they observe professing Christians seeking their own honor. One does not need faith to be able to identify self-centeredness as contradictory to faith in Jesus Christ. Thus the truth, and God Himself, are mocked. What a terrible embarrassment. What a horrible evil.
But God’s people need not fear. The sovereign God is keeping a record, for vengeance is His. He has special care for His dearly beloved, and He will judge severely those who hurt them.
He allows the false teachers to work, not only to test and thus to purify His people, but also to leave the false teachers without excuse. The false teachers “bring upon themselves swift destruction” and “their damnation slumbereth not.” It may seem that they get away with their deception and false teaching, but God judges, and His judgment is without delay. Though we might think the judgment should come sooner than it does, God assures us that His timing (like everything He does) is perfect and swift. We need not be dismayed at the apparent success of the false teachers when there is apostasy. God is holy! He will visit, with a wrath that is always fierce, those who reject Him and His truth and who teach lies. Read the rest of this chapter. It presents one historical example after another that showed how God justly and swiftly judges those who destroy His people and His truth.
Further, let us today be warned not to follow false teachers. Do not be surprised or alarmed when the false teachers appear. Just be on your guard. It is not always easy to detect them. But no believer is alone. We have each other to help identify and warn.
Positively, let us cling to the precious Word God has given to us. Let us know it in love. Let us demand that it alone be taught to us and to our children. Let us know our wonderful confessions, for they beautifully summarize God’s Word, and they clearly identify the false teachers of the past. Remember that there is nothing new under the sun. The old heresies are resurrected by today’s false teachers and given a little different appearance. But our answers to them are already prepared for us in our confessions. So let us commit ourselves to knowing them.
Finally, let us love our Savior and Lord, rendering to Him ardent returns of the love with which He first loved us. And in this love let us listen carefully to Him and His Word. And then, because we love Him so, let us strive to obey Him in every part of our life. What a marked contrast that will be to the false teachers!