For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise government.
Peter had just warned that as “there were false prophets” so “there shall be false teachers among you” (1). It is the will of God that the church on earth be always confronted by false teachers and ungodly persons. Remember that Jesus had given the same warning: “there shall arise false Christs and false prophets” able to do such great signs and wonders that “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). This frightens the young Christians to whom Peter is writing.
Peter has been emphasizing the importance of knowledge—knowledge derived from the sure and certain prophecy of the Scriptures. Now he demonstrates that a knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures will show what God did with false prophets and the ungodly. This knowledge delivers them from fear and gives them courage to face the future, even if that future is filled with frightening prospects. Our text is one long sentence, giving three examples from the old dispensation that display the certainty of God’s judgment on false teachers and on the ungodly (a very interesting parallel is found in Jude 5-7). Then Peter draws two conclusions from the three examples: 1) God knows how to deliver the godly, and 2) God knows how to reserve the unjust to be punished.
The first example of God’s reserving the unjust for punishment is that “God spared not the angels that sinned.” All of the angels were created good. But it is evident that, for a period of time, they were able to choose to sin. Isaiah 14:12-15 (confer also Ezek. 28:1-17) tells us of Satan’s fall because of his sin of proud rebellion against God. Revelation 12:4 informs us that Satan took with him a “third” of the angels. The point of our text is that God “cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (4). The Greek word that is translated “hell” is used only here in the Greek New Testament. This “hell” is not the place of final punishment but a state—a state of condemnation from which there is no escape. In this state of condemnation the evil angels are still able to do their evil work in the world of men, by doing which they more and more fill their cup of iniquity. It is a “darkness” because it consists of misery and corruption due to an awareness of divine wrath. From this state of condemnation these angels cannot leave for something else—they are chained into this state. This is a state that at the end of this world leads only to the eternal judgment of the lake of fire in which they will burn forever with all the wicked.
Thus we learn that when the angels fell from the state of righteousness, God was not silent. He did not spare them. Instead He actively gave them up to the state of condemnation. Therefore the righteous need not fear. The Lord is on their side. It may seem from our earthly perspective that nothing happened to the angels who fell, but God assures us that they are already condemned and that a damning judgment awaits them.
The second example of God’s care of His people by His reserving the wicked for judgment is found in the history of the flood (Gen. 6-9). God “spared not the old world” when He brought “in the flood upon the world of the ungodly.” The “ungodly” are without any reverential awe of God. In contrast to them, Noah was “a preacher of righteousness.” Noah was personally righteous, being forgiven in the promised seed of the woman. And he was righteous because he labored to do the right. During the 120 years that he was preparing the ark, Noah preached righteousness, that is, he preached the promised Righteous One who would crush Satan’s head. However, during all this time, the ungodliness of the ungodly increased. But God delivered Noah out of the danger of the ungodly when He actively brought the severest of judgments “in the flood.” The holy God expressed His divine wrath in an immediate judgment, which destroyed the world.
This history assures the threatened elect of God’s care. The days of Noah before the flood are typical of the days before Jesus’ return (Matt. 24:37-39 and Luke 17:26, 27). What happened in the flood—both the destruction of the ungodly and the salvation of God’s own—is typical. When lawlessness and persecution increase, then sudden destruction will come on all the wicked, and the righteous will be delivered.
The third example of God’s protecting care of His people is His incineration of Sodom and Gomorrah. God brought the eternal lake of fire (called the “vengeance of eternal fire,” Jude 7) to a specific place in history. When God rained brimstone and fire (Gen. 19:24) on these cities, then He judged their inhabitants as worthy of eternal damnation. Their overthrow was as open and bold as their ungodly lifestyle. Righteous Lot was “vexed” (wearied and worn down) by their excessively sinful conduct. Yes, Lot himself was sinning when he chose first to dwell in the area of these wicked cities and then moved into them. But our text makes clear that the new man in Christ within Lot was vexed, tortured by the wicked actions surrounding him (Ps. 119:158).
In this history of Sodom and Gomorrah we have another example of how God judged the ungodly for their ungodly deeds. This divine action ought to assure us that He will do so in every case when the ungodly threaten the righteous.
Our text would have us draw two comforting conclusions from God’s work in these three historical events. First, “the Lord knoweth how…to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (9).
God judges the “unjust.” The lives of the “unjust” are characterized by self-centeredness. Unjust men focus on satisfying the desires of their filthy and corrupted flesh. Also they complain about and against any authority that would deny their selfish desires. They “despise government” (10) and “speak evil of dignities” (Jude 8). They disdain any rule over them: parents, employers, elders, and especially the Lord Jesus (1b). Asaph said that “they set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth” (Ps. 73:9).
It often seems that the wicked get away with their self-centered activity. It seems that the ungodly are able to sin with impunity. They even seem to die escaping any punishment—so Asaph complained in Psalm 73:4-9, 12.
But God does know. He is the Holy One to whom vengeance belongs. He will visit with wrath all those who reject Him and His truth, teaching lies for truth. They will be damned! Their end is sure, even though they themselves imagine that they will escape punishment! An important element in our understanding of God’s judgment is that His timetable is different from ours. And in His perfect timetable, He is reserving the unjust for judgment. They are treasuring up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:5).
Second, God knows “how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (9). Those to whom God gives the grace of regeneration and righteousness are “godly.” Their godliness is especially evidenced in their attitude about enticements to sin against God. The devout are aware of their calling always to respond to God in every situation and circumstance of life. They know that Satan is using every circumstance to get them to sin, but they also know that God is using the same circumstance as a trial of their faith. The godly see every circumstance as a God-given opportunity to show their love for Him by obeying Him, by conducting themselves in a way that would please their Lord. The godly do not despise the Lord’s authority and those whom He puts in authority.
God knows how to deliver or rescue the godly in the face of every temptation by drawing them to Himself. The godly need rescue because it is also their nature to fulfill their fleshly lusts. God rescues the godly even as He did Noah and Lot—to proclaim righteousness and by giving them occasions to vex their souls. God knows how to work within those He loves a sorrow for sin and the desire to love God.
Let us be assured that God knows. God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and He knows how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.
The knowledge that God knows is the key to a life of stability and comfort for God’s people as they live among the ungodly in this world of temptations. And history records many evidences that God knows how to reserve the ungodly for judgment and how to rescue the godly. Know that God knows!