Justice and Salvation (2 Peter 2:4-10)

Introduction

Last time, we saw that we have to be on the look out for false teachers.  However we also saw that despite their sneakiness and arrogance, false teachers cannot avoid God’s judgement. However, how can we be sure that they will receive justice and how can we be certain that in the meantime and in the process that we will not be harmed too.

Remember that Peter’s recipients lived at a time of great upheaval and suffering. It may well have been possible that God would use this upheaval to expose the false teachers. However, if they are going to live through this  time of incredible suffering, will the believers themselves survive it?

Here we are with the coronavirus pandemic causing havoc and desolation.  This may be a means by which God acts to expose some of the idolatry and false teaching during our generation. By this, I do not mean that God is specifically punishing the church or the country for a specific sin but rather that living in a fallen world, we experience some aspects of the judgement of death now and these are used by God consistently for the disciplining and pruning of his church. So, will the wolves of our day be exposed? Will they meet their comeuppance and what will be the cost to us as our buildings are closed, people are in lock down and the economic, social, physical and emotional costs are likely to be horrific?

Peter uses two examples to show us that we can trust in God for situations like this.

Fallen Angels (v4)

V4 starts with the argument that God did not spare the ancient world. The initial focus is on the angels that sinned. It is possible that Peter has in mind all of the angels who fell with Satan. However the dominant interpretation of Genesis 6 in his day was that the sons of God who slept with the daughters of men were fallen angels and it is likely that Peter has these in mind.  This ties back to 1 Peter 3 where Peter also talks about the days of Noah. There we are told about Jesus through the Holy Spirit preaching to the spirits in prison at his resurrection.

These fallen angels were cast into “Hell” according to contemporary translations – or possibly into “Hades.” The specific word used is not the normal one for either hell or hades but the word “tartarus” referring to the underworld. There, they are chained or imprisoned in gloomy places. This raises an interesting question as to how the spirits can both be imprisoned in the underworld and yet clearly active through possession and oppression in the world? 

Well, if we are referring to one subset of fallen angels, it is possible that these ones alone are subject to chains whilst others still have power to roam and to tempt.  Alternatively, I would suggest that the image here is metaphorical to emphasise their fall from high and lofty positions and the level of restraint that there is on their freedom to act.

The fallen angels are imprisoned and restrained waiting a future judgement day. Revelation 21:10 and 14 tell us that at the end of time when Christ returns to judge Satan, death and hell will all be thrown into the lake of fire. 

Noah’s Flood (v5-6)

If the fallen angels of Genesis 6 are awaiting final judgement, a form of judgement still came at that time.  God did not spare the ancient world (v5) but brought a flood on it causing panic, destruction and death.  Only one family of 8 were saved as Noah was preserved along with his family and a remnant of creatures.  Why does he save Noah? He saves him because he is a “herald/preacher of righteousness.”

“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. 10 Noah was the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

Noah is introduced as someone who is righteous. He had right standing before God and who is blameless. The sense there is of virtue, of good moral character. He walked with God. This is someone who had an existing and consistent relationship with God.  God is able to deal with those who have rebelled against him whilst looking after those who belong to him.  As a preacher of righteousness, we see Noah as one who proclaims God’s good news, warning of the coming judgement and telling people about how to be safe. Whilst Genesis does not explicitly mention proclamation, it is hard to imagine Noah working on the Ark without interaction with passers by about what he was doing and why.

Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah (v7-8)

When God called Abraham to leave his family and home to go to the place He would show him, Abraham took his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot with hi, When they settle in the land, they find that they are on top of each other leading to squabbles so they agree to part and to go their separate ways. Abraham heads for the hill country but Lot falls in love with the rich, fertile lands on the plan around the dead sea. In that region were two cities famed for their immorality, Sodom and Gomorrah. Eventually Lot is living in Sodom and sitting at the City Gate suggesting he has risen to some level of influence there.

God in Genesis 18 tells Abraham that he is going to destroy the city and Abraham pleads with him for leniency.  He tries to barter God down, what if there are 100, 50, 10 men in the city who are righteous. However, there are not ten and Abraham does not go lower. In fact, God’s plan is not to spare the city for a few people to remain there but rather to rescue Lot and his daughters from the city. He sends his angels who when they arrive are invited in by Lot.  There the townsmen surround the house and demand that the messengers are brought out to be raped. Lot refuses and at one point offers his daughters instead as a better alternative.  Lot and his family leave the city the next day, fleeing to safety.  His wife is caught up in the destruction, looking back she is turned into a pillar of salt. Rather than return to his family, the shamed Lot finds himself living with his daughters in a cave isolated from everyone else. Desperate to continue the family line, each daughter in turn gets him drunk and commits incest with him.

That’s the background to v7-8 which provide us with our second main example.  Just as God did not spare the fallen angels nor the inhabitants of the world during Noah’s flood, so God does not spare the inhabitants of the wicked cities in Abraham’s time. Rather, God judges them but acts to rescue Lot.

Given what we have seen above, it seems strange to describe a man who was willing to give up his daughters and  easily led into drunkenness and immorality (notice the connection with Noah who also is exposed to shame through drunkenness after cataclysmic destruction) as righteous, yet this is how the New Testament describes him.

Why does Peter consider Lot to be righteous? Well, whilst falling a long way short in his dealings, Lot proves himself distinct from the other citizens, he wants to offer hospitality and protect against shame. As the new testament explains, the sin in the city was deeply distressing to him. Even in his failure, Lot’s concern is still to please God.

Implications for the Church (v9-10)

The structure of the passage is building up with these examples from the past to show Peter’s readers that they can know something about God and his character and his actions. If God was able to bring Lot and Noah through a time of crisis whilst still being just to the wicked people fo their time, God could do the same for the church.

God is able to rescue the righteous or godly from trials. It is important at this stage to notice how this works in the examples. In Noah’s case, he must go through the trial of the flood but is kept completely safe. Lot is brought safely out of  the danger before judgement comes. At first sight it looks like we have an example of being saved through the trial and one of being saved out of the trial. However Lot’s salvation does not protect him from the horrific consequences of judgement, he loses his wife and the affect on his family life at the end is deeply distressing.

Seeing that God is able to save the righteous encourages believers in the past encourages the early church that they also are safe in God’s hands, he can and will protect them from evil.  At the same point, God is able to act to bring about judgement and the destruction of the wicked in Peter’s day.  Notice that he specifically has in mind those who indulge in lust (sexual immorality) and disrespect those in legitimate authority.  Remember that the false teachers try to entice people into sexual sin and who undermine the authority of Christ. Verse 9 is therefore a clear allusion to the false teachers of Peter’s day.

Application to our circumstances

 So, we can now apply the passage to us.  Here are the key points again.

  • Even if it appears delayed, judgement is eventually coming to God’s enemies
  • God uses the tests and trials of troubled times to expose his enemies, it is therefore part of his justice towards them.
  • God is able and willing to keep his righteous people safe through the trials.

Before we develop the application further, we need to consider a couple of theological points. First of all, who are the righteous, the blameless, the godly. To some extent it appears that Noah and Lot are singled out on a relative basis, they are more godly than the people around them.  However, even for them I want to suggest that their righteousness is relational and rooted in faith. Abraham trusted God and it was credited to him as righteous. Noah also trusts God responding to the incredible call to build an ark in obedience. This shows that he trusts God and believes that He is being truth both in his warning that a flood will come and in his promise that Noah will be kept safe in the ark. Lot is righteous in that despite the level to which he appears compromised in Sodom, he still is distressed at the sin reflecting a genuine love for God and desire to please him. This also is an expression of faith and this is further seen when Lot heeds the angels’ warning even as others turn back. This reinforces for us that godliness and righteousness are about faith. Do we trust God and love him with our hearts through Christ.

Secondly, in what way does God save us through the experiences. Well, if we have seen that Noah is kept safe through, not our of the flood and Lot must still experience pain and the consequences of life in a sinful world, then this helps us to see that our salvation is not a get out of jail free card. We are not rescued out of the pain and suffering of this world. Rather, we are kept safe through it.

This means that the believer will suffer pain and distress. You may either face specific persecution because of faith or your love of Christ may cause you to make sacrificial decisions about goals, careers and relationships.  You will not necessary avoid the trial but you will be kept safely  through. Further, this safety isn’t primarily about physical well-being (noting the toll on Lot). Rather, this is about spiritual safety.  Can I trust God to take me safely through the trials of life with my faith and my identity in Christ secure?  The answer in 2 Peter is “Yes we can.”

This is important as we face a situation like the Coronavirus pandemic. Whilst I do not believe that this is specific punishment, I do believe that God is using it to expose the truth of hearts.

  • If we look for popularity based on attendance at our services, then the truth of our hearts will be exposed by the lockdown
  • If we have found our own identity in material possessions and encouraged others to seek those things through us, then we will be exposed as offering a false Gospel when harsh economic reality bites.
  • Further, those making outlandish comments about their ability to drive back the virus with authoritative words have been proved to be fake.

What about those of us who belong to Christ. I think the answer is as follows

  • Whether or not we live through this or catch the illness or die, we have the joy of knowing we will one day be with Christ. There is no fear in death.
  • We can trust God to continue to give us assurance of saving faith in him through tough times.
  • We can look to God to help us to stay holy and not to be tempted by short cuts and quick ways out.
  • We can trust God to continue to preserve the work of the Gospel. Even if the virus knocks out Gospel ministries, Christ will still build his church.

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