By Andrew E. Courtis
2 Peter 2 is like a crime scene. We learn about the invasion of false teachers into the church. We saw the impact they have, and finally we learn about their future indictment and incarceration. This last section of chapter 2 is the most wanted poster that describes these invaders. It describes for us what a false teacher looks like and how they operate. This chapter, along with the letter of Jude provides the clearest portrait of the operations of a false teacher in all of Scripture. In the last passage (2:1-10a) we learned about their invasion, impact and indictment. In this passage we will consider the characteristics of false teachers (2:10b-16) and the conduct of false teachers (2:17-22).
1. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF FALSE TEACHERS (2:10b-16)
In this section Peter provides us with a clear picture that portrays the characteristics of a false teacher. This is not a good sight. There are three characteristics found here: They disregard authority, they desire sensuality, and they are driven by greed.
Disregard for Authority (2:10b-11)
The words “bold” and “willful” describes their arrogance. This arrogance fuels their disregard for authority. Because they have a high view of themselves, they show a complete contempt for authority. The specific act of their disregard for authority is described as follows,
“Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord” (2:10b-11).
The first question needing to be asked is, “who are the glorious ones?” and “why don’t they tremble when they blaspheme them?” There are a number of views concerning the identity of these glorious ones. Some understand them to refer to governmental leaders and some view them as demonic beings. I think this is a reference to demonic beings. If you read this verse in view of the context and compare it with the parallel passage in Jude, I believe this becomes clear (Jude 8-10). The point is that even Michael the archangel did not bring a blasphemous judgment against the devil. Instead, he called for the Lord to rebuke him. Michael didn’t treat the capabilities of the devil lightly.
Now it does seem strange at first appearance that demons are called “glorious” but this is because they have remarkable power. They of course are corrupt, but nonetheless they are powerful beings. For this reason, we ought not to completely disregard them or claim that they are powerless beings. The false teachers Peter was describing showed a complete disregard for them. I can’t help but be reminded of the way many preachers speak of and engage with demonic beings in their ministries. They state arrogant and ridiculous things when it comes to the demonic. These people pose as preachers, but are nothing more than pretenders.
Even though Peter uses the example of a disregard of demonic beings, the heart issue also raises itself in other areas of disregarding authority. They may show this in their disregard for civil authority, parental authority, or in a lack of accountability. In-fact, they themselves can be controlling and intimidating individuals.
Desire for Sensuality (2:12-14a)
Another characteristic of false teachers is their desire for sensuality. Because of their proud hearts, they are only interested in satisfying their sinful cravings. Consider the way they are described,
“But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing” (2:12-13a).
This description shows that they are driven by their evil desires and cravings. These cravings become so unstrained that “They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls”. All of this to say is that they are a corrupting influence and bring damage, depravity and destruction in the church.
Driven by Greed (2:14b-16)
The third characteristic here that describes them is that they were driven by greed. Greed and sensuality are often linked in Scripture (Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5). That is because they are both craving after something that is not ours. They are both sourced from a longing that is interested in self-satisfaction. Peter begins this description of their greed by writing, “They have hearts trained greed”. Every single one of us knows what it is to be greedy. But these false teachers have managed to become professionals in their greed. The term gymnasium comes from the Greek word for “trained” in this verse. This deliberate act of becoming well developed in their greed lands them the title “Accursed children!” This means that their destination is Hell. Peter now describes their corrupt behavior by liken then to the way of Balaam,
“Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness” (2:15-16).
Balaam is an interesting character in the Old Testament and we learn about in Numbers 22-24. He was a false prophet who was ordered by Balak, the Moabite king, to curse the Israelites before they entered the land of Canaan. After being given clear instructions from God to not do this, he chose ways to disregard God’s Word and make financial gain. Balaam is mention three times in the New Testament: “The way of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:15), the error of Balaam (Jude 11) and the doctrine of Balaam (Rev. 2:14). Balaam comes to represent those who know God’s Word, but ignore it so as to advantage their selfish desires. False teachers are motivated by greed. Keep a look out for this!
So from verses 10b-16 we gain a clear portrait of what false teachers look like. They are characterized by a disregard for authority, a desire for sensuality and driven by greed.
2. THE CONDUCT OF FALSE TEACHERS (2:17-22)
We will now consider their conduct. The focus of this section is the method or mode of operation of these false teachers. It is interesting that this section begins and ends with reference to their coming doom (2:17 and 2:20-22). This reminds us that no matter how attractive their teachings or lifestyles are, they will come to a ruin. Wickedness, no matter how well packaged it may be, is open defiance against our Holy Creator. How does a false teacher operate? In these verses we lean about two actions: they prey on the struggling (2:18) and they promise shallow hope (2:19).
They Prey on the Struggling (2:18)
These con artists are strategic in their target audience. They love to appeal to those who are struggling. Peter writes,
“For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error”
They begin by “speaking loud boasts of folly”. That is, they brag about themselves and what they know. People who consistently boast about their knowledge and their accomplishments should alarm us. They sound impressive with their words and style. Then after convincing people that they are great, “they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error”. They appeal to people by tapping into their sinful desires. Their teaching offers people a sensual lifestyle while thinking they are honoring God.
They Promise Shallow Hope (2:19)
False teachers are dodgy salesmen. The promise you are great product, but in the end it is worthless. Peter writes,
“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”
False teachers are real and it is our duty to learn how to spot them. In-order for us to do this well, we need to learn how to have spiritual discernment. The only way to be spiritually discerning is to have our minds shaped and informed by the Word of God. Error comes in all shapes and forms. But most often it is really subtle. After making known the reality of false teachers, and their destructive invasion in the church, Peter posted on the wall a wanted poster. We are to look at it and be aware of the characteristics and conduct of these corrupt individuals.