The Theme of Peter’s Second Epistle
Peter’s task in his two epistles is to teach the truth of the kingdom of God. The first one shows us that believers on the Lord Jesus live in this kingdom as His disciples, just as He foretold during His public ministry here in this world (see for example Mark 4:11–34; Luke 7:28). As the rejected one, He is no longer here but in heaven, and it is from there that He exercises authority over the kingdom.
The epistle also shows us that to belong to the kingdom involves suffering for us, but when the Lord Jesus returns it will be a kingdom of glory. We could put this heading over the epistle: ‘Through suffering to glory’. This was the way the Lord Jesus went as He submitted to God’s authority in His life here. The same should be true of us as Christians too.
But the question arises: what will happen to those who reject the Lord Jesus and His disciples at the present time? The apostle says hardly anything about this in this epistle so God gives him the task of writing the second one, mainly to answer this question.
Unbelievers in the kingdom (2 Peter 2)
Some of these unbelievers are false teachers as 2 Peter 2:1 makes clear: ‘there shall be also among you false teachers’. They live in the kingdom too, though only in an outward way. They are not heathens but call themselves Christians, and say, ‘We also represent Christ here and teach what the Bible says.’ But what do they do with it? They take it apart by discussing it. They ask, ‘Where is God’s Word in the Bible?’ ‘Which parts have only an historical meaning?’ ‘What can we still apply to ourselves today?’ Being false teachers they do not accept that the Bible is God’s Word to them. They do not let it shine its light on their lives but think they can form opinions about it, and have the right to teach and act according to their own ideas.
Of course, you do not have to be a false teacher to oppose Christ. In this chapter we find there are other ways unbelievers do this. What they both have in common is they claim to be Christians and yet reject the Christ of the Scriptures and His words recorded there.
God uses Peter to alert us to this aspect of Christianity at the present time. He does not want true believers to be surprised and put off by the fact that nominal Christians are in the majority.
Rationalism and materialism (2 Peter 3)
In chapter 3 Peter warns us that there are not only false teachers in the kingdom but that human reason and materialistic ideas will come to dominate it. This is exactly what we find today — people judge things according to these criteria. They say, ‘Nothing has really changed has it? Life has been going on in the same way since the beginning of time so why should we expect judgment to come now?’ ‘We are getting ever more prosperous and advanced so we are bound to solve more and more of our problems as time goes by.’ We even hear so-called Christians say these things, but they are leaving the living God out of their thinking. In their eyes the Bible is only a legend, which may be good enough for religious purposes but not a basis for looking at life in a factual way. And it is here that the apostle shows us God’s government will bring them under His judgment one day — it will suddenly break over their heads and they will perish eternally.
God encourages true believers (2 Peter 1)
The great thing about this epistle — and the Holy Spirit often does this in the Word — is it speaks to us in a positive and encouraging way before describing the dangers and difficulties we face.
The apostle gives us firm ground to stand on by telling us what God has given us already — we could call this the past. He is divinely inspired to name the spiritual riches God has bestowed on believers from the beginning of Christianity. This is not a matter of our responsibility in the first place but God’s sovereign grace, and as a result it cannot break down.
He shows us how we should put into practice the things we have been given. This is the present — the matter of how we use our riches so we do not lose their value.
He refers to the kingdom in verse 11, and from verse 16 onwards presents the form it will take in the future. This will not lie so much in the moral aspects of God’s operations that mark it now but the display of His glory. In that day He will reign through the Lord Jesus in power. Believers will enjoy His glory and power then and be rewarded for their readiness to endure suffering now.
Second epistles often describe the serious decline that will take place in the last days
This is certainly the case with Peter’s second epistle, and we can mention two which Paul wrote:
- 2 Thessalonians introduces us to the time during which antichrist will be active in this world. However, his spirit is already at work today.
- 2 Timothy presents the characteristics of the Christian testimony at its close, much of which we see around us today.
2 Peter speaks of dangers that may not have existed in the early days of Christianity. However, there is no question that some were already visibly developing then because Paul, Peter and Jude write about them in their epistles. But what they write is particularly true of the time in which we live now.
To whom was this epistle addressed? Some think: ‘This is actually a Jewish epistle, just like the first one.’ Certainly, Jewish aspects catch the eye as they do in 1 Peter because the apostle writes it to the ‘sojourners of the dispersion’ — Christians who had come out of Judaism. But Christian truth clearly shines from it, not Judaism. It does not teach us about the earthly blessings Israel has received or will receive. In fact, Peter writes about the heavenly character of the Christian life. Obviously, we cannot put this on the same level as the heavenly truth Paul presents in an epistle like Ephesians. Yet, there are blessings in 1 Peter that are linked to heaven and reserved there for us. The epistle is a fully Christian epistle.
The same is true of the second epistle! Peter evidently turns to the same recipients, as chapter 3 makes clear: ‘This, a second letter, beloved, I already write to you, in both which I stir up, in the way of putting you in remembrance, your pure mind’ (v. 1). Again, he addresses believers who came out of Judaism. This was his task as we learn from the account of his public restoration in John 21. The Lord Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs’, ‘Shepherd my sheep’, and ‘Feed my sheep’. Which sheep were they? The sheep that were in the Jewish fold the Lord Jesus had led out according to John 10. They are His sheep; converted believers who came out of Judaism. Peter had a special ministry concerning them as we find in the epistle to the Galatians, which says very clearly that his was the ‘apostleship of the circumcision’ (2:8).
A timeless epistle
Of course, this does not mean that 2 Peter is only for Christians who come out of Judaism. Otherwise it would not have been included in God’s Word. If in writing it Peter’s only task was to teach them it would have been for them alone. But God has inspired it and included it in His Word, which means it is timeless and always important to read and study. The blessings the Lord Jesus bestowed on the believers who originally received it are very important for us too because they are Christian blessings. However, we must not forget that Peter writes to them in the first place, which is why there are many references in it to their Jewish background.
Both epistles by Peter are of great value to those who appreciate God’s Word. They are practical in nature and therefore easier to understand for some of us than letters that focus more on doctrine. We need both so we should not ignore Peter’s ministry.