In the first ten verses we saw that false teachers had come attempting to deceive the people that there was not a final judgment or eternal punishment. Peter warned them by reminding them about God not sparing angels that sinned, destroying the ancient world in the flood, and turning to ashes Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter is going to describe the character of these false teachers. Understanding the character of these false teachers is very important. First, we need to understand their motives. False teachers do not have our best interests in mind. They do not care about our souls, which we will see more clearly in a moment. Second, we need to know what they do so that we can identify them as the false teachers that they are.
10 Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 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, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. (2:10-13; ESV)
The first description given to these false teachers is that they are brazen, bold, ignorant, proud, and self-sufficient. Peter says that these people are so arrogant that they not only speak slanderous words, but they speak slanderous words even against the glorious ones. They slander anything and anyone, even spiritual glorious beings. In parallel to Jude 8-9, this is probably referring to fallen spiritual beings, including Satan. But even angels, who are greater in might and power than these false teachers, are not so brazen and arrogant to utter slanderous words against them.
We learn an important characteristic about these false teachers and false teachers in general to be on watch. They are slanderers. They are complainers. They are people who always have something evil to say about something or someone. We must watch out for these people. Slandering and complaining are violations of God’s law and are not exemplary of Christian character. These are dangerous individuals who are claiming to be Christians, but are not following the way of Jesus.
The second description given to these false teachers is that they act like animals, lacking reason or truth. They act on impulses rather than knowledge. They lack restraint, sinning even in broad daylight. They enjoy telling their lies and deceiving others. They claim to have knowledge, but slander from ignorance. Peter promises that they will be destroyed, suffering harm and penalty as payment for their wrongdoing. They are destined for destruction.
What we see is that false teachers reveal a lack of shame. Be warned of those who claim to be followers of Jesus but are sinning in broad daylight. They are showing a lack of shame. They are not concerned about their sins. Not only openly slandering, but openly acting shamefully. Verse 13 reveals the deep danger. They are part of the Christian group. They are eating meals together in fellowship as Christians. They are acting like they care about you and are joined with you. However, they are delighting in their deceptions as they pull the wool over your eyes. Their intent is to deceive and they will do a good job at doing it while blending in with other Christians. Look at their lives. Focus on their character and their actions. Do not believe their words.
14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 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. (2:14-16; ESV)
Further, these false teachers engage in unashamed indulgence. They have eyes full of adultery. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says that this means that they desire every woman they see. This sounds like the same sinfulness today, except these are people claiming to be Christians. These are people who seem to be Christian teachers. But they have eyes full of adultery. They want to teach hard things to you, but are unwilling to obey the teachings of the Lord themselves. In some occasions, those who bark the loudest are the greater violators. That is, the more I point the finger at you, everyone will pay attention to you and not pay attention to me and my sins. Not only full of lust, they are also full of greed. They are not trained for godliness but greed. The danger is not for their own souls but the souls of others. “They entice unsteady souls.” They are seeking out the weak in the faith and try to sweep them away to follow their own teachings.
To show how these false teachers act like irrational animals, Peter brings up the example of Balaam. We are going to have a humorous, tongue-in-cheek point. The false teachers have gone their own way, leaving the straight, right path of God. Instead, they have followed the way of Balaam. This recalls a great story about the prophet who wanted to pronounce curses on Israel so that the king of Moab would pay him. He wanted to be a prophet for hire. But the point of comparison does not stop here. Balaam is like these false teachers because they are greedy and most concerned about the money. But there is more to compare. As Balaam was on his way to meet the king of Moab, who was the one who was the rational one? It was Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:22:35). The donkey becomes the voice of reason. This is the emphasis that Peter places on the story. These false teachers are like Balaam who had a speechless donkey speak with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. The donkey was smarter than Balaam. Balaam’s irrational behavior had to be corrected by an irrational animal!
False teachers are not going the way of reason. They are not going down the right path of God. Don’t be senseless like these teachers who are trying to deceive you! Don’t check your brain at the door! Don’t trust Christians teachers simply because they are Christians. Examine the scriptures for yourself!
17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 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. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. (2:17-19; ESV)
These false teachers offer great promises, but are lacking substance and results. They are like waterless springs in the desert. This does not mean too much to us because water is so easily accessible. We simply go to the refrigerator, the faucet, or the store. But to them, walking in Palestine, a waterless spring was a disaster. You need water in the heat of the desert and you think you have found a spring or well. But as you approach you observe that there is no water there. It is a false hope and it is devastating. It is like here is south Florida when the clouds build up in the heat of the afternoon. We begin to hear the thunder but it does not rain. It builds up hope and expectation, but there are no results. Such are these false teachers. They promise spirituality and freedom, but it is not fulfilling. Their promised freedom is causing people to enslaved to sin and corruption.
This is a great danger. In supposedly teaching godliness, their teachings led to sinfulness. Verse 19 is very important. “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” Sexuality, greed, passions, and lust seems to be the mantra of these false teachers. Peter says that they are not making you free, but enslaving you to your passions and flesh. I think this is a useful teaching for us to consider. Often there is a question concerning whether some activity is sinful or not. We usually try to find a “thou shalt not” to determine if something is sin. But notice what Peter says. We are enslaved to anything that overcomes us. We cannot allow our bodies and minds to become enslaved to anything in this physical world. We cannot be overcome by chemicals, foods, drinks, or anything because it means that we are slaves of it, not slaves of Jesus Christ. As Paul told the Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). It may not be sinful in itself, but if I am enslaved to it then it has become sin.
20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2:20-22; ESV)
Verses 20-22 conclude this section concerning the description and character of these false teachers. Peter ends with some graphic images concerning those who turn away from the Lord after coming to him initially. Peter says that those who have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus but then are entangled in those defilements and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. Peter says that it would be better to have never known the way of righteousness than turning back. Before we explain this statement, let’s look at the two images Peter uses to describe the horror of turning away from the Lord.
The first image is of a dog returning to his own vomit, which comes from Proverbs 26:11. Now, I think that we can agree that this is an extremely gross image. It brings out the immediate question, “Why would a dog do that?” Notice that the false teacher is related to a dog, which was unclean and used as a derogatory term. The second image is just as frustrating and detestable. The pig, after being washed, goes right back into the mud to wallow around. Again, the natural question is, “Why would a pig do that?” Notice again that the false teacher is related to a pig, which was also unclean and used as a derogatory term. So what does this mean? Why is turning back from the knowledge of our Lord a worse condition than never knowing the way in the first place? I do not believe it is feasible to say that the punishment of the one who turns back is worse than the unbeliever who never knew. It is interesting that many commentaries are unwilling to give an explanation, perhaps because it poses difficulties to those who believe that a person can never fall away from the Lord.
Rather, I think there are a couple of aspects to why it is worse to fall away than to never know the Lord. First, it is difficult to return to God. The writer of Hebrews made a similar statement,
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6; ESV)
It is worse because your opportunity to return to the Lord is much more difficult. The road to come back to God is filled with many more obstacles. The heart has become callous toward God. It is worse for you because your likelihood of coming to the Lord has been diminished.
I think there is a second aspect to why it is worse than the first. It is worse for those who turned away because you know what you have missed out on. On the day of judgment you will know that you had salvation and you had forgiveness, but you let it go. You had eternal life in your hand and you threw it away. Jesus said similarly, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out” (Luke 13:28). Part of the anguish in eternal torment is knowing what you had and what was possible, yet realizing that you have missed out. Do not turn away from the Lord. It will be so hard to come back and you will agonize over knowing you were so close, yet are now so far away from the Lord.
- Examine the character and actions of a teacher, not just his words. A godly character should be reflected.
- The way to not be swept away by false teaching is to know the scriptures for yourself. Never take the word of the Christian teacher. Check everything. Study. Examine.
- It will be worse for us if we turn away. Don’t think that it is easy to come back to the Lord. Satan will cast every obstacle in your path to keep you from coming back. Don’t turn away.