New Book: 2 Peter

by Stephen Harris

2 Peter is written by Peter as a farewell discourse before his imminent martyrdom, most likely at the hands of Nero, fulfilling the words that Jesus spoke over him at the end of John. Before his death he states his intention to his readers, which is to “refresh your memory” (1:13) and leave a writing that can be remembered “after my departure” (1:15). He addresses the same communities that he previously had written to in 1 Peter, who are also aware of Paul’s writings, which he refers to in passing as “scripture” (3:16).

By way of introduction, he firstly urges them as Christians to never stop growing which he illustrates by describing seven character traits, which if they are increasing, mean that we won’t be useless or unfruitful in our faith. He then seeks to address several different issues confronting the gospel.

The first issue is the objection posed by the sceptic: isn’t this all just made up fairy tales (like unicorns and pixies)? Peter’s answer is no, he was a personal eyewitness to Jesus in his transfiguration upon the mountaintop and to his resurrection from the dead.

The second issue is the danger of false teachers amongst the church community. These false teachers lead people astray by their own behaviour which is completely immoral both in terms of sexual immorality and greed. Peter says that they are like a pig washed clean who goes back to wallow in the mud (2:22). He gives illustrations from the Old Testament (Genesis 6, interpreted by 1 Enoch; Noah and the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah) to argue that God knows how to bring judgement on people and rescue the righteous.

The third issue is that of the “scoffer” who questions, so where is the promised return of Jesus? Peter answers this objection by reference to time and creation. The existence of the universe determines a beginning. He further gives an explanation for the criticised delay; it’s actually because God is patient and wants people to repent that He is taking His time. His patience works out for our salvation, if he hadn’t been patient, then there would have been no one saved at all. And what will this coming be like? Suddenly, like a thief in the night (Matthew 24) and apocalyptic in nature, the very end and the revealing of all things.

In the light of this ending, how should we live? Holy, godly, spotless, blameless and finally, on guard – less we be carried away by the lawless and fall from our secure position (3:17). We are to grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus, a theme that Peter constantly returns to in his letter (1:2, 2, 8; 2:20, 3:18).

In summary, 2 Peter exhorts us to be sure that our faith is healthy and alive and at the same time be wary about falling away into false teachings that can subtly seduce us.