The Global Message of 2 Peter
Peter writes his second letter to combat false teaching and to remind his readers that the grace of God truly transforms sinners, enabling them to walk in righteousness. For a contemporary world of moral chaos and false teachings of various kinds, 2 Peter has forceful relevance.
Second Peter and Redemptive History
Peter does not quote the Old Testament to the degree that he did in his first letter. Yet his second letter shows pervasive awareness of the history of redemption that God has been orchestrating on behalf of his people down through the ages.
Peter speaks, for example, of the Old Testament prophets and their hope in the coming “day of the Lord” (2 Pet. 1:19–21; 3:1–13). He also refers numerous times to the promises God has made (1:4; 3:4, 9, 13). More specifically, the way Peter speaks of Christ throughout this letter makes clear that he views Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophetic hope and the divine promises. Peter speaks, for example, of the transfiguration, where he saw with his own eyes “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:16). There God the Father spoke his blessing over God the Son—his “beloved Son” (1:17). Peter is aware that his own life and ministry come in the immediate wake of the high point of all of human history: the coming of God’s Son into the world, for the sake of the world.
A particular emphasis in 2 Peter is the second coming of the Lord. Peter seems to be dealing with those who mock the reality of Christ’s return to earth in judgment. “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’” (2 Pet. 3:4). Peter explains that God is not delaying the end of history out of reluctance or slowness, but rather out of patience, desiring all people everywhere to be saved (3:9–10, 15). The great heart of God is “that all should reach repentance” (3:9).
Universal Themes in 2 Peter
Transforming grace. Peter opens and closes this letter with the theme of God’s transforming grace (2 Pet. 1:3–9; 3:18): “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (1:3). After listing virtues that believers should cultivate in light of God’s great promises, Peter reminds his readers that the absence of these virtues indicates forgetfulness that one’s sins have been forgiven (1:9). As we remember and enjoy forgiveness of sins, we develop godly virtues. We “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18). Wherever believers find themselves in their Christian development, they never outgrow their dependence upon the grace of God.
The danger of false teaching. Our growth in godliness also means that we develop an ever greater appreciation for true doctrine. Indeed, in describing false teachers, Peter continually connects their error with the godlessness it produces. This is seen especially in sexual immorality. In the opening verses of chapter 2, for example, Peter says, “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1), then he goes on to say that “many will follow their sensuality” (2:2). Teaching and conduct, word and deed, are naturally bound together. The eternal truths of the Bible are to be cherished and guarded by all God’s people in the church today, not simply for the sake of truth but for the sake of their souls.
The Global Message of 2 Peter for Today
Peter’s second epistle engages the global church at a fundamental level. Specific issues confronting the church and the world today—issues such as racial reconciliation, human rights, the dignity of life, and conflict resolution— are not addressed at an explicit level. And yet 2 Peter treats the foundational issues that underlie current manifestations of human sinfulness. Three such fundamental issues occur throughout 2 Peter: the nature of godliness, the danger of false teaching, and the hope of Christ’s second coming.
Godly living. Godliness in 2 Peter is described as something that requires the utmost effort, the most strenuous and ardent devotion. Yet this epistle also emphasizes that the cultivation of godliness is by divine grace. Peter tells us to “make every effort” (2 Pet. 1:15), yet also that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1:3). The church today must ever seek to hold these two together—human effort and divine provision, our work and God’s grace. For godly living is crucial to the health of the church.
False teaching. Peter addresses false teaching head-on and rebukes it in the most authoritative way possible. What is especially striking, as noted above, is the way Peter connects false teaching to immorality. False teaching does not simply encourage intellectual error; it also corrupts the soul. This reminds the global church of the importance of sound doctrine. It also reminds the church that sound doctrine is not an end in itself but is important for the sake of godly living and the protection of the church’s very life.
Christ’s second coming. Finally, Christians take refuge in the sure hope of Christ’s triumphant return. Upon his resurrection and ascension, Christ took his seat at God’s right hand and even now reigns victoriously over evil, death, hell, and Satan. Yet his righteous reign currently overlaps with “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). One day, however, Christ will come again and his triumph will be complete. On behalf of his people he will conquer once and for all sickness and death, anguish and dismay, sin and temptation. As the church today is embattled on countless fronts against the results of the fall—including the sin we see within us—we press on in the sure hope that Christ will come again to establish “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).