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This letter is addressed to the same network of churches as Peter’s first letter (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 3:1) and was likely sent from the same location in Rome (1 Pet. 5:13). Peter has become aware of the fact that he is going to die soon (2 Pet. 1:14), and the evidence we have from early tradition is that Peter was executed by the Roman authorities during the reign of emperor Nero. This letter acts as Peter’s farewell speech.

He begins by challenging Jesus’ followers to never stop growing (2 Pet. 1). This is followed by two final warnings about the growing number of corrupt teachers who are leading Christians astray through their twisted way of life as well as by their distorted theology (2 Pet. 2-3). In each of these sections, Peter counters accusations made by these leaders against himself and the other apostles. His goal is to restore confidence and order to these church communities.

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2 Peter

Who Wrote the Book of 2 Peter?

Christian tradition holds that the Apostle Peter wrote 2 Peter. This is the second of two letters Peter wrote to multiple church communities in Asia-minor.

Context

The events described in 2 Peter take place in the Roman province of Asia-minor. 2 Peter was likely composed between 64 and 67 C.E.

Literary Styles

The book of 2 Peter is a letter written in prose discourse.

Key Themes

  • Humans receiving faith as a gift and adding to it
  • God’s faithfulness to deliver his people
  • Jesus as the exalted king of the universe

Structure

2 Peter can be divided into three parts. Chapter 1 begins by encouraging Jesus’ followers to never stop maturing in their faith. Chapter 2 challenges the corrupt teachers’ lifestyles. And chapter 3 is a reminder of God’s justice and righteousness.

2 Peter 1: Encouragement Toward Continued Growth

Peter begins by reminding these churches that, through Jesus, God has invited people to become “participants of his divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:3), that is, to share in God’s own eternal life and love. This is an incredible gift that requires lifelong responsibility. To receive this gift means a commitment to developing the same character traits that mark God’s own divine nature: moral goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, and family affection. The final trait, love, encompasses and crowns all the others. According to Jesus, love means devoting oneself to the well-being of others no matter their response or the cost involved.

Peter continues on to state the letter’s purpose. It will act as a memorial of his teaching, passing its knowledge onto later generations (2 Pet. 1:12-15), as he knows he won’t be around much longer to give it in person. Additionally, before he dies, he wants to address the accusations being made by leaders who distort the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

Peter first addresses an objection repeated by skeptics present and future—that Peter and the apostles fabricated everything about Jesus being the risen King of the world and his future return (2 Pet. 1:16-20). To counter this claim, Peter offers his eyewitness testimony of the powerful moment of Jesus’ transformation on the mountain (Mark 9:1-8), where the apostles saw Jesus exalted as King. His resurrection means that he is alive as King and will return to rescue our world one day. Furthermore, Jesus’ future return to bring God’s Kingdom will fulfill what the ancient Scriptures have been pointing to all along. The words of the Old Testament prophets are not fabricated fantasies, but through the human words of the Scriptures and through the human Jesus, God himself has spoken to us.

2 Peter 2: Confronting Corrupt Teachers

In Chapter 2, Peter moves on to address the corrupt teachers’ way of life, which is connected to another objection. These leaders deny the idea of a final reckoning (2 Pet. 2:1-3), the time when God will hold all people accountable for their choices. This denial conveniently allows them to ignore Jesus’ teaching about money and sex, as they are shamelessly sleeping around and making tons of profit by teaching in churches.

Peter recalls three ancient examples when God brought his justice against such rebellion (2 Pet. 2:4-11). In the first example, he mentions the story of the sons of God in Genesis 6 as it was interpreted in a popular Jewish work called 1 Enoch. In this text, these sons were identified as rebellious angels who crossed the line and slept with women, earning divine judgment. He also reminds us of the story of the ancient flood (Gen. 6-8), followed by the third example, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). In each case, there was rebellion leading to divine judgment. But as Peter points out, God was always faithful to deliver his people, as the story of Lot shows.

Peter then connects these ancient stories to the teachers’ corrupt way of life. They are after money and sex, they despise authority, and they lead people to think that God doesn’t care about our moral decisions. They teach a message of Christian freedom as a license to do whatever they want. This is why Peter brings up Paul’s letters later in 2 Peter 3:15-16.

It appears that these teachers have distorted Paul’s message of liberation in Christ (Rom. 6). These behaviors and the justification for their actions are not what Paul intended, and Peter makes it clear that these teachers are not free. In reality, they are slaves to their bodily impulses. The fact that they are Christians makes it more tragic because knowing Jesus’ teachings makes them doubly accountable. They have become pitiful examples of the ancient proverbs about a dog returning to its vomit and a washed pig going back to the mud (Prov. 26:11).

2 Peter 3: God Will Bring His Justice

Peter continues by addressing the reasoning behind their denial of the final reckoning (2 Pet. 3:1-4). The skeptics say that “generations of God’s people keep passing away without seeing the fulfillment of their hopes. Where is this promised return of Jesus?” Peter counters by showing how shortsighted this objection is. “Look around,” he says, “at this remarkable universe we inhabit” (2 Pet. 3:5-9). The fact that we exist at all means that, at some moment in the past, God’s word intervened in a dramatic way to bring something out of nothing, order out of chaos, and he can do so again.

But here’s the real question: Why is God taking so long? Peter reminds us that our human conception of time is extremely limited. The long expanses of time through which God works don’t fit neatly within the framework of our very short lives. This is actually a sign of God’s patience. Each generation is offered the chance to recognize their selfishness, to humble themselves, and to repent before his generous grace.

God’s grace will bring the story to a close on the Day of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:10-13). Peter draws upon the prophetic poetry of Isaiah 34 and Zephaniah 3. These poems described the day of God’s justice as a consuming fire. Peter says that “the heavens will pass away and the stoicheia will melt by fire” (2 Pet. 3:10). This is a Greek word that can refer to the elements, in which case Peter is talking about a future dissolution of the material universe. But the word can also mean heavenly bodies or the stars. The second meaning is how the word is used in Isaiah 34:4, where Peter is quoting from. In that case, the statement is a metaphor about the “sky being peeled back” before the God who sees all. This is why the fire doesn’t result in the annihilation of creation but rather that “the earth and all its works are exposed” (2 Pet. 3:10).

The ultimate purpose of God’s consuming justice is not to scrap the universe but rather to expose evil and injustice and remove it so that a new kind of Heaven and Earth can emerge. It will be a creation that is permeated with righteousness, where people know and love God and therefore love their neighbor as themselves. Peter concludes by saying that this is the real Christian hope that Jesus and the apostles have been announcing. This includes Paul, whose writings can be misunderstood if you rip his teachings out of their context. 

The tone of 2 Peter is pretty intense, but his passion comes from the firm conviction that God loves this world and is determined to rescue it through Jesus. This means that God’s love must confront and deal with the sin and injustice that ruins his beloved creation. In God’s own time, he will do just that, opening up a new future for humanity and all creation.

The Big Idea

God loves this world and is determined to rescue it through Jesus. This means that God’s love will confront and deal with sin and injustice.

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