Shortly before Jesus went to the cross, Peter and his fellow disciples asked Him privately about the end of the world. Jesus’s brilliant answer, known as the Olivet Discourse, included a warning that “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” in the last days (Matthew 24:11). Peter had seen some fulfillment of that warning in the churches he oversaw, and so he wrote extensively in this letter about how to spot these teachers of “destructive heresies” (v.1). He wanted the believers under his care to be able to recognize and run from false teachers, and to hold tightly to the gospel truth he had taught them.
Peter did not mince words when he described these false teachers. They are not sincere-but-misinformed Christians with pure motives. They are deliberately deceptive tricksters who worm their way into pulpits and classrooms with a plan to “secretly” (v.1) pervert the gospel, distort the truth, and confuse the church. Their end-game is to exploit vulnerable and “unsteady” believers for sex and money (v.3, 14). With their clever but “false” words (v.3) they “deny the Master”, Jesus (v.1), by attacking His identity as the virgin-born Son of God, belittling His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and denying His resurrection. Peter had risked his life to preach these precious truths, and his reaction to those who tried to undo his work and discredit his Lord was harsh.
He wrote that these false teachers were depraved and unsaved, definitely headed for hell (v.9, 17). Peter equated their destiny with that of Satan and his fallen angels, the wicked people who were destroyed in Noah’s flood, and the perverts of Sodom and Gomorrah (v.4-10). He compared them to “irrational animals” (v.12), driven by their unbridled urges and instincts. They are hypocrites: they attend church gatherings, but they aren’t thinking about the Lord — they are thinking about who they might have an affair with (v.13-14). They are loud and proud, claiming to have something new to teach, but they are empty, devoid of truth, like a dried-up spring (v.17-18). They have nothing to offer but lies.
As we get closer and closer to the Second Coming of Christ, we should become increasingly aware and on guard about false teachers. Our message is too important to be watered-down. Our mission is too important to risk being derailed by error. False teachers are prevalent today — on television, on the Internet, and on bookshelves. They may even be lurking in the hallways of your church (v.1), waiting patiently for an opportunity to gain a hearing so they can inject the venom of heresy. As Peter instructed in chapter 1, we should “pay attention” to the Scripture, which is “a lamp shining in a dark place” (see 1:19). As we become more and more familiar with the truth, we will be able to recognize that which is false.