August 9, 2020
Who is an authority over you? In a country which holds liberty and independence as two of our highest values, who, if anyone, is an authority over you? Certainly, the violent protests over the past few months have brought that question to the fore. Are governing authorities over us? Are police authorities over us? Some have answered loudly and violently by flouting the rule of law, by calling for an abolition of our form of government, and an abolition of police forces through defunding the police. I try to steer a wide path around politics and divisive current events, unless they are moral, so I’ll steer clear of those specific discussions. My question is simply this – who, if anyone, is in authority over you?
Let’s bring it closer to home, since I suppose most of you haven’t thrown a brick through the courthouse and most would stop if you saw blue lights in your rearview mirror. If you still live at home – let’s say under the age of 18 – are your parents in authority over you? If you are at school – kindergarten through college I suppose, are teachers and professors in authority?
If you work a job, is your supervisor an authority? Meaning, do you have to do what parents and teachers and supervisors and governing authorities say – barring illegal or immoral demands? What about the church? Who, if anyone, is in authority? There are lots of different church governing structures – the pastor, the bishop, the pope, the elders, the congregation collectively – are they the authority? Most would submit, I suppose, to some form of ecclesiastical structure. But what happens if that authority is wrong? I mean, can they be wrong? Can a pastor or group of elders or church hierarchy or the congregation make a mistake? So, who or what then is the ultimate authority? Most of us, as believers in Jesus, would agree that ultimately God – Jesus specifically – is the head of the church.
This, by the way, was a significant issue in the Protestant Reformation. Here’s how the question was posed then: was the church and its ecclesiastical structure the highest authority? Was the Pope the highest authority – when he spoke on matters of church polity and doctrine, did he speak ex cathreda, without error? And further, who is a higher authority – the Pope, or a church council. This became a big question at the Council of Constance. You see, there had been two popes in power – one in Avignon, France, one in Rome, Italy. So, the Council of Pisa deposed those two and named another. The only problem was, the other two refused to step down – now you had three Popes. So, who to follow? The Council of Constance, from 1414 to 1418, did two important things. First, they deposed all three popes and named the next pope. Fortunately, this time the other three stepped down. And second, the Council declared they – the council – was a higher authority than the pope. So, who is the highest authority in the church?
Along came the Reformers about a hundred years later and said – neither one. Our highest authority is not church structure, but Scripture. It was one of the Five Solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. Translated, that is Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, and to God’s Glory Alone.
I want to make sure you understand that. Yes, Jesus is the head of the church. This church. And, He has left those in authority to govern the church – namely elders. But, those Elders are in submission to Scripture. Meaning, it is not that the Scripture is subject to the church – rather, it is the other way around – the church is subject to the Scripture. You see, God is the head of His church, and He has left the Bible as our ultimate governing document.
Now of course, we can have differences of opinions about what the Bible says, resulting in tens of thousands of denominations today – but most of them would agree the Bible is the highest authority. So, what happens if the pastor or the Elders divert from the clear teaching of Scripture? Then the authority, granted by Christ through His Scripture, no longer remains with this now biblically bankrupt leadership.
Such was the case in the churches to which Peter wrote his second letter. Yes, as an apostle, he was a leader in the church. In fact, God was in the process of having the New Testament written by apostles or their close associates. Such that, while those original Twelve officially designated apostles by Jesus have passed off the scene, they have left us a written document called the Bible as our highest authority. Under Christ. The Scripture produces and leads the church – not the other way around.
So, Peter wrote this second letter to a people whose leadership in some way had gotten off track. They had started teaching things opposed to Scripture. But, you say, they were teachers in the church – are they not the authority? Not ultimately. The Scripture is our ultimate authority. So, these false teachers had begun teaching things contrary to what the Scripture said. You may remember it likely went like this:
First, they said, Jesus is not coming back. Second, since He’s not coming back, there will be no judgment. And third, since there will be no judgment, we can live however we want. We can indulge the flesh and meet all its sinful desires.
Peter’s argument becomes, Jesus is coming back. And since He is, there will be a judgment. And since these false teachers will be judged, they will not be spared. To what authority does Peter appeal? Two weeks ago, he reminded his readers that he, and the other apostles, did not follow cleverly devised tales or myths. The word myths was used to speak of legends or stories about some deity. Peter says, we didn’t do that. We didn’t make this stuff up. Rather, we made known to you the power and majesty that will be reveled at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
How could he say that? Because Peter was an eyewitness to His majesty on the holy mountain – at the Transfiguration. We were there – James, John, and I were there when we saw Jesus transfigured before us. For that moment in time, the veil of His flesh was pulled back, and we saw His clothing and face transform to become brighter than the noon-day sun. We heard the voice of the Majestic Glory – the Father from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.” And this was just a picture, a prefigure of what it will be like when Jesus comes back in glory. We were witnesses – we saw it.
Now, the OT law of Moses required the testimony of two witnesses for something to be established or affirmed. Jesus referenced that when He taught on church discipline in Matthew 18 – if you see a brother or sister sinning, go to them and confront them. If they refuse to listen to you, take one or two witnesses along to confirm, “so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” So Peter, having stated the first witnesses – the apostles who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ majesty on the holy mountain – Peter now turns to the second witness in II Peter 1:19-21 – the prophetic Word of God. Read it with me.
These are stunning words. The first witness was the eyewitness of the apostles on the holy mountain at the Transfiguration. The second witness is the inviolable, prophetic, Spirit-inspired Word of God. The Word of God is our ultimate authority – if it says it, it’s true. This passage has rightly been used as a text to prove the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God. That’s why I suggested at the beginning, it is our ultimate authority. I want you to understand that. I know most of you do, but for those of you new to Alliance, either in person or online – we believe the Bible, we teach the Bible, and we take it seriously. Why? Peter tells us. Here’s the outline of the text:
- The Prophetic Word Deserves Our Attention (19)
- The Prophetic Word is not One’s Own Interpretation (20)
- The Prophetic Word is from the Holy Spirit (21), and thereby, is the Word of God.
First, the prophetic Word, because it is God’s Word, deserves our attention. Peter writes, “So we have the prophetic word.” Stop right there. Remember, Peter is battling false teachers who were saying Jesus was not coming back. And yet, the Transfiguration is a promise – Jesus is coming back in glory, with the holy angels. Those on the mountain got glimpse, a picture, a foreshadowing of that glorious return.
Now, Peter suggests the second proof/witness to the return of Christ is the prophetic word. Most likely, Peter is referring specifically to those prophecies concerning the second coming of Christ in glory to make all things right. You see, when Jesus came the first time, they were confused about that. They expected that coming to be in glory – when the Messiah would right all wrongs.
Remember after the resurrection, when Jesus was about to ascend to His Father from the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked Him, is this it? Is this the time when you will set up the kingdom in all its glory? How did Jesus respond? Basically He said, this is not the time, and it is not for you to know the time. You be busy about building My kingdom – you be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth – and then I will return. Remember earlier, before His cross and resurrection, Jesus had said this in Matthew, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come.” So now He’s saying, preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. I’ll come back, when it’s time.
And then, My coming will be in great glory. But that’s the second time. And we have the prophetic word – both OT and NT – to which we can appeal as proof of that. A couple of OT examples:
Jeremiah 23:5-6 says, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’” Ezekiel speaks of the same, “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David.”
And that day is coming, when Jesus comes back the second time. Daniel 7 says is this way:
13 “I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
It will be a glorious reign, when He comes back. There are a number of Psalms that talk about God giving the nations as an inheritance to His Son, who will rule them. He will set His throne on a high mountain. The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for your feet.
These were all seen as Messianic Psalms. And the Jews rightly saw the Messiah would one day rule the world in righteousness. The prophetic word is true. But that will not be until His second coming – the one the false teachers were denying then, the one that many today deny or ignore. So Peter says, you would do well to pay attention to the prophetic word as to a lamp shining in a dark place. The word of God is spoken of as a light in darkness – Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.”
Think about that for just a moment. If there was ever a time people needed hope in despair, light in darkness, it’s now. There has been much discussion about increased depression and suicide and psychological challenges during this time of pandemic, economic depression and social unrest. My brothers and sisters, we have the answer. Speak it first, to ourselves. Remind yourselves – you would do well to pay attention to the prophetic word. Jesus is coming back, and He will make all things right, and we will be with Him forever. And that word of the Gospel is the word of hope to a hopeless world, right now. If there was ever a time for you to speak of the hope of Christ, it is now. He is the light of the world – in an increasingly dark world.
How long do we pay attention to it – meaning, how long is the word of God relevant? Until the days dawns – speaking of the day of Christ’s return and the morning star rises in your hearts. The morning star was a way of referring to Venus, which appeared at dawn. Using a familiar metaphor, Peter says, pay attention to the Word, stay faithful to the Word, believe the Word until the dawning of the day of His return. Jesus makes the same reference to Himself in Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you of these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendent of David [to rule on David’s throne forever], the bright and morning star.”
Peter is telling us the Word of God is true and trustworthy – made even more so by the Transfiguration. Don’t let that bother you – it’s not that the Word needed these eyewitnesses of the Transfiguration to be more true. He’s simply saying, the Word is confirmed by this other witness – our witness of Jesus’ promised return. It is altogether true.
Peter then, having mentioned this second witness of the prophetic word, goes on to say two things about it – our second and third points. In verse 20, he says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture…” Stop right there. He makes clear he is talking about Scripture – the holy writings, the Bible. Know this, no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. And by the way, the Bible was spoken of generally as the prophecies – the prophetic word. Most agree Peter is widening the scope here. No part of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.
There are two possibilities here. First, he could be saying that the prophet himself does not interpret the Scripture on his own, or second, none of us have the authority to interpret the Scripture on our own. In other words, we cannot make it say what we want it to say. The prophets wrote and it is our responsibility to understand what they meant by what they wrote, and not come up with some fanciful interpretation on our own. Now, while both of those ideas are true, Peter seems to point to the first idea – that no prophet wrote on his own, and interpreted on his own. Not only is the Scripture inspired by God, its meaning is under the authority of God. We cannot play loose with the Bible. God meant what He inspired, and it meant what He said. It also means the Bible doesn’t just contain the Word of God, as some have claimed, it is the Word of God.
You see, our third point in verse 21, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will.” The prophets – by the way, both Old and New Testament prophets who wrote of things to come – didn’t just pick up the quill one day and say, I think I’ll write some prophecy about things to come. Based on my imagination or cleverly devised myths. No. There was never an act of purely human will.
Rather, men wrote as they were moved by – carried along by – borne by the Holy Spirit, and thereby, spoke from God. This is an incredibly important word. It’s passive, meaning they didn’t do it themselves, they were carried along by the Spirit. Interestingly, the same word is used in verses 17 and 18 – Jesus received glory and honor from God the Father when the utterance, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased,” was made to Him – carried to Jesus – same word.
The point is the word spoken to Jesus and the words written by the men were from the same source – they were carried along, borne along by the Holy Spirit such that they spoke from God. In theological terms, this is called a concursive operation, or concurrence, in that the Spirit inspired those who wrote such that we can say, what they wrote were the words of God. II Timothy 3 says “All Scripture is God-breathed” or inspired by God, so that what they produced is exactly what God wanted. Now, this is not to suggest that they wrote by dictation – God spoke, and they were simply secretaries. No – they wrote in their own language and abilities and personalities and style, as carried by the Holy Spirit such that they concurred with the work of the Spirit in their lives. Still written by men such that we can detect different authors – but the final result is exactly as God wanted. Which means, in the end, we can say the Bible is God-breathed – inspired by God such that it is inerrant and altogether trustworthy. Such that, we can say, the Bible is our ultimate authority.
Kevin DeYoung writes in his book, Taking God at His Word, “The phrase ‘concursive operation’ is often used to describe the process of inspiration, meaning that God used the intellect, skills, and personality of fallible men to write down what was divine and infallible.” This in incredibly important. When people say, but the Bible was written by fallible men, you can say, yes, it was. But these fallible men were carried along by the Holy Spirit such that what they wrote was inspired by God, and therefore it is infallible, inerrant, and faithful. We can trust it as God’s very words to us.
So Peter is writing, also under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to say to us, through two witnesses, Jesus is coming back. Therefore, we must live holy lives, because judgment is coming. And Peter will now turn his attention to these false teachers – reminding us that anything that contradicts the Word of God is not the authority. Jesus is the head of this, His church. And God has left us an altogether trustworthy document – an authority – by which we can and must live our lives. By the way, Kevin DeYoung also writes:
“Inerrancy means the word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the word of God. When we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word. We claim the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. When we deny the complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures…then we are forced to accept one of two conclusions: either Scripture is not all from God, or God is not always dependable.” Both conclusions are unacceptable – and contrary to what Scripture and the Christian faith teaches.
As we close, let me take you back to the Protestant Reformation and the issue of Scriptural authority – Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone. This was one of the clarion cries of the Reformation. It is Christ through His Scripture that is over the church, not the other way around. After Martin Luther had written and posted his Ninety-five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, after he had written a number of other works, decrying the teaching of the church and appealing to Scripture, he was summoned to the Diet of Worms in April, 1521. He was to appear before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and high officials of the Holy Roman Church. As he walked into the meeting, there was a large crowd gathered – to include the Emperor, who was said to whisper, “He won’t make a heretic out of me.” Luther’s works were spread on a table, and he was asked by Johann Eck, two questions. First, are these your writings? Luther looked them over and said, yes. Second, “Do you recant as heresy what you have written in these works?”
Luther began to tremble, and asked for 24 hours to consider his answer. He was granted the day, and told to appear the next day. It is said he stayed up all night praying, and talking to friends and colleagues – his question was, “Am I alone right?” The next day, we stood before the Diet, and was asked the same questions – are these your works, and do you recant the heresies therein? Luther then famously responded,
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”
What I want you to notice is that Luther appealed to Scripture as his highest authority. By the way, from there, Luther was kidnapped for his own good and hidden in a castle in Wartburg. There, over the next few months, he translated the NT from Greek, to German – to put it in the hands of the people. Sola Scriptura. Do you understand how blessed we are to have the Bible in our own language?
Finally, I would say this, nothing can subvert God’s Word. Not economic chaos. Not social unrest. Not a pandemic. Not fear. Not anxiety. Not depression. Nothing can subvert God’s Word. So if you find yourself struggling in these difficult times – spend more time in His faithful Word, and be encouraged. God is still on His throne. AW Tozer once said, “While it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes there is a God who has not surrendered His authority.”