September 6, 2020
In the 17th and 18th Centuries, a religious system called deism became popular, especially in England, as well as the New World. It was even espoused by some of the founding fathers of our country – namely, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Deism teaches that there is a God who is creator, and we can know of Him by creation and reason. By the natural laws of creation (naturalism) and our own intellect (rationalism), we can surmise there is a God – but that’s about as far as it goes. In fact, they say further, while God has revealed Himself generally, He has not revealed Himself by special revelation – that is, through the Word of God. You may remember Thomas Jefferson once took the Bible and edited it – he actually cut out pages and stories of anything supernatural – since God does not reveal Himself that way.
You’ve perhaps heard deism explained this way: there is a God who created, but having done so, He does not interfere with His creation. Hence, nothing supernatural. He dictated the laws of nature, and now allows nature to run its course. Sort of like a clockmaker, God created the clock, wound it up, allows it to tick away, sits back and watches to see what will happen.
Of course, the most significant problems with that religious system is first it denies the Word of God – God has not revealed Himself specially that way. But it also denies the deity of Jesus Christ. You see, if the Creator created, but does not interfere with His creation, then Jesus cannot be God – He would not have entered His creation and interfered that way. He wouldn’t have done miracles – that’s supernatural – outside the laws of nature. So don’t miss that – deism denies the deity of Jesus. Therefore, God has not stepped in to redeem humankind – we are left to do that ourselves. Think of that – God didn’t even come the first time – let alone the second.
I’m going to say something startling. I would suggest this morning that many evangelicals – maybe even we have adopted a sort of semi-deism. How so? We don’t see God active in His creation. Oh, we believe in God – but we don’t really believe He does much. Even as evangelicals, we try to explain away natural events as just that – natural events – and we often deny the hand of God in any material way. Further, in this way, I would suggest we have perhaps unknowingly adopted the false teaching Peter addresses in II Peter. What could I possibly mean?
You remember the teaching of the false teachers in II Peter. First, Jesus is not coming back. We don’t typically deny that. Second, since He is not coming back, there will be no judgment. Well, we may not deny God’s future judgment, but do we, with the deists, deny that God is in any way active – even by judgment – today? We are so busy explaining the problem of evil, that we don’t let God be God. Oh, and by the way, third, since Jesus is not coming back, and since there will be no judgment, we can live however we want.
Let me go out on a limb. I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet – but I would suggest that many natural events – even natural disasters like hurricanes and viruses, tornados and floods, famines and earthquakes – we quickly explain away through natural factors. And yet, when you read through the OT, we see a number of times God, the one true and living God, the Creator, was active in His creation, bringing divinely-ordained, natural consequences to humanity’s sinful rebellion. It makes me wonder – if we were somehow able to transport modern science and our modern rationalism and sensibilities backward – would we explain away what the Bible clearly declares to be the hand of God in judgment.
I know this is provocative. I’m simply suggesting that we must not slide toward deism and say, God does nothing; or that we must not embrace the false teaching of II Peter and say, God does not judge. I am not suggesting we label certain catastrophes as divine judgment – but perhaps we should not so readily dismiss them. Consider some OT examples:
When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, God sent Moses to deliver them. Through a series of ten plagues, God demonstrated His superiority over the Egyptian gods. Of course, they included things like disease and insects and darkness and death. I wonder how modern science would explain that naturally – not being the hand of God. It’s interesting – one of my Bible dictionaries defines plagues as “disease interpreted as divine judgment.”
I am not saying that every instance of disease – cancer, heart disease – is God’s judgment specifically. Remember John 9 – the disciples asked Jesus – who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? And Jesus answered, neither one – but so that the glory of God may be manifested. I am saying that a pandemic ought to at least raise our eyebrows.
Well, as God delivered the Israelites through that last plague where the firstborn of every Egyptian household died in one night – the Israelites were then freed to go. But Pharaoh and his army followed them to the Red Sea – hemmed them in. That night, God parted the Red Sea, and the Israelites walked through on dry ground. The Egyptian army tried to follow – the sea walls came crashing down in divine judgment, drowning all of them. How do we explain that? Well, modern science denies it happened.
Roll the clock forward. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years – one year for every day they spied out the land and refused to take it. During those years – God gave them manna from heaven, water from a rock, turning bitter water sweet, quail from the desert. Over and over, He interfered and took care of them. But they grumbled, nonetheless. As a result, there were times God sent judgment in the form of plagues, fire, famine, snakes, drought, earthquakes, etc. Biblically and clearly articulated to be the hand of God on disobedient people. Let me read one such account. It’s right after the Red Sea. They had traveled to Mt. Sinai, where God gave them the Law. But, while Moses was up on the mountain, you’ll remember the people fashioned a golden calf to be their God. When Moses came back with the tablets of stone upon which were written the Ten Commandments, he broke them in anger. But God was angry too, because of their idolatry. We read in Exodus 32:
30 On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the Lord, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
31 Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves.
32 “But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!”
33 The Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.
34 “But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
35 Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.
Undoubtedly, many died. In the book of Numbers, when the people complained about the manna and having no meat, God gave them the quail, then we read He struck them with a very severe plague. At Korah’s rebellion, the earth quaked and split, swallowing them up. The people murmured the next day, God threatened to kill the entire nation. He did send a plague, which killed 14,700 of them. I could go on and on – they complained about their miserable food, and God sent venomous snakes among them, so that “many people of Israel died.”
Read through the Book of Revelation – regardless of your view of the book – it is filled with God’s judgment through natural disasters and plagues. The point is, God is a righteous, holy judge, and He will judge people. In the future? Most assuredly. But what about now? Is it possible to suggest that natural disasters and diseases are the hand of God in judgment? Or are we just so smart that we can scientifically explain everything – becoming semi-deistic – denying that God has any hand in His world and all that is going on.
And by the way – I could add the number of times in the OT that God used other people – pagan people like the Assyrians and the Babylonians – to exact His judgment on a disobedient and obstinate people. What’s my point? Very simply this. While we should not assign God’s hand of judgment to every natural disaster or plague or virus, perhaps we should not be too quick to dismiss them, either.
You see, in II Peter, the false teachers were saying, Jesus is not coming back, and therefore, there will be no judgment, so live however you want. And it is precisely because people live however they want that judgment has come in the past and the present, and will come definitively in the future. The last time we were in II Peter, we started chapter 2 which is a condemnation of these false teachers. I outlined the chapter like this:
- The Impact of False Teachers (1-3)
- The Certain Judgment of False Teachers (4-10)
- The Character of False Teachers (11-22)
We looked at the first three verses where we saw, just as there were false prophets among the people of Israel in the OT, so also there will false teachers in the church in the NT. Peter’s readers saw these false teachers introduce destructive heresies, deny the Master who bought them, they were sexually and sensually sinful, and were greedy. Quite the list. Now, Peter says, just as people were judged for their sinful rebellion in the OT, so also these NT false teachers will be judged. We see that in verses 4-10 – read that with me.
These verses are one sentence which form a long if-then argument. It goes like this – if this, then this; if this is true, then this will also be true. His argument forms our outline:
- If God Judged and Rescued in the Past (at the same time) (4-8)
- Then God Will Judge and Rescue in the Present and the Future (9-10)
There are three times God judged, coupled with two times He rescued in verses 4-8. He judged angels, the world at the time of Noah, and Sodom and Gomorrah. At the same time, God rescued Noah and His family, and He rescued Lot. Peter’s conclusion is, verses 9-10, if He has done that – judged and rescued in the past – He will also do it in the present, culminating in the great day of judgment, in the future. This is a well-articulated argument. God has judged the wicked, while also rescuing, indeed, vindicating the righteous, and God will judge the wicked, while rescuing and vindicating the righteous.
So, let’s look at the three times He judged, along with a couple rescues, starting with sinning angels in verse 4. For if God – that’s really the only time the word if appears – it is repeated by the translators for understanding – for if God did not spare angels when they sinned [Peter’s point being, God didn’t even spare angelic beings], but cast them into hell – actually, Tartarus – the place of confinement awaiting final judgment – and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.
Now immediately, you think, when did God do this? This is a very challenging verse. These three judgments do seem to be in chronological order – this judgment of the angels, the judgment of the world, and the judgment of Sodom. So, when did God judge angels? There are three possibilities:
- First is when the angels first rebelled against God in heaven, led by Satan, and God threw them out. We read about that in Revelation 12. When Satan fell, he took a third of the angels with him, who then became demons. They were cast out of heaven, down to earth, where they have limited powers. They are in that sense, in pits of darkness, awaiting future judgment, when they will be forever cast into the lake of fire. The Scripture speaks of the lake of fire being created for Satan and his angels. That is their ultimate end.
- The second possibility is that this is referring to Genesis 6:1-4, right at the beginning of the flood account, when the sons of God had relations with the daughters of men and produced a giant race of people. The sons of God, it is said, were fallen angels. This led to the worldwide destruction of the world in Genesis 6-9 at the flood.
- You say, where does that idea come from? This leads to the third possibility. The idea comes from some intertestamental books, most clearly in I Enoch. Enoch tells of these fallen angels – demons – having relations with human women, for which they were judged. This then, was a commonly held idea when the NT was written. So, when Peter wrote II Peter, everyone would have known this story from I Enoch – which told of Genesis 6. Those who support this say it doesn’t really matter whether or not that really happened – it was widely held, and so Peter used it as an illustration.
Let me quickly summarize what I think and hold loosely. I don’t you can take the third option – that Peter used a non-biblical legend – dare I call it a myth – to support his teaching on a literal judgment to come. He’s already written against myths in chapter 1.
Which leaves us the first two options – either that Peter was writing of when Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven, or that Genesis 6 actually does speak of angels falling and cohabitating with women. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that, given our mixed audience and children. If it is that – fallen angels – then I agree with those who suggest these were demon-possessed people. Even though taught in intertestamental books that they were fallen angels, there are problems with the view – not the least of which is Jesus spoke of angels as asexual beings.
So that’s possible, but I lean toward the first option – that Satan and his angels rebelled against God in eternity past and were thrown out of heaven, awaiting future judgment. I was fairly sure going into my study – now, I’m not so sure.
The point is, there came a time when, truly – not legend – truly angels were judged, somehow, and thrown into pits of darkness, awaiting future judgment. Meaning, if God judged angels, don’t think He won’t judge people.
Which brings us to the second judgment in verse 5, “(if God) did not spare the ancient world…when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.” We read about that in Genesis 6-9 – the flood narrative. Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And so, verse 7 says, “The LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’” Don’t miss God judged the world because of their wickedness. So much for deism and the false teachers of II Peter.
You know the story of Noah and the Ark. For over one hundred years, Noah built a big boat according to God’s instruction, to preserve his family and the animals through God’s judgment of the flood. Of course, as we’ll see in chapter 3, people today routinely and conveniently forget that story – typically by denial. Come on, they say, it never happened. I’m not a scientist, but there is plenty of evidence for a worldwide flood. In fact, did you know that 250 cultures around the world have a story of a cataclysmic flood. I would suggest that’s because it happened – and the story, although eventually in different forms, was passed on, from Noah and his family. The point is, God judged by destruction an entire planet because of their wickedness.
Bringing us to the third story in verse 6 – another familiar one – the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, because of our mixed audience with children, I’m not going to retell the story in much detail. The LORD appeared to Abraham to tell him that he and Sarah would have a child. Then, He told Abraham He was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great wickedness. You remember, Abraham’s nephew Lot lived in Sodom, so Abraham talked the LORD into not destroying the cities if ten righteous people could be found there.
So, in Genesis 19, two angels showed up to Sodom to destroy it. Lot took them into his house. The men of the city surrounded Lot’s house, seeking to have relations with Lot’s houseguests. The angels smote the men with blindness. Lot, his wife, and two daughters were then escorted out of the city, and Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Turned to ash, Peter says – serving as an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter. Don’t miss that – Sodom and Gomorrah are examples – don’t live ungodly lives, because judgment is coming.
Which brings us quickly to a very important point – while God will judge the wicked, He will, at the same time, rescue the righteous. He gives two examples. First, Noah and his family – eight in all – Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives – only eight out of the whole planet – were spared. The point seems to be – they were small in number. So are we – and becoming more so, because broad is the way that leads to destruction, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few find it.
Very interestingly, we read here – not in the Genesis account – but here, that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. What does that mean? Most agree that it probably means that while Noah was building the ark, he was preaching to those around him – judgment is coming. Repent, and turn to the Lord.
By the way, that is an important application for us today. Listen, I don’t want to be a hellfire and brimstone preacher – I don’t think I am. But as I preach verse-by-verse through the Scripture, we see, judgment is coming. But here’s the good news. Just like God provided a way of escape during Noah’s day, He has also provided a way of escape for us – through the work of His Son on the cross and resurrection. Repent, and believe the Gospel – and you can be saved from the judgment to come.
God also provided escape for Lot and his family. Yes, his wife looked back, seemingly longing for what she was leaving, and was turned into a pillar of salt. But the point is, God rescued righteous Lot. That’s a bit of a challenge, because when you read about Lot – largely from Genesis 13 to 19, he doesn’t appear righteous. And yet, those intertestamental books talk about his righteousness – and a close reading of Genesis points out he was not in line with the inhabitants of those wicked cities. He alone provided refuge for the angels, and sought to protect them.
And here, under the inspiration of the Spirit, we read in verses 7 and 8 that God rescued righteous Lot who was oppressed – grieved to his heart – over the sensual conduct – the word actually speaks of any illicit sexual activity outside of marriage – the sinful, sensual conduct of unprincipled – lawless men.
Verse 8 says what he observed tormented his righteous soul day after day. Doesn’t that happen with you, when you see the lawless, sinfully sexual behavior of our culture around us. Not in a condemning way – in a grieving way. It torments us, not because were so much better – but having saved from our egregious and sinful rebellion, it torments us to see people continuing to pursue such sinful lives. And by the way, in their heart of hearts, it torments them. You have to kill your conscience to live in such sinful behavior. But that, too, provides an entrée for the Gospel. God has provided a way of escape – you can know peace – inner peace, and peace with God through Christ.
Finally, our second point and by way of conclusion – verses 9 and 10. If God knew how to judge the wicked before – and all the while rescue the righteous – He can do the same with us. To be clear, we are not righteous because of our righteousness – but because of the righteousness of Christ. And so those who have trusted in Christ – God will rescue. Notice – from temptation. The word can refer to temptation to sin, or trials. In this context, given the judgment for those who are wicked, who give into temptation, Peter is likely talking about temptation to sin. God will deliver you from sin’s temptation – which the false teachers were holding out. Or it could simply be the trials of the Christian life – He will ultimately rescue us.
Further, God will keep the unrighteous under punishment – that’s present tense – under punishment – deserving present and future judgment – on the day of judgment. Verse 10 – especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Very simply, he’s referring back to the false teachers at the beginning of the chapter. There, we saw they follow their sexual sensuality and despise the Master’s authority. These are people who pursue wanton sexual sin, thinking there will no judgment, and therefore despise authority. Who’s authority? Well certainly the Master – but any authority that proclaims the truth of Scripture. Those who scoff, who mock, who deny – all to follow their own sinful desires.
So, what do we do with this? I would suggest two things. First, as followers of Jesus, we see once again that pursuing holiness is what we do. We don’t follow false teachers who say – sin it up. Pursue your sexual sinful desires. God’s Word doesn’t really say that – it’s so outdated. Doing so is to deny the Master. We should pursue godliness – it’s what followers do.
And secondly, I would suggest, very gently, we should not be so quick to dismiss God’s hand of judgment on an egregiously disobedient people. We see what is going on in our world, and we remember from Romans 1, suppressing the truth about God – God then hands them over to sinful desires – and its consequences. I’m not so sure that all we see happening in the world – and our country – is not the result of God’s holy, righteous judgment. Perhaps, we should more readily warn people – this simply points to the judgment to come. Repent, and believe the gospel.