October 4, 2020
As early as the first century, the fish became a symbol for the Christian faith. You see, the Greek word for fish is ichthus, and those Greek letters correspond to this acrostic, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. Now, you remember in the early days of our faith, Christianity was severely persecuted. It was first seen as a sect within Judaism and was most severely opposed by unbelieving Jews. For example, wherever Paul went on his missionary journeys sharing the gospel in the book of Acts, he was first and most violently opposed by the Jews.
But then, because of Christianity’s claim that only the God of the Bible was truly God, there were not multiple gods, it denied the polytheism of the Roman Empire, and certainly Caesar wasn’t divine, it was declared an illegal religion and relentlessly persecuted by Roman authorities for the first two hundred years of its existence. Of course, it all began with Jesus – remember, who was crucified by Roman authorities at the instigation of Jewish authorities.
It wasn’t until after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 311 AD that Emperor Constantine declared Christianity a legal religion in 312 with the Edict of Milan. Constantine himself even made a spurious claim to the Christian faith. But again, during those first two hundred years, Christians were vigorously opposed and persecuted. Meaning, it actually cost something to be a Christian. So, they met in secret, and the ichthus, painted on a door or a house or even a tomb, often signaled where such a meeting was to take place.
Further, when you met someone new – as a Christian, you didn’t know if he or she was a Christian – and to declare your faith overtly could prove costly. Legend has it, that while conversing, you may surreptitiously draw a half-circle in the sand with your foot. If the person to whom you were speaking was a Christian, they too would draw a half-circle – completing the ichthus, the fish. You knew, then, you were in safe family company. Kind of like a secret handshake.
The fish then became an appropriate symbol for the faith. Even today, you see it in tattoos, on tee-shirts, in jewelry, on the backs of cars – all public ways, I suppose, to declare your faith – your allegiance to Jesus. It came as no surprise, then, when a few years ago, certain unbelievers – specifically followers of Darwinism opposing creationism – would take our symbol and profane it.
You’ve seen it – it’s a fish with legs sprouting with Darwin in the center instead of the familiar ichthus, or Jesus. By the symbol, they are denying creation – perhaps even the God of creation. They conveniently want to forget or dismiss God’s existence and interaction with His creation – as described in the first couple of chapters in Genesis. It always irritated me the first few times I saw their symbol – I thought, can’t you guys get your own symbol – why attack us? But of course, the answer is obvious – to believe in a God of creation is to make yourself accountable to Him. So, to deny His existence, or even His interaction with His creation – is to free yourself to live however you want. I was reading an article this week on the origins of the ichthus, and the author suggested when we see such a profaned symbol, we pray for the person. That was convicting.
This is analogous to what was happening when Peter wrote his second canonical letter. You may remember, he wrote his first letter to tell Christians how to respond to attacks from outside the church – from those who opposed and even persecuted Christians. He wrote his second letter when those attacks against the faith came from within the church – from false teachers, and he’s not quite as nice. We’ve been in a study of II Peter for some time now – we arrive today at chapter 3. Let’s read our text, II Peter 3:1-7. (12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords a leaping, many mockers mocking)
We know by now the false teachers were saying, Jesus is not coming back. And since He’s not coming back, there will be no judgment. And since there will be no judgment, we can live however we want – following after our own sexual, sinful lusts. So, Peter had some rather strong things to say of these false teachers in chapter 2. We outlined that 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)
It was all about false teachers. Those were three sermons of strong condemnation. Today, while we’re not quite done with them, Peter turns his attention back to his readers. You see, chapter 2 was filled with they – these false teachers have secretly introduced their destructive heresies, denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction of themselves. They follow their sensuality, because of them, the way of the truth is maligned, they exploit you with their greed. But if God didn’t spare angelic majesties who sinned, if He didn’t spare an ancient evil world, if He didn’t spare Sodom and Gomorrah – He won’t spare them either. They are being kept under punishment until the day of sure and coming judgment.
Peter then went on to describe them with strong words – daring, self-willed, unreasoning animals of instinct, reveling in the daytime, eyes full of adulteries, never ceasing from sin, unstable, trained in greed, accursed children. They are springs without water, mists driven by storms. They speak arrogant words of vanity, enticing others with fleshly desires. They promise freedom, but themselves are slaves of corruption. He finishes with, they are like dogs who return to their vomit, pigs who return to their mire.
And that’s where we left it three weeks ago. But fortunately, Peter does not end there. He turns his attention back to his readers, reminding them why he was writing. Chapter 3 is a great chapter, an encouraging chapter – we’ll use this outline:
- The False Teachers’ Teaching and their Error (1-7) – today.
- The Lord is Coming Back (8-10) – and Peter explains the apparent delay.
- Therefore, Live Rightly until He Returns (11-18)
So, with that outline, you can see how he refocuses on us, his readers. But today, we’ll deal specifically with this false teaching. Now, I’ve said all along they were denying the return of Christ – Peter says it clearly today, along with their rationale, which he will refute. Our outline for this morning goes like this:
- The Reason for Writing (1-2)
- The Teaching of the False Teachers (3-4)
- The Refutation of their False Teaching (5-7)
Starting with his redirect in verses 1 and 2. Focusing on us now, he calls us beloved. Literally, the ones loved. By whom? Well certainly, Peter. He was a leader, some would say the leader in the Christian church. He loved those in the church, because that’s what Christians do. We’ll find that clearly spelled out in I John, our next book. One of the proofs of being genuine followers of Jesus is that we love other genuine followers of Jesus. So, we would complete the fish drawn in the sand. We are encouraged when we see a fish or cross on another person – a symbol of allegiance to Christ. Yes, I know, people wear crosses without a thought of its real meaning – but giving the benefit of the doubt, when we see and then know that someone is a believer, they are deeply loved ones. We love them as brothers or sisters in Christ.
But not only are they loved by Peter – and us – but they are specially loved by God. Peter actually used this same word back in chapter 1 when he quoted the Father, speaking of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.” There are many verses in the Bible which speak of God’s special love for His children, such that we can be called beloved sons and daughters of the living God. Ephesians 1, In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself.
Now, Peter tells us this is his second letter he was writing to these people. Now, the obvious assumption is he was writing to the same group of people to whom he wrote I Peter. That’s likely. But, it’s also possible he had written another letter to this group whom he doesn’t identify, and that letter was not inspired, and therefore is not in our Bibles. Paul, for example, wrote four letters to the church at Corinth, that we know of, meaning I Corinthians is actually II Corinthians, and II Corinthians is actually IV Corinthians. Don’t let that bother you – as leaders in the church, they wrote lots of letters, and the ones which were inspired, we have in our Bibles.
Then, Peter goes back to what he told them in chapter 1 – I am writing to stir (provoke) up your sincere or wholesome minds by way of reminder. They had been made sincere, wholesome – the word speaks of that which is pure, right and good – by the work of the Spirit through the Gospel in their lives. Which is very interesting. He’s reminding us of these things we have known since the beginning. As we saw in chapter 1, there is not a time we do not need to be reminded of the principle truths of the Gospel – to include the divine life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and soon return of Christ. You see, we find in this letter, if we are not reminded, we may soon forget, or be sucked in by false teachers. It is, by the way, why we regularly take communion or the Lord’s Supper – to be reminded of the work of Christ on our behalf. And we partake together until He comes – because He is coming back.
Peter reminds us that what he is teaching was taught by the holy prophets – speaking of the OT prophets. This is likely referring to the OT prophets who spoke of the coming day of the Lord – His coming is for salvation for His own, and He’s coming in judgment. But also, they should remember the command of our Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles – which we now have contained in the NT. The Old and New Testaments are a consistent, connected work – they have one storyline – the story of God and humanity. Our fall into sin, and God’s work throughout time to redeem us to Himself – accomplished through the work of His Son – our Lord and Savior. And having redeemed us, He will come back to receive us.
But that’s an interesting phrase – the command of the Lord and Savior. You didn’t normally refer to the prophetic word concerning the return of Christ and the coming judgment as the command of the Lord. So, what does Peter mean? Simply this – because the false teachers were denying His return, they were living sinful, dissolute lives. Peter says, we don’t deny His return and coming in judgment, so we pursue holy lives. Because we believe Jesus is coming back – we live like it – pursuing the virtues he already enumerated in chapter 1 – moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly love and self-sacrificing love. All the things the false teachers eschewed, since they didn’t believe they would give an account. We understand, however, that as followers of Jesus, we live like it. We pursue holiness/godliness. The command of our Lord. He who has this hope in himself purifies himself, even as He is pure.
Which brings us to our second point, the teaching of the False Teachers in verses 3 and 4. I’ve told us many times, knowing this was the problem Peter was addressing. But he gets to the problem quite clearly today – actually, quotes the false teaches. He says in verse 3, Know this first of all, that in the last days, mockers will come. Now, in the NT, the last days extend from the ascension of Christ to His return. In other words, Peter’s original readers were living in the last days, as are we. The next thing to happen on the prophetic calendar are the events surrounding the return of Christ. Question – do we live like we know we are living in the last days?
Now, Peter’s point is, this appearance of false teachers has been prophesied by the OT prophets and by Jesus Himself and His apostles, so this should not come as a surprise to us. We remember in Matthew 24 Jesus said in the last days, false christs will rise to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Paul told the Ephesian elders, after he left, there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing – false teachers who would seek to devour the sheep. This has been anticipated and should not surprise us.
What is interesting is that these false teachers have been around since the earliest days of the church. They’ve always been around and will be so until Jesus comes back. It’s not like the church and everyone in the professing church will one day figure it out and get everything right. No, there will always be false teachers and false teaching – for the purpose – notice Peter says – to follow after their own lusts. False teaching – especially these false teachers – have as the motivation for their error the pursuit of living how they want and pursuing sinful, sexual desires. What better way to do that then deny the coming of Christ and any future judgment? Doing so allows you to live however you want.
So, these false teachers came with their mocking – their derision, sarcastic ridicule – that’s what mockers do. They make fun by mocking, displaying both arrogance and disdain. We should not be surprised when those who oppose the tenets of the Christian faith both inside and outside the church – do so with ridicule and mocking. These particularly mocked by deriding the orthodox teaching of both OT and NT, regarding the future return of Christ.
They asked derisively, “Where is the promise of His coming?” This “where is” is a common way to mock – they mocked Jeremiah that way, “Where is the word of the LORD? Let it come now.” If this promise of His coming was mocked two thousand years ago, how much more today. Now, we’ll address this apparent delay in His return next week – these thousands of years as if they matter – but since it’s been two millenniums, many will mock and scorn our faith even more so today.
Come on, really? It’s an old fairytale, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus has not come back. You’re still looking longingly to the sky? You’re still holding onto that outdated hope? Yes, because it is the believer’s hope. Paul said we are looking for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Has it happened yet? No. Will it? Absolutely.
Notice the rationale of the false teachers – Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation. The fathers was a way of referring to the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – and his twelve sons. Nothing’s changed – everything remains the same. And the implication is, and it will continue to remain the same, because Jesus is not coming back. Where is He?
Bringing us to our third point, and Peter’s refutation of their mocking in verses 5-7. He says, when they maintain this – that is, that everything continues as it has since the days of creation, it first escapes their notice that God did intervene in human history in that He created human history. Do you see the irony? They say God doesn’t intervene, but He did. And He will. It escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water.
They conveniently forget the creation of the world by God’s word, by God’s command. Go to Genesis 1 and see the number of times God said, let there be, and there was. By His command, He spoke when there was nothing, and all that exists came into being. And notice the presence of water in the Genesis account. When the earth was first created, it was formless and void, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. And God said, let there be light – and there was light. Then He separated the waters below – on the earth – from the waters above – and the separation was called the sky. Then God said, let the waters below be gathered together, and let dry land appear – and it was so. And God called the dry land earth, and the waters He called sea. We read these words in Psalm 33:
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
9 For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
The importance in all that is God was intimately involved in the creation of the earth. Even by their statement, everything continues as it has since the days of creation – the false teachers were acknowledging God’s activity in the past. Of course, we’re much smarter now and deny that – hence the Darwin fish. All came about not by divine fiat, but by a random process called the big bang and evolution. But even much of the scientific community today acknowledges there is too much order in creation for it to be a matter or random chance – more and more are accepting so-called intelligent design. Of course – and that intelligent designer is called God.
But notice verse 6 – through which – that is, by His word and by water – the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. Of course, Peter is referring to the flood during the days of Noah. Found in Genesis 6-9, we find the earth had become wicked, such that the thoughts and inclinations of human hearts were only evil, all the time. So, God stepped in – He intervened and judged the world – He destroyed it through a worldwide flood. Lots of evidence for that today, but when people maintain that God doesn’t intervene – that everything continues since the Big Bang, the conveniently forget – it escapes their notice that God did in fact intervene. Which is proof that He will do so again.
But, since God promised not to destroy the earth by water again – hence the rainbow as a sign of His covenant – verse 7, but by His word – the same powerful word that judged the world by destruction before – by His word the present heavens and earth – that is, the post-flood earth – are currently being reserved for fire. Colossians 1 tells us that by His word – the Son of God – all things hold together. He holds the universe together by the word of His power. Now we read, it is held together, it is reserved for fire. This time, He will judge and destroy by fire in the day of judgment ungodly men.
Peter’s point is clear. While these false teachers denied the return of Christ and a future judgment – Christ is coming back, and the earth will be judged, and ungodly people will be destroyed. God’s intervention in the past – through creation and the flood – not to mention His judgment of the fallen angels and Sodom and Gomorrah – are proof that He will judge in the future.
Jesus is coming back. And we are to live like we believe it. I finish with this thought. The ichthus became a symbol of the early church. But we find at the end of I Corinthians, and the idea at the end of Revelation, another important symbol – this one, a word. Maranatha. It means, Our Lord, come. It became a greeting between Christians. Maranatha – Our Lord come, because He is coming. When is the last time that thought crossed your mind? Does that fact change the way you live? I’m not suggesting we resurrect that lost term – but perhaps we should. Maranatha – Our Lord, come.