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The Day of the Lord July 30, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 3.

Summary: Peter begins by speaking affectionately to his readers, stating that he has written them two letters to arouse them to godly life. He wants to focus their attention on Old Testament prophecy and apostolic teaching.

Peter then states that his exhortation is based on the fact that during the close of the Messianic dispensation, false teachers will appear; they will:

  • scoff
  • live evil lives
  • be skeptical about the First and Second Coming of Christ, since they assume that the world has not changed since the Old Testament times.

Yet these false teachers are willfully evil, as their assumption regarding the immutability of the world is incorrect – the Flood occurred. At that time, God used water to change the world; now, He can use fire to change the world.

Now Peter states although God has yet to use fire to change the world, there is a difference between the divine and human computation of time. In particular, His perseverance extends to these false teachers; His patience is balanced by His justice, though. The Second Coming of Christ is certain, and at that time, the world and the heavenly bodies will be burned up.

Peter then exhorts his readers to have an attitude of godly fear in light of this terrible event. They must display holy behavior, which stems from their holy character. They must earnestly long for this coming event – when they will meet Christ without shame and dwell permanently in their new, righteous home.

Peter reminds his readers that in Paul’s letters, he addresses the same themes that Peter has discussed in this letter; thus, he associates the letters of Paul with the Old Testament Scriptures as the Word of God. He states that unfortunately, unsteadfast souls are twisting Paul’s letters, especially the doctrine of justification.

Now Peter exhorts his readers to be watchful, since there are many dangers around them, and they might fail in facing them. He concludes by exhorting them to continue to grow in divine grace and have divine fellowship with God – who is worthy of all praise.

Thoughts: In verses 8-10, Peter discusses the Second Coming of Christ; in particular, he states that it will suddenly come upon us. Admittedly, when I read this passage, I started pondering the eschatological implications of Peter’s note on how “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”; perhaps since Christ ascended into heaven around 30 A.D., can we expect him to return around 2030 A.D., as that mark the “third day” since his ascension into heaven? I then remembered that dwelling on eschatology is rather unproductive, since I could put my time on this planet to better use by living a “holy and godly” life – especially in light of Peter’s exhortations. I hope to be found faithful when Christ returns, and so I must maintain my focus on that great Day without getting distracted by eschatology.

In verses 15 and 16, Peter discusses how Paul’s letters are equivalent to the Old Testament Scriptures. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

Ignorant and unsteadfast souls were already twisting Paul’s writings. Probably the reference is a general one, or it may be specifically to Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians, included in the churches of Asia Minor, to which Peter was writing (1 Peter 1:1). It is thought with great probability that it was St. Paul’s doctrine of justification that was particularly causing their own destruction (verse 16).

I am certainly eager to meet Peter and Paul in the next life and delve into their relationship; in particular, I would like to know how Paul viewed Peter’s letters. Did Paul know about Peter’s letters? If so, and if he also knew about Jude’s letter, how did he react to the common links between this letter and Jude’s letter? On a slightly different tack…if false teachers in Asia Minor were already twisting Paul’s teaching regarding the doctrine of justification, how did they respond to this letter? How many of Paul’s letters did Peter read? Did he have a special affection for any of Paul’s letters?

In verse 18, Peter highlights the importance of “knowledge” in the Christian life, especially as believers anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

Knowledge of God here, as elsewhere, implies personal experience and conscious fellowship, and this is one of the prime secrets of Christian steadfastness and progress. Thus the letter ends as it began, with its keynote of knowledge.

When I was in the fourth grade, I received a Bible from my Sunday School teacher, and she wrote this verse on the front endpaper. I still use that Bible when I 1) teach Sunday School and 2) participate in small group Bible studies, and I’ve occasionally pondered this verse. Now that I have completed my stroll through this letter, I have a new perspective on the concept of “knowledge.” Indeed, I now see that while it is good to have some understanding of God at an intellectual level, I must not be satisfied with my progress in that regard – I need to have divine fellowship with Him in order to truly know Him. If it is His will, I hope to know Him more in that regard.

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False Teachers and Their Destruction July 26, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 2.

Summary: Peter begins by reminding his readers that there were true and false prophets in the Old Testament; similarly, Christ predicted that they would encounter true and false teachers, and he confirms His prediction. These false teachers encourage them to deliberately sever themselves from righteous thoughts and actions. These false teachers also fight against the absolute dominion of Christ – their Redeemer – and they involve themselves in destruction. Now their influence is:

  • widespread
  • immoral
  • blasphemous
  • treacherous.

He reminds his readers that God threatened long ago to judge these false teachers; although they have not been punished, their punishment is absolutely certain.

To support this point, Peter cites the following examples from the Old Testament:

  • the fall of the angels
  • the Flood
  • the destruction of the cities of the plain – Sodom and Gomorrah.

He also reminds them that a few were saved at the Flood and that Lot was righteous in terms of his judicial standing before God. Thus, God will be able to reserve the ungodly for punishment while protecting the godly.

Peter now characterizes false teachers as:

  • unclean
  • willfully contemptuous of all authority – in contrast to the good angels
  • self-indulgent
  • reckless
  • sensual – since they are riotous in the daytime
  • hypocritical – since they associate themselves with the Christian love feasts while living in sin
  • infamous – since they indulge in awful iniquity and entice weak and young Christians to imitate them
  • empty – since they have no real vitality
  • unstable – since they lack settled principles
  • boastful – since they bluster in order to dupe
  • seductive
  • heartless
  • deceptive
  • powerless.

Peter concludes by stating that these false teachers are entangled in their sin and experience spiritual degeneration; thus, moral disaster will befall them, and they will engage in utter apostasy – since they treat the Gospel message unfairly.

Thoughts: When I read through this passage, I was reminded of my stroll through the book of Jude. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

The relationship between 2 Peter and Jude…There is an evident use of one writing by the author of the other (compare 2 Peter 2:1-16 and Jude 4, 11)…Authorities differ as to which is earlier; some arguing for the priority of Jude (Alford, Salmon), others for the priority of 2 Peter (Lumby, Bigg).

I am certainly eager to meet Peter and Jude in the next life and learn 1) who wrote the earlier letter and 2) how the writer of the subsequent letter was inspired by it. Also, I wonder if the debates over the priority of these two letters were part of the larger debate over their inclusion in the New Testament canon (i.e. those who supported the priority of a particular letter might argue that the other letter should be excluded from the New Testament canon). I suppose that if I had participated in that larger debate at the Council of Carthage in 397, I would have balked at including Jude in the New Testament canon, since it contains some odd extra-biblical allusions…

In verses 20-22, Peter asserts that those who have known “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and then become “entangled in” the “corruption of the world” are “worse off” than those who never knew Jesus Christ. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

See Matthew 12:43-45. Peter is making a clear allusion to the Master’s teaching.

This is certainly an interesting passage, and it has played a prominent role in the debate over whether a Christian can lose their salvation. While I am currently unable to resolve that debate, I have studied the above-mentioned passage from Matthew. My understanding of that passage is that Jesus is attacking the Pharisees, who strive to break all of their bad habits – yet fail to invite Him to dwell in their hearts, which would permanently transform them. Instead, the Pharisees trust in their own strength to break their bad habits, and they are convinced that they do not need a Savior. Thus, this passage in 2 Peter may be a valuable reminder for believers to continue seeking after Christ and asking Him to work in their lives – even if they are not young Christians.

This passage extensively criticizes false teachers and their erroneous beliefs and actions. I thought about this in terms of how believers can evaluate their pastors and determine if they are genuine teachers of God’s Word. One difficulty in this regard is that believers generally do not interact with their pastors outside of organized church activities, and so they are unaware of how their pastors live outside of church. If a pastor leads a double life and skillfully conceals it from their church, then their church would probably assume that they have been called by God to shepherd them. Also, a pastor who happens to be a false teacher of God’s Word might be quite adept at cloaking their false doctrines with a veneer of doctrinal purity. Now I should note that adopting the opposite attitude where believers automatically distrust their pastors is usually counterproductive. Truly believers require the assistance of the Holy Spirit to discern truth from error in the last days.

Prophecy of Scripture July 20, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 1:12-21.

Summary: In light of Peter’s exhortations in the previous passage, he now reminds his readers that:

  • the truth that he has taught them is important
  • they have a constant need of it – since they face great dangers.

Thus, he is strengthening them in this letter. Moreover, he knows that his physical death is imminent, and so he alludes to the Gospel of Mark, which will strengthen them after his death.

Peter then states that he did not waste his time in carefully tracing out many sophisticated myths when he preached the Gospel message to them; instead, he told them the truth regarding the first and second coming of Christ. His message was confirmed by the Transfiguration, when he heard God the Father testify that Jesus is God the Son.

Now Peter asserts that the first coming of Christ was the fulfillment of prophetic testimony, and so his readers should carefully study this testimony in the Old Testament. Indeed, the Old Testament is a light that reveals the dirt and filth of sin. They should also study the Old Testament in glorious expectation of the second coming of Christ. Peter concludes by asserting that the writers of the Old Testament did not unfold their own prophecies; instead, these prophecies came from God.

Thoughts: In verses 16-18, Peter uses the example of the Transfiguration to prove that he was an eyewitness of Christ and His power. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

The apostle thus shows that the Father’s testimony to his Son was the crowning proof of the power and authority of the gospel message…Once again the apostle introduces his own testimony. Not only did he see the glory of the Son, but he heard the voice.

While the resurrection of Jesus Christ may have been the driving force behind Peter’s faithful service as an apostle, this passage shows that the Transfiguration also influenced Peter’s ministry. I assume that whenever he reflected on this awesome event (in light of the resurrection), he was reminded that Jesus Christ – given the testimony of God the Father – truly is the Son of God, and this great fact demanded that he respond to it appropriately. Indeed, this great fact demanded that he give his whole life in service to Jesus Christ, and so he suffered to the point of being crucified upside down. Perhaps if I had been in Peter’s position, I would have walked the same path in light of this overwhelming experience of Christ and His power.

In verses 20 and 21, Peter asserts that the writers of the Old Testament were guided by the Holy Spirit. Recently I thought about how the Bible is “divinely inspired.” My understanding of this phrase is that the Holy Spirit did not dictate the exact contents of each book to its author. Instead, the Holy Spirit called each author to convey one message (or set of messages, depending on the book) to their readers. Given this message (or set of messages), the author was given the freedom to determine how to convey it to their readers; the final result is the set of books that Christians have enjoyed for centuries. For example, Paul displays his clear, logical mindset in his masterpiece, Romans. Also, Jeremiah pours out his passions and sorrows for his country in his eponymous book and in Lamentations. In addition, Solomon’s writing in Ecclesiastes is marked by his weariness from chasing after temporal pleasures. We can be thankful that the Holy Spirit allowed each writer to convey His message in their own words – allowing us to relate to His message.

Making One’s Calling and Election Sure July 19, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 1:3-11.

Summary: Peter begins by telling his readers that since they are in union with God, they have received His free and full gift; thus, they can begin, continue and complete the Christian life. He reminds them of God’s means of bringing them into union with Him – allowing them to partake of His divine life and be fully delivered from their former experience.

Since they have received God’s free and full gift, they should make haste to respond to His divine provision with diligence; in particular, they should grow in terms of their:

  • manly energy
  • intellectual and experiential knowledge of Him
  • power over that which is within
  • power over that which is without
  • reverence
  • special love for other believers
  • love for unbelievers.

Indeed, if they have these qualities abundantly and permanently, then they will have spiritual power, perception and privilege. On the other hand, those who are not diligent in response to God’s divine provision will lose their spiritual power, perception and privilege.

Given this stark choice, Peter makes a personal appeal to his readers to be diligent in response to God’s divine provision; in this way, they will be steadfast, and God will spare no expense in welcoming them into His everlasting kingdom.

Thoughts: In verses 5-7, Peter lists several qualities that all believers should have in abundance. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

As there is this necessary connection between each one, we should note that each and all are expected to be in every Christian, not some in some Christians and others in others (see Galatians 5:22). “Fruit of the Spirit,” not “fruits.” The nine elements constitute one cluster to be exemplified in every Christian life. So it is here with these seven marks of diligence.

Clearly these qualities constitute the Christian life. Now I cannot claim to possess any of these qualities in abundance; even in terms of “knowledge,” while I apparently possess a strong intellectual understanding of God, my experiential understanding of Him is fairly lacking. The fact that Paul basically stresses the importance of the same list of qualities in Galatians – as Thomas notes above – is a further incentive for me to respond to God’s great gift with diligence. One thought is that I should continue to wrestle with the connection between love and seeking the good of others; if my “knowledge” of this connection improves, I will be able to make progress in this regard.

In verses 10 and 11, Peter states that if believers respond to God’s great gift with diligence, then He will welcome them into heaven. Thomas offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

Not a bare entrance, but “sweeping through the gates.” Compare verses [sic] 5 and verse 11. We supply, and then God will supply. The phrase here has been aptly translated, “God will spare no expense” concerning your entrance into the everlasting kingdom.

Thomas’ thoughts remind me of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Now it is simpler for me to conceive of the Final Judgment as a nerve-wracking time where God sits on a massive throne and I bow before Him, trembling at His feet. I can hear God announcing – in a loud, booming voice – “your name is written in the Book of Life,” and I can see myself rising, still trembling, experiencing a mixture of residual fear and sudden joy. I have difficulty seeing God displaying His passion to me at that time by richly welcoming me into His house forever. Perhaps I need to regularly reflect on God’s dual roles of Righteous Judge and Loving Father, as that would help me eagerly anticipate the Final Judgment.

Strolling Through the Book of Second Peter July 15, 2014

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I’ve recently started reading through the Second Epistle of Peter with the aid of a commentary by Griffith Thomas. I should note that I’ve previously read through 2 Peter. As in my recent stroll through the book of 1 Peter, I hope to comprehend 2 Peter as a whole. In particular, I would like to compare 2 Peter with 1 Peter and Jude.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the epistle and Thomas’ commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 1:1-2.

Summary: Peter begins by referencing his life before and after discipleship to Christ; he also references the general and special aspects of his relationship to Christ. He addresses his readers by highlighting their spiritual privilege and describing its foundation – Christ Himself.

Peter concludes by greeting his readers and wishing that they would receive God’s divine favor and its attendant blessings – which will flow from their mature knowledge of God.

Thoughts: In verse 2, Peter wishes that his readers would receive God’s blessings through their knowledge of Him. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

The reference to knowledge as the source of grace and peace at once brings into prominence the keyword of the letter. The Greek is epignosis, full or mature knowledge. It is found fifteen times in St. Paul, once in Hebrews, four times in 2 Peter, and nowhere else. All spiritual grace comes from our personal knowledge and experience of God (see verse 3). Those who “know their God” will be strong…

As I stroll through this letter, I will determine if it is based on epignosis. I am definitely curious as to how this apparent focus on the knowledge of God compares/contrasts with Peter’s focus in his previous letter:

  • God has called his readers from a life of futility to a life of eternal blessings
  • their lives should reflect this calling – even in the face of persecution.

Now perhaps the “experience of God” that Thomas notes above is a critical aspect of living a holy life – enabling a believer to maintain their standing in Him despite the attacks of unbelievers. Once a believer has come to know God on an intellectual level and an experiential level, they cannot depart from Him, as their understanding and emotions are inextricably tied to Him. I certainly hope to make progress in this regard, especially in terms of the experiential aspect of mature knowledge…