Preservation and Punishment
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Peter 2:4-10
(Read Text) This passage may have struck you as rather strange and confusing. You’re wondering, “Why is Peter talking about fallen angels, and what’s the point of all these old stories?” However, do you ever feel like we are living in Sodom? Or think about how Genesis 6:5 describes Noah’s generation, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Does that sound familiar?
Of course, it does. The moral decline in our nation over the last couple decades is enough to make your head spin. Think about the fact that just 12 years ago, when Obama first ran for President, he was opposed to gay marriage. It’s almost unimaginable that someone could win the Presidency with that position today, let alone the Democratic nomination. A lot has changed in a short period of time.
As a result, do you ever feel like evil is going to win the day? Or do you ever wonder about the future of Christianity in such a hostile world? More specifically, do you ever question your ability to stand for Christ in such a world? Are you afraid of what it will cost your children to stand for Christ? What if I told you that 2 Peter 2:4–10 answers all of these fears? This passage provides a very relevant perspective for our lives today.
In context, this passage serves to substantiate the claim in v. 3b. Peter asserts regarding the false teachers, “For a long time…” God will judge the false teachers. But how can we be sure? In vv. 4–10a he explains why we can be confident not only that God will judge the wicked but also preserve the elect. No matter how dark the world may seem, we know that God will keep his children and judge the ungodly.
Peter makes this point with one long sentence consisting of an “if…then” argument. Verses 4–8 look back on ancient examples of how God punished the wicked and preserved the elect, and he asserts, “If God did all of these things, then, (v. 9) “The Lord knows…” So, I’d like to divide my sermon into two challenges based on this simple grammatical structure. First, vv. 4–8 challenge us…
I. Remember God’s past works of judgment and deliverance (vv. 4–8).
Verses 4–8 give 3 ancient examples of evil and of God’s judgment of that evil. The 2nd and 3rd examples also mention God’s faithfulness to his own people in the midst of such evil. And remember that all of this serves to support the assertion in vv. 9–10a, that no matter how dark the world may be and no matter what trials God’s people may face, we know that God will preserve the godly and punish the wicked. The first example is…
God judged the rebellious angels (v. 4). On the surface, this verse seems relatively simple. Angels rebelled against God, and God bound them in hell waiting for the day where he executes his full work of justice.
But where this verse gets sticky is in the identity of this rebellion. A majority of commentators believe Peter is referring to Jewish traditions regarding the events of Genesis 6:1–4. The common belief in Peter’s day, as reflected in the Apocryphal book 1 Enoch, was that the “sons of God” were fallen angels and that they married human wives producing a race of superhuman giants.
In response, God judged these demons by binding them in hell in a way he has not done to all the demons. Most commentators assume that Peter is drawing on this tradition and that Peter’s readers would naturally assume this to be what Peter meant.
However, Peter never specifies what rebellion or judgment he has in mind. And there are some real problems with this view of Genesis 6, the biggest being how could demons, who are spirits and have no physical bodies or DNA procreate with human women?
And Jesus seems to put this theory to rest in Matthew 22:30. The Sadducees had asked Jesus about marriage and procreation in the resurrection, and notice his response (read). He’s pretty clear that angels can’t get married and have children.
Therefore, I believe the better view is that Peter is referring to the demons who rebelled against God with Satan. They arrogantly stood up to God thinking they could resist him, but it was foolish and worthless. Some of them sinned so egregiously that God, “Cast them down…”
Today, they are bound in “chains of darkness,” and at the final judgment, they will receive their full judgment and suffer the wrath they deserve. The point is that God is sovereign, and he is just. No sin in his universe will go unpunished. The 2nd example of God’s past works of justice is…
God judged the antediluvian world while preserving Noah and his family (v. 5). Imagine what it must have been like to be Noah. Genesis 6:5 states, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That sounds a lot like our world, but think about the fact that only Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8).
At least we have each other, and there are millions of believers scattered throughout the world, but Noah had no one. That’s the definition of being in the minority. I imagine that Noah wondered at times if righteousness would completely die out and if evil would fully triumph. Maybe he questioned his own ability to stand for the Lord in such an evil context.
But Peter declares that even this unimaginably dark time, God was still God, and he intervened in human history in a way that will only be matched at the end of the age. God destroyed “the ancient world” by means of a world-wide flood.
Talk about a terrifying display of God’s sovereignty. Noah spent 120 years building the ark, and I’m sure that everyone thought he was crazy. But Peter says that for 120 years, Noah was “a preacher of righteousness.” Noah stood all alone and despite their hatred and mocking, he warned that evil generation that they had sinned against God and he was about to destroy them.
Then, after 120 years, he and only 7 others entered the ark with the animals. And they sat there for 7 days, while nothing happened. Then, “All the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (Gen 7:11). God completely wiped that wicked generation from the face of the earth.
It was a powerful display of God’s hatred of sin and his power to judge, and 2 Peter 3 will say that it serves as a stark warning that a second and even more severe cataclysmic judgment is coming someday. So, no matter how strong evil may seem to be, God is always stronger, he is always watching, and he will judge.
But what’s so incredible about Genesis 6–10 and 2 Peter 2:5 is how grace and faithfulness abound in the midst of this darkness. God “saved Noah, one of eight people” (2 Pet 2:5). “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8). I love that, because grace, not justice drove God to save Noah and his family. After the flood, God said, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Gen 8:21b).
Noah proved the depth of human depravity in the next chapter, when he got drunk and exposed himself. He didn’t deserve God’s protection, but God was faithful, because he is gracious.
And Peter’s point is that God’s care of Noah provides great assurance for us. Like Noah we are broken sinners living in a broken, overwhelmingly evil world. If I only focus on the evil around me, I will despair, and if I only focus on the evil in my own heart, I will lose hope.
But God is faithful. He will punish sin, and he will graciously preserve me. I know this, because God has already proven himself to be just, faithful, and full of grace. The 3rd example of God’s past works is…
God judged Sodom and Gomorrah while preserving Lot (vv. 6–8). These verses jump ahead a few chapters in Genesis to another major demonstration of human depravity, God’s justice, and God’s marvelous grace. There are a lot of important parallels between Noah’s story and Lot’s.
First, Sodom and Gomorrah were the epitome of depravity like Noah’s generation. Peter describes them as “ungodly” (v. 6), as marked by “the filthy conduct of the ungodly” (v. 7), and as engaging in “lawless deeds” (v. 8).
And Genesis 19 fills in the details with one of the most horrifying stories in Scripture. When the two angels come into town, Lot immediately recognizes the need to shelter them, because he knows what his neighbors will do.
Sure enough, “Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally” (Gen 19:4–5).
It’s a horrifying and disgusting scene of perversion, homosexuality, and abuse. And “all the people” participated. This was a city-wide mob. There was no shame about this evil. Imagine how overwhelming it would be to live in the midst of such evil.
But it wasn’t too big for God. Peter says, God “Turned the cities…” (v. 6). With the snap of his fingers, God wiped Sodom and Gomorrah from the face of the earth. Nothing can resist his will. God will judge evil.
But in contrast, vv. 7–8 describe God’s merciful preservation of Lot. These verses are striking, first, because we don’t generally think of Lot as a “righteous man.” He moved his family to Sodom. Then, he tried to placate the mob by offering them his two virgin daughters. Years later those same daughters manipulated Lot into committing incest with them so that they could have children. So, Lot has some serious problems.
But Genesis also agrees with Peter’s evaluation of Lot. First, when Abraham pleaded with the angels to deliver Sodom and Gomorrah on behalf of its righteous residents, he clearly had Lot in mind. As well, Genesis 19 assumes that Lot did not participate in the vile practices of his fellow-citizens and that he was ashamed of the people’s conduct.
And ultimately, God’s declaration of righteousness is never based on our righteousness. Romans 3:10 states, “There is none righteous, no not one.” This was even true of Abraham. Genesis 15:6 states of Abraham, “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” So, Abraham was not declared righteous based on his on deeds but based on God’s gracious declaration in response to his faith.
As always, I want to emphasize that the same pattern holds true for us. No one will reach heaven through his own righteousness, because no one is righteous. This includes you. You are a sinner, who stands under the judgment of God. However, by faith and through the sacrificial death of Christ you can be declared righteous through Christ. If you have not received Christ by faith, I want to urge you to do so today.
In sum, Lot was God’s child. He believed, and he was declared righteous. As such, Peter mentions how troubled Lot was by the vile surroundings. Verse 7 states, “He was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked.” Do you know the feeling? Sometimes the evil of our world feels like a heavy fog that makes everything else gray and gloomy.
Then v. 8 adds that Lot “tormented his righteous soul from day to day…” It’s interesting that the verb is in the active voice, so Peter is specially saying that Lot tormented himself by staying so close to the world. God’s Spirit simply wouldn’t let him be comfortable in that environment.
And there’s a couple important applications to make from this. First, we can’t always see what God is doing in a heart. This is important to remember, when we are troubled by the seeming spiritual hardness of others. We want to know who is and isn’t born again. But Lot reminds us that looks can be deceiving. We can’t fully know what God is and isn’t doing in someone’s heart. That doesn’t mean we don’t make any judgments, but we also must be cautious and humble about going too far with those judgments.
A 2nd application, and more to the point, is that if God could preserve a weak believer like Lot in the middle of Sodom, then surely, we can trust him to keep us. God’s grace is always stronger than every evil culture and every temptation and trial. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we carelessly expose ourselves to perversion the way Lot did. He suffered awful consequences for his sinful choices, but God ultimately kept his word and preserved Lot.
And this fact leads Peter to make explicit the conclusion he has been driving toward in vv. 9–10a. My first challenge was to remember God’s past works of deliverance and judgment. And this leads to my second challenge…
II. Trust God’s future promises (vv. 9–10a).
Peter affirms 2 important promises that really stand out in the 3 examples he has cited. First…
God will preserve his children. It’s worth noting that the same Greek noun, peirasmos, can be translated as either temptation or trial. The context determines which one is in view. I believe that this context indicates that Peter is primarily thinking of trials that oppress us from the outside, not temptations that arise from the heart.
Certainly, both Noah and Lot faced incredible pressure from the outside. They lived in the midst of dark, hostile evil. And they essentially stood all alone. They had no church family. They didn’t even have a Bible. They were like the little white goat in Jurassic Park that gets dropped in the Tyrannosaurus Rex pen. How could they possibly survive such a hostile environment?
But they did! God “saved Noah.” And God “delivered righteous Lot.” And v. 9 uses the same verb as v. 7 used of Lot to assure us, “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation (i.e., trials).”
This is wonderful verse with so many applications. First, I opened today by mentioning the growing hostility toward Christianity in our culture. It can feel overwhelming, and Christians often anxiously respond by trying to preserve a “Christian America” that is clearly in the rearview mirror. Others are in full retreat, trying to do all they can to hide from the evil.
And certainly, we don’t go looking for evil. The Bible commands us to “flee temptation.” But the Bible also commands us to go out in the world for the sake of the gospel. And even while we must be suspicious of our flesh, we should also be confident in the Spirit that he will give grace for every challenge. God’s preserving grace is infinitely greater than the evil of our world. By God’s grace, we should be confident in our ability to stand and to thrive even in the darkest of times.
I’m sure this was a concern for Peter’s readers. They felt overwhelmed by the evil outside the church and by the deception of the false teachers inside the church. So, Peter assures them, “The Lord knows…” And we should enjoy the same assurance. God will not let us go. He will hold us fast no matter what the future of our nation may hold.
But maybe your fears aren’t so much about all that is going on out there but about what is going on in your own heart. You feel spiritually weak and vulnerable. Maybe you have some skeletons in your closet that seem overwhelming. Well, think about Lot. He was quite the spiritual weakling, but God delivered him. And remember that our confidence for eternity is not in us; it is entirely in the Lord! “The Lord knows…”
Or maybe your fears have to do with loved ones. Most Christian parents fight worry about our kids spiritual future. We do the same for other spiritually weak friends and relatives. This is a constant struggle as a pastor. It’s really hard not to be anxious about the spiritual health of our members.
What a blessing it is to know that we can trust the Spirit. God loves his children more than we possibly can imagine, and Jesus promised that he never loses one of his sheep. Trust the Lord to preserve his children. The 2nd big promise that Peter wants to drive home is that…
God will punish the ungodly. You may read this promise and struggle to know if you should be happy or sad about it. The Bible teaches that even God has differing desires for the wicked (3:9).
But the Bible is also clear that justice is a good thing. It’s never good when evil goes unchecked, and we should want to see God hold it accountable. Revelation teaches that when we see God and we more fully appreciate his perfections, we will rejoice when he executes justice on the earth.
So, God’s justice is a good thing. And Peter assures us that it is coming. God already destroyed the world one time in the days of Noah, and he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. And now Peter assures us that he is holding every unbeliever who dies “under punishment for the day of judgment.” They will all stand before the Lord at the Great White Throne Judgment and receive what they justly deserve.
So Christian, be encouraged that no matter how strong evil may seem today, it will not triumph. As the song states, “This is my Father’s world; O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father’s world; The battle is not done. Jesus Who died shall be satisfied and earth and heaven be one.” You’re on the winning side. Hang in there and keep walking by faith.
And if you are not saved, I’d urge you to please see that God’s judgment is coming. There is no way you can look at the world rightly unless you clearly see that all of us are headed to judgment. That’s not a fun idea, which is why people try to ignore it. 2 Peter 3 says that the false teachers wanted to believe God will not judge, so that they could be free to do what they wanted.
But it doesn’t really matter what you want to believe; what matters is the truth. History proves that God judges sin, and he has promised to do so again. So, please come to grips with this reality. And then understand that there is forgiveness in Christ. “The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Please come to him today and be saved.