In regard to those to whom Peter wrote, we remark that they were Christian Hebrews residing in certain provinces of Anatolia, and therefore styled, “Chosen sojourners of a dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” They were Jews residing in these countries, who had been ecclesiastically separated from their countrymen by a separation, or sanctification (which is the same thing) of spirit. Many of them had, doubtless, heard Peter on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit descended upon the Apostleship of the Circumcision so copiously and visibly. We have reason to believe this, because Luke, in Acts 2:9, says that there were Jews in Jerusalem who witnessed the outpouring of spirit and power, “from Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia.” Peter and the rest of the apostles, filled with the spirit, spoke to them of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; and urged them to save themselves from the last. The result of this Spirit-manifestation in word and gifts, was the separation of them from the sacrificial worship of the temple into a submissive hearkening to, or “obedience”; and unto “a sprinkling of Jesus Christ’s blood,” in their doing what is prescribed in Acts 2:38—
“Be ye mentally changed; and let every one of you be baptised to (in the sense of being added to) the name of the Anointed Jesus into remission of sins.”
This was the “separation of spirit” they were subject of. The spirit-discourse which issued from Peter’s mouth, opened the eyes of their understandings; dispelled the darkness which overshadowed them; and disposed them to child-like submission to “the law of faith,” expressed in the words before us. This work of spirit was evinced in what followed; for they that gladly received the word were baptised, verse 41. They were baptised “unto the name of the Father, and the son, and the Holy Spirit”; and so were added to the name of the Anointed Jesus; by which addition they henceforth constituted a part of that name, or of the “One Body”—“ONE in God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”; “one as the Father and Jesus are” (John 17:11).
Having thus become Jews in Christ, or “Israelites indeed,” they did not therefore lose all interest in their nation and country. When they returned to Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, they would diffuse the knowledge they acquired among the Jews who had not gone up to Jerusalem to keep the feast of Pentecost; and in doing so, would tell them of the vengeance that was impending over the Commonwealth of Judah. Though they had ceased from offering sacrifices for themselves, they would still go to Jerusalem to celebrate the national festivals of Pentecost and Tabernacles (Acts 20:16). Being now in Christ, their Passover and Sin-covering, they did not keep the Mosaic Passover and Atonement (verse 5); nevertheless, they were Jewish patriots, and loved their country; and desired its prosperity as their own good.
But, though patriotic in the truest sense, their patriotism did not preserve them from persecution by those Jews who did not believe; whose conduct, received by tradition from their Fathers, was vain; and who spoke evil of them as a strange people, who, though previously fond of what the world calls “good-fellow-ship,” would no longer, since they had identified themselves with the Nazarenes, run with them to the old excess of riot. These profligates spoke evil of Christ; and having the power of all hostile to the truth on their side, whether Jew or Gentile, they subjected their Christian fellow-countrymen to “a fiery trial.” Collectively, the unbelieving Jews were then a formidable and dangerous power; for though they were but foreigners in Anatolia, yet they were ever ready to excite the idolatrous Greeks against those of their own nation who acknowledged the Messiahship of Jesus (Acts 17:5-8, 13). Peter refers to these in the activity of their enmity against Christian Jews, as “their diabolos, or opponent-at-law, the seducer, as a roaring lion, who walks about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). A conspiracy of one class of Jews against another, is styled by Ezekiel, “a roaring lion.” In Ch. 22:25, Jehovah says to him, “Son of man, say unto Jerusalem, there is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls.” So in Peter’s day, the prophets and princes, or chiefs, of Israel, both in the Holy Land and in all other parts of the Goat-Dominion, conspired against the Nazarenes, “like a roaring lion ravening the prey.”
Many of these conspirators were apostates from Christianity—dogs, who had returned to their vomit; washed hogs, who had gone back to their wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22). These were they who, says Peter, “cannot see afar off, and have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins” (Ch. 1:9).
But besides apostates, there were Jews who still maintained a profession of Christianity, and even set up for teachers in the churches of Anatolia. These teachers, “who would pervert the gospel of Christ,” as Paul says (Gal. 1:7), are styled by Peter in 2 Peter 2:1, “false teachers.” These false teachers were the Judaizers, who sought to blend the Mosaic Law and the Gospel for the justification of Jews and Gentiles. They first appear upon the page of gospel history in Acts 15:1-5. Of these perverters of the gospel, fabricators of another gospel, Paul writes to the Galatians, saying,
“As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised, only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh” (6:12).
These teachers wished to be popular with both parties; with disobedient Israelites on the one hand, and the Christian Jews and Gentiles on the other. But Paul put a logical extinguisher upon their teaching, by telling those who were bewitched by them, that—
“If they were circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing. For I testify again,” says he, “to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Ch. 5:2).
These false teachers in the churches of christian Hebrews were rapidly becoming a power, even in the lifetime of the Apostles, which was designed to subvert the gospel they taught, and to set up instead thereof, the superstitions of the Apostasy. They were corrupters of the brethren from “the simplicity which is in Christ.” They claimed to be Hebrews, Israelites, the Seed of Abraham, and the ministers of Christ (2 Cor. 11:22); and as much to be deferred to as Peter, Paul, or any others of the apostles. But Paul declared they were “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.” Ministers of Satan under the garb of ministers of righteousness (ver. 13-15). Let the reader mark this well, that in the days of Peter and Paul, an order of men had arisen in the christian community, composed of christian Jews, who appeared as sheep, or ministers of righteousness; but who were really wolves in sheep’s clothing, or ministers of Satan, or the adversary to the faith. They were very pious, very zealous for God, and great lovers of the souls of men; but notwithstanding all their appearances, they were “deceitful workers.” Their zeal, piety, and love, were their stock in the trade of making merchandise of souls; and all reacted to the present, or temporal advantage of themselves and their spiritual order. Their doctrine was as the poison of serpents, undoing all the apostles did, wherever it was inserted; and inflicting death upon all who received it. Paul was intolerant of it; and pronounced its teachers, though an angel from heaven might be of their number, accursed (Gal. 1:7-9).
Of these Achans, the accursed patrons of the Babylonish Garment, and worshippers of the Golden Wedge (Josh. 6:21). Peter says in 2 Peter 2:1,
“There were false prophets among the people (Israel after the flesh); as also there will be false teachers among you (the Israel of God), who will craftily introduce heresies of destruction; and denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction, on account of whom the Way of the Truth will be blasphemed.”
Now these words of Peter did not refer exclusively to what would happen at some remote period of ecclesiastical history; they referred also to what was in actual and baneful operation in “the heritages” of the circumcision, or Christian Hebrew societies, at the time he wrote. Still speaking of these false teachers in the ecclesias, he goes on to say,
“And through an inordinate desire of gain, they will make merchandise of you with deceitful words. As irrational natural animals who have been appointed to capture and corruption, these, blaspheming in things which they understand not, shall be caused to perish in their own corruption; who are going to be recompensed with (fut. Part. pass.) a reward of unrighteousness, as taking the lead in sensuality, the luxury of the day. They were spots and blemishes, revelling in their own deceivings, while they feast with you, having eyes filled with an adulteress, and cannot cease from sin; deluding unstable souls; having a heart that has been trained to inordinate desires; cursed children, having forsaken the right way, they have gone astray, having followed in the way of Balaam, son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. These are wells without water, clouds driven by a hurricane, for whom the gloom of the dark place for the aion, or cycle, has been reserved. For, sounding forth pompous words of foolishness, they entice through lusts of the flesh and lewdness, those truly escaping from them who live in error; promising them liberty, while they are themselves slaves of the corruption; for by whom any one has been overcome, to this same also he has been enslaved. For, if escaping the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, being entangled by these again, they are overcome, the last things have become to them worse than the first. For it was better for them not to have known the way of justification, than, having known, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
These false teachers were “children,” who once walked in the way of truth, into which they had been introduced by obedience to “the holy commandment,” or law of faith, delivered to them on the Day of Pentecost. They knew “the way of justification,” and had been purged from their old sins. How came it then, that so great a change was wrought in the heritages while the apostles were yet living? All things had had a fair beginning; the holy commandment was delivered by inspiration, and all learned the faith from infallible teachers; how, then, came things into so sad a case in all the churches of the circumcision, whether out of Palestine or not? These questions are answered in the parable of the Tares. Jesus, styled the Son of Man, came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to them only—Matt. 15:24. They, in their Mosaical organization, constituted the field, or kosmos in which he sowed the seed, or gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 13:18-23), which, received into honest and good hearts, became the good seed of verse 38. “The good seed are (or represent) the children of the kingdom.” There are two classes of “children of the kingdom”—“Israel after the flesh,” who reject Jesus (see Matt. 8:12); and Israel, native and adopted, who receive him, and his teaching, styled by Paul, “the Israel of God.” “The tares are the children of the evil thing”—those “cursed children” of whom Peter speaks. “The enemy that sowed them is the seducer”; or, as Peter and James define it, “the lusts of the flesh,” by, or through which men are enticed (2 Peter 2:18; James 1:14-15). The flesh, which is Sin’s flesh, is “the enemy,” or enmity against God and His law (Rom. 8:7), and the Seducer which causes men to transgress, or put themselves across the line, or on the wrong side of things forbidden. When Jesus said to the Jews, in the words of the English version, “Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do,” it was equivalent to saying, “Ye are born of the flesh, and the lusts of the flesh ye will do.” The flesh is “the evil thing,” in the English version of the parable of the tares, styled “the wicked one.” It is that by which all offences come; as is clear from the world’s history, and the words of Jesus, who exclaimed—
“Woe to the world because of the enticements: for necessity is that enticements arise; but woe to that man by whom the enticement (or scandal) is introduced!”
The false teachers Peter so severely, but justly denounces, were those who placed stumbling-blocks in the way of the saints, being thus “the scandalisers” of the apostolic age, “who walked after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness,” and laid their enticements before their brethren, many of whom, being unstable, were ensnared. They were the tares—the development of the flesh; and therefore, contrary to, or impatient of, the truth.
From the premises before us, it is evident that the Christian Church, in apostolic times, was not all gold, and silver, and precious stones. There was much wood, hay, and stubble, mixed up with these. The false teachers and their unstable followers were of the combustible sort. They were unable to “endure to the end.” The Jewish power was persecuting the heritages in Judea with great inveteracy; and the Jews in Anatolia were doing the same to the full extent of their ability (1 Peter 5:9): yet the predicted deliverance in the manifestation of “the end” had not come, and no signs were discerned by “unstable souls” of its approach.
It was a trying time in Israel to all who loved the truth. The crisis was favourable to the growth of tares. As Jesus had predicted, many were caused to fall, and betrayed one another, and hated one another. Many false prophets had shown themselves in the church, and had deceived many; and because iniquity abounded, the love of many had become cold (Matt. 24:10-12).
The false teachers, styled by Jesus and John false prophets, seemed for a time to have the advantage of the situation. Evil servants that they were, they said in their hearts, Our Lord delayeth to come; and came practically to the conclusion that he would not come. Having relieved themselves of this apprehension, they commenced the merchandise of souls, and smote those of their fellow-servants who would not be sold to work iniquity. Thus they became lords of the heritages, and devoted themselves to eating and drinking with the drunken, in all the luxury of the day. But, though they found it convenient to ignore all but their own imaginations, their Divine Master was not unobservant of their abominations. Still he bore with them for a time, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to a change of mind.” As he waited in the days of Noah, so he waited with them. But his long suffering and forbearance were ineffectual; so he came upon them in a day and hour they were not aware of, and cut them off, appointing them a portion with the hypocrites, where was weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 24:48-51).