2 Peter 2:4-8 “A Biblical Theology of Judgment, Part 1: Building a Biblical Precedent”

For God did not spare the angels who sinned, but casting them to the pit He delivered them in chains of darkness, being kept for judgment; and He did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, one of eight, a preacher of righteousness, when He brought a flood to the world of the ungodly. And He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ruin by reducing them to ashes, having made an example to ungodly living thereafter. And He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the lifestyle of the wicked in sensuality. For the righteous man, in what was seen and heard by dwelling among them day-by-day, was tormenting a righteous soul by lawless deeds.


The entirety of vv. 4-10a is a single argument. “If” does not convey any sort of doubt but asks a rhetorical question. The Greek first-class condition assumes the premise to be true for the sake of argument. This is a classic if–then statement that flows as follows: if the things mentioned in vv. 4-8 are true, then the conclusions found in vv. 9-10a are to be expected.The connecting “for” (γὰρ) points back and links up with v. 3. Peter has just finished pronouncing a certain judgment on false teachers; that their judgment is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (v. 3b). Here lies Peter’s proof of such a bold statement. Peter looks back to the Old Testament prophets, those same prophets that the gospel confirms (1:19-21), to build a biblical precedent for the judgment of false teachers.


The events that Peter chooses and the details that he includes reveals something about his intention. While it is obvious that he wants to nail down the certainty of judgment for false teachers, he also wants to encourage the saints who will be reading these words. Mixed in to these affirmations of judgment are confirmations of God’s preservation and salvation. By reading the acts of God throughout history, we see something of His character. By using these Old Testament examples, Peter draws out three lessons regarding God’s character in His judgment as well as in His salvation.


God is No Respecter of Position: Celestial Judgment (v. 4)


With “if” (εἰ) begins the protasis of this conditional statement. There is a pattern to the way Peter presents these facts of revelation. He begins by presenting God’s negative action (what He did not do) followed by His positive action (what He did do). There is something to be learned by what God doesn’t do just as much as we can learn from what He does do.


God is Not Unjust (v. 4a)

For God did not spare the angels who sinned


Who sinned” translates the aorist participle ἁμαρτησάντων which describes these angels. God did not spare the sinning angels as opposed to the angels who did not sin. The aorist aspect reflects an event in history. It is popular in Reformed circles to interpret these sinning angels as those angels who followed Satan in his rebellion. If this is true, then Peter references all the demonic host who fell before Adam.[1] Yet this view is very unstable in the context of the rest of the verse which describes these angels as being bound and sequestered to a place where they await final judgment. It would be difficult to explain this imprisonment (1 Pet. 3:19-20) while also affirming the gospel accounts of legions of demons roaming the earth during the time of Jesus. A better understanding, and more to the point, Peter’s meaning, is to look to the events of Genesis chapter 6. These angels are those “sons of God” who cohabitated with the daughters of men helping to plunge the human race into the most overt kind of rebellion (Gen. 6:1-5) [2] and polluting the line of the coming Seed (Gen. 3:15). These are the specific angels in view.


God’s character is revealed in what He did not do to these angels. He did not spare them. It mattered not that they were angels, that they once dwelled in the very presence of the Almighty. Their once glorious position was never considered. It is possible that the false teachers were those who also held high position within the church.[3] Yet this high position would not save them, for God is no respecter of position. If He did not spare the angels, why would He spare mortal man? To spare them would be to commit an act of great injustice. To spare them would be to wink at their rebellion. Is God unjust? No. Therefore, He cannot spare them and He did not spare them.


God is Just (v. 4b)

But casting them to the pit He delivered them in chains of darkness, being kept for judgment


The conjunction ἀλλὰ (but) marks a contrast in God’s actions. Peter moves from what God did not do to what He did do. It is possible to not spare the guilty while at the same time failing to be perfectly just and right. If the punishment is too laxed or too severe, then God could not be considered just. Peter confirms God’s just nature by recalling God’s actions. God cast these angels down, bound them, and confined them to await future judgment.

Peter does not actually say that God cast these angels to hell. The aorist participle ταρταρώσας reflects the Greek τάρτορος or Tartarus, a place in Greek myth described as the underworld where judgment is meted out. Literally God tartaruized them or cast them into Tartarus. Peter does not borrow language from the pagans so much as he makes a distinction between this place and the eternal lake of fire. God delivered these angels by casting them to Tartarus in chains of darkness, that is, they are chained by darkness and thus totally cut off from the God of light.[4] It is in this place that they are being held for judgment. Peter changes to the present aspect (τηρουμένους) to depict the fact that they are even now being held for the purpose of judgment (εἰς κρίσιν). They do not yet occupy hell, the lake of fire and the place of eternal judgment. But they are held secure with that end in mind. God is not slow about His judgment. The high position of the angelic realm could not protect these sinning angels and their judgment is certain. God is just.


God is No Respecter of Persons: Cosmic Judgment (v. 5)


Peter again uses an example from Genesis and even remains in the same near context. From the angelic rebellion of Gen. 6:1-5 he moves to the flood which is introduced in Gen. 6:7. Peter again uses the same pattern of first revealing what God did not do (negative) before recalling what God did do (positive). But this time, instead of pairing equivalent actions he uses polar opposites.[5] Peter moves from the objects of wrath to the objects of mercy.


God is not Unjust (v. 5a)

And He did not spare the ancient world


Peter repeats the same language as v. 4 to make the same point. God is not unjust so as to turn a blind eye to the sin of man whose heart was bent continually on evil (Gen. 6:5). If He did not spare the angels in their rebellion, then He could not spare the ancient world. The ancient world passed along merrily from generation to generation in their sin. Perhaps they, like the false teachers, thought God’s judgment was a farce and their destruction slumbered.[6] They miscalculated God’s character, for He is not unjust.


God is Merciful (v. 5b)

But preserved Noah, one of eight, a preacher of righteousness, when He brought a flood to the world of the ungodly


Peter again uses ἀλλὰ (but) to introduce a contrast, yet this contrast reflects God’s mercy rather than His wrath. He did not spare the ancient world (nor could He!) but He did preserve Noah. Of the entire human race, only eight were spared. The righteous have always been in a vast minority. That Noah was preacher of righteousness (δικαιοσύνης κήρυκα) is not mentioned in the Genesis account, but this fact should not surprise us. The biblical text certainly implies it, and Jewish tradition supports it.[7] Richard Lenski considers it a trivial question to doubt that Noah preached righteousness to his contemporaries: “Did Noah keep still during those 120 years? Did God leave the world in ignorance of the impending deluge? Did Peter write without revelation?[8] His rebuke is well warranted. To doubt Peter’s words here is to doubt that he wrote as being carried by the Holy Spirit to write the words of God (1:21). This righteousness should be seen in its fullest sense. That is to say that Noah preached more than coming wrath and the justness of that wrath, but that he also preached repentance.[9] This preaching was obviously ignored and so God’s wrath poured down upon the world of the ungodly. Yet, God preserved Noah.


Peter uses the term φυλάσσω meaning to guard or to protect. Noah was not spared the flood but was protected from it through God’s provision of the ark. Noah’s faith in God’s word led to his actions of constructing the ark which became the means of his protection. God was merciful to Noah by revealing this coming judgment to him and providing a means of protection. At the same time, God proved that He could judge the entire world while at the same time protect His people. The wicked cannot hide behind the righteous. God shows mercy to His people while at the same time dealing out justice upon the wicked. He is no respecter of persons.


God Has Great Respect for Precision: Correct Judgment (vv. 6-8)


By moving from the flood to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah Peter moves from God’s wrath by water to God’s wrath by fire.[10] Already he sets up his argument coming in 3:6-7. Peter’s pattern continues in the sense that he provides two sides of this judgment, yet this pattern continues to evolve. Of the angels Peter presented God’s negative action and positive action regarding their judgment. Of the flood he recalled both the negative action of not withholding judgment upon the world and the positive preservation of Noah. Here we see the same pattern repeated in the sense that we see both judgment and preservation. Yet, Peter presents both as positive actions, that is, both actions are described as what God did do.[11] An illustration may be helpful here.


The sinning angels


Negative action: Not sparing (wrath)


Positive action: Delivered them (wrath)



The ancient world


Negative action: Not sparing (wrath)


Positive action: Preserved Noah (mercy)



Sodom and Gomorrah


Positive action: Condemned them (wrath)


Positive action: Rescued Lot (mercy)


God’s judgment is therefore seen as active and precise. God does more than passively give people over to their lusts. He is an active judge that brings destruction to the wicked. Yet His sword cuts down only those it is intended for with zero collateral damage.


God is Just (v. 6)

And He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ruin by reducing them to ashes, having made an example to ungodly living thereafter.


It is noteworthy that Peter does not mention the sin of Sodom and is content to focus on the result of God’s judgment. This could be due to the fact that their sin is so well known that Peter has only to mention their names.[12] After all, the term “Sodomite” (i.e., a resident of Sodom) has long been used in connection with the sin of homosexuality. Sodom and Gomorrah have ceased to exist for nearly four thousand years and yet their infamous destruction has long been used as biblical examples of God’s complete judgment. When Peter says that God reduced them to ashes, he means exactly that. This condemnation or judgment (κατέκρινεν) was carried out in full to the point that they were destroyed or ruined. The Greek καταστροφή is where we get our English term catastrophe. There is no trace of these cities left. Their destruction was so thorough that scholars are forced to make educated guesses as to their exact location.[13]


The complete destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is here stated as an example for future generations. All who live ungodly lives need only to look back to the account of Genesis 19 and see there their own doom lest they repent and believe. God does not waver in His judgment but brings it swiftly, fully, and without remorse. Yet, He will not punish the innocent along with the guilty, for He is just.


God is Gracious (vv. 7-8)

And He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the lifestyle of the wicked in sensuality. For the righteous man, in what was seen and heard by dwelling among them day-by-day, was tormenting a righteous soul by lawless deeds


Many cannot get past that first line and fight the urge to argue with Peter. Was Lot truly righteous? Again, we must remind ourselves that Peter does not write of his own accord but is writing the very words from God (1:21). Not only that, he is not an independent interpreter, but interprets Scripture in accordance with the prophets (1:20). Peter thrice calls this man “righteous” and we would do well to take him seriously. Isn’t the fact that Lot was a righteous man the entire point of the narrative? Didn’t God promise Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if there was a single righteous man in the city, that He would not sweep away the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18:16-33)? Didn’t the angel tell Lot that he could do nothing to the city until Lot was clear from it (Gen. 19:22)? What other conclusion are we to draw from Moses’ account other than that Lot was a righteous man?


The fact that Lot was imperfect is not a debate. He should not have been in Sodom in the first place. His actions before, during, and after the city’s destruction have much to be desired. Yet God reckoned him as righteous and therefore spared him the fate of Sodom. We who are imperfect yet redeemed are grateful for God’s grace to Lot. In this account there is hope of rescue for those elect aliens who are surrounded by the wickedness of this world.

Lot did not take his situation lightly. Peter says that he was oppressed by his sensual surroundings. The same term ἀσέλγεια (sensuality) is used to describe the ways of the false teachers that many will follow (v. 2). We are well aware of the sensual nature of the Sodomites. Perhaps this is a clue to the nature of the self-abandonment of these false teachers. What Lot saw and heard day-by-day tormented his soul. The sinfulness of Sodom was lived out in broad daylight for all the world to see and hear. One of the biggest indications that a person has not become dull to sin is their agony when confronted by it. Lot was tormented (ἐβασάνιζεν) or tortured in his soul by the overt wickedness of his neighbors. The imperfect aspect carries the idea of repeated agony and torment as each day presented fresh acts of lawlessness. The antinomianism of Sodom was killing Lot.


An interesting observation is that God did not rescue lot from this agony per se, but from the destruction and catastrophe that fell upon Sodom. Rescue from final judgment is in view. Peter’s readers’ have no reason to expect a place in this world that is full of peace and tranquility. They should not expect a different king of living space than Lot endured. Yet there is hope in the fact that God showed grace to Lot while simultaneously raining fire down upon Sodom. The larger point is that God’s wrath is a precise wrath. He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Ex. 34:7) yet He will not sweep away the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18:22).


Conclusion


A biblical theology of God’s judgment should encourage believers for several reasons. First, the wrath of God proves His righteousness and displays His holy character. A god who allows evil to go unpunished is himself an evil god. Yet God is good and does good (Ps. 119:68) and so He punishes the wicked without respect to position or persons. Second, the wrath of God showcases His grace to the elect. Is it possible for God to condemn the world and save those who belong to Him? Is anything too difficult of God (Jer. 32:27)? God drowned the whole world while saving His eight elect. God burned to a crisp entire cities while rescuing the three individuals inside whom He preordained. Peter’s intention is to prove his earlier point that God’s judgment against false teachers is a sure thing. Yet at the same time, he provides his faithful audience with hope. God preserves His elect.


Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), 309. [2] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 336. [3] D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 96. [4] Ibid, p. 97-8. [5] Ibid, p. 99. [6] Lenski, p. 311. [7] Schreiner, p. 338-9. [8] Lenski, p. 312. [9] Schreiner, p. 339. [10] Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006), p. 228. [11] Hiebert, p. 100-2. [12] Schreiner, p. 339-40. [13] Hiebert, p. 102.

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