2 Peter 2:9-10 “A Biblical Theology of Judgment, Part 2: Bringing Biblical Conclusions”
“The Lord knows to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous to punish for the day of judgment, and especially those who go after the flesh in defiling lust and despise authority.”
It is important to remember the grammatical and thematic context. Verse 9 begins the apodosis of a conditional statement introduced in v. 4. After making the bold statement that false teachers will certainly meet their end (2:3), Peter introduces a conditional statement (vv. 4-10a) that proves the validity of his statement. If, God did not spare the angels (v. 4) nor spare the ancient world (v. 5) and if He condemned Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 6), then He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
It is important to see the connection between vv. 9-10a and vv. 4-8 in order to understand Peter’s complete thought. Not only has he connected these verses syntactically as a first-class conditional statement, but he also has woven several lexical connections into this tapestry. The use of the indicative οἶδεν (from οἶδα: he knows) without any connective conjunction introduces the “then” side of the lengthy “if…then” statement reaching back to v. 4. This is the only indicative verb in vv. 9-10a and governs the entire apodosis. This term of knowledge is more than mere intellectual massing of information but implies the ability to put knowledge into action. Peter used this same root in 1:12 when encouraging his readers of their knowledge regarding the things he writes. By saying that the Lord knows Peter is stating more than that God is aware of certain realities. There is included an assumption that God is both aware of the situation and understands how to act in light of that situation. Because we are speaking of God, there is an assumption that ability comes with this action. In other words, Peter states that God not only knows these things but that He also knows how to act and additionally is able to act according to His knowledge. His conclusion is obvious: If God has done these things in the past (vv. 4-8), then He knows that He’s doing and is able to complete it (vv. 9-10a).
Two infinitives complement and complete the thought of what the Lord knows. The Lord knows (1) to rescue (ῥύεσθαι) and (2) to keep (τηρεῖν). Both terms were used to describe God’s grace and mercy toward those whom He protected in judgement (v. 7 - ἐρρύσατο) and those whom He did not spare but secured for judgment (v. 4 – τηρουμένους). After Peter draws his observations of God’s character based on God’s actions in vv. 4-8, he makes two conclusions based on God’s intelligence and ability. Based on God’s actions in the past, it is obvious that God knows both His people and His enemies.
God Knows His People (v. 9a)
“The Lord knows to rescue the godly from temptation”
As we have already stated, this rescue (ῥύεσθαι) reflects the same term used of Lot in v. 7 (ἐρρύσατο). The infinitive completes the thought began by the verb to know (οἶδεν). Woodenly we might translate this phrase: The Lord knows to rescue the godly from temptation. There is a dual sense here that God not only knows how to rescue the godly (implying that He is able to rescue) but also that God knows to rescue (implying that God is aware of the righteous course of action). Both aspects of God’s character are important. The first declares God’s ability to save. The second demands God’s grasp of the moral situation. Who cares if God is able to save the godly if He does not understand it is His duty to save the godly.
The noun godliness (εὐσέβεια) and the adjective godly (εὐσεβής) construct a theme in Peter’s second letter. Peter has used it to describe the holiness and Christlikeness that comes with conversion (1:3), and the growth of Christian sanctification (1:6, 7). His letter will conclude with an exhortation for the readers to prepare for the coming day of judgment through current Christlikeness and godliness (3:11). The term literally means well pleasing within the context of religion. One who obeys a deity and dedicates their life in service to the deity is said to please them. In this sense, the term has been translated as pious, devout, godly, or reverent. Bringing the discussion back to 2 Peter 2:9, the apostle states that the Lord knows to rescue the godly. By doing so, he refers to those who are rescued as those who devote themselves to the Lord’s pleasure. There is a contrast to those who have been judged by water and by fire. The ancient world (v. 5) received the deluge upon the world of the ungodly (ἀσεβῶν). Likewise, Sodom was destroyed as a sign and warning for those who persist in this kind of ungodly (ἀσεβεῖν) living (v. 6). Those who perished were described as those who displease God. Those who are rescued are those who obey and seek to please God.
It is true that man is saved by faith alone and not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8-10). But saving faith never comes alone (Jam. 2:14-26). Both Noah and Lot were rescued and delivered from judgment because they believed what God revealed to them. They were saved by faith. Yet that faith led to action. Because they believed/trusted in God’s revelation, they produced works and those works pleased God. This is the sense of the godly. The godly are those who believe God and thus please Him by their works from faith. These godly ones will be rescued by God from temptation.
There is a debate whether to translate πειρασμός as temptation (NASB, NKJV) or trial (LSB). The term itself indicates only a test that reveals the quality of something. If that test is given with the desire and expectation of failure, then temptation may be a better translation. If the test is given simply to reveal the character or mettle of someone/thing, then trial or test may be more appropriate. Peter’s use of the noun temptation/trial (πειρασμός) and the verb rescue/deliver (ῥύομαι) appear together only here and in Matt. 6:13: “And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Here is a loose reference to the Lord’s prayer. Because the words “for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” are almost certainly not original, this request for deliverance from temptation is the conclusion to Jesus’ model prayer. Here, it forms half of Peter’s conclusion regarding judgment.
The context of Peter’s biblical precedent is divine and ultimate judgment against those who reject revelation. The angels knew what they were doing when they rebelled. The ancient world had 120 years of Noah’s preaching. Sodom and Gomorrah witnessed Lot’s life. All rejected this revelation and perished. Yet Noah and Lot were rescued from this temptation to reject. Peter writes plainly that the godly are rescued from temptation (ἐκ πειρασμοῦ) yet the context shows Lot being rescued from fire that reduces cities to ash. Perhaps we should not separate the ideas. The temptation or trial (πειρασμός) in view here is the temptation to reject God’s Word and reject the message of coming judgment just like the ancient world did. In other words, the Lord knows how to keep the godly from committing apostasy. Noah and Lot were rescued (ἐρρύσατο) from water and from fire. Here Peter says that the godly are rescued (ῥύεσθαι) from temptation, yet it amounts to the same thing. To fall into temptation and doubt the message of destruction is to apostatize and receive the eternal wrath of God. If God can rescue 8 people while drowning millions and rescue Lot and his daughters while reducing a whole valley to ashes, then God knows how to rescue the godly from the temptation of apostasy. God knows His people and He knows how to care for them.
God Knows His Enemies (vv. 9b-10a)
It should become obvious that Peter has returned to the topic of false teachers. All that has been said since v. 4 was meant as a precedent for this conclusion regarding false teachers (2:1-3). Peter does not make a comparison with the false teachers to those whom God has shown mercy, but to those who received judgment. The comparison is not even for the ungodly men of the ancient world or Sodom. The connection goes back to the sinning angels who were never offered redemption (v. 4).
He Knows How to Handle His Enemies (v. 9b)
“And to keep the unrighteous to punish for the day of judgment.”
By using τηρεῖν (to keep/guard/confine) Peter makes a connection to the confinement of the sinning angels in v. 4 (τηρουμένους). The post-positive δὲ adds the other side of the coin to Peter’s conclusion. If God knows how to handle His people, then He also knows how to handle His enemies. Here Peter refers to the enemies of God as the unrighteous (ἀδίκους), those who are the opposite of righteous Lot (δίκαιον Λὼτ) who believed God and was tortured by the sin that he saw and heard of each day. If God confined the angels for judgment (εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους), then God will confine the unrighteous man for judgment (εἰς ἡμέραν κρίσεως κολαζομένους τηρεῖν). The language is nearly identical to v. 4 if only more specific. Rebels are confined or kept (τηρεῖν/τηρουμένους) for the day of judgment (εἰς κρίσιν/κρίσεως). In the case of the angels who sinned and of the unrighteous, eschatological judgment is in view. They are confined and imprisoned for the purpose of eternal judgment. Yet this confinement is more than an uncomfortable arrangement. This is more than a mere holding cell. This confinement or imprisonment is itself a punishment. The present tense participle κολαζομένους (punishing/to punish) indicates that punishment is current and contemporaneous with the confinement. Eternal torment is interrupted only by a brief appearance before the judge. The Lord knows how to handle His enemies.
He Knows Who His Enemies Are (v. 10a)
“And especially those who go after the flesh in defiling lust and despise authority.”
By “especially those…” (μάλιστα δὲ τοὺς) Peter’s focus is primarily and exclusively on the false teachers who will come from among you (v. 1). The “unrighteous (ἀδίκους) of v. 9 refers to any and all who reject the revealed word and will of God. The single article (τοὺς) modifies two present tense substantival participles (πορευομένους and καταφρονοῦντας). Peter narrows his view here to describe particular reprobates along two issues of character.
First, Peter calls them those who go after the flesh in defiling lust. The construction going after (ὀπίσω πορεύομαι) is used throughout the LXX to describe the act of apostasy (Deut. 4:3; 6:14; 8:19; 24:14). Just as Israel was condemned for having left Yhwh to go after or pursue the gods of the nations, so false teachers are here called those who go after the flesh. Rather than bowing down to idols of wood or stone, these false teachers worship the flesh. The flesh (σαρκὸς) mentioned here refers to carnal desires of sexual appetite. The sexual nature of the angels’ sin (v. 4) as well as the sin of Sodom (v. 6) is within the near context and if ἐπιθυμίᾳ μιασμοῦ is an object genitive (lust for defilement/lust that bring defilement) then Peter may hint at the specific sin of sodomy. In any case, Peter has gone to great lengths to have sexual sin in the foreground of the discussion. The sin of the angels and the sin of Sodom book end his biblical examples of judgment, for one is the mirror image of the other. The angels of Gen. 6 left their abode to join themselves with man. The men of Sodom desired to likewise break this boundary by joining themselves to angels. God knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, especially those who pursue and chase down sexual passions that make them unclean.
Second, Peter refers to them as those who despise authority (κυριότητος καταφρονοῦντας). There is an obvious general sense of pride where these carnal individuals of total self-abandon reject any and all forms of submission to authority. But this rebellious attitude is more deeply seated and carries more dangerous implications than a teenager with a bad attitude. The term “authority” (κυριότης) shares a root with the Greek term “lord’ (κύριος). To reject authority is to reject the lord who has authority. The unrighteous are particularly known by their pursuit of carnal passions and their rejection of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In the case of these false teachers, there is a logical and simple connection between the two. In rejecting the 2nd coming of Christ and the judgment that the Lord will bring when He returns, they go after what their flesh longs for because they claim complete independence from Christ. It is possible that they never vocalized their apostasy or their independence from the Lordship of Jesus Christ. But their lives and actions reject even the notion of submission to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. God is not fooled by them, and the Lord knows what to do with them.
There is a sense where this text (2:4-10a) should bring great comfort to the believer. It is impossible to speak of God’s judgment of sin and sinners without also speaking of God’s preservation and security for those who belong to Him. The destruction of false teachers and their followers is as certain as the imprisonment of the angels, the judgment of the ancient world, and the inferno of Sodom. But with that comes the sure preservation of believers. Just as God preserved Noah and rescued Lot, so too will God rescue the godly. Those who live to His glory will be saved from the coming wrath.
There is also a sobering reality that we should draw from these few verses. We must ask ourselves if we are any different than the false teachers. We may be able to justify ourselves by pointing to our doctrine, but are our lives any different? Is there any discernible difference between those inside the church and those outside? Would it seem to Peter, 2000 years later, that the false teachers had won? This is where faithfulness comes in. Rather than compromising the message on the one hand or taking up a witch hunt for tares and goats on the other hand, the church must remain faithful. Preach the Word. Preach it accurately. Preach it passionately. Preach it thoroughly. The goats will leave. The tares will uproot themselves and move on to more susceptible ground. When a wolf presents itself, make the sheep aware of its presence, but don’t stop preaching the Word. This is faithfulness. We will preach the word until the Lord Jesus returns with His kingdom.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 343-4.  Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006), p. 233.  D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 107-8.  Davids, p. 233.