The judgement of 2 Peter already happened, and it happened two thousand years ago. At least, that’s what I think. Maybe you will agree after reading this short™ article.
Peter Emphasized Truth
In 2 Peter 1, Peter mentions “true knowledge” in verse 3, “knowledge” in verses 5-6, “true knowledge” again in verse 8, “eyewitness” in verse 16, and “prophetic word made more sure” in verse 20. Obviously, maintaining the truth is important to Peter. He even spends a few verses talking about how they need to make their calling and election sure and how Peter will never hesitate to remind them of “these things” (i.e. “true knowledge”). Peter is paving the way to talk about his primary reason for writing this letter: false teachers who were creeping in to overthrow the “like precious faith” of 2 Peter 1:1.
When Peter gets to chapter two, he has already primed his audience for what he is about to say. Pay close attention to what he says about these false teachers, who these false teachers would be among, and when judgement/ destruction would come upon them.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.2 Peter 2:1–3
These individuals would deny Jesus, they would be among Peter’s audience, and their judgement would come swiftly.
Peter says that punishment for these teachers would come at the “day of judgement” (2 Peter 2:9). He also says that they “indulge the flesh” and “despise authority.” They would “forsake the right way,” “entice by fleshly desires,” and promise freedom (2 Peter 2:10, 15, 18-19).
In chapter 3, Peter continues his discussion about these men.
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”2 Peter 3:3–4
He has the same teachers under consideration in this passage. Their basic argument and reason for denying Jesus was His apparent lack of faithfulness in fulfilling His promises concerning Him returning before some would die (Matthew 16:27-28; cf. Matthew 24:29-34). Jesus had promised, “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23). These teachers had rejected Jesus and argued that “all continues just as it was…” From their perspective, nothing major had changed. The “end of the age” had not come as Jesus had promised (Matthew 24:3, 34).
Peter’s Predictions Came True
Before we continue in identifying these teachers from two major passages, notice that all of Peter’s predictions concerning these false teachers/ mockers came true in hardly any time at all. Jude wrote about the same things Peter did but from a different point of view. Peter looked at these teachers as future, whereas Jude says they arrived.
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.Jude 3–4
Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.Jude 8
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.Jude 17–19
As you can see, whoever Peter had in mind was already causing problems by the time Jude wrote. Thus, Peter said that false teachers would arise “among you.” If we forget that Peter wrote to living people two thousand years ago, we may think that Peter was writing directly to us.
With this in mind, consider 2 Peter 2:1-3 again. Peter said their judgement and destruction would come swiftly. So, the question is, “Did it or did it not?” Perhaps we can better answer this question if we can identify who these false teachers were. To do that, we will need to go to two major passages and one supporting text: 1 Peter 2, Matthew 24, and 1 John 2:18.
Identity of the False Teachers
First, consider this passage from 1 Peter chapter 2:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.1 Peter 2:13–17
Peter is so adamant that they honor the king because there were many in Jerusalem who wanted to rebel against Rome. These are the ones that reject authority from our passages in 2 Peter and Jude. Instead of accepting Jesus as the Christ and ruler of a heavenly kingdom, they rejected Him in order to set up their own kingdom. This is what John talks about in 1 John 2:18.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.1 John 2:18
Jude said it was the last time, and he knew it was the last time because of the predictions made by the apostles concerning false teachers, those who denied Jesus. Now, John says it’s the last hour for the same reason! He even said that the “world” was passing away in the previous section, something Peter talked about in his third chapter. For John, the judgement was near as well.
With these texts in mind, let’s turn to Matthew.
For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.Matthew 24:5–7
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.Matthew 24:23–26
People claimed to be the Christ before Jesus as well. The Christ’s arrival meant restoration for Israel and liberation from Rome in many of the people’s eyes. Rome killed those who claimed to be Christ before Jesus for trying to lead a rebellion against Rome. It was upon these same charges that the leaders had Jesus crucified. In Acts 5, Gamaliel gives some background information on these various revolts.
“For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”Acts 5:36–39
So, when Jesus predicts that more will claim to be the Christ and this would lead to rumors of war, He was commenting on these various zealot leaders who attempted to rally the people to rebel against Rome. Up unto the very end, they attempted to lead the people astray and caused the deaths of many by “promising freedom” as Peter said. Josephus records exactly what Peter had in mind:
A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes.Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987. Print. (p. 741-742; Book 6, Chapter 5, 286-287)
So, Peter said that false teachers would arise among his audience. Their destruction and judgement would quickly happen after they began teaching. Jude says they had arrived, so their judgement was at hand. This is the “day of judgement” Peter had in mind. These teachers failed to honor the king, were against Christ, and promised liberty. These teachers appear to be the false Christs and antichrists of Jesus and John’s teaching, and they find their fulfilment in the zealots who caused the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 from a historical perspective.
Thus, when reading 2 Peter 3, there is no reason to place that judgement in our future either. Though the language appears to be addressing the end of the planet as we know it, it is typical language the prophets used to discuss the fall of a city or the judgement of a nation. I’ll give some thoughts on that chapter soon enough.