Two Key Things the Lord Knows (2 Peter 2.4-9)
“9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”
The knowledge of God is famously beyond all human comprehension. When the boundaries of the knowledge and wisdom of God extend as far as the east is from the west (akin to how far God separates our sins from us: Ps. 107.3), it is easy to just simply say “Well, God knows it all” and leave it at that. However, one is wise to take notice of moments in the scripture where God’s knowledge of a subject is emphasized. As an example, consider the 2nd half of Psalm 44.21: “For he knows the secrets of the heart.” Also, 2 Timothy 2.19a: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows who are his.’”
2 Peter 4.9 is also one of those key moments. This statement reminding us of God’s knowing how to reward the righteous and judge the wicked is certainly one we need to be reminded of today. In the context of 2nd Peter, the Holy Spirit has just described to the reader the contrast between the truth presented by the true prophets and apostles of God and the false prophets that always arise during occasions of God revealing His will to mankind. The sad outcome of this duality of messages is that a few will believe the truth, and many more will believe the lie. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4.3-4).
The result of following blind guides into the pit (Matthew 15.14) has already been described in v.3b of 2 Peter 2: “Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” While that truth stands firmly on its own, the Holy Spirit stops to give the reader some familiar examples of God’s ability and willingness to both judge the wicked and, in the process, spare and save those who were faithful to Him. Following these three crucial precedents we find the key statement of what God knows: “how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”.
Example #1: The Sinful Angels
The first example cited in this section is perhaps the most curious. “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2.4). In comparison to the 2nd and 3rd examples given in this chapter, this one is not nearly as well documented in scripture. Jude 1.6 does provide us some key insight as to what happened among the angels and why some of them were cast down: “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day”.
We learn much from these two verses concerning God and judgment from this first example. At some point a group of angels rebelled against the authority of God. Scripture does not indicate how many, nor the way in which they rebelled. The reality of our ignorance of the details of this rebellion is that God has chosen for us to be ignorant of these events for whatever reason He has deemed it to be so. This is no way inhibits our gleaning of this information for what is applicable to us today. Firstly, God’s judgment has been and can be applied even to those of the highest levels of the spiritual realm. If man was created “lower than the angels” as Jesus was described in Hebrews 2.6 and His justice and judgment applies even to them, how much more so can we be assured of His judgment against us! Secondly (and more directly related to the point of this passage in 2 Peter 2), even in the spiritual realm there were angels who were spared the punishment of God’s wrath due to sin. For certain angels to be punished implies that there were those who were spared punishment! The faithful among the heavenly host enjoyed the good pleasure of their heavenly Father, a fact which reassures us as we remain faithful to Him as well.
Example #2: Noah and the Flood
The 2nd example on this list focuses the reader’s attention on the Flood, which stands to date as the most comprehensive judgment executed against the sins of mankind: “if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2.5).
In this second example, we learn even more concerning God’s ability to differentiate between the faithful and the ungodly. Twice in this short verse the “world” is mentioned, emphasizing an important point concerning God’s judgment: the percentages on either side don’t matter. With the previous example, we have no idea as to how many of those angels of old were unfaithful (nor frankly does it matter), but in this case and the one that follows we are given specifics and those specifics are troubling to say the least. Out of the “world” of sinful people whose thoughts were set on “only evil continually” (Genesis 6.5), only 8 individuals were saved: Noah and his wife, along with their sons and their wives. When Jesus instructs his disciples to “enter by the narrow gate” in Matthew 7.13-14, he also teaches very plainly that few would find it. This was contrasted with the wide gate that many would find, ultimately ending in “destruction”.
God’s judgment between the faithful and the wicked is not swayed or influenced by the numbers of individuals on each side. In other words, God is not obligated to save a certain number or percentage of people, nor is He bound to condemn individuals under similar criteria. With God the standard has been made plain: remain faithful to me and be saved, or rebel against me and be destroyed! Surprisingly there is some reassurance to be found in this passage as well! God’s ability to save the faithful is not curbed by the wickedness of the overwhelming majority. God’s faithfulness to carry out His promise to Noah remained true even though only 8 people demonstrated the faith required to seek shelter in God’s plan!
Example #3: Sodom/Gomorrah and Lot
The third and final example given in 2 Peter 2 is the story of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Lot: “if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard) (2 Peter 2.6-8).
As was the case with the first two, there is much to be learned from the text. First, note that the angels in v.4 are kept in chains of gloomy darkness “to be kept until the judgment”, which implies a future judgment of the wicked. This thought is returned to in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in which the text clearly states that this is an example of the future judgment of all ungodly people. God has not nor will He ever lose track of the judgment that is owed any created thing.
Secondly, note the stronger emphasis on the attitude and actions of the faithful as one progresses through the text. One must imply from v.4 that there were righteous angels, in v.5 we are told that Noah was a “herald of righteousness”, and in v.6-8 we have Lot’s righteousness and his distress over rampant sin described in much detail. As Christians read through the account of Lot in Genesis 19 we typically don’t come away with a strong sense of Lot’s righteousness and/or his distress over evil. However, perhaps we see here in 2nd Peter a key precedent of God’s grace being given to Lot, which in every case is undeserved by those to whom it is given. In this sense, Lot was saved by the same means as Noah was: both found favor in the eyes of God. This description of Lot found in 2 Peter 2 can give Christians a deeper hope and trust in the God that we serve. This of course cannot be used as inspiration to be evil as Lot was in hope that God’s grace will save in the face of our defiance, but instead can give us hope as we struggle and sometimes fall as we face the wicked world around us. God is faithful to save and gracious to show His mercy toward those who never cease to seek His face and serve Him.
Following these three key precedents we can be assured that God knows what the text indicates in v.9: “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”. May we learn to place our hope and trust in the righteous and powerful God that we serve and seek only to find favor in His sight every day. -Kyle Sanders