Remember God's truth (preaching resource for 2/19/23)

Providing context for the RCL's Epistle reading for 2/19/23, this post exegetes 2 Peter 1:12-21, drawing on multiple resources including commentary from Warren Wiersbe ("Bible Expository Commentary") and David Wheaton ("New Bible Commentary").

"The Transfiguration of Christ" by van Herp
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Introduction  

Christians in Asia Minor were being troubled by teachers offering “new truth” that supposedly was needed to obtain or enhance one’s salvation. But Peter labels this new truth for what it is: heresy (2Pet. 2:1), and exhorts Christians to run from it, and to remember the truth they had already learned and in which they were already established (2Pet 1:12). What is this truth Christians are to remember? It is the apostolic faith, the Gospel, the truth about Jesus who himself is the Trugh of God (John 14:6). The church was firmly established in this truth through the teaching (testimony concerning Jesus) of Christ's apostles, and Peter here gives us three important things about this truth: 1) It is living truth; 2) it is enduring truth; and 3) it comes to us through God’s word.

1. Living truth (1:12–15)

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

Peter warns Christians to flee false doctrine and grab hold of “the truth” they have already learned, and in which they have been "firmly established.” Through their teaching, Peter and the other apostles had grounded the church on its one foundation—and that foundation is none other than Jesus (Eph. 2:20, 1Cor. 3:11). The truth concerning Jesus is the true gospel—the apostolic “word” about the “Living Word.”  People (including apostles like Peter) will die, but that truth lives on and must never be abandoned.

In keeping with Jesus’ command to him (Luke 22:32), Peter was determined to keep God’s people in memory of this Truth (“I will always remind you”). And he was determined to keep after them as long as he remained alive (Peter knows his death is near—persecution is growing and he is mindful of Jesus’ prediction of his martyrdom).

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to the church to keep believers in remembrance of the truth of the gospel (John 14:26). It is the responsibility of teachers and preachers in the church to participate with the Spirit in this teaching ministry. Paul took this responsibility seriously: “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1). Peter also took it seriously, and here alludes to the idea that his writings would outlive him (those writings include 1Peter and 2Peter and perhaps the Gospel of Mark, which though written by Mark, contains information conveyed to Mark by Peter).

 Let us all be careful and diligent to remember the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus by reading Scripture for ourselves and by carefully listening to teachers who faithfully teach the Word. Stay away from those who are not faithful. What they teach is death. God’s truth lives and gives life!

2. Enduring truth (1:16–18)

16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Here Peter references Jesus’ transfiguration, which he personally witnessed. In verse 13 he speaks of his body as a tent (tabernacle), which reminds us of Peter’s words to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration: "Lord…if you wish, I will put up three shelters [tabernacles or tents] -- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Matt. 17:4). In 2Pet. 1:15, Peter speaks of his departure (“exodus” in Greek, the same word used in Luke’s transfiguration account to speak of Jesus’ exodus [death]. And note 2Pet. 1:16–19 where the repetition of we is a likely reference to Peter, James, and John—the three apostles who viewed Jesus’ transfiguration.  

The transfiguration was a clear demonstration that Jesus, God’s Truth, endures. It confirmed that Jesus is the promised Messiah (thus also confirming Peter’s earlier testimony, Matt. 16:13–16). It also confirmed that Jesus is God’s Son: “This is my Son,” says the Father (2Pet. 1:17). The transfiguration also powerfully confirmed that Jesus is the New Covenant who fulfills and replaces the temporary regime of the Old Covenant (represented by Moses and Elijah who disappear while Jesus remains). 

Note as well that the three transfiguration accounts (Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27) all link Jesus to God’s Kingdom.  Jesus had promised that, before they died, some of the disciples would see the Kingdom come in power. And that is what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yes, Jesus was going to the cross, but this was the beginning to, not the end of, the promised never-ending Kingdom. 

Peter thus uses the message of Jesus’ transfiguration to refute the false teaching that the Kingdom would never come (2Pet. 3:3ff) and that Christians thus need new truth. Peter says these false assertions are nothing but “cleverly invented stories” (“myths”) (2Pet. 1:16). Paul warned Timothy about such myths (2 Tim. 4:4). We need the same warning today when myths couched in Christian clothing are prevalent. They include the false “prosperity gospel” (the “health and wealth” gospel) and other heresies that purport to add “new truth” to the truth about Jesus. In doing so, God’s truth is diminished and ultimately lost. Beware!  Hold to Jesus—God’s one truth. He is the Messiah; he is God’s Son; he is the New Covenant; he is the eternal Kingdom. Jesus—God’s one Truth, endures. 

3. Given through God’s Word (1:19–21)

Though our world is full of amazing advances in knowledge (medicine, transportation, communication, etc), it still, for the most part, walks in spiritual darkness and thus needs spiritual enlightenment. Peter gives good news: enlightenment is available. But rather than coming through the false teachers and their myths, it comes through God’s Word, given us in Scripture. And that Word is sure, shining, and Spirit-given:

a. It is the sure Word (v. 19a)

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it…

It is interesting to put together 2Pet. 1:16 and 19: “We do not follow cleverly invented stories....we have the word of the prophets made more certain.” For Peter, the transfiguration of Jesus confirmed the prophetic promises—the “word of the prophets” which we have in the Holy Scriptures. False teachers were seeking to discredit these promises, including the promises concerning Jesus’ glory (2Pet. 3:3ff). But the Scriptures, which convey the sure Word of God, stand.  So stick closely to the Word—it is the sure (reliable) source of true enlightenment.

b. It is the shining Word (v. 19b) 

 …and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Peter calls the world “a dark place,” and though much beauty is around us, the world is in desperate need of God’s light. The source of that light is God’s Word—who is Jesus himself, the Living Word of God. He is the “morning star” who shines light into our darkness. When Jesus began his ministry it was said that, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Matt. 4:16). Jesus’ coming into this world was the dawning of a new day (Lk. 1:78). As the “sun of righteousness,” Jesus brings healing to those who embrace him and judgment to those who reject him (Mal. 4:1–2). For this world, Jesus is “the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16) and we look forward to his return when the whole world will behold his undiminished glory.

In our world now, we are Christ’s ambassadors, called to be “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14–16). It is our privilege and responsibility to reflect Jesus, God’s light, so that men might see and embrace him (Phil. 2:14–16). And we are nurtured in Jesus’ light through God’s written word, the Holy Scriptures. How thankful we ought to be for God’s sure and shining Word, and how we ought to heed it and share it in these dark days.

c. It is the Spirit-given Word (vv. 20–21) 

20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The sure words spoken by the prophets, now recorded for us in Holy Scripture, were not mere human words. Rather these men and women were inspired (“carried along”) by the Holy Spirit. And thus we understand Scripture to be “God-breathed.”  In this assertion, Peter is refuting the doctrines of the false teachers as nothing more that “stories they have made up” (2Pet. 2:3) by twisting scripture to say other than what it actually says (2Pet. 3:16).  Since the Spirit gave the Word, only the Spirit can teach the Word and interpret it accurately (see 1 Cor. 2:14–15). Of course, every false teacher claims to be “Spirit-led,” but their mishandling of the Word of God exposes them as frauds.  

What Peter says in verse 20 provides important direction about how we are to understand Holy Scripture. He is suggesting that since all Scripture is inspired by the Spirit it “hangs together”—no one verse or passage should be divorced from the others. By “proof-texting”—which is taking verses out of context, one can get the Bible to say almost anything. This is the approach used by false teachers (in Peter’s day and still in our day). But Peter says that the witness of the apostles confirms the witness of the prophetic Word—and it is one unified message with no contradiction. What is that one message? It is the message about Jesus—it is the Gospel. So we must go to the written word (Scripture) to feed on the Word (Jesus and his Gospel). The revelation of Jesus is the Spirit-given Word.

Conclusion

The sure antidote for the poison of false teaching is God’s truth about Jesus.  He is God’s good news, the Gospel, and this Gospel is the focus of all scripture—God’s written word.  So let us remember God’s truth: It lives!  It endures! And it comes to us through God’s Word.