Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 19

Originally posted march 24, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

This week in our study of 2 Peter we are considering the topic of divine revelation. In 1:12-19 Peter urges his readers to remember the truth about their faith and salvation, having just told them to make their calling and election sure; he then writes of the transfiguration of Christ, in which our Lord’s majesty and divine glory were more fully revealed to Peter, James, and John; and then he goes on to write about the more sure prophetic word, the Scriptures, which shine the light of truth into the darkness.

Keep in mind that Peter is writing this letter to combat the false teachings that are beginning to infiltrate the church. Remembering the truth is key to recognizing falsehood. Our faith rests upon the revealed truth of God, found in his Word, and attested by his apostles. Anyone carrying tales of a way of salvation which differs from the testimony of the apostles and the clear teachings of Scripture is peddling a lie.

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,” (2 Peter 1:12, 13)

In verse 12, Peter tells his readers that he is writing to remind them of “these things,” or “these qualities.” Looking back through the beginning of the chapter we find that “these things” which he wants them to remember are the truths of the gospel and the resulting sanctification in the life of believers which will “keep them from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (8). Peter writes about remembering in several ways in our passage: he intends to “always remind” them of these things (12), he wants to “stir [them] up by way of reminder” (13), he is writing this letter to serve as a reminder after his death (15), and they are to “pay attention” to the “prophetic word”(19). Clearly, remembering the truth of Christ’s gospel is important to Peter and for the well-being of the church which he was solemnly charged to shepherd.

Also in verse 12, Peter refers to his readers as “established in the truth.” Even mature believers need to be reminded of the truth, don’t we? We need reminding when we are walking through the valley and we need reminding when we are on the mountaintop. Our hearts are deceitful and prone to forget the Lord who has ransomed us from our futile ways of living. When things are going well we may forget that we are not the authors of our successes, and when things are going poorly we may forget that this world is not our home. Peter is concerned that in our forgetfulness we may believe the lies with which the false teachers are seeking to woo the sheep away from the Good Shepherd. For it is Jesus who we must remember, as Martin Lloyd-Jones teaches:

“The greatest and most vital thing in this world is to know the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot live on memories, you cannot live on hopes; but on the Lord Jesus Christ you can live always. What we must never forget is His sacrifice and His rising again.”[1]

The apostles Paul and John were also concerned to exhort their people to remember the truth of the gospel, as we see in the following passages:

“on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God” Romans 15:15

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Philippians 3:1

“I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” 1 John 2:21

John’s reminder fits well with Peter’s purpose: reminding those who already know the truth to continue in it as an effective defense against lies.

We see in verses 14-15 what is fueling Peter’s passion:

“I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” (14, 15)

Peter realizes that his time is short. He has lived and proclaimed Christ for some 35 or more years since the death, resurrection, and ascension of his Lord. He knows that he will soon die, and he feels the need to complete his calling with a fierce urgency. For Peter there is no retirement plan, no 401-k, no hammock at the beach, no ‘Bucket List.’ No; to do the will of his Lord and tending and feeding his flock fills Peter’s horizon. This is not to suggest that retirement plans and bucket lists are bad. Peter was given a clear calling from Jesus and he followed in his Master’s steps.

Jesus told Peter that he would die a martyr’s death (John 21:18, 19), so the way that he is describing his coming death is surprising. Rather than fearing the violence and agony which martyrs suffered at the hands of their Roman executioners, Peter anticipates his end in a peaceful, calm, matter-of-fact manner. If we look carefully at what Jesus said to him, though, his calm begins to make more sense.

“when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18, 19)

The Crucified One tells his servant that he, too, will be crucified. The Risen One then says, “Follow me.” Peter has been following his crucified and risen Lord in ministry and service for over 30 years, sharing the gospel and watching the Holy Spirit verify his message of light and life, salvation from sin and victory over the grave. And now the time approaches for him to finally follow his Master through death to life everlasting. He who has written to his people of the joy that awaits in the imperishable kingdom is ready to receive his inheritance. How comforting it is to believe on Jesus, and in him to anchor your hope.

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones sees in Peter’s words an echo of the Exodus:

“What is death; what happens when we pass on? This word ‘decease’ is a great word. It tells us that death is really an exodus… Death to the Christian is just a passing from the bondage and captivity of Egypt into Canaan, the new land. It is like the Exodus of the children of Israel, there under the heel of the Pharaoh, the cruel oppressor, there in bondage and serfdom; then, the Exodus, the going out, the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan, and the entry ultimately into the land of Canaan with all its amazing possessions. That is the way in which, according to the New Testament, the Christian should face the end. Not a terror, but just the folding up of a tent and moving out—an exodus, a crossing of the river and an entrance into the everlasting and eternal kingdom.”[2]

‘Just the folding up of a tent and moving out.’ Paul also spoke of his body as a tent in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, where he emphasizes the temporary nature of this earthly home, in which we groan, longing for our heavenly home. To hear Peter and Paul speak this way is to get an idea that perhaps this life is somehow less than being fully alive, which we will only experience once we shed our mortal bodies and enter our eternal home in Heaven.

While he is ready to lay his body down and enter eternity, “Peter gives no indication that he despises the body and glorifies the soul.”[3] Let us, also, be careful not to despise our bodies, for we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps. 139:14). There may be things about my body which I would like to change, but I must remember that this body is not meaningless. It is through this body, after all, that I experience the world into which God has placed me, and with which I interact with the people around me. My belly may be fuller and softer than I like, but it was inside that belly that God knit together my own children—five of them—and the stretch marks testify to that unnerving glory to this day. My hands have held those children, bathed and diapered them, spanked and cuddled them, taught them to ride bikes and to swim, and have prepared meals and washed innumerable dishes for them and many others. There are scars from my forehead to my toes which have stories to tell of the life which I have lived. My friends and family recognize the moods in my face and the light in my eyes, and my likeness has been shared with my daughters and my sons. When my eyes close in death, my family, perhaps, will look upon my face and recognize that I am no longer in residence, but have gone to be with the Lord. Our bodies are not meaningless, dear friends.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (16-18)

In this passage we will first look at what Peter teaches about Jesus, and then the event he refers to, before returning to his first point about the false teachings of others. Peter wants his readers to know that his own teaching is grounded not in his own opinions or imagination, but in the solid reality of the deity of Christ. Peter’s testimony is based entirely on Christ: his power, his advent, and his royal majesty. This Christ to whom Peter testifies received honor and glory from God the Father—what higher endorsement could we find?! Peter’s testimony agrees with the testimony of God the Father, who declared that Jesus was his “beloved Son, with whom [he is] well pleased.” The event to which Peter is referring, and which was the occasion for God’s audible declaration of pleasure, is the Transfiguration, recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, (but, curiously, not in John’s Gospel).

“[Jesus] took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:28-35. See also Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8)

In his testimony, Peter is emphasizing Jesus’ glorious majesty and the honor he received from the Father. God’s declaration of pleasure with his Son echoes the words of Isaiah, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (42:1). Simon Kistemaker shares the significance of the divine proclamation on the mount of transfiguration:

“First, God the Father reveals that Jesus is the Son. If we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, whom the Father has sent, we have eternal life (John 17:3; 1 John 4:15). Next, God qualifies his statement by adding, “my Son, whom I love.” Through his Son Jesus Christ, God the Father loves us. Last, God asserts, “With him I am well pleased” … Jesus is the recipient of God’s good pleasure.”[4]

Peter, in sharing this event at this point in his letter, is making the point that the faith which we have received from the Father, by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, is the genuine article. As opposed to the cleverly devised myths of the false teachers, the faith once for all delivered to the saints is trustworthy and true—and not just because Peter’s life was changed by it, but because it is verifiably true. The written testimony of Scripture holds out this faith for examination, and the Holy Spirit of God validates it in the hearts of his people.

“I either accept that statement by the apostle Peter or I do not accept it. I am a Christian not because I see certain effects produced in certain people who believe the Gospel. Why am I a Christian? Well, … I believe what I am told in this book; I believe the fact that is solemnly [declared] by the Apostle, that when he and James and John went up that mountain with Jesus they suddenly saw Him transfigured, saw Moses and Elias, and heard the voice from heaven. I believe them when they say He quieted the waves and silenced the wind and healed the sick and raised the dead—I have no other reason for believing, it is the ground and basis and assurance of hope.”[5]

The apostolic witness to the truth of the gospel is based on their own and other eyewitness testimonies and is verified by the prophets. In this it differs from the teachings of the wolves who have been insinuating themselves into Peter’s flock, crafting fables and myths about the faith from half-truths and wishful thinking. Where the false teachers are sneaking their destructive heresies into the church through the back door, Peter is openly proclaiming the bright and shining truth of the Light of the world. And Peter is only one among many eyewitnesses to the glorious majesty of the Risen Christ!

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)

The question of what we are to believe is just as urgent now as it was 2000 years ago. Do we turn to new and innovative ideas, which are here today and tomorrow have vanished, or do we turn to the solid teachings of Scripture which carry the authority of God Almighty?

“On what grounds do we preach this Gospel? On what grounds do we believe it? On what grounds do we call upon those who are outside the church to accept it? Here we stand as Christian people confronting the world as it is today, and we claim that this is a unique message. We say that this is the only solution to all problems, and that the key to everything is that God has done something once and forever in the Person of His only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[6]

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,” (19)

In verse 19 Peter says that the word of the prophets has been “more fully confirmed,” and the author of Hebrews agrees, saying we have something better yet.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1, 2)

Commenting on this passage from Hebrews, Richard Phillips writes:

These opening verses tell us not merely that God has spoken, but that his final and definitive revelation is in and through his Son, Jesus Christ… The author’s point, which is the burden of the entire book of Hebrews, is to show the superiority of Christianity to the old covenant religion… This supremacy does not in any way malign the Old Testament faith. In the Old Testament “God spoke,” and it was God-given religion. Nonetheless, Christ is superior…

The author describes former revelation as coming “at many times and in many ways.’ His point is not merely the diversity of revelation in the Old Testament, but its fragmentary, incomplete, and gradual character… each book is fragmentary and incomplete. The Old Testament is unfulfilled. It expectantly longs for the answer that comes in Jesus Christ. By contrast, God’s revelation in Christ is not partial or incomplete. This is why the Christian era is described as “these last days.” The point is not that Jesus is about to come back any minute… but that this is the age of fulfillment when God’s revelation has been made complete… Calvin comments, “It was not a part of the Word that Christ brought, but the last closing Word.”[7]

This is Peter’s point as well: the scriptures of the Old Testament testified to the true means of salvation, pointing to the coming Messiah, and were worthy of attention, but the fulfillment of the old covenant in Christ is far better! Peter has anchored his argument for the truth of the gospel in the person and work of Christ. He to whom all the prophecies pointed, upon whom all the law depended, whom all the sacrifices foreshadowed: he is the Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, and Peter is warning his flock to follow him closely as the wolves close in.

In verse 19, Peter tells us that we “will do well to pay attention” to this “prophetic word more fully confirmed,” “as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” This is not the first time that God’s revelation is compared to light, indeed, it is a common theme throughout the Bible. In Psalm 119:105, we read, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Simon Kistemaker comments that “light dispels darkness and brings everything into view. We don’t stare at the light but use it to look at the objects that become visible.”[8] The illumination of the Scriptures shines the light of truth into the darkness of our hopeless godlessness. Yet, what good is it to expose sin and death without a rescue?

The apostle John opens his Gospel with the good news that the Word of God who is the Light has come in the flesh to bring life to mankind:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-4)

In Christ alone do we find the rescue from our sin, the life that saves us from our death. Shining light on death without hope for salvation brings only despair. But in Christ we find the light that not only exposes death but brings life. In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we discover Christ, and in him, salvation. Therefore, we do well to pay attention to God’s holy, revealed Word.

Peter finishes verse 19 with this hopeful admonition: “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” He here refers to the promised return of Christ, which is a core tenet of our faith, seen throughout the Scriptures and in the creeds of the Church. Peter is adopting one of the poetic descriptions of our glorious Savior, to portray more vividly the beauty and majesty of the day of his return. I suspect that though the poets may better be able to put words to it, that day will far exceed any feeble imaginations of our finite minds.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27, 28)

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11, 12)

“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25)

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)

“Peter’s words signify that every believer must have subjective knowledge of Christ and his return. That knowledge the believer keeps in his heart as he waits for the actual, objective appearance of Christ.”[9]

Once again, Peter reminds his readers of the urgency of holding fast to the truth they have been taught and to shun the twisted tales of the false teachers. What we believe has consequences! Our King will return in a glorious display of power and majesty! We must actively and joyfully prepare our hearts and encourage one another as we anticipate that day. Let us take advantage of all the means of grace: studying the Word together, meeting together for worship and the ministry of the Word and sacraments, building one another up with encouragement and praying for one another—all the more as we look forward to the coming of that day.

This is the dark before the dawn….

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

[1] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 61.

[2] Ibid., 61.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987),261.

[4] Ibid., 267.

[5] Lloyd-Jones, 89-90.

[6] Ibid., 85.

[7] Richard D. Phillips, Reformed Expository Commentary, Hebrews, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2006), 13.

[8] Kistemaker, 270.

[9] Ibid., 271.

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