by Rev. Julian Duckworth
The epistle was probably written just before Peter’s death, about 66 AD. Peter talks about his imminent death and his need “while I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you.” (1.12-15) Its audience is the same; Christians in various parts of the Roman Empire, especially those in young Christian communities in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Like 1 Peter, 2 Peter seems to show evidence of Peter – or whoever the writer was – knowing of Paul’s epistles written not very long before this. An example of this is 3.15-16 which some link with Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians 4.13-5.11.
There are a lot of similarities in 2 Peter to the epistle of Jude which is much shorter (just 25 verses). There are thirteen almost direct quotations, indicating that the writer of 2 Peter was very aware of Jude.
One of these is striking, the reference in 2 Peter 2.4 to sinning angels who were cast down to Tartarus and not spared by God. This is often seen to be linked with Genesis 6 where the sons of God (‘angels’) saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and took wives from them, producing giants as offspring. This is paralleled in Jude 6.
There are many references back to the events of the Old Testament, particularly the early parts and this is also shown in Jude. There is also a reference to the baptism of Jesus of which we were eye-witnesses of his majesty (1.16)
The content and message of 2 Peter is very different to 1 Peter which is about persecution from outside the community. 2 Peter concentrates on persecution from within the Christian community itself in the form of ‘false prophets’ who rise up and teach false teachings. This is seen to be linked with the early Christian problem of the expected second coming of Christ having not yet happened.
The writer speaks strongly and at length on the danger, doom, depravity and deceptions of false teachers. “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2.21)
Also mentioned are the certainty of scoffers in the last days who live in their own lusts and say, “Where is his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (3.3-4)
Either side of this discourse on false teachers, the writer urges the community to be faithful to our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1.5-8)
The epistle ends with two definitive statements: ‘The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night (and all else will be dissolved), therefore what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness (3.10-11), and, ‘You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.’ (3.17-18)
Swedenborg refers to 2 Peter twelve times to provide scripture proofs of New Church doctrine.
Spiritually, 2 Peter is dealing with our own experiences of suffering and temptation in the life of our regeneration (as also in 1 Peter), but here, this is not from outside of ourselves but from inside us. We are called on to watch and detect our own subtle thoughts which take us away from obedience to the Lord and his promises, and which ensnare us without us realising. To combat these, we are to stay mindful, diligent and steadfast.