The Characteristics of False Teachers


Gil Rugh

Copyright © 1978
Indian Hills Community Church
Lincoln, Nebraska

GR957  - 2 Peter 2:10-13a

The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh on Oct. 6, 1996

We are approximately in the middle of chapter 2 of 2 Peter in our study. This is Peter's final letter written in the face of his imminent execution. He made reference to that in chapter 1, verse 14 when he said, "...knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling (this physical body) is imminent..." Peter shares the same kind of concern as Paul did when he anticipated his last occasion with the Ephesian elders in Acts, chapter 20. And meeting with them, Peter said: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among the flock. Men will arise from among your own selves speaking perverse things, seeking to draw away the disciples after them." It's a burden when you know your ministry is at an end. What will happen afterwards? Paul is concerned for the church at Ephesus. Peter is concerned for the churches in Asia Minor to which he is writing.

The burden of this letter is found in chapter 2, verse 1. "False prophets also arose among the people just as there will also be false teachers among you." This moves Peter into what is the burden of this letter -- that these false teachers will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them. And the burden is only multiplied when, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he has to say in verse 2: "Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned." The tragedy of these false teachers is that in verse 3 we see they will be effective: "...In their greed they will exploit you." That summary closes with a reminder at the end of verse 3 that judgment and destruction awaits these false teachers, then Peter moves on into the letter.

In verses 4 to 8, Peter reminds them that God will judge the wicked. And he illustrates that from the past. God judged the angels when they sinned. Nobody is above judgment. Even the angels aren't too important. He judged the whole world in the days of Noah. Only eight people on the whole face of the earth were righteous, and God destroyed the whole world. We ought not think, "Well, the majority are this way; therefore, God will not judge." He judged Sodom and Gomorrah and annihilated those cities. Judgment is assured. It can be illustrated from history, which is a reminder that God will do what He promised in the area of judgment. But it also reminds us He will deliver the righteous. He spared Noah and his family. He spared Lot and his family. There was mercy for those who turned to Him. That's summarized in verse 9: "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment." That summarizes what he just said in verses 4 to 8.

It also leads immediately into Peter's discussion of the character of false teachers. Note that verse 10 begins, "and especially those who indulge the flesh and its corrupt desires and despise authority." So He knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, "especially those who indulge the flesh and despise authority." Those two characteristics of these false teachers -- their attitude toward authority and their pursuit of fleshly passions and desires -- are going to be developed by Peter the rest of this chapter. He will pick up with their attitude toward authority first and then move into their pursuit of fleshly passions.

1. A Revolting Passage

I ask myself how false teachers manage to infiltrate the church? How do men of this despicable character described in verse 10 and following get into the church? This is an ugly passage. It's revolting -- the kind you like to quickly pass over. But it is important that we understand the true character of these men. However, be warned. They may not be seen in the full bloom of their true condition when they infiltrate the church. Obviously, they don't say they are men who reject authority. They don't say they are men who pursue all kinds of fleshly pleasures. They don't represent themselves as men who would not bow before Jesus Christ. No, they must present themselves as genuine. But there are things that believers ought to recognize, and one reason we have a chapter like this that reveals the fullness of their character is to remind you and me of what they are really like so we are not duped into thinking they are not so bad, that they are enough like us to get by. When you are told they indulge the flesh, that marks them off. They do not belong to the living God. They indulge the flesh. A present participle, that word indulge. It means to pursue or go after something. And this is the character of their life. They are going after the flesh -- fleshly desires, fleshly pursuits.

Turn back to Galatians, chapter 5. Breaking into Paul's thought, he says in verse 19: "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident which are..." And he begins to unfold the characteristics of the flesh. What are the evidences of a person who has never been redeemed by the living God? After giving a list, note what Paul says at the end of verse 21. "Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." So those who do the deeds of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. When we say these false teachers indulge the flesh, that they are going after the flesh, we are saying they do not belong to the living God, for verse 24 of Galatians 5 says, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh and its passions." It doesn't mean they never sin, but sin is not the characteristic of their lives.

One of the ways false teachers make their way into the church is that people ignore what God said. We think, "Well, they indulge the flesh and that's an ongoing involvement for them, but they do present a clear testimony that they have trusted Christ." Keep in mind that those who practice the deeds of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Come back to 2 Peter. The second area Peter deals with is that false teachers despise authority. And that's generally true in the broad sense. As fallen beings, they are in rebellion against God. We saw in verse 1 that they deny the Master who bought them. Now they refuse to acknowledge and submit to the rule of Jesus Christ. They despise authority. It's characteristic of fallen man. He rejects the authority of God in his life. He also rejects the authority that God establishes in other areas. For example, fallen human beings have trouble with governmental authority. That's why Romans 13 had to be written so we believers would realize that human government was established by God. As God's people, we are responsible to submit to human government. Children are to submit to parents. Children are to obey their parents for this is right in the Lord. It's a mark of an unregenerate young person that he does not submit to parental authority. Romans 1:30 gives that as one of the identifying characteristics of the unbeliever. Wives are to be submissive to husbands.

Why is this such an issue today? Well, it's our culture. That's where the world is in rebellion against God. We reject the authority that God has set down. We chafe under it. We find all kinds of reasons, but the root reason is we are in rebellion against God and His will. So these false teachers despise authority. Now it's an interesting area that Peter brings to attention.

2. Angelic Authority Is Despised

The particular area of authority that false teachers despise is the area of angelic authority. In particular, they do not give proper respect to the devil and the demons. That sounds like a strange thing to say, but that's what Peter is going to develop here. After saying they despise authority, he talks in verses 11 and 12 about this attitude toward authority. "...daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties." They are daring. These false teachers can be women as well. Jezebel is mentioned in the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2. But I will be using men as my reference. They have a boldness, a brazenness about them in their actions that is sometimes misinterpreted as a spiritual confidence.

But it really is a brazen arrogance because the next word says they are not only daring, they are self-willed. The word self-willed carries the idea of an arrogant self-will, an obstinate self-willfulness. So this is the kind of confidence they exude. It's like the confidence you see in other places in the world. Men who are successful in business have an obstinate, self-willed arrogance and brazenness about them. These false teachers carry this into the spiritual realm., which sometimes allows them to effectively delude people into thinking they have spiritual power that the people do not have.

"They do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties." The area Peter wants to deal with is what we have translated angelic majesties. The Greek word -- one word -- that is translated angelic majesties is doxas. It's the word glory or glories, such as a doxology. It comes from the Greek word doxas for glory. Well, these false teachers do not tremble when they revile glories. Now there is some discussion as to who these glories are. Some take it to be church leaders. Some take it to be other forms of authority. But I think the context of Peter and the context of the parallel passage in Jude indicates that he is talking about angelic glories. They don't tremble at the glory of angelic beings when they revile them. That word revile is the Greek word blasphemeo. It means to speak against something, to insult, to belittle. They revile angelic majesties. But even angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.

Turn back to Jude -- the little book that has only one chapter -- which is located just before Revelation. That chapter is almost identical in content to chapter 2 of 2 Peter. Jude's concern also is about false teachers who have already begun to infiltrate among believers in his day. Verse 4 of Jude says certain persons have crept in unnoticed. They are ungodly persons, and they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. That was verse 4, so you note they are already infiltrating the body in the days of Jude. Note what he says in verse 8: "Yet in the same way these men by dreaming defile the flesh and reject authority..." -- the same two areas that Peter has emphasized -- "...and revile angelic majesties." There we have our doxos, the glories. And what's the particular area? He's not even talking about unfallen angels. These men show their stupidity and spiritual ignorance -- those words are not too strong; they are not strong enough according to what Peter is going to say -- when they speak lightly of the devil and the demons. Note the illustration that Jude uses in verse 9: "But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.' But these men revile the things that they do not understand."

The attitude of these false teachers toward the devil and demonic beings shows their ignorance. They belittle the devil and the devil's power. They insult the demons. You say, "Well I didn't think we were to honor demons." We are not to honor them, but we are to respect them. The example given here is when Michael the archangel and the devil battled over the body of Moses. You remember that in your Old Testament, right? Wrong. I hope you don't. It's not there. Moses dies on the mountain in Deuteronomy 34. God takes him up to a mountain, shows him the Promised Land at a distance and then puts Moses to death. And God has the body of Moses buried. Nobody know where. We know the general area because we are told. But we don't know where his grave is.

3. Michael Respects Satan's Power

Now we are told in Jude that in connection with the burial of the body of Moses an angelic conflict occurred. The devil wanted the body of Moses. Michael claims it. And in that conflict Michael does not assert his authority in condemning the devil or rebuking the devil. He calls God to rebuke the devil. "Michael did not dare bring against him a railing judgment." And that did not dare is the same word we have translated of these false teachers in 2 Peter 2. They are daring. They manifest the characteristic that is true of unfallen angels like Michael the archangel. These men are daring, brazen. But Michael did not manifest that daring, that brazenness. He did not bring a railing judgment against the devil. He said, "The Lord rebuke you."

This same account is preserved in an apocryphal book, a book that is not truly part of Scripture. That causes a problem for some people because they say Jude is referring to a book that is not inspired. But under the inspiration of the Scripture, Jude is directed to take this account from that book, if he took it from there. Otherwise, he is given direct information about it. The point is that it is a true account of what took place in the spirit world. And the point that we are interested in -- because we don't know anything else about why this conflict occurred; why the devil wanted the body -- is that Michael the archangel respects the power of the devil even though Jude will say Michael has great power now that the devil has fallen.

Why do we say that there will be a respect shown to the devil and the demons? I think there is a twofold answer to that. Number one, it is because of the position that the devil originally had. It would be similar to the respect shown to an ex-president. That respect and honor is given because of the position the man once held. So it is with Satan. He is to be respected because of the position he originally held in the creation of God. Turn back to Ezekiel 28:12. Here we are given a glimpse of the original creation and what Lucifer's position was. It's given under the picture of the king of Tyre. "Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, 'Thus says the Lord God...'" But it's beyond the earthly king of Tyre because we are told down in verse 14 that we are speaking about the anointed cherub that covers the throne of God. We know the cherubim are a course of angels that have exalted position before the throne of God in heaven.

4. Lucifer Was An Awesome Being

Note how in verse 12 He describes the one who is Lucifer: "You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was your covering..." and so on. An awesome being, Lucifer. Perfect in beauty and full of wisdom, he had the seal of perfection. Imagine the beauty and wisdom of this being created by God with absolute perfection. Verse 14, "You were the anointed cherub who covers. I placed you there." He had the exalted, honorable position of being the cherub who covers the throne of God, hovering over the very presence of God. "You were on the holy mountain of God. You walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness way found in you."

You see, there is an ongoing recognition of respect for Lucifer. It is true that he has lost that exalted position. In the middle of verse 16, "...Therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God..." -- the kingdom of God -- for God sits enthroned. "I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of the fire." He does not hold that exalted position any longer. But there is still respect afforded and accorded him because of the position that he did have. And we ought to recognize that. He has lost that position and come under the judgment of God, but that judgment has not been finally carried out.

We know that Lucifer -- Satan -- still has access to heaven from passages like the opening chapters of Job. He is not the anointed cherub covering the throne of God, but he has access into the presence of God. He still functions as a mighty and powerful ruler over this world. Three times on Jesus' last night after the supper, that time with His disciples, He refers to Satan as the ruler of this world. Those references are found in John 12:31, John 14:30 and John 16:11. Satan is the ruler of this world. He's about to come under the judgment of God at the cross of Christ. Some people would say that because we live after the cross, Satan is done. No, because in 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul says that Satan is the god of this world. In Ephesians 2:2, he is called the prince of the power of the air. In 1 John 5:19, we are told that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. He has a great and mighty power. Ephesians 6:12 says we as believers do battle against the rulers, against the powers, against the spiritual forces of this darkness. So we ought not in any way minimize the greatness and awesome power of the devil, the magnificence of the position that he once held which would be an example of God's judging sin. Not even he was above judgment for sin. We are not to minimize the power that he continues to wield. Do we fear him? No, because our Lord is sovereign. He has set us free from power and bondage to Satan and sin. Our Savior rules over all -- Ephesians 1:21. He has conquered all principalities and powers and authorities and thrones. So I need not fear Satan. But I should have a proper respect.

These false teachers manifest their spiritual ignorance, their animal-like stupidity -- as Peter is going to draw to our attention in a moment -- by insulting and blaspheming the devil and demonic powers. Now that can come across as some kind of extra special power. I sometimes watch some of the television programs, and I see men parading back and forth on a platform. They are stomping around and saying, "We are going to stomp all over the devil. And the demons of hell are trembling just knowing that we are coming." And I say they are dumber that Balaam's donkey. That's where Peter is going as well.

5. False Teachers Exhibit Daring Arrogance

Believers with spiritual understanding don't talk that way. They don't blaspheme the devil. They don't parade around with daring phrase and self-willed arrogance as if they had some kind of power over the devil, as if the devil was trembling because they had walked into the room. Not even Michael, the angel who is greater in power than these men are, would speak to the devil that way. The fact that they would speak that way about the devil and the demons indicates they have no spiritual understanding at all. But how many do parade around as if they had some kind of power? And that gets misinterpreted. Even believers get deluded. They are taken in by the boasts and think, "Boy, he's got some kind of spiritual authority. Even the devils tremble at him."

Mark that down as an identifying characteristic of a false teacher. Actually, he has no greater power. He has greater stupidity. We want to quickly look past that and wonder... "I wonder if these people really got healed. I wonder if ..." Wait a minute. Back up to what Peter says is an identifying characteristic. These people are parading around, insulting and speaking against the devil and the demonic world. That's an identifying mark of a false teacher. Close the door on them. I want to distance myself from these kind of men.

Turn to Zachariah, the next-to-last book of the Old Testament. In chapter 3, beginning with verse 1: "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him." So here you have Joshua, the high priest of Israel, before the throne of God. On one side is the angel of the Lord. On the other side is Satan, who is ready to accuse Joshua, the high priest of the people of God. Then the angel of the Lord responds. "The Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!'" You see here that even the angel of the Lord calls the Lord to rebuke Satan. In similar passages to which Jude would allude, there is a proper respect for the devil and his demons in the angelic realm.

Come back to 2 Peter, 2:10-l1: "...they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas (verse 11) angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord." You think Michael the archangel does not have greater power than a mere human being? Obviously, the little glimpses we have demonstrate something of that awesome power. But he doesn't dare bring a reviling judgment, an insulting kind of condemnation, against the devil before the Lord.

"But these..." verse 12, are the false teachers who will infiltrate the church. Don't forget, now, that these are the men of verse 1 in Chapter 2 -- "...false teachers who will secretly introduce destructive heresies..." Those destructive heresies include the notion that you can have great power over the devil and the demons. You need not give those people serious consideration. "But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong."

This basically says that these false teachers have no more spiritual insight than animals. They operate on the basis of instinct, not of understanding nor the ability to think. They are just like animals when it comes to spiritual things, and they are on their way to destruction. Animals are born for destruction in spite of the beliefs that some of the animal rights movements are pushing today. This shows how totally confused the unbeliever can become. It doesn't know the distinction between a human being and an animal. Tell me that fallen man is not a mess. "These, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed..." That's what animals are for.

These false teachers are reviling where they have no knowledge. That's the third time this word revile, which is the Greek word blasphemeo, is used. We just carry it as blaspheme into English. It was used at the end of verse 10. It was used the last part of verse 11. Now it's used again in verse 12. And he wants to drive home the point. This insulting attitude toward Satan and demons just shows these false teachers are like the animals when it comes to spiritual knowledge. "They revile where they have no knowledge." They are ignorant. They are speaking out of stupidity. "They will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed."

6. They Will Be Destroyed With Demons

I want to say a couple of things about the phrase "...will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed." One of the possibilities is that Peter is referring to the animals. It is translated those creatures. The Greek word is simply them -- "...will in the destruction of them also be destroyed." And you have to decide what them refers to. If those creatures means the animal creatures, then its meaning is that those animals -- those men -- are destined for destruction. That's a possibility. And it's true. But I think more probably will in the destruction of them is referring to the angelic beings that they are reviling. They revile, but in the destruction of them -- the ones they revile -- they will be destroyed. In other words, these men parade around like they are superior to the demons and the devil; like they had some kind of power over the devil; like they could not be impacted by the devil. These men are going to suffer destruction with the devil and the demons. Remember the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:41. Jesus said, "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels." When these false teachers parade around with arrogant brazenness as though they had some kind of power in the spirit world, speaking with disdain and in an insulting way of the devil and his power, they haven't considered they are doomed to destruction with the demons.

The beginning of verse 13 goes with this idea: "...suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong." That's a summary of what we have said. They are suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. It's a play on words that is hard to carry over into English because you have to use the same basic word twice. But the idea is clear. The wages for their action is destruction. So they will in the destruction of those be destroyed. "...suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong" -- not suffering wrong in the sense that God is not dealing with them fairly, but suffering wrong in the sense of judgment as the Greek word can be used. So you have that double idea in the word that is used by Peter to get the play on the word. The point is the same. The wages of sin is death, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23.

7. God Is Not Mocked

Back up to Galatians 6:7. "Do not be deceived..." Note that. You ought to underline that. See, the concern again is that Christians will allow themselves to be taken in. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." That's what Peter has just said. "...suffering wrong as the wages for doing wrong." Continue with Galatians 6:8: "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." The Galatians started out with the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which is salvation by faith in Him alone. Now it is made clear here that while you are not saved by your works, your works manifest your true character. And those who are sowing to the flesh are on their way to destruction. They will reap accordingly. And one way we allow false teaching to come in is that we give a disjunction -- we break apart what God has put together as though a person could live a life contrary to the word of God, such as, "They were saved at one time." That's a lie from the devil.

So now we see the connection. They suffer wrong as the wages of doing wrong, because he who sows to the flesh from the flesh reaps corruption. They get what is fitting. Now we have our feet planted firmly. We recognize something. "Oh, these men are parading around as though they had some kind of extra power over the devil. I wish I had that power. I wish I could say to the devil, 'Get out of here.' I wish I could tell stories of how I put the devil in his place or how I confronted the demons and they were trembling when they saw it was me. I wish I had those stories to tell." Don't wish you had those stories to tell because those are the stories of false teachers.

"Oh, no. They couldn't be false teachers because...." Wait a minute. This is how the false teachers get in. We think they are an exception to what God said here. We are going on to see the kind of life they live. And we say, "Oh, they won't suffer destruction as a penalty for what they are doing. They are an exception." There are no exceptions. See, things begin to break down for the church and the door gets opened a crack for them to come in because we think, "Well, this is what God says, but this is not what He means." Then the people of God get ravaged by false teachers. That's why Peter is belaboring this point and is walking through the characteristics of these false teachers, along with emphasizing their sure doom. Don't make any mistake. Their sure doom is a repeated emphasis through chapter 2. They are going to destruction. There are no exceptions. Men of this character manifest what they really are.

Let me summarize what we have said with a half-dozen simple, overlapping statements concerning false teachers:

God is warning us as His people. We need to take the warning to heart. Now don't misunderstand. There's no real difference in character between a false teacher and a plain unbeliever. If you have never come to grips with the reality of your sin, the reality of the finished work of Christ on the cross; if you have never turned from your sin and believed in Him and Him only, letting go of everything else, then you are in the same position as these false teachers. That may be why nothing comes together for you in the Scripture. We study it, and it doesn't make any sense. This may be why you don't have any spiritual perception. That's not said as an insult. That is said as simplistic fact. You must be born again if you are ever to see the kingdom of God. You must be born again if you are to have the Spirit of God dwell within you and open your spiritual eyes to see and understand and take in the marvelous truth that God has revealed. That's the glorious message of the gospel. That's what we as the people of God and the church of Jesus Christ must stand for. And we must not vary or waver an inch either way. Stay firmly planted on the truth of God and be discerning with that truth toward those who present themselves as teachers and leaders. Let's pray together:

Thank You, Lord, for the richness of Your grace, the power of Your word, the work of Your Spirit which has caused us to be born again. Lord, it's not a testimony to our goodness or our power that we are blessed with this spiritual insight and understanding, but it's a testimony of Your grace in dealing with fallen, hell-deserving human beings. And, Lord, as we consider the character and characteristics of these false teachers, we are humbled to be reminded that this was our character before we were made new in Christ; that we were like the animals -- creatures of instinct with no spiritual understanding -- but in grace we came to know the Savior. So, Lord, we would take to heart this truth. And, Lord, we would take seriously what the true character of these fallen men really is. Lord, we would take seriously the admonitions of Your word and examine closely and carefully those who would present themselves as teachers and leaders. By Your grace, Lord, may this flock of believers be protected and kept from the ravages that come by false teachers and false teaching. May our testimony for Your love and mercy and grace be strong and pure and clear in these days until Jesus comes. And we pray in His name, amen.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

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