The Lord Knows How to Deliver Us

In the midst of a chapter-long discussion strongly condemning false teachers, Peter affirms, “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:9). It’s an interesting statement to make given the context. In most modern translations, the phrase begins with the word “then.” This is because translators see it as the fulfillment of a multi-tiered conditional statement, beginning in 2 Peter 2:4. The ESV and NASB preserve these conditions by supplying the word “if,” which is found only in v. 4 in the Greek but implied in the statements that follow as the conditions are joined with coordinating conjunctions: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned… if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah… if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction…  and if he rescued righteous Lot…” (2 Peter 2:4-7 ESV). Looked at in a certain way, these conditions seem to say more about the second part of Peter’s “then” statement: “then the Lord knows how… to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). Let’s consider this question though: What do the string of events contained in this conditional statement reveal about the Lord’s deliverance?

First, they reveal that deliverance happens even when man is not aware of it (2 Peter 2:4). Much of what we might say about v. 4 would only be conjecture; we do not know how, when, or why some angels sinned. Structurally though, in the two further pictures of judgment that follow in the string of statements, there was someone delivered: Noah during the flood and Lot during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Is it too much of a stretch to assume that someone(s) was/were also delivered when the Lord did not spare the sinful angels? While it could simply be the serving angels (cf. Hebrews 1:7, 14) that were spared when the sinful angels were destroyed, could it also be that the continued existence of sinful angels (or perhaps the threatened existence of serving angels) would have negatively affected man? It is impossible to know for sure, but we can know this about the unknown threats as well as the known ones: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Second, they reveal that deliverance happens even when the situation seems hopeless and bleak (2 Peter 2:5). In the days of Noah, mankind was so corrupt “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). What hope did a godly man and his family have of surviving in a world like that? And what hope did even a godly man have when an omnipotent God was so “grieved in His heart” that He determined, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:7)? It is commendable that even in His grief, God did not forget His grace. He saved Noah both from sinners and from the judgment He brought upon them.

Third, they reveal that God desires for man to join Him in the work of deliverance (2 Peter 2:5). Though the text of Genesis points out that God saved Noah by grace (Genesis 6:8), it goes on to describe Noah as “a just man, perfect in his generations” who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Walking with God was not merely about being obedient to God’s commands, although he was (Genesis 6:22). According to Peter, Noah was also “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). God’s grace shines even brighter when we realize that before the flood destroyed the world and the sinful souls in it were delivered to the prison of torments, God “went and preached” to them (1 Peter 3:19). However, it appears from the text that God did so through Noah. God did not just want to save Noah; He called Noah to join Him in the work of salvation.

Fourth, they reveal that deliverance is conditional and that the saved can be lost (2 Peter 2:6-8). Anyone familiar with the account of Sodom and Gomorrah would have a hard time reconciling “righteous Lot… that righteous man” with the man who drowned his sorrows with so much alcohol night after night that he did not even realize he had committed incest with his daughters (Genesis 19:30-35). Peter cannot possibly refer to the man Lot became after he lost his home and his wife in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and perhaps that’s the point. God made sure that Lot got out of Sodom, but unfortunately Lot didn’t make sure that Sodom got out of him. As we reflect on this text in context, the false teachers of 2 Peter are described as being “among you” (2 Peter 2:1). They are not outsiders; they are insiders. They might be headed for damnation, but they were once saved. As Peter will go on to say, the truth is that, whether teacher or not, the saved can find themselves lost again (2 Peter 2:20-22).

So, in the midst of a chapter of condemnation, there is powerful note of hope. God knows how to deliver mankind. He works deliverance in the unseen realm. He works it in the face of impossible odds. However, He calls us to join Him in His work, and, if we fail to do so, we will eventually find that He is no longer working for our benefit.
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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