Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
God Did Not Spare the Angels (2 Peter 2:4-11)
4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked 8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— 9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, 11 whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.
St. Peter had just stated that false teachers will be judged, even destroyed. Now he undergirds the truth of this assertion by demonstrating how God has worked with the unrighteous in the past. He gives three specific examples.
First, he speaks of “the angels who sinned.” FF thinks this refers to the “Sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4. However, the phrase “Sons of God” in that passage may not refer to angels. Another possible interpretation of “the angels who sinned” is the angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God.
The second example of the destruction of the wicked that St. Peter gives is the destruction of the world during the Great Flood. Note that Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness,” indicating that he didn’t just build an ark to save himself, his family and some animals. He also tried to get those around him to repent (but was, sadly, unsuccessful). In the original Greek text, Noah is called literally “the eighth”…i.e., the eighth person of eight to be saved from the Flood. Why this unusual reference? FF suggests this: “Peter not only means there were seven others with him in the ark. He probably also alludes to eight as the number of perfection, saying thereby that Noah was blameless in his time (Gen. 6:9)” (125).
St. Peter’s third example of judgment of the unrighteous is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God destroyed for the great immorality of their inhabitants. Note St. Peter’s passing remark that Lot was delivered not just because of his own righteousness but also because he was so distressed about the wickedness of his fellow townsmen. Note also how St. Peter tells us that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction is “an example to those who afterward would live ungodly.” Those who live selfish, immoral lives, ignoring God, will face similar destruction (although the Orthodox Church understands hell much differently than other Christian traditions. Hell is not a literal place where a literal fire burns the wicked into literal ashes, but rather the torment of being in the glorious presence of God without wanting to be. “Our God is a consuming fire.”
Noah and Lot are examples to us, for both of them lived in times of extreme sexual immorality; in spite of this, they maintained righteousness and love of God. We too live in a time in which (according to the world) “anything goes”, and so we face much the same temptations that Noah and Lot did. Like them, we must do our best to be righteous and blameless before God. For as St. Peter says, “the Lord knows how to deliver the ungodly from temptations.” God will help us to not sin if we will but cry out to him in our time of need.
Note carefully verse 10, in which St. Peter says that strict judgment will fall not only upon those who live lives of sexual immorality (which is no great surprise), but also on those who “despise authority” (which might come as a bit of surprise to some of us!). FF thinks that the word translated “authority” (kyriotes, literally "authorities") applies specifically to the angels. In other words, false teachers and others who despise angelic authorities will be judged. But the apostle could also be speaking about authority or authorities in general.
FF’s interpretation seems quite likely given that St. Peter again mentions the angels in verse 11. He explains: “The false teachers, though men, do not hesitate to slander the angels, but the angels, though greater than men, do not slander them before God, nor bring any reviling condemnation…” (127).
But one might wonder, “What exactly does it mean to despise or speak evil of an angel?” FF explains:
“How do false teachers blaspheme the angels? Probably not by actually cursing them, just as they do not deny their Master by actually saying “I deny Jesus.” In speaking both of their denial and their blaspheming, Peter is giving his interpretation of the significance of their actions. In the first case, Peter says their heretical self-aggrandizing means they are in effect denying Jesus as their true Master. In the case of them reviling the angels, I suggest that Peter is also giving his interpretation of their actions. What they are actually doing, possibly, is asserting that they are superior to the angels, with an intimate knowledge of God’s mysteries superior to theirs, and that even the high celestial orders are inferior to them. That, St. Peter says, is blasphemy against the angels. It is in this sense that the later Gnostic heretic Menander blasphemed, for he claimed a magical power strong enough to overcome the angels (reported by St. Irenaeus in his Against Heresies, 1,23,5)” (127).