The title has to do with the last part of the chapter. There, Peter points out the sad fact that some new believers return to their sin. Why would they want to do that? As we study the characteristics of these false teachers, the reasons for doing so may become more apparent.
The empty promises of false teachers (17 a)
Peter describes the false teachers as waterless springs and mists driven by a hurricane. What did he mean? This Friday I arrived at the church to find a Snavely crew working on a water pipe in the church’s front yard. They worked on the problem for five hours before water was available. When their job was completed, I happily took my cup to the fountain for a glass of refreshing water. But what came out was quite disappointing. The liquid had a mirky, whitish color to it and tasted like wood. The false teachers are like a drinking fountain without water. They promise everything you’ve ever wanted, but what they actually give will always disappoint.
Peter’s second description is “mists driven by a hurricane.” Imagine yourself suffering from the summer heat without an air conditioning unit in your home. After sweating away most of the liquid in your body, you decide to go to the beach to enjoy the cool weather. A nice breeze is blowing and you see something wonderful in the distance. A rain cloud is headed your way. But just before the rain begins to fall, a hurricane blows the cloud back out to see where it does you no good. This is an appropriate description of these false teachers. They promise great blessings from their anti-biblical teaching, but no real satisfaction is ever realized.
The dark end of false teachers (17 b)
We have already learned from this chapter, that God has not overlooked the sins of these ungodly men. He has reserved judgment for those who fight against him. So, it is clear already that these false teachers will face judgment some day. But what will that judgment involve? Their punishment is a reservation with eternal darkness. This is an interesting description which is somewhat difficult to understand.
Whenever we think about the end of the wicked, we think of Hell and the lake of fire. You would think that a lake of fire would be very bright, especially when you think about the fires you have experienced in person. There is nothing dark about them. And yet when the end of the wicked is described in the gospels (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) and here, darkness is a key ingredient. Why is that?
Whether or not darkness is being used as a figure of speech, I am not sure. But it seems fitting for those who “loved darkness rather than light” to remain in physical darkness for eternity. A commentator by the name of Bengal says that “blackness” refers to “the chilling horror attending darkness” (Hiebert 124). With that in mind, it seems that both the Lord Jesus and the apostle Peter were attempting to communicate how horrible the final judgment will be. Imagine yourself lost in a cave with no light at all. The complete lack of light would be enough to drive someone insane. Whatever the case may be, we learn here that the horrors of darkness have been reserved for such men as these false teachers.
The cruel work of false teachers (18-22)
Those who work at selling cars must make the vehicle sound better than anything the customer has ever driven. No matter how weak the engine actually is, it is described as “the most powerful in its class.” It may rank the lowest in safety, but the salesman will tout its incredible bumpers and airbags. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up buying a car you can’t afford and that you don’t want. The power of words is amazing.
False teachers entice unsuspecting people (18).
They use “great swelling words” which promise more than is really available. The Greek word used here gives the idea of something that is inflated. The more they talk, the larger the lies become. But they are not so foolish as to give you nothing for your time. They also throw in something that will appeal to the lusts of the flesh. An example of this can be found in the promises made to Islamic suicide bombers. They are promised much but obtain none of it.
False teachers target new believers (18).
False teachers have as a goal the destruction of all those they meet. But they are especially interested in those who have recently been saved from a life of sin. Peter describes the targets as “those recently escaped from those living in error.” In other words, they are not content with leading astray unbelievers, they also want to turn Christians away from the truth. When they see that a person has escaped from their wicked lifestyle they do everything possible to pull them back into it.
False teachers offer what they themselves do not have (19).
In this verse, Peter points out the hypocrisy of these teachers. They promise freedom when in actuality they themselves are enslaved to sin. One of the latest promises is the freedom to do as you feel is right. It’s the mentality of Judges 21:25. “Be free! Follow your dreams! Don’t worry about the fact that what you want is a clear violation of the Scriptures. Just do it and enjoy your time.” Unfortunately, these promises are believed by many people. But they seldom see that the ones making such claims are hypocrites who are enslaved by their own passions.
False teachers lead people back to their sinful lifestyle (20-22).
In the last three verses, Peter writes about those who have given in to the enticements of the false teachers. After reading his description of their sorry state, you know why God judges these teachers so harshly. When a new believer returns to his old ways, his new condition is worse than before. Peter goes so far as to say that it would have been better for him not to be saved than to have known the truth and then return to his sin.
This seems to be the case with many so-called conversion stories. I came across a short news article about shock rocker Alice Cooper. The article said that he was building a Christian center for kids. That surprised me as he is not known to be involved with godly activities. But the article points out that Cooper is now “born again.” If he truly is saved, why does he continue to remain in the ungodly horror and death metal industry? It may be that he is not truly saved at all. But it may also be that he was convinced by someone that his sinful behavior wasn’t really as bad as some have said, and so he returned to it. Who knows?
Peter likens these victims to dogs that return to their own vomit and pigs that return to their mud. To us, those actions are strange. Why do they return to those unclean activities? They do that because it is their nature to do so. The same can be said of those who return to their sin. If someone persists in his sin, this may be evidence that he is not truly saved.
If you have been saved for a while, you have seen this very thing happen. People have been saved for a short time, and then they later become enticed by the life they left. Then only a short time later, that once happy Christian is back wallowing in the mud of his former life. Why would anyone want to go back to his old ways after being converted? That is a difficult question. When we see this happening in someone’s life, we wonder why. But if they continue in that lifestyle with no evidence of the Spirit’s work, we begin to wonder.
What can be done?
(1) Each believer must guard himself (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
(2) Spiritual believers must help those who are weak (Gal. 6:1).
(3) We all must take seriously the warnings about false teaching (Acts 20:29-31).
It is foolish for a believer to return to his former, sinful lifestyle. But it is also something that false teachers have made to seem full of pleasure. We must keep a guard up against such teaching. If we do not, others may fall back into the cess pool from which they were rescued.