In the second chapter of his second epistle Peter began to tell of the prophesied false teachers. Like the false prophets of the Old Testament, they took their place in the assembly of God claiming to represent him, but, instead, they preached the dreams and desires of men. The prophets of old prophesied peace when they should have sounded out an alarm. They claimed to speak for the Lord, but they spoke out of the imagination of their own hearts (Jeremiah 23:15-16). Had they stood in the council of the Lord, pondering his word, they would have been equipped to turn God’s people from evil (Jeremiah 23:21-22). Rather, they invented stories, claiming disaster wouldn’t come (Jeremiah 23:25-27) and the people hardened their hearts and continued in their evil ways. Similarly, Peter warned of teachers of his own day who sought to turn the hearts and minds of believers away from the Lord, changing Scripture into something God never intended to say.
The work of the false teachers is done with stealth (2Peter 2:1). The work of bringing in destructive heresy is not done openly, as the Gospel was preached. Rather, these men have a hidden agenda, so whatever is done must be presented unobtrusively, without alarming the believers. Heresy has the property of denying the Lord. It could take the form of denying the Lord’s coming, or it could take the form of denying the Lord’s authority over the believer—i.e. heresy tends to cause believers to submit to the teachers rather than the Lord. Either way it denies the Lord. The one denies the Lord’s promise or his word, so that the believer trusts the words of the false teacher rather than the Lord, and the other denies the Lord’s power or authority (rule) over his people, causing believers to submit to a new authority.
Such works will bring sudden destruction upon the false teachers. This doesn’t mean that their judgment will be immediate, but it does mean that when they are judged, it will be sudden and swift. Nevertheless, not everyone who preaches error is a false teacher (cf. Acts 18:24-26). Certainly Apollos wasn’t a false teacher even though he misrepresented the truth about Christ before he met Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26). Mistakes can be made by legitimate preachers sent by the Lord. The difference is that those teachers are teachable. They submit to the word of God as it becomes known to them. Not so, false teachers.
At least a significant number of believers would be overcome and believe the heresies of the false teachers (2Peter 2:2; cf. Matthew 24:9-13). It seems to me that it would be difficult for mere strangers to suddenly appear and be able to sway believers in Asia Minor. So, something else must have been played out there. Certainly, the false teachers seem to have had a degree of influence, in that many were predicted to follow their destructive ways. But, to what do these men owe their apparent success? Was it due to a well planned and executed heresy or could it be due to their own names or authority that they were held in such high esteem by the believers in Asia Minor?
No matter which understanding is correct, a great plan or men from Jerusalem of great authority (Galatians 2:12-13), the context of Peter’s epistles shows that probably a single authority had sent the false teachers into Asia Minor. This person (Annas, the high priest, according to my understanding of the nascent church’s troubles) would have been the power or authority behind the trial that had come upon the believers there. Moreover, if the false teachers were highly esteemed in their own right, they could have been known relatives of Annas.
2Peter 2:3 tells us that the false teachers were motivated by greed. The Messianic churches in Asia Minor represent a source of profit not only for them but also for the one who sent them. They performed their work by using words of hypocrisy. They molded their words. The Greek word is plastos (G4112), from which we get our word plastic. The false teachers chose their words carefully, perhaps using the believers’ vocabulary, but causing the words to mean something different. For example, a false teacher may readily agree that Jesus was come in the flesh (1John 4:2-3; 2John 1:7)—meaning he was a man. Nevertheless, they would deny Jesus was coming in the flesh, meaning coming in our flesh, which is our glorious hope (Colossians 1:27), because that would make Jesus God.
Therefore, whatever was played out in Asia Minor during the 1st century AD concerning the false teachers, their misrepresenting Jesus, who is God, paralleled what was done in the Old Testament days when the prophets misrepresented God and acted against his plans. The activities of both the false teachers and the false prophets culminated in God’s judgment not only of the evil workers but also of the nation who believed them and the Temple that represented God’s presence with the nation.