After mentioning false teachers would arise within the church and bring in destructive heresies, Peter connects their work with that of the false prophets of the Old Testament. Those spiritual leaders brought upon themselves and the Jewish nation the judgment of God that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Likewise, a similar judgment would be incurred by the false teachers who troubled the believers in the five Roman provinces of Asia Minor in the first century AD. In the next few verses (2Peter 2:4-9) Peter points to three examples of God’s judgment that was imposed upon those who sinned in a similar fashion, as was then occurring in the churches of God in Asia Minor.
In 2Peter 2:4 I believe Peter points to the one we refer to as Satan, and / or his representative, i.e. the one or those to whom he has given his power and authority (cf. Revelation 13:2). Most translations say angels, but the Young’s Literal Translation has messengers. There is nothing in the text of either 2Peter or Genesis that would demand supernatural rendering of the Greek. The Greek word (G32) can mean either angelic beings or human messengers, and the Greek word depicts human beings at Luke 7:24, 9:52 and James 2:25. The messengers who rebelled against God in Genesis would point to God’s representatives who rebelled against him in the first century AD.
I don’t see how anyone who was a false teacher in Peter’s day could relate to angels (spirit beings) and the judgment they may or may not have experienced. Where is the Scripture that describes their sinning and their judgment? Both Jewish and Grecian literature abound with descriptions of angels and lesser gods warring with the God of the Bible or Zeus, the chief god of the Greeks. However, where is the account of an angelic rebellion in the Bible, and where is the account of their judgment? To read ancient Jewish literature and / or Greek mythology into the text of the Bible goes beyond what should be done (cf. 1Corinthians 4:6; 2John 1:9). The truth can be known without going to such extremes.
In my opinion, it fits better to translate G32 (aggelos) into messenger, pointing to men at 2Peter 2:4. The fact that the Scriptures say that Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:22) implies at least some of the other patriarchs living before the Flood were not walking with God. Moreover, Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, died in the year of the Flood, implying he was destroyed under the judgment of God. If he was righteous, and since Noah was a preacher of righteousness, why wasn’t Methuselah saved and brought into the new heavens and new earth, if only to show that he was among the righteous (cf. 2Peter 2:9)? Peter’s warning fits better, and has more to say to the false teachers, if he points to the patriarchs before the Flood who had rebelled against God and were a direct cause of God’s judging that world. How could supernatural beings be the cause of God judging humans?
Had the false teachers in Peter’s day been successful in bringing the Messianic churches under the dominance of Judaism, the Jerusalem authorities would have greatly increased their power and influence in the world. Church funds would have come under the authority of the high priest in Jerusalem. These funds, which believers saved for the Jewish poor during the Sabbatical years, would never have reached their intended purpose. All the wealth would have come under the authority of the high priest, and he had no real care for the poor.
Moreover, these funds were very great and any greedy authority would have desired very much to control such a booty. Paul had leased a ship in order to transport the Church’s offering, which probably included grain and other food, for the poor in Judea. Moreover, the offering was so great and important that at least two representative of each church in the Diaspora accompanied Paul and the gift to Jerusalem (Acts 20:3-5), and was turned over to church authorities just before Paul was arrested in the Temple complex. Paul prophesied that mighty wolves would enter the flock, some even from those claiming to be disciples, and they would distort and misinterpret Scripture and the Gospel in order to have men follow them.
Therefore, it seems that the context of both of Peter’s epistles is Paul’s imprisonment and what his captivity meant to the false teachers and the one who sent them. In other words it was Paul’s imprisonment that triggered the plot to destroy his work and bring the churches of the Diaspora under the influence and authority of the high priest.
If my understanding of Peter’s argument is correct, Methuselah and the other patriarchs in Noah’s day were the angels or messengers who led the world away from God. Methuselah’s equivalent in Peter’s day would have been Annas, the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem. Just as Methuselah died in God’s judgment of the flood waters in Genesis 6, so Annas was killed by the zealots just as the war broke out between Rome and the Jews in 66 AD. According to Peter these angels / patriarchs were put in hell or tartarus (G5020). Tartarus was used to describe the grave in Jewish literature, and was that part of the grave the held the wicked (cf. Luke 16:23). It was personified in Greek mythology to indicate a figure who held the dead captive. However, these were rabbinic and Greek worldviews. All tartarus means according to the text in 2Peter 2:4 is that it was a state (chains) of darkness, which held them until God’s judgment (cf. Romans 1:21).
In other words those who rebel against God have their minds darkened, so they cannot see the coming judgment. Unless God enlightens one’s mind, a person is unable to understand what God is doing. All God has to do to darken a man’s mind is to withdraw from him and let him to his own devices. Those whose minds are darkened are in prison until their judgment. This implies that those who gave themselves over to false teaching in Peter’s day had their minds darkened by the Lord’s withdrawing from them. In such a case, the false teachers were unable to see how damaging their works were to themselves and other, unless they repented and entered into the council of God’s word, the Gospel.