- Salutation (1:1, 2)
- Right knowledge (1:3-21)
- False knowledge and false teachers (2:1-22)
- The coming of the Lord (3:1-18)
Authorship, date, and background
Five books of the New Testament were written to combat the rising tide of heresy. These short writings are 2 Peter, Jude, and 1, 2, and 3 John. All of them were composed after A.D. 60. Wherever truth exists, error always follows. This has been a fact of the Christian church. By A.D. 60, false doctrines had crept into and were being propagated in the church. In the case of 2 Peter, the apostle chose to stress the need for believers to have true knowledge to offset error. Churches always need to be reminded of the truths on which their faith rests. It was against this background that Peter wrote this second letter to stimulate strong faith and to encourage believers in the expected soon coming of the Lord was no fantasy even though that coming was delayed beyond the time they had in mind for it.
The great problem surrounding 2 Peter has to do with the authorship. Liberal scholars almost without exception refuse to accept the Petrine authorship of the letter. They do so despite the claim of the letter itself that Peter was the author. The salutation says it was "Simon Peter" who was writing. The author spoke of his imminent homegoing and stated this was shown to him by the Lord Jesus (1:14). He claimed to have been with Jesus on the holy mountain during the transfiguration (1:17, 18). This was the second epistle he had written to them, harking back to 1 Peter which his readers had already received (3:1). He spoke about the apostle Paul as though he were still alive and called him a wise and beloved brother (3:15). To those who accept the Word of God at face value, all of this is sufficient to accept the Petrine authorship of the letter. The opinion that some unknown writer composed the letter and that it was written somewhere between A.D. 100 and 150, long after the death of Peter, would make the letter a forgery despite the excuse that such a conclusion is not necessary. There is an overlapping of portions of this letter with that of Jude, which was definitely letter after Peter's death. The argument that Peter in his letter was indebted to Jude turns out to be quite the opposite; it was Jude who was indebted to 2 Peter instead. 2 Peter, then, was written at Rome and composed about A.D. 65-67, prior to Peter's death.
Characteristics and content
This letter serves to remind believers of the unchanging nature of the gospel. It castigates the false teachers who bring in destructive heresies and indicates that heresy is usually accompanied by corrupt and immoral behaviour on the part of those who spread it. Chapter two describes the kind of people these heretics are and the sort of lives they live. This section and the letter of Jude say the same things. Believers are warned to be pure and urged to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Peter emphasizes the certainty of punishment for unbelief even as God cast out the wicked angels from his presence and as he executed divine judgement upon evil men in Noah's time. Peter also represents Sodom and Gomorrah as well as Balaam as examples of cities and a man who suffered for their misdeeds.
Peter says that judgement is delayed so that men may repent. But he envisions a day when the earth and the heavens will be burned with fire at the judgement day and at that time all ungodly men will perish (3:17). In the place of the destroyed universe there will emerge "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (3:13). Thus his letter contains both the certain threat of judgment for the wicked and the sure promise of deliverance and happiness for those who believe in Jesus.