Aug 06 - Having confidence In What I Believe

Having Confidence In What I Believe

August 6, 2017

2 Peter 1:16-21



2 Peter 1:16-21

August 6th, 2017



Certainty should be a relatively rare thing, although it seems to me that a lot of people falsely assume that their own opinions are always correct.  They are certain that they’re always right. 


I’m sure that Oscar Wilde said this tongue in cheek, but it clearly points out the tendency to assume one’s own opinions and convictions are right.


Because of this tendency, I think we sometimes need to challenge our beliefs and convictions, not by being super-critical or hyper-skeptical, but simply by using our God-given faculties.  Look at the following statements:


All people have the tendency to think they are right even if they fail to question the truth of their own convictions.


People tend to hold on to their convictions without questioning their validity, maybe because they have a great fear, even if unconscious, that they have held on to an error for such a long time.


People are responsible, not only for the things they do, but also for what they accept without question.


It reminds me of a story about a man who is in court to divorce his wife because she insists on keeping a pet goat in the bedroom. “The smell got so terrible, I just couldn’t stand it any longer,” the husband comments.  The judge shook his head in amazement, “That does sound awful, but wouldn’t opening the window have alleviated some of the smell?”  “What,” cried the husband, “and let all my pigeons out?


So generally speaking, certainty should be relatively rare.  On the other hand, a healthy dose of discernment is necessary so that one is not to be duped into holding to or believing something that is not true. 


Blind faith, unquestioning faith, lack of critical thinking, can potentially lead to the loss of one’s life savings (scam artists);

The loss of one’s innocence (sexual predators);

The loss of one’s health (medications that at one time were on the market but had to be pulled because they made people really sick).

The loss of one’s life (in the case of religious or political extremists). 

The potentially the loss of one’s eternal soul (as Jesus comments on in the parable of the soils or his warning about accepting the quest after money as paramount).


I truly believe that sometimes religion, even the Christian religion, can be a curse rather than a blessing when accepted by gullible and unthinking people.


Religion can be a terrible thing for those who accept a religious authority without question, terrible because they can either be misled and taken advantage of, or because they themselves become dogmatic about matters of opinion or uncertainty.


God has blessed us with a brain.  And he has left a book that, if rightly understood, will keep us from following the likes of Jimmy Jones, David Koresh, some doomsday cult, some ego-centric self-proclaimed prophet, or some religious huckster.  It will keep us from rejecting our families or from strapping on bombs in order to blow others up. 


The true Christian faith does not flourish in ignorance.  Cults do. So discernment is important.  We need to use our brains in order to:


  • separate history and fiction

  • distinguish between fact and opinion;

  • look at and analyze a situation or issue from all sides;

  • know and make allowances for one’s own biases and presuppositions;

  • analyze the source of the information; and

  • draw conclusions based on proper reasoning rather than on emotional response, on good thinking rather than on feelings.


Having said all that, some authors of the NT books seem to have absolute certainty that what they believed was unquestionably true.  For example, the apostle Paul was such a person.  The author of 2nd Peter was another one.  Why was that?


Certainty can be attained ...


1. ... by receiving a direct message from God


For example, the apostle Paul wasn’t shy about the truth of his teaching. Now you would think that after his experience as a devout Pharisee, when he was certain to be doing God’s will even as he was doing the exact opposite, he would have been a bit more humble in his teaching and admonitions. But he wasn’t.  Why?  Why was he convinced that his beliefs were absolutely true?


There were a number of reasons.  For one, there was the Damascus Road experience when he was confronted with the risen Christ. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?[1]


But that wasn’t the only time when he had the risen and exalted Jesus speak to him directly.  For example, in 2 Cor 12, Paul makes reference to visions and revelations from the Lord (12:1), and exceeding great revelations (12:7) that he had experienced or received.[2] 


In Acts 22, he relates one of them, the time when he received his mission to Gentiles. 


After I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple and fell into a trance.  I saw a vision of the Lord saying to me, “Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won't accept your testimony about me. ... Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!”                 Acts 22:19-21


This is when Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was commissioned by Jesus to a ministry to non-Jews (Gentiles).


Just as an aside here, the English term, “Gentile”, is not found in the Bible.  It is actually a term borrowed from the Latin (gentilis, meaning to belong to a clan or tribe; gentis means race or clan).  The biblical terms for non-Jews are the Hebrew goy in the OT, and the Greek ethne in the NT.[3]


Paul also received a revelation concerning the content of Paul’s teaching and preaching. This he mentions both in his letter to the Christians in Galatia and in his letter to those in Ephesus. 


Dear brothers, I want you to understand that the good news[4] that I preach is not based on human reasoning.  I neither received my message from any man, nor did anyone teach me.  Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.        Galatians 1:11-12


Our next slide shows the passage from Ephesians.


Surely you have heard that God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you (Gentiles).  As I briefly wrote earlier, the mysterious plan of God was given to me by a revelation (from Jesus).                                                                                         Ephesians 3:2-3


Some of you may have had visions or dreams of God or Jesus where you knew that God was communicating with you.  But that is not the norm.  Most Christians go through their entire lives without such a vision.  Instead, God speaks to them through the quiet, easily ignored, voice of the Holy Spirit.  However, that does not breed certainty.


The problem with revelations is that there is the possibility of self-deception, or the desire to deceive others.


When Mohammed said that God told him that the rule of a maximum of four wives (Surah 4:3) does not apply to him, his wife Fatima quipped something along the lines that God’s revelations to him always seem to favour his own wishes.


Joseph Smith told some married women and young girls that God told him that they should be married to him.  Had over 50 “wives”.  (predicted Christ’s return for 1891).


Ellen White predicted Christ’s return for 1844, and when he didn’t, she had to come up with another theory ... that Jesus entered the Holy of Holies in that year to make atonement for all believers. 


I sometimes think that the expression, “God told me ...” is used way too often by some people and not enough by others.


The author of 2 Peter has that same certainty as the apostle Paul, but for a different reason.


Certainty can be attained ...

  1. ... by receiving a direct message from God

  2. ... by personally witnessing an event


Peter was convinced of the truth and the significance, the importance, of what he was writing. Why?  Because, as he mentions, he is not just offering an opinion or relaying a story second hand, but because he was an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life


We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.       

2 Peter 1:16-18


Peter tells his readers that his teaching about Jesus is not based on a pious myth but on something he witnessed with his own eyes. In other words, the difference between myth, legend and the Christian faith are the historical events that actually took place.


Peter makes reference to him speaking of the power of Jesus to his readers. He may have told them about the many miracles, the healings and exorcisms, that he witnessed Jesus perform. 


Peter also comments that he spoke to his readers about the coming of Jesus, likely in reference to the second coming - the return of Jesus in the near future.[5] 
After all, he was an eye witness to the times that Jesus himself spoke about his return.


One of the marks of a living Christian faith is confidence in the person of Jesus.  Jesus is at the very heart of the Christian faith.  His birth, his life, his actions, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his promised return are key to the Christian view of God and their relationship to Him


Peter comments that Christian doctrine, teaching, beliefs are not the result of clever thinking (or human reasoning) on the part of those Jews who followed Jesus while on earth.  Peter is saying that instead they are the result of historical observation


If that were not so, if our beliefs are grounded on “cleverly invented stories,” rather than reliable historic observations, then they are unworthy of being accepted and followed.


Peter then makes reference to a particular event, what has been termed the transfiguration on the mount, relayed in the three synoptic gospels (Mark 9:2-8; Matt 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36).  It is when Peter, John and James went up a mountain with Jesus (according to Luke they went there to pray).  Jesus’ face shone[6] and his clothes turned a radiant white and Elijah and Moses appeared with him.[7]   


[Interestingly, Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind to heaven (2 Kings 2:11).  There may also have been a pious Jewish belief in Jesus’ day that Moses’s body was taken up to heaven by angels after his death (see Jude 9; possibly mentioned in the missing portions of the Assumption of Moses).]


After Peter’s suggestion to build three “booths” or “tents” (tabernacles), a cloud overshadowed them and a voice was heard from heaven.  The exact wording of what is said various between the Gospels.[8] 


Peter uses similar wording to those in Matthew’s account:


Matthew: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased.  Listen to him!


2 Peter: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”


To Peter the event of the transfiguration and the words of God from heaven clearly expressed the power and majesty of Jesus. 


Likely over 30 years had passed since Peter had seen the glory of Jesus and heard the voice of the heavenly Father. At the time, he may not have understood the significance of the event.  As he looks back on it, he now recognizes that it pointed to Jesus’ identity, glory and authority.  And it is the event of the transfiguration (rather than the resurrection appearances) that previewed the majesty with which Jesus would return.  


Now most of us did not receive a direct message from God or Jesus through some kind of vision.  So we cannot have the certainty that Paul had.


Nor were we personally present at the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  We are not eyewitnesses any more than Peter’s original audience.  So there is no way that we would have the kind of certainty that Peter had. 


Peter goes on to point out that now he looks at the OT differently because he realizes Jesus fulfilled many of the OT prophecies about Messiah. 


Certainty can be attained ...

  1. ... by receiving a direct message from God

  2. ... by personally witnessing an event

  3. ... by seeing past predictions actually come true


[Of course the other side is true as well.  Doubt grows when past predictions do not come true.  False predictions about Christ’s return, for instance.]


And so to us the word of the prophets has been made more certain,[9] and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  2 Peter 1:19


Notice that to Peter there is a connection between personally witnessing something and realizing that prophecy had been fulfilled.  In other words, the reason why he is certain that the OT prophecies about the Messiah are certain to apply to Jesus is because Peter had witnessed the transfiguration.


There are about 40 OT passages that can be understood to be applied to the Messiah and which have been fulfilled by Jesus, although some of these are pretty tenuous.


Here are three examples from the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT.


Gen 12:3 (22:18) - the seed of Abraham will be a blessing to all nations.

Gen 49:10 - the scepter will not depart from Judah.

Num 24:17 - a star will come from Jacob and a scepter will rise from Israel.


The apostle Paul is the one who first applied the reference to the seed of Abraham to Jesus.


Note the prophecy from Num 24:17 and Peter’s reference to the morning star rising in the hearts of his readers. The morning star is usually in reference to the planet Venus, the brightest of all celestial objects other than the sun and moon.  It is called “morning” star when it appears in the east before sunrise (sometimes also applied to the star Sirius), and also evening star when it appears in the west after dawn. 


Maybe you will remember the reason why the wise men from the East came to Jerusalem to enquire about the new King of Israel since they saw his star.  These wise men looked at the passage from Numbers and were looking for a literal star to announce the coming of the king.


The famous Rabbi Akkiba was convinced that a man by the name of Simon Bar Kosiba, who led the revolt against Rome in AD 132 was the Messiah.  This passage in Numbers is why Rabbi Akkiba gave the nickname of Bar Kochba to Simon. Bar Kochba, son of the star.[10] 


In Revelation 22:16, Jesus is called the bright and morning star. 


There are quite a few more passages in the Psalms which apply to Jesus. 


Ps 2:7 - God said to me (his anointed), you are my son, today I have begotten you.

Ps 16:10 - God will not let his holy one see corruption or abandon his soul to Sheol.

Ps 22 - The psalmist is scorned and despised (v.6), all who see him mock him (v.7), saying, let God deliver him and rescue him (v.8), his hands and feet are pierced (v.16), his executioners stare and glare (v.17) and divide his clothes and cast lots for them (v.18).  

Ps 34:20 - Not one of the righteous’ bones are broken.

Ps 110:1 - God said to my Lord, sit at my right hand.


Notice especially Psalm 22 (read).  Jesus quotes the very beginning of the Psalm when he was hanging on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” 


There are even more passages in the book of Isaiah


Isa 7:14 - a young woman (LXX virgin) will have a child called Immanuel.

Isa 9:6-7 - a child will be born and will be called (among other “names”) mighty God and everlasting Father.

Isa 11:1-5 - a branch and shoot (Nazer) will come from Jesse (king David’s father) and God’s Spirit will rest on him.

Isa 40:3 - a voice will cry in the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD.

Isa 49:6 - God’s servant will be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation will reach the ends of the earth.

Isa 53:3-12 - God’s servant was despised and rejected.  Upon him the LORD laid all of our sins.  He was led to the slaughter like a silent sheep.  He died for the transgressions of God’s people.  He died with the wicked and is with a rich man in his death.

Isa 61:1-2 - God’s anointed will bring good news to the poor and proclaim the year of God’s favour.


Comment on the suffering servant in Isa 53.  Then there are a host of prophecies in other OT books


So Peter tells his readers to pay attention to the prophecies because they are like a light shining in a dark place.  The world is this dark place, along with all the troubles and worries and temptations and problems.  Prophecies that point to Jesus shine through that darkness.


Some claim that Jesus fulfilled 300 OT passages, but that claim is ridiculous.  Regardless, in their book, Science Speaks, Peter Stoner and Robert Newman discuss the statistical probability that someone either accidentally or deliberately fulfilled just 8 prophecies, and the mathematical improbability is truly staggering (supposedly 1 in 1017).


Why else is prophecy of value?  Because, as Peter goes on to write, it actually contains a word from God.


Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.                                         2 Peter 1:20-21


All Scripture is God-breathed ...          2 Timothy 3:16


This passage speaks of the process of genuine prophecy.  Genuine prophets speak a word that was given to them by God through his Holy Spirit.[11]  OT prophecies were not simply of human origin.  So the author of 2 Peter admonishes his readers to take special notice of these because they’re also God’s words.


It should be noted that these prophets spoke primarily about events that would take place in their lifetimes.  They may even have been unaware that they would be fulfilled as well in Jesus. 


For example, Isaiah’s prediction that a young woman would bear a son who will be called Immanuel (7:14) was to be fulfilled in the time of king Ahaz, king of Judah (c. 736 - 716 BC).[12]  Before the boy knows how to refuse evil and chose good (possibly in reference to either the state beyond infancy and toddlerhood), Syria and Israel, (two countries which had invaded the kingdom of Judah in 735 BC) will be deserted ( v.16 - an event that took place in 722 BC).  Isaiah likely had no idea that this prophecy would have a second fulfillment 720 years after its first fulfilment.[13] 


I’ve just included the passage in 2 Timothy because the two passages in combination is where we get the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. 


So Paul had certainty because he had visions and revelations in which Jesus spoke to him personally.  Some of us may have had a vision of Jesus in which he spoke to us.  But I would venture to guess that this is relatively rare. 


Maybe one or two of you had that kind of encounter, and I’m certain it gave you much greater conviction about the truth of what you believe.  But perhaps not the kind of certainty we find with Paul.


Peter had certainty because he personally witnessed events like the so-called transfiguration. And this strengthened his conviction that the OT contained prophecies that had their fulfillment in Jesus.   


None of us however, have been able to spend any time whatsoever, with the historic Jesus. We didn’t hear him teach, we didn’t see him heal or exorcise demons.  And as such we simply cannot have the kind of certainty that Peter had about the truth concerning the identity and mission of Jesus. 


Nevertheless, we do have the Scriptures, the OT that looks forward to, and the NT that look back to when Jesus’ first visited this planet. 


And I guess it is there that we can find confidence in the truth of what we believe. 


We may also find confidence because we personally experience the positive results of what it means to come to Christ. 


For one, we may have had some kind of AHA-moment in our lives, when the message about our sin separating us from a holy God and the provision of Jesus to pay the penalty of that sin, just made sense.


For another, we may have had a life-changing experience after we become believers.  It isn’t that we’ve become perfect or impervious to temptations.  But something happened.  Perhaps we have been strengthened.  Perhaps we have become more caring.  Perhaps we have become more giving.  More patient.  More joyful.  More thankful. 


Yet for another, we may have experienced physical healing or the miraculous answer to a desperate prayer. 


And finally, we trust that those who wrote in the NT had either personally known Jesus or had been inspired by God to write what they did.


And in all of this we realize that it is God who is at work within us as we not only experience forgiveness but also the guiding of His Holy Spirit as well as the personal fortitude to bring about positive change in our lives.













[1] We hear of Paul’s experience on the road in Acts 9:1-9; 22:6-8; 26:12-18;  In 1 Cor 9:1 he mentions that he himself has seen the Lord. In 1 Cor 15:8 that Jesus appeared to him; In Gal 1:16, that God was pleased to reveal his Son to (or: in) Paul. The Greek en can be translated: in, on, near, at, to, before, among, with, on account of, etc.  It seems to me that even “in” can indicate that Christ appeared to Paul.

[2] In Acts 26:16-17, Jesus’ words to Paul on the road to Damascus: “Get up and stand on your feet.  For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things which I will relay to you in future appearances, delivering you from the (Jewish) people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you ...”.  Here it appears that Paul was already commissioned to the Gentiles, but the reference to further appearances is likely in reference to the times when this mission was confirmed and fleshed out.

[3] In the Greek the word translated as Gentile is ethnos (i.e. Acts 22:21; 26:17; Rom 11:25).

[4] The Greek term is euangelion from which we get evangel, evangelism, evangelistic and so on.

[5] Greek Parousia.  This term is used 18 x in the NT and always refers to the second coming, not Jesus’ first coming to earth.  The same term is used in 2 Peter 3:4,12.

[6] Only Matthew mentions this.  Luke speaks of an altered countenance. 

[7] Luke adds that Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus’ departure in Jerusalem (death; assumption?).  He also mentions that the disciples had fallen asleep and only saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah after they woke up. 

[8] Mark, “this is my beloved son, listen to him.”  Matthew adds: “with whom I am well-pleased”, Luke adds: “my chosen (one).”

[9] Lit. we have more firm the prophetic word.  Has also be translated, “we have a more certain word of prophecy” (KJV).  Einheitsuebersetzung: Dadurch (through witnessing the transfiguration) ist das Wort der Propheten fuer uns noch sicherer geworden.

[10] This is why Rabbi Akkiva nicknamed Simon Bar Kosevah (died 135 CE) to Simon Bar Kochba (son of the star).  Ironically, Akkiva’s student, Yose Ben Halaphta, called him bar Koziba (son of the lie). 12 Legions of Roman soldiers (1/3 of the Roman army, c. 100,000 soldiers) under Sextus Severus defeated Bar Kochba but sustained heavy loses.

[11] Cf. Acts 1:16.  Peter tells the believers that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David with regard to Judas’ betrayal, and quotes Ps 69:25 and 109:8..

[12] In 735 BC the two kingdoms invaded Judah. Judah was being defeated (120,000 troops lost in just one day).  Jerusalem was besieged but not successfully (2 K 16:5).  Ahaz requested Assyrian aid which came in the conquest of Syria and Israel (722 BC), and resulted in a steep tribute that Ahaz had to pay Tiglath-Pileser..See also Isaiah 9:11-12.

[13] In 1 Peter 1:10-11, the author makes a statement about the prophets searching intently and with the greatest care in order to predict “the time and circumstances” of “the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”  However, most prophets were blissfully unaware about a future application of their prophecy.