It has been suggested that the second Epistles, as we have them in scripture, have a distinct character of their own. The importance and significance of the second Epistles are not always sufficiently appreciated without taking care to study them in their proper setting and background.
It is generally thought that these Epistles were written just because there arose another opportunity of writing after the first, or to convey something which the apostles had missed or omitted in the first. They did not pen them to supplement the first, with later thoughts that came to the writers. To consider them just from this angle, although this may be partially true, would, however, not be in keeping with the character of the inspiration of the scriptures.
A closer survey of these second Epistles will reveal that there is a distinctive character for these sections of the word of God. Generally speaking, they, as distinct from the first ones, are largely dealing with the ‘last days’ and the work of the enemy, particularly in the context of the truths of the first Epistles. It could also be said that they are the truths enshrined in the first Epistles and presented in their peculiar application to the walk of the believers in the last days. They are, therefore, warnings as well as exhortations for the saints today. We are to take care of ourselves and of the truths presented to us in these second Epistles. A survey of the second Epistles to Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Timothy (and of Peter and John, including his third Epistle), will all show this design, while in some these thoughts are implicit and in others explicit.
In First Corinthians, we have the local assembly, with instructions on its scriptural order and ministry. In the second we have the references to false apostles, deceitful workers transforming themselves into apostles of Christ, e.g., 2 Cor. 11. 13. Twice over, we are warned that the ministers of unrighteousness will handle the word of God deceitfully. In all the second Epistles we find similar warnings. We are also warned that the devil will appear as ‘an angel of light’, v. 14, making it almost impossible to distinguish him from his real appearance, and many simple believers, untaught in the word of God, will be easily deceived.
With regard to the Thessalonians, in the first Epistle we are pointed to the coming of the Lord. The Epistle also corrects some errors into which the saints had fallen with regard to the ‘day of the Lord’, and enlightens them concerning the blessed portion of the saints at the coming of the Lord. This point is not touched or instructed earlier. In the second, there is a progress over the thoughts found in the first. The apostle is warning us of that which would be manifest in the world at the approach of the last days, namely the Antichrist. While, in the first, we are pointed to the coming of the Lord, in the second Epistle the apostle goes further, saying that before the ‘day of the Lord’ arrives the spirit of Antichrist will be more in evidence; the church being removed before the lawless one is revealed.
In First Peter, there is the repeated reference to the Christian’s sufferings. In the second, the Christian is seen as tempted. In the first, the devil is viewed as a roaring lion, but in the second like an unseen serpent, subtle and deceptive. Again, hollow professions, apostasies of ecclesiastical and secular forms are also introduced. The epistle is written with the seducers in view, pointing out the characteristic features of the false teachers, denouncing them with utmost severity, and announcing God’s fitting judgement on them. It is not difficult to see that the Second Epistle of Peter refers to the last days.
In the Second Epistle of John, as also in the third, we have additional instructions on the teachings of the first, with a view to balancing the truths of the first, particularly in the context of the last days. The stress is on the truth. The popular theology today is ‘love one another’, 1 John 3. 11, never mind the differences, or just agree to differ. Even perversions of truth are to be tolerated. However, the Holy Spirit never permits the co-existence of truth and error, espoused in an ‘agree to differ’ philosophy.1 On the other hand, the word given is, ‘be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (opinion)’, 1 Cor. 1. 10. The word of God and its teachings are not to become casualties against the background of the theme of ‘love one another’. The cardinal thought, therefore, in the Second and Third Epistles of John, the very apostle of love, is emphasizing ‘the truth’. If we look at the references to truth in these two single chapter Epistles we will notice the stress on that word.
In John’s second Epistle:
A love which is mere emotion can become sentimental.
In the third Epistle:
Thus, we are to follow the truth in love.
The Second Epistle to Timothy clearly illustrates the principle already referred to. It is designed by the Holy Spirit to guide the true children of God in the last days. Anyone who really wants to walk with God and live a careful and holy life in these last days should go to this second Epistle, for there it is expressed how we should walk during the end times. The explicit and distinct instructions are prominent! It is the Divine chart for those who desire to live a life that is pleasing to God, eschewing (avoiding?) the evil that is so evident around us.
In this connection, there is one important reference. In the first Epistle we have ‘the house of God’, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth and how to behave in it, 1 Tim. 3. 15. In the second the reference is to the ‘the great house’, 2 Tim. 2. 20. A mixture of vessels of honour and dishonour speaking of the features of the last days, the perilous times.
The unity of the assembly is so precious. It has such authority over the hearts of men, that there are dangers when failure sets in. The principle of individual faithfulness and of individual responsibility to God is established and set above all other considerations, for it has to do with the very nature of God Himself. In spite of himself the believer is called a Christian, and he is looked at here as a great house. But he cleanses himself, personally, from every vessel which is not to the Lord’s honour. This is the rule of Christian faithfulness, and, thus, personal avoidance of fellowship with evil. Only then will he become a vessel unto honour fit for the Master’s use. Whoever will bear His name should separate himself from all kinds of unclean things, 1 Thess. 5. 22, and not bring dishonour to Christ the Lord.
May we give heed to the specific message of the second Epistles!