The wisdom sages said, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline” (Proverbs 3:11), the Lord’s mussar. And wisdom sages understood that there are many kinds of knowledge. Mussar is a kind of practical knowledge about ourselves and our relationship to good and evil.
The Second Letter of Peter is a response to a community which had been exposed to a contradictory set of messages. From Peter himself these gentiles in Asia Minor had been exposed to Torah and gospel (see the First Letter of Peter). They had been instructed in the idea of God’s kingship, the world to come, the judgment by angelic beings and Messiah and God himself of all powers and principalities opposing the redemption of the world from evil.
The “other” message is an unusual one. It is hard to pin down or imagine exactly what motivated the ones Peter opposes in this letter. It seems, perhaps, that they started with Torah and gospel but thought they found a higher “enlightenment” which took them beyond these foundations. I’m guessing that they had ecstatic experiences and assumed they had a connection directly with angelic mysteries. Being full of themselves, they claimed a freedom from moral restrictions. They were above good and evil, beings who — in their own mind at least — had ascended to realms of pure knowledge.
No messianic king was coming to judge the earth. That would be too physical, not celestial enough for these enlightened prophets. The truth was more ethereal, more angelic.
Peter’s letter is the voice of realism, the reminder that earth weighs us down. And this is not because we are unable to make the ascent, to leave physicality behind. This is not because we are truly spirit-beings trapped in bodily prisons awaiting liberation. It is because our source and destiny is, in fact, earth. The angels gaze on the beauty of earth and dream of New Jerusalem. God’s kingship is directed toward the world he made and will perfect.
Heaven is coming to earth.
There are several aspects of this Torah-and-gospel teaching which Peter brings out in his letter. Not least is his mussar teaching, his exhortation to virtue in this quite physical world:
… He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason, making every effort, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control perseverance, and to perseverance godliness, and to godliness brotherly affection, and to brotherly affection love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.
What arguments does Peter use to remind his readers that this way of life is true and good?
What goal does Peter look to as the future destiny of those in Messiah?
What promises does Peter refer to?
How does Peter show this is the better way than the celestial, immaterial enlightenment of the supposed masters who teach a new way of life?