In the epistles of Peter we have broad and powerful instruction from the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of former days. Richard Lloyd Anderson has said, “The two short letters we have from the Apostle Peter are treasures. Though containing about 3 percent of the New Testament, they survey the major doctrines of the early Church: the Atonement, repentance and baptism, priesthood power, the threatening apostasy, and Christ’s second coming. These doctrines come from no less than the person given the keys to lead Christ’s church anciently”(1) (see Matt. 16:18-19).
The author of the epistle of Jude is probably the individual referred to as “Judas the brother of James” in Acts 1:13 as one of the Twelve. His message is one of dire urgency; the Church is in serious danger of apostasy, and his purpose is to plead for renewed faithfulness.
Peter and Jude must have been close associates in the ministry, as portions of Jude and 2 Peter are strikingly similar. Both apostles were clearly worried about the onset of apostasy within the Church; nevertheless, they shared a strong faith in the “chosen generation” of those that are “sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ.”
In this lesson we will deal with three key themes of the epistles of Peter and Jude:
· Following the Savior’s example in responding to trials and persecution
· Developing the attributes of a “divine nature”
· Recognizing and guarding against false teachers
What can we do to follow the Savior’s example in responding to trials and persecution?
Peter lays out the promises of exaltation and indicates that only those who endure well the earthly trial of faith will inherit the glories of the celestial kingdom.
1 Peter begins with a brief overview of the plan of eternal life. Those who qualify are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:2). In the premortal world, we were all foreordained to receive our exaltation, but only by our obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel would the promise be realized. “Sanctification of the Spirit,” which is the sealing of the Holy Spirit of promise, comes only to those who obey and are “sprinkled” with the blood of Christ.
This sprinkling refers to the ordinance of Solomon’s temple, where the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and sprinkle the sacrificial blood to sanctify the nation of Israel.(2) Of course, this was done as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: “By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).
Having thus been cleansed of sin by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we become heirs “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 1:4).
Peter makes clear, however, that it is only through enduring faithfulness that we can claim that inheritance. We learn in latter-day revelation that the celestial kingdom is reserved for those who receive the ordinances of the gospel and “who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (D&C 76:51-53). Peter explains what it means to “overcome by faith” and points out that it is the promise of that sealing up to eternal life that makes it possible to overcome–even to rejoice in overcoming.
In the knowledge of this plan “ye greatly rejoice,” says Peter, “though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
It is the testimony and understanding of God’s plan that gives us power to withstand the “trial of faith.” Peter teaches that the Saints will encounter adversities “if need be” to refine their souls and enable them to rule and reign in the celestial kingdom. He compares this trial to the refining process for gold, which requires heat and pressure to burn out the impurities. In this sense, the trials and adversities we experience in life are intended as blessings to fit us for the kingdom of God. The trials of life, as Peter says, are to us “much more precious than of gold which perisheth.” Job understood this principle when in the midst of his severe sufferings he observed: “I know that my redeemer liveth . . . he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 19:25, 23:10).
How then should the Saints bear their trials? In 1 Peter 2, the Apostle “beseeches” us as pilgrims to follow the Savior’s example:
· Be honest. “Have your conversation honest among the Gentiles” (v. 12).
· Obey the civil law: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13).
· Be gracious to everyone: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (v. 17).
· Bear it patiently when wronged: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (v. 19-20)
· Do not answer evil for evil: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not” (v. 21-23).
Family life has trials of its own. In chapter 3, Peter teaches married couples to honor one another. To wives, he counsels “a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (v. 4). Where their husbands are not obedient to the gospel, wives may win them over “without the word” by their “chaste conversation coupled with fear [respect for the Lord]” (v. 1-2). Husbands are admonished to give “honour unto the wife . . . as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (v.7). The eternity of the marriage covenant should be foremost in the minds of both marriage partners.
All Saints are exhorted to be united as befits those for whom an Atonement has been made. “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (v. 8-9).
Those who overcome by faith, Peter promises, enter into that great blessing–eternal life in the presence of God–as “a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9). The term “royal priesthood” refers to those who will “receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” at the Second Coming of the Lord (1 Pet. 5:4). The “holy nation” is of course the covenant nation of Israel. And the term “peculiar people” should probably be translated “redeemed people” (the original Greek word peripoeisis, here translated peculiar, actually means “purchased”).
Which attributes did Peter describe as part of divine nature?
As these “exceeding great and precious promises” are realized, the Saints become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). By this Peter means that the exalted Saints literally become like their divine Father, of the same nature and kind. In modern revelation we learn that these shall be “gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting . . . because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (D&C 132:20).
In order to qualify for this highest glory, however, we must develop in ourselves the attributes of the divine–and this must be done “with all diligence.” Peter speaks of these attributes as cumulative; that is, we are not expected to develop them all at once but with time and effort. None of them is sufficient alone; all are necessary to attain to the Christlike character of one who partakes of the divine nature.
In 2 Peter 1:5-7 we learn what these attributes are: faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. They are simple virtues. Any human soul is capable of practicing them from time to time, but it requires diligence and determination to become faithful, virtuous, knowledgeable, temperate, patient, godly, kind, and charitable people. For this we have been given the gift of repentance.
At the time of the expulsion from Eden, man was forbidden to partake of the fruit of the tree of life because he was not ready. Such a gift would have been disastrous to man. “There was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time” (Alma 42:3-4), and this preparatory time was given to him to develop the attributes of godliness through the process of making his own choices. Man is given the choice at every moment of his life whether he will develop within himself the qualities of faith or faithlessness, virtue or licentiousness, knowledge or ignorance, temperance or self-indulgence, patience or ill temper, godliness or worldliness, kindness or indifference, charity or hatred.
For those who diligently cultivate these virtues, says the Prophet Joseph Smith, “the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure.” Therefore, “contend earnestly for the like precious faith with the Apostle Peter.”(3)
Only if you “give diligence” to the effort to qualify yourself for exaltation will you “make your calling and election sure, for if ye do these things ye shall never fall.” As you are blessed with such a certainty, “an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11). Surely this is all the incentive needed to overcome the impulses that destroy, and develop instead the attributes of the divine nature.
What are the characteristics of false teachers?
Peter assured the “chosen generation” that the promises of the Lord to them would be fulfilled in every respect if they continued to repent and strive to develop the character of godliness. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). This day of testing carried with it, however, the inevitable possibility of failing the test.
The Apostles were shocked at the speed with which the spirit of apostasy was taking hold of the Church in their own time. Peter warns of the “false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. . . . Many shall follow their pernicious ways” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). Jude was startled enough at the sudden defections all around him that he interrupted the writing of an epistle on the doctrines of salvation to write a stern warning against “certain men” who have “crept in unawares . . . ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4).
The false teachers of that time wormed their way into the Church in such a way that they were not easily recognized. The warnings of Peter and Jude were aimed at helping the remnant of faithful Saints to discern the insinuations of Satan that threatened to destroy the Church.
Both Peter and Jude indicated that there were three marks of the false teacher: Covetousness, lustfulness, and pride.
Covetousness. Many false teachers are motivated by the desire for gain. “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you,” Peter observes, remarking on the rise of greedy men who seek to enrich themselves through their membership in the Church. Peter knew such men well. He had encountered such a person in Simon, the sorcerer who offered Peter money in exchange for the power to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:18-20). Jude refers to this as “the error of Balaam,” the Moabite prophet who sold his services to the highest bidder (see Numbers 22:5-22). For Peter, such people “follow the way of Balaam . . . who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:15).
Lustfulness. Many false teachers are interested only in indulging their lusts and finding in the Gospel some justification for their behavior. An apostate notion grew up in the early Church that since the Law of Moses had been done away in Christ, and that Christ had brought salvation by the grace of God, it was no longer necessary to obey the laws of God. This position, known as antinomianism, was a distortion of the teachings of the Apostles.(4) Peter seems to refer to this distortion when he accuses “unstable” teachers of “wresting the scriptures unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). They “give themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh [a reference to sexual perversions]” (Jude 7). They “walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness . . . having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls” (2 Pet. 2:10, 14).
Pride. Perhaps the most insidious and most destructive of these teachers are the ones motivated by pride. “They speak great swelling words of vanity,” says Peter. They are “murmurers, complainers,” says Jude, “having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.” “Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” (2 Peter 2:10, 18; Jude 16)
With this urgent alarm against the false teachers came a firm warning that the Church itself could be brought down by these destructive departures from the faith. “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not” (Jude 5). In other words, the favor of God can turn to wrath if his people deliberately abandon their covenants. Such was the case when the Lord eventually withdrew the keys of the priesthood and the saving ordinances from the earth.
In our day we are faced with the same pattern of false teaching. Peter and Jude knew that the latter-day Saints would confront the same challenge.
“Remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 17-19). Also Peter prophesied “that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4).
These ancient apostles saw our day clearly. There are forces now in the world seeking to overturn faith by scoffing and mocking at it, insisting that there is no God and that all things shall continue as they always have. They promote immoral behavior, “walking after their own lusts,” for to them there is no moral law. They wrest the scriptures without authority, forgetting that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Peter warns these spreaders of falsehood, however, that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Pet. 3:10). And Jude points back to the prophecy of Enoch: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed” (Jude 14-15).
Against the pressure of worldly teachings, our challenge is to do today as Jude exhorts: “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (20-21). “Have compassion” for the suffering and “make a difference.” Do missionary work, “saving others . . . pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (22-23). To those who endure faithfully, Peter promises “the more sure word of prophecy” or the knowledge that one’s calling and election is made sure. The Prophet Joseph explained, “The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up onto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood” (D&C 131:5).
Thankfully, we have a Savior to guide us. As we grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, He provides us through his divine power “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet.1:3). Jude makes this glorious promise: as we continue faithful, patiently serving and striving to be like Him, the Savior “is able to keep [us] from falling, and to present [us] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 22). May it be so.
 Anderson, Richard L. “Peter’s Letters: Progression for the Living and the Dead,” Ensign, Oct. 1991, p. 7
2 Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple: Its Ministry and Services. Hendrickson Publishers, 1994, p. 251-2.
3 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Fielding Smith, ed. Deseret Book Company, 1974, p. 150, 305.
4 Robinson, Stephen E., “The Law after Christ,” Ensign, Sept. 1983, p. 69