"(4) For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (5) and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; (6) and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; (7) and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (8) (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), (9) then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, (10) and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.” (2 Peter 2:4–10a, NASB95)
There is a lot packed into this sentence! We have here three specific instances of God acting in the past against evil as a loud statement of His power to exact judgment and even rescue others in the process. Having done this, God has declared that He will continue to do so reliably in the future which all points to His final judgment for which the world still awaits. This is something that His righteousness demands as we read in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9. "For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” (2 Thessalonians 1:6–9, NASB95)
Starting with verse 4 we read that He did not even spare angels when they sinned against Him. This includes the foremost of them, the one we know as Lucifer as was translated in the King James Bible, but who is referred to in most modern translations as the star of the morning, the son of the dawn (Isaiah 14:12). Isaiah went on to record for us that Lucifer who we know more commonly as the Devil or Satan, sinned against God in this way: “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. (14) ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Isaiah 14:13–14, NASB95) His ego and pride led to his great fall and judgment as we also read, “Your pomp and the music of your harps have been brought down to Sheol; Maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering.” … “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:15, NASB95) And, it is the same judgment for all of the other angels who rebelled with him.
But here it verse 4 it seems like there were some angels who judgment was more immediate and which may be a reference to Genesis 6:1-4 where we read, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:1–4, NASB95)
In Job we find these “sons of God” mentioned again, and from the context it appears that with Satan included in the context that these sons of God are angels. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” (Job 1:6, NASB95) … “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7, NASB95)
Evidently these fallen angels had taken on the form of men and were seen as giants who then took for themselves wives from among men. The next words of Genesis paint a drastic picture for us of the condition of the earth at that time which led to the second picture of God’s judgment in our passage for today. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5–8, NASB95)
Reading on we know that all of mankind perished, and presumably even these sons of God were sent directly to Hell through the flood. Only Noah, his sons and their wives along with the animals on the ark survived. From all of humanity their numbers were brought down to eight from which God began anew. Following this, God made a covenant with Noah and He placed His bow in the sky as a reminder of that promise that that He would not destroy all of mankind with a flood in this way again. But that did not mean that God was finished with His judgment. Man was not cleansed and man continued to sin.
Moving to the next example in this passage we see that He did indeed exact his judgment on a people and bring about their total destruction, again except for some that He removed in advance. In verses 6-8 we continue to read, “and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds) ….
Lot is spoken of like Noah as a righteous man who lived in the oppression of evil. And just as God removed Noah and his family from the face of the earth through the ark prior to the flood, so did he remove Lot. This time rather than a flood on the whole world, it was by incinerating two cities because of the “sensual conduct of unprincipled men.”
Each of these examples point to the power of God to judge, but more than that to His power to execute judgment exactly. We find through them the words “if God” or “if he.” What comes next in verse 9 is the “then” that accompanies the “if.” If God can exact His exact judgment exactly as He intends then He surely can rescue as well. This is what we read in verse 9, “If God” … “(9) then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment….” Simply put, God is just as perfect in His judgment as He is in His rescuing. He knows how to do both perfectly, and because of that we can trust ourselves fully in His just and righteous hands. He can do both without limitation. He can keep the godly from temptation so that we can live victoriously in Him, and He can keep the unrighteous under punishment until such time that His judgment is fully exacted.
God had referred to these men of old who he rescued as righteous. Scripture declares that when we trust in Christ that we receive His righteousness put upon us. This means that there really are two camps. There are those who are declared righteous by faith and those who are unrighteous apart from it. God holds both and He can deal exactly right with each. For the righteous there is eternal life in the light of His presence and for the unrighteous there is forever darkness in Hell which has been reserved by God for them. The only thing that moves a person from one to another is the blood of Christ through faith.
Judgment is coming, and verse 10 tells us this is true, “especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.” This is seen in the examples spoken through Peter. In each of them the judged disregarded the authority of God and the ways of God to seek after their own desires and to please their own flesh. Rebellion against God only has one end, which is judgment. But as long as those who are in the camp are taking breath there remains hope that God will open their eyes to His truth, they will turn from their wicked ways, and trust in His Son to receive His gift of forgiveness.
Knowing the difference, we are to live as those who have been saved and set apart for righteousness, even rejecting the voices of evil as they clamor for our attention.