The list before us in this series comprises a wholesale departure from law and order, from righteousness and morality, and from tradition and experience. It speaks of a breathtaking avalanche of unholiness that sweeps everything in its path down from a glistening peak of truth and righteousness to the deepest valley of sin, burying all at the bottom under the crushing weight of a pile of rebellion. Any one of these sins is terrible, but in the aggregate they call for (and will receive) the judgment of the seven-year tribulation period. Following is the fifteenth peril about which Paul warns us to be wary.
“Men shall be . . . traitors” (II Tim. 3:4). Treacherous is the way the NASB translates the Greek. Strong’s defines it as “ 'a surrender' (to the enemy).” Various other authorities define the word as “disposed toward betrayal,” or simply, “betrayers.” We recognize the word in its political and military context. Benedict Arnold of the American Revolutionary War and Vidkun Quisling who betrayed Norway during World War II are prime examples of traitors. But the Scripture is not making reference to this kind of natural treachery, though the principle is the same, but to the betrayal that is happening in the realm of spiritual truth.
The Scripture speaks of some who “shall depart from the faith” (I Tim. 4:1) and of a time preceding the rapture of the church and the judgment of the tribulation when there will be “a great falling away [apostasy]” (II Thes. 2:3). These speak of a general declension and of a nearly universal rejection of the truth. Traitors, or betrayers, are apostates with a vengeance. The word traitor is used in only two other places in the New Testament, most significantly, in reference to Judas Iscariot, whom Luke identifies as the one “which also was the traitor” (6:16). It is in this context that we can see the true heinousness of this sin.
Like Judas, those who commit treachery have done so from the vantage point of blessing. They have been privy to the truth, and have not merely rejected it and gone their own way in private rebellion, but they actively seek to undermine the truth and harm those who preach it to the eternal detriment of their followers. A betrayer is one who, though pretending to be faithful to the truth, seeks to subvert it. He is a malicious hypocrite.
While a political traitor might be responsible for the overthrow of a government or the death of his enemies, the traitors identified in our text are responsible for the spiritual death of those they betray. Teaching and preaching error in the name of God, they lead the unwary to trust in a false hope and seal their eternal judgment.
Matthew warned against “false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Treachery against the truth and those who stand upon it is exceptionally grievous because it is so destructive. The dreadfulness of treachery lies in its two elements. The first is that of deceit. Underneath the appearance of a friendly, harmless sheep crouches a wolf. The second is that of viciousness. The purpose of the deception is to enable the wolf to prey upon the weak, the young, and the unwary. Christendom is filled with wolves clothed as sheep, men who profess to be ministers of God, preachers of the Word, teachers of the truth, but who in actuality use the Word of God (the sheep’s clothing) to confuse their hearers and extort gain from them. They sell out the truth in order to advantage themselves. We should constantly be wary of the perils of spiritually treacherous men.
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