Last time we kicked off this “Misunderstood Verses” blog series with John 3:16. As is the case for any verse in Scripture, we are prone to read into the text things that are simply not there, mostly based upon our presuppositions about theology. The same thing can be said about 2 Peter 3:9, a verse ripped out of context to somehow justify universal redemption:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (ESV)
Generally speaking, some people take this verse to mean that God is sitting around, patiently waiting for people to hurry up and choose him. After all, it is assumed, doesn’t God get what God wants? I mean, He is sovereign, right? And if He is not willing that anyone on earth should perish, then what’s the deal? At worse this is a text that, if interpreted like I just outlined, leads to universalism. (Everyone will reach repentance because God doesn’t will anyone to perish, which means that God will save everyone!). At best this becomes a misunderstood, misapplied verse somehow meaning that man is neutral with a free will, and that God’s hands are tied because they won’t exercise said free will and come to him, so God has to wait until they do so. “See, God is not willing that any should perish! They need to accept Jesus into their hearts because God is not willing!” But is that what it really means?
It might be helpful again to do some language work, and I will put the words in question in bold:
οὐ / βραδύνει / κύριος / τῆς
Not / is slow / Master / of the
ἐπαγγελίας / ὥς / τινες / βραδύτητα
promise / as / some / slowness
ἡγοῦνται / ἀλλὰ / μακροθυμεῖ / εἰς
consider / but / is long tempered / to
ὑμᾶς / μὴ / βουλόμενός / τινας
you / not / planning / some
ἀπολέσθαι / ἀλλὰ / πάντας / εἰς
to destroy / but / all / into
μετάνοιαν / χωρῆσαι.
change of mind / to make room.
Before I analyze some of these words, we have to remember that context is king. Though a popular tactic, ripping a verse out of its immediate context does damage to the text and also opens the door to bad theology. The entire context of the passage is the apostle’s affirmation to his friends that the scoffers who are being misleading are wrong (2 Peter 3:4). False teachers were denying that Jesus would return in judgment, and the irony is that their scoffing is evidence of the last days (2 Peter 3:3). Peter goes on to assure his readers that God will in fact bring the world into judgment (2 Pet. 3:7; 10).
Question: who is Peter writing to? Answer: “This is the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved…” (3:1) Wait, so there’s a first letter? Who was that written to? Answer: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…” (1 Peter 1:1). Peter is writing to the elect–to believers who are holding fast to Jesus. If you miss this, you miss the entire point of what Peter is saying in this verse. He’s writing to Christians, the “beloved” of Jesus (2 Peter 3:1).
Why is this important? Because in the Greek above, you’ll see that the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise (which refers to His coming in verse 4), but is patient towards…wait for it…you (eis hymas; “toward you”). Who is “you”? In context, it is the beloved of 3:1. In other words, “Christ will return in judgment, don’t listen to the scoffers, and though you are suffering, remember that God is not slow, but patient. You can endure.”
The question then becomes, why? Why is God patient, or “long tempered” (makrothymei) towards the elect? Because He is not planning, or wishing, or willing that any (tinas) should perish (apolesthai, which often refers to final judgment and condemnation in Scripture), but that “all” (pantas) should reach repentance. Is Peter saying that “all” means everyone in the world without exception? The context says no. To assert that it means everyone on earth is to bring a theological presupposition to the text instead of allowing the text to speak for itself. The “all” is in conjunction with “you”.
Peter’s Christian friends have to remember that the delay in judgment is a reminder of God’s mercy and forbearance towards them (the Christians), and that the false teachers are wrong. Why does God delay his judgment? Repentance. He desires all of his elect to reach repentance. He is not willing that any of his elect perish. Jesus says the same thing in John 6:39, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” If you are a Christian reading this, aren’t you glad that Christ didn’t return in judgment against you before He brought you to Himself?
To assert that this text means that God wills everyone to repent and be saved is to commit a gross error in exegesis.
Now, before I end, I will leave a cliff-hanger. Does God desire all people to be saved? In one sense, yes. In another sense, no. My next post will deal with 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
We will discuss the different senses of God’s “will” in Scripture, and analyze the context of the verse with the hope of bringing clarity to an often misunderstood verse.
Grace and Peace. Christ is King.