Just what DOES 2nd Peter 3:9 mean, anyway?

whitefield JohnWesley

(Left: George Whitefield; Right: John Wesley. Two men who differed greatly concerning election, yet for all their differences, accorded the other as being very devout and godly men. Should we disagree, may we be as charitable.)

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Yesterday morning, in a group prayer before worship service, one of the fellows in the group quoted 2nd Peter 3:9 in the usual manner we hear so many people (mis)use it so often. Now, keep in mind, I dearly love this brother and I am not going to call someone a heretic just because they think this verse means that God wants every single person to be saved. But this IS the word of God we are talking about, and we do need to understand what God is saying, and what He is NOT saying. With that in mind, and with humble submission to His word, let us delve into this passage. And to do so, to keep it in context, we actually have to go back to verse 1, and begin there. That said, here is the passage in its entirety. 2nd Peter 3:1-9

1 Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), 2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 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 creation.” 5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

When studying any passage of Scripture, certain things need to be considered:

  1. Who was it written to?
  2. Why was it written?
  3. What idea was the author trying to convey?

So, let’s take these one at a time.

1) Who was 2nd Peter written to?

To answer this question we can look immediately at 2nd Peter 3:1, and we can also go back to 1st Peter 1:1-2 as well as 2nd Peter 1:1.
1st Peter 1:1-2Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
2nd Peter 1:1Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
2nd Peter 3:1Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle

So, this letter was written to the same people who received his first letter. These are, of course, believers–saints, holy ones, the saved, the brethren, the elect.

Of course, being the Word of God, it was written to us as well. Not simply to convey a message to that group of believers then, but also those of us who live today.

2) Why was it written?

It was written for two reasons:

  • A) To warn believers that there would come into their midst false teachers who would bring destructive heresies. As he writes in 2nd Peter 2:1-3But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.
  • B) To encourage believers to continue looking for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had to do so because there were many who were saying that because Christ had not returned yet that He wasn’t going to. 2nd Peter 3:3-4scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 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 creation.”

3) What idea was the author trying to convey?

Peter’s message in this epistle is simple: Just because Christ has not returned yet does not mean He isn’t going to. In 2nd Peter 3:2-3, he encourages the reader to be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets…knowing that scoffers will come in the last days. He is exhorting them to remain faithful to the One who is always Faithful, and to wait for His appearance with patience, and to be found without spot and blameless, and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation (2nd Peter 3:14-15).

So, what does this all mean for 2nd Peter 3:9? Does this mean that the way the Arminian views this verse is not correct? Or does this verse teach that God desires all men to be saved? (After all, isn’t that what we read in 1st Tinothy 2:4? Well, more on that verse another time). To answer these two questions: this verse DOES NOT TEACH that God wants ALL PEOPLE to be saved.

So…

  • Who is this written to? The saved, the brethren, the elect.
  • Why was it written? Because there were going to be false teachers slithering their way into the church.
  • What was the idea he was trying to express? To exhort the saved, the brethren, the elect to continue looking for the second coming of Christ.

Which brings us to 2nd Peter 3:9. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. Here we have what I call a “throwaway phrase.” It’s one of those phrases that many people just kinda skim over, they repeat it because it’s there–but otherwise, they usually chop it out. Can we do that with ANY Scripture? God forbid! If the Holy Spirit spoke it, um, do you think there might be a REASON? Absolutely!

The Lord is not slack. Why does he say that? To stir the people up to patience, to remind them that if God promises something, He will do it (cf. Philippians 1:6), to keep them grounded in their faith to God.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. STOP! LOOK AT THE WORD ‘PROMISE.’ Is this singular, or plural? Singular! I will be forever indebted to A. W. Pink for pointing this out (in The Soverignty of God). The word ‘promise’ is singular, as in ‘promise,’ not ‘promises.’ So, what is the promise he is speaking of? The promise of Christ’s return. God is not tardy concerning the return of our Lord.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some count slackness. These false teachers were going to come along and say, “See, Jesus hasn’t returned yet! Didn’t He say He was coming again ‘Soon’?” But that is man’s reckoning. God does things in His own timing. Which is why Peter wrote in the preceding verse that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (We won’t go into how Theistic Evolutionist types jerk this verse out as some kind of ‘proof-text’). If God tarries 10,000 years–is that not ‘soon’ for Him? He is eternal, what’s a few years?

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us. STOP!! STOP RIGHT THERE!!! Here we come to the crux of the matter. WHO is God longsuffering toward?? US!! Who is US? Is it the lost? Is it the entire world? NO!! He is longsuffering toward THE ELECT, not WILLING any of us to perish, but that ALL of those whom He has chosen should come to repentance. (Note: some translations say He is longsuffering toward “you” instead of “us”, a simple matter of whether the Greek is “umas” (you, pl.) or “hmas” (us). However, this does not change the meaning, as “you” would STILL be referring to the elect). After all, if the Holy Spirit had wanted to make it clear that He was referring to ALL MEN, I think He could have worked that in there.

Which brings us to where Peter says that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Two questions to ponder:

  1. Who is the “any” He is not willing should perish? Say it with me! The elect. He is not willing that any He has chosen should perish before the coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. If He has chosen one to be saved, then that person shall not perish until they have come to salvation.
  2. Who is the “all” that will come to repentance? You know. God is not willing that any of the elect should die without repenting of their sins and trusting in Christ as their Savior. This is what Methodists refer to as “prevenient grace.” They believe it to be the grace of God in prolonging the life of a person until they have had the chance to repent. They are close–oh, so close–but as much as I admire John Wesley, I believe this is where we must disagree, for the grace of God in prolonging the life of one (such as I) is not so they have the chance to be saved–but because He chose them before ever the world began, He will prolong the life of His elect until they are saved!

I do hope this has helped to shed some much-needed light on a passage that is so misunderstood by many well-intentioned people (and by some not-so-well-intentioned). We must never discount ANY words of Scripture, for they are given for our edification and that we may grow in grace and knowledge.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit!

17 thoughts on “Just what DOES 2nd Peter 3:9 mean, anyway?

  1. Whilst I agree brother 2 Peter 3:9 is talking about the elect. I can’t understand why there’s so much time spent arguing over this verse, especially when 1 Tim 2:3-4 and Ezekiel 18:23 clearly teaches that God desires all men to be saved. And Mat 23:37 Jesus desired the Jews now in Hell to be saved.

    Of course in one sense He has a special will for His chosen to be saved and He makes sure they are. But in another sense God desire all men to be saved.

  2. Such solid exposition of Scripture is sooooooo good for the soul of the redeemed.

    As you noted, this passage is soooo abused and twisted by the Arminians.

    I’ve read a detailed biography of George Whitefield and marvel his gracious attitude toward the Wesleys, even when differing on essentials of the faith.

    Considering how Arminian faith denies the sufficiency of Christ, I consider it heresy. I, therefore, have a difficult time reckoning a true Arminian as a brother in Christ.

  3. Kevin,

    Maybe I’m missing the point of your comment here, because it seems that you are making a distinction without a difference. You agree with the assertion that 2 Peter 3:9 plainly has in view the God’s salvific will towards His elect, but then you toss in an odd reference to God’s desire for all mankind universally to be saved, as if that’s somehow germane to the discussion at hand.

    Please understand that it’s not my intent to be snarky or rude, on the contrary I’m simply befuddled by the seemingly unrelated throwaway at the end of your comment. Maybe you could clear up my confusion by expanding upon your thoughts?

    Interestingly John Calvin had somewhat to say on this subject: “Again, when the sophists seize on this passage, to prove free will, and to set aside the secret predestination of God, the answer is easy. “God wills to gather all men,” say they; “and therefore all are at liberty to come, and their will does not depend on the election of God.” I reply: ‘The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result. For since by his word he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself.’ It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God, but his will, which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man.

    Presumably you wouldn’t disagree with this position, as you have already stated your agreement with the proper exegesis of 2 Pet. 3:9, and as I understand it you are a staunch, classical Calvinist, thus your soteriology is “informed by the reformed”.

    But for what it’s worth, brother Calvin and I disagree with your interpretation of Matthew 23:37 as you’ve articulated it above. Christ was inveighing condemnation upon obstinate Jerusalem in this passage, not helplessly wringing his hands over her.

    From his Institutes:

    1) But, you will say, if this is so, there will be little faith in the gospel promises, which, in testifying to the will of God, assert that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable decree. Not at all. For however universal the promises of salvation may be, they are still in no respect inconsistent with the predestination of the reprobate, provided we pay attention to their effect. When we receive the promises in faith, we know that then and only then do they become effective in us. On the contrary, when faith is snuffed out, the promise is abolished at the same time. If this is their nature, let us see whether they disagree with one another. God is said to have ordained from eternity those whom he wills to embrace in love, and those upon whom he wills to vent his wrath. Yet he announces salvation to all men indiscriminately. I maintain that these statements agree perfectly with each other. For by so promising he merely means that his mercy is extended to all, provided they seek after it and implore it. But only those whom he has illumined do this. And he illumines those whom he has predestined to salvation. These latter possess the sure and unbroken truth of the promises, so that one cannot speak of any disagreement between God’s eternal election and the testimony of his grace that he offers to believers.

    But why does he say “all”? It is that the consciences of the godly may rest more secure, when they understand there is no difference among sinners provided faith be present. On the other hand, the wicked cannot claim they lack a sanctuary to which they may hide themselves from the bondage of sin, inasmuch as they, out of their own ungratefulness, reject it when offered. Therefore, since God’s mercy is offered to both sorts of men through the gospel, it is faith–the illumination of God–that distinguishes between pious and impious, so that the former feel the working of the gospel, while the latter derive no profit from it. Illumination itself also has God’s eternal election as its rule. Christ’s lament which they quote–“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,… how often would I have gathered your… chicks, and you would not!” [Matthew 23:37 p.]–gives them no support. I admit that Christ not only speaks in his character as man but also reproaches them with having refused his grace in every age.

    In Christ,
    CD

  4. The erroneous theories of Calvin only have a few scriptures on which to precariously stand.

    Also, this argument is self-contradictory. If the “any” and “all” refer to the “us,” meaning the elect, then wouldn’t they already have come to repentance, according to TULIP? That doesn’t make any sense if the “any” and the “all” are restricted only to the elect, who by Calvinists, not Biblicists, claim the elect are already saved, predestined, etc.

    My friends, you need to stop putting your ardent faith in CALVIN. Calvin is a man. The Bible does not support Calvinism. You have to let scripture interpret scripture. Either the “any” and “all” refer only to the “elect,” or it refers to all mankind, that God does not want any to be lost but all to be saved even though some will not come to repentance. There are many many scriptures that support the latter view. If one view is not consistent with the whole counsel/scripture of God then it is incorrect.

  5. Thank you Brother for your comforting exposition on this passage of Scripture. I happen to agree generally with your interpretation but it seems this has happened only by some miracle. In your article you draw attention to the idea of taking into account the whole counsel of God, not neglecting any part of the Word. You said –

    —“Which brings us to 2nd Peter 3:9. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. Here we have what I call a “throwaway phrase.” It’s one of those phrases that many people just kinda skim over, they repeat it because it’s there–but otherwise, they usually chop it out. Can we do that with ANY Scripture? God forbid! If the Holy Spirit spoke it, um, do you think there might be a REASON? Absolutely!”—

    Might I remind you that the writers of the NKJV, from which you have quoted, have chopped out many critical words from the original text. Grab your KJV and your NKJV and compare these verses: Acts 7:2,11:11,13:38; Mark 2:21; Matt 5:37, 18:26; Isa 9:3. And that’s just for starters.

    You also quote from several other translations, some of which I can not identify either because you have typed them inaccurately, or because I simply don’t have access to them. However, most of your quotes from the Scriptures are from relatively unreliable sources. Why have you not made use of the KJV?

    It is most critical for expositional purposes that we indicate which Bible translation we are quoting from. We do not want to be making disciples for Westcott & Hort instead of Jesus Christ.

    Peter.

  6. Brother, since 1 Timothy 2:4 is mentioned. I’ll share with a dose of Spurgeon with you on that text:

    “What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which is fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends [he is speaking of James Wells, Gill and other hyper-Calvinists] deal with this text. ‘All men,’ say they, – ‘that is, some men': as if the Holy Ghost could not have said ‘some men’ if he had meant some men. ‘All men,’ they say; ‘that is, some sorts of men': as if the Lord could not have said ‘All sorts of men’ if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written ‘all men,’ and unquestionably he means all men. I know how to get rid of the force of the ‘alls’ according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth…I never thought it to be any very great crime to be so inconsistent with myself, for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it is a great crime to seem to be inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, ‘God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.'”

  7. Aren’t you glad He did not come in 71AD, 1650,1865 or 1901? We were not born yet. I am glad he is longsuffering and didn’t come in the 1960’s, during all the drugs and fee sex (when preachers were begging him to bring to return); I wasn’t born yet. He could not come back in 1981; (even though my name was all ready written in the Lambs Book of Life from the foundation of the world) I did not surrender to Him till 1982. He will not come back “till all the ransomed Church of God be saved to sin no more”. He knows who they are, and He will not lose one of them. You and I don’t know the time but the Father does, He elected each one on the list. Praise God!

  8. Here’s another shocker for you guys.

    “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

    -Revelation 3:5

    Everyone’s name is already written in the Lamb’s Book of life. Either God blots out our name when we do not repent and believe, or you can not be “once saved always saved.” How so? If only those who are the “elect” are in the Book of Life, then why does God talk about blotting out his name?

  9. So let me see if I understand your point, Wesley, and I do hope that you will take time to prayerfully AND biblically consider my previous comment on the “Who are the “Whosoever” of John 3:16″ post.

    Based on your interpretation of this verse, you believe that God has a big book full of pages that are covered sadly in “white-out” and that this heavenly “white-out” is covering the names of Hitler, Mussolini, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Caesar Augustus, Nero, and the billions of people who have never heard and those who have been really, REALLY vile wretches?

    So based upon that interpretation, you would then have to deny the immutability of God in that He does not change, the Sovereignty of God in that He rules over even the hearts of all, and at the very least would have to emphatically deny the Omniscience of God in that He is all-knowing. Would these be correct understandings of your theology? If not, why not and what Scripture would you stand on to show otherwise than what you have already claimed?

    Thanks for reading,
    The Desert Pastor

  10. Greetings all, and thank you for the feedback! May the conversation continue to be as kind as it has started. I will address Peter’s comments first.

    Peter,

    This will not devolve into a discussion of KJV-Onlyism. If you want to discuss that we have a thread (this one here) where that can be debated. Also, I have used ONLY the NKJV in this article. I’m not sure where you get the idea I used “many other translations.” I haven’t used the KJV for this article (although I have in various other threads) simply out of choice. That is the last word on THAT subject, any further comments on KJV-onlyism in this thread will be deleted. Not trying to be hateful, but we need to stick to the subject at hand.

    Wesley,

    The doctrines of grace (what many call “Calvinism”) are not erroneous, but are in fact based upon the Scriptures, and are not “precarious.” First of all, man is truly depraved and dead to God. I think on that issue we both agree. Romans 3:10-18–“There is none who seeks after God…there is no fear of God before their eyes.” And since there is nothing good in us (Romans 7:24-25) that has any desire to follow after God, or to please Him, and are indeed dead enemies of God (Romans 8:7-8; Ephesians 2:1), if ANYBODY was going to be saved God necessarily HAD TO choose some to be saved and sanctify them by His Spirit. He did this–not when we first believed–but before the world was ever made. Unless we try to say that Paul meant something else when he wrote that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4-5). After all, he did not say that God chose us after we decided to repent. The apostle Peter wrote that we were “chosen” (1st Peter 1:2). The Greek word is “eklektos,” meaning “picked out.”

    Revelation 17:8 indicates that the names of God’s chosen were written in the Book of Life “from the foundation of the world.” Had we been born yet? And whose names were written in the Book of Life “from the foundation of the world?” The elect of God, of course. The Scriptures are clear, there is nothing precarious about it.

    Also, Peter begins his second epistle by indicating it was being written to “those who have obtained like precious faith.” That word “obtained” is the Greek “lagchano,” and it literally means “obtained by lot” (the same word is used in Luke 1:9; in John 19:24; and Acts 1:17). Now, did Zacharias decide he was going to be high priest that day? No. Did the Roman soldier gambling for Jesus’ clothes decide he was going to win? No. Did Matthias decide he was going to replace Judas Iscariot? No, for as Proverbs 16:33 tells us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

    In fact, in 1st Peter 2:9, he uses two different words to describe our being chosen. “You are a chosen (eklektos) generation, royal priesthood, a chosen (peripoiesis; peculiar, KJV) people.” That word “peripoiesis” means “preserved, possession, preservation.” It has the connotation of something that has been set aside and kept for one’s self. Paul uses it again in 2nd Thessalonians 2:13, when he writes of those to whom God will send a strong delusion “that they may be damned.” But, he says of us, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” When was “the beginning?” See Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 for that answer.

    To conclude, we see over and over again in the writings of the apostles that we are chosen by God; that this choosing took place before ever the world began; that we obtained our “like precious faith” by the lot of God.

    Kein,

    I may have to get off here in a minute, so if I don’t get to your questions, I will later.

    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

  11. Wesley,
    Rev 3:5 is not a threat of our loss of salvation, but rather a sweet promise of security. As fourpointer has said the Lamb’s book of life was written before Gen ch1. God told Jeremiah in Ch 1 verse 5 “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest fourth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations”. He is the potter of this clay we call life.

  12. The poster is laying big emphasis on the fact that the object “us” are the elect:

    —————
    Who is the “any” He is not willing should perish? Say it with me! The saved, the brethren, the elect.

    But Peter is addressing all church members, the “nominal christians”, including the false brethren:

    But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. (2nd Peter 2:1)

    Note, among YOU! The false teachers will arise out of the group Peter is writing to. People “among you” means “some of you”.

    See also 3:17
    Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.

    YOU shall not be carried away by heresies (and be worse off than before, like a ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’7 and, ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.’)

    YOU shall not fall from your secure position and become one of the “enticed people” spoken of in 2:18 :

    For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.

    Thus, Peter isn’t only speaking to the saved!

  13. problemoto,

    I will agree that I may have made an error in using the words “saved” and “brethren,” which is why I have gone back and removed that word. But I do still believe Peter to be using the word “us” to refer to the elect.

  14. Also to consider:

    Joh 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP.

    Eph 1:4 even as HE CHOSE US in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, ACCORDING TO THE PURPOSE OF HIS WILL,

    Eph 1:11 In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him WHO WORKS ALL THINGS ACCORDING to the counsel of HIS WILL,

    Acts 13: 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and ALL WHO WERE APPOINTED for eternal life BELIEVED.

    Rom. 8: 30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those he justified, he also glorified

    Joh 17:9 I am praying for them. I AM NOT PRAYING FOR THE WORLD but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

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