What Does 2 Peter 3:9 Teach?

There are many in the Christian community who believe that God wants to save all men, based in part on 2 Peter 3:9 (KJV): 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. It seems clear to many that this verse teaches exactly that – God wants all men to come to faith in Christ Jesus. Since it is just as clear that not all men do come to faith in Christ Jesus, something else is needed. Enter Charles Finney and his “new methods” and other things within our control. Is this what honors our Creator and King?  bibleTeaching

This short article is not a comprehensive examination of any “new methods” nor of the overall nature of the atonement – Is it intended for all men or only for those chosen by God to be saved? I simply want to examine the question, What does 2 Peter 3:9 teach? As with all such questions, we run to the first rule of hermeneutics – context! What does the paragraph teach, what does the chapter and book teach? What does the whole Bible teach about the topic?

The first contextual element gives clear evidence of the intended meaning of verse 9. Let’s read the paragraph in which this verse appears. It is widely agreed that a new paragraph starts with verse 8, although where the paragraph ends appears to be another matter. The ESV is shown below.

2 Peter 3:8 – 10 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Peter opens this paragraph addressing his audience: the beloved, his brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever comes directly after this is intended for Christians, not for the world. The main idea presented in this paragraph is that our Lord is not tied to calendars and time, that His promise to the elect is a sure thing that will come to pass, culminating in a dramatic event that cannot be missed.

Verse 9 begins with a clear indication of the subject of the Lord’s desire: YHWH is patient toward you (ESV), or longsuffering to us-ward (KJV). God is patient towards the beloved, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Not wishing that any of what group should perish? If we take verse 9b out of its context, we are free to imagine that Creator God wants to save everybody. As I observed in the opening, that brings in all sorts of questions and has serious consequences on our theology of salvation.  But if we allow the Word of God to guide us, the immediate context tells about whom verse 9 speaks. YHWH is addressing His beloved, and towards them He is patient, not willing that any of His redeemed lose heart but trust Him to bring to completion that which He started, as YHWH Himself builds His temple (1 Cor 3:9 & 16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16) with the spiritual stones (Eph 2:19 – 22; 1 Peter 2:4 & 5) He has chosen. To claim verse 9 shows that YHWH desires all men to be saved actually works violence on the Scriptures, leading one to conclude the Creator and Sustainer and Judge of all things is unable to bring His desires to pass – contrary to what is declared about Him in Psalms 115:3 and 135:6.

When our interpretation of Scripture puts limits on God (beyond what the Bible describes, in that He cannot lie nor can He stop being YHWH), we know our interpretation is wrong. Every instance I know of wherein men do such a thing has been founded on a view of man that is too high and a view of God that is too low. Rather than attempt to bring God down to our understanding, we should bow before Him as revealed in Scripture and worship Him in humility.

Before we take a look at the greater context within this letter, it will be helpful to review the overall structure of this letter. Chapter 1 has a short greeting with an emphatic description of the believer’s positon and security in Christ Jesus, and an exhortation regarding the truth of the gospel. Chapter 2 is a warning about false teachers, their characteristics and their doom. Chapter 3 turns again to the believers to provide comfort in the promises of God, His power over all creation, and the beautiful culmination of His grand plan of redemption of sinners, with words of instruction to continue to learn about our Lord until He returns.

Now let’s see if there be any reason to overturn the clear meaning of our subject paragraph. Chapter 3 begins in much the same way as verse 8, as Peter addresses the audience of his letter as “beloved”, contrasting these dear brothers and sisters with scoffers and false prophets who question whether Christ will return. And in passage that ends this chapter, and the letter, Creator God addresses His people as “beloved” in verse 14 and 17, connecting them with this characterization with the Apostle Paul in verse 15.

The letter begins with a greeting to the saints, who are the beloved: Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Every sentence in this chapter is addressed to these saints, and we see the first use of the word “beloved” in verse 17 as it is used to describe God the Father’s view of His Son. There can be no argument that being called “beloved” in this letter is anything less than a glorious reference to our status as children of the most high God.

Since chapter 2 addresses believers indirectly, as Peter describes the enemies of God, we have nothing to add to our review of the topic in this chapter.

2 Peter begins and ends calling Christians “beloved”, as a reflection of our standing in Christ, and in verse 3:9 it is these people about whom Peter says God is patient towards and not willing that any of them would perish. This is not a half-baked promise to lost people that they can ask Jesus into their hearts and be saved. It is a glorious promise to Christians that those chosen before time (Eph 1:4; Rev 13:8) will be raised from spiritual death to new life in Christ Jesus before that terrible day of judgment. When He returns, one time, it will be bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him (Heb 9:28), those who have been called (John 6:36 – 44). Verse 9 is a promise from God that God will keep His promise to save every sinner He chose – none will perish, but all will come to faith and repentance. Let the saints praise His name!

13 thoughts on “What Does 2 Peter 3:9 Teach?

  1. The preacher of my church preached from 2 Peter 3:8ff and ended with a heavy emphasis on verse fragment 9b, out of context. I wrote this to show who are those are that will not perish but come to repentance and faith. It’s so obvious from the immediate context that it makes me weep at his willful neglect of the Word. And here’s his reply to me: “Your misinterpretation of this passage is atrocious. Please take me off your e-mail list. Again I say to you repent and follow the truth.” He had previously called me a heretic for believing in predestination and called me to repent from that.

    I’ve asked him for a biblical defense of his view. Nothing other than this, so far. sigh

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  2. I so enjoyed this article. I am still fairly new to the doctrines of sovereign grace although I have been a born again Christian for over 30 years. It is just in the last 3 years or so that through the patience of a dear friend who has since gone on to glory that my eyes have been opened to His wonderful grace and mercy. I’m sorry that your Pastor not only rejects the doctrine but so vehemently. It seems to me that the very suggestion of predestination and election brings out a rage from many who call themselves born again Christians. Sadly I am surrounded as many of your readers are by Arminians and I attend a church that follows that doctrine. There are no Sovereign Grace Churches anywhere in the area I live in. I am so grateful for the many online resourses. Although I think I need to start downloading them before it is all removed from the internet. I am so privileged to be a saved by grace not works. What a burden has been lifted from me.

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  3. it is apparent that all churches ought to teach the art and science of hermeneutics. They should also teach the laws of logic. I believe that the utter absence of these two disciplines are at the core of most of the confusion that leads to doctrinal confusion and disunity. I appreciate presuppositional apologetics but not presuppositional theological obscurantism.

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  4. Thanks for the encouragement, my fellow saints. I am convinced that we are all born again as Arminians, as all we can only discern with our natural senses at first. We must be brought to the Scriptures to see the work completed by the Godhead before we responded to His saving grace.

    To God alone be the glory and honor and dominion forever!

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  5. Finnegan, God directs EVERYTHING to the end He has chosen. He also holds man responsible for what he does – having given man a conscience and the general revelation of Himself so that no man has excuse.

    As with O.T. Joseph, at the end of that story he said of all the trouble his brothers put him through that “God meant it for good.” He didn’t say God used it for good. God intended it, designed it, ordained it for good.

    You are saved by grace through faith because God chose, before the foundation of the world, to save you (in time). From the same lump of clay (reminding us that He formed Adam from the dust) He makes some vessels for honor and some for dishonor; and the clay has no right to ask the Potter, “Why have you made me this way?”

    Those who are not saved were not chosen, predestined, to be saved – so they are left to inherit hell. Which is what all humans deserve. Praise the Lord, we who have been and will be saved do not get what we deserve – we get what we don’t deserve! All by the grace of God, for the glory of His name.

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  6. Finnegan, when the angels were on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the wickedness of the people there, they met Abraham. Abraham, conscious that his nephew Lot lived in Sodom and desirous that Lot and his family be saved from destruction, implored them, one of whom was the LORD, to have mercy.

    Abraham proceeded to pepper the angels with repeated questions that implied the righteousness of God in His judgment of the two cities. From 50 “righteous” souls, Abraham repeated his question until the number was reduced to 10.

    Note that there must have been a population of some size in Sodom and Gomorrah, but the population are all individual souls. Are we to suppose that, save for Lot and his family, there were not any other souls that were like Lot? Are we to suppose that not one were redeemable? Indeed, it would seem that God did not intend to save anyone else!

    We do not know the mind of God; only God knows Himself perfectly. We also cannot see and understand from God’s perspective, unless He chooses to reveal it to us. However, in the midst of Abraham’s “pestering” questions, Abraham asked a most perceptive rhetorical question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Rhetorical or not, the answer obviously is that God the righteous Judge always does right.

    This means that if the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had the opportunity, so to speak, to repent of their sins and come to the Lord in faith and obedience, they would reject Him.

    Put it this way, we leave in countries where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is within reach and easily accessible. Tell me, what about those who live in isolated communities where they have never heard the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation? How would they ever be saved without the Gospel? What about people-groups that are held captive under their religions, such as those in the Middle East?

    As sinners, they are under the wrath of God and the eternal penalty that entails. But the Judge of the earth shall do right. God knows the end from the beginning. If a sinner left to himself would be saved, God would do right not to let that person perish.

    In any case, God does the choosing; hence, the doctrine of predestination. There is no answer which is fully satisfying to our sense of logic, or even the sense of fairness. But predestination is not about fairness; it is about God’s gracious salvation of those whom He would save. Nobody deserves to be saved.

    If you have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and you reject Christ as your personal Saviour, you can have no complain that God is unfair.

    I hope my input will help in some way to advance the discussion.

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  7. In addition to Jeremy’s good feedback, I would point out that Joshua was not offering the Hebrews eternal life. He was telling them that YHWH would provide for them (food, prosperity, etc.) if they followed Him and they would suffer at the hands of enemies (His agents to chastise them) if they didn’t.

    This serves as a type or temporal example of an eternal or spiritual truth, as the Lord pointed out in Hebrews chapters 3 & 4.

    Man, being by nature spiritually dead can not choose to be made alive. Those predestined by God and saved in time will respond to Him and never perish. God alone is the faithful One. He alone saves, He alone secures.

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  8. Finnegan – very good! All humans have freedom to choose things within their nature. A person dead spiritually can not choose anything truly good.

    Yes – we DO rejoice being saved by grace! To God alone be the glory!

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  9. Finnegan – I don’t think it’s a silly question. God is sovereign over sin and death and to Him alone belongs the choosing of upon whom He will bestow His saving grace. I think it’s wrong to call it arbitrary; it’s God’s wisdom and grace and He is not arbitrary, though we might see Him that way.

    We are ALL spiritually dead, children of wrath, by nature. Just as David declared, we were sinful in our mother’s womb.

    God chose some to bring glory to His name and left others to their just deserts.

    It is not our job to tell individual people they are going to hell; it’s our job to warn that there IS a hell and all men deserve it and that the only refuge is found in Christ! We should warn men, plead with men to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, for in Him is life! It is truth that all who do not turn to Him in this life have no hope in the next. But God alone knows who He will save. We see evidence after the fact.

    Honest questions are always welcome.

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  10. Finnegan – We warn men to flee from the wrath of God because that’s what we see the Apostles doing and because we don’t know who will be saved. Predestination IS a done deal – but we humans only see the results in the rear view mirror. Since we know SOME will be saved, but don’t which ones, we give the same gospel and warnings to all.

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  11. Finnegan. I’ve said this already. We do not know who God will save. Of 10 men you may be witnessing to, He alone who, if any, will be saved. It is NOT beating the air with your fists because God has commanded us to proclaim His gospel to all men. We are obedient to His commands, trusting Him with the results. Predestination is what I have said it is: God’s predetermined plan to save some sinners and not others. His plan. We participate by being ambassadors of His gospel, which is NOT telling everyone how much God loves them and has a plan for their lives. Bill Bright taught that, not YHWH.

    All men are lost unless they have been chosen by God unto salvation. So all men get the gospel and warnings, knowing God will be faithful to attend His message and save those sinners He had chosen.

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