2 Peter 3:9
Next to John 3:16, probably the most misinterpreted Bible verse is 2 Peter 3:9, which reads, by itself, “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).”
Those who regularly misinterpret this passage will focus on the misconstrued idea that God does not wish (or will) for any people, anywhere, and throughout history to perish (second death). They will attach the “any” to the “all” in the next clause. Instantly they fit this verse into their system of God’s universal love (John 3:16 misinterpreted) to all people (even those He sent to eternal punishment in eternal hell). Universal love leads to the wrong conclusion, which is universal redemption by Christ (1 John 2:2 misinterpreted), meaning Jesus paid-in-full the sins of everyone who has ever lived, thus, appeasing the wrath of God against all humanity, which is not true.
Despising the proposition that this is universal salvation (Universalism), many will then invent a conditional covenant that demands a conditional salvation. In this unbiblical covenant, God has done His part by sending Christ, but now it is up to the free will decision of spiritually dead men, to wisely let Jesus save them. The natural outcome of misinterpreting this text (2 Pet 3:9), coupled with others (ie. Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2, etc.), is to put sinful man into the controlling position of determining his own salvation. This is merely one fragment of the whole system of man-centered theology.
Rejecting the longstanding heresies of Pelagianism, Socinianism, and Arminianism, we must return to our verse to exegete the author’s intended meaning. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20–21), desired either the church or all men everywhere, to be comforted with the idea that God’s will purposed their salvation. Which is it?
First, we note the key pronoun, “you.” The near referent is “beloved” in 2 Peter 3:1. Peter has also previously addressed his audience as, “those who have received a faith, of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).” So we can see that the church is who Peter is referring to when he employs the pronoun, “you.”
Immediately, we conclude that God does not wish for any of His church to perish, and He is being patient so that all of the elect of God will be born and receive the grace of repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and the gift of faith (Eph 2:8–9; Phil 1:29), so to receive so great a salvation exclusively accomplished by our Triune God. The end of the world and history will not come until this occurs. Not one of His own sheep will be lost or plucked from His hand (Jn 10:28–29) or be separated from His everlasting love (Jer 31:3; Rom 8:31–39).
Second, we see from the context (which is what Universalists ignore) that there is more than just God’s will for the salvation of His church. He has an intentional purpose for humanity, in general, much as He did during Noah’s day (Gen 6–9). The context of 2 Peter 3 is eschatological. The Day of the Lord is in view (Mt 24–25; Mk 13; Lk 21; 1 Thess 4:13–5:11; Rev 19:11–21), and some unbelievers are mocking the believers because Jesus has not yet returned, as He promised. They are questioning our Lord’s integrity.
The context shows us in 2 Peter 3:9 that God is comforting His people, “you.” The larger context reveals two groups of people in view. God’s people are being comforted with the fact that God is willing and doing the salvation of all His beloved (Phil 2:13), while warning another group about God’s pending judgment against them. This is entirely missed by the mis-interpreters of 2 Peter 3:9. So we ask, “Who are the people of this other group? Since God is obviously not willing for their salvation, what is their judgment?”
The other group is identified in 2 Peter 2:1–22. In this lengthy section, these wicked people Peter describes in the whole of chapter 2, are the “ungodly men,” who God is keeping for the Day of Judgment. They served as false prophets and false teachers, who promoted destructive heresies, some of which were already named, previously. Their destruction is looming. The very patience of God, which they scoff at in 2 Peter 3, is the very thing that separates them from the fire of destruction (Mt 5:22; 18:9; Jude 7; Rev 20:14–15). This is not God’s grace for them; but rather, a consequence of His patience toward His chosen people (Eph 2:7).
Third, we must now consider how illogical it is for God to will that not any (universal) will perish, while He Himself is keeping the ungodly for His day of judgment and destruction of them by fire (2 Pet 2:9). God did not spare the fallen angels (2 Pet 2:4), nor did He grant salvation to the generation of Noah, nor the city of Lot, nor will the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22) find a way of escape from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10). The Lord knows how to deliver the righteous, while He keeps the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Pet 2:9). There is a clear delineation.
In summary, we have considered the common misinterpretation of 2 Peter 3:9. We have rejected the universalism (e. g. love, redemption, salvation) read into the text. From this verse, we have correlated the key pronoun “you,” showing it to refer to Christians (2 Pet 1:1; 3:1). Next, we looked at the larger context and showed that Peter’s eschatology was explained to comfort the faithful beloved in the churches of northern Asia Minor.
In broadening the context, we saw Peter’s polemic against ungodly men — false teachers — who brought heretical teaching into the church.
In conclusion, we have two very different groups in view. The righteous are Peter’s audience, comforted by the truth that God does not wish any of His elect, redeemed, regenerate, beloved to perish. The unrighteous, troublers of the churches, bring in false teaching, proven by the texts they abuse, such as 2 Peter 3:9.
Our encouragement must be, to make sure we are learning and doing proper hermeneutics. The destructive heresies, invented by bad Bible interpretation, are voluminous.
Our blessing is that we know from 2 Peter 3:9 that God’s will, and the reason for His patience in these last days, is that none of His own, known to Him from before the foundation of the world and predestined to salvation, will be lost. None of them will perish; and all of them granted repentance will indeed repent because He saved us (Titus 3:5), and we are the people of His own possession (1 Pet 2:9), chosen of God (Dt 7:6; Col 3:12), those for whom Christ died (Mt 1:21; Eph 5:25; 1 Pet 2:24).
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 31, 2022