In my last post, I introduced the topic of God’s patience as mentioned in 2 Peter 3:9. I also mentioned that this is a highly debated verse, having two sides that cannot see eye to eye regarding who it is that God is patient toward.
This post explains which view I take and why I believe it is the right view. Remember–as Christians, we believe in objective truth and abhor the notion of relative truth. One view is right and the other is wrong, and our picture of God’s character will be determined by how we interpret this verse. Let’s finish this appetizer and get to the meat.
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.
(2 Peter 3:8-10 ESV)
First, allow me to point out the context. It is dangerous to attempt to interpret one verse, or even a paragraph, without looking at the full context. In Chapter 3 we find Peter reminding the recipients (“beloved”) that scoffers (mockers) will come, following their own sinful desires. They will mock the return of Christ and neglect to recall the judgment of the flood. In verse 7, we see that God’s next judgment will be by fire and is imminent.
Verse 8 is an interesting verse. Some have used it to claim that the Earth is really very old, since one day with the Lord is as a thousand years. However, I don’t think that’s what Peter meant. Peter just got through describing the judgment that is coming for the ungodly, the scoffers, those who mock God and Christ and His return, and now his mood changes. His passionate description of the coming fire is now contrasted with a “but” and a living, fatherly attitude. He addresses his recipients directly, calling them again “beloved”. Maybe he is addressing concern that the recipients had about delayed judgment–why doesn’t Christ return now and smash this Roman empire to dust? Regardless, we can leave verse 8 having made the observation that God has a different concept of time than us. God exists outside of time, yet is active within time. He alone is eternal, existing in three chronological realms: eternity past, created time, and eternity future.
Verse 9 builds upon this. The Lord isn’t dilly-dallying to fulfill His promise. What is that promise, by the way? Verse 4 tells us: it is the promise of the return of Christ. So, then, the Lord isn’t just taking his time to return, but is patient toward you. We need to make several key observations at this point.
- Note the “but” – Peter is again making a contrast. God isn’t being a slow poke, but rather is patient toward you.
- Who does “you” refer to? When we see a pronoun in Scripture, we need to trace the antecedent in order to see who the author is referring to. In this case, we find that Peter is talking to the “beloved” (3:1). This group is mentioned in the greeting: “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (1:1). In 3:1, we note that this is the second letter to this group. How did Peter greet the folks in the first letter? “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood,” (1 Pet 1:1b-2). We find that Peter is writing to believers, and that they are classified as believers according to the foreknowledge of God and are being sanctified by the Spirit for the purpose of obeying Christ.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise of returning, but rather is patient toward you believers, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” (3:9b). We now have 2 options. Either we can deviate from what appears to be Peter’s clear intention and say that God doesn’t want a single person to perish and go to hell, or we can interpret this passage in context. Why is the Lord patient? His purpose is for all of His elect (1 Peter 1:1-2) to come to repentance. That’s it. Why hasn’t Christ returned? All of God’s elect haven’t been regenerated (made alive in Christ, aka saved, Eph 1-2).
Verse 10 again shows us that God’s fiery judgment will come unexpectedly and fiercely. We cannot expect it because we do not know who God’s chosen people are. What should we do? We should await God’s judgment eagerly and live holy, godly lives (3:11-18).
Why is this important? If we ignore Peter’s intended meaning and yank 2 Peter 3:9 out of context we see God as a childish, weak, soft, and noninvasive deity that wishes that everyone would just repent and get saved. This is dangerous because not only is it humanistic, placing the responsibility of our salvation in our own hands, it creates a false picture of who God is. There is a word for that (creating false pictures of God, or creating our own God): idolatry.
We should constantly be seeking to understand the character and nature of God as presented in the text of Holy Scripture. He is not weak. He is pleased in His holy judgment. Do you really think that God doesn’t want to send a soul to hell and that He has to force Himself to do it? That’s absurd. We all deserve to be in that pit of burning fire. God would be just to send us all there. However, He is gracious to us and has decided to save a portion of humanity. Don’t you think that if God wanted to save all people He would just do it? Is He not all-powerful? He can save whoever He wants. We can rest assured, however, that He won’t execute His fiery judgment until all of His chosen people have been saved.