Jim – Oh, well now see, you’ve gone and done it. You’ve entered into one of my favorite arenas of life – Christian apologetics and doctrine. I always have time to unravel this type of Bible question.
Q – I have forgotten a good response to the verse about God wills that no man would perish.
Jim – That half of a phrase is pulled from 2 Peter 3:9, which reads,
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Now, to get the drift of this verse, the context is vitally important. Peter is waxing eloquent about the judgment of God and the end of all things. In verse 3 he reminded his readers that in the last days scoffers, entertaining their own flesh, would ask where the promise of Christ’s return was. “After all,” they will argue, “ever since the fathers died everything has continued the same way it always has.”
“But,” countered Peter, “they are willingly ignorant of the fact that the Word of God (which they mock) was the force that made the heavens and brought the land to stand out of the water. It was the same Word of God that caused the world to be flooded in the time of Noah, when everyone perished. And, the same Word preserves the heaven and earth at this very moment, reserving them for the fire that will destroy them during the time of judgment.” That’s a “Jim-erized” version of verses 4 through 7.
Then, Peter reminds them that God does not live in time. He does not feel the movement of days the same way we do. “Don’t be ignorant of this one thing,” he said, “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (v. 8)
That’s the backdrop for verse 9, in which Peter defends the Lord’s timing against those who think He has forgotten His promise to return. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness…” In other words, God is not late, nor is He passed His due time. He is waiting on purpose – not slacking as some would say He is. And, what exactly is the purpose of His waiting before He unleashes His judgment and brings on the Day of Lord?
“He is longsuffering toward us!”
Now, who is “us” in Peter’s sentiment?
In the first verse of this chapter he called them, “beloved.” He said they had “a pure mind.” In Chapter One he identified them as, “them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:1)
Now, why is God suffering long, holding back His judgment? Because His people, those of faith in Christ, are still on earth and God is longsuffering toward them. He is not longsuffering toward the whole world; He will judge the world. But, not until after He has removed His beloved. He is not slack; he is patient toward His own people. And, He is not willing that any of His people perish in the day of wrath and judgment. And, so none of them will –
“(He is) longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any (of us) should perish, but that all (of us) should come to repentance.”
That entire phrase is built around God’s love and care for His own people. Peter calls them “us.” They are the object of the entire treatise. The beloved will not fall under God’s judgment because He is longsuffering with them and not willing that any of them should perish.
Now, keep going with Peter’s context.
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
That’s the context. It’s all about the earthly judgment that accompanies the Day of the Lord. It will descend on the unbelieving world like a thief in the night. But, it will not happen until God has saved every last one of His people. That’s why He’s waiting.
If you continue reading that chapter you’ll see that Peter continues his eschatological language.
So, here’s my point. This section of Peter’s letter is not about soteriology – the study of salvation. It is about eschatology, the study of last things. He is not teaching about universalism versus particularism. He is teaching about those who will fall under the Day of the Lord judgment and the patience of God toward usward that will keep us from that same judgment. He is not willing that any of us will perish. So, none of us will.
To pull that little phrase from the middle of that grand and definite context and claim that this is Peter’s argument in favor of universalism does damage to the text and is dishonest to the tone and tenor of the whole section.
We must let the Bible dictate our theology. We must not impose our theology onto the Bible. Besides, if you’re going to argue for Universalism, there are much better texts to use than this one. But, we’ll get to those later. 🙂
Your servant for His sake,