by Zane Hodges, originally published in the July/August 2009 edition of Grace in Focus
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. 2 Peter 3:9
Peter’s point, of course, is that what seems long and short to men is not long or short to the Lord. Therefore, any seeming delay of the Second Advent is only such from a human point of view.
It follows from what Peter has just said that, in the divine actuality, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, that is, as some count slackness. How can a God for whom a great span of time (a thousand years) is no longer than a single day be accused of slowness? There is also a second fact that is important to Peter’s refutation of the false teachers. Not only is the Lord not slow about His promise, but (instead) He is longsuffering toward us. The word us (found in the majority of manuscripts) here is not a reference to Peter and his believing readers but to humanity in general, since Peter is talking here about a worldwide calamity.
Peter is not discussing the final judgment of men, but instead the arrival of our Lord’s coming, which the scoffers are challenging (see 3:4). This is synonymous with the arrival of “the day of the Lord” (see v 10).
God is in no way anxious to begin the judgments following Christ’s return. As Peter puts it, He is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish. The Greek word rendered perish here (apolesthai) might equally well have been translated be killed. Here Peter is thinking about God’s gracious reluctance to see sinners killed.
What God seeks from men while His judgment tarries is repentance. God’s wish, therefore, is that all should come to repentance. This statement should not be read as though it indicated God’s desire that all men should be saved from hell, though that desire is expressed elsewhere in Scripture (1 Tim 2:4-5; John 3:16-17; 2 Cor 5:19-20). What is suggested here, however, is that if men would repent, the judgment of the Day of the Lord could be averted. But this repentance would need to be universal; that is to say, all would have to come to repentance (cf. Luke 13:3, 5).
However, the question naturally arises why God would withhold the Day of the Lord if He knows full well that a worldwide repentance is impossible. And the answer can only be that He knows it is not impossible.
It must be regarded as certain, therefore, that God’s compassion is real and that man’s opportunity to repent is equally real. We are not talking here about everyone getting saved, of course, but about everyone turning to the true God in one way or another. The point is simple. God delays in order to give all men a genuine opportunity to repent. The mercy is real because the opportunity is real.
Undoubtedly God fully knows under what set of conditions mankind might turn to Him—however briefly—and so long as there are options that are viable in His eyes, He withholds the promise of our Savior’s return. But even if this results in another thousand years of seeming delay, for Him the length of “time” is inconsequentially short.
And it should be for us as well. After all, He is eternal and our destiny with our Lord Jesus Christ is the experience of eternal life. Compared to that, a few thousand years is nothing. In the meantime, we can call men to the knowledge of the God who loves them with magnificent patience.