The third chapter of Second Peter concerns God’s promise of a coming new earth in which righteousness reigns. The Noahic flood was a prelude to the final meltdown of the heavens and the earth. But why has God delayed so long?
The answer is found in God’s nature, in that He experiences time much differently than we do (3:8), and in the fact that His character is such that He is longsuffering. His patient nature gives mankind plenty of time before He ends this age and brings on the Day of the Lord.
It is in this context that Peter gives an example of God’s patience. In my estimation we have completely missed the point of the second half of verse 9. The issue is not that God shows His patience by giving more people time to come to faith and be born again. That is a common notion that doesn’t fit the context.
It Is Not about Eternal Condemnation
A few years back I was reading 2 Peter 3:9 and a question came to mind. How does Peter use the word perish (apollumi in Greek) elsewhere in his epistles? I looked in my Greek concordance and found that he only uses it one other time, in 2 Peter 3:6—in the same context.
When I looked at v 6, I had a eureka experience. That verse isn’t saying anything about eternal condemnation. It is saying that during the Noahic flood the world that then existed was destroyed. The people on earth died.
Now it is surely true that few of those who died in the flood were regenerate people. But even if they all were unregenerate, that isn’t Peter’s point. His point is that they died.
It hit me. Doesn’t this mean that three verses later Peter is still talking about death? If so, that means the point of v 9 is that God doesn’t want people to die, physically.
And that is a common theme in the Bible. God didn’t want death for Adam and Eve and the human race. Even after death entered the human race, God wants to restrict death so that it occurs at the end of a full life. Thus in Ezekiel 18:23 we read, “‘Do I have pleasure at all that the wicked should die’ says the Lord God, ‘and not he should turn from his ways and live?’”
The point in v 9 is that God’s longsuffering character is seen in that He doesn’t want people to die, but He gives them time to repent and escape premature death.
Repentance Is a Condition of Physical Life
In the last days, scoffers (v 3) will ask, “Where is the promise of His [Jesus’] coming?” They will say, “All things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (v 4). Uniformitarianism (all remains uniform), as this view is now called, is common in science even in our day.
These people “willfully forget” that the Noahic flood shows that all things do not continue as they were from the beginning (v 6).
Peter then reminds the readers that the scoffers also don’t realize that the current world is going to be destroyed as well. God promised He wouldn’t destroy the earth with water again. The heavens and earth “are reserved for fire” (v 7).
Before discussing what this fiery judgment of earth will be like (in vv 10-11), Peter continues with an answer for the scoffers.
While it had been a few thousand years since the flood, Peter reminds the readers that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v 8). Thus in a sense it had been only a few days from Noah’s flood to Peter’s day. And the second coming of Christ and the fiery judgment of earth would be very soon as well. Even if a few thousand years pass before the earth is destroyed by fire, it is certain because of the sure word of the Lord.
This led Peter to say, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness” (v 9a). The promise here is the promise of Christ’s return and the end of unrighteousness, culminating in a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (v 13).
“But [He] is longsuffering toward us” (v 9a). Peter then gives one example of His patience: “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (v 9b). Clearly perishing here looks back to v 6 and the flood. God didn’t delight in killing millions (possibly billions) in the flood. And He isn’t looking forward to destroying myriads more during the Day of the Lord, which culminates when He destroys the earth with fire.
Nor does He delight in the hundred thousand or so people who die every day. God hates death.
Peter likely has humanity in view when he speaks of God’s longsuffering toward us. (The majority of manuscripts read us, not you). God is patient with people since He doesn’t delight in people dying. This is why He rarely takes a person’s life prematurely without first giving the person many opportunities to repent. Repentance is the remedy for rebellion and death.
This is the repeated testimony of Scripture. For the person walking in rebellion against God, believer or unbeliever, repentance is the antidote to premature death.
Noah was a preacher of righteousness. People didn’t respond in repentance, and thus they died in the flood.
The Ninevites repented when Jonah told them that judgment was coming (Jonah 3:4-10). The result was the people were not annihilated as Jonah had said. God wanted their repentance, not their death.
Israel failed to repent under the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus. As a result, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed and Jews died violent deaths at the hands of the Romans (Luke 13:3, 5, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish”).
In the Tribulation when God pours out His judgments, even then He would lessen the deaths if the people would repent. But they will not and hence deaths will multiply (Rev 9:21; 16:9-11).
The point is that God demonstrates His patience in that He doesn’t normally take people’s lives, believers or unbelievers, the moment they walk in rebellion. Instead, He gives opportunity for repentance and restoration.
In a sense the fact that we see wickedness in our world today shows that God will fulfill His promise of the new earth in which righteousness dwells. That He is patient and gives people time to repent before taking their lives shows He is longsuffering. Thus it should not be surprising that He has not yet fulfilled His promise to destroy the heavens and the earth.
A Coming Day When Death Will Die
Peter is reminding us that one day soon there will be no more death and destruction and all on the new earth will be in fellowship with God (cf. 2 Peter 2:13, “a new earth in which righteousness dwells;” cf. Rev 21:4). He warns us not to fall prey to the thinking, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (v 4). Jesus is coming soon and before He does, death still reigns. So live righteously so you can have a full life.
Don’t buy the nihilistic thinking of our day. Our culture says that life stinks and then you die. Life does make sense. Pain, suffering, and death are all temporary problems. They never were God’s desire. They won’t have any part in His eternal kingdom.
We should live now in light of God’s abhorrence of ungodliness (2 Pet 3:11, 14, 17-18). Only a fool ignores the fact that the wages of sin is death. Walk in ungodliness and you will pay the price, even if you are a believer and hence eternally secure. Eternal life is not a license to sin. On the contrary, there are grave consequences. Eternal life is instead an invitation to abundant life in fellowship with God.
That’s What Christianity Is All About
I was the baby in our family. Mom was nearly 40 when I was born. Now she is 92 and doing well. But she complains to me that she has to use a walker most of the time to get around. And she has shortness of breath and other problems which are bothersome. “Do I have to live with these things for the rest of my life?” she asked me recently.
My response was that’s what Christianity is all about. Every time we suffer pain or loss, we should look forward to glorified bodies which everyone who simply believes in Jesus will have. Jesus not only promised eternal life, He also promised that “he who believes in Me, though he may die [physically], yet he shall live [physically]” (John 11:25). He promises to give glorified bodies to every believer.
These glorified bodies, I explained to Mom, will be in the prime of life. And there will be no disease, no aging, and no death. That’s good news. That is what Christians should look forward to.
Death is close at hand for all of us. And death stinks. But the good news of Christianity is that God hates death more than we do. In this transition time, people do die. But God wishes all to live long lives now, and ultimately He plans for a day when there will be no more death.
Every pain we experience should remind us we are dying and that God doesn’t like it. Those pains should remind us of the promise of Jesus’ soon coming and of a world in which righteousness will dwell forever. That will be great! And it will be soon because God’s promises are certain.