“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9

God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This last part of II Peter 3:9 has been used to teach a universal love of God. It is thought that this passage teaches that God desires the salvation of all. It is thought that it teaches that proper preaching must include an ‘offer’ because God wants the salvation of all. This passage has been used to teach that Jesus suffered and died for more than those actually saved.

As we commemorate the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus, let us use this passage of Scripture to answer the questions: For whom did Jesus suffer and die? Whom does God want not to perish but to repent? A careful answer to these questions must take into consideration the whole of the verse and the context of this second epistle of Peter. May the Spirit who inspired this Scripture enable us to understand clearly what we read.

The verse begins by declaring that God is not slack concerning His promise. What is God’s promise? Peter has been speaking about God’s promise. It is “the promise of his coming” (v. 4). “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (v. 13). It is the promise of Jesus’ second appearance to judge and to bring ultimate deliverance to His people.

When God’s promise of Jesus’ coming is realized, it will bring an end to the mockeries and denials of the false prophets (2:1; 3:3); and then, “an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (1:11).

Our Lord’s second coming is the one great hope of the Christian church and of every Christian believer. Then, every believer will receive perfect deliverance from all tribulation and every sin. Then, every believer will know perfect life with God. And, then, death will be completely swallowed up in victory and every saint will be glorified. Every Christian matures unto an increasing longing for this glorious promise to be fulfilled.

But scoffers have always ridiculed the church for having this hope of Jesus’ final appearance. The scoffers of Peter’s day said that Jesus had not yet come and would not come as promised; and their reason was, “since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (v. 4). They call us fools for having our hope in God’s promise of Jesus’ coming because nothing has changed for 6,000 years (for them it is millions or billions of years).

Such mockers do challenge believers. Our hope is threatened and our Lord’s “delay” occasions some wondering why God has not yet fulfilled His promise. There are times when our old man of sin influences us to think that God is delaying the fulfillment of His promise. It seems that Jesus does not come as quickly as we think He should. Year after year goes by, decade after decade, century after century, and He does not appear. Sometimes we become weary in our battle with that nature against which we have to struggle all our life long. Every night we think of the good we wanted to do, but did not, and the evil we did not want to do, but did. Also, there are seasons of depression and times of great grief and sorrow that occasion the believer’s longing for Jesus’ second appearance as he wonders, “How long?”

In response to these scoffers and to the doubts which can easily arise within every Christian, Peter points to God’s attribute of longsuffering.

There are three elements to this virtue. First, God has an object in view. That object is the glorious perfection of all of His people together in the body of Jesus Christ in the new heavens and the new earth, where there will be no sin and no old man. God’s object is the full glorification of every elect child of God in the new heavens and the new earth.

The second element of longsuffering is God’s love—His constant, unchanging, fervent, everlasting love. It is God’s love that governs everything that He does to each and to every one of His people.

The third element in the divine virtue of longsuffering is the determination that the way to our glorious perfection is the necessary path of suffering and affliction. It is the fact that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Divine wisdom has determined that it is only through much trouble and trial that we enter into the kingdom of God. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). While we rejoice greatly to know that we have an inheritance reserved in heaven for us, which is ready to be revealed in the last time, yet “now, for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:4-7). “If need be” means that God has determined in His love that the best way for every Christian to reach the glorious object is through suffering.

God’s attribute of longsuffering is that perfection of God’s love for His people, according to which He constantly wills their final perfection in glory, but in the way of suffering.

Now, notice that our text declares that God is longsuffering to usward. God is not longsuffering to all! He is longsuffering to “us.” The “us” are “them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 1:1). God desires to rescue us from all of our physical, emotional, and psychological troubles, and especially from all our sinfulness. But God, in His wisdom and love has determined that He has more work to do on us. We need further refining. As precious diamonds, we are being made ready for the crown of our Lord by having more cuts made on us, so that we may the more brilliantly shine forth the glory of our Maker. God is longsuffering to usward, His beloved elect and believing people.

In the context and text Peter presents three evidences to support the truth that God is longsuffering to usward.

First, he answers the scoffers who say that everything continues as it was from the beginning of creation. Peter says, “Not so!” The scoffers deliberately ignore the fact that things are not the same since creation. They “are willingly ignorant” of the flood (v. 5). The universal flood so changed everything in God’s created world that the only way to describe this world is to say that it is different from the world that was before. There was the “world that then was,” but now we are living in “the heavens and the earth, which are now” (vv. 6, 7). The first world perished. The scoffers are liars.

The second evidence Peter presents in verse 8: “Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing.” You are not thinking correctly when you think in the realm of time. You are creatures of time, and you measure everything by time. But God is eternal! Isaiah 57:15 says that God “inhabits eternity.” He is above time; He is not governed by time. And, because He is not governed by time, you cannot say, “But it’s been six thousand years!” That does not mean anything to God. Do not put your measurements on Him. He is above time; He is not bound by time. In God’s plan, Jesus’ second appearance is the next big thing to happen; it is at hand. It is ready to be revealed. He is coming and He is coming soon. God is longsuffering to usward. Do not ignore the fact that years mean nothing to God.

And, the third evidence Peter presents is found in our text. “God is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.” We think that slackness is an evidence of a lack of concern and care, or of forgetfulness. We judge slacking as a weakness. So the apostle says, “God is not slack concerning his promise as you count slackness.” Instead, God’s apparent slackness is His wisdom is at work. He knows that what we need is more affliction and more trial of our faith. He knows that our faith must be further developed. God is calling us to exercise our faith, to believe that He is not delaying but loving us. He is doing what He has determined to be the best for us. We are foolish. We do not know what is best. He knows that we must be further refined. We do not like it, but He knows that we are going to come out the better. So His love wants the best for us. even though it hurts terribly.

God has promised a glorious inheritance. And He has this amazing virtue of longsuffering that He shows to us and to all His suffering people.

God has a great purpose for His being longsuffering to us. His love and wisdom demand the apparent delay because of His desire that all should come to repentance.

If God would have Jesus appear sooner than He planned, then the body of Jesus would not be complete. Then some of the elect would perish. You see, some of the elect are not yet conceived, and some of the elect are not yet converted. And thus the body of Jesus Christ would not be perfect. It would be deformed; there would be missing parts of the body.

That is how we are to answer those who interpret this verse to say that “all” refers to every person in the world, head for head. Such a position contradicts God’s eternal decree of reprobation. Peter speaks of reprobation in the previous chapter: “But these as natural brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed” (II Pet. 2:12). Consider also I Peter 2:8, “A stone of stumbling, a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed.”

Second, the interpretation that God desires to save everyone contradicts the truth of hell. “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them into hell” (2:4). Consider, too, the other verses in chapter 2 that speak of hell: 5, 6, 9, 13, 17.

Third, consider the fact that if our text means that God does not want any person to perish, but wants every single person to repent, and that Jesus will not appear the second time until that happens, then Jesus will never come. Some have perished in the flood (v. 6); others perish daily in their sins.

Fourth, if God wants everyone to be saved, then God is a failure! God is not God if He cannot get what He wants. But He is God! He accomplishes His purpose fully and perfectly. What He wants, He accomplishes.

Instead, the verse means that when the last of the elect are born and reborn, conceived and regenerated, then He will come. That is the right time.

So we answer the question, For whom did Jesus suffer and die? Not for the false prophets and scoffers; not for the “angels that sinned” (2:4), not for the “old world” (2:5), not for “the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha” (2:6), not for “the unjust” (2:9). But He died for “us,” for His “beloved” (v. 8).

God’s longsuffering to usward may sometimes seem hard. But this passage of Scripture, beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, would have us look up to gain His perspective and to see His goal. Be assured of His love that is always characterized by wisdom in bringing all of the necessary refinements.

God’s longsuffering to usward is not tarrying in a bad sense, but is evidence that God is saving and gathering unto Himself His elect children. Though we long, understandably, for deliverance more and more, we must realize that it must happen according to God’s sovereign will that all the elect come to repentance and not one of them be lost.

While we have to suffer, we can take comfort that this is the name of that virtue that God gives to Himself. So, pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” And trust His wisdom and His love.