But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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.
The apostle Paul declares that the grace of God that brings salvation in Jesus means three things: full and free redemption from all iniquity; a people purified unto God who are zealous of good works; and having the blessed hope of the appearing of the glory of the great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11ff.). Our text speaks of this hope of Jesus’ return. The coming again of Jesus is the hope of every believer. Our hope is not a rapture, nor a better life on this improved earth. As the saints of the old dispensation longed for Jesus’ first coming, so believers in the new longingly anticipate His coming again, which will bring completed salvation in a glorious new heaven and earth. Coming
That is our hope. That is why we often sing, “And in God’s house forevermore my dwelling place shall be.”
The devil knows this. Therefore he frequently uses false teachers and scoffers to deny the promise of Jesus’ coming again. This can occasion doubts or fears, especially when Jesus does not come as soon as we anticipated or expected. Then we think His coming is “delayed.” Peter gives instruction concerning God’s apparent “slackness” in fulfilling His promise to come again to deliver the righteous and to judge the wicked.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” There is no reason for the fear that God has forgotten to fulfill His promise or that God’s timing for when He fulfills His promise is not accurate.
The expression “promise” is used in the widest sense to refer to the covenant that God establishes in Christ. Our text clearly refers to one aspect of that covenant, namely, to God’s promise that Jesus would come again. This is evident from verse 4: “the promise of his coming.” Verses 10 and 12 speak about the coming of the day of the Lord. And verse 13 declares that “we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
There is essentially only one promise of God, and that is salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the second coming of Jesus on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory that brings the fullness of salvation to the whole of the elect church. In His second coming Jesus will realize full deliverance from sin and death and all unrighteousness, and then He will bring the enjoyment of life with God in both body and soul for every elect.
The promise of God has already had some fulfillment. Jesus came once. In this coming He lived a life of perfect obedience and He died the accursed death. The promise is also realized in the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ. There is still the promise of this salvation being realized in complete fullness in the new heavens and earth, where there is only righteousness. This not-yet-fulfilled promise is the desire and hope of every believer.
Now there seems to be a delay in the realization of this promise. John declared that he was in “the last time” (I John 2:18). The saints at Thessalonica also were convinced that the return of Jesus was imminent (II Thess. 3:5ff.). Also the saints to whom Peter is writing seemed to think that Jesus’ return was delayed. If they who lived forty years after Jesus ascended thought so, it is not surprising that there are some today, 2,000 years later, who also wonder.
This feeling of a “delay” is intensified by the mockery of the scoffers. Severe tribulations and persecution also make it seem as if there is a “delay.” And when believers are constantly conscious of their unending battle with the old man of sin, then they can wearily cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long?”
God explains the seeming “delay.” He does so from a few perspectives.
First, God’s perspective is that of eternity. He is eternal. Moses wrote, “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). This means that God is not bound to and by time, as are all of His creatures. In fact, time is one of God’s creatures. Two thousand years may be long to us, but it does not have that meaning with God. Time and the passage of time do not mean the same to Him as they do to us. It is our duty to know God’s viewpoint and to keep it before us at all times. To Him the return of Jesus is very near at hand, because it has been the “next” redemptive work (after Jesus’ ascension). God is bringing Christ’s return as quickly as possible, with everything serving that return.
It is important that we know this. “Be not ignorant of this one thing.” Know God and His character! There is no reason ever to doubt His truthfulness and faithfulness. Therefore it is good and right for us to live in the hope of His return—as an event that is at hand.
Second, God “is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.” With these words Peter teaches us of God’s love and care for His distressed people in the world. God does not loiter. He is not careless or forgetful in bringing us the promise. If He were, then there would be a weakness in His love. When humans neglect their promises, there is a failure in their love, which results in hurting the neighbor. But this is not true with God. He always remembers His promise; He is always determined to fulfill it; and He is fulfilling it as fast as He can. His perfect wisdom is determining the speed of its fulfillment.
The explanation for Jesus’ not returning any sooner is exactly His love. It is not a lack of love, as our sinful natures suppose! Do not overlook the word “beloved.” We are loved of God. Always. Also in His timing of all things, God is governed by His love for His own.
An aspect of God’s love is His virtue of “longsuffering to us-ward.” This attribute of God is the perfection of His love and mercy according to which He constantly and unchangeably wills the final perfection of glory in Christ for His elect people, which comes in the way of their suffering. This will of God determines that they suffer as a necessary means unto this final perfection in all its fullness. God, as it were, burns with love to rescue His people from their sin, death, and sorrows. But He restrains Himself because their good (both salvation and glory) calls for the sufferings of this present time to shape and mold them into conformity to the image of His Son.
God also restrains Himself because our good demands that more happen. What is the more that must happen? Specifically, God’s love wills that none “should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” If God fulfilled His promise of Jesus’ return right now, then some of the elect would perish (those not yet converted), and the church would be missing members (those not yet conceived and born). The church would be deficient and deformed, because it would not have all its members. This is impossible—because of God’s love.
The expression “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” has been horribly misunderstood to mean that God wants every human to be saved. If this interpretation is true, then God failed, for some do perish. Also consider the conclusion that Jesus would never come if God waited for everyone to repent. Further, such an interpretation is contrary to the rest of Scripture, which teaches that God willed some humans to perish, being appointed to stumble at the word (I Pet. 2:8). Let us instead see this expression in the context. God is longsuffering “to us-ward.” He is concerned to speak to His “beloved.” These are those who share the “like precious faith” (II Pet. 1:1). It is these that He wills not to perish, but to come to repentance. Time is needed for the conversion of all of the elect. Some are not converted and some are not yet born. So for the sake of all the other beloved of us (we are saved as part of a whole), we must know (and not ignore) that God’s love is working in a perfect way and with perfect timing to save all and each of His own.
Having this knowledge, let us patiently endure. Do not let the scoffing of the wicked occasion any doubts about God and His promises. Rather, let us, “according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (13, 14). Let us pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!” And let us trust His love and wisdom to lead Him to come at just the right time.