Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Does II Peter 3:9 Teach That God Desires
to Save Absolutely Everybody?

Rev. Angus Stewart


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).

II Peter 3:9 is often (ab)used by Arminians against God’s eternal reprobation. Many half-quote and misapply this verse, in preaching, in discussion and even in prayer. They tell God that He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (thinking that this means that He desires to save everybody), before asking for the salvation of their loved ones.

Pray for the conversion of your unbelieving friends and family (according to God’s will)! But do not build your petitions on a false view of God! If God really desires to save all head for head, then why are they not saved? Is His hand too short or His arm too weak (cf. Isa. 59:1)? Is His will thwarted (cf. Dan. 4:35)? Do His purposes depend on the will of puny man, so that though God wishes to save everybody, most won’t let Him? The true God "is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3). Any god who does not do what he pleases is not in the heavens. He is only in man’s head.

Yet does the verse not say that God is "not willing that any should perish?" But what does "any" mean here? And what is the context in II Peter 3?

We will consider the latter question first. Scoffers are denying Christ’s second coming (v. 3). "Everything continues much as it has done," they say (v. 4)—the modern "scientific" equivalent of this is "uniformitarianism." Peter explains that these people are willingly ignorant of the universal flood which destroyed the world in Noah’s day (vv. 5-6). All things have not continued as they were from the creation!

Contrary to the scoffers, Peter affirms that "the day of the Lord will come" (v. 10). It will be "a day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (v. 7). Man judges time from his own creaturely perspective but things are viewed differently by the eternal God who created time: "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (v. 8). Today, people doubt if Christ is really coming back because almost 2,000 years have passed but with God it is only as two days, so to speak! God "is not slack concerning his promise" of the return of Christ, though foolish men may wrongly reckon that He is (v. 9). Peter concludes his argument by explaining why Christ has not yet returned: the Lord "is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (v. 9).

If "all," here, means all head for head, then Christ has not yet returned because He wants to save everybody. However, some have already perished in their sins and not all who are living or who are yet to be born will be saved. Thus Christ will never return. Therefore, there will be no final judgment (v. 7), no purging of this fallen creation (vv. 7, 10-12) and no new heavens and new earth (v. 13). Thus we lose a vital incentive for godliness (vv. 11-14). God’s promise (vv. 4, 9) is a lie and the church’s hope (vv. 12-14) a delusion, for Christ is not coming back. The Arminian (and free offer) view of II Peter 3:9 destroys eschatology, the faithfulness of God and the salvation of the church!

But who then are the "any" of II Peter 3:9? Three lines of argument lead to the same conclusion: they are the beloved people of God.

First, we should notice the word "us-ward" in the text: "The Lord ... is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." The apostle refers to the same people as "us-ward" and "any." The Lord is longsuffering to us and so is not willing that any (of us) should perish. The "us" are referred to as "beloved" in the previous verse: "But, beloved ... the Lord ... is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish" (vv. 8-9). Against the dark backdrop of the destruction of the world and His fearful judgment upon the ungodly, the Lord assures us four times in II Peter 3 (vv. 1, 8, 14, 17) that we are His "beloved" people, loved with the everlasting, irresistible, gracious love of God, according to our eternal "election" (1:10).

Second, Peter explains that the "longsuffering" of II Peter 3:9 is not an ineffectual wish of God to save everybody, for a few verses later he tells us that "the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation" (v. 15). Here Peter teaches that those to whom God is longsuffering are saved. This is an established fact to be reckoned as a first principle in understanding God’s longsuffering: "account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation" (v. 15).

Third, we should note the preposition taken by "longsuffering" in II Peter 3:9. Sometimes "longsuffering" takes the prepositions "upon" or "towards." Here "into" is used. Literally, the text reads, "the Lord ... is longsuffering into us-ward." This indicates the closest possible connection between God’s longsuffering and us, such that God’s longsuffering grabs hold of us and effects our salvation.

Now we are ready to answer the question: Why did Christ not return, say, in the year 99 or 872 or 1356 or 2003? The answer is that some of God’s elect people had not yet been born and called. Only when the last member of Christ’s body is added, only when the last living stone is fitted in God’s temple, only when all the sheep are called, will Christ come again. When the bride is made ready, the bridegroom will come!

Remember too that the salvation of each member is necessary for the rest of the elect, for the church is an organism. Either all are saved together or all perish together, for, if one is lost, all are lost.

God’s "promise" and "longsuffering" and "will" are that none of His people "perish" but that "all ... come to repentance" (v. 9). Through the preaching of the gospel, all the elect are gathered and then (and only then) does Christ return to judge the ungodly and renew the creation. Be patient for the coming of the Lord draws nigh!

Check out this page for good "Quotes on II Peter 3:9."