8 “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)
When studying any portion of Scripture, it is vitally important to not overlook the context of a particular passage. This means that the student of Scripture must never ignore the genre of the passage. Is the verse part of the Old Testament or New Testament? Is it a portion of Hebrew poetry or wisdom literature, history or prophecy? Is it a part of a New Testament Epistle, one of the four gospels or apocalyptic literature? Knowing the particular genre will be of tremendous help in understanding the meaning of the passage.
There must also be an understanding of the grammatical context. Are there any figures of speech used by the author which must be correctly understood? What are the similes or the metaphors being used? What about repetition or exaggeration? These questions the Bible student must be aware of and must be prepared to answer.
Additionally, we must also understand what the historical context is in which the human author wrote the biblical passage? What has occurred, is occurring or will occur in the lives of those in the text along with the author of the text? Was the author writing to the Jews or to a Gentile church? What nation was in political power: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome?
One of the most common tendencies people have is to take a verse of Scripture out of all three of its contexts and make it stand alone as if the verses before or after do not matter. This is done more often than we probably care to admit and unfortunately, with confident assertion that doing so is a proper method of biblical interpretation. Not so!
Take 2 Peter 3:9 for example. The text reads, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Let’s examine this verse in detail to see not only what it says, but also what it means.
The phrase, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness,” refers the reader immediately back to the eight preceding verses which began Chapter Three. The word slow (βραδύνω; bradyno) means to hesitate or delay. The Apostle Peter was saying that the Lord Jesus was not hesitating or delaying to fulfill the promise of His returning to earth in power, might and glory. Unfortunately, the context indicates that false teachers, or apostates, were saying that very thing.
It is then that Peter indicated why the Lord had yet to return to the earth as He had promised. Please note that the historical context in which the apostle wrote this epistle was just some 30 plus years after Jesus had ascended. We are studying this same text close to 2,000 years since Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. It is striking how much more pertinent this verse is regarding why Jesus has yet to return.
The reason the apostle gives for the seeming delay of Jesus’ return is answered by the latter portion of verse nine. “…but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The word patient (μακροθυμέω; makrothymeo) means to exhibit internal and external control. It also literally means to be slow.
The false teachers mock the Lord’s failure to return as a sign that His slowness or delay in returning is because He never intended to fulfill this promise. The Apostle Peter said that Jesus patience, or slowness, to return is directed towards the church. The personal pronoun “you” refers us back to the noun “beloved” (2 Peter 3:1). The word “you” refers to the saved, or the people of God. The Lord patiently endures the endless mocking by false teachers (Romans 1:18-32) while at the same time He is calling, regenerating and redeeming His own.
The Lord’s delay in returning is not due to impotence on His part, but rather because He is not wishing (βούλομαι; boulomai), wanting, desiring, or purposing that “any” of those He is calling, regenerating and redeeming by His own will perish (ἀπόλλυμι; apollymi) or be ruined or destroyed. Rather, all those who God intends to call, regenerate and redeem should reach (χωρέω; choreo) or advance to repentance (μετάνοια; metanoia) which means conversion unto saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “The repentance in view, for the sake of which God delays judgment, is that of God’s people rather than the world at large. God is not willing that any of His elect should perish (John 6:35-65). In the context of this epistle, the “any” of this verse refers back to the “us” of 1:3, indicating that Peter is talking about the elect, those whom God has granted everything necessary for life and godliness. The verse (2 Peter 3:9) is not teaching that God wants everyone to be saved such that He is frustrated by the fact that not everyone is saved, and it is not endorsing a universalism that says everyone will be saved in the end. God has an elect people whom He has purposed to redeem and who will therefore be saved, for no purpose of His can be thwarted (Romans 9:1-29; Job 42:2). The Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked, but His eternal purposes are not overturned and He is not thrown into depression when people reject His gospel (Ezekiel 18:32; I Timothy 2:1-4).”
We can take great comfort in knowing that those whom God has purposed to save, He will save (Ephesians 1:3-14). Let us also take great care in rightly dividing the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
Soli deo Gloria!