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The verse states the following:

‘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.’ - ‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭3‬:‭9‬ ‭KJV‬‬

However, if the Lord waits doesn’t that also mean more people who are born and do not believe will perish than if the Lord had returned sooner?

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  • 1
    2 Peter 3:9 isn't talking about perishing in this age, as that is only temporary. It is talking about perishing in the coming age when Christ judges the whole world. That perishing is a permanent and everlasting one, and it is that that God has no desire for any to undergo.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 23:10
  • But the people that have been born in the last 2000 years and that have not believed isn Christ will perish in the coming age
    – Riemann
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 23:26
  • If those had not been born, they would also not perish
    – Riemann
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 23:27
  • 2
    "If those had not been born, they would also not perish" Oh well I suppose you are right. But those who perish are those who have chosen to disregard Christ and live a course of sin and evil; essentially, they know about the grace of God and what He has provided for mankind, but neglect Him and His salvation. They would rather live in wickedness than in obedience to God. It is only these that are sentenced to death at the judgment. I do not believe that anyone who was unaware of God commands or who did not have a chance to put faith in Him will be condemned.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 2:10

7 Answers 7

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The fact is, we do not understand God's sovereign timing. Let me illustrate.

If God simply wanted to minimize the number of people that would eternally perish, then Messiah would have come IMMEDIATLY Adam and Eve sinned and then no one would have perished.

However, God clearly had other factors in mind (which are not revealed) because it took:

  • another 4000 years before Messiah (Jesus Christ arrived)
  • yet another 2000 years (at least) since Messiah before His second arrival.

Thus, when we can ask Jesus personally about all these "whys", then it will be clear; until then we need faith to trust that God is good and just.

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The "promise" spoken of is independent of the fact that some will perish. Those are two separate parts of this text. The "promise" is outlined beginning with the very first verse of the chapter. It is a prophecy that shows the days of creation week (see vs. 4) detail the future history of the world. Peter makes specific application of days 2, 3, (vss. 5-6) and 7 (vss. 7, 10; cf. Mark 2:27-28) of that week in this chapter, but gives the prophetic time formula by which to understand these days in verse 8 (the verse immediately preceding the one in question).

What Peter is saying, then, is that the Lord's promised coming, by (millennial) day 7--which he calls "the day of the Lord" (vs. 10), will not be late; but that the reason the time seems prolonged is that God is waiting for as many to accept Him as possible before the judgments must come.

Yes, many will perish. But by waiting a little longer, God will save some who might otherwise also have perished.

This prophecy/promise is especially for us in these last days. As Peter himself says, many will mock and say "where is the promise of his coming?" (vs. 4). It will be said that the time is past when He should have come, implying that He will not come. But "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." (vs. 9).

Peter shows that God's focus seems to be on having more who are saved. One might say this comes at a cost of more who are lost as well, but those who are lost will but perish and no longer be a part of the universe; whereas those who are saved for eternity will be forever grateful, and live to gladden others.

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If Lord comes today, inaugurating the End of History and “New Heaven and New Earth where the righteousness reigns”, I will go to hell, because I am not prepared. So, the long-suffering applies to each human life, not only to the history of mankind.

Thus, throughout those 2000+ years after His ascension the Lord has been caring about each human being, working for them and in them for their salvation. And He does not distinguish between generations. However, at a certain moment, He will see that ungrateful apostasy from His innumerable benefactions and long suffering has grown so much that it has become incorrigible, then He, out of mercy again, will allow for the tyranny of Antichrist to come that through horrible tribulations the humanity may radically repent and embrace Him, who will come Second time, consume the human history, and establish His Eternal Kingdom.

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if the Lord waits doesn’t that also mean more people who are born and do not believe will perish than if the Lord had returned sooner?

This is more of a theological question than one of hermeneutics, and perhaps more suitable for Christianity.SE. (I wonder why this question hasn't been closed yet?)

If one believes that the vast majority of mankind, tens of billions of people, who never even heard of Jesus, are going to perish through no fault of their own, then the answer is obviously yes.

If one believes that the Bible is about a loving God, who wants everyone to be saved, and says that only a small flock of elect will be called and saved during this age, then the answer is no.

The Book of Revelation talks of two general resurrections.
The first occurs at the beginning of the Millennium, when a relatively small number of people will be converted into immortal spirit beings.
The second occurs at the end of the Millennium, when the vast majority of mankind will be physically resurrected, and only then will they be given their first and only opportunity of salvation.

Failing to believe during this age does not condemn anyone. Only being called by God, accepting salvation, and then deliberately rejecting God's holy spirit will condemn one to "perish", to be burned to ashes and permanently destroyed.

See more details in my answers to:

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Do not distract by the number of people perished, for only the chosen one will be counted.

Paul said in Romans 11:25-26a

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in,

26 and in this way[e] all Israel will be saved. (NIV)

In Revelation 6:11

11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

The scripture does not tell us the exact number, but there should have a number pending to achieve.

The Lord's wish is "not willing that any should perish". In reality, many chose disobedience, and perished anyway. It is correct the longer the wait, more people would perish. But same to us, who will count the papers in the litter box? Only the valuable will be counted.

So why would Peter brought up the argument in 2 Peter 3:9? As described in 2 Peter 2:1, there were false prophets and false teaches introduce destructive heresies, claiming

They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4 NIV)

Those who followed their depraved conduct will be perished. Peter encouraged the disciples always live a holy and godly lives (2 Peter 3:11). As the Lord will come like a thief (means unpredictable timing; 2 Peter 3:10), and only the righteous will dwell in the new heaven and new earth that the Lord had promised (2 Peter 3:13)

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It is always a mistake to choose one verse from scripture and lift it away from the surrounding verses which takes it out of context. The discussion in 2 Pet. 3 is of the day of judgment that was coming upon that generation as Jesus had promised in Matt. 24:34.

"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." (KJV)

The question Peter was answering was when that day of judgment for that generation would happen. Peter wrote this letter approx. AD 64/65, and it had been about 34/35 years since Christ's crucifixion and His prophesy given to His disciples on the Mt. Olives.

"7 and the present heavens and the earth, by the same word are treasured, for fire being kept to a day of judgment and destruction of the impious men.

8 And this one thing let not be unobserved by you, beloved, that one day with the Lord [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day;

9 the Lord is not slow in regard to the promise, as certain count slowness, but is long-suffering to us, not counselling any to be lost but all to pass on to reformation,

10 and it will come -- the day of the Lord -- as a thief in the night, in which the heavens with a rushing noise will pass away, and the elements with burning heat be dissolved, and earth and the works in it shall be burnt up." (S Pet. 3:7-10, YLT)

Jesus had told the signs to watch for the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:2ff). The disciples recognized that a second destruction of their temple would mean another end of another age, specifically the Mosaic age / covenant.

Peter was using the OT covenant language of "heaven and earth" which God promised in Isa. 65/66. The new heavens and new earth was not literal, but was a compound metaphor for the Messianic covenant of the gospel of Christ. Deu. chap. 4 makes that language clear that it was the contract / covenant between God (heaven) and Israel (earth).

"Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, ..." (Deu. 4:1, KJV)

The subject / context was of the statutes and laws set before them.

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, ..." (Deu. 4:26, KJV)

Moses repeated it again in Deu. 30:19:

"I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing:..." (KJV)

What would witness against them but the laws and statues of the covenant God had made with them? Heaven and earth was a metaphor for the old covenant. The new heavens and new earth was therefore the new covenant. Heb. chap. 8 made it very clear that the old covenant was ready to pass away when that book was written about AD 60 -65.

"In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." (Heb. 8:13, KJV)

After waiting for the destruction of that temple for 34 or so years, the people were asking Peter, "When?" When was that day of judgment coming? The prophesy was still future to them, and is why the texts of the NT of the 1st century AD are written in the future tense. The temple was still standing when the book of Hebrews was written (Heb. 8:4).

The temple is not standing today, as we know it was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, so the prophesy is not still future to us.

Peter's language is OT judgment language which God used to warn the wicked of His soon coming in a "day of the Lord," and his use of this language is the warning of the melting of the elements that Ezekiel had prophesied - not the Greek elements of earth, wind, fire, and water; but the doctrinal elements and teachings of the old covenant which is what the Greek word "stoicheion" means (Strong's Gr. 4747) (1)

"18 Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross: all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver.

19 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem.

20 As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in mine anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you.

21 Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst therof.

22 As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the Lord have poured out my fury upon you." (Ezek. 22:19-22, KJV)

This was the prophesy of the second destruction of Jerusalem which was carried out in the siege by the Romans in AD 70. It is the same prophesy Jesus warned of in Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

"20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.

22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled." (Luke 21:20-22, KJV)

It is the same prophesy Jesus spoke against Jerusalem in Matt. 23.

"37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." (KJV)

Peter's point in 2 Pet. 3:9 was God's appointed time would not be slack, but at His discretion, at just the right time. Some of the people had been making the mistake that their ancestors had made when they said that all continues the same (2 Pet. 3:4; Jer. 17:15, 27; Ezek 12:22-23), and Peter was reminding them that other days of judgment had come in old time when they least expected it.

When reading the scriptures we must always keep the first audience perspective.

For more on 2 Pet. 3, see the post at my blog, "Frequent Mistakes - Part VI: The End of the Workd, or...?" here: ShreddingTheVeil. See also "A Day is AS A Thousand Years" - ShreddingTheVeil.

Notes:

(1) stoicheion: one of a row, hence a letter (of the alphabet), by ext. the elements (of knowledge) Source: Biblehub

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The verse answers the question - why has Jesus not yet returned?

  • God is waiting for one more sinner to repent and He has done this for the past 2000 years
  • As long as men repent then God delays the return of Jesus.
  • In times when whole communities reject God and a believer is moved by the Holy Spirit to pray for them, God breaks the bondages and sent revivals
  • This is a continuous cycle until the antichrist appears and his mark prevents repentance. Then Jesus will return.
  • Are you praying for sinners to repent?
  • Are you asking Jesus to hasten His return? The Spirit and the bride pray: Come Lord Jesus come!!!

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