"This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.2 Peter 3:9 is often quoted by those who believe that Jesus died and shed His blood for each and every individual that has ever lived in an attempt to claim that He is not willing that any individual should ever perish. However, when we study this verse and its immediate context, we soon learn who this verse is talking about. Is it talking about all men? No, it is not! If God is not willing that any should perish, then none will perish because His will will be accomplished: "My purpose shall stand, and I will accomplish all that I please" (Isaiah 46:10). Whatever God wills is what happens because He has willed it. If you think human will can override God's will, think again. You might want to go back and read about Jonah and Nebuchadnezzar.
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow concerning His promise as some count slowness, but is long-suffering toward you, not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." 2 Peter 3:1-13
Our first step in determining who this verse is talking about will be in examining the Greek language. The word "some," from "as some count slowness," and the word "any," from "that any should perish," are the exact same Greek word—tis (τις). It means "certain ones." So, our passage could read like this:
The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as certain ones count slowness, but is long-suffering toward you, not willing that certain ones should perish, but that all should come to repentance.Now, reading it in that light is very telling. God is not willing that certain ones should perish. Which ones are those? That is what we are going to answer by the end of this study.
Our next step in determining who this verse is talking about is to ask "Who is the 'you'?" Well, that's simple enough to answer. The good student of the Bible will immediately consider the context and read the verse prior, which reads: "But, beloved, do not be ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." The immediate context has just revealed to us that the "you" is the "beloved." In fact, in this entire chapter Peter differentiates between "you" and "they."
Who are the "beloved"? Again, the good student of the Bible will keep with context. The very beginning of this chapter reads: "This is the second epistle I now write to you, beloved." Ah ha! Peter has written two epistles to this "beloved," but we still have not figured out who these people are. For this, we need to turn to his first epistle. There, in the first verse of the first chapter, we read: "To the elect."
Finally! We have just discovered who the "you" is. The "you" (or "us" as the King James translates it) in 2 Peter 3:9 are the "elect." The first "certain ones" in this verse refers to the "they" while the second "certain ones" refers to the "you" (or "us"). Now, in the King James Bible, the word "elect" appears in the second verse of 1 Peter 1, but this is a translational error because in the original Greek it is the fifth word from the beginning of the book.
There is one more nail we need to put in the coffin on this issue. The word translated as "all" is the Greek word pas (πας) and means:
- each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything
- some of all types
Whether you like it or not, the "you" or "us" in 2 Peter 3:9 is speaking of and to the "elect." God is long-suffering toward certain ones (vessels of wrath) for the sake of certain ones (His elect—vessels of mercy) to come to repentance. This is what Romans 9:22-23 teaches us as well: "What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, has endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for the vessels of mercy, which He had beforehand prepared unto glory." Revelation states crystal clearly that there are those "whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (13:8) and "whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (17:8). Ephesians 1:4 tells us that "[God] chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world." Romans 8:19 says, "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God." Time waits for the revealing of each believer. Until the very last believer who will believe comes to faith, God will be patient with the vessels of His wrath. He is patient with them for the sake of His chosen, not willing that any of His chosen should perish -- and none of them will (John 6:39; 17:12; 18:9).