Not Willing That Any Should Perish

Recently the church has been going through the book of 2 Peter in the Thursday evening Bible studies, and it was inevitable that when it came to a certain verse in chapter 3, that it would be misinterpreted. And indeed it was. The offending verse is:

2 Peter 3:9
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.

This is usually interpreted to mean that God wants everybody in the world to be saved. This view is so universally held, that it is thought impossible for it to mean anything else. But it does mean something else.

If this common view was correct, then we would have a frustrated God on our hands. He would want everybody in the world to be saved. He would have the ability to save everybody in the world, just as He has already done to countless numbers of people throughout the ages. Yet He doesn’t do it. He wants to, but He doesn’t. What kind of God is that? Maybe He’s waiting for us to respond to His call, but if that was the case, He’d be waiting an awfully long time, because we can’t. None of us can respond by ourselves. We need Him to change us first:

Jeremiah 31:18
...turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God.

John 15:5
...without me ye can do nothing.

God is never frustrated:

Job 23:13
But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.

Every single one of us is born with a sinful, rebellious nature. None of us deserve anything but condemnation and judgment at the hands of a holy God. There is nothing we can do to avoid this. We are born dead to spiritual things:

Matthew 23:33
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

1 John 5:19
....the whole world lieth in wickedness.

The wonderful news is that God has come into the world, in Jesus Christ, to save a number that no man can number from such a condition:

Revelation 7:9-10
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

The way God performs this is by coming into the hearts of these people and changing them from the inside, turning them from darkness to light:

Acts 26:18
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Ezekiel 37:5
Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live....

But notice, God has to do it all, because we can’t. And also notice that He doesn’t do this for everybody. Why should He? In fact, why should He save anybody at all? Why not just leave us all alone to get our just deserts in hell fire forever? He won’t have done anything wrong in doing that. Salvation is all of grace:

Jonah 2:9
….Salvation is of the LORD.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Ever since the days of Cain and Abel, we can all be accounted in one of two groups. Either, like Abel, we are among those God chooses to save in time by changing their hearts, to the praise of His glorious mercy:

2 Timothy 2:19
Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his…

Or, like Cain, we are amongst those God has chosen to leave in their sins and be justly punished for them, to the praise of His glorious justice:

Romans 9:22-24
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

If we are in the former group, how dare we boast. We are no better than those God has chosen to pass by. We were born in exactly the same condition as they were:

Ephesians 2:1-3
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

The fact that we have been saved from a hopeless condition to become one of God’s children is nothing deserved by us, it is of grace alone. This should humble us to the dust, as we ask, “Why me?”

1 Peter 5:5-6
….be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time….

Romans 3:27-28
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Now then, back to the text in 2 Peter:

2 Peter 3:9
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 basis of the common misinterpretation is in the phrase “to us-ward,” or (to not use AV language) “towards us.” The “us” must refer to the same group of people as the “any” and the “all.” If we can ascertain who is meant by the “us,” then we can understand the verse clearly. 

 The “us” is usually regarded as everybody in the world. In which case the “any” and the “all” must also refer to everybody in the world. But if the “us” refers only to those who God saves, rather than everybody in the world, then the “any” and the “all” would also refer only to this group of people, and this verse would make perfect sense. It would read: 

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering towards us [His people], not willing that any [of His people] should perish, but that all [of His people] should come to repentance.”

Why does God seem to be delaying His coming? Why does He seem “slack concerning His promise”? Well, that fact is that He is not slack at all, He is coming as quickly as He will:

Matthew 24:22
And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.

Revelation 22:20
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

He knows exactly when He is going to send Christ back to us and this world will end. It seems to be taking a long time to us, but the reason this world is continuing as it is, is because there are still some of the Lord’s people out there to be gathered in. He is not willing that any of them should perish. He will gather every one of His sheep and lead them to Himself:

John 6:37,39
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out…. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

Matthew 18:14
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

This is a great motivation for mission. We have no idea who God’s people are. Before God changes their hearts, they not only look no different, they are no different from the rest of humanity. The preaching of the gospel is the usual (but not exclusive) means God uses to bring people to Himself. When we go out into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, we call upon all men indiscriminately to repent and believe in Him. We preach to the “whosoever”:

John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13
....whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Revelation 22:17
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

Although we call all men to come to Christ, we have no idea who will respond. But as long as this world is continuing, and hasn’t been wound up yet, we know that there are still elect to be gathered in. There are still people out there who will respond to the gospel message, because God continues to work in people’s hearts, even today. 

Without this glorious hope, we could spend our lives preaching and witnessing, and we don’t know if we’re doing any good or not. Maybe nobody who hears us will ever come to the Lord. But if we are following His guidance as to where we should be and what we should be doing, then we will not be disappointed at the harvest, because we are guaranteed that there will be one.

When we read about God being “long-suffering,” there is a sense in which He is “long-suffering” to all men, including those who never come to Him:

1 Peter 3:20
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

But there is also a sense in which it can particularly refer to His people:

Romans 2:4
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

1 Timothy 1:16
Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

Here in 2 Peter, we know that God is only speaking of His long-suffering towards His people, the ones who are saved to eternal life, because we read later:

2 Peter 3:15
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation….


And this brings us on to a second misunderstood verse, which inevitably also came up in the Bible study. But this time it was not only inevitably misunderstood, but inevitably misquoted as well. Here is the misquote, see if you can spot the mistake:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…. how often would I have gathered you together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!”

If this was correct, we would again have a frustrated God. He wants to gather Jerusalem together, but they frustrate Him by refusing to come. How can puny man frustrate an all-powerful God? It’s impossible! Thankfully this is a misquote.

The mistake is with the first “you.” The Bible does not say that. This appears in parallel passages in Matthew and Luke:

Matthew 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!

Luke 13:34
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!

The “thy children” and the “ye” are two different groups of people. “Thy children” are the Lord’s people from within Jerusalem, whom Christ does indeed gather as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings. “Ye” refers to the general mass of Jerusalem, particularly the leadership, who have been guilty of killing the prophets and stoning those God sent to them. They are the ones who “would not.

This is the only interpretation that make sense. God gathers His people and the rest hate Him, and will one day be judged by Him, unless the Lord grants them repentance, and they too are found to be His people:

Luke 13:3, 5
….except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.


We must never forget that we have a holy God, who can never be frustrated. Men would like to try to frustrate Him, but they will always be disappointed:

Psalm 115:3
But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.

Isaiah 14:27
For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?

If we are going to be saved to eternal life at all, we must stop looking to anything in ourselves to please God. We can’t even choose Him:

John 15:16
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you....

We must look to, and cry to, Him alone for salvation:

Isaiah 2:22
Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

Isaiah 55:6-7
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

And even any desire to cry to Him in the first place, comes from Him:

John 6:44
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.



Romans 11:36
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.