Bible Answer

Does Peter teach that God is waiting for everyone to believe?

I know the Bible teaches that God saves those whom He chooses, but in 2 Peter 3:9 the Bible says that God does not want any to perish. Doesn't this mean God wants everyone to be saved?

If we try to apply Peter's statement in this passage to the question of salvation, we are taking Peter's words out of context and thereby misinterpreting them.

The context of Peter's statement in 2Peter 3:9 is a discussion about the Lord's promise to return for the Church. Let's look at the full context:

2Pet. 3:1 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,
2Pet. 3:2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
2Pet. 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts,
2Pet. 3:4 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.”
2Pet. 3:5 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,
2Pet. 3:6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
2Pet. 3:7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
2Pet. 3:8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
2Pet. 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
2Pet. 3:10 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.

First, notice that the point of Peter's passage is given in v.4: he is addressing those who cast doubt on Jesus' promise to return for His Church. Remember, Jesus didn't promise to return for everyone. He promised to return for His Church. Remember His words spoken to the disciples in John 14:

John 14:1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
John 14:2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
John 14:3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

This is the promise Peter is discussing. Peter says in the last days, many will come mocking Jesus' promise to return. Mockers will claim that He is not returning for His Church. These mockers will base their accusations on the fact that so much time has passed since Jesus' made the promise. They claim God's promise isn't trustworthy merely because so much time has passed since the promise was given.

In responding to that accusation, Peter reminds us that time doesn't pose a threat to God's promises, because God lives outside time. A long passage of time (i.e., a thousand years) is no different to God than the passage of a day, and therefore God's promises are no less certain after thousands of year than they were in the day they were spoken.

The mockers will claim that the long delay in Jesus' promised return is evidence that His promise isn't trustworthy, but Peter offers a different reason why God has waited so long to send Jesus back to Earth. The answer is because God doesn't want any to perish. The fundamental question in understanding this passage is who are the "any" in this statement? Based on the context of Peter's discussion, "any" are the church, those who believe. In other words, God will ensure that before Jesus returns for the Church, God has called every person intended for faith into the Body of Christ..

From Peter's teaching (and others in the New Testament), we come to understand that God has a plan for an appointed number of believers in the church, and God has set that number from the foundations of the Earth (see Eph 1:4). God has an appointed number of believers He intends to save (see Acts 13:48; 22:14), and these believers are scattered across many nations and throughout the course of history. God is patiently waiting, Peter says, for the elect to be born and to believe in their appointed day. Only after the last appointed believer comes to faith will Christ return for His Church, thereby ensuring that none (of His children) perish.

In summary, Peter's context in 2 Peter 3 is clearly talking about Jesus' promise to return for His Church, and Peter says God does not want any (of His Church) to perish. Once the Lord returns, the opportunity for the world to believe during this age comes to an end, so if the Lord were to return "early," some of those among future generations of believers would perish in the sense that they wouldn't have had the opportunity to be born and believe.

Some have taken this statement in 2 Peter to mean God is patient because He doesn't want any human beings to perish. This interpretation is literally impossible. First, people are perishing in their unbelief every day, so if God were "waiting" for all to believe, then God's waiting would be in vain and would never end. Jesus' Second Coming could never happen if God is waiting for none to perish! Clearly, Peter cannot mean that God is waiting for the world to believe. God knows many will not believe, so the timing of His return is not dependent on their coming to faith, just as Paul said:

2Cor. 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,

Furthermore, such an interpretation is self-contradictory. Peter's second letter teaches that one day the Lord will return, and when He arrives, He destroys all who have not believed (see 2Peter 3:7 and Revelation 19-20). So if Peter were teaching that the Lord is waiting because He wishes no human beings would perish, then Peter's teaching that the Lord returns to destroy the ungodly would be contradictory! Peter would be teaching that the Lord is planning to act against His own wishes, which is impossible. Clearly, God will not hesitate to destroy the wicked in the day of judgment, therefore He has not delayed that day for their sake.  Instead, He has delayed it for the sake of the elect.

Consequently, we cannot assume that the word "any" means "all human beings."  Instead, the context of Peter's letter makes clear that "any" means "all of God's elect."