This passage is often cited as proof that God wants all men to be saved, in an attempt to disprove the doctrine of unconditional election. Those who use the passage in this way assert that "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, and therefore it is false to say that He has chosen only some men unto eternal life."
The true sense of the passage becomes apparent, however, when we inquire who is the "you" whom Peter is addressing when he says that the Lord "... is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish ...". Was this epistle written to all mankind indiscriminately? What does Peter write in the opening verse?
2 Peter 1:1 - Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:This epistle was written to the people of God, to those "who have received a faith of the same kind as ours".
Moreover, one verse previous, in 2 Peter 3:8, Peter addressed his hearers as "beloved", which is a term of endearment distinguishing those who are fellow believers in Christ and brothers in the Lord...
2 Peter 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.It was in this context that he says "The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish ...".
He likewise calls them "beloved" in the opening verse of the chapter, where he reminds them of the first letter he wrote to them, and of the words spoken to them by their apostles...
2 Peter 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, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.Finally, notice that Peter describes certain "scoffers" who will arise in the last days. Observe how he contrasts the scoffers ("they" and "their") with his "beloved" readers ("you" and "your").
2 Peter 3:1-9 - This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 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.The "scoffers" in verses 3-5, and "the ungodly" in verse 7, are clearly distinguished from the "beloved" in verse 8, which forms the scope and context of the "you", "any" and "all" in verse 9 who are those toward whom God is patient and not willing that any should perish.
In summary, 2 Peter 3:9 is written specifically to the people of God, and not to all men without exception. He says that "The Lord is patient toward you"... Why? ... because He is "not wishing for any to perish". This makes it abundantly clear that he means "the Lord is not wishing that any of you should perish".
The common objection to this conclusion is that Peter cannot be referring only to believers, since he says that God is longsuffering to them so that they will all come to repentance. If they are all already believers, who then is left to repent?
This objection arises only when one does not acknowledge Scripture's teaching that God, from all eternity, has chosen a people for Himself. When Peter addresses believers in his epistle, he recognizes (1) that their faith is the result of God's sovereign work in their hearts, and (2) that God has chosen yet others to receive faith who had not yet come to repentance.
It was Peter, after all, who on Pentecost preached concerning the promise of salvation ...
Acts 2:39 - "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."Peter recognized that salvation was promised, not merely to those who had already trusted in Christ, but also to all those who, in the future, God would call to Himself. Peter thus recognized that the only difference between those who already had faith and those who had not yet believed in Christ was simply that of timing. The time had not yet come for some of God's elect to believe. However, Peter assures us that the time will come, and that, in the meantime, God is patient with His elect people, bearing with their sins, insults and unbelief, until the time when He sends His blessed Holy Spirit into their hearts to regenerate them, creating true faith and repentance in them.
Peter's epistle is addressed to believers. It is addressed to those who were already believers. Does this mean, therefore, that it was not addressed to those who would afterward believe in our Lord Jesus? Why would anyone today read Peter's epistles or cite them as having any authority, unless he believed that Peter was also writing for the benefit of God's elect people who had not yet come to faith in Christ? Peter's epistle is addressed to God's elect people who were then believers, as well as to those who would afterward believe.
Thus, when he says "The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish ...", he is addressing believers as being part of a larger body of people... namely the elect of God, some of whom had not yet been regenerated, or, for that matter, had not yet even been born. Peter assures us that God's seeming slowness in carrying out His promises of final judgment and everlasting glory is explained by His desire to save all His elect people. If He were to consummate these promises while some of His elect people were still dead in their trespasses and unbelief, then His elective purpose for them would fail to bring about its result of regeneration, faith, repentance and sanctification. In short, His purpose of election would fail for certain elect people if He did not delay His judgment until the last elect person has been regenerated.
Why, then, is God so "slow" in consummating His promises of eternal glory? ... Because He still has elect people in the world who have not yet come to faith and repentance. He will not come in flaming judgment until the last sheep has been brought under the regenerating, sanctifying care of the Holy Spirit and is trusting in the Good Shepherd for his salvation.