“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[i].” (2 Peter 3:9)
People have spoken about the second coming of Christ since soon after Jesus died. We still talk about it today. I am not going to try to suggest when the second coming will be. No man knows the day or the hour. (Matt. 24:36) But, a God who could raise Jesus from the dead can cause Him to come again. It will happen. We will also all die as surely as we live.
We do not like to talk about judgment or hell, but we cannot accept the Bible as true with any integrity without conceding those principles. Whether Jesus spoke more of hell than heaven or more of heaven than hell is beside the point; Jesus clearly and pointedly spoke of judgment[ii] and of hell[iii].
Jesus said that some people would end up in heaven with Him, and some would end up in hell without Him. We might call this the great divide.
The “slowness” about which Peter is talking in 2 Peter 3:9 is God’s slowness in fulfilling the promise of the second coming of Christ… and of the Day of Judgment. (2 Pet. 3:3-8) Peter famously reminds us that one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day for God (2 Pet. 3:8), for God exists outside of time and space (always is, always was and always will be).
The fact that “the Day” has not yet come speaks to God’s patience and His desire that none would perish. (See also John 3:16). God’s desire is that everyone would be “saved”. (1 Tim. 2:4) Though God desires that none perish and all be saved suggests that hell is a reality, and it is a reality that God doesn’t choose for us.
Some say that hell means primarily separation from God, but others make a good case that it means something else. (See for example Hell is Not Separation from God (eternal condemnation vs. eternal fellowship with God) or The Rich Man and Lazarus (death vs. eternal life)).
Regardless of what it might mean, hell is no place or condition God desires for us, and it’s not a place or condition we might desire as a bare proposition.
But God does not present us directly with a choice between heaven and hell. He presents us with the choice between God and His way or other things and other ways; ultimately, it boils down to God’s way or “my way”. In that sense, the Frank Sinatra song, I Did It My Way, might be a good anthem for those who reject God.
God’s patience allows time for people to repent, to turn from their own ways, and to accept what is acceptable to God.
We do not dictate to God. God is who He is, and He does not change. The universe was created by Him and for His purpose, including us. The choice is ours to accept what God finds acceptable and to align with Him or run to seek what we find acceptable and align against Him.
For almost two thousand years since God became man, God has been patient, allowing time for repentance (“declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” Acts 17:31 & 20:21). So, the writer of Hebrews implores: “Today, if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts….” (Heb. 3:7-8; quoting Ps. 95:7-8)
The choice is ours: we can do it our way; or we can do it God’s way. We can choose God as our Lord and Savior, or we can cling to self-determination.
God does not coerce us into choosing. We can choose God’s way; we can choose another way; or we can choose not to choose; but there will come a day for all of us when that choice will be eternally set for us by our choosing or not choosing. In that day, not choosing God will be the same as rejecting Him.
As Peter says, God desires for us to repent (turn from our own ways to God’s way) . That means we do not start this life on God’s side of the Great Divide. If we have not chosen God, we will have chosen hell (whatever hell is). There is no other alternative. In that day, it will not be God’s doing, but our own doing on which side of the Great Divide we stand.
[i] The Greek word is 3341/metánoia meaning, literally, “a change of mind” (“after-thought”); translated repentance. It is a change of thinking, including turning away from what displeases God and turning toward what pleases God. Repentance involves a desire to change and embrace God’s will and God’s inbirthing and inworking of faith (4102/pístis, “divine persuasion”) that empowers the repentant to make the change. We turn around and embrace the change, and God begins to empower us to make the change. Faith and repentance are inextricably interwoven.
[ii] Verses in which Jesus mentioned judgment: Jesus will be the Judge (John 5:21) and “those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment”. (John 5:29); for judgment Jesus came into the world. (John 9:38-39). On the Day of Judgment, everyone will have to give an account. (Matt. 12:36) The one who rejects Jesus will be judged. (John 12:48)
[iii] Verses in which Jesus mentioned hell: Matt. 5-27-30; Matt. 8:12 (outer darkness); Matt. 13:42-50 (furnace of fire); Matt. 18:8-9 & Mk. 9:43-48 (everlasting fire/hell); Matt. 22;13 (outer darkness); Matt. 25:30 (outer darkness); Matt. 25:41, 46 (everlasting fire); Mark 3:29 (eternal condemnation); Luke 3:17 (unquenchable fire); John 5:29 (resurrection of condemnation). Many of the times Jesus spoke of hell, he was speaking in parable.
Whether hell is “fire and brimstone” or something else (like outer darkness or death (vs. eternal life)), we understand it to be an unpleasant place marked primarily by the separation of the person from fellowship with God. (“I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you….’” (Matt. 7:23))
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