“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” (NASB).

 

2 Peter 3:9 is one of the top Arminian default passages to support a universal atonement.  However, I will say at the onset, one cannot set passages against other passages. For definitive atonement is taught clearly throughout Scripture (e.g., Isa. 53:11; Mark 10:45; John 1:13; 6:37-40; Acts 13:48; Rom. 9; 11:5; 2 Thess. 2:13 et al.). In opposition to the Arminian understanding of this passage, in brief,            

 

  1. The context of chapter 3 is the second coming of Christ, not This point is very important as to a correct interpretation of v. 9.

 

  1. In vv. 1-2, Peter addresses his specific audience to whom he is writing (, the elect, cf. vv. 1:1ff.): “beloved, the second letter I am writing to YOU [ὑμῖν, SECOND person plural pronoun]. . . . 2 that YOU should remember the words spoken beforehand. . . .”

 

  1. However, in vv. 3ff., Peter uses THIRD person plural pronouns and verbal references to refer to a different group —namely, the “scoffing mockers”: “Mockers will come [ἐλεύσονται] with THEIR mocking following after THEIR [αὐτῶν] own lusts” (v. 3), “it escapes THEIR [αὐτοὺς] notice” (v. 5).  

 

  1. Then in v. 8, Peter refers back to his own reading audience (the elect) using second person plural references: “But do not let this onefact escape YOUR [ὑμᾶς] notice, beloved,”—contra the third person reference group—“them,” the unsaved scoffers.  

 

Therefore, in light of Peter’s own defining context (second coming of Christ) and the clear differentiation he makes between the two groups (scoffers and the elect), we now can simply and appropriately interpret v. 9:

 

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as SOME [third person plural—the scoffers] count slowness, but is patient toward YOU [ὑμᾶς—second person plural—his audience, the elect], not wishing [βούλομαι, lit., “purposing, intending”] for ANY to perish [“any” of “YOU”], but for ALL [i.e., All of “YOU”] to come to repentance.” Hence, God does not purpose or intend any of His elect to perish, but all come to repentance and life in His Son: “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me. . . . 39 [and I will] raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39).    

 

One more note, there is a variant of the pronoun in v. 9 in which the TR contains—ἡμᾶς (“us”), “but is longsuffering to us-ward. . . .” (KJV). However, both variants (“you” or “us”) affirm the same thing.   

 

The vicarious life and cross-work of Jesus Christ does not put the elect in a potentially saved state; rather it secured salvation for the ones that the Father gave to Christ (esp. John 6:37-40, 44).

Christ’s death also secured reconciliation for His elect (cf. Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:21-22; Heb. 9:12). He voluntarily gave Himself as a ransom for His chosen, on their behalf (cf. Mark 10:45; Rom. 8:32; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 5:25-26; 1 Thess. 5.9-10; 1 Tim. 2:6): “For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1.68).

Note the usage of the Greek preposition huper (“on behalf of,” “instead of”) to describe the actual and literal substitutionary death of Christ: “[the Father] delivered [paredōken; i.e., delivered up for sacrifice] Him over for [huper, lit., “on behalf of”] us all” (Rom. 8:32; emphasis added); “who gave Himself for [huper] our sins” (Gal. 1:4; emphasis added; cf. 3:13); “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for [heauton paredōken huper] her” (Eph. 5.25).

Further, to emphasize the nature of the substitutionary work of Christ on the behalf of His elect, the preposition anti is utilized in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for [lutron anti] many” and Matthew 20:28, which reads identically. After careful lexical and linguistic study, Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace, concludes:

In summery, the evidence appears to be overwhelmingly in favor of viewing anti in Matt. 20:28/Mark 10:45 as meaning in the place of and very possibly with the secondary meaning in exchange for. . . . (GGBB, 367).

In 1 Timothy 2:6, Paul combines the compound antilutron and huper to clearly denote what Jesus Christ literally did for His people—a ransom in their place: “who gave Himself as a ransom for [antilutron huper] all.” But because of His great love and mercy for His chosen, He not only invites them, but infallibly deliverers them: “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

As Paul rightly says, “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1.30). He literally substituted Himself on behalf of His people absorbing the wrath that was due to our account because of sin. His cross-work satisfied the requirements of God’s law.

It was the perfect justice of God, which required that the perfect demands of the law should be met (cf. Rom. 3:25-27). Christ Jesus perfectly met those requirements by His active (preceptive) and passive (penal) obedience whereby substituting Himself (both in perfect His life and death) in our place.  

At the start of John 10, Jesus draws a sharp contrast between false teachers (viz. false shepherds) and Himself—the true Shepherd that protects His sheep and gives them eternal life.[1] In verse 15, however, Christ makes another very theologically significant statement pertaining to the definiteness and specific purpose of the atonement—that is, who it is for whom He died: “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down My life for the sheep” (huper tōn probatōn, lit., “on behalf of [or “for the sake of”] the sheep”): Biblically, the atonement served to satisfy or, more precisely, “propitiate” (hilasmos)[2] the Father.

huper (“on behalf of”)

In this passage, the Greek preposition huper (meaning “on behalf of,” or “instead of”) was used to express the actual and literal “substitutionary” or vicarious death of Christ—i.e., a substitutionary atonement. Koinē Greek,[3] unlike English, is a very defined language, a language of precision. Accordingly, prepositions (along with other parts of grammar) have a great significance in biblical exegesis (i.e., critical interpretation). In many passages where the atonement is in view, the NT authors chose the preposition huper to indicate that Jesus’ cross-work was a literal and definite substitution. Note the following passages where huper is used to clearly indicate this:

Romans 8:32: “[the Father] delivered [paredōken; i.e., ‘delivered up for sacrifice’] Him over for [huper] us all.”

Galatians 1:4: “who gave Himself for [huper] our sins” (cf. 3:13).

Ephesians 5:25: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for [heauton paredōken huper] her” (lit., “He delivered Himself up for sacrifice on behalf of His church—in their place”).

In addition to huper, the preposition anti, which is semantically similar, is used at places such as Mark 10:45 to stress the nature and intention of Jesus’ substitutionary work: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for [lutron anti, lit., “ransom in the place of”] many.”[4]

Returning back to our text, John 10:15, it must be clearly emphasized: Jesus says that He specifically died for His sheep. His death did not make men “savable,” but rather His death secured and guaranteed the salvation of those whom He intended to save—His sheep: it was a definite atonement. The Scriptures clearly particularize who it is for whom Christ died.

The atoning cross-work of God the Son was not a vague non-specific universal work for which no one is actually (only potentially) atoned, but rather it was definite and according His perfect sovereignty and pleasure of His will (cf. Eph. 1:4-5, 11).

The death of Christ was an actual substitutionary atonement in which Christ literally and fully paid the penalty for sin, bore the curse, dies the death that our sins deserved, propitiating the Father, fully and perfectly satisfying divine justice. Either Jesus’ death achieved an actual propitiation (see note 2 above) literally averting wrath actually paying for sins, or it did not.

Universal Atonement?

In opposition to definite atonement is the majority view of the church (as well as the Roman Catholic Church): universal atonement. That is, that Jesus’ death merely made men “savable,” a “potential” salvation—for it did not “actually” secure salvation for anybody. In this view, (a) His cross-work did not actually redeem anyone in particular and (b) it reduces the atonement to a universal possibility that is actuated only when certain conditions (viz. the faith-act) are met. In other words, His death potentially redeemed or atoned for every single person, but an actual redemption is dependent on man’s free choice.[5]

PROBLEM: To preach, as most evangelists do, that Jesus died (thus, atoned) for “every single person” that ever lived (as a universal atonement teaches) implies the doctrine of universalism (i.e., every person will be saved). For if Jesus’ sacrifice really did achieve the forgiveness of the sins of every single person and produced an actual propitiation[6] on their behalf, then, all would be saved (universalism). There would by absolutely no biblical basis whatsoever for any to go to hell, divine justice would have been perfectly satisfied—and wouldn’t make any difference whether one accepts or rejects Christ: For if “all sins” means “all sins,” then even the sin of rejection would fully be paid (unless one asserts that Christ propitiated, forgave, and paid for 99% of the sins of all men). Clearly, universal atonement is unbiblical.

The biblical position is definite atonement: Christ infallibly saves every single one of those for whom He laid down His life—“and I lay down My life for My sheep.” He substituted Himself on their behalf, in their place. His cross-work perfectly secured salvation for them—it did not make salvation a possibility, but rather it actually saved those for whom He died. The blood of Christ is sufficient to save all men, but efficacious to those for whom the atonement was intended: All that the Father gives Me will come to Me . . . all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it[7] up on the last day. . . . No one can come to Me unless the Father . . . draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39, 44).

His atonement was definite. Christ not die potentially for those who might believe, but rather He died specifically to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This is the very heart of the gospel—God actually redeems men “from every tribe, language, people, and nation” granting them salvation apart from works (cf. Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 1:9).

In Acts 16:6-7, Paul and his companions on their second missionary journey, were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. As a result, the gospel spread westward into Europe, not eastward toward Asia, thus, at that time, many Asians died never hearing of Christ.[8] Hence, hearing the gospel is controlled by the providential sovereignty of God. It is inconceivable then to assume that God sent His Son to save people who, by the direction of His own providence, never hear the gospel in order that they may believe and be saved (cf. Luke 10:21-22; John 5:21; Rom. 9:3-6, 13, 16; 11:5-7, 28).

Jesus said that He gave His “life for His sheep,” “a ransom for many” in which He “delivered Himself up for sacrifice on behalf of His church” (John 10:15; Mark 10:45; Eph. 5:25).]

“God has chosen you [heilato][9] from the beginning for salvation. . . .” For He has “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus. . . .” (2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; cf. Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:8).

NOTES

[1] John 10:28 reads: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from My hand.” This is one of the clearest affirmations regarding the nature of justification in terms of the promise of eternal salvation. The clause “they will never perish” (ou mē apolōntai) is a double negative followed by an aorist subjunctive also called an emphatic negative. It is the strongest way in Greek to deny or negate a future possibility. It is used only about 85 times in the NT. The clause literally reads: “never never [ou mē], not even a possibility, perish” (often used where salvation is in view, e.g., John 6:35, 37; Rom. 4:8; see Gk.).

[2] The term “propitiate” (hilasmos) means, in simple terms, “to placate” or “appease.” Theologically, when Scripture says that Jesus is our “propitiation” (1 John 2:2), it indicates that through His death our sins (as Christians) were not only forgiven, but divine anger, the very wrath of the Father was turned away: The Son’s atoning sacrifice placated the Father. Many today downplay the aspect of the Father’s wrath by suggesting that hilasmos merely means forgiveness of sin (“expiation”)—removing the lexical meaning from the word for the sake of presenting God as an all-loving-no-wrath kind of God. Of course, that is a distortion of the biblical presentation of the love of God. In saying that though, the term also does not define God as ill-tempered always desiring to deal swiftly and hurtfully with His human subjects unless they appease Him by gifts and offerings, as hilasmos is defined in pagan literature (cf. Homer’s The Iliad). The wrath of God is holy justice dealing righteously against sin. It was because of His infallible love, grace, and mercy that God sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice that satisfied holy justice. That is why hilasmos can be translated as “propitiation,” not “expiation,” which would denote only forgiveness or the removal of the penalty sin without any implication of turning away wrath and placating the Father. The fact is, hilasmos carries two ideas: 1) cleansing or forgiving sins and 2) removing or averting wrath. Hence, Jesus is said to be our “Advocate” in the proceeding verse (note: 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 are the only places where hilasmos appears in the NT). Thus, an appropriate English equivalent of hilasmos is “propitiation.” Note the prefix “pro” denoting that the satisfaction was made before the Father. But because of the complexity of the term “propitiation” some opt to use “atoning sacrifice” (e.g., NIV, NET, etc.), which sufficiently communicates the meaning.

[3] The NT was written in Koinē (“common”) Greek.

[4] Matthew 20:28 reads identical to Mark 10:45 (lutron anti pollōn [lit., “as a ransom on behalf [or “in the place”] of many”; cf. Isa. 53:11). After careful lexical and linguistic study regarding the preposition anti, Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace, concludes:

the evidence appears to be overwhelmingly in favor of viewing a)nti\ [anti] in Matt. 20:28/Mark 10:45 as meaning in the place of and very possibly with the secondary meaning in exchange for. . . . (GGBB, 367).

[5] In this view, man, not God, is sovereign over his own eternal destiny. Further, this notion sees the initial faith-act as the very cause or ground of justification—making “faith” itself a meritorious work that one must do to earn justification. However, grammatically, never in Scripture is “faith” said to be the cause of justification, rather it is always said to be the very instrument God uses to justify (cf. Rom. 4:4-8; 5:1; Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 1:9).

[6] The Greek reads in 1 John 2:2: kai autos hilasmos estin (lit., “and He propitiation is”). Note that the verb estin (“is”) is in the present, not the future tense. Thus, Christ is (not potentially) the literal and real atoning sacrifice that averted God’s wrath.

[7] Rather than using the masculine pronoun auton, “him,” the neuter pronoun auto (“it”) is used here. The neuter describes the elect (i.e., the ones that the Father gives to the Son) as a whole or, as F. F. Bruce says, “the sum-total.”

[8] But eventually, the gospel was preached in Asia (cf. Acts 19:10).

[9] The term heilato (has chosen you) is an aorist middle indicative (lit., “chose for Himself”). The middle voice indicates that the subject (God) is both the agent and the doer of the action upon Himself, or for His own advantage. Literally, “God chose for Himself (heilato) from the beginning (aparchēn) those for salvation [eis sōtēpian]. . . .” (cf. Acts 13:48).