The Bible teaches that, sometime in the future, God will bring a close to history and there will be a new heaven and a new Earth, as stated in Revelation 21:1. Matthew 24:6-8 and Mark 13:7-8 indicate that before this occurs, there will be wars, famines, and earthquakes during the so-called “end times” or “last days” that immediately precede the return of Jesus Christ to Earth (i.e., His second advent). Then, as mentioned in Revelation 20:4, after a millennial (i.e., 1,000-year) reign on Earth by Christ and His believers who have been resurrected from death, the consummation of human history will follow.
However, a number of people believe that the frequency and magnitude of wars and other horrible events caused by humans (e.g., genocides, terrorist attacks, etc.), as well as famines, earthquakes, and other terrible events caused by nature (e.g., hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.) have increased during at least the last 100 years. If this belief is correct, it raises the question as to why God is waiting to bring about the other events leading to the consummation of human history.
To answer this question, we will focus on 2 Peter 3:9, which pertains specifically to the last days. This verse states,
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
In the NIV Bible, a footnote regarding 2 Peter 3:9 states, “God’s seeming delay in bringing about the consummation of all things is a result not of indifference but of patience in waiting for all who will come to repentance.” In other words, this verse of scripture indicates that God wants to give people plenty of time to repent and receive His gift of eternal salvation before He brings judgment on mankind.
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible supports this point of view. Barnes says 2 Peter 3:9 indicates that God wants to give human beings “ample opportunity” to obtain eternal salvation, as follows:
But [God] is long-suffering to us-ward – Toward us. The delay should be regarded as a proof of His forbearance, and of His desire that all human beings should be saved. Every sinner should consider the fact that he is not cut down in his sins, not as a proof that God will not punish the wicked, but as a demonstration that He is now forbearing, and is willing that he should have an ample opportunity to obtain eternal life. No one should infer that God will not execute His threats, unless he can look into the most distant parts of a coming eternity and demonstrate that there is no suffering appointed for the sinner there; anyone who sins, and who is spared even for a moment, should regard the respite as only a proof that God is merciful and forbearing now.
Not willing that any should perish – That is, He [i.e., God] does not desire it or wish it. His nature is benevolent, and He sincerely desires the eternal happiness of all, and His patience toward sinners “proves” that He is willing that they should be saved. If He were not willing, it would be easy for Him to cut them off and exclude them from hope immediately.
John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible provides a similar perspective regarding 2 Peter 3:9. Calvin says,
But the Lord is not slack, or, delays not. He checks extreme and unreasonable haste by another reason, that is, that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always prurient, and a doubt often creeps in, why he does not come sooner. But when we hear that the Lord, in delaying, shews a concern for our salvation, and that he defers the time because he has a care for us, there is no reason why we should any longer complain of tardiness. He is tardy who allows an occasion to pass by through slothfulness: there is nothing like this in God, who in the best manner regulates time to promote our salvation. And as to the duration of the whole world, we must think exactly the same as of the life of every individual; for God by prolonging time to each, sustains him that he may repent. In the like manner he does not hasten the end of the world, in order to give to all time to repent.
Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out.
Adam Clarke Commentary similarly expresses the belief that God wants to give people sufficient opportunities to find redemption. Clarke states,
It is not slackness, remissness, nor want of due displacence [sic] at sin, that induced God to prolong the respite of ungodly men; but his long-suffering, his unwillingness that any should perish: and therefore he spared them, that they might have additional offers of grace, and be led to repentance – to deplore their sins, implore God’s mercy, and find redemption through the blood of the Lamb.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible, which is also in agreement with the preceding Bible commentaries, provides a few additional scriptures to support his perspective, declaring,
We must never underestimate or understate the greatness of God’s longsuffering. For two thousand year He has endured the insults of atheists and scoffers, the challenges of foolish men, and the apathy of the great majority, and has granted them the opportunity to repent. And His love has constantly reached out through the cross. ‘God commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). But still they have not heard.
‘Not wishing that any should perish.’ And that love is revealed in the fact that ‘God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ In the words of Paul, ‘He would have all men saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). This does not mean that all men will be saved. It is rather an indication that if it were possible, this is how God would have it to be. He takes no delight in the death of the sinful, but would rather that they turned from their wickedness and lived (Ezekiel 33:11).
Likewise, The Pulpit Commentaries is in agreement with the preceding Bible commentaries and references several other scriptures, asserting,
Men are slow in fulfilling their promises from various, often selfish, motives; the Lord’s delay comes from love and long-suffering. But is long-suffering to us-ward; rather, to you-ward, which seems to be the best-supported reading; two ancient manuscripts give “for your sake.” St. Peter has the same thought in the First Epistle (1 Peter 4:1-19 :20); there he reminds us how the long-suffering of God waited while the ark was a-preparing; here he tells us that the delay of the judgment, at which unbelievers scoff, is due to the same cause. . . . Not willing that any should perish; rather, not wishing or desiring . . . . The participle gives the reason of the Lord’s delay; he hath no pleasure that the wicked should die (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32, and Ezekiel 33:11).
If God has, indeed, been postponing the consummation of human history in order to give people more time to trust in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation, is there any indication that this manifestation of grace is being widely received (i.e., that people throughout the world are becoming Christians at a faster rate than the total population of the world is growing)?
According to the website Wikipedia, a 2011 survey indicated that there were more than three times as many Christians in 2010 as in 1910, but the rate of growth in the number of Christians was slower than the world’s population growth over the same time period. In other words, although the number of Christians on Earth tripled from 1910 to 2010, the percentage of Christians in the world declined during that 100-year period.
However, the website reconciliationoutreach.net states that Christianity has been growing faster than worldwide population since 2000. Likewise, the website washingtonpost.com indicates that, in recent years, Christianity has been growing faster than the worldwide population. We can only speculate as to the reason(s) for this reversal in trend, but one major factor has been the effectiveness of the Jesus Film Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, especially during recent years. This ministry has been instrumental in converting hundreds of millions of people throughout the world to Christianity, including almost 40 million recorded decisions in 2017 alone.
God is waiting to bring about the consummation of human history because He wants to give those who are not Christians more time to repent and receive His gift of eternal salvation before He brings His judgment on mankind. Therefore, God is giving increasingly more people throughout the world ample opportunities to receive this gift. In this regard, the Bible declares in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Therefore, we conclude that the return of Jesus Christ to Earth, His millennial reign, and the consummation of human history will not occur until essentially everyone in the world has had opportunity to respond to the gospel message of how to receive eternal salvation.