When presenting a Scriptural case for the ultimate reconciliation of all mankind…where is the best place to start? There are a lot of verses to be sure, but which one (or ones) should usher the rest of them in? This is a difficult choice b/c there are sooo many good ones. But I think I know where we ought to begin.
I feel that the first thing we need to make sure of is whether or not it’s God’s will to save all mankind. Seems kind of obvious right? But for arguments sake, lets presuppose nothing. I mean, hypothetically speaking, if it could be shown that God doesn’t want all of His creation to be saved, then I would have a big problem concerning my viewpoint. I’m being facetious of course, and I do so b/c absurd exaggeration has a way of making the obvious apparent. That being said, Scripture does emphatically confirm that yes, it is God’s will to save everyone!
I am sure that most people have heard the verse that states,
“[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)
Most people have probably also heard its sister verse that says,
“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.” (2 Peter 3:9)
The only problem is that these verses are so direct about God’s will to save all of humanity that translators have had to soften the wording in order to prevent confusion. (yes, translators are biased and many times translate certain verses in ways that better support their doctrinal position or the position of those that they hope will purchase their specific translation). I know that probably sounds offensive, but we are a gullible generation. And nobody likes the idea that ideas they have put their trust in might possibly be wrong. I am not saying that the Scriptures are wrong, but that some of our english translations of the Scriptures are not entirely accurate.
But don’t worry…I wont expect you to take my word for it, I’m actually going to show you how the Greek in these verses actually communicates something very different. To begin with when we read these verses what we hear is – “God wishes that all men would be saved…but that probably is not actually going to happen.” The way we perceive these verses is as a kind of wishful thinking; a nice way of letting us know that He truly does want to help all those poor, lost, helpless souls out there, but His hands are tied. He cant help us b/c He’s left it all up to us…right? Fortunately that is NOT true.
You see, translating that word as “desire” makes it sound passive. In English it is employed as a noun, but the Greek word is actually a verb. The difference between a noun and a verb is that one is passive, one is active. Verbs convey action, that is their fundamental definition. The Greek definition of that word “desire” (thelo) is, “to purpose, generally based upon a preference and desire — ‘to purpose.’”
It denotes action, purpose – intention. It is NOT wishful thinking. A better translation is,
“[God] INTENDS to save all men and to bring them to a knowledge of the truth.”
or better yet as the King James more accurately translates it,
“[God] WILL HAVE all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
This, obviously, leads into the issue of exactly how sovereign God’s will is and definitely is something that we need to address, but before we get into that lets take a look at the other verse found in 2 Peter.
Peter declares that the Lord does not “wish (boulomai) that any would perish, but for all to come to repentance.” Again, the force it conveys in our English is very weak. The Greek word ‘boulomai’ means “to think, with the purpose of planning or deciding on a course of action — ‘to purpose, to plan, to intend.’” Once again we have the same issue; our english translation softening the force of the Greek. The Greek word boulomai, like thelo, is also a verb – denoting action. It also carries with it the implication of a plan by which to accomplish that will (Lou and Nida Lexicon).
So a possible translation could be something along the lines of this,
“the Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, His plan is that none will perish but that all will to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
We looked in the last series at how the word “perish” used here conveys the destruction necessary for salvation. I will not comment on it further other than to say that if you haven’t already read those 2 blogs I highly recommend it – you can find them here.
God’s slowness about His promise and His patience towards wayward man is part of His plan by which He will bring all mankind to repentance. (His sworn oath/promise is to save all men – see Isaiah 45:22,23.) God’s patience in accomplishing things obviously annoys us b/c we see things from a very limited time span. But God sees the beginning from the end so He alone knows the wisdom in waiting so long. One thing is clear from this Scripture; His patience is a crucial part of His plan. And thus following this statement Peter almost immediately encourages his readers to, “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation!” (2 Peter 3:15)
God seems slow due to His unusual patience, but that patience will be mankind’s salvation. His patience is what will bring about the salvation of all men. Some ponder that rebellious men can’t be saved b/c they will be so stubborn in their rebellion that they will forever refuse God’s grace. I see a kernel of logic in this, but it still fails to incorporate God’s patience into the equation; God’s love can and will outlast even the most stubborn human will! Man only has a finite amount of energy to hate and rebel, God has infinite energy to love and forgive…I’m pretty sure He’s going to win that stand off. I’m not a gambling man, but I’ll place my bet on God…every time. His heart will never cease pursuing those last few lost souls. And b/c He holds all the cards, He will always win…eventually.
I will write more about this later when we get into the theological case for U.R. Suffice it to say, no man is a match for God. Sin was beaten, death has been swallowed up, stubbornness…well, that will be a walk in the park for God.
So we have these 2 verses, that clearly show God’s will/plan/intention to save all men. So that’s settled. Unfortunately we now have the issue of “free will” vs. “God’s Sovereignty” to grapple with. This is a very taboo topic within Christendom, its a sacred cow that I do not intend to disrupt. But I will expose some items that bear on the issue at hand.
First, I am not arguing against free will, I believe that fallen man has a will that makes choices that have consequences; however I also believe that God has authority over all men and therefore He alone has the moral right to act according to His own desires and His own will without such actions being a violation. Just as a master has the right to exert his will over a servant, so God has the right to exert His will over ours if He so chooses. He is after all Lord of all Creation, and reserves all sovereignty and authority for Himself (see Psalm 103:19; 1 Timothy 6:15). God is not bound by man’s free will nor does He limit Himself or restrict Himself to man’s choices.
My position is just that – God is not limited by man’s will, but has the right and authority to exert His own will as He sees fit. And since He is pure unadulterated self sacrificing Love, everything He does is out of that love and for our good – even if what He does overrides our fallen will. So in my mind there is no question about it being morally wrong.
That being said, the 1 and only issue should always be, “what saith the Scriptures?” Does Scripture support a God who retains the right to do according to His own will even if it means others will be crossed? I believe it does. There are many very clear verses that directly state it; as well as a plethora of verses that imply it. Here is but a sampling,
“[God] works all things after the council of His own will.” (Ephesians 1:11)
“My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Isaiah 46:10)
“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in the earth, in the seas and in all the deeps.” (Psalm 135:6)
“He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand.” (Daniel 4:35)
God is Sovereign. To Him we are no better than unreasoning beasts. If He wants to violate our choices, He is more than logically and morally justified in doing so. Not only that He also directly declares that He has the right to do so in His Word.
I God declares in His own Word that His will/plan is to save all men and He declares that He works all things out according to the council of His own will – then we can be absolutely certain that that is exactly what is going to happen. Especially in light of His sworn oath to save all men (see Isaiah 45:22,23 – we will examine this verse in a later blog).
We see therefore that God has a plan to save all men, the next thing we need to determine is if Scripture contains actual prophecies about Him accomplishing this plan. That is exactly what we will be looking at in the next blog.