One of God’s most encouraging attributes is His longsuffering. The merciful patience of God Almighty gives His redeemed, albeit imperfect, church hope and support. Immediately following a reminder to the Christians in Rome that the Old Testament was “written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” Paul referred to God as “the God of patience and comfort” (Romans 15:4-5). Throughout the Old Testament, Bible writers portrayed God as longsuffering (meaning, “to suffer long with”), especially in His dealings with the Israelites, who constantly rejected His guidance (cf. Numbers 13-14; 16; 21:4-9). Jesus and the New Testament apostles and prophets also spent ample time magnifying God’s merciful patience (cf. Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20). The apostle Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [of Jesus’ Second Coming], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emp. added).
Unfortunately, the picture of God often painted in the 21st century seems to leave the impression that God’s longsuffering will go on forever. Portraits of God’s justice and vengeance often are neglected (Hebrews 10:26-39; Romans 12:19), while His compassionate patience toward sinners is so accentuated that God’s longsuffering is transformed into an eternal patience. Such a concept, however, stands in stark contradistinction to God’s revealed will.
The fact is, God will judge the world one day (Acts 17:30-31), and He will take “vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). His longsuffering is not an “eternal” suffering. The ungodly people of Noah’s day learned this point. God delayed His destruction of the world by water for many years (perhaps as many as 120 years; cf. Genesis 6:3) while Noah preached righteousness to them (2 Peter 2:5). Eventually, however, God’s longsuffering came to an end. Centuries later, God again revealed His mercy and longsuffering when He conversed with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah. Six times Abraham petitioned God not to destroy Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33), and six times God agreed to spare the city from His vengeance, even if as few as ten righteous people were found therein.
Time and again, God has dealt patiently with sinful mankind. Yet, we must recognize that God’s longsuffering with sinners eventually ends. It ended in the days of Noah. It ended for Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham. And, it eventually will end for all the unfaithful when Jesus returns (2 Peter 3:10). God most certainly is longsuffering, but such forbearance with wayward saints and alien sinners will end one day. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
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