THE MYSTERY OF GOD – PREDESTINATION OR FREEWILL ?
What is God really trying to accomplish here on earth? This is a question that religious men and women have pondered since the dawn of creation. Paul tells us that the mystery of God was hidden throughout all the ages and generations from the time of creation until the appearance of the Messiah. After his first coming, however, the heavenly Father revealed this mystery to His saints (Col. 1:26). Yet how well do those who profess to have accepted Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) really understand God’s mysterious plan?
Most Christian denominations believe that they have a good grasp of the mystery of God the Father. They think He is saving those who, of their own free will, accept the sacrifice of His son Yeshua. Conversely, they believe that God will condemn and eternally punish those who do not accept that sacrifice (either because of conscious rejection or ignorance).
Under that basic premise, most of Christianity has implicitly decided that God is going to end up saving just a minority of humanity, since even the most optimistic assessment can only conclude that most people throughout history have NOT accepted the saving sacrifice of Yeshua. Yet does this understanding agree with what God says He will do in His Word? In this article we will examine what the Bible truly teaches about this misunderstood mystery of God that even now so few really comprehend.
In order to lay out the mystery of God, we must first understand some things about God that the Father reveals of Himself. God tells us quite a bit about Himself and His abilities in the Bible.
God the Father – Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent
These three impressive sounding words describe God’s presence, knowledge, and power, which are concepts found often in the Scriptures. We will examine each in turn:
The term “omnipresent” refers to the ability to be present everywhere at the same time. The Scriptures tell us that God the Father, through His Holy Spirit, maintains a presence in all of His creation:
PSALM 139:7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (ESV)
JEREMIAH 23:23 ”Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away? 24 Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD. (NIV)
PROVERBS 5:21 For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and He examines all his paths. (NIV)
PROVERBS 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (ESV)
To be “omniscient” means that one has total and complete knowledge of all things. What does the Bible tell us about God the Father’s knowledge?
ISAIAH 46:9 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (NIV)
ISAIAH 48:3 I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. (NIV)
ISAIAH 42:9 Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (ESV)
PSALM 139:1 For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in — behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (NIV)
LUKE 12:6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. 7 Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” (NAB)
MATTHEW 24:30 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. . . . 36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (NKJV)
These Scriptures show that God knows all things, and that He often foretells the future to us through His prophets. But we are told even more here; God does not just make known future events, but He actively works to carry out His plan. It’s not simply a case of the heavenly Father being able to see the future. God specifically tells us that He takes action to make prophesied events occur.
The term “omnipotence” means having power over all things. Let’s see what the Scriptures tell us about God the Father’s power:
ISAIAH 44:24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone,” (NASU)
JEREMIAH 10:12 But God made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding. (NIV)
JEREMIAH 27:5 “With My great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please.” (NIV)
JEREMIAH 32:17 Ah Lord GOD! It is You who made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for You. (NRSV)
JEREMIAH 51:15 “He made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.” (NIV)
ISAIAH 40:25 “Who will you compare Me to, or who is My equal?” asks the Holy One. 26 Look up and see: Who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing. (CSB)
JOB 36:22 See, God is beyond reach in His power; who governs like Him? (JPS Tanakh)
God’s power is so great that He created the entire vast universe using it. The power of God is also manifested in His ability to design a plan and ensure that it is carried out to achieve His will and purpose:
ISAIAH 14:24 The LORD of hosts has sworn: As I have designed, so shall it be; and as I have planned, so shall it come to pass: (NRSV)
ISAIAH 14:27 The LORD of hosts has planned; who can thwart Him? His hand is stretched out; who can turn it back? (NAB)
ISAIAH 43:13 “Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (NASU)
ISAIAH 46:10 I foretell the end from the beginning, and from the start, things that had not occurred. I say: My plan shall be fulfilled; I will do all I have purposed. (JPS Tanakh)
LAMENTATIONS 3:37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? (NIV)
II CHRONICLES 20:6 [King Jehoshaphat] said: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are You not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can withstand You.” (NIV)
God’s power is such that whatever He has decided to do, that is what will be done. God tells us that He has designed a plan that will be implemented because no one (not man nor angel) has the power to thwart or withstand His purpose.
If God truly is all powerful, and if He has a definite plan for mankind, then nothing happens outside the scope of that plan. Logically this means that He is the author of everything that happens, both good and bad. Numerous Scriptures confirm this to be the case:
ISAIAH 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (RWB)
LAMENTATIONS 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come? (NIV)
ECCLESIASTES 7:13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what He has made crooked? 14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. (NIV)
DEUTERONOMY 32:39 “See now that I, I am He, and there is no God besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” (NASU)
I SAMUEL 2:6 The LORD both kills and gives life; He brings down to the grave and raises up. (NET)
JOB 5:18 For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal. (NIV)
HOSEA 6:1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds.” (NIV)
Because He is all powerful, God is the source of everything that happens, both good and bad. The Scriptures show that He is the One who wounds and kills, in addition to being the One who heals and makes alive. As the Almighty Creator and Supreme Power in the entire universe should, God the Father takes complete responsibility for all things in this world, evil as well as good.
Yet very few believe God when He claims to be the source of evil. They refuse to accept the very words of God recorded in the Bible and instead prefer to believe in a different God, one of their own devising. The God of most Christians isn’t the source of the evil in the world. Instead, they believe God simply allows His creation to choose evil because He has given them the free will to do so.
Many cite the first half of Habakkuk 1:13 in support of their contention that God, far from being the creator of evil, cannot even so much as look upon it:
HABAKKUK 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. . . . (NIV)
“There! The Bible says it, so I believe it!” proclaim those who hold this view. But if this is really the point the prophet is making here, then he is contradicting the scriptural wisdom of King Solomon (Pro. 15:3). Since the Messiah told us that the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35), let’s look at the context of the entire first chapter of Habakkuk to understand what he is really saying about God.
Habakkuk 1:2-4 records the prophet’s cries to YHVH regarding the sin and violence that were rampant within Judah during the reign of the latter kings. In Habakkuk 1:5-11, God reveals to him that He is going to raise up the Babylonians against Judah to punish them for their sins. This in turn causes Habakkuk to wonder why God would use a people more violent and wicked than Judah to punish His chosen ones:
HABAKKUK 1:12 Are You not from eternity, Yahweh my God? My Holy One, You will not die. LORD, You appointed them to execute judgment; my Rock, You destined them to punish us. 13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do You tolerate those who are treacherous? Why are You silent while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself? 14 You have made mankind like the fish of the sea, like marine creatures that have no ruler. 15 The Chaldeans pull them all up with a hook, catch them in their dragnet, and gather them in their fishing net; that is why they are glad and rejoice. 16 That is why they sacrifice to their dragnet and burn incense to their fishing net, for by these things their portion is rich and their food plentiful. 17 Will they therefore empty their net and continually slaughter nations without mercy? (CSB)
In reality, we see that the words of Habakkuk about God prove the exact opposite point from what most understand from the first half of verse 13. Even though Judah’s sins were grievous, Habakkuk was appalled at God’s solution after He showed him how He was going to deal with them. Habakkuk wondered how God could choose the treacherous, vicious, arrogant Babylonians (i.e., Chaldeans) to punish His people. Although he realized that the Jews needed to be corrected, Habakkuk could not understand God’s choice of people to serve as His instrument of punishment. So Habakkuk’s point really was, “God, I know You hate evil, yet You are going to choose a people even more wicked than we are to punish us. WHY?”
God has and continues to make use of various (and often evil) proxies to carry out His will. The heavenly Father uses fallen angels such as Satan (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7) and the unnamed spirit who enticed King Ahab to his death through deception (I Kings 22:19-23; II Chr. 18:18-22), pagan prophets such as Balaam (Num. 22:5-24:25), and despotic men such as Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 25:9; 27:6; 43:10) and Persian king Cyrus (Isa. 44:28; 45:1-4; II Chr. 36:22:23; Ezra 1:1-4) to accomplish His will. Despite what men and nations plot in their own minds to do, it is the will of God that is ultimately done:
PSALM 33:10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. 11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. (NIV)
Because God is using His creation to complete His plan, it is often incorrectly assumed that the Father is simply doing His best to rescue a plan gone horribly wrong. For instance, many believe that a powerful angel now called Satan (the Hebrew word for “adversary”) rebelled and became the archenemy of God at some point in the distant past. They believe that this Adversary almost succeeded in derailing God’s plan to bring many human sons into His family (Luke 3:38) by tempting Adam and Eve into disobeying God.
However (as this line of thought goes), the heavenly Father was able to salvage His plan for humanity by sending His Son Jesus to the earth to provide a means for humanity to be forgiven and saved from the sin and death that entered the world through Adam’s choice (Rom. 5:12). It appears that although the devil and his angels will ultimately be defeated, first they will succeed in dragging down most of humanity into the fiery pit of hell with them (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10).
Yet this imaginary scenario is absolutely contradicted by the Scriptures, which show that the sacrifice of Yeshua for sin was part of God the Father’s plan from the very beginning:
1 PETER 1:18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. (NRSV)
REVELATION 13:8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (NIV)
II TIMOTHY 1:8 . . . God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (ESV)
ACTS 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know — 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.” (NET)
ISAIAH 53:10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (NIV)
God did not have to improvise because the attack of Satan disrupted His original plan. The Messiah’s sacrifice for mankind’s salvation was not a revision or addition to the heavenly Father’s initial blueprint. It was the focal point of the plan of God even BEFORE the creation.
To believe that YHVH had to change or modify His plan in any respect is to believe that it was initially imperfect. How could an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent God have designed a flawed plan that required revision to make it work? The simple answer is that a perfect God would not, indeed could not, have drafted an imperfect plan. Consequently, the design we now see unfolding must be EXACTLY what God intended from the very beginning!
Is “All” Too Lofty A Goal For God?
If taken at face value, the Bible convincingly shows that God the Father is all powerful and that He fully intends to bring His plan to a successful conclusion, despite the best efforts of those in the physical and spiritual realms. Therefore, what we see taking place in the world cannot be God scrambling to make the best of a bad situation, but rather God’s original plan unfolding. But, as strange as it seems when viewed logically in the light of Scripture, this obvious conclusion that God the Father is in total control of all things is not acknowledged by most who profess to worship Him.
The reason most have concluded that God is NOT in absolute control is because they have accepted the idea that He has given His creation “free will.” Even if the Eternal Father wants to save all of mankind (I Tim. 2:4), many believe that He can’t because they have been taught that God will not force anyone to be saved against their will. Effectively, the common belief is that God has ceded His sovereignty to His creation. Therefore, the creation will determine the outcome of the divine plan, not God.
The Father may not want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9), but according to the prevailing view, God will NOT get what He desires. Because it is thought that He has given man the “free will” to choose life or death, some will choose NOT to be saved. In this warped scenario, the choices of mortal men are allowed to override the outcome desired by the immortal God.
Yet does this understanding square with what the Bible says? Let’s see what the Scriptures teach about God’s plan for ALL mankind:
JOHN 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw [helkuso] ALL people to myself.” (NRSV)
In this statement, Messiah Yeshua gives us a glimpse into what God planned to accomplish through the sacrifice of His Son. It’s clear from the next verse (John 12:33) that the phrase “lifted up” was a reference to Yeshua’s impending crucifixion. The Messiah plainly understood that his sacrificial death was a necessary part of God’s plan which would eventually lead to ALL mankind accepting him as their Lord (“Master”). Paul expands on the words of Yeshua to confirm the end result of his atoning death:
PHILIPPIANS 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross! 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — 11 and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (NET)
Yeshua’s ability to put aside his own desires and do the will of the Father resulted in God exalting him above all things except Himself (I Cor. 15:27). In the end, the entire creation will bow to Yeshua and confess that he is Lord. This outcome will bring glory to God the Father, because it will signal the successful completion of this phase of His plan.
TITUS 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of ALL men, (RSV)
Paul tells Titus that God’s unmerited favor, which was manifested in the appearance of Messiah Yeshua, will ultimately lead to the salvation of all mankind.
I TIMOTHY 2:3 . . . God our Saviour, 4 who will have ALL men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (DRA)
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul states that God will have all of humanity come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved. He doesn’t say how or when this will happen, but it is communicated as a certainty. Because this statement is so definitive, many modern translations try to water it down by rendering it as “God, who desires all men to be saved.” The implication of translating it this way is that God really does WANT to save everyone, but for some reason He won’t be able to accomplish that goal.
Since we have already seen from the Scriptures that God’s will and purpose cannot be thwarted, this slight change in rendering does nothing to invalidate the underlying sentiment of Paul’s statement. If the omnipotent God truly desires all men to be saved, there is nothing in this universe that can stop that outcome from happening. Therefore, we are left to decide whether we believe God is powerful enough to accomplish His will. Unfortunately, many have believed Satan’s deception that He ultimately will not be able to achieve this desire.
I CORINTHIANS 15:22 For just as in Adam ALL die, so also in Christ ALL will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order . . . (CSB)
ROMANS 5:18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for ALL, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for ALL. (NRSV)
We know that everyone since Adam has died because of sin (Rom. 5:12). The only human never to have sinned was Yeshua the Messiah (II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; I John 3:5), and sin still caused his death because he had to die for the sins of the world (I John 2:2). So when Paul contrasts the death that was brought by Adam with the life that will be brought by Messiah, he has to be talking about the entirety of humanity. “All” humans have been condemned to death because of Adam’s decision to disobey; for Paul’s comparison to be true, the same “all” must eventually be justified and made alive by Messiah’s act of righteousness.
II PETER 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some people think of slowness; on the contrary, He is patient with you; for it is not His purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that EVERYONE should turn from his sins. (CJB)
If it truly is NOT God’s purpose to destroy anyone, but rather to see all mankind repent, how can anyone or anything prevent that from happening? As we are told in the Scriptures, the purpose within YHVH‘s heart will stand firm forever (Psa. 33:11) and His plan will be fulfilled (Isa. 46:10).
I TIMOTHY 4:10 . . . We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of ALL men, and especially of those who believe. (NIV)
Paul received his insights into the mystery of God by revelation from the glorified Messiah himself (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:3). He probably understood what God was accomplishing better than anyone else, before or since. Throughout his letters, Paul casually drops theological bombshells regarding universal salvation. Here in his first letter to Timothy, he plainly states that God will save all mankind, starting specifically with believers in Yeshua the Messiah. Once Paul’s universalist view is recognized for what it truly is, it’s interesting to note how often he states or alludes to the salvation of all mankind in his letters.
Is Our Destiny Preordained By God?
Another controversial matter that Paul addresses in several places is the topic of predestination. In fact, his letter to the Ephesian congregation contains a considerable exposition on this concept and how it ties in to universalism:
EPHESIANS 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. (ESV)
Paul gets right to the heart of his message quickly. In verse 4, he tells the believers in Ephesus that God the Father “chose us” (each believer) to be blessed in Messiah Yeshua “before the foundation of the world.” Many claim that this choosing refers to the church as a whole, and not to every individual believer. This view, however, is based more on the natural human aversion to the concept of predestination than on the actual teaching of Paul.
In verse 5, Paul tells the Ephesians that in love God predestined believers for adoption as His sons through Messiah Yeshua. He did this “according to the pleasure of His will,” as the New English Translation renders the final part of verse 5. In other words, the heavenly Father did this because it’s what He wanted to do. It’s the way God decided to achieve His goal of ultimately bringing all mankind into His family.
As Paul explains elsewhere, God does not choose us because of anything we have done or will do in the future (II Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:11). Instead, each of us was chosen because God the Father showed us favor. The Greek root word translated “grace” in verse 6 is charis. Although it is usually rendered “grace” in the New Testament, it literally means to bestow undeserved “favor” on someone. God predestined each one who is called and chosen in this age to the exclusion of all others. When He did this before time as we know it began, He was showing us unmerited favor, as Paul told Timothy:
II TIMOTHY 1:8 . . . God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (NIV)
Paul’s comments elevating God’s grace above our works must be viewed in the light of his understanding of predestination. Paul never denigrated God’s Law (Rom. 7:16; Gal. 3:21) or a believer’s observance of it (Rom. 3:31; I Cor. 7:19). Rather, he showed that God’s calling does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but solely on the Father’s mercy (Rom. 9:16). Yeshua himself stated this to the Jews of his day:
JOHN 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws [helkuse] him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (ESV)
JOHN 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life, 64 yet some among you do not trust.” (For Yeshua knew from the outset which ones would not trust him, also which one would betray him.) 65 “This,” he said, “is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has made it possible for him.” (CJB)
Those who truly come to the Messiah do not simply decide for themselves one day to do so. If we believe the words of Yeshua, only those God specifically “draws” come to him. The word translated “draws” in John 6:44 is from the Greek root helko. Here is what Bauer, Gingrich, Arndt, and Danker (BGAD) have to say about the literal meaning of this word:
To move an object from one area to another in a pulling motion, draw, with implication that the object being moved is incapable of propelling itself or in the case of pers[ons] is unwilling to do so voluntarily, in either case with implication of exertion on the part of the mover. (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition)
Interestingly, helkuso (a form of the same Greek root word found in John 6:44) is used in Yeshua’s statement that his sacrificial death would eventually “draw” all people to Him (John 12:32). Again, the implication is that these people will not come voluntarily, but will come because of the action of God.
EPHESIANS 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8 which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (ESV)
Paul plainly tells us here that the mystery of God’s will is that He is uniting all things in heaven and earth to Himself through His Son, Yeshua. Every facet of the Father’s plan is aimed at achieving the goal of reconciling all things back to Himself, as Paul also stated in his second letter to the Corinithians:
II CORINTHIANS 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (NIV)
God’s goal is for us to develop His godly character and become spiritually complete; He wants His children to “grow up” to become just like Him (Matt. 5:48). The way we become like Him is through the work of His Holy Spirit in us during the process of reconciliation. God is NOT working with everyone at this time; instead, He is only calling a few in this age (John 6:44) who were predestined before the beginning of time to fulfill God’s purpose:
EPHESIANS 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (ESV)
In the 2nd chapter of Ephesians, Paul specifically states that our predestined salvation is not based on our works. Rather, the favor God shows us is a gift:
EPHESIANS 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
Our salvation does not give us cause to boast. We are God’s handiwork, His creation. He has made us what we are; the good works we do were preordained before the beginning of time. Therefore, we can take no credit for doing them. We earn NONE of the good things God does for us; they are a divine gift:
JAMES 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (ESV)
In his letter to Titus, Paul reiterates that our good works (which he urges believers to maintain) do not save us:
TITUS 3:4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. (NKJV)
Continuing in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul spells out how the mystery of God applied to those Gentiles in Ephesus:
EPHESIANS 3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — 2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (ESV)
Paul was a very learned man, having studied extensively at the feet of Gamaliel the Elder (Acts 22:3; cf. 5:34), one of the brightest Jewish sages of his day. However, he takes no credit for having figured out for himself the mystery of God. Instead, Paul clearly states that this mystery (which had been hidden from all former generations) was made known to him by revelation from the Messiah Yeshua (Acts 26:15-18; Gal. 1:11-12). This mystery was that just as the remnant of God’s chosen people (the Jews) were destined for salvation, so were the rest of the people from all the nations (“the Gentiles”).
Paul addresses this universal salvation of all mankind in his letter to the Roman assembly:
ROMANS 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” 28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned [sunekleisen] ALL to disobedience, that he may have mercy on ALL. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. (ESV)
In this chapter, Paul addresses how the salvation of all Israel will be achieved. He clearly states that the unbelieving Jews, those who don’t accept Yeshua because God Himself blinded them (Rom. 11:7-10), are still loved by Him. But he goes on to show that the salvation of all Israel is not the final goal of God’s plan. In verse 32 he uses a form of the Greek root word sugkleio (which literally means to “hem in,” “enclose” or “imprison”) to describe what God has done to all men. Specifically, Paul tells us that God has imprisoned ALL mankind (both Jew and Gentile) in disobedience.
Why would God do this? Paul tells us the reason is so that in the end He might have mercy on all. This aspect of God’s plan is so awesome to Paul that he launches into a praise of God’s unsearchable and unknowable ways, which are beyond man’s ability to understand. To paraphrase Paul, everything is FROM God, THROUGH God, and TO God. As humans, we can take credit for nothing.
EPHESIANS 3:7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of His power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that He has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. (ESV)
Here Paul says that even though he is the least of those whom God has called (cf. I Tim. 1:13; I Cor. 15:9), through the gift of God’s favor he was chosen to bring this good news about the mystery of God to the people of the nations. This is according to God’s age-lasting purpose, which is being accomplished through the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.
EPHESIANS 3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (NRSV)
Paul realized that God’s mysterious plan was very hard for man to grasp. Here he prays that God would help the saints understand the fullness (“breadth, length, height and depth”) of His plan. He finishes this section of his letter by stating that the power of God (i.e., the Holy Spirit) working within us is able to accomplish much more than we can request or even understand.
Paul also speaks of predestination in his letter to the Romans:
ROMANS 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. (ESV)
Messiah Yeshua is the focal point of the Father’s plan, the firstborn of many sons of God to come. Paul here states that for those who love God, everything that happens eventually works out for their benefit. God predestined those who are being called by Him to be justified in Messiah. Those He justified by the Messiah’s sacrifice will also be glorified and used to further His plan.
When the topic of predestination is understood properly, we have to realize that nothing happens apart from God’s plan. Even though we occasionally go through painful trials, these are ultimately for our good and will help us to reach spiritual maturity, as James explains:
JAMES 1:2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (CSB)
In the 9th chapter of Romans, Paul used the example of Jacob and Esau to illustrate how God has predestined those He calls:
ROMANS 9:10 And even more to the point is the case of Rivkah; for both her children were conceived in a single act with Yitz’chak, our father; 11 and before they were born, before they had done anything at all, either good or bad (so that God’s plan might remain a matter of His sovereign choice, not dependent on what they did, but on God, who does the calling), 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 This accords with where it is written, “Ya’akov I loved, but Esav I hated.” (CJB)
As a good illustration of God’s predestination, Paul cites the example of Jacob and Esau. He tells us that before their birth, before they had done anything (good or bad), God decided to use Jacob in His plan, but to reject Esau. Paul clearly states that the choice God made was based on Him being the supreme ruler of the universe, not on anything Jacob or Esau did. Some try and make this Scripture mean that God foresaw what each of the twins WOULD do later in their lives and then chose Jacob over Esau based on that foreknowledge. But that interpretation specifically denies the point Paul is making here about God’s absolute authority, not foreknowledge, being the basis for the selection.
Human nature causes most people confronted with this scenario to assert that God was unfair to Esau. Paul anticipated this objection and addressed it next:
ROMANS 9:14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden. (NIV)
No, God is not unjust, according to Paul. The reason is because God’s plan is not based on what a man wants or what a man does, but rather on God’s mercy. God used Pharaoh for a specific purpose, so that the whole world might understand His awesome power. God had mercy on the children of Israel, but He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, bringing destruction upon the land of Egypt. All of these events were orchestrated by God the Father to further His plan and purpose for mankind.
Again, Paul expects that what he has just said will elicit hostile questions from his readers. “If God hardens my heart and makes me stand in opposition to His will (just as He did with Pharaoh), why does He still punish me? How am I truly to blame? Who can withstand God’s purpose?”
ROMANS 9:19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists His will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why did You make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22 What if God, choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath — prepared for destruction? 23 What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory — 24 even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (NIV)
Paul answers these questions simply. Since YHVH the Father is the Creator and Ruler of the universe, He can do as He pleases. Those created have no right to ask the Creator why they are made a certain way. He shows that God, the Master Potter, has created some vessels for holy use and some for common use (cf. II Tim. 2:20-21). Paul goes on to state that the common vessels will be broken during the process of God’s plan being carried out to show the holy vessels the riches of God’s glory.
Paul’s response regarding God’s process for accomplishing His plan closely mirrors the Father’s words to Job, when he questioned God following the occurrence of a series of tragedies in his life. God allowed Satan to test Job by destroying his children, his material goods (Job 1:13-19), and his health (Job 2:7). Being a righteous man, Job did not understand why God was putting him through such pain and suffering.
After repeatedly professing his innocence and asking God to prove that He was justified in causing his suffering, God finally answered Job with a series of questions designed to illustrate His magnificance and power (Job 38:1-41:34). Delineating His awesome acts of creation, God caused Job to see that His power and authority gave the heavenly Father the right to do as He pleased in his life:
JOB 42:1 1 Then Job answered the Lord: 2 “I know that You can do all things and that no plan of Yours can be ruined. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that made My purpose unclear by saying things that are not true?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand; I talked of things too wonderful for me to know. 4 You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak. I will ask you questions, and you must answer Me.’ 5 My ears had heard of You before, but now my eyes have seen You. 6 So now I hate myself; I will change my heart and life. I will sit in the dust and ashes.” (NCV)
If we accept the biblical position that God does have the right to make some human vessels for honor and some for destruction, the question then becomes: “Will those broken vessels of wrath be cast away forever by God after their use, or will the Master Potter reshape them into holy vessels at some future point?” By recognizing the scriptural doctrine of universal salvation, we can see that God has committed to eventually remake those common vessels into holy vessels.
PHILIPPIANS 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose. (NIV)
Paul tells us that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” However, he goes on to show that it really isn’t us who does the work, but God. It is the heavenly Father who causes us to “will” (want to do something) and to “act” on those desires. This is according to His purpose, which ultimately is for our good.
Paul clearly teaches predestination. What Calvin, Luther, and others who recognized this teaching missed was that Paul also taught universal salvation. They did not understand the timing aspect of Paul’s teaching. Yes, some were predestined to be saved in this age. However, this did not mean that the rest who are not saved in this age are forever lost. God will save all mankind, but He will do so in the way and at the time He decides. Each person will be saved when it is his or her time (I Cor. 15:22).
Predestination – Does the Rest of the Bible Support Paul’s Teaching?
There are very few today who accept the doctrine of predestination. Most steadfastly assert that humanity has free will, and that God does not limit the will of man, but allows him to exercise that will even to the point that it overrides His own. But what do the rest of the Scriptures have to say about God’s will and the fulfillment of His purpose? Let’s examine some passages from the Old Testament to see if this teaching was a new innovation by Paul, or if it had its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures:
JEREMIAH 10:23 You know, O LORD, that man is not master of his way; man’s course is not within his choice, nor is it for him to direct his step. (NAB)
This is a very straightforward and direct statement from Jeremiah. He clearly states that man does not control his destiny, does not choose his own path or direct his own steps. The clear implication is that it is God who does these things.
PROVERBS 16:9 In his mind a man plans his course, but the LORD directs his steps. (NAB)
The Artscroll Tanach Series is a set of Jewish commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures from talmudic, midrashic, and rabbinic sources. Here is what the commentary on Proverbs says about this proverb and its companion statement from Jeremiah:
Like many other verses in Scripture, this verse teaches that man is not in control of his own destiny. He can only make plans; the ultimate outcome, however, is in the hands of Hashem. The prophet Jeremiah also proclaims that (Jeremiah 10:23) . . . a man’s path is not his own. Accordingly, we must learn to place our trust in Hashem and fervently pray that He set us on the path of success so that we may see our plans reach fruition (Meiri). (p. 301, vol. 2, Mishlei / Proverbs)
Similar comments are found elsewhere in the psalms of David, as well as in the proverbs of Solomon:
PSALM 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. (NIV)
PSALM 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. (NASU)
PROVERBS 20:24 Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way? (NASU)
The Artscroll Tanach Series commentary on Proverbs ties together the theme of these final two verses:
This oft-quoted verse (similar to Psalms 37:23 . . . By Hashem are a man’s footsteps established) expresses the limited extent of our ability to understand Divine Providence. Man is a puppet in the hands of Hashem and as such often has no comprehension of the circumstances of his mortal existence. But this itself can be a source of encouragement, for we trust that whatever our condition, Hashem has our best interests at heart. (p. 408, vol. 2, Mishlei / Proverbs)
Notice how similar this rabbinic view is to that of the apostle Paul, who stated that God causes everything that happens to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called in accordance with His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
PROVERBS 19:21 The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established. (NRSV)
PROVERBS 16:1 A man may arrange his thoughts, but what he says depends on the LORD. (JPS Tanakh)
These two related statements from Solomon indicate that the mind of a man does have some ability to formulate independent thoughts and schemes. However, when it comes to actions and spoken words to express those thoughts, man is dependent upon God. There is no such thing as “chance” or “luck”; God is in control of all things:
PROVERBS 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (CSB)
Numerous stories from the Old Testament show the hand of God in planning and carrying out His will through the actions of men. Let’s look at some of them to see how God guided events to fulfill His purpose.
First, let’s look at the story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob by his beloved wife Rachel. Because of the special treatment that Joseph received from Jacob, the rest of his brothers hated him (Gen. 37:3-4). Eventually, this hatred caused them to plot to kill Joseph. Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob, was able to keep the other brothers from slaying him. However, they did sell Joseph into slavery and deceive his father into believing that he had been killed by a wild animal.
Joseph ended up as a slave in Egypt, but God was with him in everything that he did. Thirteen years after being betrayed by his brothers, while Joseph was being held unjustly in prison, God gave Pharaoh a prophetic dream that he did not understand. But God also gave Joseph the ability to accurately interpret that dream for the ruler of Egypt of the famine that He was about to send upon the land (Gen. 41:25, 28). Because of the wisdom and discernment that Joseph displayed in regard to the dream, Pharaoh elevated him to the second highest position in all the land. He also placed him in charge of the effort to prepare the land for the famine that was coming after seven years.
When the prophesied famine struck, Jacob heard that there was food in Egypt. He sent his 10 oldest sons down from Canaan to Egypt to purchase grain. Joseph immediately knew them when they arrived, but they did not recognize him. After testing his brothers to see if their hearts had changed since their earlier actions against him, Joseph revealed himself to them. In doing so, he stated that everything that had happened to him was predestined by God:
GENESIS 45:4 And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” (NKJV)
Joseph realized that everything he had suffered was part of the plan of God. Therefore, he didn’t hold his brothers liable for what happened to him, but rather understood that God the Father was responsible. This realization was what allowed Joseph to forgive his brothers for their plot against him:
GENESIS 50:18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)
Although his brothers acted against him out of hatred (motivated in large part by divinely-inspired events such as his dreams), Joseph did not hold them accountable for their actions. He forgave them because he realized that God accomplished His will through them. In this, we see that Joseph was a type of the Messiah, who also forgave his brothers the Jews for their persecution and crucifixion of him (Luke 23:34).
The Jews of Yeshua’s day did what they did because God blinded them to His plan (John 12:37-40; Rom. 11:7-10), in order for His atoning sacrifice for mankind to be successfully offered:
ACTS 3:13 “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the holy and righteous one and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see. 17 Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the prophets, saying that His Christ would suffer.” (NIV)
I CORINTHIANS 2:7 But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; (NASU)
By understanding that God is ultimately responsible for all things, it is possible to see why God commanded us to forgive those who oppose, oppress and attack us:
MATTHEW 5:44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (NKJV)
To really forgive our enemies, it helps for us to recognize that God’s blinding has caused them to be against us. They are “vessels of wrath” which God is using to make known to us “the riches of His glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). This realization of God’s sovereignty and His control of events was why Joseph could truly forgive his brothers of their transgression against him.
The story of the Pharaoh of the Exodus is of great benefit in understanding how God brings events to pass in order to fulfill His will. As quoted earlier from the 9th chapter of Romans, Paul clearly stated that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order for Him to prove something to the world (Rom. 9:17-18). Let’s start the story with God’s words to Abram 430 years prior to the Exodus:
GENESIS 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” (ESV)
This prophecy from God to Abram specifies an exact time period – 400 years. According to the cantillation signs in the Hebrew text of Genesis 15:13, the phrase “400 years” refers back to the words, “your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs.” The years of Abraham’s offspring being strangers in a strange land began with the birth of Isaac, NOT with the Egyptian enslavement. Therefore the text ought to be understood as follows: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs . . . 400 years.” It was 400 years from the date of Isaac’s birth until the Exodus, and 430 years (Exo. 12:40-41; Gal. 3:17) from the time of God’s covenant with Abram.
Notice that God pronounced a very specific time period for these very specific events. God didn’t just allow them to happen or foresee them happening. He directly acted to cause them to happen at a precise point in time. In his commentary on the Exodus, the Jewish sage Rashi wrote that the covenant of the pieces (Gen. 15:13), the angelic announcement of Isaac’s birth (Gen. 18:10), his actual birth (Gen. 21:2), and the Exodus from Egypt (Exo. 12:41) all took place on exactly “the selfsame day” on the Hebrew calendar:
On the fifteenth of Nisan the ministering angels came to Abraham to announce (it) to him, and on the fifteenth of Nisan Isaac was born, and on the fifteenth of Nisan there was decreed the decree “between the pieces.” (p. 121, vol. II, The Pentateuch and Rashi’s Commentary)
Clearly, the fact that all these events occurred on the same date was not coincidence, but part of the design of God’s plan. For that plan to be fulfilled precisely as God desired, Pharaoh had to do exactly as God intended. When Moses first received instructions from the Angel of YHVH from the burning bush, a brief outline of the events that would occur during the Exodus was given to him:
EXODUS 3:16 “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” ’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (ESV)
God later added some additional details about the reaction of Pharaoh to the miracles God would grant Moses to perform:
EXODUS 4:21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is My firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let My son go that he may serve Me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (CJB)
Here we see the first mention of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh. For the will of God to be carried out according to His plan in this matter, all 10 plagues (culminating with the death of the firstborn) had to occur. By hardening his heart, God ensured that Pharaoh didn’t abandon his rebellion before God accomplished His objectives. He specifically tells Moses His plan shortly thereafter:
EXODUS 7:1 And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring My hosts, My people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (ESV)
The first time we specifically see it stated that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart is after the 6th plague of boils:
EXODUS 9:11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians. 12 And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses. (NASU)
After hardening his heart to ensure that the punishment would continue, God then threatened Pharaoh and Egypt with another horrible plague:
EXODUS 9:13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of My plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you My power and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You still set yourself against My people and will not let them go. 18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.’ ” (NIV)
God clearly stated through Moses that He had raised up Pharaoh for the very purpose of revealing His power and glorifying His name through him. Could Pharaoh have stopped the plagues by giving in to God’s demand to let His people go? No, we see from the very words of God that this was not an option. God’s plan required that all 10 plagues be poured out on Egypt, and nothing (not even Pharaoh himself) could have been allowed to stop that from happening. YHVH the Father clearly and unambiguously states this fact over and over in the Exodus narrative:
EXODUS 10:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of Mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.” (NIV)
Again, after the 8th plague of locusts, Pharaoh seemed ready to give in (Exo. 10:16-17). However, we see that God once more intervened and hardened the heart of Pharaoh to stop him from accepting Moses’ demands:
EXODUS 10:20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the Israelites go. (CSB)
Likewise, after the 9th plague of darkness, Pharaoh was ready to acquiesce to Moses’ request (Exo. 10:24). But once again, God did not allow him to do so:
EXODUS 10:27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. (JPS)
In Exodus chapter 11, Moses told Pharaoh of the 10th and final plague that would fall upon Egypt: the death of the firstborn. Hot with anger at Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites go, Moses left Pharaoh’s presence:
EXODUS 11:9 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land. (ESV)
Did Pharaoh have free will in this incident? A literal reading and acceptance of the biblical account at face value shows that the intervention of God was what caused Pharaoh to reject the requested release of the Israelites numerous times. God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was the reason that the Egyptian firstborn died, and the reason that the Passover sacrifice was ultimately required.
Clearly this episode was NOT primarily about getting His people freed from slavery. Rather it was about establishing a literal salvation from Egypt for the Israelite firstborn that would symbolize the later salvation the spiritual firstborn would have through the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah, our Passover (I Cor. 5:7). The original was necessary to foreshadow the future. Consequently, God made sure that Pharaoh reacted in such a way that allowed that first Passover to occur as He had planned.
Now, back to the question Paul raised in Romans chapter 9: Was God unjust to punish Pharaoh after causing him to rebel against Him? Paul initially deflected this question by saying that the created have no right to question what the Creator does (Rom. 9:19-21). However, the apostle to the Gentiles then went on to explain that God is using most in this age simply as “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:22) in the process of showing mercy to His “assembly of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23). Through these spiritual firstborn, God will eventually have mercy on all (Rom. 11:30-31).
For another example of predestination in the Tanakh, let’s look at the story of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. Sennacherib came against Jersalem during the reign of Jewish king Hezekiah. His envoy proclaimed to the Jews that they should not look to King Hezekiah or to YHVH their God to save them. After putting on sackcloth, King Hezekiah sent Eliakim, Shebna, and the senior priests to the prophet Isaiah for God’s input on the matter. Here is the message from YHVH that Isaiah sent back to the king:
ISAIAH 37:21 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to Me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word the LORD has spoken against him: “The Virgin Daughter of Zion despises and mocks you. The Daughter of Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee. 23 Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! 24 By your messengers you have heaped insults on the Lord. And you have said, ‘With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its pines. I have reached its remotest heights, the finest of its forests. 25 I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.’ 26 Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. 27 Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up. 28 But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against Me. 29 Because you rage against Me and because your insolence has reached My ears, I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.” (NIV)
Through Isaiah, God told Hezekiah that He had long ago planned that which was then happening. God clearly stated that He had predestined and raised up Sennacherib and He had given him his victories over the nations he had conquered. To punish his impudence, pride, and lack of recognition of God’s hand in his successes, God told King Hezekiah that He would drag Sennacherib back to Assyria in shame.
That very night, God fufilled His word regarding King Sennacherib:
II KINGS 19:35 And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. (ESV)
Clearly portrayed in this story is the fact that God alone is sovereign and that He organizes the rise and fall of world leaders (cf. Jer. 27:5 below).
In the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God shows that Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was His servant, used to accomplish His divine will. In addition, God stated that the Babylonian kingdom would continue under Nebuchadnezzar, his son (Nabonidus), and his grandson (Belshazzar). It was under the rule of Belshazzar that God would raise up Cyrus the Persian to conquer Babylon:
JEREMIAH 25:9 “I will summon all the peoples of the north and My servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.” (NIV)
JEREMIAH 27:5 “It is I who by My great power and My outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to Me. 6 Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, My servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. 7 All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave. 8 But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand. 9 So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ 10 For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. 11 But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD.” (ESV)
EZEKIEL 29:18 “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare, yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against her. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. 20 I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for Me, declares the Lord GOD. (ESV)
JEREMIAH 43:10 “Then say to them, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will send for My servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and I will set his throne over these stones I have buried here; he will spread his royal canopy above them. 11 He will come and attack Egypt, bringing death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword. 12 He will set fire to the temples of the gods of Egypt; he will burn their temples and take their gods captive. As a shepherd wraps his garment around him, so will he wrap Egypt around himself and depart from there unscathed. 13 There in the temple of the sun in Egypt he will demolish the sacred pillars and will burn down the temples of the gods of Egypt.’ ” (NIV)
God gave Nebuchadnezzar victory and used him to afflict those nations He purposed to punish. This Babylonian king was predestined by God to accomplish His purpose during a critical period of Judah’s history.
Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar were not the only ancient rulers used by God to further His divine plan. The Persian king Cyrus was specifically named by God through the prophet Isaiah as one who would be given victory by God and then be used to fulfill His will:
ISAIAH 44:28 “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ” (NASU)
ISAIAH 45:1 ”Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held — to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut: 2 ‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. 4 For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, 6 that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other;’ ” (NKJV)
EZRA 1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. (NKJV)
God raised up Cyrus for the express purpose of bringing about the downfall of Babylon and allowing His people, the Jews, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple there. Cyrus was predestined to accomplish a specific task for Almighty God, and the Eternal Father ensured that he successfully completed His purpose.
The prophet Jeremiah is one of several people mentioned in the Scriptures who was known by God before they were born:
JEREMIAH 1:4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” 7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” (NIV)
According to the very words of God, Jeremiah did not have the free will to do anything other than what He told him to do.
Now let’s move on to the New Testament to see others, both good and bad, who were predestined to fulfill God’s purpose:
JOHN THE BAPTIST
The story of John the Baptist is generally well known to most Christians. The words of the angel Gabriel to his priestly father, Zechariah, plainly show that John was predestined from before his birth to be the prophesied messenger announcing the first appearance of the Messiah:
LUKE 1:13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (NIV)
John was a relative of Yeshua due to his mother Elizabeth being kin to Mary (Luke 1:36). He had no say in how his life would turn out. John was selected by God before his birth and tasked with a particular mission (the preaching of repentance in preparation for the kingdom of God) that ended with his death at the hands of Herod Antipas. From before his conception until his death, John’s path was charted by God.
THE BLIND MAN AT THE TEMPLE
JOHN 9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (ESV)
According to the words of the Messiah himself, this man had been born blind in order for Yeshua to bring praise to God’s name by giving him sight. This man’s entire life, including the years of suffering he experienced due to his blindness, was a prelude to Yeshua’s miraculous healing. He was predestined for just that moment and just that miracle, so Yeshua could glorify God through him.
The eternal fate of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of the Messiah, has long been debated in the Christian world. However, what does not appear to be debatable is whether or not Judas acted of his own free will when he betrayed Yeshua. The Scriptures clearly indicate that Judas was preordained to be a traitor to Yeshua’s cause, leading to his crucifixion:
JOHN 6:64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. (NKJV)
JOHN 17:12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (ESV)
ACTS 1:16 “Friends, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus — 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (NRSV)
GENTILES IN ANTIOCH IN PISIDIA
Are there some who are destined by the Eternal Father to be in the millennial kingdom of God?
ACTS 13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (NIV)
Clearly, the Scriptures teach that those Gentiles in Antioch in Pisidia who believed the preaching of Paul and Barnabas were preordained by God to enjoy age-lasting life during the millennial reign of Messiah Yeshua.
PAUL THE APOSTLE
After his conversion, Paul understood God had predestined him from the time that he was born for the work of taking the gospel to the Gentiles:
GALATIANS 1:15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, (NIV)
Paul knew that this preordained responsibility was not due to anything he had personally done. Rather, it was that God showed him unmerited favor (“grace”) in calling him. Paul’s letters indicate that he fully realized just how personally unworthy he was for the task that God assigned him:
I CORINTHIANS 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (NASU)
EPHESIANS 3:8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (ESV)
Paul was the most prolific writer in the New Testament regarding the doctrine of predestination. Having been personally instructed by the glorified Messiah, he understood God’s plan. Paul knew God had charted out the path of his life, and that he was destined to run the race on the course God had laid out for him:
ACTS 20:22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (NIV)
HEBREWS 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (NIV)
At the end of his life, Paul recognized that he had successfully completed the race God had set before him to run:
II TIMOTHY 4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (NIV)
At the end of his life, after he had successfully completed that which God had assigned him to do, Paul realized that he would be one of the few chosen from among the many that God calls (Matt. 20:16; 22:14). He understood that because he had faithfully carried out God’s will, he would be rewarded with a place in the coming kingdom of God.
The “many are called but few are chosen” principle is God’s counterbalance to an understanding of predestination. Even Paul, who was aware that God had predestined him to take the gospel to the Gentiles, did not know for sure if he would finish his race successfully (I Cor. 9:24-27). God only chooses a few from among the many that He calls in order to conceal from those who are now called their immediate fate. If He didn’t do this, being called by God during this age could be absolutely equated with qualifying for a position as a priest/king in the coming Messianic kingdom. Since God doesn’t want His saints to be complacent, the “many called/few chosen” formula is a way to introduce uncertainty into the equation.
Is God Responsible for Man’s Suffering?
“OK,” some will say, “there appears to be biblical evidence that some people are predestined by God for certain things. But surely that can’t mean that He involves Himself in the lives of every single human being on the planet, can it?”
Well, let’s see what the Messiah has to say about the extent of God’s control over the physical world in the fulfillment of His divine will:
MATTHEW 10:29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (NIV)
If not one single sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of God the Father, how much control do you think He exercises over mankind? We don’t have to wonder, because the Messiah clearly tells us that WE are much more important to God than many sparrows. If He has numbered the very hairs of our heads, does God care enough about us to be intricately involved in our everyday lives? The scriptural and logical answer is “Yes.”
Most cannot fathom the idea that God has preordained the destinies of billions of people. Despite numerous Scriptures to the contrary, the concept of free will is so deeply ingrained in the religious beliefs of most that they cannot accept that God has predestined the lives (and ultimately, the salvation) of all mankind.
Many will object that God cannot be in charge of every detail of each person’s life, because if He was, then He would be directly responsible for all human suffering and pain on the earth. Most cannot accept that God would cause the horrific misery that is evident in this world. Therefore, they rationalize that God doesn’t specifically cause what happens, but rather He simply allows it to occur because He has given His sentient creatures free will, and many of them have chosen to do evil.
Unfortunately, this rationalization doesn’t let God off the hook. If He truly is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, He has the presence, knowledge, and power to stop the suffering that happens. To have that power and not make use of it to end human misery means God is complicit in the suffering. Either way it is viewed, God bears responsibility for the suffering that humanity endures.
If God is powerful enough to stop all suffering (and the Scriptures assert that He is), then why does God not end it? Could it be because this suffering ultimately serves God’s purpose of bringing many sons into His family?
ROMANS 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (NIV)
Paul states that God subjected His creation to frustration and decay, but that He will liberate it from these impediments when His children are revealed. While Paul doesn’t go into the details, he clearly conveys a certainty that the present sufferings of humanity will pale in comparison to the glory that will be manifested in mankind when this portion of God’s plan is completed.
The prophet Isaiah quotes a promise from God that all the pain and suffering of this present world will one day be forgotten when He creates a new heavens and a new earth:
ISAIAH 65:17 “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (NIV)
Even the Messiah was required to suffer while he was on this earth. This wasn’t suffering simply for the sake of suffering, but rather suffering with a purpose and goal. This suffering contributed to Yeshua becoming complete, as the author of Hebrews tells us twice:
HEBREWS 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. (NIV)
HEBREWS 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, (ESV)
If the Messiah had to suffer in order to learn obedience and be made “perfect” or “complete,” why should we expect anything different? Is a slave greater than his master? No, the best we should expect is to be like our Master (Matt. 10:24-25). Since the Father decreed that our Master Yeshua had to suffer in order to be perfected, we too should expect God the Father to put us through trials and tribulations in order for us to reach spiritual maturity and attain godly character (Jam. 1:2-4).
The primary difference between Yeshua and us is that he had a preexistent relationship with YHVH the heavenly Father and fully understood God’s will and what was expected of him. We, unfortunately, do not always know God’s will for us. We can only determine it by studying the Scriptures, developing a relationship with God through regular prayer, and asking Him to reveal His will to us through His Holy Spirit.
The Scriptures portray God the Father as being omnipotent. Because of His incomparable power, there is nothing that God cannot achieve. Since He created and sustains all things through His Holy Spirit, no being within God’s creation is able to thwart His plan or purpose. Several times, God states in the Scriptures that His will is to eventually save all mankind. His chosen vessel for accomplishing this salvation is His son Yeshua the Messiah.
Per His plan, God has called many people now to worship Him. However, from those many called, only a few will be chosen to be saved (Matt. 20:16; 22:14) in this age. God’s purpose in saving those few now is so that they can in turn help save others later. Most are destined to be used by God at this time to extend His mercy to those few. God’s plan calls for using most people in this age to show His wrath and to make His power and glory known to those on whom He is having mercy (Rom. 9:22-23). Seeing and recognizing God’s wrath and power causes those He has called and chosen to fear Him. According to the Scriptures, the fear of YHVH leads to obedience, which brings us wisdom (Job 28:28; Psa. 111:10; Pro. 9:10; 15:33), knowledge (Pro. 1:17; 2:5), and life (Pro. 10:27; 14:27; 19:23; 22:4).
God planned in exquisite detail how to bring many sons into His family before He created the universe. Unfortunately, as the apostle Paul stated, God’s decrees are unfathomable and His ways incomprehensible to most of mankind (Rom. 11:33). He has blinded the majority so that they cannot understand His plan or how it is being accomplished. Even among believers, what God is doing is not well understood. However, when all is said and done, it will be recognized by everyone that God alone is responsible for the salvation of humanity. No one will be able to boast that they played any part in their own salvation. It is by God’s grace alone, not our works, that our Father will bring us into His divine family. In this way, God the Father will receive all the praise and glory from His children for His merciful act of salvation.
Bryan T. Huie
May 7, 2008