The foreknowledge of God
Updated: Aug 15
God makes and executes plans, especially His plan for man for the ages, including the new covenant described in the New Testament and foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament (Acts 2:23, Acts 17:26, Rom 4:17, Eph 2:10, 1Pet 1:2). God does not need the help of man to accomplish what He said He would do, but He does give man the privilege and honor of involvement and participation in what He is planning and doing. This is the very meaning of prophecy. It is God foretelling what He is going to do and what is going to happen beforehand (Is 46:10-11, Is 55:10-11). God inhabits eternity and is not bound by time (Is 57:15).
The idea that God plans and controls events brings up some theological and doctrinal questions. What about man having choice, also called free will? Isn’t man a free moral agent? How does this apply to salvation and where men go for eternity? There are two extremes when it comes to these questions. There is Calvinism, which teaches that God predestines individuals to either salvation or condemnation. This is false. God does not predetermine which individuals are going to be saved. He predestined that there would be a church (Eph 1:5 & 11). God knew He was going to do this before He created (Jn 17:24, 1Cor 2:7, Eph 1:4, 1Pet 1:20, 2Tim 1:9, Titus 1:2). God knew it when He created (Mt 13:35, Mt 25:34, Rom 16:25-26, Eph 3:9 - it was the basis on which He created, Heb 4:3). He knew what was going to happen, and had already made plans for it beforehand (Jn 13:19, Jn 14:29, Jn 17:5 & 24, Rev 13:8). The prophets spoke of the plan in the Old Testament (Lk 24:25-27 & 44-47, Acts 2:31, Acts 3:18, 4:28, Acts 7:52, Gal 3:8, Heb 10:15-17), although they did not know all the details (1Pet 1:10-12). The word mystery does not appear in the Old Testament in the King James Version. It appears 27 times in the New Testament. It does not refer to something only God can understand. It almost always refers to the plan God had from the beginning, but was revealed when Christ came and the church was started (Rom 16:25, Eph 3:3-4 & 9, Col 1:26-27).
It is up to us whether we are part of the church or not. God is willing to save everyone (Jn 1:9, 1Tim 2:4, 2Pet 3:9). Jesus did not die for a select predetermined group of people to the exclusion of all others (Jn 3:16). He died for the whole world. He gave us all the measure of faith (Rom 12:3). He also gave us the innate knowledge that He is, but we can choose to deny it (Rom 1:18-32). Calvinism is basically fate, which is not Biblical. The reason God put the two named trees in the garden in the beginning was to introduce choice. God created man in His image (Gen 1:27). That does not mean that we physically look like God. God is Spirit (Jn 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Lk 24:39); although it is interesting to note that Adam was the figure of Christ (Rom 5:14), and he was the son of God (Lk 3:38). Choice has been a key element ever since (Deut 30:19, Josh 24:15, Prov 3:31, Is 56:4, Is 65:12). These scriptures are all from the Old Testament under the law of Moses. How much more freedom to choose is granted us in the new covenant? There are over 100 scriptures in the New Testament that connect the promises of God with our choices by the word “if”. God wants to bless us, but we must meet the conditions with our choices to believe and obey. Calvinism teaches unconditional eternal security, which means salvation is secure for the saved regardless of what they do. So then there is no such thing as backsliding. There is eternal security, but it is conditional. For a further examination of Calvinism, you can read the book, “Faith and Works” by Rick LoPresti, which is available at bibleforever..com and amazon.com.
Jesus did not exist before His incarnation except as God the Father (Jn 8:58, Jn 10:30, Jn 14:7-11). The Son was begotten on a specific day (Ps 2:7 (Acts 13:33, Heb 1:5, Heb 5:5). He was begotten, which is the opposite of eternal (Jn 1:1-14, Jn 3:13, Jn 6:62). The Son existed only in the plan of God. That is what logos (translated “the Word”) means. God planned to come in the flesh from the beginning, but that was not manifested until the fullness of time (Gal 4:4).
There are no authentic atheists. There are only deniers and those who choose not to believe Him. Everyone has faith, but God gave man the power to choose what to do with the faith He gave him. Basically, man either puts his faith in God where it belongs, or he puts it in man which is a very dangerous proposition. The history of man is filled with failure to be a great choice as a repository for faith. Also, the heart of man is highly vulnerable to deception on its own (Jer 17:9-10). Adam and Eve fell under the best possible circumstances (Gen 1-3). How much more untrustworthy is man now that he has an inherited fallen nature which tends toward sin and deception (Rom 5), the world is in darkness (Jn 1, Jn 8-9, 1Jn 1, 1Jn 5:19), and the devil is going about to deceive and destroy him (2Cor 11:4, 1Pet 5:8, Rev 12:9, Rev 20:7-8)? It takes much more faith to believe in man who fails continually than it does to believe in God who never fails.
Although the predestination of God, especially in the New Testament, is a general one for the people who believe, there are rare instances when God predestined individuals. However, these situations are rare, are usually related to God’s larger plan, and still do not eliminate free will. A great example is the Pharaoh in the days of Moses. The Bible says that Pharaoh hardened his heart (Ex 8:15 & 32, Ex 9:34), but it also says God hardened his heart (Ex 7:13, Ex 9:12, Ex 10:1 & 20 & 27, Ex 11:10, Ex 14:8). Also, it says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened without saying who did it (Ex 7:14 & 22, Ex 8:19, Ex 9:7 & 35). Then there is the important verse of Exodus 9:16 in which God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh, “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Paul quotes this verse in Romans 9 when discussing the sovereignty of God. He is discussing the fact that God did not fail to keep His promises to the descendants of Abraham when the nation of Israel was cut off because they refused to believe in Jesus, because some Israelites did believe, and because the covenant of God has always been based on faith rather than strict nationality (verses 1-8). Paul then gives several examples of the sovereignty of God - Isaac (verse 8), Jacob and Esau (verses 9-13), and then Pharaoh (verse 17). Paul correctly asserts that God is not unjust when He asserts His sovereignty because He is the Creator and Lord and has authority like a potter does over the clay to make vessels which suit His purpose (verses 14-16 & 18-33). Notice than none of these examples have anything to do with whether people were saved or not, but rather how God fit them into His bigger plan. Pharaoh had already hardened his heart against the Israelites and was just the next in a line of Pharaohs that kept them in slavery for 400 years (Ex 1-3). God knew what Pharaoh’s heart and behavior toward the Israelites clearly was (Ex 3:19). He knew Pharaoh’s repeated behavioral choices, and just incorporated them into the plan He had all along when the time for it was fulfilled (Gen 15:13-16). This is what God does. He gives us the ability to choose, acknowledges what our heart and behavior clearly indicate to Him, and incorporates them into how He goes about what He does. God never said that Ishmael, Esau, or Pharoah could not have a relationship with Him and were predestined to be lost for eternity. He foresaw their choices and incorporated them. God even made special promises to Ishmael, although the specific covenant was with Isaac (Gen 16 & 17).
God also did not exclude Esau from salvation, although He chose to pass the specific covenant promise to Jacob (Gen 37). Although God made this choice before Jacob and Esau were born (Gen 25:22-24), their behavior also played a part (Gen 25:22-34, Gen 26:34-35, Gen 27, Gen 28:6-9, Heb 12:16). There were two aspects of what Esau lost - the birthright and the blessing. The birthright had to do with his material inheritance from his father as the firstborn. He traded that to Jacob for a bowl of soup. The blessing was the spiritual inheritance which was passed from Abraham to Isaac, and from Isaac to Jacob. Jacob deceived his father into giving it to him by pretending he was Esau. This was not necessary for Jacob and his mother to do because God had already promised it to him. So did God foresee Jacob’s behavior based on his character already displayed before, during, and after birth; or did He predestinate their outcomes by sovereign decree? A balanced incorporation of all the facts given to us in the Bible is that both were working together, not exclusively. God and the devil even work simultaneously sometimes (1Ki 22, Job 1-2). In Revelation, we see both the wrath of God (Rev 6:16-17, Rev 11:18, Rev 14:10 &19, Rev 15:1 & 7, Rev 16:1 & 19, Rev 19:5), and the wrath of the devil and his cohorts (Rev 12:12, Rev 14:8, Rev 18:3). When we come to conclusions about what the Bible teaches us, we must include the whole passage, other passages on the same subject, and the Bible as a whole. Cherry picking parts of verses or verses out of context is always a recipe for error.
Sometimes God called specific individuals for a specific purpose, even naming them, before their births:
1. Isaac - Gen 12:2, 15:4, 17:1-21, and 18:10-11
2. Jacob and Esau - Gen 25:20-23, Rom 10:9-12
3. Samson – Jud 13:2-7
4. Cyrus – 2Chr 36:22-23, Is 24:44-45:4, Ezra 1
5. Josiah – 1Ki 13:1-2, 2Ki 21:24-23:28 (23:15-18)
6. Jeremiah – Jer 1:4-5
7. John the Baptist
a. Is 40:3-5, Mal 3:1, Mal 4:5-6
b. Mt 3:1-12, Mt 11:7-14, Mt 17:10-13, Mk 1:1-4, Lk 1:5-17
8. Jesus - Mt 1:18-20, Lk 1:35
9. The man born blind - Jn 9:1-7
God has a plan for all of us individually. No one is an accident, even if our parents did not plan to have us. Only God can give life. People can perform the physical act, but only God gives the breath of life. Did the above listed people still have the power to choose, even though they had a destiny already prophesied about? Of course they did. There are way too many people God had plans for which were prophesied that never came to pass for different reasons. David wrote about the sovereign knowledge of God over his life (Ps 139). The prophet Nathan prophesied over him and his future generations (2Sam 7). Yet even the great David sinned and “threw a wrench into the works” (2Sam 11-12). Yes, God’s overall plan came to pass, but David’s sin changed his outcomes (2Sam 23:5).
Judas is another important case study. The Bible prophesied that one of Jesus’ closest disciples would turn against Him (Ps 41:9). This was fulfilled by Judas (Jn 13:18). He also fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 (Acts 1:20). Was it strictly divine sovereignty, the choices of Judas, or a combination of both that Judas became the betrayer of Jesus? The Lord prayed all night before He chose the apostles from His followers (Lk 6:12-16). He hand-picked these 12 out of His many disciples, and He included Judas Iscariot the traitor. The Lord knew before Judas betrayed Him that he was a devil (Jn 6:70-71). At the last supper, Jesus already knew what Judas was about to do, and stated it before them all without calling him out specifically (Mt 26:21-25, Jn 13:27). We are not given a lot of details about Judas besides those surrounding his betrayal of Jesus. He was the treasurer for the traveling Jesus and the disciples, and he was stealing from the money meant to be used to support them all (Jn 12:6). When Mary anointed Jesus shortly before His death, it was Judas who complained about the waste of money (Jn 12:1-8, Jn 13:29). It was not because he cared about how the money could have been better used. It was because he was greedy. It also showed how his heart was toward Jesus. He was publicly insulting not only Mary and her sacrifice to honor the Lord, he was saying Jesus was not worthy of her offering of expensive perfume. Jesus rebuked him, and that is when he left the group to go meet with the enemies of the Lord to plot his betrayal (Mt 26:14, Mk 14:10), and Satan entered him (Lk 22:3-4). The devil also entered him when he took the bread at the last supper (Jn 13:27).
Judas knew Jesus used the garden of Gethsemane as a secret place to pray (Jn 18:2), so he arranged to do his betrayal there. He brought a band of armed men and gave them the signal with a kiss. Jesus knew exactly what his hypocritical kissed belied, but He still called him friend (Mt 26:50, Lk 22:48). Afterward, Judas saw he was condemned and “repented himself (Mt 27:3)”. He tried to return the money and undo what he had done, but it was too late for that. So he went out and committed suicide by hanging himself (Mt 27:5). Although he did go to the high priest, admit Jesus was innocent and he had sinned, and attempt to return the money, we do not read where he went to Jesus who was right there. We do not read where he prayed to God. We do not read where he went to the disciples. There was no prophecy that it would be a man named Judas who would betray the Lord. There was no prophecy the betrayer would commit suicide. Those were choices Judas made. Jesus already knew what was in his heart, and He knew Judas’ behavior prior to his betrayal. After the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, Peter led the process of replacing Judas (Acts 1:15-26). He said several interesting things about Judas. He said he was numbered with the eleven and had obtained part of their ministry. He also said that all these events including replacing Judas were prophesied by David in the book of Psalms. When they prayed about the replacement, they said that Judas fell from his apostleship and went “to his own place”. We would be hard pressed to say that place is any other but hell (Heb 9:27). Someone was going to do what Judas did and fulfill the prophecies, but did Judas’s choices lead him to become that one? God said what would happen, but not specifically which individual would do it. Judas engaged the “behavioral software” and became the one. Could he have repented and avoided suicide with its eternal consequences? That is between God and him.
Calvinism says that God cannot judge anyone because they did not choose. It was their fate assigned to them by God, so it is actually God’s fault. Thus the Calvinist joins the atheist and the hater of God by blaming Him for man’s sins. That is clearly false doctrine. We can only be justly held accountable for that which we choose to do.
The other extreme from Calvinism is basically deism. That is the doctrine that God exists and created everything, but He is not directly involved in the affairs of man. Man is guiding his own way without any interference from God. He is just up there watching events unfold like a passive watcher of media. This is also an error. The Bible is abundantly clear that God is actively participating in the affairs and events of man without eliminating choice. That is the great balance that only God can achieve.
God can also do contingencies. The angels told Lot to get out of Sodom and flee to the mountain. Lot asked to go the city of Zoar which was initially set to be destroyed as well (Gen 19). He was allowed that concession, and Zoar was spared. Lot himself was a contingency. Abraham was supposed to leave his family behind, including his nephew Lot (Gen 12:1-5, Gen 13:1 & 14). Abraham had to rescue him (Gen 14:12-16). He only escaped Sodom because of Abraham’s intercession (Gen 18). The Ammonites and Moabites which were the descendants of Lot’s incest became Israel’s continual enemies (Gen 19). God brought Solomon out of David’s relationship with Bathsheba (2Sam 12:24). The Bible also says God repents. This does not mean God has to apologize for sinning. It means people had sinned and provoked His judgment, but when they repented, He changed His mind about the judgment He was going to do (Ex 32:14, Jud 2:18, 2Sam 24:16, Ps 106:45, Jer 26:19, Amos 7:3-6). Sometimes God changed His mind about good He was going to do for people because their sins disqualified them from His plans (Gen 6:6, 1Sam 15:35). We can either believe God is just and merciful, or we can blame God for the failures of man, and come up with false doctrine to explain that.
So what is the practical application of all of this to us individually? God has a plan for all mankind. He desires to save everyone, but He will not violate the will He gave us to choose with. He also has a specific plan for each of us individually. If we commit sins that interfere with that plan, God is gracious and does not automatically discard us or His plan for us (Rom 11:29). He does not change His mind about His good plans for us, but sometimes our mistakes mean God has to initiate a contingency plan. Sometimes God can save part of the plan, and sometimes He has to come up with a new one. He doesn’t quit on us, but sometime people quit on Him. That is their responsibility for which they will give account (Rom 14:10-12, 2Cor 5:10, 1Pet 4:5, Rev 20:11-15).