(The Sovereign Plan of God in the Incarnation)
This is the manuscript of the message I taught tonight at home fellowship as part of our annual Advent series. It’s also the first time I’ve taught grown-ups since my Bible college Homiletics class. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Sermon Texts: 2 Tim. 1:8-10:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 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, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…
John 6:39: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
Ephesians 1:11-12: “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, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”
If what I share reminds you at all of a father penguin regurgitating seafood to feed his baby chick, then that is a good sign. Our theology should never be innovative. The canon of Scripture is closed and until Jesus comes back; there will be no further revelation. Innovations in the church through major events such as the Reformation come about as a stripping away of the man-made heresies and dogmas in an effort to hold fast to the same gospel that was preached by the great theologians who went before us (standing on the shoulders of giants!). And so, I owe a great deal of this message to the work others have already put into studying these matters, though I’ll admit I was unable to address all the topics and quote all the sources I would have liked to.
Last week, Bryan Gumpy discussed the Person of the Sovereign Savior (3 offices of Prophet, Priest, and King). Tonight I will be discussing the Sovereign Plan, the salvation that was provided for us from all eternity. Next week, Patrick will discuss the Sovereign Purpose (why it had to be Christ and no other?). Finally, Paul will discuss the Sovereign Timing and Providences of Jesus’ birth.
Tonight we’re going to be looking at a few aspects of the Divine Decrees, that we believe were made before the foundations of the world. The doctrines of Grace that we hold so dear, and that we use to try to bring a theological framework to salvation, they are all working together to fulfill his Sovereign Plan for Creation, the center of which is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In The End for Which God Created the World, Jonathan Edwards wrote,
[W]e may suppose that a disposition in God, as an original property of his nature, to an emanation of his own infinite fullness, was what excited him to create the world; and so that the emanation itself was aimed at by him as a last end of the creation.
As John H. Gerstner says,
This very desire is what necessitated the redemption of sinners following man’s creation and fall into sin, and to that end the covenant of redemption was made. The fall made man desperately needy of it, and the mercy involved revealed God in His greatest glory to man. (John H. Gerstner, The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, posted by Tim Challies on Ligonier Blog)
What do you think of when you think of the Fall of Adam and Eve? What do you think about it now, and what did you think about it earlier, in previous stages of biblical understanding that you might have had?
When we think of the Fall, we know the created order lost its place in the kingdom of God, because it was no longer in a state of perfection, it became corrupt. But would you say that it lost its “intended” place? Would you say that things were no longer the way God would have liked them to be?
Some of us were saved into a reformed understanding of the Bible. Others of us were “saved” as Arminians (Charles Spurgeon says every Christian really starts out as an Arminian). I used to be, although I never would have called it that. The “denomination” that I was in used to pride itself on being in “middle of the road”, not veering off into the ditch to the right or the left. Maybe some of you have had a similar experience. Have you ever thought of what happened in the Garden of Eden and gotten mad at Adam? (Women, when you feel discomfort during pregnancy, do you blame Eve?) Do you think of Jesus as the cosmic, “Plan B”? I did.
But no, this is Plan A.
He gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began
Paul says in 2 Tim. 1 that God gave us grace in Christ before the ages began. This means in God’s eternal decree included the Fall, otherwise there would be no need for grace, or for Christ.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 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, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel… (2 Tim. 1:8-10)
- Unconditional Election, not because of our works but because of his own purpose.
- This salvation is by Grace Alone, not because of our works.
- This Grace was given to us as a gift. It is not something we can earn.
- And therefore the recipient was known by the Giver.
- Christ is the means of this grace. There is no salvation apart from him.
- It was given to us before the ages began. This means before Creation, before the Fall, before God told Abraham that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed.
- It is manifested in the appearing of Jesus.
This gives a dual purpose to the incarnation as regards this passage. The incarnation enables the atonement (on the cross), which covers the sins of the elect, providing our salvation. It is in Christ that God gave us grace. But his incarnation is also an “appearing of our Savior.” Our sight of the gospel is the temporal means of our foreordained salvation. And not only that, but in the end, Philippians says every knee will bow, and the appearing of Christ justifies the judgment which will be due to unbelievers, because no one will be able to provide an argument on his own behalf.
The Implications of the Creator’s Foreknowledge
A couple weeks ago, Pastor Pat shared about how he teaches his daughters that before they were born, they existed “in the mind of God”, though they did not really exist at all. But God was thinking about them. In the same way, God was thinking about you and me before he ever said, “Let there be light.” And if he was thinking about you and me in the state that we are now, as fallen creatures, all sitting here together tonight as a church to do churchly things, and then he said, “Let there be light”, it is clear to us that he knew what was going to happen and in fact intended for things to work out this way.
We know that Scripture teaches us that God governs the world sovereignly. He is not just a watchmaker who built everything in its order and wound it up so it would continue in perpetual motion. But even the illustration of foreknowledge tells us that this is the way he meant it to be, otherwise, instead of “let there be light”, he could have said, “let there be music”, or something else. If God is omniscient (and he is) and he did not want things to turn out this way, he wouldn’t have started it all in the first place.
Jonathan Edwards, in his marvelous work entitled, A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame, says that Divine Foreknowledge of the existence of a thing carries with it the same weight as after-knowledge, for to the eternal, sovereign Creator, he knows something beforehand with as much detail as if it were a memory of the past. If we have a true memory of a historical event, and we’re not lying or hallucinating, then we can know that the thing we saw actually happened. It is “necessary” that it happened.
- I observed before, in explaining the nature of Necessity, that in things which are past, their past existence is now necessary: having already made sure of existence, it is too late for any possibility of alteration in that respect; it is now impossible that it should be otherwise than true, that the thing has existed.
- If there be any such thing as a divine Foreknowledge of the volitions of free agents, that Foreknowledge, by the supposition, is a thing which already has, and long ago had existence; and so, now its existence is necessary; it is now utterly impossible to be otherwise, than that this Foreknowledge should be or should have been. (35)
It is … evident, that if there be a full, certain, and infallible Foreknowledge of the future existence of the volitions of moral agents, then there is a certain, infallible, and indissoluble connexion between those events and that Foreknowledge; and that therefore, by the preceding observations, those events are necessary events; being infallibly and indissolubly connected with that, whose existence already is, and so is now necessary, and cannot but have been. (36)
So that it is perfectly demonstrable, that if there be any infallible knowledge of future volitions, the event is necessary; or, in other words, that it is impossible but the event should come to pass. (36)
Edwards, (Miscellaneous) Remarks on Important Theological Controversies. Chapter 3, “Concerning the Divine Decrees in General, and Election in Particular”, p. 525, § 1:
Whether God has decreed all things that ever came to pass or not, all that own the being of a God own that he knows all things beforehand. [Note that Edwards had no conception for the existence of an Open Theist.] Now, it is self-evident, that if he knows all things beforehand, he either doth approve of them, or he doth not approve of them; that is, he either is willing they should be, or he is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be, is to decree them.
To sum up these two points, the fact that God has foreknowledge carries with it the same evidence to the existence of a thing as after-knowledge would. Secondly, the fact that God is the sovereign creator, and the fact that he knew all things before they happened—and still, he said the words: “Let there be light”—means that everything is happening according to his sovereign plan.
If it was God’s will to show Grace to us before the ages began, as we have already seen, why? Why did he plan it this way? What is the “End” (or ultimate reason behind) of Creation?
Election showcases the Glory of the Lord
As we have seen that everything God does, he does for his glory, and that everything is the way it is because God wills it that way, we also see that his sovereign work of Election has the same end: to bring him the most glory.
Ephesians 1:12, we are predestined that we “might be to the praise of his glory.” And again, with a refrain in verse 14, the Holy Spirit is our seal, “to the praise of his glory.”
Election is based on God’s freedom to love whom he will. Deuteronomy 10:14-15 says, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”
He owns the whole earth, and all the peoples of the earth; he could have chosen everybody. There was nothing special about the Jews. Dt. 7:6-8a
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…
John Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 132:
…[T]he way God decided to make a name for his glorious grace in the Old Testament was to choose a people for himself from all the peoples of the earth and to make that people the showcase of his redeeming work. And so you read in Isaiah that God created Israel “for his glory” (43:7), and that he formed them “that they might declare [his] praise” (43:21). In other words, in order to extend the pleasure that God has in his own name he chooses a people to enjoy and praise and proclaim that name to all the peoples. And so God has pleasure in election.
Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
“Is it not from the LORD of hosts” implies that everything that people do “in vain” has the Lord’s working underneath it. And the end to which everything is working towards is the filling of the earth with “the knowledge of the glory of the LORD.”
The glory of God, from the first Person:
I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them. (Is. 42:8-9)
I will say to the north, Give up,
And to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made. (Is. 43:6-7)
Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
You who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.” (Is. 46:8-13)
“For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another. (Is. 48:9-11)
(Is God a “megalomaniac?” See “Why God Is Not a Megalomaniac in Demanding to Be Worshiped”)
God does everything for his own glory.
The Psalmist appeals to God’s concern for his own glory when praying for salvation:
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake! (Psa. 79:9)
God’s light shines forth in the darkness
Rom. 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Original Sin we inherited from Adam, as well as our own indwelling sin, causes us to fall short of the glory of God. Not only that, but there is an active work of Satan to keep our eyes blinded.
2 Cor. 4:4: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Genesis 3:15 (it is one of the first clues of Christ):
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
When Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers, he’s alluding to this. Calling someone the brood of vipers is the same as calling them the sons of the devil. (John Piper)
“We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. . . . Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:41-47)
Piper: “In other words, the most religious people of Jesus’ day were not children of God. That’s the condition of everyone if they don’t hear about Jesus, experience new birth, see the glory of Jesus, and believe.” (“From His Fullness We Have All Received, Grace Upon Grace”, sermon, 11/9/08)
Our nature as sons of Adam is one of unbelief, as the spawn of Satan. There would be enmity between the sons of the devil and the sons of the woman. But the spawn of the woman, alluding to Christ’s virgin birth, would bruise Satan’s head, in a fatal wound.
This passage links the first book of the Bible with the Last. Christ dealt a fatal wound when he accomplished his work and rose on the third day, and in the book of Revelation, we see that Satan will be put away forever.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 6, says, “Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.” One of the Scriptures quoted in the footnote in my edition of the WCF is Romans 11:32:
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Rom. 11:29-32, ESV)
The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: “Though not the author of sin (Ps. 5:4; Hab. 1:13; James 1:13), God allowed man to pursue his sinful inclinations so that He could receive glory by demonstrating His grace and mercy to disobedient sinners (cf. Eph. 2:2; 5:6).”
Jonathan Edwards says that evil makes good shine all the brighter. From Remarks on Important Theological Controversies. ch. III, “Concerning the Divine Decrees in General, and Election in Particular.” (Works Banner of Truth edition, vol. 2, p. 528):
§ 10. It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all; for then the effulgence would not answer the reality. For the same reason it is not proper that one should be manifested exceedingly, and another but very little. It is highly proper that the effulgent glory of God should answer his real excellency; that the splendour should be answerable to the real and essential glory, for the same reason that it is proper and excellent for God to glorify himself at all. Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great, as we have elsewhere shown. We little consider how much the sense of good is heightened by the sense of evil, both moral and natural. And as it is necessary that there should be evil, because the display of the glory of God could not but be imperfect and incomplete without it, so evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect; and the happiness of the creature would be imperfect upon another account also; for, as we have said, the sense of good is comparatively dull and flat, without the knowledge of evil.
Rom. 5:20 says, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” and so we see God is glorified by the presence of evil.
The means are ordained in order to give God glory
Romans, the epistle of Sovereign Grace, after nine chapters of laying out the plan of salvation, Paul declares how God works with human means.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:13-17)
Here we are speaking of human means that we believe are no less decreed by God than anything else.
Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees, &c.”, p. 527:
§ 4. … nobody, I believe, will deny but that God decrees many things that he would not have decreed, if he had not foreknown and foredetermined such and such other things. What we mean, we completely express thus—That God decrees all things harmoniously, and in excellent order, one thing harmonizes with another, and there is such a relation between all the decrees, as makes the most excellent order. [Here is support for Piper’s “The Best of All Possible Worlds” proposition, his “Seventh Point of Calvinism”.] Thus God decrees rain in drought, because he decrees the earnest prayers of his people; or thus, he decrees the prayers of his people, because he decrees rain…and thereby there is harmony between these two decrees, of rain and the prayers of God’s people. Thus also, when he decrees diligence and industry, he decrees riches and prosperity; when he decrees prudence, he often decrees success; when he decrees striving, then he often decrees the obtaining the kingdom of heaven; when he decrees the preaching of the gospel, then he decrees the bringing home of souls to Christ; when he decrees good natural faculties, diligence, and good advantages, then he decrees learning; when he decrees summer, then he decrees the growing of plants; when he decrees conformity to his Son, then he decrees calling; when he decrees calling, then he decrees justification; and when he decrees justification, then he decrees everlasting glory. Thus, all the decrees of God are harmonious…
The Substitutionary Atonment in the death of Christ is the crux of the whole Divine Decrees
As God ordains human means, so he has ordained the divine means of our salvation in the substitutionary atonement of Christ. And that is really what we are celebrating this advent season, for there would be no hope for any of us without it.
We spoke already of the appearing of Christ as a manifestation of Grace. Jesus is also the manifestation of the glory of God. On his last night with the disciples, before his, arrest, trial and excecution, Jesus prayed:
John 17:24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
This is the meaning of what Jesus came for, that a proper display of God’s glory might be made manifest.
I have mentioned parenthetically the idea that everything is now as it should be, for God’s glory. God is sovereign even over the bad things. In Genesis 50, Joseph says to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” It does not say God “used” it for good. It says he meant it, which means, God purposed it to happen, for his glory. So we see that God, though not the author of sin, purposed it. Selling sweet, innocent, little Joseph, Daddy’s boy, into slavery, was a heinous crime, but there was one much greater.
Edwards says (§ 6, p. 527),
If God is infinitely happy now, then every thing is now as God would have it to be now; if every thing, then those things that are contrary to his commands… For example, let the thing be this, that Judas should be faithful to his Lord…
Judas’ betrayal, which is the worst sin ever committed. Acts 2:23 (ESV) says Jesus was delivered up “according to the definite plan…of God”. Acts 4:27-28 says that everyone who took part in the conspiracy to crucify God was doing “whatever [God’s] hand and [his] plan had predestined to take place.” God truly willed that Judas should be unfaithful to his Lord, even though unfaithfulness is contrary to the commands of the Word. If God desired, he could have delivered Jesus up by other means, but the fact that God chose to have Judas betray Jesus means that he would be glorified more because of it. God wills (truly) things that are sinful (contrary to his commands) in order to more glory being bestowed upon him in the end.
This is the reason for the existence of our world: that he gets more glory in the end than if it were otherwise.
Isaiah 53 (ESV):
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Especially verse 10: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;”
There are many heretics in our day who are saying Jesus did not come to die, but he came to show us a new way of living. The proponents of this view think Jesus’ death was a catastrophic accident!
Jesus’ death provides for us the way of salvation, verse 11, he will “make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” This is a clear reference to the Atonement Sacrifice, and even Ciaphas the high priest seemed to make this connection.
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:48-52)
John the Baptist said, when he saw Jesus by the Jordan River, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He was a Lamb, and lambs are for killing.
I don’t want to step on Patrick’s toes because I’m sure he’s going to develop this point much further next week, but the Jews in Jesus’ time would have understood the language of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” to be in reference to the Day of Atonement.
To quote John Piper’s message at Bethlehem three weeks ago:
But every serious believer knew that the blood of animals could not really take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). That whole system was pointing forward to what would happen someday in a final sacrifice for sin. And John is saying: It’s happening now. God is sending his own Lamb into the world to take away sin, once and for all.
The end of it all is this. In Revelation 5:9-10, we have a glimpse of the throne room in heaven, where all glory is given to God and to the Lamb.
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
This is a new song, but it’s been sung for millennia. Jesus “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Continuing the rest of the chapter:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
This is the glory that Jesus had with the Father before the foundation of the world. But it is all with the aim of glorifying the Father. Those whom he ransomed, were those whose names were written in the Book of Life. And their names were written in it from the foundation of the world. Rev 13:8 and Rev 17:8 say that the names of the elect were written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.
Rev 13:8 in the NIV says, “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.” (This is the translation I grew up reading.) The emphasis with this word order is that the Lamb was slain from the creation of the world, so well before the fall, Jesus’ purpose was already laid out for him.
What it should mean for us when we get a more biblical understanding of the eternal sovereign decrees of our sovereign Lord is that we should learn to trust him instead of freaking out. The fact that God ordains everything should help us to cope with our daily lives, in whatever situation we find ourselves in—whether it be stuck in line at the fast food place, or getting hit with a larger-than-expected tax bill.
As we see that God ordains not only the ends, but also the means, in “perfect harmony,” from this we should be encouraged to never stop praying. We should not stop striving. Jesus said (in Luke 13:24, ESV), “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” And Philippians 2:12 says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Our striving and prayers should continue. But because God is sovereign, it should carry a great deal of optimism with it.
Jonathan Edwards says the fact that our strivings are as much decreed by God as the ends we’re working for, should take away all vanity.
§ 7. They say, to what purpose are praying, and striving, and attending on means, if all was irreversibly determined by God before? But, to say that all was determined before these prayers and strivings, is a very wrong way of speaking, and begets those ideas in the mind, which correspond with no realities with respect to God. The decrees of our everlasting state were not before our prayers and strivings; for these are as much present with God from all eternity, as they are the moment they are present with us. They are present as part of his decrees, or rather as the same; and they did as really exist in eternity, with respect to God, as they exist in time, and as much at one time as another. Therefore, we can no more fairly argue , that these will be in vain, because God has foredetermined all things, than we can, that they would be in vain if they existed as soon as the decree, for so they do, inasmuch as they are a part of it [the decree].
We should have confidence in Persevering Grace. If we do not believe that God had the whole thing planned out, if we do not believe that everything is happening exactly as he means it to, how can we have any assurance? How do we know that we will truly persevere?
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:37-39)