A Gift to the Son: John 17:6-8

John 17:6-8

Jesus has manifested the name of the Father to the Disciples and to us – His love-gift from the Father of a people called out of the world, a people who are called according to purpose and a plan

17:6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

Verse six is a transition verse. Jesus has been talking about His own glory and his petition has been focused on Himself and His work – which is about to be consummated, and yet in His mind the work was all but certainly fulfilled (vs.4).

Now He turns His attention to those that God has given Him, His disciples. And there are several points worth stopping and meditating upon before we go any further. The key points are these:

  • Jesus Manifested the Father’s Name
  • The Elect are a Gift to Christ from the Father
  • The Elect are ‘Out of the World’ and therefore no better off than any other intrinsically
  • The Elect were the Father’s Before Even Being Called to Salvation/Given to Christ
  • The Disciples ‘Kept the Word’ of Christ

Manifesting the Father’s Name

The word “manifest” is phaneroō in the Greek, which means “to reveal” or “to make known” (MacArthur). What does it mean to “reveal” or “make known” the name of the Lord? Certainly it’s more than just shouting “Yahweh! Yahweh! Yahweh!” on every street corner in Galilee and Jerusalem!

The idea here is that the sum total of God’s character and attributes are bound up in His name. So that when Jesus is declaring “the name” of the Father, He is declaring who the Father is in His essential being, and what He is all about – MacArthur says, “God’s name encompasses all that He is: His character, nature, and attributes.”

Hendricksen says something profound here: “The Son is the Father’s Exegete. Apart from him no one ever gets to know spiritual matters in their real, inner essence and value. The Father’s name – that is, the Father himself, as he displays his glorious attributes in the realm of redemption – is not apart from the words and words of the Son. This knowledge concerning the Father means everlasting life (vs. 3).”

When Hendriksen says that Jesus is the Father’s “Exegete”, what he’s saying is the Jesus, as the Son of God, is best qualified to explain to us who the Father is – what He’s like and so forth.

Today we have the word of God in the Scripture – it is living and active (Hebrews 4) and it is “God’s own divine interpretation, through human authors, of his own redemptive acts (Steven Wellum).” Jesus is the Word of God incarnate and here has declared (in the aorist, and therefore finished sense) that He has completed His mission of telling the world – especially those whom God has given Him – about who God is.

Carson says it well, “That the revelation Jesus simultaneously is and delivers can be briefly summed up as your word is not surprising, for all of Jesus’ words are God’s words (5:19-30), and Jesus himself is God’s self-expression, God’s Word incarnate (1:1,14).”

The Elect are a Gift to Christ

Next we see that those whom He declared the name of God unto are none other than those whom God “gave” Christ. What this means is that God the Father has given His Son a gift for the work He completed, that gift is us, His church, His bride, the elect of God.

This week as Chloe and I were riding back home from Good Friday service we were talking about the plan of God in the macro sense of things – I didn’t use theological terms like “metanarrative” or “predestination” and I didn’t have to. After a few questions about giving God praise, and some clever deduction, Chloe figured it out on her own and finally answered (in the form of a question) the question every man and every woman eventually asks: why are we here on earth? She phrased it in stutters, and shifted the words about a few times, but she basically said, “so we are just made by God so that Jesus can have us and control us?” Her answer sounded like the Arminian caricature of a puppet master-God. Once I clarified with her what she was getting at she said again, “well, so, God made us so that He could love us and give us to Jesus so that we could make Him happy?” (I paraphrase) and I said, “yup, that’s exactly right!” Of course, Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ came to mind, but I didn’t sport with her intellect on that score! It didn’t take much for her to figure out quickly what the “chief end of man” was, even though she’s only seven years old.

The reason I point this out though and bring it up today is because all people were made to praise God. Those who don’t are still in their fallen sinful darkened ways. Their minds are darkened to this purpose – to their purpose. Christians have a purpose – we exist for His glory. And here Christ expresses this truth in a unique way: we are a gift from the Father to the Son.

This isn’t a new idea though for us who’ve studied John together.

Earlier in John 6 we read this:

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. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)

If you think of this in Easter terms, for it is Easter week as I write this, it is a remarkable thing that the ransom was us, and that He died for us, and that the rescue mission was to free us.

The bottom line is that He rose from the grave and brought us along with Him. United to Him (Rom. 6) we have assurance that we will live forever with him. There are many points of assurance to consider, but this particular verse reminds us of another one, namely that if the Father had in His heart the desire or plan to give His Son a gift of a certain group of people whom He died to save, do you think that there is anything in the world or universe that can thwart that objective (Romans 8:31-39)? To ask the question is to answer it. God always – always – get’s His way. And His way here is to give His Son a gift and that gift is us.

Not because of anything about or in us particularly, which leads to the next point…

The Elect are ‘Out of the World’

Jesus says that those whom the Father is giving Him are “out of the world” – that necessarily means that we were of the world before being rescued. And that means that we needed a Rescuer. Which, in turn, means that we were doomed to hell unless He intervened. There was nothing in us that made us more worthy or more desirable than other men. God simply loves to save, and He does so of His own prerogative and according to His own good pleasure.

In other words, you don’t get to choose ahead of time to be part of the gift from the Father to the Son. The Father doesn’t leave something that important in your hands – sorry. Why? Well, because He actually wants to give His Son a gift, and if it was up to you, He would have nothing to give His Son! Why?   Because if it was up to you, you would never choose to be Christ’s, you would never choose to surrender your life to God, you would never choose on your own to believe in the Son of God made flesh. The story of the resurrection would seem like foolishness to you, but guess what, if you’re a Christian today you are rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ because God has shined the light of knowledge into your darkened, depraved and broken soul and has done a work of resurrection in you! For as Paul says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

The Canons of Dort express this well, “…chosen out of the whole human race, fallen by its own fault from its primeval integrity into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons, neither better nor more deserving than others but with them involved in a common misery, unto salvation in Christ; whom even from eternity he had appointed Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of salvation. The elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God had decreed to give to Christ to be save by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification…”

And as Paul says:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Let us not leave this verse without realizing that He has called us “out of the world” and that had it not been for His mercy, His initiating grace, His prerogative, we would be bound for hell and eternal torment. Praise God for His mercy.

The Elect were the Father’s Before Even Being Called to Salvation

Now for the mystery: Jesus says that the elect were the Father’s even before being given to Christ – “yours they were.” Jesus is thinking most particularly about the disciples, but the truth extends to us as well.

Now, we know that everything belongs to God. As He says through the Psalmist, “…every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). But Jesus is speaking more specifically here. He is saying that in the eternal mind of God, we – specific people, not an amorphous unknown to be determined group – were His in a special way before being called to come to Christ.

As Hendriksen says that this happened, “in order that this eternal counsel might become effective in their lives, they had been given to Jesus so that he by means of his atoning sacrifice might save them.”

So it wasn’t just enough for God to “know” these people (you and me) he has taken the extra step in “giving” us to Christ. And Christ calls us to Himself through the drawing power of the Spirit. He calls us to the cross. He calls us to repentance and to eternal life – life only He can give through His mediatorial role.

That’s why D.A. Carson says, “The ones for whom Jesus prays, then, antecedently belonged to God, who took them out of the world and gave them to his Son, who manifested God’s name to them.”

From before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-14) God had us in His minds eye that He would save us and that Christ would atone for our sins. This is a great and mysterious truth, and today we stand back in awe of all He has done for us before we could do anything at all. Before we drew breath, before our parents drew breath, before our ancestors came to this nation, before Noah, before Adam, before time, He had a plan to save you and me and give us to His Son as a gift!

The Disciples ‘Kept the Word’ of Christ

The last thing we learn in this verse is that the Disciples “kept the word” of Jesus.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying we must first affirm what He is not saying.

Jesus is not saying that because they were good people who obeyed God they’re going to go to heaven. That is far from what Christ is saying. In fact, the antecedent declaration that the Father had given them to Christ serves us as a prerequisite for their belonging to Christ.

Furthermore, Jesus is not saying that they were born again by the Spirit and therefore were obedient to the commands of Christ in a new covenant sense. For this is pre-Pentecost and no one had yet been given the gift of the Divine Helper — as is evident from the previous four chapters where the Helper is promised to come later.

What Jesus is saying is that in the pre-resurrection, pre-Pentecost sense that when you look at all the people Jesus preached the gospel to, these disciples of his were the only ones who “kept” his word. In this case, “keeping the word” of Christ means believing that He is the Messiah.

D.A. Carson explains why:

…a good case can be made that when in the Fourth Gospel Jesus refers to his words (plural) he is talking about the precepts he lays down, almost equivalent to his ‘commands’ (entolai, as in 14:21; 15:10), but when he refers to his word (singular) he is talking about his message as a whole, almost equivalent to ‘gospel’. The disciples had not displayed mature conformity to the details of Jesus’ teaching, but they had committed themselves unreservedly to Jesus as the Messiah, the one who truly reveals the Father.

And so what this means is that “they have kept the revelatory ‘word’ that Jesus has mediated to them from the Father” but that doesn’t mean that they are “’Christians in the full post-Pentecostal, Antiochian sense (Acts 11:25). It simply means that, as compared with the world, they have been drawn out of it (vs. 6)…” (Carson).

All of this will come into focus in verse 7 and 8, but first…

…let us consider the crux of all of this…

The thrust of this verse is that God had a plan for a specific group of people from before time began, that these people would be given as a love-gift to the Son from the Father. Because the Father delights in giving the elect to the Son, and because the Son has sacrificed His own body on the cross for the sins of His elect, there is therefore no power in heaven or on earth that can separate us from the mission and love of God in Christ.

What God has joined together, no man may separate – and such is the case of the bride (the Church) and the bridegroom (Christ). For as Paul aptly and joyously states:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

     “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

17:7-8 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. [8] For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

In verse seven Jesus says that he has told the disciples “everything” that “you” meaning “the Father” had given him. This is tantamount to saying “I’ve fulfilled this part of my mission.”

Stop for a moment and consider the weightiness of the fact that the words that sprang forth from the lips of this man Jesus were words made known to Him before the dirt under your feet existed…it is an awesome thing to think that the words we read here in Scripture came from the mind of God Himself.

Now verse eight says that the disciples “received” the words from Jesus. Earlier in verse six Jesus said the disciples “kept your word”, and I labored a little to show how this “keeping” was really having to do with accepting Jesus as the Messiah, and accepting the gospel message that He was proclaiming. It was believing that He was who He said He was. That is the same here I believe, because Jesus speaks in a sort of parallelism when He says:

They have received them
(They have) come to know in truth that I came from you
They have believed that you sent me
 

All three of these are basically saying the same thing – they believe that what I’m saying is true and that I am the Messiah sent directly from you.

This is remarkable, especially when you consider that others who have delivered messages from God were not always believed. One need only think of Luke 1 and Zachariah:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Zachariah was described as a righteous man not many verses earlier, and yet he did not have the faith to accept a message sent directly from God’s throne room. You can sort of hear the indignity in Gabriel’s voice! “Listen, I just came from the presence of the ALMIGHTY! Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? I heard this with my own ears not a few minutes ago from God HIMSELF!”

So we must not sell the disciples short. They are not yet indwelt with the Spirit, but they believe the message from Jesus.

What we ought to really take away from this is that the heart of the message that Jesus had proclaimed had to do with the salvation of mankind from their bondage to sin. And the chief remedy to this is to “believe” that Jesus is who He says He is. To believe He came from heaven. That is what we must do. I’ll just end this thought by turning your attention back again to the sixth chapter of John’s gospel where another crowd wanted to know how to please God:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Study Notes for 8-11-13: Those Whom He Loved

John Chapter 13

As we open up the 13th chapter of John we find ourselves just days prior to the Lord Jesus Christ’s passion.  “The public ministry of Jesus is over” (Morris), and the next five chapters include material that none of the other gospels have. These are called the “farewell discourses”, and there are four major truths I see over the course of these chapters that we need to be on the lookout for:

  1. We will see how Christians are to love others the way Jesus loves us, and is Himself loved by the Father.
  2. We will be able to do this loving by the help and power of the Holy Spirit – the anticipation of Spirit’s mission and power is central these upcoming chapters.
  3. The world will hate us and kill us, but we have no cause for fear on this account because Jesus has overcome the world and its power.
  4. Jesus is the only way to God the Father and is our intercessor.  It is by His intercession and His sovereign choice that you have been saved from utter ruin.

Now as to the immediate context, we find Jesus and His disciples preparing to eat a final meal together in the upper room.  There is much dispute as to whether or not this “last super” is a Passover Meal, or whether it is a meal earlier in the week (Tuesday) separate from the Passover. There are good arguments on both sides, and both sets of arguments seek to harmonize the account of John with the other gospel accounts; we’ll get into that some more later in the chapter.

Let us keep in mind that in His actions in chapter 13, Jesus is setting in motion a series of events that will forever change the world and the destiny of mankind.  No longer will men be enslaved to sin and fear and death. No longer will they wonder when the Messiah will come.  For He has come, and He has done all that is necessary for life – eternal life. His life, death, and resurrection have done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And so as we continue to read and learn about this final week of Jesus’ life, we watch, as the great exodus is about to begin…

13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

“Jesus Knew”

It is a great and unrealized comfort to our souls that we don’t “know” what is next in our lives. For even though we seem to spend a lot of time anxiously awaiting what is next. it is these roots of anxiety that Jesus urges us to puck up and cast away.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

I’ve taken a great deal of time to cite this passage, and to make this point because I want us to fully see that while we are often anxious for tomorrow, what we often don’t realize is that if we knew all that was to happen in our future days, our minds could likely not handle the anxiety and pressure that knowledge brought.

In a similar way, can you imagine what it would be like to know that you will die but not a harsh death? We all know that we’re going to die sometime, but what if you knew for certain that your death would be peaceful and easy and that it wouldn’t be from a car wreck or some devastating accident? Interestingly, the Bible gives us just such an example in the case of Abraham.  In Genesis 15 we find ourselves reading a text that is primarily concerned with the covenant between God and Abram, and its easy to miss this fascinating and amazing gift God gives his saint:

As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. (Genesis 15:15)

Most people are afraid of death, but the beauty of being a Christian is that you don’t have to fear death. So for Christians the sting of death has been taken away. But as I’ve heard R.C. Sproul mention off-handedly before, he doesn’t fear death, but he fears how he’s going to die.  That uncertainty can have a tendency to gnaw away at us, especially as we get older.  But for Abram even this was taken off the table. What an amazing gift it was too – to not only know where you would go after death, but that you would “go to your fathers in peace”, now that is a wonderful way to live life!

That being said, the Lord Jesus Christ had none of that.  J.C. Ryle says this:

Our ignorance of things before us is a great blessing. Our Lord saw the cross clearly before Him, and walked straight up to it. His death was not a surprise to Him, but a voluntary, foreknown thing.

He knew not only that He was going to die, but He knew it was going to be a painful and terrible death.  And that is why when we find the Bible telling us that He knew this, and yet spent His last days on earth in loving concern for those entrusted to Him, it ought to blow our minds. Can you image being so filled with love that even days away from your own gruesome death you could think of nothing else but to serve others?

Despite facing the gruesome awful reality of the cross, His love for those around Him, and the millions He would die to save, never wavered even for an instant.  This impeccable, implacable, overpowering love of Christ is what constantly leaves me in awe when I can’t even bring myself to love those closest to me in a godly manner. Jesus loved those who hated him. His mission was to take enemies of God and make them lovers of God. It’s enough to blow you away. The incomprehensibility of His love is enough to keep you writing and reading and praying and crying for a lifetime of lifetimes. He did what we’ll never fathom doing and He didn’t do it begrudgingly, but with a deep love and tenderness that only God could comprehend.

“In the Word”

The first thing to note about this phrase is that He knows where we are. We are in the “world.”  What does that mean?  It means that we are enduring trials, struggles, and persecution. But this knowledge and reality does not leave us cold or hopeless, for later Jesus promises this:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:32-33 ESV)

This is a great comfort to us. To know that He knows where we are, and what that means. It means that sometimes life really sucks! Yet, here was God, poured into a man’s flesh. He took on the flesh of a man, and could feel frustration and pain and hurt and sorrow. He knew what it was to be upset and angry. He felt the sting of disappointment, of rejection, of sadness and depression creeping at the gate. Yet despite all of this He triumphed over it, and because of that we know we can as well through His power – and that power comes from Him and His Spirit and will be a big part of what is discussed by Jesus over the next few chapters.

He Loved His Own

Secondly, it is worth noting here that Jesus’ mission was very specific – it was specific to those whom the Father had predestined to be saved from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1-2). And this group of people, theologians refer to as ‘the elect of God’, are those to whom John is referring when he says “his own.”

It is my personal view that for those who disagree with the doctrine of “definite” or “limited” atonement, the next 5 chapters present so many hurdles that theological gymnastics are required to acquit anyone proposing a variation of a “general” or “universal” atonement. We will see, for example, that in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer He prays for those who are His and not for those in the world:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. (John 17:9 ESV)

What is so comforting about this doctrine is the fact that Christ had a mission to save YOU from the foundation of the world. Look at just a few of the verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so we see that the phrase “the world” and “his own” combine in an idea that signals God’s peculiar love for His chosen people.  He is drawing people out of this world in order to fashion a new creation.  Listen to what D.A. Carson says on this point:

The ‘world’ is important in these chapters: it occurs forty times, primarily to draw a sharp contrast between Jesus’ ‘own’, his disciples, and the mass of lost humanity, the ‘world’ from which they were drawn and in which they must live until their final vindication. If God loves the world (3:16), it is in order to draw men and women out of it. Those so drawn out constitute a new entity, set over against the world: the world loves its ‘own’, Jesus loves his ‘own’ (15:19). The object of the love of God in Christ, in these chapters, is therefore not the lost world, but the newly forming people of God, the disciples of the Messiah, the nascent church, the community of the elect. Jesus had loved his own all along; he now showed them the full extent of His love.

Surely, with a plan that has been in place so long, He will not fail to finish this plan, and keep your salvation safe to the uttermost, and that leads us to the next part of what John says…

To the End

Here it does not only stipulate that Jesus loved His disciples, and those for whom He was about to die, but that He loved them up to the very end of His earthly life.  We see this also demonstrated when, hanging from the cross, He takes pains to ensure His mother Mary is taken care of in her old age.

In this we also see that everlasting, enduring love of Christ for all of those whom He has ever set His love upon. He loved his own “to the end.” And because of this, we can be assured that as Christ acted on earth so He will act in heaven and hereafter. For He doesn’t change, His purposes are everlasting. So it is that He will never give up on His own sheep, He will ensure that for those whom He has set His love upon there will never be a death like the one all others face.  Physical death for those elect of God is but a transition from life to life everlasting.

Listen to what Christ says earlier in chapter six:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [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. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40 ESV)

 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

The Destiny of Judas

I want to note here something very sad, and perhaps even a little frightening. It doesn’t matter how close you are to Godly people, how much you attend church or serve your community. Until you have a supernaturally changed heart by the power of the Holy Spirit by the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you can and will fall, and ultimately you will end up in Hell. This is what happened to Judas Iscariot.  Listen to how J.C. Ryle put it:

He (John) shows us the uselessness of the highest privileges, unless we have a heart to value them and turn them to good account. Privileges alone without grace save nobody, and will only make hell deeper. He shows us the uselessness of mere head-knowledge. To know things with our brains, and be able to talk and preach and speak to others, is no proof that our own feet are in the way of peace. These are terrible lessons: but they are true.

It is a hard thing to think on, but the reality is that this man was a disciple of Jesus, he probably was sent out with the 72 when Christ sent his disciples out to preach the good news. He likely shared and preached in Jesus’ name. And we know that Jesus Himself showed Him love. But there is a difference, as we see here, between saving love and common gracious love. It is hard to illustrate this well without stepping on a minefield of inappropriate comparisons, but the one might think of the difference between how one loves a stranger (as we are called to do), and how one loves a spouse or child. This is a very specific kind of love that is infinitely more powerful between spouses than that which is set graciously upon a stranger (perhaps a poor man you are serving). So it is with Jesus, only to a much higher and more powerful degree. Christ has, in His eternal wisdom and plan, set His special specific love upon certain people. He has elected some to life, and some to eternal wrath; some to justice and some to mercy. He has raised some from spiritual death to spiritual life. I know not why He chooses to do this, or why He chooses some and not others, I know only small finite bits of data; all that He has revealed to us in Scripture.

I know not why this man Judas was chosen for wrath and justice, except that from all eternity it pleased God to choose him for a task other than that which He chose, say Peter, for. This same mystery is not ignored by the Biblical authors, but grappled with – especially in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:18-24 ESV)

And so we see here that not only was Judas not picked for eternal life with God, but he was sovereignly chosen as a “vessel of wrath”. Why? I think, even though this is hard/difficult for us to fathom, Paul even tells us that.  He says God desires to “show his wrath”, “make known his power”, and also “make know the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”  It all comes back to the fact that God is glorified in this. It is hard for us to understand it, but it magnified His power, His wrath, and His glory.  And so it is at moments like this that we need to close our mouths and accept that God is God and we are not, and praise Him for who He is, for that is His desire for us.

10,000 Reasons to Celebrate this Morning

Tomorrow we celebrate Good Friday, the day God appointed before creation that His beloved Son would pay the price for a humanity He hadn’t even created yet.  From all eternity He had this plan in mind.  It pleased Him to crush His Son on our behalf. The depths of this really can’t be fully understood, but I’m glad with all my soul it is the truth.

Listen to the glorious words of Paul as you meditate on His goodness this morning:

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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 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. 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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

For that reason we have 10,000 reasons to worship our great God and Savior. Enjoy some worship time with Matt Redman’s song today as you contemplate with awe and reverence the lengths to which He went to pluck you from the grave.

Reprobation and Predestination (Justice and Mercy)

Reprobation and Salvation

During last week’s class, near the end, I got a question as to why some people are saved and not others. The question was framed in the context of creation: “why would God create some people who He knew would never accept His gospel, and therefore go to Hell”?  The question is more bluntly put, “if God is the One sovereignly quickening us (bringing us alive from the dead), then why would He even create others who were not going to be saved?”

This question hits on a few important doctrines: predestination and reprobation.

Reprobation is defined in this way by the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, “God’s action of leaving some persons in a state of their own sinfulness so that they do not receive salvation but eternal punishment.”

Predestination is defined in this way, “A term for the view that God predestines or elections some to salvation by means of a positive decree while those who are not saved condemn themselves because of their sin  (also: “God’s gracious initiation of salvation for those who believe in Jesus Christ”).”

But before I go to scripture to explain these doctrines, particularly that of reprobation, let me first say that there are certain things that we can know, and other things that we cannot know, and will not be able to figure out.  This is not a cop-out, but rather an understanding of the fact that God is greater and His ways are deeper than our minds can fathom (Is. 55:6-11).

Do Not Pry into His Eternal Council

But not only are there things our minds were not made to comprehend, but there are things which we must not pry – the sovereign council of God. There is a limit not only to our understanding, but to what God will allow us to search out – most particularly in arrogance (which is the attitude we humans tend put on when exploring big questions of the unknowable). Job found this out first hand when he questioned God’s purpose in his life.  What was God’s reaction to Job?  This is what He said:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

He challenges Job over and over “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this…Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?

God concludes two lengthy chapters of rebuke with this “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Some are Predestined…Others Are Not

It is supposed by the question that this blog post is being addressed that we believe that indeed some are saved and others are not.  But I want to just reaffirm this great mysterious truth once again by citing some Scripture.  Ephesians 1 tells us this:

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. [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.

[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. (Eph. 1:3-14)

What this passage clearly teaches us is that before the world began, God predestined a chosen group of people for salvation, and that all of this was “according to the counsel of his will” for a purpose.  What was the purpose? “For the praise of His glory.”  I will come back to that in a minute.

In Romans 9, the seminal passage on predestination and reprobation, Paul says this:

[6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [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] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and not Esau, in other words, God chose Jacob for salvation and for His work of redemption and not Esau.  Why did He choose one and not the other? Paul answers: “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”

Therefore the choosing is all of God.  Can the passage be anymore plain? He alone is sovereign and soverignly chooses whom He wills.  This is why Christ can confidently say in John 10 that His sheep know His voice and follow Him.  His sheep are discriminatory.  Why?  Because He has chosen them. His Spirit has quickened them. He has plucked them as brands from the burning to be the objects of His affection, and they have been given to Him as a gift from the Father to the glory and enjoyment of the Son.

Now in verse 19 Paul anticipates the same objections I received in class.  He knows that some will object.  He knows some will say, “that’s not fair!”  But how does he answer them?  God says, speaking through Paul, something similar to what He said thousands of years prior to Job:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Wayne Grudem says this about the text, “…we must remember that it would be perfectly fair for God not to save anyone, just as He did with the angels: ‘God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment’ (2 Peter 2:4). What would be perfectly fair for God would be to do with human beings as He did with angels, that is, to save none of those who sinned and rebelled against Him. But if He does save some at all, then this is a demonstration of grace that goes far beyond the requirements of fairness and justice.”

Then Grudem gets into the objection specifically raised in class:

But at a deeper level this objection would say that it is not fair for God to create some people who knew would sin and be eternally condemned, and whom He would not redeem. Paul raises this objection in Romans 9 (citation of the passage). Here is the heart of the “unfairness” objection against the doctrine of election. If each person’s ultimate destiny is determined by God, not by the person himself or herself (that is, even when people make willing choices that determine whether they will be saved or not, if God is actually behind those choices somehow causing them to occur), then how can this be fair?  Paul’s response is not one that appeals to our pride, nor does he attempt to give a philosophical explanation of why this is just. He simply calls on God’s rights as the omnipotent Creator (Romans 9:20-24)…there is a point beyond which we cannot answer back to God or question His justice. He has done what He has done according to His sovereign will. He is the Creator; we are the creatures, and we ultimately have no basis from which to accuse Him of unfairness or injustice.

Furthermore, this troubles us greatly because not only does it say that we can’t always understand His purposes or question His great purposes, but it goes further…that God is actually glorified in all of this.  Certainly He does not desire anyone to go to Hell (1 Tim. 2:4) but He is glorified in His actions because they magnify His perfect holy character.  Reprobation magnifies His justice, and salvation magnifies His mercy.

Why?

There is a certain point beyond which we may not pry, as I mentioned above, and as Paul alludes to when he says, “who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”  But I want us to understand that while we may not understand the eternal counsel of His will, we can still understand the basic parameters of His will and His actions, and these parameters have to do with His pleasure, His honor, and His glory.

Look at what that Ephesians passage said about the reason for predestination.  Verses 6 and 12 both said this was for “the praise of His glory” or “His glorious grace.”

Then look at what Romans says about the reason for reprobation. Verse 23 says this was “in order to make known the riches of His glory.”

In other words, all things work together not only for our good (Romans 8:28), but they will all eventually work together for His glory.  Indeed all of human history will culminate in Christ’s receiving the glory that is due Him.  No matter what the issue, we can be certain that God does it because He finds pleasure in His plan, and wants to receive glory in and through that plan.

The Example of Christ and Our Response

Perhaps the most grueling and baffling example of predestination was the plan set forth from before creation for the death of Jesus Christ. God predestined Jesus to die a horrific death on the cross. This plan was forged before He even made the world! He could have said, “No I am not going to do this act of creation because ultimately my Son will have to die.” But that is not what He did.  According to His own pleasure and plan to the glory of His son and the praise of His name, He created the world and all that is in it, and He did so with the full knowledge that one day He would send His Son to die for the sins of the world.

This is a great mystery. We ask, “Why would He create some whom He does not save?” When we ought to ask, “Why would God choose to send His Son to die for me even before He created a single solitary speck of earth?”  Asking the former appeals to our pride, asking the latter calls us to search out the depths of the love of God – love that is so unsearchable that we cannot understand or fathom it. We simply respond with Job:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 ESV)