Summary: This article was written and published June ’15.
This is an interesting topic. Men love to speculate about what God was thinking before time began, before He created the world. These speculations often run out unchecked in the human imagination. Unfortunately they become cornerstones in his theological systems. By his proud intellect and so called scholarship, man has formulated these doctrinal systems, even when it is obvious he has no revelation from God to support his speculations. He calls it logic – God was thinking this, God must have done that, God decreed this and decided that. Intellectual proofs are given in order to sustain unsound doctrine. Human wisdom, human thoughts, the finite grasping at the infinite. Dare I say as Paul did, ” the Greeks seek after wisdom.” And also, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Cor. 1:20-22)
Are we to think that we can know God as He knows Himself? Wouldn’t this be human arrogance? Isn’t this the pride of man? And then isn’t this the folly of Protestant scholasticism and intellectualism, especially when the ideas entertained are extra-biblical? Through the human mind and by human intelligence it simply is impossible to know God. Yet this doesn’t stop men from pretending they can accomplish the task.
Matthew 11:25-27 (NKJV)
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
Allow me to comment on this statement – “…no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son…” Why would this be? The reason is because only a divine infinite being can know another divine infinite being. This is what He means by His statement. Man, as a created finite being, cannot know God, nor can he attain the knowledge of God, regardless of human efforts, human intellect or scholarship. So we understand that God must intervene, and this is what we see in the passage. God chooses, according to His own good pleasure, those to whom He reveals anything. This is grace; this is how grace works; God chooses as He pleases. He hid these things from the wise and prudent. He reveals these things to babes.
The Lord’s statement is almost an indictment against the intellectualism and scholasticism referred to above. Yet Protestantism and its hallowed halls of academia are very much saturated by this type of approach to learning. Why? Isn’t it because we haven’t a clue what divine teaching looks like? How do we get it, how do we find it? Protestantism assumes that the knowledge of God, the understanding of the things of God, are only a matter of human effort, accomplishment, and intelligence. This supposes God’s grace through human work, including the thoughts of human intelligence. It is the very thing that the Calvinists fought against in individual justification by faith, yet in so many other areas and subjects fall back into the same evil leaven they were fighting. A further development of the leaven of human accomplishment can be found in many circles of Protestant Evangelicalism – their revelations and knowledge of God and from God are gained by great efforts in prayer and fasting, apart from the confines of God’s word.
Unfortunately the majority of time these disciplines are done apart from the elements that are critical to their success. How do we recognize and receive divine teaching? It has to be grace. It has to be God’s thoughts which are only found in God’s word. And it has to be the Holy Spirit teaching. The revelations we think we have received must have the full and clear support of Scripture. Without this our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, but only amount to human wisdom.
1 Corinthians 1:19-31 (NKJV)
For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
There is a lot of sobering and humbling teaching going on in this passage, but I point out two things. First, Paul says there are not many wise according to the flesh as being God’s choice in His calling. I know that the above passage speaks specifically of God’s calling and salvation. Now humor me by applying this to gaining the knowledge of God after individual salvation is settled. Is it possible for true Christians to still be wise according to the flesh? Is it possible we can act in human effort and wisdom, apart from grace, the Holy Spirit, and even the revelation of Scripture? It may not be right for the believer, but sure it is possible.
The second point is found in this part of the above passage – “…that no flesh should glory in His presence.” This is a simple truth. The whole passage makes this perfectly clear. Actually, all of Scripture makes this abundantly clear. Yet Christendom seems to think this only applies to the world.
Man is full of himself, and this is humanism. Grace must be present and working, through the direct agency of the Holy Spirit and the word of God, for any man to be saved. How is there not the same necessity for grace and the active agents of God’s workings, beyond our personal justification, needed to gain the knowledge of God? As Paul prays for the Colossians, “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding…increasing in this knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10) Was his instruction to them to go and attend the seminary? Was it to go to these places as if there only you may find this knowledge? As if it was placed on the highest shelf of academia and with the greatest of human efforts and accomplishments one may be able to grasp this hallowed knowledge? Is this what the Colossians were instructed by Paul to depend on in order to gain this knowledge of God? No. These saints in the first century had everything they needed to understand God as He had revealed Himself. As true Christians they had been sealed by the Holy Spirit as sons of God. In the first passage quoted above from Matthew, these are the ones to whom Jesus is willing to reveal the Father to (Matt. 11:27).
But we can only go as far as the things God has chosen to reveal. We can’t go beyond this. God’s thoughts are found only in His word, taught to us by the Holy Spirit.
So what can we know concerning before the foundation of the world? Only what God has revealed as part of His counsels before the foundation of the world. So lets see what has actually been revealed.
II Tim. 1:8-10
“…God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
All God’s grace for the believer/church was decided on and given in His purpose before time began. That is, before God created the worlds, this was His counsel. It was given to us in Christ Jesus.
Titus 1:1-3 (NKJV)
“Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior.”
Before time began God had, in His counsels, promised eternal life to the believer/church. We can notice that in both passages the revelation of these truths come after the cross. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit to be sent down, who is the Revealer of all truth for the believer/church (John 16:12-15).
Eph. 1:3-5 (NKJV)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”
Here we have God’s choice of the believer/church. This choice is God foreknowing and predestining the believer. These verses reveal our calling. How do I know this? Because this is the purpose of God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for us – the good pleasure of His will. We are called to something in faith. Calling involves God’s purpose and will. Our calling is to be in His presence – before Him in His love. And this calling is shown to involve two things as being in His presence, spiritual realities through redemption in Christ Jesus, but things that express God’s purpose in His counsels towards us before time began:
1.) to have God’s moral nature through Christ. We have already been made partakers of the divine nature (II Pet. 1:4). This refers to God’s moral nature – His righteousness, holiness, and blamelessness. It does not refer to God’s divine attributes such as power, knowledge, or omnipresence. And it needs to be clear that at this time our redemption is only of spirit and soul. Being a partaker of the divine nature is putting on the new man which is created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). Every true believer in Christ is a new creation, where all things are new and all things are of God (II Cor. 5:17-18). However, we patiently wait for the full results of our redemption – the full perfection as to our entire person when our bodies are glorified (Rom. 8:11, 23). God will only tolerate His own nature in His presence, and this includes the entire man. That is why Jesus is there now as the raised and glorified Son of Man. We cannot come into God’s presence physically until we are glorified (although we do now enter there spiritually, in spirit and soul – Heb. 10:19-22). But Eph. 1:4 tells us we are destined to be perfectly holy and blameless before Him – that is, in His very presence, in perfect possession of His own divine moral nature, and this as to the entire person.
2.) to the adoption as sons by Jesus Christ. When we are brought into God’s presence, it is in this relationship of Father with His own sons. This is the second thing about the calling, and is seen in Eph. 1:5. Calling involves purpose, and here it says we are made sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.
This is a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1) to heavenly places (Eph. 1:3, 2:6), to be in God’s presence, in His moral nature and as His sons, and then fully blessed with all spiritual blessings, all through Jesus Christ. This is the calling of the believer/church.
And it would be well to notice the certain character of our calling. We have a heavenly calling, but it is not one we can accomplish ourselves. Can we ascend up into the heavens? Can we go to the Father’s house ourselves? or do we patiently wait for Jesus to come and receive us to Himself, that where He is we may be also (John 14:1-3). The rapture of the church, our blessed hope, Christ coming to snatch us away, taking us to the Father’s house, fulfills our calling. Surely we realize this is all sovereign grace. It is His purpose, His will, His good pleasure, His calling of us, His own work in sovereign grace – to have many sons in His presence according to His own nature. All this was His purpose and counsels towards us in Christ before time began.
Then where does our responsibility come in if our calling is only fulfilled by the work of God in sovereign grace? It is our responsibility as sons to have a walk worthy of the calling with which we were called (Eph. 4:1). We walk worthy of the heavenly calling while we are still on the earth. But we should easily ascertain from this that the walk on the earth is not the calling. The quality of the believer’s walk, our responsibility in this, shows whether we are worthy of the calling. But walk should not be confused with calling.
Later on in this same chapter Paul prays for the Ephesian saints to be enlightened by God as to comprehending what is the hope of His calling (Eph. 1:17-18). This becomes a great issue in the modern church world – the believer individually and the church corporately fails to understand what God’s calling actually is for us, or know how it will be accomplished. It is the hope of His calling! We should know that any hope that is seen is no hope at all (Rom. 8:24). Why does one hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Our calling is a Christian hope that we eagerly wait for, with perseverance. It is not a great Arminian work to be accomplished by the believer/church out in the world. Yet this is exactly how it is erroneously presented to Christians throughout the Evangelical Protestant church world.
I do not intend to diminish the church’s responsibility to support the preaching of the gospel in the world. We have that solemn responsibility, and as God enables us individually we should always be eager to support the ministry involved in this. And it is an honor to be used as an evangelical instrument sharing the gospel. But how does this legitimately define “the hope of our calling?” We should resist making the apostolic commission into an ecclesiastic commission. It is not the calling of the believer/church as we are so often led to believe. We have the hope of His calling of us, and this we patiently wait for. Then we get another revealed truth from before the foundation of the world.
Romans 8:28-30 (NKJV)
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
We know this passage describes the counsels of God from eternity past because all the words are in the past tense, even the word ‘glorified.’ His counsels describe His mind towards the believer, the things He would do for us through Jesus Christ. The new revelation in this passage is God’s purpose before the foundation of the world to conform every believer to the image of His Son – this will be by glorification, when our bodies are glorified (Rom. 8:11, 23-25). God’s counsels are His purposes towards believers, ordained before the world for our glory in Christ. In God’s mind His counsels are already accomplished.
Before time began God existed in eternity past. There was a trinity of the Godhead that existed, having no beginning – all three self-existing. As revealed concerning Jesus, He was the Son who shared divine glory with the Father (John 17:5). But we see other things revealed concerning Jesus. There was a book of life of the slain Lamb, in which names were written in, before time began (Rev. 13:8). The thought of a slain Lamb was present. Here we see in the counsels of God there would be a slain Lamb as the basis and foundation of all God’s plans and work. And we have seen that particularly the believer/church (the body of Christ) is revealed as an intimate part of God’s eternal counsels, being chosen and accepted in Christ before time began, with the promise of eternal life.
There is an important distinction or principle that is associated with the things that are revealed before the foundation of the world. Everything that God reveals as a truth existing in His plans before time began, stands on its own completely separated from the world. These are the things that are not part of the world – they have no association or relationship with the world. If they were in God’s counsels before the foundation of the world, then they are not of the world.
John 17:14-16 (NKJV)
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
Earlier in John Jesus says, “…you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world.” (John 15:19) This is the biblical principle concerning all that is revealed before the foundation of the world – none of these things are part of the world. Now obviously there are associated truths with this principle. If the believer is not part of the world or earth, it is because we are “in Christ” by the sovereign workmanship of God (Eph. 2:10, I Cor. 1:30), and according to God’s eternal counsels. Through Him we have been given a heavenly calling and a heavenly citizenship. And we see that by this principle the believer is a pilgrim and stranger on the earth, not connected here, and just passing through. We are on a walk that will take us out of this world, so we may be where Jesus is (John 12:25-26, 13:33 – 14:4).
On the other hand the revelation of Israel and separate Gentile nations is a revelation that came about after the world was created. The first Adam – he is part of creation, part of the world and earth, especially after the fall. Marriage, families, and all such relationships are seen as part of the world, having a connection with the first creation. Nations, nationality, and the principle of God’s government of the earth are also things that are associated with the world. All these things and all these relationships are connected to the first creation. Judaism is God’s religion of the world, given to man in Adam. The law will be the basis of God’s government of the world in the future millennium. The law, Judaism, Israel, the earth – all connected. Israel is God’s earthly calling – their inheritance will be the land. Also then, by this principle, the Jews, as part of the world, simply cannot follow Jesus or end up where He is today (John 7:33-34, 8:21).
John 8:23-24 (NKJV)
“And He said to them, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
Here the Lord’s words make the principle and difference in position quite clear. The believer/church is united to Christ and in His position – we have the same relationship that He has with God and the Father (John 20:17). Jesus gained this new place for us through His work of redemption and resurrection. He takes the believer into the same relationship He Himself is in with God. So also, the exact same things said of Him in this new relationship can be said of us. We are from above, while Israel is from beneath. The Jews are of this world, but the believer/church is not of this world, for we are in Christ who is not of this world. Our new relationship is really a new existence. We are out of the first Adam, because we died with Christ. Death ended that relationship, that existence. We are in Christ, we are in the second Adam. This is a new relationship, a new existence.
Now we should expect that there are accessory truths resulting from the principle. For example, as it relates to the church, it becomes inconceivable that we would teach the church will be on the earth during the tribulation when God is judging the world and pouring out His wrath on it. This is not a proper understanding of the principle we are discussing, or a good understanding of the position and privilege of the body of Christ. The true church is not of the world and has a calling that is above, not beneath. Israel however, is of this world and their calling is beneath. As Jesus Himself said, Israel cannot possibly follow where the Lord has gone. But to the believer Jesus says, “…you will follow Me afterward.” (John 13:36)
The last section below doesn’t deal with what things were in the counsels of God before the foundation of the world, but rather when and how, in time, these things were revealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:9). It should be obvious, as I mention above, that God may have His plans and counsels before time began, but the revelation of these things had to wait untill after the cross – waiting until Jesus was glorified and went away, and the Holy Spirit was sent (Eph. 3:5). Here in Ephesians three (3:1-11) this principle was true concerning the church, the mystery of God hidden from the prophets. In II Timothy one it is the same principle Paul speaks of concerning the grace of our salvation – this grace was given to us before time began, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ (II Tim. 1:9-10). In Titus he says, in due time He has manifested His word through preaching (Titus 1:2-3) – again the same principle.
The revelation of God was physically complete with John and his ending book. But Paul had the stewardship of the mystery, in order to complete the word of God (Col. 1:24-26). And there is a difference between these two men in their ministries. John bridges over the mystery of the church in his writings, never mentioning the body of Christ, and moves from the Lord’s first advent to the second, and this then gives meaning to the obscure statement of the Lord’s made to Peter concerning him (John 21:22). The book of Revelation is about the subject of prophecy, about God’s judgment of the world, and for the most part parallels the book of Daniel, only adding much more detail. In a veiled sort of way this last book is John continuing on to the end, because he writes and prophesizes about the end.
However in Paul’s case the mystery was hidden from God’s previous revelations – hidden from the Old Testament, hidden from the prophets and prophecy, having no part with Israel, yes, not to be confused with Israel, and a mystery not to be involved in the principle of the government of God over the earth (Eph. 3:1-11, Col. 1:24-27, I Cor. 2:7, Rom. 16:25-26). Now I make this statement because the Old Testament and prophecy are specifically about Israel and this principle of government, while the church (the mystery) stands completely apart from these subjects. Israel was the center of God’s government of the earth when Jehovah dwelt in their midst behind the veil in the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. God ruled the earth from Israel It lasted up to the Babylonian captivity. It was then that the presence of Jehovah behind the veil left the earth, and God gave world government over to the Gentiles. Israel was set aside by God at that time concerning their association with this principle.
The Jews eventually will be at the center of God’s government of this earth again, during the future millennium. But God never gave the principle of government to the church when the church was built by Christ (Matt. 16:18). God never associated the church with world civil government. He never did this and never will, and certainly not in this present age. But we should note this: we find that this principle of government characterizes the Old Testament, and also the subject of prophecy. We should clearly see, in the Old Testament, how the nation of Israel is intimately connected to this principle – there existed a true theocratic kingdom for some time in Israel.
Then we go to the three synoptic gospels in which the Messiah, the rightful King of Israel and the promised son of David, is presented by God to Israel. If the Jews at that time would have received Him they would have had the Messianic kingdom, according to Isaiah 9:6-7. This prophecy of Jesus, who is in fact the Child born unto Israel, is all about God’s government of the earth, and this from the throne of David in the midst of Israel. Another true theocratic kingdom, only in a slightly altered form – a present physical King. Yet the Jews, when He came to them, would not have Him as their King. But we cannot deny that it was offered to them. They rejected it and were set aside as a nation, all things still being based on human responsibility before the cross (Matt. 21:33-44). Awe, look what I just did! I threw in another important biblical principle for your consideration. As a principle, creature responsibility in man was tested by God from the garden to the cross. It was the means by which God proved man in Adam to be utterly depraved (you may read a more detailed explanation of this principle in post #18, although it is spoken of in many other articles written on this blog page).
These are the principles we must comprehend. Until the cross man in Adam was on probation. He was still being tested by God. The last test was the presentation of Messiah to Israel. This having failed, Jesus being rejected, man is taken off probation and declared to be lost. The world is judged by God and condemned (John 12:31). As sinners we were part of this condemned world. Now as believers we should realize that God graciously chose us out of the world which He condemned (John 15:19).
But this does not prevent us from rightly saying that in the end, according to all the Old Testament prophecies and the faithfulness of God to keep His promises to the Jewish forefathers, God will rule the earth from the midst of Israel. Israel, and not the church, is at the center of this principle of government. The church is the mystery hidden by God from all this revelation and all these workings. Paul revealing the mystery completes the word of God. The mystery is the last revelation – it was what was missing. Now the mystery having been revealed by the Holy Spirit sent down, and the stewardship of this revelation given to Paul, he being faithful by the grace of God given to him for this ministry, the word is complete.
This is what I want you to be sure to understand. The church, the body of Christ, was in the counsels of God before the foundations of the world. The scriptures tell us we were in Christ from eternity past. This is what makes us “not of the world” in principle – the church in Christ preceded the world. There is a spiritual reality to that now while we walk on this earth, but the future rapture of the church will make this principle a physical reality. Yet none of this will be the case with Israel. The Jews are definitely part of this world by every biblical principle, and all that God will do for them in the end will be on this earth. They are God’s earthly calling. But the church is God’s heavenly calling. And this post is complete.