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Bible verses about God's Plan
(From Forerunner Commentary)

God's major work is not preaching the gospel. This is not to say in any way that it is not important to God's work. We have to make sure that we give matters the right priorities, not putting the cart before the horse. Preaching the gospel is certainly a part of the responsibility of each Christian and, of course, each Christian organization.

God's major work is something far bigger and far more important than that—He is reproducing Himself. In broad generalities this purpose is shown in the opening chapters of Genesis. Right from the beginning, God wants to make sure that we understand where He is headed with His Word so that we can begin to process the information that comes along later in the book.

He tells us in Genesis 1:26 that man is created in His image. This is the first major clue. He tells us in Genesis 2:15 that we must spend our time dressing and keeping what He has given us dominion over. He also instructs us to choose life consciously—remember the Two Trees in the Garden—and to avoid sin and death with the utmost of energy.

But all of us have sinned, and like Adam and Eve and Cain, we find ourselves in bondage to Satan, whom we have made our master through ignorance and sin rather than God. So we need redemption. In Genesis 3:15, God is already talking about a Savior who will crush the serpent's head. Thus, we can be redeemed and get back on the track with His purpose.

It is all there in broad generalities, but it is spelled out much more specifically throughout the rest of the Bible. God's purpose is for us to be in His image. It may not be any more clearly stated than in II Corinthians 3:18, where He says that we are being transformed from glory to glory—from the glory of man to the glory of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Works


 

Genesis 3:14-15

It is amazing to realize that God laid out these major players and events in His plan by the third chapter of the Book! These two verses are remarkable in that in symbolic language God preaches the gospel in detail to the first sinners immediately after their first transgression. He made sure they were not ignorant of the truth.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part One)


 

Genesis 15:12-18

This prophecy is fulfilled exactly 430 years later (Exodus 12:40-41; Galatians 3:17) when Israel left Egypt as the sun set ending the 14th day of Abib and beginning the 15th. God says to us in Isaiah 46:10, "My counsel shall stand." This is why the prophecies ring with such positive assurance. No puny man or angel, no mighty army of angels, nor all nations of men can stop Him from acting exactly how, when, where, and in whom He purposes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four


 

Deuteronomy 29:2-3

Was God a God from afar here? The answer is "yes" and "no" because His overall plan was undoubtedly in mind, and He was recording this for the sake of future generations. Realize that from the time the book of Exodus opens until the Israelites finally leave Egypt eighty years pass. Moses was not born at the time that Scripture says they were crying out to God because of the bondage. Moses was born and preserved right through the persecution. He was cast in a little ark onto the Nile River, rescued by Pharaoh's daughter, grew up to be a man, fled into the wilderness at age forty, and spent forty years tending sheep, learning to be humble. Finally, God had him ready, so He sent him back to Egypt.

God's overall plan was in mind for a long time, yet all through these events, He was very near to Moses, preparing him. God was far off in the sense that He was using these people to prepare an account that His servant Moses would write for our sakes, so that we would understand these things.

God undoubtedly appeared to be far away from the Israelites who were crying out to Him for deliverance, but He was really right on the spot. He was near to them; He is a God at hand. We have to keep both of these views in mind. They both have an impact on the transference of the Spirit of God into our minds. God is always working two things at once: His overall purpose and His specific purpose for us as individuals and for the church.

Out of this comes a principle. God is Yahweh Jireh, which means "the Eternal who sees" or "the Eternal who provides." It is shortened into this statement: He is there. He was there when Abraham stood on Mount Moriah about to sacrifice his son, Isaac—and God provided a ram. He was at hand through all the plagues of Egypt—and He divided the Israelites away from them. He watched so closely when they left Egypt that not even a dog barked, which is what the Night to Be Much Observed is all about (Exodus 12:42). God was the One observing, watching. He was aware at the Red Sea—and He parted the waters.

He is there. He may seem far off, but He is not.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)


 

Psalm 78:65-66

These verses give us a sense of God's feeling after patiently waiting for necessary developments to occur. The psalmist pictures Him waiting, seemingly asleep and unaware. But suddenly He roars into action, releasing a pent-up, emotional shout like a mighty warrior exhilarated by anger and the effects of alcohol. Things happen quickly and dramatically when God decides to act!

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!


 

Psalm 145:18

The question is, "How near?" This question has to be asked because many times we feel that God has gone way off somewhere. But how near is He? We have to ask this because the Bible describes Him as a God who is both far and near; He is both at the same time.

He is far in recognition of His sovereignty and of His position in relation to the rest of the creation. He is far above us in that regard. He is over all and directs and controls everything, always with His overall purpose in mind.

If we desire to have a good relationship with God, we will have to take this last factor into consideration, because it affects our lives. He does everything with His overall purpose in mind. There are occasions when He may be "unable" to act in our behalf on one of our requests of Him, because other people's situations whose lives touch on ours must be resolved first. A clear example of this is the book of Job.

Job was totally unaware of what was being worked out through, around, and about him. Even Satan was having something proved to him by God, because He challenged him. In the vernacular of today, God said to the Devil, "Okay, Satan. See if you can break Job. I challenge you to see if you can break him."

Satan could not break Job. The man stood his ground, even though he got battered mightily in the process, not really understanding what was happening. He undoubtingly appealled to God, but He could not answer because other things were being worked out through, around, and about in Job, of which he was totally unaware.

Job was not privy to the conversation between God and Satan, nor to the fact that God was putting him through this in order that a book be written of his experiences, which could not be written until the episode had resolved. So Job had to go through a great deal of discomfort, pain, and emotional anguish while the whole situation played out. For a while, God was a God from afar.

Now that we have more understanding, and the Bible is complete, we realize that He was also a God who was near because He strengthened Job so that he could resist the temptations of the most powerful being to tempt mankind. Job stood up just fine.

Because this book has been written, and because Job endured this, we now have a clear picture why, at times, bad things happen to good people. We can also see that this book of Job shows that God has faith in us too. It does not work just one way. God was working from afar, with His overall picture in mind for mankind, and God was also working nearby.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 6)


 

Jeremiah 1:5

This verse shows how far ahead God was planning. The key prophet during the sixth-century Axial Period is Jeremiah, and God prepared him from his conception.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 3)


 

Jeremiah 23:20

In the latter days, do we understand it perfectly? What God is performing and executing right now, throughout His whole plan? Or, are we presumptuously saying that everything is going to be okay? That we are all right, that we are spiritual, that we are on God's good side, that we have God's favor?

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Presumptuousness


 

Jeremiah 33:14-18

This passage's main ideas are that, first, God's plan is focused on Israel through the fulfillment of the promises, and second, that the Israelites are thus God's primary agents for bringing His plan to pass, particularly the house of David and its greatest scion, Jesus of Nazareth. God will sometimes use Gentiles, but he predominantly employs Israelites to drive affairs along in His plan.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part One)


 

Daniel 9:24

This verse introduces the prophecy. Basically, Gabriel says that, within the seventy weeks, all of these things - the whole plan of God - will be fulfilled. "Weeks" is the Hebrew word shabua, meaning "sevens." In his prayer, Daniel mentions Jeremiah's prophecy of seventy years of captivity (verse 2), but Gabriel says it will not be just seventy years but seventy times seven years.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Seventy Weeks Are Determined...'


 

Habakkuk 1:5-11

God says, "You are not going to believe what I am about to tell you, Habakkuk, but I am already at work to deliver you and punish the sinners around you." Then what does He do? He tells the prophet that He is sending the ferocious, bloody, terrifying Chaldeans to conquer Judah!

The prophet must have been stunned! This was not the answer he expected in the least. What kind of deliverance is humiliating defeat at the hand of these utterly godless people who struck terror into the entire Middle East? In addition, they were Gentiles, and God was taking their side and cruelly punishing His own people. It must have shaken his faith to hear God tell him, "I am coming to spank this nation with the worst of the heathen."

And just as God said, Habakkuk did not want to believe it. In his eyes, the deliverance was worse than the original corruption—at least that is what he thought at first. From what he understood of God, this made no sense. How could a loving God punish His own special people with a club like the Chaldeans?

To understand God's answer we have to understand what God's work is. Psalm 74:12 says, "God is . . . working salvation in the midst of the earth." Genesis 1:26 says God is creating man in His own image, building character in us so that we can live eternally as He does. What is astounding is how He chooses to do it because He does it far differently than we would. As the old saying goes, "God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform." To a man's way of thinking, His works are truly mysterious; sometimes, we do not have a clue how He works.

Isaiah 55:8-11 explains that God sometimes does things in a very round-about way, but it has a kind of boomerang effect. At times, it seems God goes in one direction, off the beaten path, but that is merely our perspective of it. We find out later—after we have grown in wisdom and understanding—that He has been following His plan all along. We are the ones who have not kept up. Habakkuk deals a great deal with perspective—man's perspective versus God's. God always gets His job done. When He sends forth His word to accomplish a work, it always comes back to Him with the result He intends. It may not make much sense to us at the time, but it surely works because God is behind it. In the end, it is the best way.

Many have questioned why God has allowed the church to decline and scatter in recent years. What is happening here? Why has God had to do this in order to bring us into His Kingdom? Why must He destroy to make well? We have shaken our heads at the swiftness and brutality of it all. That is how Habakkuk felt with the Chaldeans breathing down the Judeans' necks. If God had told us a few decades ago that the church would lose, say, two-thirds of its members, would we have believed Him? Would we have even considered that a work of God? "Look . . . and watch—be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you" (verse 5). Now we can understand how Habakkuk felt. He had prior warning, and it made him question God's very nature.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Habakkuk 2:1

Notice what the prophet says: "God, I don't understand. It looks like You're doing wrong to Your people. But unlike some, I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. There is something I don't understand, so I'm going to do what You said. You told me to look and watch, and I'm going to do just that. I want to know from You why this is happening. And when You correct my thinking on this, then I'll figure out how I should respond to You."

This is a smart thing to do. When we do not know what is going on, and we have deep questions about how God is handling things, it is wise just to look, watch, and wait. Once we see God's answer, then we can respond. It is dangerous to jump to conclusions with God because His character is perfect. He knows what He is doing. We do not.

God answers Habakkuk, but it is not the answer he wanted. He wanted a straight-forward answer, but God's answer only seems to raise more questions.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Habakkuk 2:2

First, God allays some of the prophet's fears by implying that what He has told him is not necessarily a revelation of doom and despair. It may seem that way, but ultimately, the vision is encouraging, hopeful, and glorious. This is why He instructs him to write it down plainly so people will understand it and be encouraged by it—and thus run.

Hebrews 12 contains a similar metaphor of running. Perhaps Paul had Habakkuk in mind as he wrote it, since he quotes Habakkuk in Hebrews 10:37-38. The apostle explains in Hebrews 12:1 that the race we run is our Christian lives. We can take the words of Habakkuk and run because we know that it all works out right in the end (Romans 8:28). Our Savior has already done His work, so if we finish our race, we will be saved. There is no doubt about this because He is not only the beginner of our faith, but He is also the finisher of our faith. So we can run with patience, just as God told Habakkuk to do. Even if it seems to tarry, patiently wait for it, because it will happen just as He has promised. His will will be done.

In Hebrews 12:5-11, Paul goes through a section on discipline, chastening, correction. This is what Habakkuk had just heard—that God would discipline, chasten, correct His people by the wicked hand of Babylon. Paul says in Hebrews that if God does not chasten us, we are bastard children! The chastening, though unpleasant, is for our good. We may not like the humiliation of it, but we can patiently endure it because it is for the best.

Our chastening is not a time to lag or worry but to strengthen ourselves through God and move forward because it is important that we endure and finish (Hebrews 12:12-13). When things get tough, the tough get going. Do not be like Esau (Hebrews 12:15-17), who had a great promise and inheritance and threw it all away for some temporary relief. We should never settle for temporary relief if it will knock us off the path! It is not worth it because it will end in bitterness, tears, disappointment, and failure.

Paul shows in Hebrews 12:28 how we should approach God, even when things do not seem to be going the right way. We must serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear, just as Habakkuk did. Yes, he questioned Him, but he said, "You are God, and You know something that I do not understand, so I will wait patiently. I will see this through, and then I will respond." If we do not approach God properly, we may find ourselves caught under the heel of the Chaldean with the sinners.

"That he may run who reads it" suggests a herald, like in medieval times, who went from place to place with a message from one person to another. God is instructing Habakkuk to put the revelation down clearly so that someone in the future can take it and deliver it into the right hands, those who need to hear it. Anyone in the end time who is speaking God's words fulfills this.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Habakkuk 2:3

This verse comes in two parts. The first two lines parallel each other, and the last two lines parallel each other. "An appointed time" and "at the end" mean the same thing. In Daniel 12:4, God tells the prophet, "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end" (see also Daniel 8:17; 10:14). God is telling Habakkuk the same thing. The message was not necessarily for him and the people of his time. It is for the herald who runs and the people he will deliver the message to. It will be sealed until the appointed time, then it will be revealed.

This, then, is a revelation for our time today. He says, "At the end it will speak," an interesting image. It literally means the message will pant, like a runner after a marathon. Again, it is the heraldry image. The herald runs for miles with his message, and when he arrives, he is out of breath, panting. Then, he speaks his message to the recipient before he has recovered his breath, emphasizing its urgency. It must be given at the right time because things will happen swiftly, and the recipient must be ready. The wording mixes excitement with fatigue and urgency, a messenger rushing to get the words out because of shortness of time and breath!

God immediately reassures us that the message is truth. It will not lie. It will come. It will begin to be fulfilled right away. But it is God's truth, so we should believe it!

"Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" is also a parallel construction. God is saying, "Be patient. If things seem to be delayed, it is only your perspective because it will come right on time. I do things when I want them to happen."

What is the vision? In Hebrews 10:35-37, Paul not only quotes this verse, but he interprets it for us.

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.

What God has promised is His rest. The Israelites could not enter into His rest because of their unbelief (Hebrews 4:1). They showed no endurance. They did not see it all the way through to the end. So Paul says we need endurance to claim our reward.

Though the wording is somewhat different, the meaning is the same. Paul explains that what God told Habakkuk is, "Christ is coming!" That is the vision! That is the urgent message that we must understand—and not just that He is coming but all the end-time events too. Bad things and good things accompany His coming. Which side will we be on? The side that gets the bad things? Or the side that gets the good things? This is the revelation, the vision, that Habakkuk receives from God: that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, would come and solve the problems he is so worried about.

How does this answer his question, "Why do You use the wicked to punish us, who are the righteous?" Revelation 11:15-18 provides the answer. Because everything will be squared in the end; God will punish the wicked and reward the just. We have no need to be worried about why the wicked seem to prosper and the righteous are persecuted and killed. He soothes Habakkuk's troubled mind by giving him a dose of reality. The horrendous things God predicts will still occur, but they are His will, part of His plan. But events must take this course to produce the right fruit in the end. It will all be sorted out. No evil deed will go unpunished, and no good deed will go unrewarded.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk


 

Zechariah 14:16-19

During the Millennium, people will be required to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles to worship the King, Jesus Christ. The Feast will be their primary reminder of where they are in God's plan and when they must secure their salvation. If they fail to keep it, they will reveal their refusal to accept Christ as sovereign and to cooperate with Him in His purpose.

Staff
Holy Days: Feast of Tabernacles


 

Malachi 3:6

If God had changed His purpose, the sons of Jacob would indeed have been consumed. However, because God has a purpose that He has been working out from the very beginning, He looked beyond what these people were doing to destroy and remove themselves from His purpose. God, in a sense, overlooked what they were doing—all the way to the future, to the conclusion of His purpose for them. God says, "I change not." He has never altered His purpose from the beginning.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 1)


 

Matthew 22:1-3

In His first invitation, God offered ancient Israel a part in His plan of salvation, but they could not keep focused on Him. Through every call addressed to them by the prophets, they slipped and fell in willful ignorance. Those invited by the first invitation would not come. They returned their invitation unopened. They treated it indifferently as if to despise it. So preoccupied with worldly interests, they would not even take the time to open it.

Staff
Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?


 

Matthew 24:36

Just a few verses later, He tells His disciples, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect" (verse 44, emphasis ours throughout). This is a massive hint that our understanding of biblical prophecy—as much as it has expanded over the last few decades—will still not be enough to remove the element of surprise from Christ's return!

Paul also warns us in I Corinthians 13:9, 12, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part. . . . For now we see in a mirror, dimly." This principle suggests that we will not know for certain how things will work out as the end approaches. We understand in part, meaning we have a vague-to-rough idea of the course of events because of our insight into God's plan, but we cannot honestly be dogmatic about any speculative scenarios we devise. Every interpretation of end-time biblical prophecy should be accompanied with a proviso such as, "This is how things seem to be headed from what we understand right now."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy's Place


 

John 3:16-17

The Father and the Son are not failures; their plan is right on schedule. Most of the world will be saved! The question is, "When?" However, most people will not be saved at the return of Christ—the order of resurrections (I Corinthians 15:23; Revelation 20:4-15) allows for a broader timeframe for saving the world.

Staff
Who Are the 144,000?


 

John 12:49-50

Where did Christ's message originate? Jesus spoke only what His Father in heaven told Him to speak! Thus, our Messiah, Jesus Christ, was a Messenger from God the Father, bringing the message of God's plan for all mankind, the message of the New Covenant (Malachi 3:1). The gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus, and the gospel of the Kingdom are the same gospel! It originated in God, was proclaimed by His Son, and tells of the coming rule of God and our part in it!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The True Gospel


 

John 14:27

God's peace is a deep, spiritual peace unaffected by the world (Romans 8:6-9). We can have this peace, if we truly trust in God's redemptive plan for mankind, are striving to produce His character and are obedient to His Word.

Martin G. Collins
Peace


 

Acts 15:14-18

In Acts 15:14-18, the apostle James makes an astounding series of statements following Peter's address to the assembled elders. Notice how clearly God states that He initiates His works through men. Acts 10 relates the story of the conversion of Cornelius and his house. Neither Peter, whom God sent, nor Cornelius, who received him, knew of the other's existence. God, working in both men, opened the door and brought them together.

God Himself pledges to rebuild the tabernacle of David. Certainly, He works through men, who, on the surface, appear to observers to be doing the work. Nevertheless, it is the invisible God who initiates and enables the rebuilding by determining when it will begin, who among men will work on it, and how completely they will finish it. He also gives gifts to those concerned to bring it about. Surely, God activates, sustains, and completes.

The Living Bible renders verse 18 as, "That is what the Lord says, who reveals His plans made from the beginning." How carefully crafted are His plans? How detailed are they? Has anything been left to chance? One thing is clear: He is a Creator who knows where He is going and has known from the outset of the project. He made His plans, and they proceed as and when He planned. When we begin to think of what James says here in terms of all the nations of the earth as well as the church, we are considering events of tremendous magnitude involving billions of people and millennia of time.

But we need to make this more personal.

Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4-5, ". . . 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. . . ." Predestined means "marked out in advance" or "appointed beforehand." Verse 4 indisputably says this occurred "before the foundation of the world." When we combine this with Acts 15:18, this event must have occurred some time before what happens in Genesis 1:2-26.

Is this a generality that predestines only the existence of a church and not the individuals who would comprise it? The overall impression of the context in combination with other passages suggests an answer of "No," but it is not certain. It can be taken as a generality, which is indeed a safe conclusion. Regardless, Paul's words describe a Creator who is not only actively working toward an ultimate end, but also toward specific intermediate accomplishments, such as the church. He is the One in control, moving things in whatever direction they need to go. It begins to become clear that events relating directly to God's purpose of reproducing Himself do not happen randomly. One should not have the impression that God sits at the controls in heaven constantly making adjustments to accommodate for what He did not foresee we would do down here.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

Acts 20:16

About 25 years after Christ's ascension into heaven, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, hurried to be in Jerusalem in time for Pentecost! Just as the early church kept Pentecost every year, so the true church of God continues to keep it today as a continual reminder of our part in God's great master plan of salvation.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Holy Days: Pentecost


 

Romans 4:13-17

The promises to Abraham include that he would be heir of the world. Jesus Christ confirmed those promises and became Heir of them. "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29)! From the time of Abraham, God has been working to establish, preserve, and expand Abraham's family and fulfill His purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!


 

Romans 8:29

If God predestines someone to be conformed to the image of His Son, has God ever failed at anything? Never! Philippians 1:6 says that God is able to finish what He starts. We may stumble, but nevertheless, God desires to save us. He wants us to be in His Kingdom, and He has arranged for us to be resurrected at the seventh trumpet, at the return of Jesus Christ. He is preparing us to be conformed in the image of His Son so that we can rule under and with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God. Do we have that hope? Does it stir us that God has not failed at anything yet and that He desires us to be conformed to the image of His Son?

This will not be easy because to do this He may have to give us some terribly great pain. A great deal depends on whether or not we submit to Him—whether we submit willingly or whether we fight Him all along the way.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic


 

Romans 10:4

Paul says that Christ is the object of the Bible. The law, as one aspect that represents the whole plan of salvation, is the instrument that broadly describes God's righteousness. Like everything in God's purpose, the end—the goal—of the law is to bring us "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

Jesus fulfilled the law in that He perfectly exemplified God's desires in everything He did (see Matthew 5:17). He personifies perfect love and government. He is the perfect man yet also God in the flesh. He is the Standard toward which men are to strive.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Christ, Our Passover


 

1 Corinthians 2:6-10

How plain! What we have in the gospel is a revelation. We must tie this concept of God's revelation to the word "mystery" (verse 7).

In English it does not mean exactly the same thing as in Greek. In English, mystery means "a puzzle that is difficult to solve," but in Greek, it means "a secret that is impossible to penetrate." So, the Word of God, His purpose and plan, is a mystery, a secret that is impossible to penetrate. Paul is implying that man would never find out what God intends, except that God gives it to us by revelation.

We have in no way earned this revelation. We have it because it pleased God to give it to us. He withholds it from others, but He has given it to us. He is in no way beholden to us, as if He owed us something. We could dig in His Word over our entire lifetimes and never come to what He freely gives to us for His purposes, for His own reasons.

Brilliant men like Adam Clarke have dug into God's Word through the centuries. It took him forty years to produce his famous commentary. Considering that the man was unconverted, it really is a magnificent work, done with all sincerity and dedication. Yet, at the end of his efforts, he did not fully penetrate the mystery of what God is doing among men. A brilliant man and a brilliant work, yet he emerged from his studies not understanding the divine purpose that God gives to us without our earning it. On the other hand, it is very likely that many of us never cracked the pages of a Bible before God began to open our minds. Some have, some have not. But God called many of us in that situation, and though we did not deserve it, He revealed His way to us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace


 

1 Corinthians 10:11

Understanding I Corinthians 10:11 helps us realize the significant position we maintain because of God's calling. "All these things" refers to God's experiences with Old Testament Israel. These events took place over a span of more than a thousand years and involved millions of people being moved about as God worked out His purpose. As the context shows, His purpose included recording these things for our spiritual benefit. God made massive preparations far in advance of our arrival to provide us witnesses of how to do or not to do things to please Him and prepare us for His Kingdom. Paul's powerful admonition tells us how important we are and why we must flee idolatry (verse 14)!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Five): Who We Are


 

Ephesians 1:5

What the Father is doing has nothing to do with the way we are or were. It has everything to do with His initiating and choosing us because He wants us, not because of anything that we may have done.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation


 

Ephesians 1:5

He could have invited billions of other people, yet He did not—He invited us. This "adoption as sons" is another thing that He has invited us to.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 6): Ephesians 4 (C)


 

Colossians 3:9-10

We will conform to our image of God. Whatever our image of God is, we will make an effort—expend energy—to become like it. We had better be sure that it is the right image! Conforming will take place just as surely as a child born into a human family will conform to the image of that family—particularly the parents—and pick up their characteristics, whether they want to or not. This is a true principle, which Paul is speaking about here, only in a spiritual vein.

Since the Christian is to be "renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him," he cannot be renewed in knowledge unless he is conforming to the right image. What Moses did when he was forty amounted to this: He knew about God, but he did not know God. He had head-knowledge of God, of the prophecy that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16, of the fact that the four hundred years were almost up, and that, counting Levi, he was of the fourth generation of Israelites who had been in Egypt.

He had head-knowledge, but he did not really know God. Therefore, he jumped the gun. Although he was excited and zealous, he was way off-base in terms of God's plan. However, in the intervening forty years, he came to know God. As he did, his beliefs about God changed, and thus his convictions also changed. They became more in harmony with the true knowledge of God.

Strong belief must be present, but it also must be right or it is out of sync with God. Those strongly held beliefs will not produce the right fruit because the way of life will not correspond with the true image of God. In other words, if our knowledge of God is not correct, it will not produce the right fruit because it does not conform to the true image of God.

At forty years of age, Moses' image of God was wrong. In his excitement and in his zeal, he went out, but he did not produce the right fruit. He could not because his image of God was incorrect. Forty years later, after spending so many years in the wilderness, his image of God was more correct, much clearer. Did it produce the right fruit? Yes, it did. Israel was released from its slavery because Moses was in harmony with God's will. The image of God was right, and he was conforming to it.

If our image of God is wrong, then our way of life will not be consistent with God's. Just like Moses, we need time for this process of coming to know God to take place.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction, Moses and Us


 

1 Timothy 2:1

Three times in four brief verses (I Timothy 2:1, 3-4, 6), God states He has planned for the salvation of all. Since He desires to save all men, they must all be given an opportunity for it. It is very obvious from human experience that very few among all mankind have ever heard the gospel or come to the knowledge of the truth.

Verse 6 also says that Christ is a ransom for all, and this will be testified or witnessed of in due time. The way Paul wrote this shows that the testifying is still future. In other words, many had not heard of Christ's ransom for sin, and Paul indicates that he expected many then living and many yet unborn would also die without hearing of it. But it would be witnessed to all in due time because Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which men can be saved.

God's plan, humanly speaking, covers a long time. Like Paul, Peter clearly says that God does not desire anyone to perish. Other scriptures indicate that some will, but it is not God's will that they do so.

The critical factor in these verses is repentance. How can a person repent if he does not have knowledge of the truth, if he does not know the purpose God is working out, of what he should repent, why he should repent, or by what means his sins are forgiven? The overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived on earth fit into this category! These things remain untestified to them.

I Corinthians 15:21-23 adds another important revelation to this mystery. "For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming."

Simply put, God is proceeding according to a plan. All die, but that same all will also be made alive, resurrected in a certain order according to God's plan. Verse 26 reads, "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death"—it has not yet been destroyed! This means that God's plan is still continuing, and in due time the opportunity for salvation will come to all, even though God must resurrect many to that opportunity. Most churches exclude most of this world from salvation because they are not part of their group. Why do people scoff when we point out that God will give all mankind the chance to conform to His image?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Final Harvest


 

Hebrews 11:3

This verse is rather difficult in most of our modern English translations. It literally says, "By faith we understand the ages to have been prepared by a saying of God, in regard to the things seen not having come out of things appearing" (Young's Literal Translation).

The key to understanding this verse is the word translated "worlds" in modern Bibles. In the Greek, it is aioonas, which primarily means "ages" or long periods of time whose sum is eternity. For modern translations to understand this to be "worlds" distorts what the author was trying to explain. He is not talking about physical creation of the earth or matter, which "worlds" implies, but about God's sovereignty over the ages of mankind's civilizations. "Framed" is the Greek kateertisthai, meaning prepared, arranged, constituted, set in order—generally, to put a thing in its proper condition.

The Bible speaks of three distinct ages: the time before the Flood, the present, and the age to come (see II Peter 3:6; Galatians 1:4; Matthew 12:32; Luke 18:30; etc.). Other periods of time can be divided into distinct ages: The Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman, the Medieval, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Modern, the Postmodern, etc. The author is telling us that the word of God "prepares," "orders," or "arranges" the ages of mankind—in other words, God is sovereignly guiding the affairs of men to bring about His ultimate purpose. As is said to Daniel, "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whoever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men" (Daniel 4:17).

We know this by faith—that is, if we truly believe and trust God, that He is almighty, that He is bringing us to perfection, and that He has a purpose He is working out, we know that He is in control. We understand by what we read in His Word that He is working toward His ends, and what goes from His mouth (in terms of law, direction, and prophecy) will come to pass (Isaiah 55:10-11). When God speaks, things happen: It was by God speaking that the earth and everything in it was created (Genesis 1). The same is true of the migrations of nations, their rise and fall, the installation and removal of leaders, as well as the circumstances of His people in the church. God is on His throne, and He is governing His creation.

The last half of Hebrews 11:3 is our "proof": What we see going on in the world (during our age) has not been brought to pass by men but by the invisible God. Men think they are movers and shakers; they think they are in control. But God says here that events on this earth have their ultimate design in the invisible God; He rules over the kingdom of men.

There is an unseen hand manipulating events so that the person of faith can understand that history is not an endless cycle of repetition; it is going somewhere. God is drawing things to a conclusion. We are coming to the end of an age, and God is framing and manipulating events in preparation for this age to climax and end so a new and better age can begin. This verse tells us that we can see the hand of God working, not only in the big events of this world, but also in our lives if we are living by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


 

1 Peter 1:2

Peter comments on God's operations in this sphere of His work. The King James Study Bible has an interesting note about the intent of this verse: "This is not merely advanced knowledge of, but when connected to 'before the foundation of the world,' [Ephesians 1:4] it means God determined in eternity past to bring certain ones of His creation into a special relationship with Him and each other at specific times" (emphasis added).

Consider the construction of a large building. As a new building is erected, the workers follow blueprints made by architects, engineers, designers, and draftsmen. Every detail of what is being built—where it sits on the property, perhaps ten thousand individual dimensions, water pipes, sewer lines, specifications of the foundation, composition of the flooring, steel columns, girders, electrical lines, conduit, brackets to support pipes, roofing materials, the color and composition of paints both inside and out, etc.—is determined, designed, and drafted on the plans before the actual construction began.

In principle, is this not a human form of God knowing the end from the beginning? Does this not compare to God appointing beforehand or predetermining when, where, and who does what? If men can do this on a small scale, why cannot God do this on an immensely more massive and complex scale with His vastly superior mind? Is not God's intellect of such magnitude that He can easily do this (Romans 11:33-36)? Does He not have sufficient time to plan, prepare, and bring these things to pass (Isaiah 57:15)? Dare we even think of Him as getting tired or wandering from the purpose He established for Himself (Psalm 121:3-4)?

Even so, do not get the impression that He does not react to how we use our free moral agency. If He did not react, chapters like Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 would not be necessary, for in these chapters He definitely says, "If you do this, I will do that." They obviously depict Him reacting to our choices. He contemplates and judges what we do. However, this in no way negates the fact that the Bible reveals Him as the Prime Mover in His creation, always in control even in what we consider bad circumstances that directly affect us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)


 

2 Peter 3:8-9

The overrall subject is the return of Jesus Christ. When Peter wrote this, there were stirrings within the church that the second coming had already occurred.

The apostles thought the return of Jesus Christ would happen within their lifetimes because they did not fully understand God's timeframe. Undoubtedly, people were becoming discouraged because they felt that matters were going awry in their world. They were frightened, anxious, and in pain, crying out, "How long, O Lord?" They were becoming impatient, and it seemed that everything was continuing as it had, and nothing was changing except for the worse. Some were becoming so discouraged that they were leaving the church.

So Peter writes that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise. God does not lie; He will send His Son to this earth. However, He is being very patient, and this is Peter's emphasis.

What kind of a plan could God devise that would produce the best in terms of character and the most in terms of the number of children who inherit His Kingdom? How could He be merciful and forgiving without being merely indulgent? What could He use as points of reference that would motivate people to continue to strive toward the conclusion of His purpose once He had mercifully forgiven them?

"That with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" indicates that God does not look at time as we do. To us, time is very pressing because we realize we will live only about seventy years. As we get older, the fact of death becomes an increasingly clearer reality. When we are twenty, we hardly ever think about death unless somebody close dies. But as we age, we think about death more frequently. Our bodies start running down. We do not have the vigor, the energy, the vitality, or the strength we used to have. We are aware of these things because we begin to feel them slip away. It becomes easier for us to become impatient because we have so many things we want to do and accomplish, yet time keeps flying by.

With God, though, time is not so critical. If a thousand years with God is as a day, how much is seventy years, the life of a human being? Nothing more than the blink of an eye. How many blinks of an eye—human lifetimes—end every day? Tens of thousands of them! Blink—they are gone, but they experienced every second of their lives. They were born and played through childhood. They went to school. They became adult men and women. They married and raised families. They watched their children grow up. They fought wars. They endured droughts and famines, diseases, and depressions. They watched death approaching, and they died. All this—a blink of an eye to God.

We cannot begin to grasp the enormity of what God is doing until we begin to consider the scope of the thousands of years that have already passed and the billions of lives that have been lived. We must begin to look at the much bigger picture yet retain a human perspective of time and life, understanding that, to God, time means almost nothing because He has power over life and death. Vast and awesome is the scope of what God is working out, but we need to look at what is going on through the understanding God has given us of Himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation


 

1 John 5:19-20

The very fact that we know these things—that we are of God, that Satan is the unseen ruler of this world, and that we know God and His Son Jesus Christ—is evidence that we have been given an understanding. This knowledge is not something we have determined on our own; the sovereign God has given it to us to fulfill His purpose in us. And in His sovereignty He has withheld it from others.

Other passages, in more specific areas of our profession, show the uniqueness of our calling to an even greater extent. For example, Paul writes in II Thessalonians 3:1-2, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have [the] faith." From our own experiences we know his statement is true. Not everyone has faith. It is obvious that some believe and others do not. Even within the church we are at different stages of faith.

Acts 13:48 adds important ramifications to this subject of God's sovereignty, our calling, and faith: "Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." The implications of Luke's words are rather startling. Only those whom God appointed or predestined to eternal life believe the preaching of Paul and Barnabas! The rest, though they also hear the word of the Lord, persecute and expel them from the region. They do not believe what they hear, and it angers rather than converts them. We must conclude that God triggers something in the minds of those He calls, making the Lord's words agreeable, so they will believe what they are hearing.

This agrees perfectly with Ephesians 1:5—"[God] predestined us to adoption as sons by [through] Jesus Christ"—and Romans 8:29-30, which explicitly states the whole panorama of 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.

God has the whole process planned out, and He is so confident of His ability to accomplish it that He perceives it as already done! He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

 




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