“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth, and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you. To whom would you liken Me, and make Me equal and compare Me, that we should be alike? Those who lavish gold from the purse and weigh silver on the scale hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; they bow down, indeed they worship it. They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it; they set it in its place and it stands there. It does not move from its place. Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; it cannot deliver him from his distress. Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:3-11).
I remember reading of a man who thought he had a fool-proof plan for sneaking into a drive-in movie without paying. He would crawl into the trunk of the car, and his wife would pay only for herself. Once inside the drive-in, she would let him out of the trunk.
The plan sounded good, but it failed. The man did crawl into the trunk, and his wife drove into the theater just as they planned. Only when she attempted to release him did they realize the problem with the plan--the husband had the keys to the trunk in his pocket. After firemen cut through the trunk, the man was released, but neither he nor his wife saw the movie. Some plans may sound good, but they do not work. Even if this plan had worked, it could hardly be called good, for the intent was to deceive and enjoy a movie at another’s expense.
God’s plan for creation is a good plan. The goal for which it was instituted is of the highest good. It is good in a functional sense, because the plan is certain to work, producing the ends for which it was ordained. Ultimately, it is good because it is God’s plan.
Our first lesson considered God as the Planner, concentrating on some aspects of His nature and attributes. Because God is the Planner, we are assured that the plan is both certain and good. In this lesson we will consider the plan, focusing on the general characteristics of God’s plan as a prelude to our study of the unfolding of the plan in history.
Scripture makes it abundantly clear that there is a plan. A number of evidences could be used for the existence of God’s plan for creation, but the most compelling evidence is that which is recorded in Scripture:
The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation (Psalm 33:11).
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand (Proverbs 19:21).
“This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).18
The statements of the Second Person of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ, are consistent with the words of Scripture concerning God’s plan. The Old Testament prophets laid out God’s plan for Messiah, which included both His suffering and His glory:
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.’” After saying the above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:5-10).19
At the time of His birth, some of God’s plan for Christ were described (see Luke 1 :26-38, 67-79; 2:8-14, 25-35). Repeatedly our Lord indicated He was not pursuing His own plan but fulfilling the plan of the Father:
And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” And they did not understand the statement which He had made to them (Luke 2:46-50).
The disciples therefore were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:33, 34).
And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? (Matthew 26:39-40).20
Before emphasizing some of the characteristics of God’s plan for creation, we must have a definition of God’s plan. The most concise and accurate definition of God’s eternal plan is found in the Westminister Confession of Faith, which reads:
“God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”
With this brief definition, let us now seek to expand our definition by identifying some of the plan’s important characteristics.
(1) The plan is God’s plan.
“Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:3-11).
Our first lesson focused on God as the Planner. In this lesson, we are studying the plan--God’s plan. The plan reflects the attributes of God, the Planner.
(2) The plan of God encompasses all that He has predestined to occur.
When our Lord spoke of the Father’s plan for all eternity, He spoke of it as the Father’s will. Likewise, when we speak of “God’s plan for creation” or of “God’s plan for the ages” we will sometimes refer to this as God’s will, and rightly so. But this “will” of God must be carefully distinguished from several other “wills.” Broadly speaking, the expression, the “will of God”21 can summarized in this way:
THE PURPOSED WILL OF GOD:
God’s eternal decree
THE PREFERENTIAL WILL OF GOD:
THE PRESCRIPTIVE WILL OF GOD:
God’s standards for men
THE PERMISSIVE WILL OF GOD:
God’s overriding will
The “purposed will of God” refers to God’s eternal decree, the plan which will surely come to pass. It encompasses all of the other “wills.” The “preferential will of God” refers to that which gives God pleasure or displeasure. Our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals that the cross of Calvary was not our Lord’s desire, but it was His purpose. “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). In spite of this desire, God has purposed that some will be eternally saved, while others will be eternally damned (see Romans 9). Just as we may spank a disobedient child when it is not our desire or delight, God’s decree includes some things in which he does not delight, like the punishment of the wicked.
The “prescriptive will of God” is God’s will expressed as a standard for man’s conduct. It is God’s will set down in the Scriptures as commands, standards, or principles which govern what we do or do not do. It is God’s prescriptive will that we do not steal, lie, or worship idols. It is likewise His (prescriptive) will that we love Him and love our neighbor. God’s “permissive will” includes those events or actions of men which are, in and of themselves, sinful. They are contrary to God’s preference and to His prescriptive will. Nevertheless God uses sin to accomplish His will. God used the sinful actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring the entire family of Jacob (Israel) to Egypt, thus fulfilling His will (see Genesis 15:12-16). He used the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees, the treachery of Judas, and the political cowardice of Herod and Pilate to bring about the sacrificial death of our Lord:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24).
God’s purposed will incorporates all of His subordinate wills. In His Word, God reveals both His preferential and prescriptive will.22 When men trust and obey Him, God employs their obedience to fulfill a portion of His plan. When men rebel and disobey Him, God sovereignly uses their sin to further His plan. In this way God causes all things to work together for good, to those who are the called according to His plan and purpose (see Romans 8:28).
(3) The plan of God is eternal.
God is eternal, and so is His plan. The plan was established in eternity past, long before God created the heavens and the earth. It extends to eternity future when God’s kingdom will be established on the earth, and men will enjoy the eternal blessings of being in His presence, or the agony of eternal separation. The revelation of God’s plan in the Bible does not begin at the beginning of eternity (if we can speak in these terms) but at man’s beginning, since the Bible is about man and for man.
The foundation of the world is a point of reference in the Bible:
“Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4).
Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:18-20).
And it was given to him [the beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain (Revelation 13:7-8).23
For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).
God’s plan was established long before creation. His program for mankind began at creation. Because the Bible is addressed to men, the story of creation is the starting point. Satan’s origin and fall are given little attention in the Bible. In the texts dealing with his fall, reference to him is somewhat veiled, intertwined with an indictment of kings (see Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19).
(4) The plan of God is all-encompassing.
When human plans fail, it is often because the planner has overlooked some detail. Something unforeseen arises, and suddenly plans collapse. This is because every detail was not taken into account. God’s plan is all-inclusive. It is based on God’s omniscience (knowing all), so that everything past, present, and future is taken into account. God’s omniscience, as we have seen, includes all things which will actually occur, as well as all things which could possibly occur. Every contingency is taken into account in God’s plan. God’s plan is for all creation, things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities (Colossians 1:16).
God’s plan includes seemingly insignificant details. It excludes “good luck” or coincidences. When Joseph wandered about in a field looking for his brothers, he did not just happen to be found and told where his brothers had gone (Genesis 37:14-17). The fact that the pit into which Joseph was thrown was empty was no coincidence (37:24). The passing caravan, which was headed toward Egypt, was no accident either (37:25-28). The fact that Ruth would “happen” upon the field of Boaz, a near kinsman of Naomi, was not mere chance but a matter of God’s providential control (Ruth 2:3).
God’s plan includes the sovereign election of individuals to salvation and to destruction. As difficult as this may be for some to accept, it is the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture (John 1:12-13; 6:37, 44, 65; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Romans 9; Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8; 17:8). Apart from the sovereign intervention of God, through His Spirit, no man seeks God, and no man will ever find Him (see Romans 3:10-18; John 6:44). Because salvation is God’s work, and not our own, God should receive the glory. This fact also makes our salvation and sanctification secure (Philippian 1:6). This is no way minimizes our responsibility to proclaim the gospel or man’s responsibility to receive or reject it (see Romans 10; Matthew 28:18-20, etc.).
God’s plan also includes the creation of life, the design, and the destiny of men (see Psalm 127; 139). It includes the calling of individuals to specific service (see Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15). The plan has precise timing as well (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Daniel 9:2, 24-27; 12:11-12; Mark 1:15; 13:32-33; Luke 1:20; John 7:6).
(5) The goal of God’s plan is to bring glory to Himself.
“But indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21).
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands (Psalm 19:1).
“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can my name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).
The demonstration of God’s glory is offensive to the unbeliever who would rather seek his own glory (see Romans 1:18-25). So it was with Satan as well (see Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-15). Charles Hodge aptly points out the error of making man’s happiness the goal of God’s plan:
“If we make the good of the creature the ultimate object of all God’s works, then we subordinate God to the creature, and endless confusion and unavoidable error are the consequences.”26
To the Christian, the glory of God is our hope:
Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2).
(6) God’s plan does not change, and it cannot be thwarted--it is an efficacious (certain) plan.
This characteristic of God’s plan is frequently and dogmatically affirmed in the Scriptures. God’s plan does not change:27
In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil (Hebrews 6:17-19).28
The plan of God is absolutely certain:
The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation (Psalm 33:11) .
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand (Proverbs 19:21).
“This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. “For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:28-29).
The assuring truth that God’s plan is efficacious (certain) is because it is God’s plan. This is based on the truth that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, that He is faithful to His promises, and that His glory is at stake. It is also based on the fact that God’s plan is eternal and all-inclusive. Nothing is more certain than the plan of God.
Having this clearly in mind, let us also take note of some other characteristics of God’s plan.
(7) God’s plan is partially and progressively being revealed.
The plan of God is complete, fully developed, and as good as done, from God’s point of view: “His works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). From a human point of view, the plan is being unfolded progressively through history and is only partially revealed. The Old Testament Law laid out the broad outline of God’s plan. God’s plan could be seen in its initial outworking through the history of Israel. The Old Testament prophets persisted in calling Israel’s attention to the fundamentals God had laid out in the Law. They also added more detail to the plan which God had outlined in the Law. If the Law foretold of a Savior through the “seed” of Eve (Genesis 3:15), it was later revealed that this seed would be the offspring of David (2 Samuel 7) and also of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). The suffering of the Messiah is hinted at in Genesis 3;15 and is foreshadowed in the offering up of Isaac (Genesis 22) and in the rejection and suffering of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), as well as in the Passover (Exodus 12). It is further explained in the Psalms (16, 22) and the prophets (Isaiah 53). The coming Messiah, who was at first understood to be a “son of man” is later described as the “Son of God” (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2). And so the Messiah was progressively revealed as the God-man.
When the Lord Jesus came to the earth, suffered, died, and rose again, God’s plan for the Messiah’s first coming was fulfilled. The Gospels, along with the Epistles, thoroughly explain the plan of God for Messiah’s first coming. Our Lord, followed by His apostles, gave further insight into God’s plan for His second coming.
In its outworking, God’s plan is progressive in yet another way. God’s plan is divided into separate, but related, programs which might be called administrations. Some call them dispensations. Even those who reject dispensationalism admit to one degree or another that there are differences in the way in which God has exercised His rule over men. At each point of change, there are some principles and precepts which remain constant, while other aspects change significantly.29
While God has revealed all that we need to know about His plan for creation, there is much He has purposed not to reveal to us. We are instructed not to seek to fill these gaps (see Deuteronomy 29:29; Revelation 22:18-19). Some prophecies are deliberately “veiled” by highly symbolic imagery, and others are “sealed:”
“And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase. . . . As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?” And he said, “Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. “Many will be purged, purified and refined; but the wicked will act wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand. “And from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. “How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days! “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Daniel 12:3-4, 8-13).
At times of sin and rebellion against God, the prophetic lamp is extinguished, so to speak. This is because God does not wish to inform nor to comfort sinners. The source of man’s confidence and comfort is God. When men turn from God, they turn also from His comfort and the enjoyment of peace and hope:
Be delayed and wait. Blind yourselves and be blind. They become drunk, but not with wine; They stagger, but not with strong drink. For the Lord has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, the seers. And the entire vision shall be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, “ Please read this, “he will say,” I cannot, for it is sealed. “ Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, “ Please read this. “And he will say,” I cannot read. “ Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed. “ Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord, and whose deeds are done in a dark place, and they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:9-15).
(8) God’s plan is a mystery.
To the degree that God has not revealed His plan, it is a mystery. But even that which He does reveal is a mystery.
For this reason, I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:1-12).
God’s plan is a mystery because it is the product of the divine mind of God and not the finite mind of man:
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).
Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9).
It is a mystery because of the mysterious way in which God works, using sin to accomplish His good will, suffering to produce glory, death to bring about life. It is a mystery which fallen man cannot fathom apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit:
But just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).
(9) The outcome of God’s plan for the Christian is his good.
You and I do not set up insurance programs, savings accounts, or college education funds for every child in the neighborhood. We make provisions for the good of our children. God’s plan is not only for His glory, but for the good of “those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). His plan is not for the “good” of those who rebel against Him and reject His plan. God’s plan has a purpose for both the saved and the lost, but the destiny of each is vastly different:
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:22-24).
(10) God’s plan employs means which the human mind would see as incompatible with the end God has purposed.
While the outcome of God’s plan is certain to be for the good of the Christian, the process which God uses may appear otherwise. God allows sin to be committed for evil purposes when it produces the good He has purposed. It is very difficult in the midst of the process to see the “good” God is producing as the final product. A cake in the making is quite different from the finished product. The process includes beating and heating, but the final product is good eating.
God’s children must therefore live by faith, trusting in God’s promises even when present circumstances seem to contradict them. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us this was the case with all of the Old Testament saints:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
We must come to see suffering not just as the result of sin but the process for producing saints:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:5-11).
(11) If the goal of God’s plan is to demonstrate the glory of God, the means is the establishment of God’s rule or dominion on the earth.
In short, God’s plan for creation is all about the establishment of the “Kingdom of God.” Every dispensation, or administration, found in the Bible concerns God’s rule on earth. Satan was the most powerful angel, the most powerful of all the creatures God brought into existence. But he did not wish to be subordinate to God’s rule. He wished rather to have the preeminence, to rule himself (see Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). Adam and Eve were created to rule over God’s creation in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). Satan persuaded Eve and then Adam to rebel against God and against His one rule. God created the nation Israel to serve as a kingdom of priests, the instrument through which the rule of God over the earth could be implemented (see Exodus 19:5-6). They too rebelled against God, His rule, and His rules (His law).
When Jesus came to the earth, He presented Himself as the Messiah, the God-man whom God appointed to rule, seated on the throne of His father David. Israel did not want God’s kind of kingdom, and thus they rejected and crucified their King, insisting that Caesar alone was their king (John 19:15). Now, the church rules, but not by physical force (see John 18:36). We rule in Israel’s place for the time being as a “holy priesthood,” a “chosen race,” and a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). The history of the church (see Revelation 2 and 3) will demonstrate that we too will not rule as God would have us do, and thus He Himself must come to the earth to establish the kingdom of God.
God’s plan for creation is to rule over His creation in a way that demonstrates His glory. Until that day, when our hope of glory is realized, we must live in a world that suffers the effects of man’s fall, a world in which there is suffering and groaning. We shall find that we ourselves groan, waiting for His perfect rule (see Romans 8:18-25).
While the heated debate among Christians over the “lordship salvation” controversy seems to have abated for a time, the issue is still very much alive. I find that God’s plan for creation involves both--lordship (God’s rule) and salvation (through Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection). Why do we try so hard to remove the issue of our Lord’s rule (lordship) and salvation? The Messiah came to save men from their sins, and He will come again to establish His rule over a fallen world. When we repent and turn to Christ in faith, we should understand that we receive Him as Savior and Lord. To whatever excesses this truth may have been carried, let us not reject the truth. Nebuchadnezzar learned about lordship the hard way, but he indeed learned:
“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: that you be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes. . . . “But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His Kingdom endures from generation to generation. “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’” (Daniel 4:24-25, 34-35).30
Throughout human history, men have demonstrated their faith in God by submitting to His rule. They, like saints today, understood that one must trust and obey. If we love Him, our Lord Jesus said, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). This is why Moses set the law before the people of Israel as a matter of life and death (see Deuteronomy 30:15-20). It is not because law-keeping saves us, but because reverence for God will be reflected by respect for His laws.
There is a plan for creation. It is God’s plan. It is an eternal plan, one which encompasses all of creation, and every detail. It is a plan which is certain to be fulfilled, for the glory of God and for the good of those who love Him. The plan is a mystery, which we would not have known apart from its partial and progressive revelation in the Bible. It is one we cannot understand, apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit. It is a plan which employs means we would naturally think are inconsistent with its end--its goal. God uses suffering to produce holiness, faith, and His glory. He uses the rebellion of men to establish His eternal rule.
To the degree that God’s plan has been revealed to us, it has been given for a purpose. What is the purpose of knowing God’s plan? Let us conclude our overview of God’s plan by considering some of its practical implications.
(1) What God has joined together, let not man separate.31 God has a way of joining things which men want to separate. We, for example, want to separate “love” and “our enemy.” We also want to separate suffering and glory. No wonder Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:10-12) the Old Testament prophets were so puzzled by the prophecies which spoke both of Messiah’s suffering (like Isaiah 53) and of His glory (like Psalm 2 or 110). God’s plan for the ages informs us that suffering is compatible with God’s glory. Let us not seek to separate these two, since God in His plan, has joined them.
Saints of old struggled with this tension of suffering and glory. Job could not understand his suffering. Asaph, in Psalm 73, struggled with the success of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. God’s program reveals that suffering in the will of God leads to glory (see 2 Timothy 2:10-12). Let us never forget that no one will ever experience suffering and glory more than our Lord. Whatever suffering God may call us to endure, to enter into His glory, it will never begin to compare with that our Lord Himself experienced (see Romans 5, 8; Hebrews 12).
(2) God’s plan should shape our plans. God’s plan suggests that we should plan. But His plan is also instructive as to the kind of plans we make. Some see planning as inconsistent with our faith in God, directing us to such texts as:
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on” (Matthew 6:25a, KJV).
“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34, KJV).
I have cited the King James Version’s rendering of these verses because the archaic wording is misleading. It seems to prohibit any thought, any consideration of the future. If so, this would surely prohibit planning for the future. In the context, however, it is clear that Jesus is teaching us not to worry about the future; He is not telling us to refrain from planning for the future. Worry is the opposite of faith. Our worries concerning the future are hypothetical, based upon our fears and not upon God’s promises. They focus on what we fear might happen, and they neglect God’s plan which assures us of what is certain to happen.
Jesus never discouraged plans. He exposed the foolishness of poor planning, especially planning which failed to count the cost (Luke 14:28). He urged potential followers to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:57-62). Early in His ministry, when our Lord was popular, He instructed His disciples to take no provisions for their journey (Luke 9:3-5), but when opposition to our Lord intensified, Jesus told His disciples to make provisions for their future needs as they went about proclaiming the gospel (Luke 22:35-38). Planning is not condemned in Scripture; it is commended (see Proverbs 31:10-22).
As Christians, the kind of plans we should make ought to be subordinate to and guided by God’s plan. God has not revealed His entire plan to us, and thus we do not know the specific dates and timing of promised future events (see Matthew 24:34-36). Because God’s plan is a mystery, understood fully only after its fulfillment, we dare not be presumptuous in our plans for the future. All of our plans must be subordinate to God’s plan and must take into account God’s rearranging of our plans:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).
We must not take our plans too seriously. In the Book of Acts, the apostles devised a plan to replace Judas (see Acts 1:12-26). From what we can tell, the action taken by the apostles did not have much of an impact on the church. When, on the other hand, God raised up Paul as an apostle, completely independent of the apostles, the world was turned upside-down. The apostolic church had not planned to evangelize the world and probably would have opposed it (see Acts 10 and 11). Nevertheless, God sovereignly sent out witnesses (Acts 8:1; 11:19-21) so that churches began to spring up in the Gentile world.
In my estimation, the apostle Paul’s plans serve as a model for our plans. They were inspired by and consistent with God’s plan for him and for his ministry, as well as for the world (see Acts 9:15-16; Romans 1:1-15). Because God’s plan included the salvation of all nations, Paul kept pressing toward those places which were unevangelized (Romans 15:18-21). He drew tentative conclusions concerning God’s plan for his life, and then set himself to carrying out God’s purpose (see Philippians 1:19-26; 2:19-24).
Paul’s plans were often modified by divine intervention. Paul and others were alert to God’s leading (see Acts 13:1-4; 16:4-10; Romans 15:22). Sometimes human and/or satanic opposition played a part in the changes in Paul’s plans, but all of this was in the providence of God (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14-18).
The important lesson for us to learn is that we should plan for the future. Our plans should be governed and guided by what we know of God’s overall plan for His creation. Our plans should also be tentative, knowing that God often accomplishes His will in ways which we would never have imagined and for which we would never have planned. In these cases, our plans must change as the hand of God becomes evident.32
(3) God’s plan has not been revealed to stifle our sense of responsibility but rather to reinforce it. The expression, “What will be, will be” does not go far enough. The Bible teaches us that “Whatever God wills, will be.” This truth is taught in the Bible to encourage and motivate us to live godly lives. It is not intended to cause us to become careless as though nothing we do matters. God’s kingdom is certain, but whether His purposes are realized through a Moses (who obeyed God) or a Pharaoh (who opposed Him) makes a great deal of difference to Moses and Pharaoh.
Our Lord and His apostles taught that God’s plan was the basis for godly living. Peter, in his last epistle, puts it this way:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you (2 Peter 3:10-15).
This lesson brought a text to mind which I have not taken seriously enough before:
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen’ (Matthew 6:9-15).
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” One might conclude from these words that God’s will is not being done on the earth, but that it is in heaven. Our study of God’s plan for creation teaches us that God’s will is being done on the earth. How then can Jesus instruct us to pray in this way?
“As it is” is the critical phrase which provides the solution to our dilemma. God’s will is being done in heaven. God’s will is also being done on the earth. But God’s will is being accomplished in heaven in a way that is different from the way it is achieved on earth. The Lord instructed us to pray that His will would be done on earth in the same way (“as it is”) being done in heaven.
What is the difference between the way God’s will is being done here on earth now and the way His will is presently being done in heaven? On earth, God’s purposed will is accomplished by means of man’s obedience as well as man’s disobedience.
In heaven, God’s will is done differently. There, His will is written on the hearts of men. Men will do His will, joyfully, consistently, and without exception. There will be no permissive will in heaven. There will be no sin, no rebellion, no need to employ evil to achieve good or suffering to bring glory. On earth at present, God’s will is being accomplished, but not in the way which most delights the heart of God. In heaven, it will be different. We are instructed by our Lord to set our hearts on heaven and to pray for the kingdom of God to come so that God’s will indeed will be done on earth as it is in heaven. For this to be true, you and I who know and love God must delight in the thought of man’s complete submission to God and to His will. Knowing God’s plan should produce such desires and such prayers.
May our continued study of God’s plan serve this purpose, to instill within our hearts faith and hope, and to motivate us to live godly lives in this present evil age to the glory of God. May we be used in His plan as obedient servants, and not as stubborn sons kicking and screaming at every turn. May we be a Moses and not a Pharaoh. Either way, God will be glorified, and His will accomplished. It is a choice we have been given. It is a choice which determines not only our eternal destiny, but our peace, joy, and hope in the present. May we choose to praise God, the Planner, for His perfect plan.
(1) How do you know there is a plan?
Plans are necessary in order to pursue and fulfill a purpose. They give structure and order to one’s pursuit of that purpose. God is a God of order and purpose. Most importantly, God’s Word frequently speaks of God’s plan, counsel, or purpose (see attached Scripture references).
(2) Why does it matter whether or not there is a plan?
If there is no plan, then there is no purpose--no goal--for creation. There is, in this case, no guiding purpose to which we may subordinate our lives and by which we can gain perspective, priorities, and direction. If there is no plan, God has no purpose, and if God has no purpose for us, we are adrift in life.
(3) Why would anyone conclude there is no plan or Planner (e.g. “God is dead”)?
If one sees no purpose for life, then he would conclude there is no plan or Planner. When life seems chaotic, random, and senseless, the same conclusion seems logical. For those who deny the existence of sin and the trials and tribulations which result from it, logic would conclude that there is no plan. When men reason that suffering is incompatible with glory and that God could not and would not employ sin and evil to achieve His plan, they reason that a plan and a planner are non-existent.
(4) If there is a plan, why do we need to know it?
Knowing God’s plan enables us to know and relate to the Planner more intimately (Genesis 18:17-19; John 15:15). It informs and inspires our prayers (Daniel 9). It puts before us a destiny so glorious that we are encouraged to endure the groanings of this life, and indeed, to endure suffering and rejection for the sake of Christ (Romans 8:18-25; Hebrews 11:24-26). It assures us that God’s ends are often accomplished through means which seem contradictory. It teaches us that groaning leads to glory. It reminds us that what we see in the present is often deceptive and quickly passes away while the kingdom of God is eternal (Psalm 73:17-28), and that the future which may appear certain to the human eye is illusive and deceptive (James 4:13-17). Knowing God’s plan suggests that we too should plan, but that our plans should be tentative, subject to divine veto or revision. Those parts of God’s plan which have already been fulfilled assure us of God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises on time, literally, and exactly, as promised. They also instruct us that we can never fully grasp the plan until it is fulfilled.
(5) What does not (or cannot) God’s plan do for us?
The revelation of God’s plan will always be partial and incomplete. We are not to understand the details of God’s program but the main outline. We are to discern the “camels” and not speculate on the “gnats” (see Matthew 23:24). Knowledge of God’s plan does not reduce our need for faith, but increases the need for faith. This is because what we “see” now often appears to contradict what God’s plan says about His kingdom. The more we know of the plan and see of our present circumstances, the more faith is required (see Hebrews 11).
(6) How can we go about understanding God’s plan as clearly as He intended? What method should we employ in studying the plan?
The method our Lord employed in teaching the two men on the road to Emmaus, and later on the 11 apostles (Luke 24:25-27, 44-48), seems best. Our study will seek to trace the major elements in God’s plan through the Scriptures. We should limit our study to what the Scriptures say, and avoid speculation about what is not said (see Deuteronomy 29:29; 1 Timothy 1:4-7; 2 Timothy 2:23). We should give emphasis to that which is said emphatically, clearly, and repeatedly.
(7) Overall, what is God’s plan like?
God’s plan is God’s plan. It is a perfect plan, because it is based upon the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God and on His character. It is a plan to demonstrate the glory of God and to produce what is for the Christian’s good by establishing the righteous rule of God on earth. The plan is eternal, all-encompassing, and certain.
(8) What makes God’s plan perfect?
The plan is perfect because the Planner is perfect and not to be compared with any other (see Isaiah 46:5-7).
(9) What does God’s plan suggest to us about planning?
It suggests that we, like God, should plan. We should have a purpose and a plan to achieve that purpose. God’s plan should be adopted as our plan and thus guide and govern all our planning. Our plans should be subordinate to God’s plan and made in a way which anticipates God’s overriding of our plan.
(10) Why does God not reveal any more of His plan than He has?
We do not really need to know what He chooses to conceal. Often, such knowledge would only prove to be detrimental to our motivation. (If, for example, we know the exact day of His return, we might be slack in our service until just before His return. This would be something like parents leaving their children home with instructions to clean the house before they return. If the children know when the parents are coming, the house may be a pig pen until seconds before they come through the door.) Leaving some details out forces us to put our trust in God, the Planner, and not just in the plan.
(11) Will any more of God’s plan be revealed?
The Bible indicates that while God has spoken at various times in the past, revealing His plan, He spoke finally and fully when our Lord appeared (see Hebrews 1:1-3). The teaching of our Lord and His apostles appears to be sufficient. We know more of God’s plan because of Scriptural revelation and the record of fulfilled prophecy in history than any saint of old ever dreamed of knowing.
(12) Does knowing God’s plan explain what is happening in our lives at the moment?
God’s plan seldom explains exactly what God is doing at the moment. Job, for example, was not informed that his trials were a part of a heavenly object lesson to Satan, as well as a faith-strengthening exercise for him. What God’s plan does explain is that God is in control, whatever may be happening at the moment, and that this is being orchestrated by God to produce what is for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28).
(13) What in God’s plan would man have never included?
Suffering (divine or human); a sovereign God; delay (waiting); faith.
(14) What is there about God’s plan which gives the Christian comfort?
God is in control.
(15) What is there about God’s plan which men find distasteful, even unacceptable?
God is in control.
(16) Is God in control of everything that happens in my life?
(17) Is God ever the author or the cause of sin or evil?
(18) Is God in control of who is saved and who is not?
Yes. This is not what men want to hear. Men do not want to admit they are not in control. They rebel against God’s control. This is the expression of our sin, just as submission and obedience to God evidences our faith. Apart from divine intervention and enablement, no one would or could be saved (see John 1:12-13; Romans 3:10-18; John 6:44; Ephesians 2:1-3). If God were not in control of salvation, no one would ever be saved, for sinful men would never turn to God to be delivered from their sins. And since it is God who began the work of salvation, we are assured He will finish what He started (Philippians 1:6). The doctrine of divine sovereignty flies in the face of all that sinful men want to believe about God and themselves. One must take the Scriptures seriously so that doctrine is based upon God’s Word and not on our wishes or preferences. Idols are the gods which men make as they want them. God made us as He wanted us. False worship wants a “god” man can control; the Bible portrays a God who is in control of all creation, including man. Who would you rather have in complete control, a gracious and compassionate God who is righteous and all-knowing, or sinful man, enslaved by Satan and the flesh?
Some passages which characterize God’s plan:
(2) The plan for creation is God’s plan: Isaiah 46:3-11
(3) God’s plan encompasses all that He has predestined to occur:
(8) God’s plan is partially and progressively revealed: Genesis 3:15; 12:1-3; 22; 49:8-12; Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 29:29; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 16; 22; Isaiah 9:6-7; 29:9-15; 52:13--53:12; Daniel 12:3-4, 8-13; Micah 5:2; Luke 24:27, 44; 1 Corinthians 13:9-1; 1 Peter 1:10-12; Hebrews 1:1-2; Revelation 22:8-13
(10) God’s plan will work out for the good of every believer: Romans 8:28; 9:22-24
(12) God’s plan is to demonstrate His glory by establishing His rule over the earth: Genesis 1:26; 9:1-17; Exodus 19:5-6; Psalm 2; 110; Isaiah 9:6-7; 14; Ezekiel 28; Daniel 4:17, 24-26, 34-37; John 19:15; Romans 10:9; 1 Peter 2:5, 9-10 Revelation 19:16; 21-22
18 See also Isaiah 46:8-11.
19 See 1 Peter 1:10-12.
20 See also John 5:30; 6:38-40.
21 What might be called the “personal will of God” is, by far, the most popular of God’s wills. It is the plan which God has for me, individually, within His overall plan. It does not, however, fall within the scope of this lesson.
23 See also Revelation 17:8.
24 See also 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.
27 Some may question this statement in the light of those passages which speak of God “changing His mind.” We cannot here sufficiently deal with this question thoroughly, but consider this observation which may be helpful in seeking a solution to this problem.
In virtually every instance where God is said to “relent” or to “change His mind,” the context is man’s sin and God’s threat of judgment. Such was the case in Exodus 32 and also in chapter 3 of Jonah. In both cases, men had sinned, and God threatened to destroy them because of their sin. In the light of Jeremiah 18:1-10, we should see that God’s promise, both of blessing and of judgment, is conditional. He will not bless those who depart from righteousness and turn to sin. Neither will He destroy those who repent, forsake their sin, and turn to righteousness. In God’s economy, a threat of punishment is not a promise of certain punishment, unless men refuse to repent. Jonah’s anger, in chapter 3, was based not upon God’s change, but rather upon His constancy. God is always merciful and compassionate, Jonah protested (4:2). Sparing Nineveh was consistent with God’s Word (in Jeremiah 18 and elsewhere) and with His conduct in dealing with Israel. Thus, in those texts which speak of God changing His mind, the end result is that God consistently carries out His plan and His promises.
28 See also, Hebrews 12:25-29.
29 What is constant, as can be seen from the New Testament, is the principle of justification by faith, and not by works (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:1; Galatians 3:11). For example, from the time of Adam to Noah, it seems that no meat was eaten. When God established a different administration under Noah, he, like Adam, was to subdue the earth and rule over it. It was now permissible to eat meat, however. When the Law was given through Moses, only certain kinds of meat were to be eaten, and those which could be eaten had to be slaughtered in a way that removed the blood.
Another example of change can be seen in the way God instructed Israel to worship Him. The Tabernacle, and later on, the Temple, played a prominent role in Israel’s worship. It was God’s place of abode, within Israel. The rituals of worship were the duties of a select group of priests. In the New Testament administration of the church, all the saints make up the priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10), and there is no mediator between God and man other than our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). Instead of dwelling in a physical building, God dwells in a new “building,” the church (Ephesians 2:14-22).
30 See also Isaiah 10:5-7, 15.
31 See Matthew 19:6 for this expression, which I am obviously employing out of context.
32 And so it was that though the church at Jerusalem never planned to evangelize the world, they recognized God’s hand at work in saving the Gentiles and commenced to plan in such a way as to cooperate with God’s plan as they saw it unfolding (see Acts 10 and 11; also Galatians 1:13--2:10).