G2. Predestination Part 2: Predestination in the Bible



All Christians believe in predestination, at least in some specific instances … Predestination applies to major events, small events, and to individual souls … Predestination is not equitable, so to our limited view it may seem unfair … Paul’s response … Chosen-ness … Free will … the call to evangelize.

All Christians believe in predestination!

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a Christian. Did you know that as a Christian, you believe — at least a little bit — in predestination? Even if you just attend church once a year at Christmas time, you hear the story of how the wise men from the east first went to King Herod in Jerusalem seeking the king of the Jews, but they were directed to go to Bethlehem. They were directed to go to Bethlehem because the chief priests and scribes told Herod that the Christ must be born in Bethlehem.

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'” [Matthew 2:5-6]

The prophet referred to was Micah, who lived 700 years earlier. You may say, “Okay, so that was a prophecy, and it means that God knew in advance what was going to happen. But isn’t that different than predestination?”

Again we come up against the difference between foreknowledge and foreordaining. This prophecy — and Biblical prophecy in general — is more than foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is what fortune tellers and horoscopes attempt to deceive you with, and it is what the oracles of ancient Greece pretended to provide for a fee. Biblical prophecy is different. It does not just predict what will happen, but foretells events that will happen specifically to serve God’s purposes. When God speaks a prophecy through his servants, he is not saying that something will happen as a result of cause-and-effect laws; he is not saying something will happen as a result of blind fate; he is saying something will happen because he has ordained it to happen to suit his specific plans. That is predestination.

Isaiah 53

Even if you go to church just once a year at Christmas time, you probably at some point find yourself admiring the beautiful music of Handel’s Messiah. The oratorio quotes Isaiah 53, where it was prophesied that the messiah would come as a suffering servant. Some of the words quoted are:

“He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.” [from Messiah sections 23, 24, 25, quoting Isaiah 53:3-5]

Once again you may say, “Okay, this was a prediction of Jesus’ suffering spoken by a prophet hundreds of years earlier. But how is it predestination?” It is proven to be predestination by the subsequent words:

“And with his stripes we are healed.” [Isaiah 53:5]

Those words tell us plainly that God already had a purpose in mind — namely, that we, his people, should be healed by the wounds and suffering of his only Son. God was not just making a prediction, he was explaining his plan. If you as a Christian believe any of this, you believe in predestination — at least in isolated instances.

Predestination applies to major events in history

Events around the life and death of Jesus are not the only historical events that clearly speak of predestination. A less famous example would be the prophecy by Jeremiah that his people would spend seventy years in captivity in Babylon before being allowed to return to Jerusalem. Jeremiah said: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” [Jeremiah 29:10] The Bible records that is how it happened — and it did not happen because someone knowledgeable about the prophecy decided to make it happen. It happened because a Gentile king who knew nothing of the Hebrew scriptures said God had directed him to send Jews back to the land of Canaan to rebuild Jerusalem.

This example qualifies as predestination rather than fortune telling because it was part of God’s plan; it was part of a long history of God punishing his people when they worshiped other gods, and God bringing his people back when they repented.

Predestination does not only apply to big events

We have just talked about some big events in history that are commonly accepted by Christians as predestined events. But ask yourself: Does it make sense for a few big events to be predestined without the events in between being predestined? At the beginning of time, did God lay out a general plan which had a number of big events scheduled for approximate dates, but which had massive gaps in the details in between those big events? Did God launch his plan at the beginning of time and say to himself, “Well, I know I want these things to happen at some points along the way, so I’ll just get the ball rolling and fill in the details as history works itself out”? It doesn’t seem likely. It would be a vague, hit-or-miss plan. If God worked in vague, hit-or-miss ways, well … would he really be God?

Predestination applies to individual souls

Scripture says that predestination applies to the salvation of individual souls. Revelation 13 prophesies of a beast “that was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.[Revelation 13:7-8] And Revelation 17 tells a similar story: “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition; and the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” [Revelation 17:8]

Both of these passages tell us that individual names were written in God’s book of life before the world began. They were predestined to receive eternal life.

Predestination is not equitable

Jacob and Esau provide an example of God’s favoritism toward specific individuals. In Genesis 25 we read that when Isaac’s wife Rebekah was pregnant, she went to inquire of God about the twins who were struggling inside her womb. God told her that “one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” [Genesis 25:23] God was not simply making a prediction; he was explaining a predestined plan. And God’s plan was not an equitable plan; it was a plan of favoritism toward one individual and against another individual.

Jacob — not Esau — was to be the one inheriting the blessing God had given to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham. Jacob’s father Isaac, inspired by the Holy Spirit, blessed Jacob with these words: “May [God] give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your descendants with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham!” [Genesis 28:4]

This is predestination rather than prediction. It is predestination because it fulfills a promise according to the plan of God, not according to blind chance.

Predestined favoritism toward an entire nation

God went even further and prophesied that the twins Jacob and Esau would have descendants who would become entire nations, and his favoritism would extend to the nation descended from Jacob. When Jacob was grown, God spoke to him in a dream and told him he had a plan for Jacob’s descendants — a plan in which they would be a special people among all the peoples of the earth. God said to him:

“I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” [Genesis 28:13-15]

Jacob was a special person in God’s eyes, predestined to receive God’s favoritism; and Jacob’s descendants were predestined to become a special people through whom all the other peoples of the earth would be blessed.

Predestined judgment of other nations

Two generations before Jacob, the Bible records a similar promise God made to Abraham (Jacob’s grandfather). In this case, the promise tells the predestined history of three different nations. The three nations are the people of Israel (the descendants of Abraham who received God’s special blessing), the Egyptians, and the Amorites. Here is the passage from Genesis:

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” [Genesis 15:12-16]

Note that God draws distinctions between nations (peoples) hundreds of years before any of the people are born — in advance of any person doing right or wrong. The distinctions don’t have to do with physical characteristics of the people, or their technological achievements, or their form of government, or any of the other things a modern journalist might report on. The distinctions have to do with God making his judgments for and against the different nations based on his own standards of righteousness. And he has already made those judgments in advance. God has a specific, predestined plan for and against each group of people.


We read earlier the statement in Revelation saying that some names were written in God’s book of life from the foundation of the world. Jesus made another statement regarding predestination that is equally important. He said to his disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” {John 15:16]

This statement can be misunderstood as implying that Jesus was like the captain of a neighborhood basketball team, choosing players for his team. The captain of the pickup team looks over the potential players to see who is the best shooter and who is tallest, and bases his choices on what he can see.

But Jesus is a different kind of captain. Remember, “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” [John 1:3] When Jesus chose team members, he was choosing those whom he had made for his particular purpose; he was choosing those whom he had predestined to work for him. Jesus’ disciples were like the prophet Jeremiah, of whom God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” [Jeremiah 1:5] In other words, Jesus didn’t choose team members by appearances; he chose team members by forming them before the earth began!

Paul repeated this idea, extending it beyond the twelve apostles to apply to all believers. Paul said to the Thessalonian Christians: “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” [2 Thessalonians 2:13]

Why are we chosen?

God gives no other reason for choosing his people other than that he loves them. Moses told his people:

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of  bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” [Deuteronomy 7:6-8]

God did not choose his people because they were more numerous than other people, nor did he choose them for any other quality that might make them “better” than any other people. He chose them simply because he loved them! If you go back and read those words from Deuteronomy a second time, the reasoning reduces to this: “God loves us because he loves us!”

The pages in the book of life are not blank

We like to think of the book of life as a book that starts out with blank pages, and when we “get saved” by confessing faith in Jesus Christ, our names suddenly appear on the book’s pages. Some of us have been told that on the day we confessed faith in Jesus Christ, on that day our name was written in God’s book of life. But that is not what scripture tells us. As we already noticed in those passages in Revelation, the list of names in God’s book of life was complete even before the world began.

Do we come to Christ of our own free will?

It is widely assumed by Christians that “making a decision for Christ” is an exercise of free will, just like one’s decision to either pick up a pencil or not pick it up. But the Bible says a so-called “decision for Christ” is not a free will decision of our own doing, but is a gift from God. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10]

You may reply, “Okay, our faith is a gift; but we do exercise free will by accepting the gift.” But note that Paul says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” In other words, our very ability to respond to Christ’s offer is a result of God’s workmanship. It is a result of the fact that we are “created in Christ for good works.” Remember, God “knew” us before we were born — as was the case with Jeremiah. What does this mean? It means that in heaven, before we were born, we were endowed with some of the substance of Christ. God did not create us so he could set us loose and then sit back and see what happens. He created us for his own specific purpose; he created us “in Christ Jesus for good works.”

Predestination and free will

So what about free will? Aren’t we all born with free will? The Bible says no, we are not born with free will, but we acquire free will through the saving intervention of Jesus Christ. We can only acquire free will by being born again as new creatures in Christ. Until that time, we are in slavery — slavery to sin, that is. Paul said:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” [Galatians 5:1]

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. [Romans 8:2]

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. [Romans 6:20]

People living without Christ may say, “That’s ridiculous; of course I have free will. I am free to pick up this pencil or not pick it up, just like everyone else.” But Paul said the freedom they experience is illusory; it is freedom “in regard to righteousness” — meaning the kind of “freedom” that allows people to act independently from the righteousness of Christ, as though the righteousness of Christ did not even exist. Such people may think they have freedom, but they are in spiritual bondage. They are in reality “slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe.” [Galatians 4:3] They are in slavery to sin (to Satan), and the “end of those things is death.” [Romans 6:21]

The purpose of free will

We don’t usually think of free will as having a purpose; it’s just something that either is or it is not. But like everything else in God’s creation, free will has a purpose — the purpose being (as noted earlier) to enable us to live “in Christ Jesus for good works,” and so bring glory to God. If our works were not performed freely by us, but were performed out of compulsion, they would not bring glory to God.

In Matthew 25, Jesus gives an example of the need to exercise free will properly. He tells a parable of three servants who were each given a sum of money by their master before the master left on a trip. Two of the servants invested their money carefully and made more money, which they were then able to hand over to their master on his return. But the third servant hid his money in the ground, fearful of what his master might do if he lost any of it. The master commended the first two servants, but punished the third one severely. The third one knew his master well, and he knew what his master expected of him, but he did not do it. All three servants had free will, but only two exercised their free will properly. All three reaped their due rewards, either good or bad.

Is predestination unfair?

So, you may wonder, what about those whose names are not written in God’s book of life from the foundation of the earth, and who do not receive this free will to work for God’s glory? Isn’t God unjust to condemn them? Can they be held responsible?

There seems to be a catch-22 lurking here; it seems like we need free will in order to receive free will. Now before you cry out, “That’s not fair!” read the following words of Paul, in which he anticipates your objection:

You will say to me then, “Why does he [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will? But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? [Romans 9:19-21]

The metaphor of the potter and the clay would have been familiar to the Jews of Paul’s day, because it was used by the Old Testament prophets. Here is what God said through Isaiah six hundred years before Paul’s time:

You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? [Isaiah 29:16]

Is Paul being bullheaded?

This may sound a little bit as though Paul is saying, “Don’t use logic here. If God says it is so, it must be so.” And really, sometimes that is what we have to do; we just have to trust God’s word, because we only have an incomplete and limited view of heaven and eternity. Paul goes on to say:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? [Romans 9:22-24]

God is not sitting up there somewhere impatiently twiddling his thumbs because he has already programmed a certain result and he is just waiting to see his result mechanically played out. He is enduring “with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction.” Once again we may ask, “But if certain vessels [meaning people] are being made for destruction, how can they be held at fault?”

We cannot see beyond time and space

All I can tell you is we have a limited view. When Paul was given visions and revelations of the third heaven, he could not verbally convey some of the wisdom he had gained. He reported that he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” [2 Corinthians 12:4]

There are gaps, not just in our knowledge, but in what we are humanly capable of understanding and expressing. We do not know everything that went on in heaven before the foundation of the earth, when God’s book of life was being filled with names. But we do know there is no injustice in God. And we know that those of us who are in Christ must thank God for providing us with a salvation we did not deserve.

So why bother evangelizing?

If certain names are already recorded in God’s book of life, why should we bother preaching the gospel? Won’t those people whose names are written in the book come to know Christ regardless of what we do?

It may sound like it contradicts the idea of predestination, but we know that evangelizing is important to God. When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two to preach the gospel in various towns and villages, he told them:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” [Matthew 9:37-38]

Even if we are not called to be evangelists ourselves, we are to pray that the Lord send out more people to bring the gospel message. And recall the famous “great commission” which Jesus delivered to the eleven apostles before his departure:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Our active participation in God’s plan is an important part of that plan. God’s command is to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Not to help in that endeavor would make us like the servant who buried his master’s money in the ground instead of investing it.

But where does predestination fit in here? When Jesus told parables and gave prophecies, he often ended them with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [One example is at Matthew 11:15] It is not our job to give people “ears to hear”; that is something only God can do. God will determine — God has determined — who will have ears to hear. It is up to us to present the gospel to people and to pray that they will receive it; but it is beyond our power to give them ears to hear. There is a passage in Isaiah which tells of a time when the Lord was angry with his people. The Lord told Isaiah to prophesy to his people, and he would …

“Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” [Isaiah 6:10]

God was saying that he would actually take away the ability of his people to hear (that is, to understand in their hearts) the words of God. Isaiah was to bring God’s word to them, even though God had already determined to make them unreceptive. This also recalls the story of God sending Moses to confront Pharaoh king of Egypt. When God first called Moses, he gave him these instructions: “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” [Exodus 4:21] Moses was to speak to Pharaoh, but with the assurance that God would prevent Pharaoh from listening!

God’s people are to speak God’s words, all the way to the four corners of the earth, and leave it to God to change hearts in whichever direction he sees fit, in whichever direction he has already determined — determined before the world began.

Answering two specific objections to predestination

I recently received an email from a Christian minister who regards predestination as false teaching. He listed two objections to predestination.

First objection to predestination: Predestination claims that Jesus did not die for all

The minister said that predestination claims that “Jesus died for only some people, but not for the whole world. [Predestination] also states that only those who are predestined can come to know him.”

This minister then presented a list of scriptures to support his view. Some of the verses that most directly support his position against predestination are listed below. I have italicized the words which he wanted to emphasize, which tell us that Jesus died for all.

But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. [Hebrews 2:9]

… and he [Jesus] is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 2:2]

[Jesus] gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. [1 Timothy 2:6]

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [2 Peter 3:9]

And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. [Acts 2:21]

The way these verses are strung together above could almost lead one to believe that the Bible says that all people will be saved – that there will be a universal salvation because of Jesus’ sacrifice. I don’t think the minister who created this message really believed in universal salvation. I’m pretty sure he was aware that Jesus said, For many are called, but few are chosen” [Matthew 22:14], and Jesus also said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” [Matthew 7:13-14] In other words, Jesus warned us that the majority of people would not be saved.

I will try to explain the meaning of Jesus dying “for all” by making a modern analogy. Think of a man giving a party to celebrate his big promotion at work. As the party begins, he stands up and announces: “Welcome, everyone! I want you to know that the drinks are all on me. Bartender, please put everything on my tab!” Some people at the party will be delighted and order several drinks. Some people will order just a single drink or no drinks at all. And some people won’t even show up at the party. It is the same way with Jesus offering himself as a “ransom for all”; some people will be delighted, some will say they’re not interested, and some won’t even bother to show up at the party. The bar is open to all, the bartender has a sufficient supply of drinks for all comers, and the man giving the party has a bank account that will cover all the costs – but only some will take advantage of the opportunity. Similarly, Jesus guarantees drinks for all, but not everyone will drink.

Second objection to predestination: Predestination claims that God predestines some people to hell

The same minister quoted above also asserted that predestination “states that only those who are predestined can come to know him [Jesus]” and that “the rest of mankind is doomed.” Behind his statement is this implied accusation: Predestination says that God is doing something incredibly mean by condemning some people to hell when they have done nothing bad or good. This is unjust; therefore predestination cannot be correct, since it makes God out to be unjust.

In response, I will first repeat an observation I made earlier, which is that we do not know what went on in heaven before certain names were recorded in God’s book of life. We only know that from God’s point of view our lives actually began not at conception, but before conception. One way we know that is from the word that God gave to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” [Jeremiah 1:5] The “pre” in predestination means “before” – before life on earth, that is. But most of what went on in heaven prior to life on earth remains hidden from our view.

Also in response, in the paragraphs below I will point out some ways the Bible says admission to God’s kingdom does not follow normal American ethical standards. In other words, when we declare whether or not God is just, our own standards of judgment may be called into question.

God’s plan calls (in advance) for increasing inequality

When Jesus’ disciples asked him why he taught in parables, he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” [Matthew 13:11-12] God’s plan – his predestined plan – was that some people would receive his words and some would not. That does not sound fair to us. Especially in America, we want everything to move toward equality. But Jesus says no, that’s not the way God works. When it comes to entering the kingdom, God will even take away from some, in order to give to others – others who already have more!

God spoke to Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus’ time, and instructed Isaiah to actually take away understanding from his people. Here is more of the passage which I quoted earlier, and which Jesus himself cited as being fulfilled in his own time. God said to Isaiah:

“Go, and say to this people:

‘Hear and hear, but do not understand;
see and see, but do not perceive.’

Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” [Isaiah 6:9-10]

God was making them blind so that when the Messiah came they would not receive him. Then sure enough, when the Messiah arrived they did not recognize him, but killed him. God blinded them; and yet God would hold them responsible for their blind-headed actions. Jesus said to them, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” [Matthew 23:33] God’s ways are not our ways; God knows things we don’t know; God’s plan is not our plan.

God’s plan called (in advance) for extreme suffering on the part of God’s Son

At Matthew 16:21-23 it is recorded that Jesus told his disciples plainly what “must” happen: that Jesus must suffer, and be killed, and rise again from the dead. These things must happen, he was saying, because they were part of God’s plan as recorded in the prophecies of scripture. The necessity of these events was confirmed later by Paul when he proclaimed in the synagogue at Thessalonica “that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” [Acts 17:3] Jesus’ suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection, were preordained events according to God’s plan. In other words, they were predestined.

What would be our human assessment of this plan? Was God “good” to preordain that his only Son must suffer and be killed? Peter’s answer was probably what most of us would say: an adamant “no.” Peter responded to Jesus’ prophecy by saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Note that even Jesus, as the man who was the subject of this plan, did not see the plan for suffering and death as at all a “good” thing. That is why his soul became “very sorrowful, even unto death,” and he prayed three times that God would release him from the things which must soon happen to him. [Matthew 26:38] But Jesus in the end agreed to God’s plan out of simple obedience. We will return to this thought in a minute.

God’s plan called (in advance) for Judas to betray Jesus

Consider also what Jesus said about Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him: “The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” [Matthew 26:24] In other words, it was God’s plan – God’s predestined plan – that 1Jesus be betrayed into the hands of sinners. And Jesus says the man who betrayed him would have been better off if he had never been born.

Consider: Since God has foreknowledge, God must have known who would betray Jesus. (In fact, Jesus himself knew from the first who would betray him. [John 6:64]) So couldn’t God have prevented Judas from being born? Was God morally bad by allowing Judas to be born, and allowing Judas to commit acts that would condemn him to hell for all eternity? Based on these events, we have to acknowledge that God does work through a predestined plan; and God’s plan is a plan which includes the predestined salvation and damnation of individual souls.

Either we are with God’s plan or we are with Satan’s plan

Note that Peter’s argument for a “good” God (a God who would not allow his Christ to suffer) was actually an argument made by Satan himself. Jesus identified Peter’s words as the words of Satan speaking through Peter. Satan was aware of the spiritual stakes, and knew that if Jesus carried out God’s plan, Satan would be utterly and finally defeated. On a human level God’s plan did not appear to be “good,” but on a spiritual level God’s plan was necessary for the establishment of God’s kingdom.

Today those who argue for a “good” God – a God who would never predestine anyone to hell – must confront the fact that they stand right there alongside Peter when Jesus told Peter to “get behind me, Satan!” They are standing against God’s predestined plan, and to stand against God’s predestined plan is to stand on the side of Satan.

Predestination effected through obedience, not through compulsion

We have mentioned that Jesus told his disciples on several occasions in very clear language that he must be killed and raised on the third day. Jesus said this because he knew that was the predestined plan spoken of by the prophets. We have also noted that Jesus prayed long and hard in the garden shortly before his betrayal that he might be spared from those events – in other words, he prayed that these events would not happen. What are we to make of this? What does it mean that Jesus would know full well what the predestined plan was, and still he prayed that it would not take place? It means that the predestined sacrifice of Jesus did not take place because there was a God upstairs manipulating Jesus like a human puppet on a string. On the contrary, it means that Jesus’ predestined sacrifice took place through an act of obedience on Jesus’ part. Hebrews 6:8 tells us: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”

Jesus set the pattern for us and for all who followed him; he was the “first fruits” of God’s plan of salvation. Paul said, “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:23] Those who belong to Christ are those who, like Christ, are obedient to God’s word. Those who do not belong to Christ are those who are obedient to Satan’s word. God’s predestined plan does not take place through compulsion, but through obedience. That is the only way it can be a plan that will give glory to God.

We’re talking about something that may seem impossible to human understanding: actions which are predestined, but which take place through a spirit of completely free obedience. The words “predestine” and “free” don’t seem to us to belong in the same sentence. Such things may sound impossible; but with God all things are possible.