THE ETERNAL PURPOSE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-27-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Eternal Purpose of God.
I might take just a moment to outline the preaching program for these immediate years. I have been asked to publish the sermons that I am preparing on Daniel. One volume has already been published. The second volume on Daniel is in the hands of the publishing house now. Then I have been asked to publish the series of sermons that I have prepared and am preparing on the Book of Ephesians. And then after these two books are expounded, I have been asked to prepare and to deliver a series of messages on the Book of Genesis.
Now outside of special occasions, such as this coming Sunday, which will be the pastor’s twenty-sixth anniversary, and a message will be prepared and delivered concerning God’s work in this dear church, but outside of those special occasions, the sermons now will be either in Daniel or in Ephesians. Then when those two are completed, the messages will be in the Book of Genesis.
So the sermon this morning is in the series on the Book of Ephesians. And we have come to the middle part of the third chapter. Paul speaks of a mustērion, a mystery, a secret hid in the heart of God from the beginning of time, now revealed to His apostles, namely, that between the rejection of the King, His crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50], and His return in glory [Matthew 25:31], there is to be a great interlude, an intermission, in which God will create a new thing, the church, the ekklēsia the body of Christ. And in that ekklēsia, all may have a worthy and heavenly part, no one above another, the Jew, the Gentile, the bond, the free, the rich, the poor, the male, the female. These “libs” would sure like the gospel if they had ever learned about it, all alike in the kingdom of heaven, in the fellowship of the church. And Paul says in verse 8 that,
Unto me, who am less than the least of all the saints, is this grace given, that I should be God’s messenger, apostle, to the Gentiles to declare to the nations of the world this great mystery, this new thing that God has chosen to do.
To make all men see what is the oikonomia, the administration of this mustērion, which from the foundation, the beginning of the world, was hid in God.
To the intent that now unto, and he names the orders of the heavenly hosts, the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places that they might know by the church, the manifold wisdom of God.
And then my text—According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord; The Eternal Purpose of God.
[Ephesians 3:8-11, elaborated]
When I pick up the Book and look at it, I am first of all attracted and somewhat astonished by the word that he uses, “according to the eternal purpose,” prosthesis [Ephesians 3:11], prothesis. That is the word for the showbread. In the tabernacle and in the temple, in the sanctuary, in the Holy of Holies, before the veil was the golden altar of prayer, intercession, of incense [Exodus 40:26]. And on one side was the seven-branched lampstand, and on the other side was the table of showbread [Exodus 40:22-24]. Every Sabbath, there were twelve loaves of wheaten bread that were placed there in two rows, six in one row, six in the other row [Leviticus 24:5-6]. And those twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel. And the word for that showbread is prothesis. When I look at the text then and read it, I am attracted to that unusual word, “according to the prothesin tōn aiōnōn, according to the prothesis of the ages.”
When you start studying why such a word would be used, the showbread was called prothesis because it was brought out to view. It was exhibited. It was something expressed and seen. It was demonstrated. It was brought out to view. And from that situation in the tabernacle and in the temple, the exhibition, the showing of the bread, the word came to apply to a predetermination, a purpose, an election. And it is so used here in the Word of God. For example, I would suppose all of us could quote Romans 8:28: “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His”—and there is that word again—prothesis, “His predetermined counsel, His purpose, His elective and sovereign will.”
When I look on the other side of this Book of Romans, in the ninth chapter, the apostle is speaking about the election of Jacob, Israel, and the rejection of Esau his twin brother [Romans 9:12-13]. And he writes:
(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, God chose Jacob that the prothesis, that the predetermined counsel, the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calls)
When I read again the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul will write;
In whom, in Christ, in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the prothesis, the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will, according to the eternal prothesis, the eternal elective counsel and purpose of God.
Some will translate that, “plan,” according to the eternal plan of God, and if you were to translate prothesis exactly as it is written here in the Greek text, prothesin tōn aiōnōn, “the plan of the ages” [Ephesians 3:11].
When a contractor builds a great edifice, he will do it according to blueprints, according to plans. If a woman makes a dress, she will do it according to a pattern. If a woman bakes a cake, she will do it according to a plan. So, Almighty God, in framing the ages, He did it according to a plan, a program, a predetermined purpose in elective sovereignty. Now that purpose is known to us in the very use of the word that Paul has employed; prothesis. It is something laid out to view, something you can see. And that prothesis concerns Christ Jesus. The whole plan of all of the ages centers in Him [Ephesians 3:11].
If we had hours, we could speak of that. I cite just one passage. Do you remember how the Book of Hebrews begins?
God, who at sundry times and in divers ways spoke unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath made heir of all things—now listen to it—and by whom He constructed the ages.
That is an exact translation. In the King James Version, you have it translated, “by whom He made the worlds.” But an exact translation is that, “by whom He constructed the ages” [Hebrews 1:2].
God’s purpose through the ages has to do with Jesus Christ.
Now, as I said in the use of the word prothesis, it is something exhibited. It is something brought out to view. We can see it. We can follow it. And by prophecy, we can see its ultimate goal and consummation.
As I study the Word of God, therefore, I can see two things in the prothesis of God, what He has brought out to view in His elective purpose concerning Jesus Christ. One is the purpose of God in redemption, and the other is the purpose of God in exaltation, both of them centered, summed up, in Jesus our Lord.
Now, first, the purpose of God in Christ in redemption. Before time, before creation, the Son was in the bosom of the Father, sharing the glory of God [John 1:1]. And in that far away, unknown age of the ages before time was, God was opposed, and Lucifer lifted himself up [Isaiah 14:13-14], and sin was found in Satan [Ezekiel 28:15]. And God foresaw the fall and the destruction of His created universe [Isaiah 14:16-17].
But the prothesis, the purpose of God did not fail. In that far away and unknown distant age of the ages, according to the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself for the redemption of the fallen world [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And as Peter will refer to it in the first chapter of his book [1 Peter 1:18-20], and as John will refer to it in the thirteenth chapter of his Revelation, Christ the Lord was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, the purpose of God in redemption before time [Revelation 13:8].
The purpose of God in redemption in time: when our first parents were placed in Paradise, outside the gate of the garden, there is a sinister being, God’s enemy. And as he encompassed the fall of the universe, so he brought about the fall of our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6]. And they disobeyed the mandate of God [Genesis 2:17]. But the purpose of God in redemption did not fail [Genesis 3:15].
There in the garden was the first sacrifice, the blood of an innocent animal poured out in crimsoning the ground. And his coat was used to cover over the nakedness of the man and his wife [Genesis 3:21]. And when they were driven out of the garden of Eden, there at the east gate of the garden, the Lord placed cherubim [Genesis 3:22-24], always symbols and signs of mercy and of welcome, and an altar. And there the man was invited back to God in repentance and in faith to make atonement for the breach, the sin that separated them.
And that purpose of redemption continued as God unfolded it in Abraham and his seed. The Lord God said to Abraham, “And in thee and thy seed all of the families of the earth will be blessed” [Genesis 12:3, 22:18]. And that holy covenant was repeated to Isaac and to Israel, to Jacob, and to the nation [Psalm 105:8-11]. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, God gave to Israel the Ten Commandments, the oracles of God [Exodus 20:1-17]. But in the nineteenth chapter, God said to Israel, “Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” [Exodus 19:6]. And the prophet Isaiah in speaking of that assignment from heaven said, “Israel shall be named after the Lord of hosts, he shall be the priests of the Lord, and men shall call him the ministers of our God” [Isaiah 44:5-6, 61:6]. The great purpose of God in choosing Israel was for them to be the priests of the world, to represent men to God and God to men, and to teach the nations of the world the oracles of the Almighty.
But here again, God was opposed, and Israel fell in the grossest idolatry [Ezekiel 8:1-18]. And as the centuries passed, Israel had this one thing in common with the Greeks and with the Romans, they all divided mankind into two divisions, and each placed themself first. Israel said, “The Jew and the Gentile dog.” The Greeks said, “The Greek, the cultured Greek, and the uncultured hordes of the barbarians.” The Romans said, “The Roman and the provincials in slavery and subjugation.”
But the purpose of God in redemption did not fail, for out of Israel came that promised Savior of the world. The twelfth chapter of the Revelation magnificently portrays it in symbol:
And I saw a wonder in the heavens; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of [twelve] stars:
And she being with child, travailed, paining, crying to be delivered.
And she gave birth to a man-Child, who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron.
[Revelation 12:1-2, 5]
The purpose of God did not fail. And He came into the earth. And in the days of His flesh, His coming was announced by the angel [Luke 2:8-14]. And His ministry was filled with deeds of holiness and goodness, the blessed Lord Jesus [Matthew 11:4-5; Acts 10:38], “But He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. They said He is not fit to walk on the earth. “And they cried, Away with Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” [John 19:15] And Israel crucified her own Son [John 19:16-30], and the gift of God was handed back to heaven on the point of a Roman spear [John 19:31-34]. But the purpose of God in redemption did not fail, for He came into the world, not to be a hero or to be a martyr or to be an example, but He came into the world to die for our sins. “He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. And the purpose of God in redemption continues on.
In this day of grace He is presented and lifted up as the Savior of the world [John 3:14-16]. John 3:17, “For He came not into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved,” the whole world, “for God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” [2 Corinthians 5:19]. First John 2:2, “For He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
There is one true religion. There is one true God. There is one true Savior. There is one body, and one Spirit, and one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism, and one Father, and one God and Father of all [Ephesians 4:4-6]. Christianity, the faith that is preached in this day of grace is the one true religion of the world.
In Portuguese East Africa, a convert said to a missionary, “Missionary, missionary, you have opened to us a door great and wide to the whole world, and we have learned that when we join the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we join a world thing.” This is the purpose of God, the calling of the nations and the peoples of the whole earth to faith, trust in the Lord Jesus our Savior.
But again, God is opposed. There are gods; as Paul walked through Athens and looked upon the idolatry of those cultured people [Acts 17:22-30], so a man can walk through the nations of the world today and see their gods. They bow down before gods of gold. They bow down before gods of science. They bow down before gods of materialism, and gods of atheism, and gods of communism, and gods of fame and fortune, and gods of self and selfishness. There are as many gods, seemingly, as there are people in this earth.
And the earth is afflicted with religions. And there are those who say, “Each one should choose a religion for himself.” The white man may choose Christianity or atheism. The brown man may choose Hinduism. The yellow man may choose Buddhism. The black man may choose animism. But for each one, the religion will be best suited for him. If the white man is to be a Christian, the yellow man can be a Buddhist, and the Arab can be a Mohammedan, and each one can have his own faith and his own religion.
That is a diametrical opposite of the purpose and plan of Almighty God! And it is of all things, not Christian! There is no semblance of a Christian idea in that broad latitudinarianism. There is one Lord, there is one faith, there is one baptism, there is one body, the church, and there is one God [Ephesians 4:4-6].
How shall we find ourselves in attitude toward these other religions of the world? We have a magnificent example in Paul as he preached in the great university city of Athens. He began with a compliment, “Men of Athens, I see that in every respect you are,” and you have it translated in the King James Version,” very superstitious.” Oh no, deisidaimōn, deisidaimōn. Isn’t that an unusual word, deisidaimōn? “Men of Athens, I see that in every respect, you are deisidaimōn,” “reverently religious” [Acts 17:22]. It was a compliment to them. There were gods everywhere. They were reverently religious, bowing down to gods all over the city. You could find more gods in Athens than you could find men.
“And as I went by,” Paul says, “I saw an altar inscribed, ‘TO THE UNKNOWN GOD’” [Acts 17:23], there might be one whose name we do not know. And they bowed in reverence before him.
Then beginning there Paul preached to the Athenians the message of Christ. They interrupted his sermon [Acts 17:32]. He never finished his address. But he preached Jesus! [Acts 17:24-33]. And that is the Christian attitude toward all of the faiths and religions of the world. Religion is intrinsically a propaganda. It is a preaching. It is a witnessing. It is a telling. It is a calling. It is a converting religion. This is the divine purpose of Almighty God [Acts 3:19].
And God did not fail in that purpose. In a relatively short time, the gods of the Greco-Roman world were forgot. In a relatively short time, the heathen pagan religion of the Greco-Roman world fell into this disunion and into despair and into disuse. The temples themselves fell away. The Coliseum, the Roman gladiatorial, the whole complex of civilization was changed by the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. And as the centuries pass, if God delays His return, more and more and more the world shall see, that compared to the fullness and the glory and the blessings of the faith of Christ, the atheists and the Hindus and the Buddhists are as nothing.
The truth revealed, spread out to view, can be seen in the purpose of God in Jesus Christ, which purpose He purposed from the eternal ages of the ages in Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 3:11].
Oh dear, how the time rushes away!
God is eternal in redemption. God’s eternal purpose in Christ, in exaltation. It is the purpose of God, predetermined before time was, that the kingdom and the rule and the reign shall belong to Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 3:11]. As the eleventh chapter of the Revelation shall say, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever. Amen” [Revelation 11:15].
Or as Paul will write in the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians, “That in the oikonomia, “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times that God might gather together in one,” that is one Greek word, “that God might sum up all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth” [Ephesians 1:10]. Everything shall be summed up in Him. It is the purpose of God through the ages and the ages, and that purpose shall not fail, that everything shall be summed up in Jesus Christ. He shall reign Lord over all God’s creation, men, women, institutions, the planets, the stars, the earth, the whole vast creation of God [Ephesians 1:10].
It is opposed, it is rejected and denied everywhere, but it shall certainly come to pass.
Ask any schoolboy, “Which way does the Mississippi River flow?” And he will say, “From north to the south.” But if you had flown over the Mississippi, there are times and places where the Mississippi River will flow due north. There are times where it will flow due east. There are times where it will flow due west. But the Mississippi River ultimately and finally flows south. So the elective purpose of God in Christ Jesus frustrated, turned, tortuous, twisting, but it is God’s purpose of the ages that the reign and the kingdom shall belong to Him! [Revelation 11:15].
There is to be another age following this age. There is to be another era following this era. In the passage that you read this morning, our Holy Scripture reading, Paul says in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the plērōma , the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” [Romans 11:25].
There is only one way you can translate plērōma. It means one way, and that word is “the full number.” Plērōma means “the full number.” We are in this present age of appeal and witnessing and evangelizing until the full number of the Gentiles be come in, and when that last one is saved and that last one comes in, we shall be introduced to another age, another aiōn, another era, another dispensation [Romans 11:25-26]. And in that ultimate dispensation and era and age that follows this one, we shall see the consummation of the purposes of God in Christ Jesus. He shall be exalted. The purpose of God shall not fail in Israel. All Israel shall be converted. They shall turn. They shall accept their Lord and King Messiah. “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written” [Romans 11:26]. And he quotes the [twenty-seventh] chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 27:9, 59:20-21]:
There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and He shall turn away ungodliness, unbelief, rejection, from Jacob:
For this is My covenant with them, when I shall take away their sins. According to the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, God does not change, but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance; they are without turning.
God does not change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. When He made a covenant with Abraham [Genesis 12:2-3], He made that covenant to keep it. And when He made that covenant with Israel [Exodus 19:6], He made that covenant to keep it. And the purpose of God shall not fail in that age that follows this one. Israel will be converted, they will accept their Lord Messiah, Christ their King [Romans 11:26]. For, you see, Paul writes in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans that the apostasy, the rejection of Israel, was only partial and temporary [Romans 11:25]. Look at it, prophecies demonstrated.
What race did Paul and the apostles belong to? They were Jews. The first Christian message was delivered by the Jews. And the rejection of that message has been partial through the years. I haven’t time to speak of it. Mendelssohn, the great musician, was a Jew, a Christian Jew. Edersheim, the great historian who wrote the incomparable work, The Life and Times of the Messiah, was a Christian Jew. Benjamin Disraeli, the great Victorian statesman, was a Christian Jew. Today, you will find mighty men of God who are Christian Jews. But what you see now according to the apostle Paul, which is partial and temporary, someday you will see the whole nation turning to the Lord [Romans 11:26].
And Paul remarks on the glory of that hour. He says, “If the rejection of them, if the taking out of that olive branch, was your salvation and your redemption, think what the acceptance of Israel will be” [Romans 11:24]. My impression is that one honest-to-God converted Jew has in him the power and unction of witnessing to equal a thousand Gentiles. The purpose of God shall not fail. It will not fail in Israel.
Oh, that we had time just to think about it! The New Jerusalem, what is it like? [Revelation 21:9-27]. The twelve gates are the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve foundations are the twelve apostles [Revelation 21:12]. And there are twenty-four elders, twelve for the patriarchs and twelve for the apostles [Revelation 19:4]. We shall be one. The Jew converted and the Gentile converted, we shall be one in the faith of the Lord serving King Jesus [Romans 11:25-33; Galatians 3:28]. The purpose of God will not fail with the Gentiles.
The second chapter of the Book of Philippians has in it one of the greatest passages in the Bible. After Paul has described the condescension of the Lord Jesus and His crucifixion, His redemption for our sins [Philippians 2:6-8], then he adds, “Wherefore, wherefore, God hath given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every man in heaven,” he says, “and in earth,” he says, “and under the earth,” he says, in the netherworld. Some day in the purpose of God, “every knee shall bow; And every tongue shall confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” [Philippians 2:9-11].
The purpose of God shall not fail with the nations of the earth. We all someday shall bow and shall confess and give honor and glory to Jesus our Lord. The only difference is if we bow in contrition and confession, in faith, in repentance, in belief, in acceptance, we are saved [Romans 10:9-10]; God writes our names in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. But if we bow by coercion and by judgment, we are cast out, separated from God and the everlasting kingdom [Revelation 20:11-15]. Oh, that we might bow now, and accept now, and believe now, and love the Lord Jesus now.
Would you? In a moment, we shall sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing the song and while we extend that invitation, somebody you to come to the Lord, to acknowledge Him as the Savior of your soul, the Lord of your life, would you come?
A family you, putting your life in the fellowship of this dear church, joining God’s fellow servants here, or just one somebody you, coming to God and to us; as the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, do it now. On the first note of that first stanza, come, make the decision now. And in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Let the angels guide you in the way to Jesus and to us, while we stand and while we sing.
THE ETERNAL PURPOSE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Prothesis – name of the showbread; the setting forth of a thing
B. A predetermination, purpose (Romans 8:28, 9:11, Ephesians 1:11)
C. Some translate it “eternal plan”; in Greek it is “the plan of the ages”
D. In framing the ages, God did it according to a plan in elective sovereignty 1. It centers in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2)
2. Purpose twofold – redemption, exaltationII. Purpose of God in Christ in redemption
A. Before time and creation, God was opposed by Satan(Hebrews 10:4-14, 1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8)
B. In time – in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-15, 3:21-24)
C. In Abraham and his seed(Genesis 12:3, Exodus 19:6, 20, Isaiah 61:5-6, Revelation 12:1-6)
D. In the days of His flesh(Luke 2:8-14, John 1:11, 29,19:15, 34)
E. In this age of grace (John 3:17, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 1 John 2:2)
1. The one true religion(Ephesians 4:4-6)
2. God is opposed; the earth afflicted with religions
a. Our attitude toward these other religions(Acts 17:22-33)
b. Religion is a witnessing, a tellingIII. Purpose of God in Christ in exaltation
A. Kingdom, rule and reign shall belong to Jesus our Lord (Revelation 11:15, Ephesians 1:10)
1. Opposed, rejected, denied; but shall certainly come to pass
B. There is to be another age following this age(Romans 11:25)
C. His purpose shall not fail in Israel(Romans 11:24-29, Genesis 12:3, Exodus 19:6)
1. The New Jerusalem(Revelation 21:9-21, Romans 11:25-33)
D. His purpose shall not fail with the Gentiles(Philippians 2:9-11)