God’s Great Plan — In Perpetuity
In the title of this article, every word is significant. First, it asserts that “God,” creator and ruler of the universe, is the author of a plan. Second, it affirms that in quality and scope, the plan is “great.” Third, it declares that the Lord has not acted capriciously; rather, he has deliberately and progressively implemented a strategy. Finally, the title suggests that this plan, once completed, never needed revision; it is timeless in function. It is to this concluding element—the “perpetuity” of the plan—that this article is principally directed.
The marvelous “plan” of human salvation may be studied historically under three phases—development, consummation, and revelation. And each of these may be described by the term perpetuity. Perpetuity is that which is timeless. It will never need redesign, reenactment, or new revelation.
One of the more mind-boggling aspects of God’s nature is his omniscience. The word summarizes the fact that Jehovah knows everything there is to know—past, present, and future. He has never “discovered” anything; he has never entertained a “theory,” or been “surprised” at any event. He simply knows!
Accordingly, he has known, from times eternal, that he would create man, that man would fall, and that a way of redemption would be provided. As difficult as that may be to comprehend, it is fact.
Man’s salvation, by means of Christ’s death, was a part of the “foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23; Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2). Indeed the plan was in the mind of God “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; cf. Revelation 13:8—KJV,NIV). [Note: this phrase points back to “past eternity” (Vine, 327)—not merely to the commencement of the Mosaic age, as alleged by some.] In Ephesians 3:11, Paul affirms that the divine “eternal purpose,” i.e., the “plan of the ages” was realized at last in Christ. Across the epochs of time, Jehovah was carefully working out the development of his plan. Someone has well said that “history” is really His-story.
The major events of Old Testament history, as well as God’s providential, international movements (beyond Israel) were orchestrated carefully in the sacred scheme of things. The selection of the Hebrew nation, the giving of the Mosaic law, the tabernacle/temple arrangement, the utterances of the prophets, the rise and fall of nations, etc. were all working towards that “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) when God would dispatch his Son to this planet.
The plan was thorough and perfect in its development. The Grand Architect never had to return to the drawing board. A new plan will never be needed by the human family. A novel substitute could never avail. Heaven’s plan has been embalmed in perpetuity. It is there for any to investigate who has the honest heart to explore the issue.
The day finally arrived when a baby was born to a virgin in Bethlehem of Judea, even as the prophets had announced centuries earlier (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2). Aside from a few early events, the first thirty years of Jesus’ life is passed over. Finally, he approaches John the Baptizer and requests immersion as an inauguration rite into his public ministry.
Based upon the Passover records in John’s Gospel, scholars conclude that Christ’s preaching career spanned approximately three and one-half years. As the Lord intensified his exposure of the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, as he set forth the concept of a coming spiritual regime (not political in nature), as he demanded a reformation of the Jews’ religious and moral lives, the tide of public opinion started to turn. Many who had been beneficiaries of his kindness began to criticize the Savior. Others, with no substantial spiritual base, were fickle, and easily swayed by the envious Pharisee and Sadducee leaders.
Eventually, the Lord was seized and subjected to a series of mock trials. In the face of overwhelming innocence, he was sentenced to die. This diabolic orchestration of human rebellion, however, was not beyond Heaven’s control. No, Jesus was “delivered up” by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The sacred plan was being carried out by unwitting instruments in the providential scheme of things—responsible for their own acts, yet amazingly implementing the plan of the ages.
While wicked men reveled in the supposition they had rid the earth of a phoney Messiah, Heaven laughed at their misguided arrogance (cf. Psalm 2:4). Triumphantly, “up from the grave he arose.” Cowed-down disciples were turned into courageous proclaimers of gospel truth, and the world has never been the same.
Jesus’ death and resurrection perfectly consummated the divine plan of redemption. The efficacious result will abide till the end of time.
This point is made wonderfully clear in a passage in the book of Hebrews. In that document, the inspired writer is opposing a tendency on the part of some Jewish Christians to “drift away” from the gospel system, reverting to Judaism (cf. 2:1; 3:12). Apparently, false teachers were charging that Jesus of Nazareth was not the real Messiah; he was to be renounced, therefore, and the Hebrews were to wait patiently for the genuine deliverer. It is out of this background that the following was written.
“For if we sin [present participle – i.e., in an unrestrained fashion] wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins” (10:26).
Those who abandon Jesus, anticipating a future sacrifice, will be sorely disappointed. None else is coming. The first was completely sufficient. Christ’s sacrifice exists in perpetuity!
The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the offering of Jesus’ body “once” was all that was needed in the divine scheme (see 9:25-28). Note the use of “once” in this context. It denotes that which is of “perpetual validity” and will never need repetition (Thayer, 54).
This is why the Roman Catholic dogma of the “Mass” is such a travesty. This teaching alleges that the “true sacrifice” of the body and blood of the Savior are “present on the altar” when the words of consecration are uttered (Attwater, 443). The doctrine has no basis whatever in fact, and is an egregious assault upon the concept of the abiding effect of the Savior’s sacrifice.
A plan may be constructed ever so skillfully, and it may be consummated and implemented flawlessly. But if it is to be accessed, there must be a revealing, a setting forth of the facts regarding such matters, or else the plan is hardly able to avail. So it was, in the sacred order of things, that Jehovah made marvelous provision for the revealing of redemption’s plan.
The Holy Spirit was to be the guiding agent in the teaching process of the divine program. Jesus emboldened his disciples when he promised that even when they were persecuted, they were not to worry about how or what they would speak; rather, the Spirit of God would provide the message in the hour of their need (Matthew 10:19-20).
Later, similar pledges were made. In the waning days of his ministry, Christ informed his men that, though he must leave them, he would not leave them helpless (John 14:16ff). No, he would send the Holy Spirit to them. The Spirit of God would refresh their memories with the truths they had learned directly from the Teacher, and also he would teach them all needful things (14:26). The Spirit would bear witness to the disciples concerning Christ (15:26), guiding them into all the truth, and even revealing things that were to come (16:13). These promises of the guiding Spirit were comprehensive—embracing the past, the present, and the future.
When the power of the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff), they were empowered to speak the truth infallibly, indeed as others later were, upon whom they laid their hands, imparting various spiritual gifts (Acts 8:18; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6). This same divine guidance accompanied those who penned the documents that were to compose the New Testament record.
A subtle evidence of this guidance is seen in the fact that, though the writers brought messages from God, at times they did not comprehend the meaning of the revelation they were conveying. An example of this is seen in Peter’s announcement on Pentecost that God’s blessings would be poured out upon “all flesh,” so that “whosoever” would, might be saved (Acts 2:17,21 )—a truth he did not fathom at the time, as evidenced by his initial resistance to preach to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:14ff).
During the days of the apostles, the revelation of divine truth was given in piecemeal fashion. Paul describes the circumstance as an “in part” process—some truth coming through one, additional truth provided by means of another (see 1 Corinthians 13:9-10). But when “the perfect” (i.e., the “whole” as distinguished from the “parts,” Bromiley, 75) was completed, direct guidance from the Holy Spirit ceased (cf. Vine, 595). By means of the written Word, revelation remains in perpetuity (cf John 20:30-31)!
Here is a point that needs careful consideration. There is a common idea in the denominational community, and gaining increasing popularity in the church, that there is an experience known as Spirit “illumination.” Charles Ryrie, a well-known sectarian theologian, described this supposed work of the Holy Spirit as “making clear the truth of written revelation” (Harrison, 27). Some of our own Sunday school literature now contains statements about how the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the Bible. This theory is erroneous. Let us reflect upon the following matters.
The statement by Ryrie, cited above, contains the express implication that the Scriptures are not “clear” as given originally. Also, additional “illumination” supposedly is required. Several questions are in order.
If the Bible is not clear, whose fault is it? If the Holy Spirit could not make the message understandable when he gave it originally, how could one assume that he could do better the second time around? Does the Spirit of God perfect his technique with more experience?
If the Spirit does “illuminate” with a refinement of understanding, when does one know that he has reached the ultimate comprehension of a particular passage of Scripture? If he is convinced that his understanding of a passage is the result of illumination, may he write it down and declare it as “scripture”? Would it be possible for him to ever come to a different “understanding” of the text? If two Christian brothers, both of whom believe that the Holy Spirit is illuminating them, reach a different conclusion regarding a passage, how would one know which of the two is correct?
Ideas have consequences, and the concept of “personal illumination” has serious consequences.
If one looks at each of the three processes described above—development, consummation, and revelation, he should see that each was effected in perpetuity, and none is being replicated today.
- Attwater, Donald. 1961. A Catholic Dictionary. New York, NY: Macmillan.
- Bromiley, G. W. 1972. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. VIII. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Harrison, E. F., Bromiley, G. W., Henry, C. F. 1999. Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark.
- Vine, W. E. 1991. Expository Dictionary of the New Testament. Iowa Falls, IA: World.