Election Here, Election There,
Absolute predeterminists are bewitched by the word election and its derivative forms. Their preloaded philosophy forces them to define many election verses as "God handpicks who goes to heaven". This is a hermeneutical tragedy.
The word election and its derivative forms—elect, election, choose, chosen, chose, and choice—are used between 250-300 times in the Word. Most importantly, they are used in a wide diversity of ways that do not mean God handpicks one for heaven and handpicks another for hell. There are elections and choices of all kinds in God's kingdom.
God Chose an Individual, Family, & Nation
to Vehicle His Purposes on Earth
The first major instance in Scripture of God choosing someone for something was the choosing of an individual, family, and nation through which to accomplish His purposes on earth. That chosen individual was Abraham, who created the chosen family, which eventually became the chosen nation of Israel from Exodus onward.
Abraham & His Family Chosen
Genesis 12:1-3 is the moment God revealed His choice of Abraham for a practical earthly purpose, with promises attached. 18:19 is an illuminating companion verse, giving us a peek into God's logic in electing Abraham (NASB, underline mine): For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.
The verb "have chosen" in the underlined phrase is not an accurate translation. The Hebrew is yada, which means "to know", and here it is in the perfect tense. Yada in the perfect tense mandates the more accurate translation "have known", the way Young's Literal Translation and the NKJV render it. Here it is in YLT (underline mine): For I have known him, that he commandeth his children, and his house after him (and they have kept the way of Jehovah), to do righteousness and judgment, that Jehovah may bring on Abraham that which He hath spoken concerning him.
Translated properly and understood properly, 18:19 is God telling us that His knowing of Abraham is a complete singularity (the perfect tense), implying omniscience and omnitemporal knowledge (explained in detail in Chapter 3). It is this omniscient, omnitemporal knowing that underpinned God's choice of Abraham. He tells us, "I have known Abraham...he commandeth his children, and his house after him...to do righteousness and judgment..." God's omniscience informed Himself that Abraham and his family would cooperate and do their part in the plan of God. There is nothing in 12:1-3 or 18:19 (or any other scripture in any other book) that states God unconditionally chose Abraham to be saved from eternal lostness. He chose him for a practical purpose, which was to vehicle the plan of salvation into the world, and His omniscience informed Himself that Abraham and His family would "do righteousness and judgment" and cooperate with that plan.
A verse conceptually and grammatically identical to Genesis 18:19 is Amos 3:2, in which God says (NKJV), You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. The verb "have I known" is also yada, also in the perfect tense. The family God is referring to here is the family of Abraham, i.e., the nation of Israel at the time of Amos.
Israel Chosen Derivatively
Israel, the eventuality of Abraham and his family, thus became God's chosen nation. He begins to emphasize Israel's derivative chosenness in the book of Deuteronomy. 4:37, the first mention, captures this secondhand chosenness (NKJV): And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them...
Notice God said, "because He loved your fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], therefore He chose [you]" as His intermediary nation to accomplish His purposes on earth.
7:6-8 says the same in even more detail (ESV, underline mine): ...The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who 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 on 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 that he swore to your fathers...
10:15 says the same, but adds an intriguing new detail (ESV, underline mine): The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day.
Moses said here God delighted only in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to love them. What did he mean? Of course it cannot mean God delighted in these three men to save only them from hell. Job existed around the time of the patriarchs and God delighted very much in him (Job 1:1,8,21,22, 2:3,10). The delighting in and loving only Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob means He delighted in and loved them for an exclusive practical assignment, to "choose their descendants" as His intermediary nation to vehicle His purposes on earth. The "delighting" and "loving" in this verse are utilitarian, not soteriological.
My experiences in coaching soccer help me understand the spirit and intent of this verse. When I had to select the eleven best players to be the team starters, I delighted only in the eleven I chose. I loved them above the others for the purpose of fielding the best soccer team possible. It does not mean I did not love the other eleven substitutes as valuable human beings, nor did it mean I only wanted a personal relationship with the starting eleven and not the remaining substitutes. It meant none of those things. It meant one thing and one thing only: for the practical assignment of playing and winning a soccer game, I "delighted only in" and "loved" the best eleven players for the job.
Have you ever "loved" one outfit over another from your closet? Have you ever delighted in one song over another for a specific moment or specific purpose? Does it mean you cared nothing about the other clothes in your closet, or disliked all other songs ever created? If you can understand utilitarian delight and love in the context of a utilitarian purpose, you can understand most of the election-oriented verses in the Bible.
14:2 again articulates the exclusive practical assignment Israel was derivatively chosen for (ESV): For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
Isaiah 41:8,9 also capture the derivative chosenness of Israel (ESV, underline mine): But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, "You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off". God says here Israel was chosen because they were "the offspring of Abraham, my friend".
Elect Israel in the New Testament
In the New Testament, Paul acknowledges the secondhand chosenness, and specifically the utilitarian love, bestowed on the nation of Israel. Romans 11:28 says (NKJV), ...concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. The "election" Paul is referring to is the same chosenness described in Deuteronomy--Abraham via his descendants chosen to be God's intermediary nation to vehicle His purposes on earth. The "beloved" Paul is referring to is the same secondhand utilitarian love described in Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:6-8, 10:15--a utilitarian love for Israel because of the patriarchs' intimacy with God ("for the sake of the fathers"). It is not an arbitrary, mysterious love that no one knows why except God's secret omniscience. It is not a soteriological or individual salvation love. As a Jewish Old Testament scholar, Paul is drawing directly from Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:6-8, and 10:15 to pen Romans 11:28.
1Peter was written to Jewish Christians. Notice how he opens the letter in 1:1,2 (NKJV, underline mine): Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ...
The "Dispersion" refers to scattered Jews living throughout the Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (all modern-day Turkey). Peter refers to these ethnic Israelites as "elect". Like Paul in Romans 11:28, Peter is acknowledging the chosenness or election of Israel. He does, however, add that these are born-again Jews he is writing to, by adding the phrases, "in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ".
Israel Elect According to God's Foreknowledge
Romans 11:2 says (NKJV), God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew... 1Peter 1:1,2 say (NKJV), ...To the pilgrims of the Dispersion...elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father...
Both Romans 11:2 and 1Peter 1:1,2 are referring to ethnic Israel. Romans 11:2 is referring to all of Israel in general, while 1Peter 1:1,2 is referring to the subset of Israel that is born-again. Nonetheless, both passages refer to ethnic Israel.
Both scriptures also say God "foreknew" Israel, that the nation is elect according to the foreknowledge of God. How, exactly, did God foreknow the nation of Israel? How, exactly, did God elect the nation of Israel according to His foreknowledge? Remember all those advance-notice promises God made to Abraham from Genesis 12 onward? Therein is our answer.
God told Abraham numerous times that he would become a great nation, through whom He would accomplish His purposes on earth (Gen 12,15,17,22). This tells us God knew in advance and predetermined in advance to create this unique intermediary nation. Abraham/his family/Israel was His known-in-advance plan! Paul tells us this exactly, using identical foreknowledge language, in Galatians 3:8 (NKJV, underline mine): And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed."
God Chose the Levites to be Priests
Within the nation of Israel, God elected the tribe of Levi to be the priests and ministers of the temple ministry. This was not God's original intention, however.
At Mount Sinai, at the official birth of the nation of Israel, God declared the entire nation of Israel was to serve as priests and ministers of the temple ministry. The temple ministry would not be the possession and prerogative of any one tribe, but would be shared by all the tribes of Israel. God said in Exodus 19:5,6 (NKJV, underline mine): "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. God is unmistakable here. The entire nation of Israel, every tribe, would be "a kingdom of priests".
The Golden Calf Incident, An Inheritance Partially Lost
Almost immediately after Israel's birth as a nation, she descended into gross idolatry with a golden calf (Ex 32). When Moses returned from the mountaintop to find the Israelites in a total meltdown of idolatry and debauchery, verse 26 tells us (NASB): Moses then stood at the gate of the camp, and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him.
Of all the tribes of Israel, only the Levites heeded Moses' call to be on the side of Yahweh. Moses then commanded the Levites (v27): ..."This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: 'Every man of you put his sword on his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.'"
The Levites obeyed, and slaughtered three thousand of their family, friends, and neighbors who participated in the idolatry (v28). As a reward, the priesthood inheritance was withdrawn from the entire nation and given exclusively to the Levites. The ESV captures that intent of verse 29 well: And Moses said, "Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day." The HCSB renders verse 29 well also: Afterward Moses said, "Today you have been dedicated to the LORD, since each man went against his son and his brother. Therefore you have brought a blessing on yourselves today."
Thus, the nation lost the priesthood, but only partially. It would continue through the tribe of Levi, but the tribe of Levi only.
God Chooses the Levites
About God's choosing of the Levites, Deuteronomy 18:5 says (NASB, underline mine), For the LORD your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes, to stand to serve in the name of the LORD always. And 21:5 says (NASB, underline mine), Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, because the LORD your God has chosen them to serve Him and to bless in the name of the LORD; and every dispute and violent crime shall be settled by them.
And so we have the case of God electing the Levites to be His priests, ministers, and even judicial authorities, in the temple ministry. What makes this election fascinating is that it was not God's original choice (an entire nation of priests was), it was in response to the nation's grievous descent into idolatry (the golden calf incident), and it was a reward to the Levites for choosing to be on Yahweh's side when Moses drew a red line in the sand. Deuteronomy 33:8-11 summarize this storyline.
God Chose/Chooses Nations for Various Purposes
Israel was the only nation God chose to bring His Word and His Messiah into the world (Ps 147:19,20, Ro 3:2, 9:4,5). In that sense they are unique. Israel is not the only nation, though, God chose for a utilitarian purpose or chose certain features for them. Deuteronomy 32:8 states, soon after the division at Babel, God chose each nation's inheritance and borders for them (ESV): When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples...
"Inheritance" here could refer to their own unique language, or it could refer to the territory allotments and limits mentioned in the last phrase, or it could mean something unstated. Regardless, here we see God engaged in other forms of national election other than Israel. If Deuteronomy 32:8 happened immediately after Babel (Gen 11:1-9), that would mean God engaged in multiple national choices even before Abraham's calling (12:1-3).
There are other instances of God choosing a nation, or choosing something particular about a nation, in Scripture. Let's see how and why God chose Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Rome.
The Lord chose the nation of Assyria to judge and essentially end the northern kingdom of Israel, whom God calls here "a godless nation" and "the people of My fury". Isaiah 10:5,6 say (NASB), Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture spoils and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.
The Lord chose the nation of Babylon to judge the southern kingdom of Judah. 2Chronicles 36:17 says (NIV), He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Habakkuk 1:6 says (NIV), I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.
The Lord chose Medo-Persia, led by military commander and king Cyrus, to judge and end the Babylonian empire. You can read about God's election of Medo-Persia and Cyrus for this job in Isaiah 41:2, 45:1-5, 46:11. See also Jeremiah 51, specifically verses 11 and 28.
The Lord also chose Medo-Persia to show kindness to Judah. Cyrus and subsequent Medo-Persian kings allowed the exiled Jews to return to their homeland, rebuild Jerusalem and the temple with imperial financial help, and revive their religion and culture (Ezr 1:1-3). Isaiah 44:28 prophesied of Cyrus 150-200 years before he even existed or fulfilled the words (NIV): who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt," and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid."' And 46:11 in more general terms (NIV): From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.
The Lord chose Rome to bring a catastrophic judgment on first-century Israel. In the parable of the wedding feast, those who rejected the King's invitation are an illustration of first-century Israel who rejected the Incarnation. Jesus then said in Matthew 22:7 (NASB): Now the king was angry, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. This is precisely what happened to Jerusalem in AD70. Notice, though, the parable says the armies were his armies, the King's armies. God, through this one tiny phrase in the parable, is taking full sovereign ownership over Rome's armies and what they will do to Jerusalem forty years later. He chose Rome to execute His judgment, in the same way He chose and used Assyria, Babylon, and other nations throughout history for a negative judicial purpose, not just against Israel, but against any nation who deserves it in His mind.
National Election Today
From the Babel event until the very End we see God choosing certain nations for various utilitarian purposes, some to administer judgment or oppositional negativity (like Assyria, Babylon, or Rome), some to administer spiritual or practical blessings (like Israel or Medo-Persia), some to play roles that are not immediately obvious. While it is God's ideal will that all nations worship Him and cooperate with His values (Pr 14:34), He knows most will not (Ps 9:17, Rev 13:7,8). Therefore, He develops international choosing strategies according to that foreknowledge. In that particular sense Israel is not the only nation elect according to the foreknowledge of God (1Pet 1:1,2). He knows in advance what needs to be accomplished internationally, and therefore, elects nations for this or that purpose according to that foreknowledge.
God Chose/Chooses Individuals for Various Purposes
God elects individuals identically to how He elects nations. In Scripture we see God choosing certain individuals for various utilitarian purposes, some to administer judgment and negative circumstances, some to administer spiritual or practical blessings, some to play roles that are not immediately obvious.
Individuals Chosen to Administer Judgment, Negative Circumstances, Etc.
God chooses and uses certain individuals as instruments of judgment, negativity, correction, humbling, and so on. Think of the Pharaoh who enslaved Israel and would not let them go. God said of him (Ex 9:16 ESV): But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. Paul quotes this verse in Romans 9:17.
God chose this particular Pharaoh to not let Israel go. Why? One, so He could display ten miraculous plagues and spread word of Himself and Israel to the Canaanites (Jsh 2:8-11), whom they would later have to conquer and dispossess. Two, to punish and decimate the empire that enslaved Israel.
Why did God choose this particular Pharaoh for this particular assignment? Is that fair? God chose him because he was already oppositional and abusive to Israel. He was already a tyrant and a brutal slaver. He was already a person deserving punishment. God took the savage beast he already was and harnessed him for a practical purpose--spread word of Himself and Israel to the Canaanites (Jsh 2:8-11) and punish his ruthless Satanic empire. Ponder: God chose the Levites for the priesthood because they rallied to His side in the golden calf incident, and using the exact same mechanism, God chose this particular Pharaoh because he was already a dark force harming Israel. The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay; it makes something already soft even softer, and something already hard even harder.
Asking with perplexment, "Did God harden Pharaoh's heart or did Pharaoh harden his own heart?" is not even the right question. Before the hardening began in Exodus 5, regardless of who did it and how much and in what order, Pharaoh was already a person deserving punishment, already a demonized narcissist tyrant claiming to be god incarnate. The fact that God elected to functionalize him was merely God working all things together for Israel's good from Pharaoh's psychopathic existence.
For his out of control hedonism and idolatry, King Solomon experienced judgment and vexation from three individuals God selected: Hadad the Edomite (1Ki 11:14), Rezon king of Syria (v23), and Jeroboam the Ephraimite (v26).
Along these same lines, the case of Judas Iscariot is exceedingly interesting. I will devote a section below exclusively to him.
Individuals Chosen to Administer Spiritual or Practical Blessings
God chooses and uses certain individuals as instruments of spiritual or practical blessings. The Lord chose Cyrus, king of Medo-Persia, to show kindness to Judah. He and subsequent Medo-Persian kings allowed the exiled Jews to return to their homeland, rebuild Jerusalem and the temple with imperial financial help, and revive their religion and culture (Ezr 1:1-3, Isa 44:28). Isaiah 44:28 even prophesied of Cyrus 150-200 years before he even existed or fulfilled the words.
The Lord chose Paul to be a spiritual blessing to so many people that you and I today are still being blessed by him. Scripture explicitly says he was selected by God for that particular practical purpose.
Read Isaiah 49:1-7. This meaty prophecy is first and foremost about the Messiah. Verses 1-6 list decree after decree after decree about the identity and mission of the Lord Jesus (verses 8 and 9 also). Verse 7 is the foreknowledge passage, describing both the indignities and honors Jesus would experience (ESV): ...to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: "Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves..."
Amazingly, God included a second layer to this prophecy: the apostle Paul. In the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, Paul quoted a piece of this prophecy verbatim (verse 6) and said the Lord commanded he and Barnabas from it (Ac 13:47). Additionally, the Lord Jesus Himself said Paul would take His name "before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel" (9:15 ESV). Those three audiences--Gentiles, kings, and Israel--are the three audiences listed in Isaiah 49:5-7 (Israel in verse 5, Gentiles in verse 6, kings in verse 7).
These constellations of verses about Cyrus and Paul show us how God elects certain individuals to positive, helpful, much-desired, or much-needed tasks. There are many, many other examples in Scripture, and in our own lives, of God choosing and using an individual to be a spiritual or practical blessing. Jonathan for David, David for Abigail, Elisha for Elijah, Ananias for Paul, Peter for Cornelius and his family, Titus for Paul, and so on.
The Son Volunteered, the Father Chose
As God's plan of salvation became progressively clearer and clearer with each revelatory increment in Biblical history, the election of the Messiah emerged as an intriguing part of that plan. Who would implement and execute the salvation plan on earth? An angel? Another type of spiritual being, like a cherub or seraph? A perfect man? A perfect animal? Who would implement and execute the salvation plan on earth?
The Son Volunteered
In Hebrews 9:14, we are told the second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, offered Himself in eternity past as Savior and Mediator. He volunteered for the job. Hebrews 9:14 (NIV): How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God... Because the Son could not and would not fail, the execution of the plan of salvation was an absolute certainty, a foregone conclusion. This is why Revelation 13:8 could say (Young's Literal Translation), ...the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
The Father Chose
The Son volunteered, the Father responded by agreeing and making Him the Chosen One. For this reason the Father calls the Son "My Elect One" in Isaiah 42:1 (NKJV, underline mine): "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles." (The full Messianic prophecy runs through verse 7.) Matthew quotes this prophecy as beginning to be fulfilled in Matthew 12:17-21.
Isaiah 49:1-7 is another detailed prophecy about the Messiah. Verses 1-6 list decree after decree after decree about the identity and mission of the Lord Jesus (verses 8 and 9 also). Verse 7 describes both the indignities and honors Jesus would experience, but it also refers to Him, once again, as the Father's Chosen One (NKJV, underline mine): ...To the Servant of rulers: "Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel; and He has chosen You." Simeon quotes part of this prophecy (verses 5 and 6) as beginning to be fulfilled in Luke 2:29-32.
In the New Testament, Peter also describes Jesus as the Father's Elect. 1Peter 2:4,6 (NKJV, underline mine): Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious...Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." Peter is quoting Isaiah 28:16.
Jesus Chose Twelve & Three
The divine selecting and electing continued, this time with Jesus choosing Twelve to be His apostles. See Mark 3:7-19.
What is so unexpected about this passage is the layers of followers Jesus worked through in making His choice. In Mark 3:7-19 we see five layers: (1) the crowd, (2) the congregation, (3) the core, (4) the captaincy, and (5) the Christ.
The crowd is the nondescript mixed mob following Jesus everywhere, mainly for His displays of power over sickness and demons.
The congregation is the called-out group from within the crowd. Consider Mark's remarkably revelatory statement in verse 13 (ESV): And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. This statement does not refer to the Twelve, because they are the focus of the next verse. This statement refers to a proto-congregation of sorts Jesus called out from the crowd. Luke 6:13 has an identical notation with slightly different wording (ESV, underline mine): And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles. He called His disciples to Him (the proto-congregation) and from them He chose twelve. What subtle but crucial wording.
Ekklesia, the New Testament Greek word for "church", literally means "called out ones, those summoned to congregate". Once again, Mark 3:13 says, from the mountain Jesus called to him those he desired, and they came to him. This illustrates the mount of congregation (Heb 12:22,23). This is a portentous moment foreshadowing the congregation of God, the general church.
The core is yet another called-out group, this time from within the congregation. He called the Twelve to be the core, the pillars, the backbone of the congregation. Verses 14-16 say (HCSB, underline mine), He also appointed 12--He also named them apostles--to be with Him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons. He appointed the Twelve...
The captaincy is yet another called-out group, this time from within the core. This refers to the highest leaders of the congregation: Peter, James, and John. This is why they are listed first (and Judas Iscariot last) in Mark's list (v16,17 NASB): And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder"). The rest of the New Testament plays out the captaincy of these three (Mt 17:1-8, 26:36-38, Mk 5:37, books of the Bible they wrote, etc.), with the addition of Paul after his born-again experience.
The Christ is the center and foundation of the captaincy, the core, the congregation, and even the mixed crowd to some extent, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Ro 11:36) and no other foundation can be laid other than Jesus Christ (1Co 3:11).
Jesus Chose Twelve & Three, Takeaways
What are some takeaways from Jesus' election of the core and the captaincy of His church?
One, Jesus did not choose them for individual salvation, handpicking them for heaven and passing over or reprobating others for hell. There is nothing in the context of Mark 3:14-19 that is soteriological, but rather, there is plenty in the context about chosenness for apostolic ministry. Mark notes this specifically in verses 14 and 15, telling us they were chosen to be apostles, to preach, to expel demons, etc.
John 15:16--when Jesus said to the Twelve, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you"--is to be understood ministerially also. The context that follows this statement, verses 17-27, pertain to ministry and the positive and negative reactions that would happen in their ministry. The chosenness and appointment of John 15:16, then, is the same chosenness and appointment of Mark 3:14-19--for apostolic ministry. Peter confirms this exactly in Acts 10:41, telling Cornelius' family (ESV): ...us who had been chosen by God as witnesses...
Two, the Twelve and the Three were selected from the group that was already following Jesus from place to place (the crowd, Mk 3:7-12) and from the group that drew closer to Him on the mountaintop (the congregation, v13). This tells us something about the selection criteria for leadership in God's kingdom: following Him wherever He goes and drawing closer to Him on the mountaintop of personal intimacy. If a believer cannot do these two incredibly basic spiritual commitments, he/she most certainly does not need to be in the core or in the captaincy of the congregation of God.
Three, the aforementioned five layers are a template for congregational health and growth. Whether your local church has ten or ten thousand regular attenders, it is still beholden to the five-layer template presented in Mark 3:7-19. Your congregation grows through your intentional relationships with and powerful ministry to the crowd, the nondescript mixed mob around you in your community. Some within that crowd will hear His voice calling them to the mount of congregation through your voice (Mk 3:13). And from within your congregation, a core needs to hear Jesus appointing them to a higher commitment in the congregation, to be its backbone and pillars. And from within that core, a captaincy--existing, emergent, and dormant top-tier leaders--needs to hear Jesus calling them beyond the mount of congregation (Mk 3:13) to the mount of transfiguration (Mt 17:1,2) to help govern the congregation.
The Curious Case of Judas Iscariot
Jesus laid down His life with full volitional autonomy, John 10:18 says (ESV), ...No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again... This is because the Trinity predetermined that Jesus would die as a Sacrificial Lamb (Ac 2:23, 4:27,28). He Himself volunteered and self-determined to die, long ago in the eternal state through His eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14), which is why He is poetically and prophetically called "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8 YLT). The sending of an Atoning Savior to reunite sinful humanity with a holy God was absolutely, meticulously, sovereignly predetermined by the Trinity.
The sequitur question is, did God also meticulously predetermine the human actions of Judas, Caiaphas, the mob who chose Barabbas, and Pontius Pilate--the lawless hands on the ground responsible for Jesus' death? The Trinity absolutely, meticulously, sovereignly predetermined Jesus' death, but did He also choose and irresistibly force specific human actors, like Judas Iscariot, to carry this out?
Prophecies of a Messianic Betrayer
When we read Old Testament prophecies of a Messianic Betrayer, it may be tempting to think God unconditionally selected and irresistibly forced Judas to be the most despicable person in human history. For example, Psalm 41:9 prophesied of the coming betrayer (ESV): Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. This was fulfilled in John 13:18,21-30, and Peter said in Acts 1:16 this prophecy "foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas" (NASB). In another prophecy, Zechariah 11:12,13 foretold that Jesus' betrayal would be worth only thirty pieces of silver (fulfilled in Matthew 26:15).
Are these prophecies statements of absolute, meticulous predestination (God unconditionally choosing and irresistibly forcing Judas to betray Jesus), or, are they statements of foreknowledge (God simply revealing a friend would betray the Messiah)?
These prophecies are statements of omniscience and foreknowledge, God revealing in advance what He knows will happen. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in Psalm 41:9 or Acts 1:16 that states God unconditionally selected and irresistibly forced Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. When David wrote Psalm 41, the Spirit simply foretold what He knew would happen via His omniscience. Once again, as I have said many times throughout this book, we cannot import or assume foreign information into the Text that is not there. We work with the exact words of the Bible and resist interpolating foreign information that changes or adds to the meaning of the exact words therein.
How Judas Was Not & Was Chosen
Judas was not chosen in the sense that God created a human called Judas Iscariot only to unconditionally force him into being a betrayer, only to unconditionally destroy him in hell. Judas was not chosen in that hardline predestinarian sense. All the scriptures about Judas never once articulate that or imply that. This book you are reading makes the case that the entire Scripture never once articulates that or implies that about anyone.
Judas was chosen at the moment of Jesus' choosing of the Twelve, described in Luke 6:12-16. Jesus spent all night in prayer talking to and listening to the Father, then made twelve choices in the morning. How, then, do we understand Jesus' choice of Judas?
Jesus selected the Twelve based on distinct dispositions in each one. Peter, James, and John for their leadership quality. Peter for his gutsy boldness. James for his presidential governing quality. John for his unusual conscientiousness and emotional sensitivity. Simon the Zealot for his fanatical commitment to freedom, initially to Jewish independence from Rome, later to true independence from sin and the real kingdom of darkness. Etcetera, etcetera. And Judas? For his dishonesty, disloyalty, and love of money. Jesus selected him under the same criteria He selected all twelve--for a specific job based on specific tendencies.
Contemplate this intriguing fact: Judas' job was the most important of all twelve. His money-loving, dishonest, disloyal disposition inspired the betrayal of Jesus, and the betrayal set the eternal plan of salvation in motion (the cross). Jesus could fulfill His highest Messianic purpose (the cross) without eleven of His chosen twelve, but He could not fulfill it without Judas. The Betrayer was the most important of the Twelve; only he ushered Jesus to the cross.
Of course the Father knew all this via His omniscience and foreknowledge, and revealed it to the Son in that all-night prayer meeting. He knew Judas Iscariot, given the opportunity and preconditions, would fulfill Psalm 41:9. So Jesus chose him.
God did not unconditionally choose Judas to be a despicable creature, only to unconditionally force him into being Messiah's betrayer, only to unconditionally destroy him in hell. The Scripture never, never, never once articulates this runaway train of wrong logic.
God did not need to unconditionally choose and irresistibly force anyone to betray or kill Jesus. Many people wanted to shut Him up anyway; Jesus aggravated plenty of would-be betrayers and killers with His messages. Simeon said Jesus would cause the downfall of many in Israel (Lk 2:34). Jesus said those who do wickedness hate the light (Jn 3:20) and this is why the world hates Him (7:7). Not only did God not need to create and force a human betrayer, the opposite is true: He had to consistently protect His Son so would-be betrayers and killers would not take Him out before time. See Luke 4:28-30, 6:11, John 7:30, 10:31,39.
When the time of the cross came, all the Father had to do was remove the hedge of protection around the Son and the conspiracy to betray and murder Him succeeded instantly. God merely incorporated the foreknown actions of Judas (and Caiaphas, the crowd who chose Barabbas, and Pontius Pilate) into His predetermined plan (for Jesus to die). God works all things into and because of and after the counsel of His will. Ephesians 1:11 does not say God causes all things, it says He works all things into and because of and after the counsel of His will. God incorporated the foreknown actions of Judas into His predetermined plan, and revealed it in advance in Psalm 41:9.
In John 17:12, Jesus prayed (Young's Literal Translation), ...those whom Thou hast given to me I did guard, and none of them was destroyed, except the son of the destruction, that the Writing may be fulfilled. I used the YLT here because of the importance of two phrases that are translated truer to the original Greek: "none of them was destroyed" and "except the son of destruction".
In the first phrase ("none of them was destroyed"), many English translations go with "lost" instead of "destroyed". The problem is, the Greek word apollymi literally means "to destroy". It is the same word used of a high-ranking apocalyptic demon named Apollyon, which means "Destroyer". (See Revelation 9:11.) That name, Apollyon, is the active participle of apollymi, the word used in John 17:12 in "none of them was destroyed" (referring to the eleven minus Judas). Jesus' full prayer statement was, ...those whom Thou hast given to me I did guard, and none of them was destroyed... This sounds and feels like Jesus guarded them from Satan or a destroying demon or a destroying individual.
If we mistranslate apollymi and go with "lost" instead of "destroyed", and go with "kept" instead of "guarded" (as some translations do), Jesus' prayer statement reads like the NKJV: ...Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost... This sounds and feels different, does it not? It sounds like Jesus merely kept the eleven from wandering off too far in their immaturities, wrong beliefs, or sin tendencies like the three things that got lost in Luke 15. The meaning of entire statements or passages in the Bible sometimes hinges on how we translate a single word or two. "Lost" versus "destroyed" and "kept" versus "guarded" makes or breaks our understanding of Jesus' prayer statement.
The inferior translation ("kept" instead of "guarded" and "lost" instead of "destroyed") ignores a crucial item in the second phrase we need to analyze: "except the son of destruction" (Judas). The Greek word here for "destruction" is apoleia, it literally means "a destroying or destruction". The word apoleia is also a derivative of apollymi. We have, therefore, in John 17:12, in the same sentence and thought-flow, words that are twin siblings: apollymi ("to destroy") and apoleia ("a destroying or destruction"). If we read the two phrases together as one thought-flow according to the most literal Greek, Jesus' prayer statement would read like this: ...those whom you have given to me I did guard, and none of them was destroyed, except the son of the destroying...
This is much clearer and much more specific. Jesus is saying He guarded the eleven so that none of them were destroyed by Judas, the son of the destroying (the one doing the destroying), who ended up being destroyed himself because of it. The destroying could refer to Judas' corrupting influence on the other eleven, or, his attempt to get the other eleven arrested and killed along with Jesus. In 18:8,9, John tells us exactly what Jesus meant: Judas' attempt to get the other eleven also arrested and killed ("destroyed") along with Jesus.
In 18:8,9, John writes (ESV), Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go." This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: "Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one."
The context is Jesus' arrest by the Roman authorities, accompanied by Jewish religious leaders. Jesus prevented the arrest of the other eleven by identifying and surrendering Himself (v4,5,8), and by pressing the soldiers to let the eleven go (v8). The soldiers did let the eleven go.
Do not rush past this seemingly tiny detail: Jesus prevented the arrest of the other eleven by identifying and surrendering Himself, and by pressing the soldiers to let the eleven go. John immediately and explicitly interprets this moment as the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus' aforementioned prayer statement. He writes in verse 9 (ESV): This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: "Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one." The Greek word for "lost" here is apollymi, "to destroy", the exact same Greek word as 17:12. John is telling us explicitly that the prayer statement from 17:12 was actually a prophecy that Jesus would not allow the son of destroying (Judas) to destroy (physically) the other eleven by arresting and killing them too. In other words, Jesus "lost not one" to Judas' conspiracy. The eleven could not be arrested and killed at that particular time because they needed to found and develop the New Testament church.
As you can see, Jesus' prayer statement in 17:12 and John's explicit interpretation of that statement in 18:9 have absolutely nothing to do with salvation, heaven, or hell.
Why Would Judas Want to Destroy All Eleven?
Why, you might ask, would Judas want to destroy all eleven? Why would he want Jesus' entire upper management team arrested and killed? Wasn't Judas just a sleazy, thieving, low-level opportunist?
One, Judas was much more than a low-level opportunist. God Incarnate called him "the son of apoleia", the son of destroying, the son of destruction. This is a damning spiritual slur. It tells us Judas had much more than $100 on his mind. He had a destructive bent inside. History, the world's history and our own personal history, is full of individuals who had an appetite for destruction, who are sons/daughters of destroying. Why some individuals are like this is a separate subject.
Two, Judas' destructive disposition gave Satan a legal right before the Court of Heaven to possess him. In Luke 22:3-6, Satan entered Judas before the Last Supper (John 13:2 reiterates this). In John 13:27, Satan entered him during the Last Supper, after he accepted the dinner bread from Jesus. In John 6:70,71, Jesus said "one of you is a devil", indicating Satan had entered Judas numerous times. Putting all these verses together, the picture we see is that of Satan regularly visiting Judas with possession and grooming him with a conspiracy to betray, murder, destroy--something he already wanted to do deep down.
Satan was smart enough to see Jesus was preparing the Twelve to launch something really, really big. He has been around for ages and knows God's habits. What, then, was Satan's counterplan? He conspired to destroy all twelve before they could launch, in the same way he tries to abort and destroy all of God's major plans before they can launch: Adam before he could leave the Garden to subdue and rule the earth, Joseph before his rulership dreams could be fulfilled, Israel before she could leave Egypt, all the baby boys in greater Bethlehem before they could become the Messiah, etc.
And so the Arch-Destroyer, Satan, wanted the Eleven to be arrested and killed for spiritual reasons, while the son of destroying, Judas, wanted the Eleven to be arrested and killed for sociopathic psychological reasons. But Jesus guarded all that the Father gave to Him and "none of them was destroyed" (Jn 17:12 YLT), He "lost not one" (18:9 ESV) to Satan and Judas' co-conspiracy to destroy them all.
John 17:12, "That the Scripture May Be Fulfilled"
Once more, John 17:12 says (Young's Literal Translation, underline mine), ...those whom Thou hast given to me I did guard, and none of them was destroyed, except the son of the destruction, that the Writing may be fulfilled.
What exact Scripture fulfillment is Jesus referring to here? That He guarded the Eleven so that none of them was destroyed? Or that the son of destroying was himself destroyed? Peter tells us precisely in Acts 1:20 (NKJV): For it is written in the Book of Psalms: "Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it"; and, "Let another take his office."
The answer: that the Scripture may be fulfilled pertaining to the son of destroying himself being destroyed. Peter's two quotations explain. The first quotation, Judas' house becoming desolate and empty, is Psalm 69:25. The second quotation, Judas forfeiting his apostolic office to someone else, is Psalm 109:8. Both prophetic Writings were fulfilled as a result of the son of destruction's death.
As you can see, the phrase "that the Scripture may be fulfilled" has absolutely nothing to do with salvation or heaven or hell, but rather, Judas' desolate house and forfeited apostolic office.
God Chose the Church
This aspect of God's choosing is covered extensively in Chapter 7, please refer there.
Election to Honorable Use, Election to Dishonorable Use
Romans 9:21 (ESV, underline mine): Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
2Timothy 2:20,21 (ESV, underline mine): Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
These two immeasurably rich passages tell us the Potter, God, chooses some individuals or groups from a lump for an honorable use and chooses others for a dishonorable use.
Election to Honorable Use
An individual or group chosen to an honorable use is fairly self-explanatory. Think of how the Lord elected Cyrus and subsequent Medo-Persian kings for an honorable use: to show kindness to Judah, allowing the exiles to return to their homeland, rebuild Jerusalem and the temple with imperial financial help, and revive their religion and culture (Ezr 1:1-3, Isa 44:28). Think also of how the Lord chose Paul to be a spiritual blessing to so many people. You and I today are still being blessed by Paul's honorable use in God's hands. The Lord chose the Twelve (Eleven) for this same honorable use ministerially (Jn 15:16, Ac 10:41).
Regarding you and I and every born-again individual, God has chosen us for multiple honorable uses. However, if we do not walk intimately and obediently with Him every day, 2Timothy 2:20,21 say He will use us in a dishonorable way.
Consider first the honorable uses God has chosen us for. Ephesians 1:4 says (NKJV), ...He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself. God predetermined to have a family, an "us" ("He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world"). God predetermined the characteristics of that family ("that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love"). God predetermined how He would acquire that family ("having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself"). From before the world God predetermined honorable uses for us! To be His family, and, to have a godly morality and be in love with Him. See Chapter 7 for a detailed explanation of Ephesians 1:4.
Ephesians 2:10 says (NKJV), For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. He also chose us for the honorable use of a practical vocational assignment.
1Corinthians 2:7 says (KJV), But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory. He also chose us for the honorable use of supernatural intelligence, to be dispensers of heavenly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
These, and other honorable uses God has chosen for the born-again, are conditional. A person first has to say Yes to salvation to be in His family, to be in His "us". After salvation, we have to grow and persevere in intimacy and cooperation with Him to experience all the honorable uses He has in mind. This is what 2Timothy 2:21 says (ESV), Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
If we do not persevere in intimacy and cooperation with Him, God chooses to use us in a dishonorable way, as "a vessel of wood and clay" instead of "a vessel of gold and silver", as verse 20 describes it. What does this mean?
Election to Dishonorable Use
An individual or group chosen to a dishonorable use is fairly self-explanatory also. Think of how God uses certain individuals, groups, and nations as instruments of judgment, negativity, correction, humbling, and so on.
Consider the Pharaoh God used to not let Israel go. Why did God use him in that dishonorable way? One, so He could display ten miraculous plagues and spread word of Himself and Israel to the Canaanites (Jsh 2:8-11), whom they would later have to conquer and dispossess. Two, to punish and decimate the empire that enslaved Israel.
Is it fair God chose that particular Pharaoh for that dishonorable use? God chose him because he was already oppositional and abusive to Israel. He was already a tyrant and ruthless slaver to Israel. He was already a person deserving punishment. God took the savage beast he already was and harnessed him for a practical purpose.
For his hedonism and idolatry, King Solomon experienced vexing opposition from three individuals God selected and deployed: Hadad the Edomite (1Ki 11:14), Rezon king of Syria (v23), and Jeroboam the Ephraimite (v26). God selected them for the dishonorable purpose of punishing and correcting Solomon.
In the above section on Judas Iscariot, we discussed the profoundly dishonorable purpose God harnessed him for.
Lest we get puffed up with pride and elitism, Paul warns every Christian against becoming a vessel God is forced to use in a dishonorable way. 2Timothy 2:20,21 (ESV): Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
Election in Romans 9
How do we understand election in Romans 9? Let us walk through the chapter section by section, verse by verse.
The Context: Israel (v1-5)
Verses 1-5 establish the context: ethnic Israel. The context is not about anybody and everybody. If you do not get this right from the start you will wander off into Calvinism fantasyland as the chapter develops conceptually.
The Bifurcation: Ethnic Israel vs Believing Israel (v6-8)
In verses 6-8, a bifurcation of Israel is clarified: (1) ethnic Israel and (2) believing Israel. This bifurcation is articulated in verses 6 and 7 (NIV): ...For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children... Paul is distinguishing between ethnic Israel ("descended from Israel...his descendants") and believing Israel ("are Israel...Abraham's children"). Paul presents the same bifurcation in 2:28,29 and 4:12, showing us he had this topic in mind long before chapter 9.
God's Sovereign Selection of Servers, Part I (v9-13)
Jacob vs Esau
In verses 9-13, Paul's teaching line shifts to individuals. Beginning with Sarah, he writes, God began choosing and calling specific individuals to serve that two-dimensional Israel. The most important of those individuals were entrusted with the oracles or words of God, to be the human custodians of His plan. An honorable service or use indeed. Paul says this in general language in verses 4 and 5, and also in 3:2, but here in verses 9-13 he mentions specific individuals elected and called for this service. He begins to mention other services to Israel also.
In verse 9, Paul says God chose Isaac instead of Ishmael to be the custodian of His plan. In verses 10-13, he says God chose Jacob instead of Esau to be the custodian of His plan, and in verse 12 he says God chose Esau to serve or submit to Jacob's leadership because of that custodial choice. In verse 11, he says God selected Jacob unconditionally for this service, in the same way God unconditionally selected for all of us how He wanted us to serve His kingdom. Think of Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 1:15,16, Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16, and other scriptures that tell us God has a preplanned vocational destiny for each of us.
Verses 11 and 12 are not about the individual salvation of Jacob and Esau; there is absolutely nothing stated therein about eternal salvation or eternal lostness. Remember the warning about hardline predestinarians smuggling in words and ideas that are not explicitly in the Text. Verses 11 and 12 are about the practical service God prepared beforehand that Jacob would walk in (custodianship of God's plan) and the practical service God prepared beforehand that Esau would walk in (serve and submit to Jacob's leadership).
In verse 13, Paul quotes God as saying, "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated" (from Malachi 1:2,3). It is a sad tragedy what absolute predestinarians have done to this simple figure of speech. When Jesus said we cannot follow Him unless we "hate" our parents, spouse, children, and entire lives (Lk 14:26), or when God saw that Leah was "hated" (Gen 29:31 YLT; the Hebrew is "hate"), did He mean hate in the literal sense of viscerally abhorring? Of course not. That would contradict a million scriptures about loving all others (Mk 12:31, 1Co 13), honoring parents (Mk 7:9-12, Eph 6:1-3), providing for one's own household (1Ti 5:8), and actually loving life (Ps 34:12, 1Pet 3:10). You reading this probably have the common sense to know the Lord was using a hyperbole, a cultural hyperbole, a poetic hyperbole, a figure of speech. Jesus was saying our love and zeal for Him could have no competitors whatsoever, no close seconds, not even distant seconds. Genesis was saying Jacob desired Rachel over Leah with that much of a qualitative and quantitative difference.
When God said in Malachi 1:2,3 that He loved Jacob and hated Esau, He was speaking hyperbolically and poetically: He "loved" Jacob for the job of curating His plan, but He "hated" Esau for that particular job. Esau had a different God-given job: serve his younger brother Jacob and submit to his leadership and custodial role in God's plan (Gen 25:23, Ro 9:12).
God's Sovereign Selection of Servers, Part II (v14-18)
Mercy vs Hardening
Is that fair? Is it fair that the firstborn older brother serve and submit to the younger brother? The firstborn was supposed to get all the inheritance rights and leadership blessings. Is it fair that Esau was snubbed and relegated like that, before the two boys were even born and had done anything good or bad? This is the prolepsis Paul presents in verse 14.
In verses 15-18, Paul presents God's sovereign right to choose whomever He wants for an honorable or attractive service ("He has mercy on whomever He wills", i.e., Isaac, Jacob, etc.) and to choose whomever He wants for a dishonorable or unattractive service ("He hardens whomever He wills", i.e., Ishmael, Esau, Pharaoh, etc.). Remember, ever since the opening verses of Romans 9, the context has been Israel, two-dimensional Israel, and the practical administration of God's plan through the Abrahamic family. There is no discussion, no wording whatsoever, about individual salvation or lostness or heaven or hell. The discussion emerging out of the established context is God's sovereign right to use who He wants for an honorable use (He "mercys" them to do it) and a dishonorable or unattractive use (He hardens them to do it). The honorable/dishonorable use language is forthcoming in verse 21.
Paul never once says or implies "mercy" means born-again and "harden" means unsaved. Absolute predeterminists smuggle and force those false equivalents into the Text. Beware and be aware!
God's Sovereign Selection of Servers, Part III (v19-21)
Honorable Use vs Dishonorable Use
Can Ishmael and his descendants complain to God that their preordained service is unfair and dishonorable? That service: to be "a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand will be against him; and he will live in defiance of all his brothers" (Gen 16:12 NASB). This does not mean an individual Ishmaelite cannot be born-again and enjoy personal transformation in Christ, it simply means the Ishmaelites, in general, would play a combative role towards Israel in the plan of God.
Can Esau and his descendants complain to God that their preordained service is unfair? That service: to serve and submit to Jacob/Israel (Gen 25:23, Ro 9:12). This does not mean an individual Edomite cannot be born-again and enjoy personal transformation in Christ, it simply means the Edomites as a group would have a weaker and subservient role to Israel in the plan of God.
Can Pharaoh complain to God that his preordained service is unfair? That service: to oppose the Exodus so, one, God could display ten miraculous plagues and spread word of Himself and Israel to the Canaanites (Jsh 2:8-11), whom they would later have to conquer and dispossess, and two, so God could punish and decimate the empire that enslaved Israel. (There is evidence to believe Pharaoh could not be saved because God gave him over permanently to a reprobate mind sometime during the Exodus drama.)
Can Ishmael, Esau, Pharaoh, you, I, or anyone complain that God's preselected practical roles for us are unfair? This is the prolepsis Paul presents in verses 19 and 20. Just because God does not handpick one individual for heaven and another individual for hell does not mean He also restrains His sovereignty in selecting earthly jobs for individuals and groups. In Romans 9, specifically here in these verses on God's sovereignty, we see Him proactively choosing practical roles for individuals and groups, some for "honorable use" and some for "dishonorable use" (v21 ESV), as we have much-discussed already.
God's Sovereign Selection of Servers, Part IV (v22-24)
Vessels of Wrath vs Vessels of Mercy
Finally, in verses 22-24, Paul gives his fourth and final explanation on God's sovereign selection of servers and roles in His plan regarding Israel. He contrasts "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction" with "vessels of kindness prepared for glory" (Young's Literal Translation). By understanding Romans 9 as one unified context and message, we can see the "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction" are conceptually in the same category as Ishmael (v9), Esau (v10-13), those hardened (v18), and the vessels of dishonorable use (v21). By understanding Romans 9 as one unified context and message, we also see the "vessels of kindness prepared for glory" are conceptually in the same category as Isaac (v9), Jacob (v10-13), those mercy-ed (v18), and the vessels of honorable use (v21).
Are these statements about election to heaven or hell, salvation or lostness? If it is about the practical role an individual or group plays in God's plan, why such drastic language?
Vessels of Wrath Fitted for Destruction
9:22 (Young's Literal Translation): And if God, willing to shew the wrath and to make known His power, did endure, in much long suffering, vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.
When reading "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction", some Bible readers assume the vessel is the recipient of the wrath and destruction mentioned (i.e., the person is fitted for hell). This is not correct for multiple reasons. One, it does not harmonize with the context, which is about ethnic Israel from the opening verses (it is not about anybody and everybody), two, it does not harmonize with the exclusively Israelite history presented in the chapter (Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Pharaoh, the Potter metaphor, etc.), and three, it does not harmonize with the subcontext in most of the chapter, which is about servers and roles in God's plan.
The "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction" are individuals and groups God hardens with wrath against Israel, fitted to cause destruction against Israel for her constant disobedience and idolatry. The vessels are not the recipients of wrath and destruction, but the carriers of wrath and destruction towards Israel. A vessel carries something from one location to another. In this case, the vessels carry wrath and destruction from God to Israel.
When Israel forgot Yahweh for Baal and Ashtoreth, the vessel of wrath fitted to cause destruction was Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia (Jdg 3:7,8). When Israel again did evil in the sight of Yahweh, the vessels of wrath fitted to cause destruction were Eglon king of Moab, the Ammonites, and the Amalekites (v12,13). When Solomon and his administration became hedonistic and idolatrous, the vessels of wrath fitted to destroy were Hadad the Edomite (1Ki 11:14), Rezon king of Syria (v23), and Jeroboam the Ephraimite (v26). Do you know any other vessels hardened with God's wrath to bring destruction on Israel? Sargon II and Assyria. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Seleucia. Vespasian, Titus, and Rome.
Romans 9's context thus far is about Israel and servers and roles in God's plan pertaining to Israel. The "vessels of wrath fitted to destruction" have nothing to do with individuals preselected to burn in hell so God can flex His cosmic ego. It is about God's consistent wrath towards Israel because of her consistent idolatry, and therefore, individuals and nations God selected, hardened, fitted, and deployed to administer destruction on her. It is rebellious Israel that needed demonstrations of His corrective wrath and power.
Why, then, does Paul say God endured patiently the vessels of wrath? Because God did not want to use them! He did not willingly afflict His people (Lam 3:33), He has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked (Eze 18:23, 33:11). He patiently endured, then, the unwanted project of selecting, hardening, fitting, and deploying these vessels against His people. But He needed to demonstrate His corrective wrath and power to Israel, so He bore with great patience the unwanted project of selecting, hardening, fitting, and deploying these vessels of wrath.
Vessels of Mercy & Glory
9:23,24 (Berean Literal Bible): that He might also make known the riches of His glory upon the vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He has called not only out from the Jews, but also out from the Gentiles?
When reading about these vessels of mercy and glory, some Bible readers assume the vessel is the recipient of the mercy and glory mentioned (i.e., the person is chosen for heaven). This is not correct for the same reasons already mentioned. It does not harmonize with the context, which is about ethnic Israel from the opening verses (it is not about anybody and everybody), it does not harmonize with the exclusively Israelite history presented in the chapter (Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Pharaoh, the Potter metaphor, etc.), and it does not harmonize with the subcontext in most of the chapter, which is about servers and roles in God's plan. The vessels of mercy and glory are individuals and groups God uses to bring His mercy and glory to Israel, like Moses, the faithful Levites, the faithful judges, the faithful prophets, and the faithful kings. And in verse 24, he includes the apostles, Jewish Christians, and Gentile Christians. Paul is saying, in effect, we--the apostles, Jewish Christians, and Gentile Christians--are the latest in a long line of vessels carrying the riches of His glory to make known to Israel.
A vessel carries something from one location to another. In this case, the vessels carry mercy and glory to Israel. Will she listen? Will she accept the revelation of mercy and glory coming through the apostles, Jewish Christians, and Gentile Christians to her? Paul answers that in verse 27 (NIV): Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved." Paul comes full circle and restates what he said at the beginning of the chapter: there is ethnic Israel, numerous like sand by the sea, and there is believing Israel, the saved remnant.
Summary, Election in Romans 9
Is Romans 9 about unconditional election to individual salvation or individual lostness? Not at all. Not even close. Such an opinion does not harmonize with the context, which is about ethnic Israel from the opening verses; it is not about anybody and everybody. It does not harmonize with the exclusively Israelite history presented in the chapter (Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Pharaoh, the Potter metaphor, etc.). It does not harmonize with the subcontext in most of the chapter, which is about servers and roles in God's plan.
Elected & Appointed to Hell?
Are some individuals unconditionally elected and appointed to go to hell? Of course the answer is No, however, some Bible studiers struggle to understand certain scriptures that seem to indicate they are. Those verses are Romans 9:22, Proverbs 16:4, 1Peter 2:8, and Jude 1:4. These and other verses using the term "appointed" will be addressed in Chapter 9, which I have entitled, Appointed?