Whenever you hear the word “predestined,” it’s essential to ask the user to define the term. Some people understand it concerning a person’s life is predetermined by God. This would remove any personal accountability, or it should, from the person’s actions. After all, God predetermined it, so why should we pay for it? I believe Romans 8:29 gives us a clearer picture of predestination than anything. 

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (NKJV)

Alternate translations are also helpful. 

Because those he knew in advance he then marked out in advance as being in conformity to the image of his Son, so that he might be firstborn among many brothers. (DBH trans.)

Those foreknew, you see, he also marked out in advance to be shaped according to the model of the image of his son, so that he might be the firstborn of a large family (NTW trans.)

Both David Bentley Hart and N. T. Wright substitute “marked out in advance” for “predestined.” The Greek term proorizo is elsewhere translated as “determined before” (Acts 4:28) and “ordained before” (1 Cor. 2:7). “Marked out in advance” is a suitable translation because it leaves out the element of “destiny.” 

Nevertheless, the order of the passage places God’s foreknowledge at the beginning. This speaks to God’s omniscience at the front of what follows (cf. 1 John 3:20; Heb. 4:13; Is. 49:9–10). Just because God knows ahead of time doesn’t mean that He causes the outcome. He can work within it, but He doesn’t drive it. Some may think it a contradiction that God knows everything ahead of time because then we reflect on passages where God is said to have repented, regretted, or even changed His mind. The former two seem as if He was caught off guard by what occurred and, therefore, regretted it (cf. Gen. 6:6–7; 1 Sam. 15:10–11). I believe the biblical authors meant to convey that God can lament a situation despite knowing about it ahead of time. People whose loved ones are dying do all they can to prepare for the inevitable, but they still cry when the loved one passes away. They knew it was coming, but that fact doesn’t halt the emotion they feel upon its actual happening. When we study passages that say that God changed His mind (Exod. 32:14; 2 Sam. 24:15–16), we are forced to grapple with passages that speak of His unchanging nature (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6). Once more, the authors aren’t conveying that God didn’t know something but that He knew at what point He would change. These are not contradicting premises. 

Because God foreknows, He “predestines” it to be. For those of us who are Christians, God knew we’d be amenable to the gospel. Because of this foreknowledge, He determined that we would be conformed to the image of His Son. Our volition hasn’t been violated, and God hasn’t determined ahead of time that we would obey. He just knew it would happen, so He set things in motion to accomplish what He knew would occur (Rom. 8:30). I contend that predestination should be understood through the paradigm of God’s foreknowledge. We omit God’s foreknowledge if we don’t read it this way and take Ephesians 1:5, 11 as the paradigm. Paul wrote that God “chose” (v. 4) us and “purposed” (v. 9, cf. 11), which one could understand as Calvinists do. A synthesis of both passages is vital and should be understood together.

When the Kingdom of God Encounters Legal Trouble

In the New Testament, we read about something that isn’t present in the Old Testament—the Sanhedrin. This council became the governing body of the Jews after the Babylonians destroyed the monarchy and subsequent exile. Though Israel had a king in the New Testament, he did the bidding of Rome, and it’s clear that Israel didn’t respect his authority given that entanglement. The Sanhedrin grew during the Hasmonean dynasty when they revolted against the Greeks to preserve their religion and identity as God’s people in a period often referred to as Intertestamental. This dynasty of priests recruited legal experts and priests—the former usually being Pharisees and the latter Sadducees. The Sanhedrin consisted of seventy men who were religious and civil authorities. They oversaw the temple and carried out religious duties. They also were a policing force as well as a court of law. Peter and John drew legal trouble for preaching Jesus as Christ (Acts 4:1–3). When they addressed the Sanhedrin, they boldly proclaimed Jesus (Acts 4:8–12). The body attempted to stop them, but they appealed to God as the standard of what they would do (Acts 4:18–21). 

This is how power works. Power corners the market on authority. The authority they had was a responsibility to a nation, and anyone who dared threaten that stability was an enemy. Because they ordered them not to speak in Jesus’ name, they set the stage to punish them if they broke that command. Power issues edicts followed by threats. Why? Because they’re authoritarian and demand to be obeyed. Jesus and the Kingdom’s manner is a threat to how they operate (Acts 4:23–30) because His ways threaten to upset the order by robbing authorities of their power. This was why He was crucified. The Jews offered up Jesus to maintain their standing with the Romans (cf. John 11:49–52), and the Romans crucified Jesus to keep the peace among the Jews. None of what Jewish leaders did stopped the movement Jesus began. However, the attention the Way received was of concern to many (cf. Acts 5:13). Peter and John were arrested a second time and, subsequently, beaten (Acts 5:40). Yet, the Sanhedrin knew that the tide was turning against them (cf. Acts 5:26).  

Notice the players: two former fishermen against highly educated holy men. Luke even points this much out (Acts 4:13). The leaders were astonished because they were “uneducated” and “untrained” (idiotes). The Kingdom of God doesn’t rely on credentials. Nor does it depend on someone having civil power. When a person has that kind of power, it doesn’t necessarily mean serving God. They can, but God doesn’t rely on that. If He did, we wouldn’t see His power but think it’s in our hands. So instead, He worked through them despite not having religious or civil authority. That’s the Kingdom of God. No seeking of esteem or grandeur. Just simple people allowing God to use them.

A Different Kind of King

We all know that Herod was king of Israel when Jesus was crucified, but what may elude us is that all kings of Israel, from the return from exile to that date, were puppets of the ruling power. The last actual king was Zedekiah: “Then they [the Babylonians] killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7). Jews returned to Jerusalem under the authority of the Persians. Then, they were ruled by the Greeks, and in Jesus’ day, the Romans. All of the prophecies about a king that would come to rule Israel were held tightly by the nation, but they expected a mighty warrior who’d raise the armies of God and conquer the occupiers. That wasn’t what God had in mind. 

When we read the gospels, Jesus never ascribed the title “Messiah” to Himself. In the first centuries BCE and CE, many figures bore that title. They were militaristic and often led insurrections only to be quashed by the ruling power (cf. Acts 5:36-37; 21:38). Israel wanted their Messiah to be the type of king that succeeded in this venture. He would liberate Israel from Gentile rule. The nation would be exalted on the world stage once more and returned to its former glory of the days of David. Jesus, however, preferred the title “Son of Man” (Dan. 7:13). He likely avoided the title Messiah due to the way it had been used. 

The Roman Empire, and preceding republic, often granted triumphs. It was a religious and civil ceremony where a successful military leader, likely a general, was publicly celebrated and sanctified. On the day of his triumph, he wore special attire that identified him as a near-divine or near-kingly figure. Often, his face was painted red as an imitation of Rome’s highest god, Jupiter (Zeus). Then, he rode a four-hour chariot through the streets of Rome with his army, captives, and any spoils of war. He’d then conclude by offering sacrifice to Jupiter. Jesus had a triumph of His own wherein He was acknowledged as King (John 12:13; cf. Mark 11:9-10). 

Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the week He was crucified worried the religious leaders. Subsequently, they sought His death (cf. John 18:14). However, it’s necessary to note that Pilate did not constantly live in Jerusalem or thereabouts. He would arrive in the city in a procession akin to a stately or royal procession before the high holiday of the Jews. Therefore, King Jesus’ triumph followed Pontius Pilate’s grandiose arrival. While on trial, Jesus and Pilate had a discussion revolving around Jesus being called a King (John 18:33-37). Jesus sets His kingdom apart from earthly kingdoms. Warfare is the modus operandi for earthly kingdoms, but Jesus’ kingdom isn’t from the world. Not only is His kingdom different in origin, but it’s also different in kind. 

Jesus was crowned, not with gold, but with thorns. He was robed, not with regal majesty, but mockery. He wasn’t bowed to but struck by the hands of Roman soldiers (John 19:2-3). What sort of kingship is Jesus’? It’s self-sacrificial love. It’s service and suffering. It isn’t the seeking of power or the use of military might. As Christians, do we belong to this kingdom, or are we so entrenched in politics that we fail to live the lives of citizens of heaven? 

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