by Mark Knox
What follows is part of an ongoing series of articles that discuss places in Scripture where the sovereign plan and working of God are clearly seen to intersect with time. Rather than trying to fit these descriptions into a pre-determined theological understanding, I aim to let these revealed descriptions stand for themselves.
“…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” – Acts 2:23 ESV
Acts 2:23 contains one of the clearest expressions of God’s sovereign working in history, yet ascribes guilt and responsibility to those committing those actions. As we let this passage speak for itself, what exactly is being said?
- It was God’s eternal plan to deliver his Son Jesus to be crucified. “…according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” By pairing these two powerful nouns (“plan” and “foreknowledge”), we know that the writer is not referring to a simple fore-seeing by God of what will take place, but is referencing his sovereign plan and determination of what will take place. This comes out clearly in other places in the book of Acts as well, notably 4:28.
- Those who, in time, committed these acts are held as responsible and guilty for them. “this Jesus…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” This is an indictment on both the Jews (represented by their leaders) and the Roman authorities (“lawless men”). If you read the context in the early chapters of Acts, you will take note of this recurring theme in the Apostles’ preaching. It is highly accusatory, though not for the sake of stirring up guilt for guilt’s sake, but to bring them to the realization of their sin and Jesus’ status as the Anointed Messiah, so that they would repent and believe.
So then, this could lead us to a very perplexing question. How could a just God lay blame and pronounce judgment on men for an event that he pre-determined would happen?
What I find most interesting is that the passage doesn’t attempt to answer that question at all. It simply moves on with the narrative, leaving the tension unanswered.
And I think that is the key to how we should treat passages such as this. Let the Bible speak, even as it affirms truths that are difficult for us to reconcile.
Later, Paul addresses this very question in the book of Romans, but even there, does not give an intellectually reconciling answer. After a discussion on the electing choice of God, he raises this objection,
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault (human responsibility)? For who can resist his will (human choice)?’”
And then notice Paul’s response to these questions:
“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” – Romans 9:19-20a
In other words, let God be God! The correct, humble response to tensions like this in Scripture is to let the Bible speak for itself. The fact that there is tension in our understanding should drive us to our knees in humble submission before the God whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours.