We humans have the capacity to make plans. Sometimes our plans work out just as we planned, but at other times they fall through. We may have to adjust our plans or just give up on them altogether. The problem is exacerbated in that our plans frequently collide with the plans of other people. Life can get messy. But it is a comfort to know that though life often seems random, unordered and unplanned, God does have a plan. His plan was from the foundation of the world. God always acts according to his plan. His plan will come to reality. The plan of God is spoken about explicitly in many places in the Bible, but is also implicitly part of the fabric of the entire story. It is the assumption of the message of every biblical writer. Everything happens by the plan of God. So, when we are reading any passage in the Bible it is important to consider how it relates to the plan of God. If we bring together all the biblical teaching about the plan of God we will see that God’s plan consists of three phases and five great truths.
The three phases of the plan of God stretch out over the entire Bible and over all its history. The three phases relate to God’s plan and work to save a people for himself. The three phases of God’s plan are: (1) Salvation Promised (Genesis – Malachi), (2) Salvation Provided (Matthew – John), (3) Salvation Proclaimed (Acts – Revelation).
The Old Testament (OT) deals with the promises of God to provide salvation for his people. The promises of God for salvation come through the covenants. God first promises Abraham a land, seed and blessing. The land is the environment in which God works out his promises for the salvation for his people. The Lord also promised Abraham seed, descendants that would be vast in number. He would be the father of a multitude of nations. The primary people, though, would be the covenant nation Israel. From the covenant people Israel would come the single seed Christ (Galatians 3:16). Finally, the Lord promised Abraham blessing. He promised that in him, Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3). This promise of blessing finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8). The rest of the OT works out the partial fulfillment of these promises with a great expectation of a future complete fulfillment in the promised Messiah.
The second phase of God’s plan is salvation provided. All the promises of God in the OT are finally focused in the NT gospels on one person, Jesus Christ. The promise of God is that he would provide salvation for his people. He kept all his promises in the provision of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ who will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21-23). The tension in the story of the Bible was growing throughout the OT. The promises of God concerning Messiah were increasing. When will the promises be realized in the Promised One? This pent-up expectation was finally released in the coming of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One can feel the dam-burst of emotion as the people rush out to John the Baptist and then to Jesus in vast numbers. The Messiah is here! Salvation is provided! But the provision of salvation is not just in the Messiah coming, but in his perfect life, his death on the cross for the atonement of sin and his resurrection from the dead. Salvation is provided!
Once the promised salvation is provided through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the third phase of God’s plan comes into play. This is salvation proclaimed. The mission of the Church to proclaim the gospel is center stage throughout the rest of the NT. God has provided salvation, so it is imperative that the message of the gospel of salvation be proclaimed. The resurrected Jesus commissioned his disciples to go make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). They are to take the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus promised that when the gospel of the kingdom was proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). The plan of God will be complete.
Five Great Truths
The plan of God in its three phases is worked out in five great truths. The Bible is filled with many wonderful truths about God, people and the salvation God provides. If we gather all those truths together to understand the central message of the Bible we will find five great truths that reveal God’s amazing love for broken, fallen sinners.
(1) God’s eternal plan is the redemption of his people through the person and work of Jesus Christ. This plan, as we’ve seen, is worked out through the three phases of the plan. The focus of the plan of God is on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The eternal Word of God, the second member of the holy Trinity, became a human person. God was born into a poor Jewish family. He lived a perfectly righteous life. He loved God and people with a profound and unprecedented love. He loved people so much that he told them the uncompromising truth. He loved the Father with a total commitment to his plan of salvation. For these things he was crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities. But this was the way God provided salvation for the world. Three days later Jesus rose from the dead.
(2) God is working out all things according to his eternal plan and for his glory. Before Jesus was born God was working all of human history toward the fulfillment of his plan in the coming of the Messiah-Savior (Acts 2:23-24; 4: 27-28). After the life of Jesus in which salvation was provided, God is working all human history toward the consummation of his plan in the second coming of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7-12). Everything that happens is ultimately working together for the good of God’s people (Romans 8:28).
(3) There is a spiritual conflict that rages between the devil and his angels and the people of God throughout human history. The devil seeks to destroy or distort the plan of God. Though it often looks as though he were winning, his defeat was rendered sure through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Though the victory is sure, believers in Jesus Christ must engage in the battle every day. Daily victory is secured by the truth of the word of God, a growing prayer relationship with God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
(4) God calls all believers to be on mission with him in the work of redemption. God’s plan of salvation includes the message of salvation coming to people through other people who have already embraced the message. The message is the gospel. The gospel is the love of God expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The message must be widely disseminated.
(5) Believers are on mission with God by following Jesus and growing in grace. The way God’s people are faithful in their mission is by following their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus was faithful in the mission the Father gave him. Followers of Jesus must be faithful in the mission Jesus has given them. Spiritual growth leads to faithfulness. Spiritual growth is more like oak trees than weeds. The growth takes longer, but the plant is stronger. Every believer has a vital part to play in God’s eternal plan.
Together, the two parts of the plan of God, its three phases and its five great truths, form another vital key in unlocking the treasures of the Bible. One cannot understand the meaning of life without seeing it through the lens of the plan of God. It pays to think long and hard about this important biblical key. The effort will be richly rewarded with insight and intimacy with God.