After three years of ministry, Jesus purposefully began moving toward Jerusalem in order that the plan of God could be fulfilled, namely to go to the cross. To put it another way, Jesus knew that His “hour had come” (John 13:1). The hour that was planned before the foundation of the world had finally arrived for Jesus. He knew that He was about to drink the “cup” of God’s wrath poured out on Him for sinners on the cross. As Jesus moves into the Garden of Gethsemane the morning of His arrest, the Apostle John makes a marvelous statement. In John 18:4, John writes, “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward.” John recognized that Jesus had a divine knowledge. The events that were about to happen to Jesus were not unknown to Him. Being God, Jesus knew the future. All the events that were about to happen to Him were predetermined in eternity past. Being in the eternal counsel with God, all the events that were about to happen to Him were established.
This foreknowledge of Jesus is revealed clearly in the Gospels. Matthew records for us that Jesus predicted the details of His trial, flogging, crucifixion and even resurrection. In fact, Jesus tells His disciples four times that He was going to Jerusalem and that the Son of Man would be “delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they [would] condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he [would] be raised on the third day” (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19, 26:1-2).
The classic theological position of God’s knowledge is that He is omniscient, that God is perfect in knowledge. The Apostle John says that God “knows all things” (1 John 3:20). Elihu said that God is the one “who is perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:16). So, this means that God knows Himself (1 Cor 2:10-11). It means that God knows everything that happens, and everything that is in existence (Heb 4:13). It also means that God knows the future, so that God can say, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient time things not yet done” (Is 46:9-10). Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6:8) and even knows the number of “hairs on your head” (Matt 10:30).
One of the most dangerous heresies of our day that has been developed in the late 20th and 21st century is a doctrine known as “Open Theism” (also known as Openness Theology” or even “Free Will Theology.”). Clark Pinnock was perhaps the movement’s leading advocate in the 1990’s. In short, Open Theism argues that “God’s foreknowledge of future events is limited and that God sometimes changes his mind in the face of unforeseen circumstances brought about by his creatures. They posit that God has left the future open; even he does not know the future exhaustively, because the future has not yet happened. Therefore, there is nothing about it that can be known” (“Is Open Theism Still a Factor 10 years after ETS vote”, Jeff Robinson, TGC. This is a great article.).
Open Theism can easily be refuted by simply examining what the Bible says about the true nature of God. To reject the classical position that God knows all things including all future events is a dangerous slippery slope that the evangelical Church must fight against. Open Theism undermines the sovereignty and majesty of God. The God of Open Theism is NOT the God of the Bible but a god of people’s own imagination. The theology of this false doctrine is an attempt to make God be more like man!
It should be noted that the doctrine of Open Theism makes several points that are attractive to the natural man. For example, advocates make it clear that a god who is participating in history appears to be more loving than a god who dictates history. It is easier to swallow an idea of a god who is interactive rather than determinative in this world. By being open or receptive to allowing human decisions and actions to contribute to how history unfolds, God is depicted as being more loving rather than providentially dictating history. Second, advocates of Open Theism believe that by limiting God’s knowledge, God is alleviated from being the one to blame for tragic events or even evil in the world. Again, in Open Theism, God appears more loving to humanity, because in His limited knowledge, God only reacts to evil with love and support, rather than being the one who actually causes tragic events.
It is a dangerous thing to stray away from the orthodox position of the Church concerning the nature of God unless there is ample evidence in Scripture to warrant such a radical shift. As evangelicals who are committed to the Word of God, we must never formulate a view of God that is simply from our imagination or what makes us feel good. Instead we must allow the Word of God to show us who and what God is like. The Open Theism position doesn’t stand the test of Scripture. Scripture is clear that God is sovereign and providentially in control of all things. Unlike the Deist position that believes God put the earth in motion and then set it aside to be governed by fate and chance, the orthodox position believes that “God sits in the heavens and does what He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Divine providence assumes that God is governing with wisdom, love and care for all things in the universe. The Scripture is clear that God is sovereignly in control of the universe as a whole (Ps 103:19), the physical world (Matt 5:45), the affairs of nations (Ps 66:7), human destiny (Acts 17:24-31, Gal 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of His people (Ps 4:8). The Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27) clearly defines the providence of God:
“The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.”
There are many stories in Scripture that point to the providence of God being worked out in history. Joseph clearly understood that all of the bad things that happened to him were being orchestrated by God (Genesis 50:15-21). Judas Iscariot is another example of the fulfillment of God’s plan (Luke 22:22, John 17:12). It is clear that God is working “all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).
Response: Guard & Glorify
What shall be our response to the fact that Jesus “knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward?” First, we must guard against allowing our hearts to gravitate to an aberrant theology that relegates God to manlike character. Be on guard and exercise extreme caution and discernment when you read books that may be popular even among so called Christians. Evil and suffering in the world are difficult questions to address, but changing our view of God is not the answer. Avoid books written by Open Theism advocates (Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice) who challenge the orthodox view of God.
Second, we must bask in the glory of our God, and the fact that He is in total control. We may not understand all of the details surrounding the providence of God and how God still allows us to make decisions in life. But we must surrender to God and allow Him to be God in the world. This is His world. And seeing what Scripture says about God should cause us to worship Him, just as Paul did at the end of Romans 11 when He wrote:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)