The baby of Christmas became the young man of Good Friday and if we had known God we would not have been astonished at either one.
Peter speaks of the sacrificed Jesus as foreknown from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:18-19) and John speaks of Christ as having been slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). What does that mean? It might mean no more than that the death of Christ was purposed right from the beginning. I’m sure that’s involved and in those verses that might be all the writers had in mind; but in light of the whole biblical witness I think that’s only part of the truth. Something lies behind the purpose!
The biblical Story assures us that because God is what He is, the cross was inevitable because it was built into His character. Out of sheer holy, joy-filled life God created the human family, wanting for it holy, joy-filled life with Him and on the understanding that humanity would choose to rebel He inevitably moved to redeem it.
His free and sovereign choice to redeem us arose and arises from the heart and character that is God’s own choosing. No law commanded Him for He is subject to nothing and no one. What He is, is holy, by an eternal choosing, and because He is what He is and chooses to be what He is, it was inevitable that He would come to our rescue. And that is what John meant when he speaks of Christ having been slain since the foundation of the world.
That’s what Peter meant when he says that the sacrifice of Christ was foreknown from the foundation of the world. That’s what Paul was declaring in the “hymn” of Philippians 2:5-11 when he said that the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ (John 1:14) didn’t think that His equality with God was to be spent to His own advantage. In light of how He saw His own Godhood He emptied Himself (that is, chose incarnation, servanthood, obedience and death as a rebel against the world powers). He did not empty Himself of Himself; that could not be! God cannot cease to be God but if He had ceased to be God in “emptying” Himself then it would not have been God that was revealed in Jesus Christ. Had He emptied Himself of Himself then what He revealed would not have been Himself. No, His self-revelation, spoken of as “emptying” Himself was His hiding His glory by becoming a human and sharing “the human condition” as a human, gladly obeying, suffering and dying. But the God who became flesh was and is fully God and not less than fully God. It was the omnipotent, omniscient and limitless God who was ceaselessly choosing to be that limited man Jesus of Nazareth.
When eternal holy love meets sinners it is destined to suffer on their behalf. This is not God’s fate, it is God’s eternal choosing. Had we known Him leading up to creation, as we now know Him in Jesus Christ, we would have known that when He created He was making a cross on which to die. The deed (as it were) was done because the character of the God shown to us in Jesus Christ was eternally present and the cross was the historical revelation of it.
God didn’t change at the cross. He didn’t become someone else. He wasn’t slumming. The Hebrew writer is right. If you have really been to Calvary, if you’ve seen it and know it and are sure of it, you’ll know that this wasn’t a passing mood with God. It’s His unchanging mind toward us and not something outside of God’s “ordinary mode of life.” The cross (that is, His self-giving heart and way) wasn’t something He turned to in one supreme effort, something He steeled Himself for, before going back to a lower and more self-absorbed mode of being. Once you know Him, truly know Him, you know Him forever for He doesn’t change! He is the same yesterday, today and forever. That’s part of what the Holy Scripture means when it says the one we know as Jesus was crucified before the world began.
But the Truth doesn’t end there. Because He is what He is and loves what He loves and purposes what He purposed He was resurrected before the world began for He not only died for us before the world began He lived for us before it began.
(Holy One, what are we to say? Sometimes in your presence we simply stand speechless. Most of the time we fumble with words because we can’t keep silent and because you are yet an “unknown God”. We know enough to know that because of your love for us that will be fully experienced in a coming day but revealed to us in Jesus Christ your limitless power is not a threat but an assurance. This prayer in Jesus our Lord.)