Before the Foundation of the World

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 ESV)

Jesus uses an interesting term as he nears the end of his great prayer as recorded by John.  The word “foundation” [καταβολή for Greek studs] is used eleven times in the New Testament and ten other times it is connected with “the world.”  When we think through how the expression “the foundation of the world” is used in the New Testament, we discover some baffling facts that the biblical writers [indeed, Jesus himself] do not seem to be bothered by in the least.

  • All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”” (Matthew 13:34–35, ESV) – Part of Jesus’ purpose was to utter “what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”  This is all the more baffling because he spoke in such a way that the crowd, for the most part, did not really understand what he was saying.  Why?
  • Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:34, ESV) – This is from the parable of the sheep and the goats and the baffling, wonderful, amazing thing is that the kingdom of heaven/God has been “prepared from the foundation of the world.”  We are forced to conclude that God knew what was going to happen before he even created the world, from Adam to sin to the fall to redemption to salvation to glory forever with him.  How does that all fit with humans making free choices?  I haven’t a clue, dear reader.
  • Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,” (Luke 11:49–50, ESV) – Somehow the blood of all the prophets was “shed from the foundation of the world,” in other words their blood was shed before it was shed.  Wrap your brain around that fact if you can, dear reader.
  • even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:4, ESV) – We were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world.”  Ouch!  That’s a little painful to my pride which has convinced me that I was smart enough to understand that I needed Jesus all by myself.  The event was done–he chose! [notice who did the choosing]–before any of us were actual, you know, human souls.
  • For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” (Hebrews 4:3, ESV) – He, as in Jesus, his works, as in his death and resurrection for us because we were sinners and in desperate need. All of it. “Finished from the foundation of the world.”  How?  Search me.  What strikes me is how unbothered the writer to the Hebrews seems when he states this startling fact.  Surely his conception of God and his work differed fundamentally from our human perspective.
  • Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 13:7–8, ESV) – “Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life” will worship the Beast of Revelation.  Which obviously means that those who are believers have had their names written in the book of life before the foundation of the world. Apparently, John did not realize how bad this statement would look to Arminians and those of us who wrestle with predestination and election, which if we are honest is all of us.  Again, this seems to bother John not in the least.

In summation, there is a lot of stuff that has happened from the foundation of the world that I do not understand and the Bible does not really explain.  The biblical writers seem to be content to just state the fact as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, which it appears to have been, at least to them.

This is all a good example of how the Hebrew mindset was so much different from the linear, rational thought that we have inherited from the Greeks.  The Hebrews did not mind nuance and apparent contradiction, they embraced it.  We “kick against the pricks” as it were, because it does not make sense in the linear, rational framework that we assume is the only way of approaching truth.  It is not.

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