Election Texts - Part I
These passages are not listed in order of importance or clarity, but according to the order in which they appear in Scripture.
“At that time Jesus answered and said, "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. "Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matt. 11:25-27).
“At that time,” begins v. 25 of Matthew 11. At what time? Evidently, immediately following our Lord’s denunciation of the people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their calloused indifference to the presence and power of the Son of God in their midst (vv. 20-24). It would have been easy, even understandable, for Jesus to get discouraged “at that time.” After all, the very towns in which he was most well-known and performed his greatest miracles had treated him with utter apathy. They simply didn’t care. If ever there were a “time” for complaint, this was it. If ever there were a “time” for bitterness and resentment, this was it.
But instead, Jesus gives thanks! He praises the Father! He delights himself in the reassuring fact that God is sovereign, that all things are under divine control, and that nothing, not even the stubborn unbelief of men and women can frustrate His purposes. The world’s disdainful response was undoubtedly a source of pain to Jesus, but the Father’s sovereign purpose was a more than sufficient remedy. As Bruner has said,
“Somehow and somewhere, behind and above a discouraging world, stands a poised Father, completely in control and utterly unfrustrated. . . . To believe that human beings are the final arbiters of history is inevitably to become a whiner rather than a thanker” (430).
The “things” which the Father has “hidden” from some and “revealed” to others would probably include the significance of Jesus’ miracles (vv. 20-24), the content of his teaching, who Jesus is, and especially the knowledge of the Father himself (v. 27). “God’s mysterious sovereignty,” notes Hagner, “lies behind both belief and unbelief, yet without obviating the culpability of those who fail to believe” (318).
It is an important theological lesson for us to note that our Lord’s emphasis in vv. 25-27 on the sovereign initiative of God in both the giving and hiding of revelation does not eliminate or undermine the moral responsibility of people. Indeed, the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum will be held to a higher standard of accountability precisely because they had been given so much but had responded so little. And following this word concerning God’s sovereignty in vv. 25-27 there comes an appeal for faith in vv. 28-30.
The “wise and intelligent” are those who, if they had lived up to their reputation for being so learned, should have been the first to acknowledge who Jesus was. The “wise and intelligent” are the self-reliant who are convinced they have no need of divine wisdom. But Jesus isn’t excluding smart people from the kingdom. It isn’t intellectual power he condemns but intellectual pride. Thus “one is to think of the worldly wise, men of secular sophistication who, though sagacious in their own eyes and crafty in their own devices, are yet far from true wisdom” (Davies/Allison, 275). “Infants” or “babes” are those who humbly acknowledge their need for divine mercy.
Simply put, the knowledge of God isn’t the product of natural law or human logic or chance occurrence. Spiritual understanding doesn’t depend on human achievement or IQ or social status or political influence. Rather, it is the fruit of divine illumination.
Far from bemoaning or finding fault with the Father’s sovereign purpose, Jesus rejoiced. “Whatever pleases you, Father, pleases me!” Three incredible claims are made here by Jesus. First of all, Jesus claims to have absolute and universal authority (v. 27a). Second, he claims to have a special and altogether unique relationship with God the Father (v. 27b). See John 5:18; 10:30-31. To “know” is more than mental acquaintance; it is intimate relationship and deep spiritual communion.
But third, and most important for our purposes, Jesus claims that he alone can reveal the Father to others (v. 27c). “Just as the Son praises the Father for revealing and concealing according to his good pleasure (v. 26), so the Father has authorized the Son to reveal or not according to his will” (Carson, 277). Evidently, one of the “things” the Father has given to the Son is the authority to decide to whom the Father shall be revealed!
When the Father finally makes sense to us, when we come to know him truly, to the degree that we grasp something of his nature and will and ways, it is because the Son has graciously stooped to reveal him to us. Our knowledge of God does not come naturally. Neither is it ultimately the product of meticulous research or study. It certainly isn’t because we deserve it. It’s a gift from his Son. He and he alone is the mediator of the knowledge of God to mankind. See Mt. 16:17. If one is to know the Son the Father must reveal him. If one is to know the Father the Son must reveal him. It takes God to know God!
In conclusion I want to emphasize, as did Jesus, that saving knowledge of the Son and Father is dependent on their will. If the knowledge of Jesus is hidden from some but revealed to others it is because our sovereign God and Father, Lord of heaven and earth, found it pleasing to himself. Those from whom the truth was hidden cannot object, for God owes them nothing but judgment. Those to whom the truth was made known cannot boast of their knowledge, for they no more deserved to receive this gift than those from whom it was withheld.
Furthermore, if it is the Father’s sovereign right to reveal or conceal as he pleases, so also is the Son authorized to reveal or conceal according to his will. God is indebted to none. He bestows knowledge to whomever he pleases, while others are left to that spiritual ignorance which they deserve and in which they delight (2 Cor. 4:3-4; Eph. 4:17-19).
(see also Mark 4:10-13)
“And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ And He answered and said to them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive, for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’”
When his disciples asked why he spoke to the multitude in parables, Jesus answered in terms of divine election: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted” (Mt. 13:11). Our Lord’s words as recorded by Mark in his gospel seem even more forceful. There Jesus says that “those who are outside” hear things in parables “in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return again and be forgiven” (Mark 4:11-12; italics added).
Mark’s version has bothered a lot of people. They think it is intolerable to suggest that Jesus taught in parables in order to prevent outsiders from understanding, repenting, and receiving forgiveness of sins. But to put the objection in those terms is prejudicial and misleading.
We are certainly not to envision a situation in which these crowds have experienced the conviction of sin, are repentant, and now desire to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, but Jesus, knowing this, speaks to them in parables to prevent them from being saved. It is not as if these multitudes are crying out for salvation from Jesus but he hardens their hearts and refuses to receive them. As we shall soon see, anyone who comes to Christ will be received; no one shall be turned away or cast (John 6:37-38).
Rather, the people from whom Jesus conceals the truth by speaking in parables have already become hard of heart and dull of mind through willful repudiation and rejection of his message. Therefore, when Jesus speaks to them in parables he merely intensifies, aggravates, and confirms their existing hardheartedness and spiritual callousness. But Jesus could have overcome their hardheartedness, had he so willed, couldn’t he? Surely he could have purposed to use the parables to illumine their minds, as with the disciples, rather than darken them, couldn’t he? Yes. Why, then, didn’t he?
Jesus has already answered this question in Matthew 13:11, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” The reason some receive light and insight and others do not is because some are elect and others are not.
If the multitudes disbelieved it is because they had spiritually anesthetized their hearts and minds, muffled their ears, and shut their eyes to the person and ministry of Jesus. Thus by teaching in parables Jesus gives them over to a still deeper cultivation of their blind and stupid rebellion (see Rom. 1:18ff.). Yes, they “see” Jesus physically, but they are spiritually blind! They “hear” his words, but they are spiritually deaf! They “understand” the form of his words, the structure of his message, the cognitive substance of his ideas, but with their hearts they hate him for what he says.