Among the doctrines of the Christian faith, one of “the most puzzling and least understood” is said to be the doctrine of predestination – and understandably so. Over the decades people have debated, often heatedly, issues involved in this doctrine.The doctrine has polarized those who, on the one hand, smugly believe they have been “predestined” by God for salvation while others have been “predestined” to damnation, and those who, on the other hand, cannot believe in a God who seems incomprehensibly capricious and arbitrary, showing “favoritism.”
Basically, the issues revolve around 1) the “fairness” of God in “choosing” the “fate” of some for salvation, while others for damnation, and 2) what happens to the “free moral agency” of man.
Rather than rehashing here the pros and cons put forth by theologians, I propose to simply explore related Scripture passages and attempt to make sense of them in order that we can arrive at a wholesome appreciation of God’s wonderful plan for all humanity.
The basic premise
Just about all Bible students believe what lies in the heart of God: “The Lord…is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The apostle Paul echoes this, in 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.“ Ezekiel 33:11 declares God as saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
And everyone loves the testimony of John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. [For] God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Indeed Jesus said that He, as the Son of Man, had “come to seek and to save that which [or him who] was lost” (Luke 19:10).
But now we see that there are so many people who have died not having come to repentance, not having believed in Jesus, and therefore not having been saved. And there will be many more of them! Isaiah 66:15-16 prophesies that when Jesus returns, He will “come with fire…for by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh, and the slain of the LORD shall be many.” In fact, Isaiah 6:11-13 indicates that only a tenth of the earth’s human population will survive; 90% will be destroyed! Are, then, all those who thus perish “lost” forever?
Naturally, one would ask: Just what is God really up to, anyway? If God is a God of love and mercy, why is He doing this?
Not understanding “The Whole Counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), many people have given up on God. Some, however, have tried to come to God’s defense, but as Ezekiel had long prophesied about religious leaders (“prophets”) in these last days, the consolation which they offer is no better than “untempered mortar” on a wall (Ezekiel 13:2, 19-15; 22:28). Their attempt to fill the “gaps” in our understanding of God’s ways will not hold long, and the wall they are building will, one day, crumble! [See: No Walls, No Ceiling? and The Great Wall.]
Aids to understanding
As the greatest Teacher ever, God has left us with enough pictorial aids to help us in our learning of His plan and purpose for mankind. As the old adage says, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Thus in the Bible we find stories, parables, allegories, analogies, etc. to aid us in our learning about God and His purpose. Romans 1:20 assures us that God’s “…invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…”
Let’s take the first such aid: the feasts of God, listed in Leviticus 23, and in particular the “Feast of Weeks” (also called the “Feast of the Firstfruits” and the “Day of Pentecost,” Leviticus 23:15-21, Acts 2:1). [See: God's Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers -- or to Be Observed? God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 1, God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 2 and God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 3.]
Why “Feast of the Firstfruits?”
The word “firstfruits” is taken from the language of farming or agriculture. In Leviticus 23:10 God commanded the children of Israel to “bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.” In context, this commanded act was to be performed sometime during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is to be observed in the first month of the sacred year (verses 4-8) — in spring, somewhere in March-April in today’s common calendar.
The “firstfruits” of the harvest was that of grain (mostly barley) which had been sown in late autumn or early winter in Israel (from December to February) up to the time of harvesting the full crop (of barley and wheat) in summer (May-June). Most grains take from 90 to 100 days from planting to harvest.
The first ears of the winter crop would appear in spring — by about Passover time. That is why, by the Sabbath within the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites were able to cut the “first of the firstfruits” of their grain harvest (Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:10).
What does the “first of the firstfruits” picture?
Firstfruits of a spiritual harvest
In one of His “parables of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43), Jesus Christ likened God’s kingdom to a man (symbolizing Jesus) sowing good seed (symbolizing righteous people) in the field (the world), harvesting that crop of good seed (picturing the “harvest” of righteous people at the “end of the age,” when Christ returns), and bringing that harvested grain (wheat) into the man’s “barn” (God’s sort of holding space for righteous people who make it into God’s kingdom). Matthew 3:12 adds a further detail of that harvest: Jesus will thresh and winnow the wheat harvest; the chaff He will burn, and the good grains He will store in His “barn” or granary, picturing a phase in God’s kingdom. [See: God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 1 , God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 2 and God's Feasts and the Jews -- Part 3.]
By contrast, Jesus likened wicked people to “tares” or worthless weeds sown by God’s “enemy” (Satan) that, in this world, live alongside righteous people (or, more correctly, people whom God has made righteous through His Son Jesus Christ and through God’s Spirit of power). At His return, Jesus will thrust His “sharp sickle” to reap “the harvest of the earth” with the help of His angels (Revelation 14:14-16). He will come in power (with fire and sword, as Isaiah 66:14-16 prophesies) to burn wicked people like bundled-up weeds.
Jesus, being the first of humans to rise from the dead to everlasting life, is called “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died)” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Actually, Jesus is the first of the “firstfruits” of those who have died but who will also rise to everlasting life at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15:23 continues, “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s [also "firstfruits," as I will explain later] at His coming).
The resurrected Christ is pictured by that first sheaf cut from the early spring harvest as God commanded to be observed, in Leviticus 23:9-11. Anciently, the Jews cut this first sheaf (Hebrew, omer) as the Sabbath (within the Days of Unleavened Bread) was ending. This sheaf (“first of the firstfruits,” Exodus 23:19) was waved by the priest the following day — the first day of the week — before the LORD. It pictured the resurrected Christ presenting Himself before God the Father in heaven (John 20:17). [For more details on this question of the which day Christ rose from the dead, click on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, choose "Books & Booklets" and scroll down to the booklet titled "The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday!]
Fifty days (or seven weeks [7 days times 7 = 49] plus one day) from that Sabbath within the Days of Unleavened Bread would bring us to the Day of Pentecost (meaning “count fifty”), also known as the Feast of Weeks (Hebrew, Shavuot) or the Feast of the Firstfruits. And, as Leviticus 23:10 plainly commands to “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath,” the Day of Pentecost always falls on the day after that Sabbath — which would be the first day of the week (or, in today’s Roman calendar, Sunday).
Two wave loaves as “firstfruits”
On that day, God’s people were commanded to bring two wave loaves (from their new grain harvest) for the priest to wave before the LORD as “the firstfruits to the LORD” or “bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering” (Leviticus 23:17, 20).
What do these two wave loaves represent? It would seem like these loaves represent the two major categories of the first converts to the true faith of Christ – from the Jews (or Israelites) and from the Gentiles — who will make it into God’s kingdom. It is significant that Jesus compared God’s kingdom to leaven (Matthew 13:33), and those two wave loaves were baked with leaven (Leviticus 23:17).
Addressing mainly Jewish and Israelite readers (James 1:1), the apostle James (Jesus’ half-brother) wrote about them being “a kind of firstfruits of His [God's] creatures” (James 1:28). Revelation 14:1-5 affirms that the 144,000 of the tribes of Israel who “were redeemed from among men” are referred to as “being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (verse 4).
Revelation 7:9-17 clarifies that, besides the 144,000 redeemed of Israel, “a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, people, and tongues [Gentiles] will also stand before Christ’s throne, being “clothed with white robes” — having had their robes washed and made white “in the blood of the Lamb [Jesus]” (Revelation 7:14). They, like the 144,000 of Israel, have also been “redeemed from among men.”
The apostle Paul, who was ordained to preach the gospel of Christ primarily to the Gentiles, wrote about Epaenetus and the household of Stephanas being “the firstfruits of Achaia” to Christ (Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:15). Presumably they were Gentile converts to the Christian faith.
Writing to both Jewish and Gentile Christians, Paul refers to them as those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23). They were among those “who first trusted in Christ” (Ephesians 1:12) — whether Jew or Gentile. Other New Testament passages suggest the “division of labor” in spreading the gospel of Christ to Jews or Israelites and the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6; Galatians 2:7-9, etc.).
God’s sovereign prerogative
The sovereign Creator of all things, God is also a great Farmer! In John 15:1 Jesus compares God the Father to a “vine-dresser.” Jesus also compares Himself to a man who sows good seed in a field (Matthew 13:24, 37). As such, both the Father and Jesus have the prerogative and absolute right to plant whatever and whenever they like to plant on this earth which they own (Psalm 24:1). [For more on the relationship between God the Father and Jesus as God the Son, see: The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered.]
And this according to the seasons God has set in motion since the creation, as outlined in Genesis 1 and 2. In the original land of Israel, there were two major planting seasons: 1) the crop planted in late autumn or early winter, ending in a small spring harvest, and 2) the crop planted after the spring harvest, ending in a much greater fall harvest.
These seasons picture God’s work of “planting” spiritual seeds — God’s very own spiritual children. These are the seasons showing God’s Work of saving sinful mankind, who are thus “planted” on God’s “land” (symbolic of the Church of God) and cared for until ready for “harvest” at the end of the season.
First season of grace and mercy
As supreme Creator, God has the absolute prerogative and right to “plant” His “good seed” in the season He chooses. God thus has unquestionable power and authority to plant whatever quantity of such seed in one season, and withhold other quantity of such seed for planting in another season.
Can we human beings choose when to be planted as God’s “good seed”? No. This is entirely up to the One who plants. Nor can we question that One’s decision when to plant or not plant. According to Jesus’ parable (in Matthew 13:24-30), most human beings are what we may call “wild seed” (“tares”) that Satan has planted in the world.
Paul expresses this absolute prerogative of God in terms of mercy or grace. “For He [God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him [man] who wills, nor of him [man] who runs, but of God who shows mercy….Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Romans 9:15-16, 18 — quoting from Exodus 33:19).
Now, here’s where the great debate about “predestination” centers.
Isn’t God “unfair” (“capricious” or “arbitrary”) in favoring some with mercy and compassion now, while depriving others of these at this time? And, if God shows mercy to some while not showing mercy to others, wouldn’t they lose their “free will” — their freedom of choice?
Paul explains God’s prerogative by the analogy of a potter and clay (Romans 9:19-21). It is absolutely and unquestionably the potter’s prerogative as to what kind of “vessel” (whatever ceramic artifact, symbolizing humanity as a creation from clay) the potter decides or chooses to make — whether “for honor” or “for dishonor.” For example, it is entirely up to the potter to make out of the same clay a fine glazed porcelain figurine fit to be set in a palace, or a lowly terracotta flower pot.
As “clay” man does not have that prerogative or choice! For most people, this may be hard to swallow, but it’s the truth! As such, man is at the mercy of His Potter. In verses 22-24 Paul further explains these two kinds of vessels as “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy” that God had “prepared beforehand” — whether for destruction, or for glory. That is, during this first season of grace.
That there is another season of grace coming will become evident as we explore more of God’s revelation. And this should comfort those who think that God has favored only a few and has excluded everyone else from His grace for all eternity.
Other terms related to God’s choosing
Earlier, in Romans 9:10-13, Paul had brought up the case of Rebecca and Isaac and their two sons Esau and Jacob (full story in Genesis 25:21-23). Although still in Rebecca’s womb, her twin sons had been purposed by God “according to election” or choice [God's!] that “The older [of the twins, Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob].”
“The elect” is a special category of people that God has “prepared” for glory [another word for having everlasting life or immortality as the spiritual children of God]. Jesus spoke about “the elect” (Matthew 24:22, 24; Mark 13:20, 22) or “His [God's] elect” (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27; Luke 18:7). The apostles of Christ also wrote about true Christians as God’s “elect” (Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 2Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:2) and about their “election” by God (Romans 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; 1 Thessalonians 1:45; 2 Peter 1:10).
Another term similar to “elect” or “election” is “appoint.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:9 Paul writes about true Christians: “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” Acts 13:48 also declares: “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” This fully jibes with what Paul also wrote in Romans 9:22-24: “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”
The apostle Peter likewise speaks about those who, in this age, do not believe and are disobedient to God’s Word as stumbling over Christ — something “to which they were appointed” (1 Peter 2:6-8). Jesus (quoting Isaiah 6:9-10) said that such people who are so appointed have not had their eyes and ears opened by God to understanding the mystery of God’s kingdom (Matthew 13:13-15). Christ became, to them, “a stumbling stone and a rock of offense” (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8).
By contrast, those who believe in Christ and consider Him “precious” are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His [God's] own special people, that [they] may proclaim the praises of Him who called [them] out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Again, Paul writes about God having “predestined” those who are saved now: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved [Christ, Matthew 22:14]” (Ephesians 1 :3-6).
Speaking about repentance, being baptized for the remission of sins and receiving the gift of God’s Spirit, Peter told the Jews who heard his “Pentecost” message: “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). This shows that at this time God calls some, while He does not call others, to enjoy the same promise.
The “glory” that God has promised the “firstfuits” of His work of saving mankind (Romans 9:12; 2:10; Colossians 1:27; Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 1:7, 2 Peter 1:3, 17) is the resurrection (or change, for those still alive), at Christ’s return, of all those who are now “in Christ” to immortality or everlasting life (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:42-55).
Since only the “firstfruits” will be in that resurrection or change, and they are the ones who are “in Christ,” all other human beings are, or were, not yet “in Christ.” But, as we will see later, they will also eventually be “in Christ.”
Is God unfair?
Because God calls, predestines, chooses, elects, appoints or prepares some for salvation and others for destruction “according to the good pleasure of His will,” many have asked: where is God’s “fairness?” To this Paul replies: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ” (Romans 9:20)
In her prayer and praise to God for His merciful and gracious intervention, Hanna declared: “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up” (1 Samuel 2:6) — echoing Moses’ song (Deuteronomy 32:39).
It is God’s sole prerogative to give life and/or to take it away (Job 1:20-22). That is why God commands men not to kill — or murder — another human being (Exodus 20:13). However, by His express will, command or permission God allows men to execute or kill others in order to fulfill His purpose (Exodus 19:8-16; 21:12-17; 22:18-20; Leviticus 20:9-16, 27; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; 22:22-24; 24:7; Joshua 6:16-17, 20-21; 8:1-2, 21-29, etc.). It is also God’s prerogative — and power — alone to give back life to (to resurrect) dead persons. [See: The Divine Prerogatives.]
While God, as prophesied in both the Old Testament and the New (for example, Isaiah 66:14-16; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 15-19), will destroy the vast majority of the earth’s human population when Jesus returns in power and glory, God will keep alive a small remnant of humanity. As mentioned earlier, Isaiah 6:11-13 indicates that some 10% of earth’s population will survive the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21-22) [see: "The Next Chapter of History"].
This surviving segment of humanity, though small compared with the world’s present population (now estimated at over seven billion), would still number close to a billion! They will become the mortal subjects of God’s kingdom, which Jesus Christ will establish on this earth at His return (Revelation 11:15-17′ 12:5; Isaiah 2:1-4; Zechariah 14:16-19, etc.).
Like new seed planted, these surviving mortals will have families and will replenish the then badly decimated population of the earth all through the 1,000 years (also called “the millennium”) of Christ’s reign with His saints (Revelation 20:6; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Isaiah 58:12; 50:21; 60:15, etc.).
The bigger spiritual harvest
With Satan, his demons and all wicked humans put away when Christ returns (Revelation 20:1-4:11:18), the gospel of Jesus Christ will have free rein on the earth, and people will have an easier time accepting and living out God’s Word and becoming saved, than in this present age. As the earth’s population expands again at that time, there will be many, many more people who will become a part of God’s divine family — God’s kingdom.
The Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths [Hebrew, Sukkot], or the Feast of Ingathering) pictures this time of gathering-in a greater spiritual harvest, even as the fall or autumn harvest in Jerusalem and environs is greater than the spring harvest. Jesus said that the spiritual harvest our side of the millennium is a small one; only “a few” have been chosen or appointed to salvation in this age (Matthew 22:14). He knew all too well that in this present age, most human beings would rather choose the path of least resistance — the broad and easy street that leads to destruction — instead of the straight and narrow way that leads to life everlasting (Matthew 7:133-14). He called His disciples a “little flock” (Luke 14:32) — but not forever so!
Indeed, God cares for the salvation not just of the few but of the many — but all according to His own time-table: initially the small “firstfruits” of God’s Spirit and salvation at Christ’s return, then a larger spiritual harvest all through the millennium of Christ’s rule on earth. We might call this latter harvest the “secondfruits.” God will not have appointed them to His “wrath” or destruction at Christ’s return. God will have preserved them alive as mortals so that they could also receive salvation during Christ’s reign on this earth.
Why a bigger “secondfruits”?
It is plainly God’s desire to bring not a few but “many sons [or children, which should include daughters as well!] to glory” through Jesus as “captain of their salvation” (Hebrews 2:10). God has also given the unconditional promise to Abraham that his seed or descendants would become as innumerable as the stars of heaven, as the sand on the seashore, and as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16; 15:5; 22:17, etc.). As Paul explains, this promise to Abraham is not only concerning physical descendants, but also spiritual descendants from among the Gentiles or the “uncircumcised,” through faith in Christ (Romans 4:9-12; Galatians 3:26-29). [See: The Children of Abraham.]
It is interesting that God chose Israel from among the nations to become “a kingdom of priests” to Him (Exodus 19:6). In the New Testament, where “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16; Romans 9:6-9; Galatians 4:28-31; Ephesians 2:11-22) now consists of both converted physical Israelites and Gentiles [see: No Walls, No Ceiling? and God's Kingdom and Israel] as God’s “firstfruits,” true Christians are called “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
For what purpose the priesthood?
Anciently, priests of all kinds had been human intermediaries between man and God. But in Malachi 2:7 we have this specific role of a priest: “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge and people should seek the law [of God] from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”
God’s “firstfruits” will serve with Christ, in His kingdom, as “kings and priests” (Revelation 5:10; 20:6). They will assist Christ in teaching God’s law to the surviving humans of all nations, who will come to Jerusalem to learn about God’s ways (Isaiah 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2). And Zechariah 8:23 indicates the ideal student-teacher ratio when God’s “quality education program” is instituted around the world: 10 students for every teacher. “In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
Who is a true Jew?
In Romans 2:28-29 Paul defines a true “Jew”: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” That, in fact, had been God’s purpose for Israel, to begin with (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6).
Paul did not mean to exclude physical or natural Jews; rather he includes them also in his definition of a Jew — if the person is “circumcised in the heart.” In Colossians 2:11-14 Paul explains that true circumcision is the cleansing and forgiveness of one’s sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross — whether one is a Jew or a Gentile.
All true Christians are therefore called to become as the Jew pictured in Zechariah 8:23. They will be teachers who will show God’s way to mortal subjects in God’s kingdom (Isaiah 30:20-21). Of course, natural or physical Jews who will be converted by God’s Spirit will be vanguards in that re-education of the world in God’s perfect way.
Revelation 3:9 warns about a group of people who will claim to be spiritual Jews but are not. We need to make sure we are true “Jews” in the Spirit and in the heart. [See: "Your Eyes Will Be Opened!"]
Based on this ratio, we can imagine this possible scenario: if about 800 million human beings [10% of eight billion] will survive as mortals when Jesus returns, there will need to be about 80 million “firstfruits” to teach them God’s ways and laws. Because of this “quality education” (aided, of course, by God’s Spirit which God will pour out on these people, Joel 2:28-29), many more children of God will be raised up all through the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign on earth. These will constitute the “secondfruits” of God’s work of saving all of mankind.
They will then have been prepared for the next, and last, stage of God’s work of saving all of mankind.
A still bigger spiritual harvest
What about all the billions of people, from the time of Adam up to the return of Christ, who have never understood the Word of God nor believed in Jesus, the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)? Are they lost forever, or are they also included in God’s time-table for saving all of mankind?
Here is where the erroneous doctrine of “predestination” as picturing God who, by mere caprice and whim, decides who He will save and who He will condemn for all eternity. [See: God's Spirit and Obedience and Saved for Good Works.]
God’s Word certainly affirms that God has made a provision for the vast majority of people who have never heard of Christ, who have never truly received His Spirit, to be saved as well. As some have pointed out, it would actually be “unfair” of God to condemn a sinner to everlasting damnation in hell-fire just because that sinner had not heard the only “name” (that of Jesus, Acts 4:12) by which all men are saved — and all because no true servant (or “missionary”) of Christ was able to reach that sinner in time before he dies.
As Hanna prayed, God has the full power to kill and to make alive, to bring down to the grave and to raise the dead. Thus we have this reassuring testimony in Revelation 20:5, “But the rest of the dead [those who have never been called and chosen for salvation in this age] did not live again until the thousand years [or the millennium of Christ's reign on earth] were finished.” That will be their time of judgment (Revelation 20:11-12).
We might call this batch of human beings (some have estimated their number to be in the vicinity of 50 billion!) the “thirdfruits” of God’s saving work. In them will have been fulfilled Jesus’ words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30). This first-mentioned multitude comprises the first humans to be born but who will enter God’s kingdom last; whereas many who live in this present, and last, generation before Christ’s return will be among the first to enter God’s kingdom.
Thus, after that last judgment period, every single human being will have been given his or her fair chance to be saved. In any case, God will have “predestined” or “elected” each individual person to be saved according to whichever “batch” (or “dispensation,” if you please) of saved people , as He wills and purposes.
No one need ever fault God for being “unfair.” In His own time and way, God will fulfill His desire that no one “should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and that all men should “be saved and…come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
Other scriptures about the “first” saved
Several Bible passages suggest that God is saving all of mankind in three separate batches or dispensations. Among these scriptures are:
- 1 Peter 4:17 — “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God [Church of God]; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
Peter is speaking of God beginning His “judgment” (for salvation in God’s kingdom) with those who have been called to be a part of the Church of God in this age (the “firstfruits”), by obeying the gospel of God. Judgment for the rest of mankind will take place later. As explained earlier, the next period of judgment will be during the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, followed by a third and last judgment period after those 1,000 years.
- Matthew 13:33 — “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
The word “measure” is rendered from the Greek sata, the equivalent of about two pecks or two gallons of meal or flour. Three measures would thus be about six gallons. Based on my wife’s ability to bake bread, one measure or two gallons of flour would be plenty enough to use for baking bread for family consumption. Six gallons (or three measures) of flour would be a bit of a challenge for a baker to work on — in one go — single-handedly, without some mechanical aid like a kneading machine or without assistance from another baker or two.
It would seem, then, that the three “measures” of meal appropriately picture the three batches, periods or dispensations in God’s work of bringing mankind into glory in God’s kingdom — the “first” from Abel up to Christians resurrected or changed to everlasting life at Christ’s return, the “second” during the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign on earth, and the “third” after those 1,000 years.
How could Sarah have baked “three measures” of meal?
Genesis 18:6 tells about Abraham asking his wife Sarah to “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes” for his special guests. “Measure” here is rendered from the Hebrew seah, which is 1/3 of an ephah (about six liters or almost two gallons). Three seahs or one full ephah would be about 18 liters or almost five gallons. That’s quite a lot of bread to serve three guests in one sitting!
Genesis 18:6 does not say that Sarah baked all that huge amount of flour all by herself. Abraham and Sarah had several servants (Genesis 12:16) who could have helped Sarah do the baking.
Jesus’ parable of the kingdom as compared to dough being leavened tells of just one woman baking bread out of six gallons of flour. It is more likely that she could bake from two gallons of flour each — something quite manageable by one person — in three sittings.
That “woman” may well be symbolic of the one “heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22), which is “the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26) — the mother of all of God’s spiritual children, those who enter the kingdom of God which, in this parable, is likened to leaven. It is also the same “woman” pictured in Revelation 12.
- Romans 8:29 – “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son; that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
“Firstborn” in God’s family
In Colossians 1:18 Paul calls Jesus “the firstborn from the dead,” in a similar manner to his calling Jesus “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [died]” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As we have explained, Jesus is the first of the “firstfruits” — the first batch of mankind saved from death. Likewise, Jesus is also the first of the “firstborn” — the first batch of mankind being “born” into God’s family or kingdom through a resurrection from the dead, or through a change from mortal to immortal, at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). [To understand better the Bible teaching on when a person is "born" into God's kingdom, click on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, choose "Book & Booklets" and scroll down to the booklet titled "Just What Do You Mean -- Born Again?" You may stay on the link and, instead of "Books & Booklets" select "Reference Material" and scroll down the index to the more scholarly study, "Born Again" (UCG).]
We might call the batch of “firstfruits” also the batch of “firstborn” from the dead — the spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:11) in the same divine family. In this sense, the “church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23) would be comprised of true Christians, whose names are now the first to be “registered in heaven” — written in God’s “Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3). They will be the first among human beings to be “born of the Spirit,” to have everlasting life, through a resurrection or change (as the case may be, 1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) at Christ’s return. [See: The Book of Life.]
To begin with, all human beings have been — or had been — the children of the devil, and condemned to death. Paul affirms that “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and deserve to die (Romans 3:23; 6:23). We all started out being “dead in trespasses and sins, in which [we] once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit [Satan] who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
1 John 3:10 distinguishes between the “children of God” and the “children of the devil.” Jesus had earlier described all sinful human beings (like the Jews in His day) as being “of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44). [See: Are We All God's Children? and The Value of the "Firstborn".]
By God’s grace and mercy, according to His will, God has called out some people in this present world where Satan is the world’s “god” and “father,” and has chosen to “adopt” them as His own children (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5) at this time. The word “church” is translated from the Greek ekklesia, which means the “call out ones.” God has called out from among the children of the devil those He wants to “adopt” first into His own family as among the “firstborn” into God’s family and kingdom. That is why they are part of the “Church of the Firstborn,” which was established when God poured our His Spirit on Christ’s disciples on the Day of Pentecost, days after Christ’s resurrection and ascension (Acts 2).
We might thus call the next batches of the children of God the “secondborn” and the “thirdborn,” in the same manner that the “secondfruits” and the “thirdfruits” follow the “firstfruits.”
In a human family, there’s hardly any quibbling about why a sibling should be, or is, the firstborn, secondborn, thirdborn, etc. instead of otherwise. People generally accept, without question, their place or order of birth in the family. People accept it as God’s will, and that parents have no power or control as to which among their children come in the order they do.
Why can’t people accept the same way God orders who comes, or should come, into His divine family first, second and third? The important thing is that every single human being will have his or her fair chance to become a part of God’s family – in whatever order God chooses for them to come into His family. No one will be excluded from having that chance — sooner or later!
Will being a part of the “firstborn” promote “elitism”?
Some have expressed apprehensions about this. Certainly, there’s always the possibility of anyone who is placed in a special group to feel being a clip, or more, above the rest of humanity — and thereby being puffed up with it and despising others outside the group. At the same time, those excluded from the group could also feel “discriminated against” or “passed over.” They may feel some animosity toward God as supposedly “unfair.” And perhaps they may also harbor envy toward those whom God has placed ahead of them.
However, the problem of “elitism” is not with the system or “program,” nor is it with God who has set up the program. The problem is with the human — or carnal — nature of the ones who are included on the program, as well as that of the ones excluded!
To mute any sense of pride or entitlement and any flaunting in those now called and chosen to be among the “firstfruits” or “firstborn,” Paul gave this sobering and humbling reminder: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 2:26-29). [See: The Children of Abraham, especially the box titled, "The kind of people God calls."]
It is not for any good achieved, any merit earned by an individual or a group of individuals, that God has chosen them at this time. It is solely by God’s grace and mercy that they — these “zeroes” – are among the “firstfruits” or “firstborn.” “But for the grace of God,” they should humbly say, they would go the way of all sinful human beings: destruction and death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
Even the nation Israel, whom God has also called His “firstborn” (Exodus 4:22) and His “chosen people” (Deuteronomy 7:6), often in her history fell into pride and forsaking her Maker (Hosea 8:14). God has had to remind the children of Israel about their humble origins. Whereas powerful nations and kingdoms had already existed around Egypt, the children of Jacob or Israel were “few in number” (Deuteronomy 26:6), not yet a nation at the time they came to Egypt.
Ezekiel 16:16 pictures Jerusalem (symbolic of all Israel) as an unwanted baby girl, struggling to survive — as the oppressed children of Israel were when they were slaves in Egypt, “the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). While they were there, God multiplied the children of Israel as He had promised their “fathers” (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), brought them out of there, struck a covenant with them at Mount Sinai, made them His own people, and provided for them abundantly (Ezekiel 16:7-14). God also reminds the children of Israel that it was not on account of their “righteousness” that they came to possess the Promised Land but rather because of the wickedness of the inhabitants of the land, and in order to fulfill His irrevocable promise to the “fathers” [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] (Deuteronomy 9:4-6; Romans 11:28-29).
Likewise, Peter reminds a “firstborn” Christian (whether from an Israelite or a Gentile background) never to forget how “he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Peter 2:9) by God’s grace, through Christ. This is the humble and lowly attitude that helps a Christian make his “call and election sure,” make him “never stumble,” and ensure that “an entrance will be supplied to [him] abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (Verse 10).
A proud and “elitist” attitude will not do! Rather, Peter admonishes: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time….Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:6, 8-9). The apostle Paul adds: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you [the "firstfruits"], goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22).
Why Firstfruits Necessary
(Excerpted from Mystery of the Ages, by Herbert W. Armstrong [New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1985], pages 240-241)
Now why was it absolutely necessary that the Church be called out of the world to receive salvation during this Church age, while the rest of the world was left in spiritual darkness and deception?
Before Jesus could qualify to become our Savior and future King, it was necessary for him, as the second Adam, to do what the first Adam failed to do — to overcome Satan and to choose the mind and government of God instead. If the Church is to rule with and under him — if the Church is to be priests as well as kings, aiding, under Christ in saving the world — it was also necessary that those in the Church must also qualify by resisting and overcoming Satan.
That will not be required of the overwhelming majority of others when salvation comes to them. Salvation will not come to them until after Satan has been put away. So, you see, it was far from discriminating against the rest of the world, when Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). It was necessary that the Church be called at a time when each member had to turn from, resist and overcome Satan. Otherwise, we of the Church could not qualify for the wonderful position of becoming kings and priests in the kingdom of God during the 1,000 years.
This explains the why of the Church — its great purpose. (Italics supplied; underscoring mine.)
[You may also read Mystery of the Ages by clicking on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select "Books & Booklets" and scroll down the book cover with that title on the right-hand side of the page.]
What now, man’s “free moral agency”?
Since it is all up to God to elect, choose, appoint or predestine whether a person becomes part of the firstborn, secondborn or thirdborn in His divine family, where now is man’s freedom of choice? Is a person who is now blessed or doomed, as the case may be, to be judged by God at a time He chooses, thus deprived of his freewill or free moral agency?
From the very beginning, God has given mankind the freedom to choose whether to follow Him or not — to choose the way to life, or the way to death. God will not force a person to obey Him against that person’s will or choice. God did not “force” or “coerce” Adam and Eve to obey Him; neither did God restrain them from listening to and following Satan’s lie. God gave them free choice. And, sadly, they exercised that freedom of choice to disobey God and follow Satan instead, with dire consequences for all of mankind. [See: "Your Eyes Will Be Opened!"]
Jesus said that “Many are called, but a few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The many who are called but are not chosen are where they are, because they have chosen — exercised their free will to decide — not to respond to God’s call to salvation at this time. Those are ones who have all the excuses in the world not to participate in a program which God invites them to (Matthew 22:1-5). If we understand the mind and heart of God, we would want to believe that, while these people will lose their chance of being among the “firstfruits” or “firstborn” in God’s family, our merciful God will not shut the door of salvation on them completely. God will provide another day of salvation for them. [See: This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
Those who are among the “chosen” people of God now also exercise their free will to participate in His program as God’s “firstfruits” or “firstborn.”
Even so, those among the “elect” or “chosen” — God not having removed their free moral agency — can choose, of their free will, to remain on God’s program or to discontinue with it. The Bible is replete with admonitions to “endure to the end” (Matthew 24:13), to “finish” the Christian “race” and not drop out along the way (Hebrews 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27), not to go back to the ways of the world (Hebrews 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:20-22). It is possible for a genuine Christian to bomb out of the faith by his own free choice; God will not restrain him if he chooses not to be restrained. [For more on this vital subject, click on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.com, click on ENTER HERE, choose "Books & Booklets" and scroll down to the booklet titled "Just What Do You Mean -- The Unpardonable Sin?" Also, see: Why Is the "Unpardonable Sin" Unpardonable?]
After the final judgment — after every single individual person will have had their chance to be saved — all who have decided to remain wicked will be cast into the “lake of fire” (Revelation 21:6-8; 22:15; Malachi 4:1-3). That not because God unilaterally, simply decided that to be their fate, but because (after being given their fair chance to understand God’s truth and to repent of sin) they still willingly chose to follow Satan’s way that leads to death — even the “second death,” from which there is no hope of ever again having life whatsoever, for all eternity. We might call them the “stubborn” ones!
God’s never-failing love
When all is said and done, all who have successfully gone through God’s program of salvation will acknowledge that indeed God is a God of love — and that love will never fail (1 John 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13:8). Out of His love, His profound wisdom and His abundant mercy, God predestines each human individual to a time of salvation which will work best for each one! God the Father knows best! [For more on this subject, click on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click on ENTER HERE, choose "Books & Booklets" and scroll down to the booklet titled "Predestination -- Does the Bible Teach It?" Also, see: This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
For this reason, instead of judging God, let us rather thank Him and praise Him with great awe and reverence for His perfect judgment. Let us, with the apostle Paul, declare: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?’ ‘Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36)!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.