In Acts 2:14-41 we see once again how Peter describes the death of Jesus in human terms (‘you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross’ Acts 2:23), but also firmly believes in God’s sovereign foreknowledge (‘this man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge’ Acts 2:23).The death of Jesus is therefore attributed simultaneously both to the purpose of God and to the wickedness of men. Through the death of Jesus God’s saving purpose was being worked out. All throughout Scripture, God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will are held in tension. In these verses ‘we have the paradox of divine predestination and human freewill in its strongest form.’ ‘Even in putting Jesus to death, the Jews were simply fulfilling what God had determined must take place and indeed had foretold in the prophetic writings.’ (Howard Marshall, P 75)
It is not easy for us to reconcile these two things and usually we fall into one of two traps, emphasising man’s free will to the extent that God seems irrelevant or extolling God’s foreknowledge and will as being so absolute we are mere robots. The truth has to lie in the middle… where there are still plenty of questions and known unknowns!
In church history and theology, the two extremes are known as Arminianism and Calvinism (named after their chief proponents, Arminius (1560-1609) and Calvin (1509-1564)). These systems of theology attempt to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in the matter of salvation. In my view, the truth lies in the middle, as Peter implies. God is absolutely sovereign and knows all. Human beings are called to make a genuine decision to place faith in Christ unto salvation. These two facts seem contradictory to us, but in the mind of God they make perfect sense. Thus we can be sure that Jesus’ death – so crucial to our salvation – was both planned by God and executed by people. God was not taken by surprise by the events of Easter. Nor can we dismiss people’s responsibility in His death as being because they were mere ‘pawns’ in God’s plan. The mystery of God will never be fully explained or understood, but we can embrace God’s plan as the crowd did, resulting in believers swelling from 120 to over three thousand after Peter’s sermon.