When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
Calvinist, James White, comments: “Where does foreknow appear in the text? Luke’s words are ‘to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur’ (Act 4:28). What occurred was the greatest sinful act of all human history. It was predestined to happen. God’s intentions were good; men’s were evil. God’s decree took place; man is properly accountable.” (Debating Calvinism, p.57, emphasis mine)
Yes, God predetermined Calvary, but He did so contingently, and that’s where Foreknowledge comes into play. So it’s perfectly accurate for Calvinists to point out that Calvary was predetermined, but it’s not legitimate for Calvinists to ignore the fact that Scripture adds Foreknowledge into that picture.
Calvinist, James White, writes: “But was the certainty of the Cross and the sacrifice of Christ ever dependent upon man’s will? Never. It happened according to the predestined plan of God and is therefore completely to His honor and glory.” (Debating Calvinism, p.45, emphasis mine)
The predestined plan and what? You see, Calvinists instinctively try to edit what Acts 2:23 already tells us. Whatsoever God’s hand “predestined to occur,” concerning The Cross, was also the result of God’s omniscient foreknowledge (Acts 2:23), and if it wasn’t foreknowledge of man’s will to reject Christ, then what was it foreknowledge of? While the word “nothing” is on the tip of the Calvinist’s tongue, they ought to recall Calvin’s admission on Foreknowledge:
Calvin’s commentary on 1st Peter 1:20 states: “It may, however, be asked, as Adam did not fall before the creation of the world, how was Christ appointed to be the Redeemer? For a cure ought to come after the disease. My reply is, that this is to be referred to God’s foreknowledge, for doubtless before He created man, God foresaw that he would not stand firm for long in his integrity. Hence, according to His wonderful wisdom and goodness, He ordained that Christ should be the Redeemer, who would deliver the lost race of man from ruin.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews and I and II Peter, p.249, emphasis mine)
That sounds like the Arminian concept of Foreknowledge. To a Calvinist, though, it’s not about Foreknowing but about Forescripting, which makes meaningless how “long” mankind would not stand firm. Only real Foreknowledge would give such a statement any meaning.
Dave Hunt writes: “God foreknew the evil in everyone’s hearts and the actions they would take and that He used them to fulfill His preordained purpose. It does not say that God decreed or caused the evil intentions and actions of Pilate and Christ’s crucifiers.” (Debating Calvinism, p.52, emphasis mine)
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “God predestined (pre-determined) that the crucifixion would occur. All God had to do to bring this about was to give Jesus over to the power of those who already wanted to kill Him at the proper time. God did not have to control their wills to hate Christ or want Him dead in order to do that. God simply had to give these people the power and opportunity to carry out their intentions, intentions that God in no way caused or decreed. Calvinists have to read quite a bit into this passage to get what they want out of it.” (SEA) Another member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “In the crucifixion, God foreknew what the evil people would do, allowed them to do it, and decreed the outcome that Jesus would be crucified by these evil men. In the case of Jesus being crucified, was that event an ‘evil’ event? Yes. Did God allow it? Yes. Did God foreknow it would occur? Yes. Did God ‘decree’ it or ‘predestine’ it to occur? Yes, because sometimes God uses foreknown and evil choices to accomplish some good (the best example being the crucifixion, but the Story of Joseph is a good example of this as well, as is God’s using the evil Assyrians to discipline his own people Israel).” (SEA)
Lawrence Vance writes: “If God determined the crucifixion of his Son by a sovereign, eternal decree, with no foreknowledge at all involved (it was unconditional), then we are left with the ghastly, draconian thought that God decreed the death of his Son and then created man so he could fall and God could bring about his decree of crucifixion.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.266, emphasis mine)
And when Calvinists believe that way, notice how the logic unfolds:
One Calvinist explains: “The Almighty Trinity decreed in eternity past that Christ would suffer a horrendous death to save his people. The most wicked, heinous crime ever committed was decreed by God, and it was for a glorious purpose and reason. So yes, God decrees that evil happens, and He decrees it for a purpose -- and He doesn’t owe us an explanation. The Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, the multiple genocides that seem to happen frequently in Africa -- they all have a purpose in the eternal plan of God. All that matters is that He gains glory by it somehow, just like He gained immense glory in the suffering and brutal execution of His Son.” (Amazon Theology Forum)
Such thinking is intended to be pious, but it ends up being quite libelous. And the reality is that if you merely add contingency into the Calvary predetermination equation, the problem is resolved.
In other words, if God predetermines Calvary based upon something about Israel, and what He foreknows about their intentions (contingency planning), then all thorny questions are resolved. However, Calvinists have a difficult time seeing how real Foreknowledge is involved:
Calvinist, William MacDonald, comments: “Right there in Jerusalem the Romans and the Jews had leagued together against God’s holy Servant, Jesus. Herod represented the Jews, and Pilate acted for the Gentiles. But there is a surprise ending in verse 28. One would expect it to say that these rulers had gathered together to do whatever their wicked hearts had planned. Instead, it says that they had gathered together to do whatever God’s hand and purpose had determined before.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.1596, emphasis mine)
But both are true, and that’s how Foreknowledge is involved. The people did plan this; they did want to do this. But it’s also true that God planned it, and here is how it works together: God, in foreknowing their hearts, in their long history of rejecting Him, predetermined Calvary on the basis of their thoughts and intentions, and that’s what Calvinists seem to miss, once again, all because they do not distinguish Foreknowledge and Foreordination.
Here is how the account plays out: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’ And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:37-41) God, foreknowing their evil intentions, made use of them by carrying out His forewarned hardening, all the way to Calvary. (Isaiah 6:10) Here is the spiritual condition of the willing participants in Calvary: “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, A people who continually provoke Me to My face, Offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks; Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; Who eat swine’s flesh, And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots. Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, For I am holier than you!’ These are smoke in My nostrils, A fire that burns all the day.” (Isaiah 65:1-5) God is not creating a rebellious people to carry out Calvary; God is using a rebellious people to carry out Calvary.