Before the universe existed, before there was time, space, or matter, the triune God existed in perfect happiness and total contentment. Although He didn’t need to do it, being fully pleased in Himself, He nonetheless decided out of His abundant love to create a universe to share His joy with. To this end He formulated a plan that would go on for all eternity, “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Is 46:10). As a consequence, everything that’s ever happened since God said “let there be light” has merely been “whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4: 28). Every person born, every human decision made, every plant, star, rock, cloud, every tiny atom was known and placed and planned for an infinite amount of time before a single one came to be.
Why do this? Why orchestrate the eternal fate of everything to happen exactly as it does? The answer in a single word is revelation. Desiring to show us who He is, God came up with the perfect way to progressively reveal more and more His nature, attributes, and person to creation. Or as the Bible says, glorify Himself.
The first part of this plan involved creating matter and energy, things which display “His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom 1:20b). As it is written, “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps 19:1) and “the heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people see His glory” (Ps 97:6). The inanimate universe continually pours forth knowledge about Him. The presence of the burning suns reflect His brightness (Ps 84:11), the roaring seas call to mind His vastness (Ps 98:17), the flowers show His beauty and attention to detail (Matt 6:29). Even the unthinkably large emptiness of space indicate an infinite strength and unlimited greatness; its presence alone is enough to prove God is both powerful and creative.
The next part of the plan was to create thinking creatures which could understand and appreciate this knowledge. To this end He created the angels (Heb 1:14), beings who would show His might (2 Peter 2:4) and witness His works (Job 38:7). This is why those angels closest to Him “cry to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory’” (Is 6:3). Yet even as these heavenly servants watched His eternal plan unfold, even as they participated in bringing it to pass, they did not fully grasp it (1 Peter 1:12), for they only understood God to be a holy, just, and strong sovereign. But He’s more than an all-powerful Spirit, He’s a gracious person with emotions, volitions, and affections. For creation to realize this it was necessarily to make yet one thing more—man.
Through men He would manifest His deep patience and boundless mercies. Through their creation and fall He would demonstrate redemptive kindness so that creation could know what He’s like. As the Scriptures say, “God has concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” and “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou may be feared” (Rom 11:32, Psalm 130:4). He ordained (and in some sense desired) our disobedience, since it was only to a fallen world that He could send His Son to demonstrate His justice, holiness, loving-kindness, wrath, mercy, and grace together at the cross. His plan for us from the beginning has always been “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:9-10).
Yet even though He formed each and every person to display His graciousness upon, and even though He earnestly desires all mankind freely come to Him and be saved, He has nevertheless designated a special subset of them to give an extra measure of grace to. Into these vessels He pours fourth an even greater measure of His love, predestining them before the foundation of the world to one day receive forgiveness of sin. As Paul writes, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling—not according to our works—but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” so “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 1:9, Eph 2:7). These elect men and women understand that they have ruined much, and have been forgiven much, so that they may love much, and through this testify to the greatness of God.
When speaking of the divine purpose for redeeming mankind theologians have historically used the phrase The Covenant of Redemption to emphasize how the Father and the Son agreed to save some from the beginning. The terms of this pact were that the Father would send the Son to save the predestined and the Son would willingly go and complete the task given to Him. John 8:42 (among others) testifies that Jesus was sent: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me.”
And John 6:37-40 says that the elect will certainly be saved, “All who the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and him who comes to Me I will in no way cast out. For I came down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the Father’s will which has sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in Him may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Put the two together and you have evidence that the first covenant God made was with Himself, to save us.
But the problem with this classic formulation is that it makes too much of the ego-centric, subjective portion of God’s work. It can, and often does, result in the assertion that God’s purpose in sending Christ was no larger than saving the elect. Not that it’s false to say that of course. It’s undoubtedly true He’ll save all of them. But to communicate the ultimate purpose of His work in this manner is to take a part for the whole. (Similarly, the classic definition of the covenant of redemption doesn’t even include the involvement of the Holy Spirit, but instead presents the arrangement as being between the Father and Son.)
We must therefore take care to establish that God’s plan is first and foremost to reveal His manifold perfections to all creation or we’ll lose sight of the forest for the trees. Our understanding must always go from the objective to subjective, from the universal to the particular.
Now admittedly, using the mundane and generic word plan to speak of God’s glorious ongoing and joyful revelation of Himself doesn’t appropriately capture the majesty of the idea. Perhaps that’s why Paul calls it a “dispensation of the fullness of times” to emphasize the vastness and consistency of it, or why later theologians would refer to a Covenant of Grace in order to stress that Gods plan is personal, relate-able, merciful, kind, and accomplished through the work of Christ. But call it however you please, it’s first and foremost an objective scheme; it begins with God, is about God, and finds its fulfillment in revealing God.
It goes without saying then that the history of our universe is merely the outworking of God’s eternal covenant of revelation. Our story, and the story of existence stretching all the way back to the beginning, is about the hidden council of God coming to light. We begin therefore where the Scriptures begin, in the book of Genesis.