We're down to the last two possible interpretations of 1 Tim 2:4, both of which hold that "desires" refers to God's moral will. Arminian apologists like this interpretation because they assert that it denies the doctrine of unconditional election. Last time, attempting to show that it is not contradictory for God to morally will one thing while sovereignly willing something else, we looked at God’s dealings with Pharaoh in the exodus narrative. If you missed that post, you can find it here.
This time, I’d like to give just one more striking example of God’s two wills desiring different things. This example actually consists of several examples, all surrounding the death of Christ. We can start with Judas’ actions. In the book of John alone, we find 7 references to Judas that attribute to him either the intention to betray Christ (6:71, 12:4, 13:21-26), being influenced by Satan to betray Christ (13:2), or the act of betraying Christ (18:2, 18:3, 18:5). In Matthew there are 5 references (10:4, 26:14-16, 26:25, 26:47-49, 27:3). Mark has 3 references (3:19, 14:10, 14:43). Luke also has 3 (6:16, 22:3-6, 22:47-48). Both Luke 22:3 and John 13:27 tell us that Satan entered Judas just prior to the betrayal.
Betrayal of the Son of God is sin. Common sense would tell us that. However, Jesus said so explicitly to Pilate, when Pilate asked Him in John 19:10, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus replied, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin." “Handed me over” is the same Greek word translated “betrayed” and attributed to Judas. So Judas is said to have the greater sin.
Even Judas himself recognized his actions as sin in Matt 27:3-4, Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."
What does this tell us? It was against God’s moral will for Judas to betray Jesus. All sin is a violation of God’s moral will. At the same time, we find ample evidence that Judas betrayed Christ according to God’s sovereign will.
In John 13:18, Jesus, explaining that one of the disciples will betray Him, says, “But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'” Jesus was quoting Psalm 41:9, which says, Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. A few chapters later, in John 17:12, Jesus confirms that Judas’ treachery would be a fulfillment of Scripture: I have guarded [the disciples], and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. In Acts 1:16, Peter stood up among the disciples and noted that Judas was destined to betray the Lord: "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.”
Perhaps the most explicit reference to Judas’ betrayal as the sovereign will of God is found in Acts 2:23, where we read that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
I won’t belabor the point by going into such detail about the other people immediately responsible for the death of Jesus. Their treachery was as well documented as Judas’, and their sin was as much a violation of God’s moral will as Judas’. Luke, in recording a prayer of Peter and John, conveniently lumps all the perpetrators together, acknowledging that their actions were in accordance with God’s sovereign will: “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 plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).
This is striking language. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews, in executing Jesus Christ, were doing what God’s hand and plan had predestined to take place.
This is what Rick Jones might refer to as “an open and shut case.” It was a violation of God’s moral will for Judas, Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews to do what they did in betraying, arresting, beating, trying, stripping, flogging, crowning, condemning, and crucifying the Holy One of God. And yet, Scripture consistently affirms that all this took place according to the sovereign will of God.
So if we acknowledge this truth, we can go back to 1 Tim 2:4 and see that just as God’s moral will did not negate His sovereign will in the death of Christ, neither does His moral will that all be saved negate His sovereign will that only some be saved. Scripture upholds both His moral and sovereign wills.
Now then, which one of the two remaining possible interpretations of 1 Tim 2:4 is the best? Let’s refresh our memories about these last two options: 1) God calls all people without exception to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth; or 2) God calls all kinds of people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
I personally prefer the last interpretation for the contextual reasons I outlined in the first part of this post. I do believe that the truth of the first interpretation can be found elsewhere in Scripture (Acts 17:30), but I do not believe that is Paul’s intention here.
At any rate, it should be clear that none of the four possible interpretations explored in this series assist the Arminian in his denial of the doctrine of unconditional election. We’ve now dealt with the two most common Arminian prooftexts, but we’re nowhere close to being done. Next time, Romans 8:29.