I am having trouble understanding the concept of God rejecting some while showing mercy to others. In Matthew 18:14, Jesus says that “God is not willing that any should perish”. Yet this seems to refute Paul’s teaching in Romans 9, where Paul says God’s sovereignly elects some “vessels” (i.e., people) to be saved but not others. Can you help reconcile these ideas?
The solution to your dilemma is found in considering Jesus’ words in their proper interpretation and context. Here’s the full passage of Jesus’ words:
Matthew 18:12-14 (NKJV)
12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.14 Even so, it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Notice the context is 100 sheep with one gone missing. This is essentially the same parable as reported in Luke 15: any should perish
Luke 15:4-7 (NKJV)
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just (upright) persons who need no repentance.
Jesus’ context is that of a sinner who repents in comparison to 99 who are righteous and need no repentance. In the symbolism of the parable, however, it’s important to note that all 100 are sheep. Jesus doesn’t describe 99 sheep and one goat who then turns into a sheep. Rather, all 100 are sheep from the start, including the lost soul. Though the person is lost, nevertheless from God’s point of view the person is Jesus’ sheep because he is destined to believe and be saved. any should perish
That symbology is consistent with Jesus’ words in John 10:
John 10:14-16 (NKJV)
14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep and am known by My own.15 As the Father knows Me, even so, I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
John 10:25-28 (NKJV)
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
In the John passages, Jesus’ language makes clear that the unbelieving Pharisees were not His sheep: not now, not ever. On the other hand, Jesus says there would be unbelieving Gentiles who were His sheep (verse 16), though at that moment they were not yet believing in Jesus. That detail tells us that from God’s perspective a person belongs to God long before the person believes. God sovereignly appoints a person to eternal life, and in a day to come, they will believe as God appointed. any should perish
So clearly, Jesus’ teaching implies that some unbelievers are elected by God to believe, and therefore they are His sheep even before God calls them into faith. They are sheep in the sense that the Lord knows them and has a day of salvation appointed for them in the future. One day those lost sheep will be found by God and believe and be saved.
Therefore, in Matthew 18 Jesus is saying that the Father wishes none of His elect (i.e., His present and future sheep) to perish. This is consistent with Paul’s teaching in Romans and elsewhere, and with Peter’s teaching on this topic.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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