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There are only a handful of verses in your Bible that could compete for the MPV award. No, I didn’t just misspell MVP, because I’m not referring to the Most Valuable Player award you find in sports. I’m talking about the MPV, the Most Popular Verse award. This is not a real award, of course; I made it up for the purpose of this article. But imagine for a moment if it was real. When I was younger, John 3:16 was the unanimous recipient year after year. You could find it printed on anything from bracelets and bookmarks at your local Christian book store to posters and t-shirts at your national football game.

But the cultural landscape of Christianity has shifted over the years. There is less of a focus on the gospel and more of a focus on your personal happiness. For this reason, the popularity of John 3:16 is fading and another player has entered the game and captured the hearts of Christian fans worldwide. “This year’s MPV award goes to—Jeremiah 29:11!”

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)

Truth be told, Jeremiah 29:11 has been the unanimous recipient of the award for many years now. Its message that seems to promise success and prosperity here and now makes it an attractive alternative to John 3:16, which requires you to wait until you die to experience these benefits. Honestly, who doesn’t want to hear that God has a wonderful plan for your life?

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THE PROBLEM

 

But this interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 does not hold up under closer scrutiny. When you examine the surrounding context of Jeremiah 29:11, you will see that its blessings were promised to a specific group of people (Israel) at a unique time in their history (exile). The verse before it makes this clear:

When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10, ESV)

By the time we reach chapter 29 of Jeremiah’s prophecy, Israel is on the brink of exile. Nebuchadnezzar is on his way to haul Israel off to Babylon. Therefore, Jeremiah 29:10 serves as God’s loving expression to Israel that He is not abandoning them in their darkest hour. He promises to bring them home seventy years from now. This is what God meant by having “plans” for Israel in Jeremiah 29:11: Their welfare, future, and hope are tied to their return to the Promised Land. You cannot separate the two. This is not a generic promise guaranteeing blessing for Christians; it is a specific pledge that God will bring Israel home after seventy years of exile. And that’s exactly what He did 2,500 years ago. 

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However, the Bible is not shy about its own applicability: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). There is not one word of the Bible that does not have direct bearing on our Christian lives—and that must include Jeremiah 29:11. Somehow, someway, Jeremiah 29:11 must apply to you and me.

So, the question is not, “Does Jeremiah 29:11 apply to me,” but “How does Jeremiah 29:11 apply to me?” That’s what we need to figure out. But if we are going to figure out how it applies to us, we have to solve two problems:

  1. How can Jeremiah 29:11 apply to me if it was promised to Israel?

  2. How can Jeremiah 29:11 apply to me if it was already fulfilled 2,500 years ago?

THE SOLUTION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

 

We can solve both of these problems if we look not only at the verse before Jeremiah 29:11, but also at the verses after it:

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:12–14, ESV)

Notice that Jeremiah 29:11 is bracketed by two different descriptions of Israel’s status: Jeremiah 29:10 pictures Israel’s physical return from exile into the land of Canaan, but Jeremiah 29:12–14 depicts their spiritual return from exile. The two obviously go hand-in-hand; they are two sides to the same coin. But just because they go together does not mean they happen at the same time. Yes, Jeremiah 29:10 has already happened: Israel came back to Canaan after seventy years of exile. But Jeremiah 29:12–14 has not happened yet: Israel has not returned to God spiritually the way these verses portray it. 

But how do we know that Jeremiah 29:12–14 has not yet taken place? Jeremiah 24:6–7 helps us answer this question. If we hop over there, we see Jeremiah 29:12–14 fleshed out in more detail:

I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart(Jeremiah 29:12–14, ESV)

There is one key similarity between these two verses that you should be aware of: Both tell us that Israel will seek God “with their whole heart.” Based on this unique language, there is no question that these two sets of verses are talking about the same future moment. But notice that Jeremiah 24 adds something new about the heart: It says that God will “give them a heart.” This is a significant statement that helps us identify the time when God will bring Jeremiah 29:12–14 to pass. Jeremiah is talking about the New Covenant that God will make with Israel in the future, and a new heart is the trademark of this New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31–34 sets a definition for the New Covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV)

In the New Covenant, God promises to write His law on their hearts. This is another way of saying that God will give them a new heart. But in case you are unconvinced that those two statements are talking about the same event, just look at Jeremiah 32:39–40:

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

In Jeremiah 32, the same covenant from Jeremiah 31 is described as a time when God will give Israel one heart. Clearly then, Jeremiah 24:6–7, 29:12–14, 31:31–34, and 32:39–40 are all talking about the same moment when Israel returns to God spiritually by the power of the New Covenant, not just physically by the decree of Cyrus. 

It’s important that we see this, because the New Covenant was not inaugurated when Israel returned from exile; it was installed at Jesus’ first coming (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:15). This means that Jeremiah 29 cannot only have Israel’s physical return in mind. It is not only projecting seventy years into the future when Israel returns to Canaan, but also 500 years into the future when the New Covenant is launched. For this reason, Jeremiah 29:12–14 did not happen when Israel returned from exile.

If this is the case, then Jeremiah has one eye on the immediate future in Jeremiah 29:10 and another eye on the distant future in Jeremiah 29:12–14. Stuck in the middle is our verse, Jeremiah 29:11, straddling the immediate and distant future. As a result, God’s plans for welfare, a future, and a hope will not only take place in the immediate future, but also the distant future. In other words, these blessings not only refer to Israel’s return from exile; they also refer to Israel’s salvation in heaven.

This is how Jeremiah 29:11 applies to you and me. We, as Gentile Christians, have access to the same eternal blessings of the New Covenant through Christ. God’s plans for welfare, a future, and a hope not only apply to Israel in the future, but to us in the future as well. We will share in many of the same heavenly rewards. Even if you do not believe that there is a spiritual future for the nation of Israel and instead that all of their blessings are fulfilled in Christ for the church, you can still wholeheartedly agree that Jeremiah 29:11 applies to us through the New Covenant. 

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This solves both of our problems from the beginning: 

  1. How can Jeremiah 29:11 apply to me if it was promised to Israel? It applies to you through the New Covenant. As a Christian, you share with Israel in the same eternal blessings through Christ.

  2. How can Jeremiah 29:11 apply to me if it was already fulfilled 2,500 years ago? It was only partially fulfilled 2,500 years ago. The rest of it will be fulfilled when God plants both Israel and the church in His new creation.

THE SOLUTION IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

It’s one thing for me to say that Jeremiah 29:11 applies to us this way; it’s another thing for me to prove it. If Jeremiah 29:11 has eternal ramifications in mind, you would expect that the New Testament would pick up on this. So, the question we need to answer is this: Does our New Testament refer to Jeremiah 29:11 this way? 

The simple answer is “yes,” but the way the New Testament talks about Jeremiah 29:11 is a little more complicated than just a basic “yes” or “no.” We need to turn to a book like 1 Peter to see how the New Testament unpacks the theology of Jeremiah 29:11. While we could explore many different parts of the New Testament, 1 Peter is a good starting place, because it addresses all the key components of Jeremiah 29:11. You could even think of 1 Peter as a commentary on Jeremiah 29:11. First Peter discusses four important aspects related to Jeremiah 29:11: Exile, welfare, future, and hope.

EXILE

If 1 Peter is going to relate to Jeremiah 29:11, it needs to be framed with the same context. Jeremiah 29:11 was written with Israel’s exile in mind. God’s plans for welfare, a future, and a hope pertain to Israel’s return from exile, both physically and spiritually. For this reason, 1 Peter must address the subject of exile—and it does. Here’s how: 1 Peter labels its recipients as exiles:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. (1 Peter 1:1; cf. 2:11, ESV)

If the church is going to enjoy the eternal blessings of Jeremiah 29:11, they too must endure an exile, like Israel. Our exile, though, is not physical. Not all Christians have been forced to leave their earthly homeland. But our exile is spiritual. We are living in a world that is not our home and waiting for one that is. That’s what Peter is referring to by calling his audience, exiles. 

WELFARE

The Hebrew word for “welfare” in Jeremiah 29:11 is pronounced, shalom, which may sound familiar to you. It’s the modern Israeli word for “Hello.” In ancient Hebrew, it has a wide range of meanings, but perhaps its most common definition is “peace.” This certainly fits the context of Jeremiah 29:11. God is not just promising Israel wealth or prosperity—although that is certainly true; He is also guaranteeing peace from their conflict. A nation stuck in exile longs for oppression to end. They hope for lasting peace.

This type of peace is picked up by 1 Peter. For example, the author opens and closes the letter with benedictions that express a desire for peace:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:2, ESV)

Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Peter 5:14, ESV)

By bookending the main message around wishes for peace, Peter signals that there will be an end to the conflict that that caused their exile. The turmoil Christians face in this world for standing up for the gospel will one day end. A time of peace awaits those who endure to the end.

FUTURE

When we read that God will give Israel a future in Jeremiah 29:11, I think many of us imagine that God is promising to give them a successful life. Perhaps, this is why Jeremiah 29:11 makes its way onto so many graduation cards. We rightfully want to see the next generation succeed. But that is not what Jeremiah 29:11 is referring to when it promises Israel a future. The Hebrew word for “future” literally means “end.” God is promising that Israel will make it to the end. What “end” does God have in mind? Certainly, the end of Babylonian exile is a part of it. But there must be more to it than that, because, as we have already seen, Jeremiah 29:11 is forecasting a future when Israel will be spiritually transformed as well. If you study the Hebrew word for “end” across the Old Testament, you will find that it often appears as a reference to the end times. As a result, Jeremiah may be anticipating not one, but two futures in 29:11: The immediate hope of their return from exile (29:10) and the distant hope of their homecoming in heaven (29:12–14).

1 Peter adopts the same perspective of the future. Much of the letter is written with the end times in mind:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5, ESV)

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7, ESV)

Just like Israel, the church will make it to the end through the power of God in Christ.

HOPE

There is nothing magical about the Hebrew word for “hope” in Jeremiah 29:11. It simply means “hope.” But Israel’s hope was grounded in more than their residency in the land of Canaan. All their hopes and dreams were contingent on the state of their heart. There was no future hope for Israel if they continued in idolatry. Therefore, God was promising Israel more than physical hope in Jeremiah 29:11; He was also pledging spiritual hope.

This is consistent with the message of 1 Peter. In fact, the theme of the book is hope:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3, ESV)

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13, ESV)

Believers in Christ possess the same hope Israel does, not the reward of a physical home on this earth, but the blessing of an eternal home on a new earth.

SO WHAT?

I realize this was a lot to digest. So, let’s take a moment to review:

  1. We learned that Jeremiah 29:11 is not a blank check of prosperity for any Christian to cash in this life. Instead, it is God’s guarantee to Israel that He will bring them home after seventy years of exile (Jeremiah 29:10).

  2. We also learned that Jeremiah 29:11 is thinking beyond Israel’s return from exile. It is forecasting a time when the whole nation will repent from a transformed heart (Jeremiah 29:12–14; 24:6–7). God will give them this new heart through the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 32:37–41). Although Israel has already returned from exile 2,500 years ago, they still have yet to return to Him with their whole heart.

  3. We discovered that the New Covenant is the key that gives us, Gentile Christians, access to the blessings promised in Jeremiah 29:11. Since we are spiritually in exile, just like Israel was physically in exile, we need an eternal welfare, future, and hope to rescue us from sojourning in a world that is not our home. It is these blessings that God has promised to us in Christ (1 Peter 1:2, 3–5, 13; 5:14).

It’s important that we get this verse right. A vast majority of Christians today are building a man-centered, earthly-minded theology on a critical misunderstanding of one verse. Others are quick to point out the flaws in their thinking but then offer nothing in return. This leaves the church in limbo, keeping the real meaning and value of Jeremiah 29:11 hidden. Don’t rob the church of this important contribution to our faith by going to either extreme. Jeremiah 29:11 has tremendous merit for the church today and we need to explain what that is. It reminds us that our hope is eternal, not temporal and that it is spiritual, not just physical. Without Jeremiah 29:11, we would never have Christ, because Christ is the one who will bring all these wonderful promises to pass. We all need Jeremiah 29:11. 

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