God’s knowledge about the future isn’t just a minor issue for theological debate. It’s central to our hope of eternal life.
In a fallen world filled with death, suffering, and natural disasters, many people live in pain, uncertainty, and hopelessness. People naturally ask questions. Can I have hope in a world that seems so uncertain? Will a day ever come when death and suffering will be no more?
Christians have answers. Suffering and death happen because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 2:16–17, 3:19; Romans 5:12, 8:19–22), but God’s Word gives us hope and certainty that one day the Lord will swallow up death forever and wipe away all tears (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:3–5) because of what Christ achieved for us on the cross (Colossians 1:20).
Our certainty about the future doesn’t come out of thin air. It is based upon the fact that God not only knows what will take place in the future but has revealed the key events to us so that we might have confident hope. Sadly, in recent years some leading pastors and theologians have challenged the idea that God has exhaustive knowledge of future events (an idea called “open theism”).
Believers need to recognize the preciousness of this biblical truth about God’s omniscience. God explicitly claims accurate knowledge of future events as one of the greatest proofs that he is the one and only true God. It shows us not only that we can trust him but also that he is in total control of all things.
This truth gives Christians security in God’s promises about a future filled with certainty and hope. Perhaps even more important than a secure promise for Christians to hold onto, it provides us with a compelling message to proclaim to those who have no hope.
Let’s begin by taking a closer look at one of the most comprehensive Bible passages discussing God’s knowledge of the future. It is found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah, who ministered to the nations of Israel and Judah several centuries before Christ (~740–690 BC).
In chapters 40–45, in what is often called the trial of false gods (see Isaiah 41:21), God calls Israel into judgment for its idolatry. The nation of Israel went into exile because it had mixed pagan idolatry with the worship of God (Isaiah 40:19, 41:7, 42:17, 45:16–20).
Isaiah describes idolatry as “folly” because there is only one God and beside him there is no other god, so it is foolish to trust in other deities (Isaiah 43:11, 44:6, 45:5). More to the point, there are no other gods because the attribute that separates God from all other deities is that of creating (Isaiah 40:28, 42:5).
Most notably, the aspect of his nature as Creator that shows him to be the one true God is his knowledge of future events.
God’s knowledge of the future is important because it is a fundamental aspect of his character and a foundation of prophecy. In Isaiah 41, God claims that he alone is in control of world history (41:1–20). Yet, because the gods of the nations made the same claim, it was necessary to offer proof. So “the King of Jacob,” as God calls himself in this passage, challenges the gods of the other nations to a test: to predict an event and then declare the outcome.
“Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified” (Isaiah 41:21–23).
These verses reveal many things about God’s nature and his purposes in the world, not just about the future but about the past. It’s not just that he knows what has happened and will happen, but he knows everything about why it happened. Before challenging the gods of the nations about their knowledge of the future, God first asks them to “tell us the former things . . . that we may know their outcome.” Historians can often tell you what happened in the past, but very often they cannot tell you why it happened. It is one thing to know the facts; it is another to know the “why” of the facts. Only the true God can tell you what happened in the past as well as why.
God then challenges the gods of the nations to “declare to us the things to come.” The futility of idols is that they cannot tell the future (or the past) as only the true God can. Isaiah prophesied that God would use Cyrus, the future king of Persia, to help regather the faithful remnant of Israel back to the land a century and a half before that regathering happened (Isaiah 44:24–28). He identified that future king by name.
Isaiah could prophesy this because he served the true God, who has exhaustive foreknowledge of future events (Isaiah 44:6–8). For the false gods, however, this was impossible (Isaiah 41:26). God predicted the future so that when it came about, his people would acknowledge that he, unlike the gods of the nations, is the one true God.
God uses prophecy again in the New Testament for this same reason, to prove that he is who he says he is. In John 13:19 Jesus prophesied his betrayal to his disciples: “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” He did this so that when it took place, it would help them know that he is God. (There are good biblical reasons to conclude that the Greek phrase Jesus used for “I am,” ego eimi, is a reference to “I am Yahweh” in Isaiah 43:10, as translated in the Greek Septuagint. 1)
The purpose of predictive prophecy is to show that God is guiding human history to accomplish his purposes. So when people deny God’s exhaustive knowledge of future events, they turn God into a deity who is no better than the gods of the other nations.
Only the true God can declare the beginning from the end and accomplish all his purposes. Yet if God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future, then how could he know the end from the beginning (see Isaiah 46:8–10)?
Because God is all-knowing, we can rest secure in his promise of a new heaven and new earth where there will be no more death and suffering (Isaiah 65:17–25). But how can those who reject God’s knowledge of the future be certain of these things?
Scripture clearly presents God as knowing the future exhaustively. He knows it because he created and oversees all things according to his own wise plan. In a world filled with death, suffering, uncertainty, and hopelessness, we can be certain of a secure future because the character of the God of creation guarantees it, and his knowledge of future events means nothing will ever catch him by surprise.
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isaiah 46:9–10).
“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).
“The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11).
“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4).
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16).
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).
“For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).