Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
There are several words in the Hebrew Old Testament, the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint), and the Greek New Testament that are variously translated must, must needs, necessary, necessity, need, and ought or ought not. We want to take a careful look at the most common of these words (dei in the Greek), noticing first of all that it is derived from a verb that means to bind or to be in bonds. The idea is that two things are bound together in such a way that one makes the other necessary or needful, in the sense that it must come to pass! These two things are a historical event and the eternal will of God. There are many things in the history of this world, in fact, all things that take place in the history of this world, which do so because they are grounded in the will of God. We may call this the must of God’s counsel. Did God decree that something should happen? Then it must happen. It is necessary that it take place. God’s will and each event is bound together in that way.
There are 102 occurrences of this word in the New Testament, 41 of them found in the Gospel of Luke and Acts—a favorite term of Luke, then. Greek scholars such as Thayer and Grundmann have arranged these usages into six categories, some of far more importance than others, but every event in each category grounded in the will of God. We find the most important and fascinating category to be the one in which the counsel of God established the necessity of the sufferings of Christ. And as Christ stands at the very heart of the eternal counsel of God, so all the other categories find their meaning in this central category of Christ’s suffering.
There are things that are necessary and must come to pass because God commands them in His law. The Pharisees ought to have done acts of justice and love rather than worry about excessive tithing (Luke 11:42). There are six days in which men ought to work (Luke 13:4). Under the old covenant, circumcision (Acts 15:5) and the Passover (Luke 22:7) were necessary observations. “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:20).
The will of God lays certain duties upon us as belonging to the Christian’s life of gratitude. “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had compassion on thee?” (Matt. 18:33). “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). “So ought men to love their own wives…” (Eph. 5:28). The gospel must be proclaimed with boldness; that is how a preacher ought to speak (Eph. 6:20).
The coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by every elect individual is necessary according to God’s will! Jesus instructs Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:7). According to John 4:4, Jesus must needs go through Samaria on His way to Galilee because a Samaritan woman and others there were ordained unto salvation. Jesus informed Zacchaeus that He must abide at his house, in order that salvation might come to his house that day (Luke 19:5, 9). Since faith is by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, Paul says in I Corinthians 9:16, “… For necessity is laid upon me: yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.”
As we said, at the very heart of necessity, giving meaning to all those things that must come to pass, and causing the child of God to rejoice in the sharing of God’s secrets, is the work that Christ did, the mission that He fulfilled, the battle that He fought all alone! Jesus explained to the dejected travelers on the way to Emmaus, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Literally we read, “Was it not necessary that Christ suffer these things?” “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Necessary to fulfill prophecy. Necessary to fulfill the type. But above all, it was necessary for Christ to be lifted up on the cross, and then lifted up to heaven, to meet the demands of the counsel of God! And the heavens must receive Him until the time of the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The end of the world and all things that serve to bring the end of the world are necessary according to the will of God. The great eschatological events bring the goal of God in history. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that the thoughts he had upon his bed were of those things that should come to pass hereafter (Dan. 2:29). The signs of the times should not trouble the church of Christ, “… for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matt. 24:6). The entire Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ gives to us, His servants, the record of those things which must come to pass shortly (Rev. 1:1, 4:1, 22:6). When all things are finished according to God’s exquisite salvation plan, the church will be taken to glory. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (I Cor. 15:53).