Guest Blogger: Timothy Bertolet of The Voyages...
The new year is both a time of reflection and hopeful anticipation of what lies ahead. In that spirit of anticipation, one Bible verse that seems to get particular attention around the new year is Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (NIV).
For some, Jeremiah 29:11 seems the ideal quotation to express our aspirations for good things in the new year. We use it to baptize our sentimental feelings of all the possibilities the new year must hold for us. The possibilities of prosperity are endless--so long as prosperity is largely interpreted along individualistic Americanized notions of what success and prosperity will entail.
But what if Jeremiah 29:11 is about something deeper?
First, Jeremiah 29:11 is not about your personal prosperity. While Scripture is clear that God is sovereign over all events and has declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10, et al), it is equally clear that our Americanized versions of the prosperity gospel are not Biblical. In fact, Biblically we are often called to suffer (Rom. 8:16-17; Phil. 1:29). God’s best life now is often walking the path of Christ in exile to the world’s versions of favor and prosperity.
Let’s face it, we should be grateful for all that God brings into our life both good and bad (Job 2:10). The reality is that this year may not be a bed of roses for you. Your year ahead may involve difficulty, suffering and trials for the purpose of building perseverance (Romans 5:3-5). It may very well be the Lord’s will to crush you to break you for some set of reasons known only to Him. In this respect, Jeremiah 29:11 may not be ‘your verse’.
Second, Jeremiah 29:11 is about God’s plan for Israel. The point of Jeremiah 29:11 is that God will bring Israel back to Jerusalem and the promised land.
Jeremiah is writing to Israelites who had just been taken captive into Babylon with more destruction of Jerusalem just around the corner. Jeremiah prophesies full exile is imminent and lasting as Israel will be in Babylon for seventy years (Jer. 29:10). But Jeremiah announces a hope and a future so that we might know God keeps all of His Word. Jeremiah’s own prophecies are reflections of God’s earlier words to His people.
Centuries earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1, God had promised that the curses of the covenant laid out in Deuteronomy 29 would come upon Israel--including the climactic exile from the land. Yet the promise to Israel is her return from exile:
and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons,
then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
“If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:2-4)
In Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, we have God’s overarching plan for Israel. After Israel’s seventy years of captivity, God will reestablish them as a nation. Notice that Jeremiah 29:11-13 calls Israel to national repentance just like Deuteronomy 30:2. Jeremiah, echoing Deuteronomy, promises that the fortunes of the nation will be restored (Jer. 29:14; Deut. 30:5ff). Both Jeremiah 29 and Deuteronomy 30:7 promise covenant curses on Israel’s captors. After exile, God will prosper His people (Jer. 29:11; Deut. 30:9). God’s plan for Israel is made clear with this proclamation by Jeremiah.
Third, Jeremiah 29:11 is really about the gospel. In context, Jeremiah 29:11 has really always been about the gospel. God curses His people with the curse of His Law, but His plan is to redeem them of that curse. The seed planted in Deuteronomy 30 is the return from exile which takes it’s ultimate shape in the New Covenant--God’s people receive a new circumcised heart (Deut. 30:6). Jeremiah 30-33 is about the New Covenant, the restoration of Israel and the establishment of the King of the line of David back on the throne (see esp. Jer. 31:27-37).
The New Covenant ushers in the ‘last days’ where God acts on behalf of His people. Israel’s iniquities are atoned for and the Spirit is given (Jer. 31:33-34). Fulfillment is the Messiah, the Son of David, on the throne of David as he sits at the right hand of God. In the New Covenant, which Jesus Christ has now established, God does not cast off His covenant people (Jer. 31:35-37).
So the verse is for you after all. If you are a Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, you can name and claim Jeremiah 29:11--but it is through Jesus the Son by which you claim that verse. Your hope is that the Son has risen and ascended to the right hand of God. The Son has established the New Covenant and put the Spirit in our hearts. In Jesus the ‘last days’ have dawned. That which Jeremiah says ‘the days are coming’ (31:27,31) are those which have now come. Jeremiah 29:11 has reached fulfillment in the fullness of time with the gospel concerning the Son.
I hope that next time you read Jeremiah 29:11 you will reflect on the New Covenant promise given in the passage and know that it is yours in your union with Christ. Put aside the silly notions of prosperity and sentimentality and embrace the gospel in this promise to you.
(Tim is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary and is now the pastor of Pocono Mountain Bible Fellowship Church. He is married and the father of four daughters.)