The Sovereignty of God in the Death of Jesus

The most crucial example for the sake of the gospel and its advance in the book of Acts is conveyed in God’s sovereignty over the death of Jesus. In Acts 2:22-23, Peter explains the death of Jesus as being a work of both man and God. It was evident to the Jews to whom he was speaking that Jesus had been crucified by men, but what is astonishing is that God demonstrates his sovereignty over the death of Christ. Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (2:23). “God had an active role in Christ’s death…Christ’s death did not take God by surprise.”[1] Even an event in which God seemed to have his hands tied, Luke assures us that in fact God was in control of his Son’s death. When it comes to salvation, or anything else for that matter, God acts definitively and purposefully. Without God’s divine initiative, his purpose of salvation would not be carried out. Ben Witherington III agrees as he asserts that the crucifixion is only possible because God did indeed give him up to death.[2]

The prayer in Acts 4:24-28 carries the theme of God’s sovereignty further with regard to the death of Jesus. The prayer begins with a plea to the “Sovereign Lord” (δεσποτα συ). This indicates a realization of who was in control. These early Christians were aware that it was only a sovereign Lord who could hear prayers and have the authority to answer them. I. Howard Marshall believes δεσποτα is “used to stress the powerful control exerted by God.”[3] God did not relinquish control of his plan of salvation to the hands of sinners. Instead, God used both Jews and Gentiles to accomplish his sovereign purposes in salvation. Witherington points out the ill intentions of Herod, Pilate, the Jews, and the Gentiles and how God used them for good.

“These human actors were only doing what God’s hand and plan had destined in advance to transpire.”[4]

It is indeed God’s sovereign hand that works out the salvation of his people even when the means are sinful men with sinful intentions. Marshall more strongly asserts, “Yet all that was plotted and done against Jesus was no more than God had foreordained to happen.”[5]

God is sovereign over the death of his Son because he is sovereign over the salvation of his people. The gospel would not be good news if it were not for the absolute sovereignty of God. It is through his foreknowledge, providence, and foreordination that the Son is given as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. The sovereignty of God is vital to the shape of the book of Acts because without God’s sovereignty in the death and resurrection of Jesus, there would be no advance of the gospel and no growth of the church.


[1] S.M. Baugh, “The Meaning of Foreknowledge” in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, 2000), 188-189.

[2] “Yet at the same time the culpability of Jews…is asserted by the words ‘having affixed him to a cross, you killed…’ This was only possible because God ‘gave him up.’” Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 145.

[3] I. Howard Marshall, Acts, vol. 5 in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 111.

[4] Witherington, 202.

[5] Marshall, 113.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.


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