And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (prothesis). For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)
I have always read this verse and stopped at the comfort of its promise: that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. This time I thought I would go through it carefully, word by word, and study it. When I got to the word translated “purpose” I was stopped in my tracks at the amazing depth and fullness and loving message hidden there.
The Greek word is prothesis. It means “a setting forth of a thing,” figuratively, a proposal or intention. Paul is saying here that all things work for the good of those who have been called according to God’s proposal, God’s intention. But what, I wondered, is God’s proposal or intention? The word prothesis also contains the answer to that question.
Prothesis also means a setting forth of the shewbread in the Temple, as exposed before God. The shewbread, or showbread, was the Bread of the Presence, which God commanded to be always before him.
Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. Exodus 25:30 (NIV)
Prothesis is the same word that Jesus used in Matthew:
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread (shewbread, loaves of presentation)—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Matthew 12:3-4 (NIV)
The noun prothesis comes from the verb protithemai, which means to place before, to set forth to be looked at, expose to public view. It was used of the bodies of the dead that were let lie in state. In ancient Greek it referred to the laying out of a dead body during the funeral (exposing the body for viewing), also called lying in repose. The laying out, or exposing of, the shewbread in the temple was like the lying in repose of the body of Christ. It was the exposing of God’s intention, his Grand Proposal to save the world.
God’s purpose, his proposal, his intention, that, Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Bread of the Presence, Immanuel, God with us, would die for us.
“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:48-51 (NIV)
This was always God’s intent, but there is more in Romans 8:28-29: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. He wants us to be like Jesus. To lay our lives down too. To help bring this life, this Bread, to the world. To share the good news of God’s grand proposal: that Jesus died and rose again from the dead to save us from our sins.
Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:7-11 (NIV)
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. Matthew 26:26 (NIV)
Rise up and help us; redeem us because of (for the sake of, for the purpose of, to the intent of, on account of) your unfailing love. Psalm 44:26 (NIV)
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