God's secret wisdom

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Co 2:6–8)

Wisdom is supreme

The Bible speaks a lot about wisdom. The word is used fifty-one times in the Book of Proverbs alone, with six of the first nine chapters devoted to extolling its virtues. It's also used twenty-seven times in the Book of Ecclesiastes. With only ten chapters in the book, that's an average of almost three times per chapter.

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. (Pro 4:7)

Wisdom is supreme: the Hebrew word means the head; the first as to place, time, order, or rank. Wisdom is the most important thing any person can have, but what is it?

Wisdom can be defined as the ability to make a decision, or pursue a course of action, that will benefit oneself or someone else. In 2Sa 20:14–22 a wise woman advised a course of action that saved her city from destruction: her wisdom benefited many. Similarly, if we have wisdom it will benefit us (Pro 4:6–9).

The Bible speaks of three kinds of wisdom:

Human wisdom

As you would expect, the Bible has a low opinion of human wisdom. It says that human wisdom is foolishness in God's sight (1Co 3:19) and that God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (1Co 1:25). Can God be foolish? Only in the eyes of sinners.

1Co 1:18 says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. God's Son, hanging on a tree, is foolishness to those who can't understand it. They can't understand it because they haven't the Holy Spirit to give them understanding (1Co 2:14).

What those without the Spirit regard as foolish—the truth that can make them wise for salvation (2Ti 3:15)—is wiser than any wisdom of their own. So if they think they are wise, they should become fools so they can become truly wise (1Co 3:18).

Have you become a fool for Christ? Have you believed the foolishness of the gospel—that Jesus Christ died on a cross for your sins? I have, and I hope that you have. If you have, then you've become wise—wise in the sight of God, but foolish in the sight of the world.

Divine wisdom

Divine wisdom (wisdom from God) is the wisdom Solomon asked for. God appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom to govern his people (2Ch 1:7–10), so God gave him what he asked for and made him wiser than anyone who had ever lived (1Ki 3:10–2). Only Jesus was wiser than Solomon (Luk 11:31).

Divine wisdom is the wisdom James tells us to ask for. It's the ability from God to make wise decisions in life. God gives such wisdom to those who ask him (Jam 1:5–8).

Divine wisdom is so beneficial that a message of wisdom is one of the nine spiritual gifts (1Co 12:8). It's an inspired utterance, through a believer, that reveals God's wisdom to an individual, or church, in a particular situation. Act 13:1–3 shows the gift in action.

Secret wisdom

This is by far the most important type of wisdom in the Bible and is the subject of our study. If I asked you what was the first thing God brought into being, what would you say? If you said it was the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) you'd be wrong. The first thing God brought into being was wisdom.

The Lord brought me [wisdom] forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.

When there were no oceans, I [wisdom] was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I [wisdom] was given birth, before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world. (Pro 8:22–6)

But why should wisdom be the first of God's works? Because this wisdom, and the secret wisdom Paul wrote about in our opening text, is God's plan of salvation.

1Pe 1:20 tells us that Jesus was chosen by God before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for our sake. The Greek word translated 'chosen' means to foreknow, to decide in advance. God decided that Jesus should die for the sins of the world—a wise decision that has benefited many—before the world was created.

Think about that. It puts the whole of creation into perspective and shows how important Jesus dying on the cross for our sins was. It was the first decision God made.

The gospel in Proverbs

The fact that the word 'wisdom', as used in the early chapters of Proverbs, is referring to God's secret wisdom (his plan of salvation) can be understood from the following examples:

Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: 'How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?' (Pro 1:20–2a)

The Hebrew word translated 'simple' in the Book of Proverbs means naive, easily deceived or persuaded. It refers to those who have been led into sin by the deceiver (Gen 3:13). The above passage describes the public preaching of the gospel: How long will you sinners love your sinful ways?

'Blessed is the man who listens to me [wisdom], watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.' (Pro 8:34–6)

Blessed are those who listen to wisdom (God's plan of salvation) and continue to listen to it, for it is the doorway to (the way by which we enter) heaven. Those who find it find life (eternal life) and receive favour from the Lord (2Co 6:2). But those who don't find it suffer harm (eternal punishment); and all who hate it love death (spiritual death – Rom 6:23).

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men… who leave the straight paths… who delight in doing wrong…. It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words…. For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life. (Pro 2:12–9)

Wisdom (God's plan of salvation) will save (Hebrew rescue, deliver) a person from sin. It will set them free from it and give them the power to resist it (Rom 6:18). Christians who don't remove sin from their lives (Col 3:5–10), or later return to it (2Pe 2:20–2), will not attain the paths of life (will not ultimately be saved – Gal 5:19–21; Eph 5:3–7).

The tree of life

She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed. (Pro 3:18)

Wisdom is a tree of life. The tree of life imparts eternal life to all who eat from it (Gen 3:22). Wisdom (God's plan of salvation) imparts eternal life to all who embrace it (Hebrew seize it, grasp it firmly) and lay hold of it (Hebrew hold it fast).

People were responding to the gospel in that way in Mat 11:12 and Luk 16:16. Jesus described them as 'forceful' (the Greek word comes from a root word meaning force or violence): they were eager to receive God's gift of salvation.

God planted a garden in Eden and placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of it (Gen 2:8–9). He did that because of their importance. One symbolized sin—that which was forbidden and brings death. The other symbolized the cross—that which brings forgiveness and life.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus died on a cross? Our sins are cleansed by his blood (Mat 26:28). For him to have shed his blood in any way would have been sufficient for our salvation, but they nailed him to a cross made from a tree.

For Adam and Eve to have received eternal life after they had sinned they would have had to have eaten from the tree of life or, more precisely, from what was hanging on that tree (Gen 3:22). God was showing through this that one day sinful human beings would receive eternal life from what was hanging on a tree—from his Son, Jesus Christ.

Many watched Jesus die that day, including his disciples. I don't think any of them realized they were looking at the real tree of life of which the one in the Garden of Eden had been a type and a shadow.

Have you eaten from the tree of life? Jesus said that whoever feeds on him will live for ever (Joh 6:57–8). If you haven't received Jesus Christ as your Saviour and your Lord, do so today. He is the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through him (Joh 14:6).

Rulers of this age

But why is God's plan of salvation described as his 'secret' wisdom? Because, as our opening text tells us, the understanding of it was hidden from the rulers of this age. For if they'd understood it they would not have crucified his Son.

Who were those rulers? Act 4:24–7 and Luk 24:20 tells us that Herod and Pontius Pilate (the human rulers of the day) conspired with the chief priests and elders (the rulers of the Jews) to put Jesus to death. But there were others involved.

When Satan told Jesus he had authority over all the kingdoms of the world (the Greek word means authority, power, the right to rule, govern or control), for it had been given to him and he could give it to anyone he wanted to, he was telling the truth. If he was lying, worshipping him would not have been a temptation (Luk 4:5–7).

Jesus referred to Satan as the 'prince' of this world three times in John's Gospel (Joh 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The Greek word means ruler.

Satan is the ruler of this age (current world system), not people. It's not until Rev 11:15–7 that the kingdoms of the world (the Greek word can be plural) will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will begin to reign.

Until then it's not flesh and blood we struggle against, but the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Those forces influence, and can even control, the behaviour of individuals and nations (Rev 16:13–4; 20:7–10).

Satan entered into Judas Iscariot when Jesus gave him the bread (Joh 13:27). Judas then went out (under Satan's influence) and betrayed him, which led to his death. Pilate was prepared to release him, but the chief priests and elders (under Satan's influence) stirred up the crowd to demand that he be crucified (Mat 27:15–26).

Jesus knew beforehand that some of the Jews wanted to kill him. He told them that their father was the devil and that they wanted to carry out their father's desire, for he was a murderer from the beginning (Joh 8:37–44). And they did carry out his desire.

Satan was the instigator of Christ's death. He tried to kill him as soon as he was born (Mat 2:13). Why? Because he is the enemy of God and everyone who belongs to God (Luk 10:18–9), and he knew that Jesus was the Son of God (Luk 4:41). But demons don't know everything: they only know what God permits them to know.


We tend to think of the cross only in terms of it providing forgiveness for our sins, but much more than that was achieved when Jesus died.

And they sang a new song:

'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.' (Rev 5:9)

Redemption is an important subject in the Bible. In the Old Testament it referred to the buying back, usually by a sum of money, of what once belonged to a person—either a piece of land or something they'd dedicated to God. When God created mankind they belonged to him, but Satan, by deception, stole them away.

In both the Old and New Testaments the word 'lord' means owner, ruler, one who has authority over another, one who is obeyed (Luk 6:46). When Adam obeyed Satan in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1–6) he made him his lord, giving him authority over himself and his descendants (all the kingdoms of the world – Luk 4:5–6).

When Jesus shed his blood on the cross he bought people back for God from under Satan's authority. A price had to be paid for their redemption and Jesus paid it. That is why it's so important for Christians to confess that Jesus is Lord (Rom 10:9), because previously Satan has been their lord, he is the one they've obeyed (Eph 2:1–2).

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1Pe 1:18–9)

In the New Testament the Greek words translated 'redeemed' and 'redemption' refer to the releasing of a slave or prisoner by the paying of a ransom. Have Christians been slaves or prisoners? Yes, we have.

The Bible says that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1Jo 5:19) and that those in the world are slaves to sin and prisoners of sin (Joh 8:34; Gal 3:22). Jesus, by his blood, has paid the ransom to set us free from sin (Mat 20:28; Joh 8:36) so we can become slaves to God and to righteousness, resulting in eternal life (Rom 6:18,22).

All that took place on the cross. Satan won't do anything that will damage his kingdom (Mat 12:24–6). If he had known what would happen when Jesus shed his blood he would not have plotted his death; but the understanding of it was hidden from him.

Neither angels nor demons (fallen angels) understand salvation. They long to (1Pe 1:10–2) but they cannot because God hasn't revealed it to them. It's only through the revelation of his Spirit that a created being can understand spiritual truth, human or angelic (1Co 2:10a).

Neither has he offered them salvation. He gave them free will, as he gave us free will. He reserved some for himself (the elect angels – 1Ti 5:21), but those who rebelled against him he will send to the eternal fire (Mat 25:41).

Angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (Heb 1:14). Jesus didn't die to save fallen spirits, but to save those he had made in his image (Gen 1:27).

God's purposes

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…. (Eph 1:11)

I find it fascinating how God used Satan to help bring about his plan of salvation. Satan is a powerful being, but God is all-powerful.

We've seen that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Jews and the Gentiles conspired against Jesus (Act 4:27) and that Satan was behind the conspiracy, but v28 says: 'They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.' Everything that took place had been planned in advance by God.

But was Jesus dying for our sins God's original plan or his rescue plan when he foresaw what we would do? I believe it was his original plan. If we hadn't disobeyed him the most important event in history would not have taken place and there would be no Lamb upon the throne for us to worship (Rev 5:12). The cross glorifies God (Rom 5:8).

Satan rebelled against God and led mankind into sin (Gen 3:1–6). If Adam and Eve had not been tempted would they have sinned? Probably not. They were sinless and had no knowledge of evil, it was Satan who put the thought of disobedience into their minds.

If they had not sinned there would have been no need for our Lord to die, but his death was planned before the world was created, so it had to happen. That doesn't mean that God is the author of evil, he isn't, but because he is sovereign he can use the desires of his rebellious creation to fulfil his purposes.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?'

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen. (Rom 11:33–6)

Our finite minds may not be able to grasp everything God has done, or is doing, or will do in the future, by his wisdom, but we know that he will fulfil his purposes on earth because he is God. Let's thank him today for his wonderful salvation! Amen.

Michael Graham
April 2009
Revised April 2018

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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