When my mom died, I inherited two intriguing photo albums—one containing her personal history and one she’d kept for my father who had died 17 years prior. Going through these more thoroughly as a middle-aged orphan, I was thumped with a realization I hadn’t considered when my parents were alive: These were two very different people with two very different backgrounds. Granted, this was not their first marriage and there was a significant age difference, but the variety of events that had to occur to bring them into each other’s lives (and to bring me on the scene) seemed overwhelming.
Consider your parents and all the circumstances that brought them together. Consider what made you possible. The further back into a family tree we explore, the more astounding our history seems.
Just one generation back, I’m left with the mystery of what brought my dad’s dad (central-Missouri, country-boy Frank Malone) to St. Louis to meet the daughter of a German immigrant (Viola Augusta Frieda Taube). I won’t know the answer to that in this life since my dad was so much older than me and his parents were both born before the 20th century! Whatever brought them together must be equally as astounding as my own parents’ story. On my mom’s side: Her dad was run out of Kentucky for a crime (still unknown to our family) and brought to St. Louis where, at some social event, he met a German farm girl who was working as a servant in a wealthy home. Another astounding story.
You have similar stories in your past—not just the two people who made you, but the four people who made them.
Looking at records from a generation previous, I can see that my grandmother Viola’s parents met after her mother’s family emigrated from Germany and moved next door to her future father’s family. That’s two people brought together over a massive ocean. Back another generation on my mother’s side is a similar situation: Two Germans—who had emigrated to America with their parents about a decade apart—happened to settle in the same county. They would probably never have met back in Germany. Yet now they have a legacy of multiple dozens of great-great-grandchildren.
Up the Family Tree
Consider the countless variables for the two people who made you, the four people who made those two, the eight who made those four, the 16 who made those eight, the 32 who made those 16, then the 64, 128, 256, 512 and the 1,024 great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents you have. Go back 20 generations, and it’s 1,048,576 people; 30 generations back is more than a billion.
Stopping at just 10 generations, it’s bewildering to think that your creation required over 1,000 people: That’s over 500 love stories—500 connections—that had to happen to produce you.
In your family tree, pinpoint where God called someone out of this world. Maybe, like me, your parents were first. Maybe it was one or both of their parents—or even farther back for some youth in God’s Church now.
Looking at the mesh of all these family trees in God’s Church, you likely see a very strategically placed set of called-out ones who will maximize God’s efforts when He sets His hand to save all of humanity. Out of those 1,000-plus people in the last 10 generations of your family, multiply that through the Body of Christ (for those not immediately related to someone else in the Church), and you can catch a better glimpse of what God is doing by calling out a handful of “firstfruits” in this life—as the day of Pentecost celebrates.
We can think of being called out of the world as being in a “horizontal” direction—being the few whose minds are opened out of all those alive today. But think of how special you are in a “vertical” direction, going up the family tree—the multiple millions in your family tree who went before you, who had no knowledge of this incredible truth.
When God calls someone out of the world, He is definitely thinking “down” the family tree well into the future. In His famous prayer the final night before His crucifixion, Jesus Christ prayed for the generations of firstfruits to follow (John 17:20), and, in his first Pentecost sermon, the Apostle Peter said the promise of the Holy Spirit was offered “unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off” (Acts 2:39). God was thinking about the children of those called out, as well as those “afar off”—both geographically and generationally!
This makes your existence so astoundingly special! The fact that you have access to God through a believing parent (or a guardian who has raised you) makes you an astonishingly unique human being in the history of mankind.
The Bible reveals that God has been working with those He calls long before He actually invites them to be a part of His firstfruits (Jude 1). That verse says that after setting them apart for consideration, God “preserved” them in Jesus Christ before finally inviting them. Many called out ones have stories of miraculous protection long before they were called. Some firstfruits even have parents and grandparents who themselves—though never called into God’s truth—survived impossible situations, suggesting that God may have considered whether to call a firstfruit at least one or two generations in advance.
My dad often told a story from his experience in World War ii. He was in the Coast Guard and sailing to Japan for a ground invasion. They knew chances of survival were slim. But they received news that the U.S. had dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, and the war was over. No one on his boat knew what an “A-bomb” was, but Dad often said that had their boats not turned around and headed home, he probably wouldn’t have survived and never would have been called. (He also always added that I never would have been born.)
Once invited as firstfruits, God places us into the “body of Christ” exactly where it best fits His plans (1 Corinthians 12:18-27). And He is also expecting many of them to rear their own children in this way of life.
Several intriguing verses suggest God was somewhat involved in the gestation and birth process for some of the more famous biblical figures (Psalm 139:13-16; 1 Kings 13:2; Jeremiah 1:5) and for some of the unnamed and unconverted (Job 31:13-15).
God knows every sparrow (Luke 12:6) and will even bring a bird halfway around the globe if it will help accomplish His will (Isaiah 46:10-11). He also knows every descendent of the tribe of Israel down to the “least grain” (Amos 9:9), and counts every hair on our heads (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7). He knows us on a molecular level!
God Calculated For You
As our Jude booklet states: “You didn’t just stumble into God’s Church! You were invited by God! There are no accidental sons in God’s Family—like an accidental pregnancy. God calculates it to the most minute detail!”
The firstfruits calling is highly calculated. That’s what is so astoundingly special and miraculous about it. Another word the Bible uses to describe it is predestination. To truly understand this subject requires an understanding of the meaning of Pentecost: that God is calling out only a few now, ahead of the rest (the rest will be given an opportunity in due time). Those called now have been selected for unique service to God’s Work today as well as being the group of pioneers to help lead the rest of the world to God when He opens the minds of the rest of humanity.
God “predestined” that this group would be called out before the rest at the “foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4-5; 2 Timothy 1:9). It doesn’t indicate that specific knowledge of specific persons was involved that long ago, but at some point God knew about each of us individually— probably much earlier than we might initially suspect.
Being predestined doesn’t mean any of us were “destined” to make a certain choice—just that we were going to be given the opportunity first to make such a choice.
Romans 8:29-30 state: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
Those whom God foreknew (see also Romans 11:2) were the ones He called. Herbert W. Armstrong explained that this predestination “has nothing to do with your making a decision or your fate—it has only to do with the time of your calling—whether you are called now, in this age, or later” (Predestination—Does the Bible Teach It?)
The Apostle Peter called us: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2).
“How great is God!” Mr. Armstrong continued. “If you are one now called, God ‘foreknew’ you” (ibid).
No one has slipped into God’s Church accidentally. It was calculated.
The First to Bear Fruit
Predestination doesn’t remove our choice. Anyone called now could reject that calling. But this invitation means God thought the likelihood of our success was very high. So if any of the firstfruits fail, we have only ourselves to blame. We have a part to play. We have free moral agency. As Peter said, “make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).
In Matthew 3, a group of Jews thought they were special to God just because of their genealogy. John the Baptist replied: “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (verse 9). So why doesn’t God just raise up stones? He wants a whole Family of God beings! Galatians 3:29 reveals that, even if someone is not of the seed of Abraham physically, his calling makes him Abraham’s seed spiritually.
In the same passage where Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure, he charges us to “neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).
Think of the future of your family tree! All that multiplication we did going “up” the tree reveals a remarkable number of people who made you. If we could map every aspect of it, it would start to look roughly like a diamond (with you as the tip at the bottom), starting to angle back in until you go to Ham, Shem or Japheth, the sons of Noah, and then to Noah himself. Not surprisingly, mathematicians have figured out that, based on the population of the world, we should all have a common ancestor about 4,000 years ago (which is not long after the death of Noah)—as family trees intersect with other trees.
The math reveals interesting things in the other direction (“down” the tree), even if you end up having just one child—in terms of how long before you would be a common ancestor to nearly everyone in a particular region.
When God talks about His firstfruits not being “barren nor unfruitful,” He is talking spiritually. Though some firstfruits have massive physical families, others live and die single or have no physical children. Still, they will be converting countless people in the future—even people who preceded them in their family tree!
Meditate on the term “firstfruits.” We are first; we are the “fruits,” but—as is the case physically—fruit bears fruit. Firstfruits are the first to bear fruit for God’s plan of salvation. Physically, fruits bear fruits through physical seeds. Cantaloupes and pumpkins, for example, can have hundreds of seeds each. One pomegranate can have upward of 1,400 seeds in it!
God is not just interested in our growth, but our seeds—the future impact we have on all humanity when God opens His plan of salvation to everyone who has ever lived.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote of the wonder of a nation being born in a day (Isaiah 66:8). When God’s Church is changed into a Kingdom of ruling spirit beings, this will rock the history of humanity. With God’s Kingdom ruling, those humans who live over into this new age will be given access to God’s Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28). This is also true of those resurrected 1,000 years later (Ezekiel 37:13-14; Revelation 20:5, 11-13).
Isaiah prophesies that Christ’s “name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end …” (Isaiah 9:6-7). The word for increase here can mean progeny or multiplication. If we have children, God wants to use our family-tree “future” for a stupendous purpose. But each of us has a family-tree history that will contribute to this endless and inconceivably majestic future for the God Family.
God will use His firstfruits to bring more “fruit” into the Family. Isaiah also wrote of God planting the heavens (Isaiah 51:16). Planting involves seeds. Though we aren’t entirely clear on what this entails, God’s Family contains the “seeds” of what God will do throughout the universe. How incredible to be a part of this firstfruits phase!
All the firstfruits are being placed in the “forest” of family trees strategically—to best serve the expansion of God’s Family with those God will work with in the future: the entirety of humanity!
You are part of this calling because God believes you have the best opportunity for success now. And what this calling—what Pentecost—teaches us, is that it is not just about your success. God wants to multiply that success.