“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:23–24)
This is an interesting verse, tucked away in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Here he is speaking on the crucifixion, and he neatly identifies two causes. On the one hand Jesus was crucified by the Roman soldiers: it was they who wielded the hammer and nails. Yet ask them about the events, and they would tell you they were simply following the orders of the the fifth Prefect of Judaea, one Pontius Pilate. It was he who really killed Christ.
Toddle off to the palace compound used by Pilate when he was in town, and he would have shrugged his shoulders. Yes, he might have issued the order but he was under intense pressure from the Jewish leaders. He tried to pardon Christ, but the crowd called for Barabbas instead. No, he would say, it was the Jewish leaders who really killed Jesus. He was just yielding to their demands.
Turn to the Apostle Peter and he would agree - in a way. He accuses his hearers in Jerusalem of killing Jesus, “by the hands of lawless men”. They are culpable for the act, but there is a deeper truth at play as well since “this Jesus” was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”. Whilst the Jews were a cause of Jesus death, God himself is the first cause. It was his “definite plan” that Christ should die, and the Jews (and Romans) were the means by which that plan came to pass.
In these couple of verses, then, we see something of the way in which God brings his will into being. He determines something will come to pass, and humans bring it about. They are acting in accordance with their will, but God’s will is deeper. They may even seek to defy God, but that might simply be a means to an end.
Deep stuff, but it is important to recognise that both human and divine wills are at play. And that in the end the divine works on a deeper level.