Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
When I first became a Christian, this verse was very precious to me. I used to hold onto it and say it often to myself. God has good plans for me, plans for a hope and a future. Then, years later, I heard some say that this verse was taken out of context, and that we are incorrect to apply it to ourselves today. So how should one think about this? Does God have plans for me? Can a New Testament Christian apply this verse to their life and be faithful to sound principles of exegesis? Or, was this promise only applicable to believers in Jeremiah’s time—those who were in exile?
The original context of this verse is in the Old Testament. It is in a letter that the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God informed his people that they would be there for 70 years, but after the 70 years was over, He would visit them and bring them back to Israel (we see this fulfilled in Ezra, Nehemiah). Thus, this verse is a reassurance from God to His people, reassuring them, that even though they were in exile, God still had good plans for them, plans for their good in a future and a hope. Specifically, these plans were initially fulfilled as God brought them back to the land of Israel.
Jeremiah 29:11 and Jesus
All of the Old Testament promises find their fulfillment in Christ: 2 Corinthians 1:20: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” Jesus is the true Israel. While Israel did return to the land, in another sense they were still in exile (see Nehemiah 9:36). They never really were brought out of exile until Jesus the Messiah arrived, and brought them out of the exile of sin and estrangement from God.
Jesus is the suffering servant who came and died for his people and brings them into the kingdom of God created his followers and heard the whole earth not just the land (Matt 5:5). As Christians we are now part of God’s people Israel: we have been grafted in (Romans 9). We also are exiles here on this earth, waiting for the new heavens and the new Earth (1 Peter 1:17). In one real sense we are exiles, just like the original exiles who received Jeremiah’s letter.
Seeing the Connection
Jere 29:11 tells us about God’s heart toward His people: God has good plans for his people and a real hope for them. Surely these are comforts we as New Testament Christians can hold onto. God is sovereign over all of our lives and His sovereign plan will come to pass. It will include trials and hardships (Phil 1:29), but God is above and over them all, ruling over them to make us more like Christ. God’s good plans for the Christian are to make us more like Jesus. God knows how He will bring this about and He is powerful enough to make it happen.
In many ways I believe Jere 29:11 is much like the assurance given to us in Rom 8:28-29: God works “all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
In conclusion, I would say yes, as Christians we can apply the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 to ourselves. We recognize the original context, we see the fulfillment in Christ, and we learn about the application to the Christian.