Jeremiah 29:11 is indeed a tremendous promise of blessing. But how can we rip this promise from the pages of Scripture and apply it to whomever we choose? How do we know God was talking to us? Was this promise given to everyone? Does God have plans of peace and hope and blessing for all people? This is what is implied when the verse is applied to anyone and everyone with no thought at all given to the context of the promise.
What is interesting is that 6 verses after this famous promise of blessing is another promise...a promise of curse! Verses 17 and 18 end with this amazing promise from God:
"I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them..." Jeremiah 29:18This sounds a lot different from God knowing his good and peaceful plans...this presents God as knowing his plans to curse rather than bless! Do you see the problem? Here in the same passage of Scripture is a promise of blessing and a promise of a curse, both from God. How do we know which promise is for us? Why do we think that only the blessing is for us (and all the people we quote 29:11 to)? Why have I never heard anyone quote Jeremiah 29:18 to someone? Is the first promise true but the second one a lie?
What is the context of Jeremiah 29? The message of the book of Jeremiah is, basically, "God says repent or Babylon is coming to destroy the city and take you into exile." Repentance of sin and believing God is the difference between receiving the blessing or the curse. Jeremiah preached for 23 years and they didn't repent. So, true to his promise, God brought in the Babylonians, who crushed Judah, demolished God's temple, tore down the city wall, burned the houses with fire, killed many, and took a large group of Jews into exile in Babylon.
The famous promise of blessing in Jeremiah 29:11 is written to the Jews who are in exile in Babylon, serving as slaves. Jeremiah is writing to them to let them know that they will be slaves for 70 years and then God will bring them back home to rebuild Jerusalem. For God knows his plans for them - they won't be slaves forever, or cut off as a people. God will bring them back. BUT, it's gonna be rough for 70 years. This doesn't sound like the same promise I hear people quoting. It seems that today people quote Jeremiah 29:11 to mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen. God's blessing does not mean the absence of suffering! God's blessing is the removal of his eternal wrath against us for our sins!
God is promising these exiles that he won't utterly destroy his people. After the 70-year exile (after they experience the consequences of their sin) God will bring them back and establish the Son of David on the throne - the Branch who is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
This message does relate to us, but not in a generic, God-is-going-to-bless-EVERYBODY way. God has conscious, personal wrath against sinners (Jeremiah 25:15; Romans 2:5; John 3:36). Jeremiah describes a cup of wrath in God's hand that he will pour out on sinners. But the good news (and the true blessing of God) is that Jesus Christ (the Son of David, "the Branch" of Jeremiah) drank the cup of God's righteous anger for sinners! This is the dreaded cup he prayed about in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus drank this cup for all who will repent of sin and believe.
THIS - the gospel - is the promise of blessing from God! A promise of no wrath from God forever (because Jesus took it for us)! But, just as Jeremiah preached, we must repent of sin or we will NOT receive the blessing. The promise is not a blanket promise for all, but for all who repent of sin and believe the gospel.
When we quote Scripture, let's remember the context. And when we apply promises from God, let's remember the conditions of those promises so that we do not misrepresent God or twist his words. God certainly does have plans for the wicked - plans to pour out his wrath on them in conscious torment forever. But, praise God, for those who repent of sin and come in faith to Jesus, he knows his plans for us - plans for peace and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope!