A look at “The Atonement Of Christ - Did Jesus Die For All Or Just Some”
In this article we are going to spend some time discussing a doctrine that leads to what seems to be endless discussions surrounding what Jesus did on the cross and who He did it for us.
Known as the “Atoning work of Christ”, The Bible teaches that Jesus came to earth to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and that His death for the sins of mankind was on behalf of and for the benefit of everyone who ever has lived. The idea of atonement is seen in forgiveness and what that brings when we become followers of Christ through faith in Him.
The theological tension point comes when some declare that Christ died only for the “elect”, those whom God chose to be saved from before the world was created. The thought is that God, in His Sovereign plan, chose certain individuals to receive eternal life and others not to.
This teaching of “election” is a major part of the conversation. How one defines election is important to the discussion surrounding who Christ died for. My personal view on election is that God, from eternity past, knowing who would respond to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) in one’s life, elected those individuals for salvation (1 Peter 1:2).
I do not believe that God arbitrarily elected some people for heaven and some for hell. He could have if He so chose to do so, and there are those who hold to that view. At the same time I want to be very careful in how we approach man’s part in salvation. It is true that we can, in my view, reject the offer of the Gospel of Christ. We have been given the freedom to do so.
It must also be noted, though, that God is the One Who convicts, draws us to Himself, and ultimately saves us through faith in Christ (John 6:37; Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation begins and ends with God, but man is not forced to accept the Gospel message. We can reject God’s work in our lives if we so choose.
With this as a backdrop, let us return to the discussion at hand - Did Jesus die for everyone who has ever lived or did He only die for those who are the “elect?”
We are going to look at the Scriptures that are used to support an “unlimited” view of the atonement of Christ, the belief that Jesus died for all of mankind’s sins. Some would say that technically He only died for the elect, since only those who come to faith in Christ experience what Jesus did for us in His death, burial, and resurrection. Again, the issue, in that case, would be how election is defined.
It should be noted that when speaking of the death of Christ for “all”, we move beyond the realm of just those who experience salvation. The point is that Jesus died for everyone who has ever lived. Not just some, but all. That is the crux of the issue. Some who have a particular view of election will say that Christ died for all, yes, but only the elect, as they define them, benefit from it.
This is an overemphasis on what we might call a narrow view of election. The issue is whether the Bible teaches that Jesus died for everyone who has ever lived, making salvation possible for all. There is a difference in what we are discussing when it comes to unlimited atonement and one’s definition of election, in my opinion.
Wrapping up this discussion of election, Henry Thiessen, in his “Lectures In Systematic Theology” summarizes my thoughts on this teaching when he writes,
"God in his foreknowledge foresaw those who would respond to his offer of salvation and actively elected them to salvation. That is, election is that sovereign act of God in grace whereby he chose in Christ for salvation all those whom he foreknew would accept him. Though we are nowhere told what it is in the foreknowledge of God that determines his choice, the repeated teachings of Scripture that man is responsible for accepting or rejecting salvation suggest that it is man's response to the revelation which God made of himself that is the basis of his election. The elect are those whom God foresees will respond personally to the Gospel." – pgs. 258-259
Now, to the view held by the author, known as unlimited atonement. I believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of everybody who ever lived, not just for a select few. Anyone can be saved. Only God knows who will be, but Jesus’ death and resurrection makes salvation available to anyone.
In John 1:29, when John the Baptist saw Christ coming toward him, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Who does the word “world” represent? It means all of humanity. Not just some. Jesus offers to take away the sins of everyone who has ever lived.
John 3:16, possibly the most well-known verse in the Bible tells us that God loved the “world” and sent His Son to offer us salvation and anyone who believes in Him can be saved. Again, “world” is every person. Not just the elect. God loved the world and “whoever” believes in Him can have eternal life.
1 John 2:2, speaking of Jesus, states that Christ is the “propitiation” for not only the sins of those who are believers (1 John 2:1), but of the “whole world.” Vs. 2 states that the death of Christ made possible salvation for all because Christ satisfied God’s wrath and justice by taking our place on the cross and rising from the dead. This verse is clear - salvation is available to anyone who believes.
An interesting verse that speaks to the death of Christ for all is found in 2 Peter 2:1. Here we read that one of the marks of false teachers is that they “deny” the Master (Jesus) who “bought” them, meaning they reject what the Lord offers them. If Jesus died for those who teach heresy, which this passage teaches, then there is no reason to think that He did not die for everyone.
These are just a handful of verses that teach unlimited atonement. Many more could be cited, and time spent responding to those who teach that Christ died only for the elect. There is one last thing we want to note before finishing.
Though Jesus died for all who ever lived, that does not mean all will be saved. There are those who believe (though the number is small) that one day God will reconcile everyone to Himself, that He will populate heaven with everyone who has ever lived. This view, known as “universalism”, has no Biblical foundation and is argued for by ripping verses out of their context in Scripture.
It is here on this earth, while we are still alive, that one decides for salvation. There is no hope after death (Hebrews 9:27) so one must decide this side of eternity regarding what they will do with Christ and the salvation He offers.