When Jesus died on the cross whom did he die for?
It is an interesting question mainly because our first response to it is to reply: everyone. And such a reply seems so right but at the same time we must evaluate it in light of the revelation of Scripture.
So who does the Bible say Jesus died for?
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
Ephesians 5 v 25
In his letter to the Ephesians then Paul commands husbands to love their wives to the extent of being willing to die for them. But notice that Christ gave himself up (i.e. died) for the church. Christ did not die for everyone as our initial response would suggest but for his elect.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
John 10 v 14 – 15
Here again we see Jesus expressing the truth that he will die for his sheep (i.e. Christians). He will not die to save everyone just his sheep.
Paul talks about this in his discussion of the New Covenant:
“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
Hebrews 9 v 15
“because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.”
Hebrews 9 v 17
Here we see that Jesus Christ calls people to him (i.e. Unconditional Election) so that they may receive the promised eternal inheritance. And that this inheritance only comes into force because of Jesus’ death. Therefore, Jesus died to save the sins of the elect and no one else.
So is salvation ‘limited’?
Unfortunately people focus too much on the wrong meaning of the word limited which is why Mark Driscoll speaks of Limited Unlimited Atonement or Particular Redemption. Limited does not imply that Christ did not save the elect from all their sins – he did! Christ’s salvation was unlimited but only to a limited or particular group of people (his Church, the elect). Christ died to save an elect group of people from all their sins.
What if Christ died to save everyone?
Let’s say I am wrong in my interpretation of the Bible and Christ’s death opened up salvation to everyone. All someone had to do was respond in a positive way to the salvation and they would be saved. Well, if this were the case then it won’t work because as Total Depravity teaches us: no one would accept salvation! No one willing seeks God. There is none righteous, no not one!
Wait, I’m still confused…
I hand you over to John Owen (adapted to make it easier to understand):
“God imposed his wrath due on, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either 1) all the sins of all men 2) all the sins of some men or 3) some sins of all men.
In 3) then all men still have sins to answer for and so no one shall be saved. For if all men just had 1 sin left to answer for God’s judgement would still stand. ‘If the Lord should mark iniquities, who could stand?’ Psalm 130 v 3
If 2)…Christ in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.
If 1) why then are not all freed from the punishment of their sin? You will say ‘because of their unbelief; they will not believe.’ But this unbelief, it is a sin, is it not? If not, why should they be punished for it? And if it is Christ underwent the punishment for it. If that is the case why should their unbelief hinder them more than their other sins for which Christ died?
Owen notices that for anyone to come to Christ the sin of unbelief must first be removed. If Christ died to give everyone a chance to be saved then their unbelief could not be counted against them for Christ would have taken the punishment for that sin. Yet we know this is not the case:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.”
John 3 v 18
Therefore Christ must only have died for all the sins of the elect. Because it is the only elect that believe in Christ and they only do so because Christ died for them.
Now you limit Christ’s salvation?
In the words of Spurgeon: “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.”
If we apply the Arminian view that Christ did not die to secure the salvation of all men and did not die to secure the salvation of particular men then it follows that Christ died so that any man be saved if…
And after that ‘if’ comes conditions to salvation. So rather than Christ dying infallibly for the elect we have Christ dying that for some men will be worth it and for others his death will be useless. Why did Jesus cry out “It is finished!” if he died for people that would never come to him? It is not Calvinists that limit Christ’s salvation but Armenians!
I feel the need to finish with another Spurgeon quote:
“We [Calvinists] say that Christ do died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.”
To deny particular redemption is to suggest that Christ’s death on the cross wasn’t quite there. It is to suggest that Christ’s death wasn’t quite enough; it is to deny the complete power of Almighty God in carrying out salvation.
And remember we can’t let the teaching on Limited Atonement stop us preaching salvation full and free to all who repent and believe.
“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”
Isaiah 45 v 22
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
John 6 v 37
We need to preach salvation to everyone and tell them that all who repent and believe will come to Christ. It is just that Christ has decided in advance exactly who will repent and who will not. And Christ died only for the sins of those that would.
This nicely brings us onto the next topic ‘Irresistible Grace’ which should appear on Friday.