Question: Did Jesus die for all the sins of all the people in all the world? Provide a clear basis for your defense. Why is your answer better than the alternative(s)? How does your answer apply in a ministerial setting?
Jesus did not die for all the sins of all the people in all the world. The obvious question is then why and for whom did Jesus die. The atonement is “the work of Christ” or “the benefits of Christ gained for believers by his death and resurrection” (McGrath, 466). Augustine taught that the atonement was accomplished when Jesus became both the sacrifice and the priest whom offered his life to reconcile humanity to God (320).
There are three primary views of the extent or the result of Jesus’ atoning death. Universalism is the view is that Jesus died so that all people would ultimately be saved (345). Unlimited atonement is the view that Jesus died to make it possible that all people could be saved. Limited atonement is the view that Jesus died only for the elect (346). Limited atonement does not limit the sufficiency of the atonement but it defines the scope or efficacy of the atonement (346). The best view that defines the extent of the atonement is limited atonement.
Jesus stated he came to earth to do the will of the Father. God the Father has called for himself a particular people who he referred to as his sheep, his elect, or the church (Eph. 1.3-5; John 10.7-18; Acts 20.28). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all are active in salvation (Rom. 5.5-10). The Father calls his people, the Son died for them to reconcile them to the Father, and the Holy Spirit has sealed then unto the Father for all eternity (263). In John chapter 17 Jesus prays specifically for the ones that the Father has given him and not for the world. Some will say that this pray is for the disciples only but Jesus explains that he is praying for those who would believe in him and these are not the entire world (John 17.20-26).
Paul explains the nature of God’s saving work in Roman chapter 8. God is the one who predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies his people (Rom. 8.28-30). In verse 31, Paul asks “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In verse 32, he declares “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Who is the “us” that God is for and the “all” for whom God gave his Son?” Paul gives is that answer in verse 33, “God’s elect.”
There are many verses which seem to support the unlimited atonement position. Jesus is called the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1.29). Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of “the whole world” (1 Jn. 2.2). Paul states the Christ is the “ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2.6). Each of these verses, when viewed in the context of the author and toward his intended audience reveal that the universal phrases should be interpreted sociologically referring to all kinds of people and not all people in general. Salvation is for both the Jew and the Greek; the rich and the poor; those who are free and the slaves.
If universalism is correct then there should be no one in hell. If unlimited atonement is correct then Jesus died for the sins of person who are in hell. This means that his death was either wasted or ineffective for them. Limited atonement ensures that Jesus’ death accomplished exactly what the Father intended for his elect in every case.
In the ministerial setting limited atonement is a glorious truth that must be handled with care. It is glorious because it brings all glory to God the Father and praise to God the Son. It must be handled and taught with care, using the whole counsel of God’s Word. All individual verse that seem to affirm or deny this truth must be examined in light of their context and the way the fit into the whole teaching of the atonement that was won by the death of Christ on the cross.
McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: an Introduction. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011